Friday, May 30, 2008

REMINDER: Global Warming Swindle this Sunday

Owen McShane from the Climate Science Coalition sends you this reminder: 'The Great Global Warming Swindle' is showing on Prime at 8.30 this Sunday,followed by a panel discussion that includes Leighton Smith.

    This UK Channel 4 documentary has been a long time coming to New Zealand but is finally here. Given that the debate about climate change and the RMA, and energy, and of course the Emissions Trading Scheme is now at a peak, the timing may be right after all.
    The original version had a few errors, mainly in translating the graphics to screen, but these have been corrected.  On the other hand, in spite of the UK High Court finding 13 errors in Al Gore's film, he has not changed a thing.

Naturally, the Greens are trying to have the screening banned.

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Beer O’Clock: The Best Beer Names in New Zealand

This week in your regular Friday Beer O'Clock post, Neil Miller from Real Beer updates you on beer names.

I found a great article by Joey Redner in Florida's St Petersburg Times called “The 10 Best Beer Names Ever.” It is very American based but two of my favorites were:

  • McQuire's I'll Have What The Gentleman On The Floor Is Having Barley Wine The name is a subtle hint that at 12 percent alcohol by volume, this beer is meant to be sipped. If you can drink it faster than you can say it, slow down!
  • Wasatch Polygamy Porter The slogan explains perfectly why this is the coolest beer name ever: "Why have just one?"

I was sad my beloved Pliny the Elder Pale Ale did not make the list. It is the only beer that makes you sound like a classical scholar when you order it. Unless you mispronounce it horribly (I’m looking at you Mr Nicholas and Mr Plowman).

It got me thinking about New Zealand beers so I have attempted a first cut at “The 10 Best Kiwi Beer Names Ever!”

10. Roosters Haymaker – A haymaker is a big wild punch which, if it connects, sends you crashing to the floor. Much like this strong beer really…

9. Black Shag Stout – Because deep down in places you don’t talk about at parties, you still laugh when anyone says ‘shag’.

8. Twisted Hop Twisted Ankle – You do need to mind where you put your feet after a few of these.

7. Harrington’s Workingman’s Shandy – Normally a shandy does not count as beer but the Harrington’s version is actually a mix of a 6.5% beer and another 6.5% beer. Just what the working man orders.

6. Shakepeare’s Puck’s – Named after a mischievous little character in Shakespeare, 11.1% and no end of potential for end-of-evening mispronunciations.

5. Lighthouse Fugnose – Made with Fuggles hops. When someone asked the brewer what the beer was called, the brewer is still adamant he really did say “Fugnose.”

4. Epic Mayhem – Because everyone needs a little Epic Mayhem in their lives.

3. Harrington’s Wobbly Boot Porter – The people at last night’s tasting just loved the name and liked the beer.

2. Mussel Inn Pale Whale Ale – It sounds so cool but was even better when it was the Whale Tail Pale Ale.

1. Pink Elephant Mammoth – Pink Elephants rule. Mammoths rule. Cross-species beer names rule.

Cheers, Neil

Links

Realbeer www.realbeer.co.nz

Best Beer Names Article

Pictures

Pale Whale -

Black Shag -

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Oil "profiteers"

Yes, we've all received those economically illiterate emails in our inboxes telling us to boycott BP/Mobil/Shell/Caltex to "send a signal" that their "profiteering" has to end, and pump prices come down.

Profiteering?  If you want to know who takes the largest chunk of local pump prices, take another look at the information posted by Bernard Hickey this week -- it's not the oil companies who take the largest slice of every litre sold, it's your government.

And as Stephen Hicks points out, it's the same situation in the States.  Despite economic illiterates bleating about the "exorbitant profits" oil companies are making, the rake-off ripped of by the US Government from oil and petrol dwarfs the amount earned by the oil companies who produce the stuff.  Says Hicks:

    So I paid $4.15 a gallon to fill up my car today. I'm happy to contribute to rising profits of American oil corporations and I thank them for delivering the goods successfully. At the same time I am ticked off at the politicians, both domestic and foreign, who are hobbling production efforts, collecting enormous taxes, and emoting false sympathy for the consumer's pain. The Tax Foundation notes that between 1977 and 2004 the 29 largest energy companies in the US earned $630 billion in profits. A nice big number. During the same period, however, the US federal government collected $2.1 trillion in taxes ($1.5 trillion in excise taxes on gas and diesel, $518 billion in corporate income taxes, and $40 billion in taxes on "windfall profits"). So at whom should we be pointing fingers of blame?

Note that for that $2.1 trillion -- $2.1 trillion! -- the motorist gets the joy of watching most of his hard-earned head down the black hole of big government to buy even bigger government -- a government with even greater powers to hobble production, collect even more enormous taxes, and cry even more crocodile tears over the motorist's plight.

While this $2.1 trillion windfall goes to government as payment for being a meddling intrusive behemoth that all but makes oil production illegal, the $630 billion of oil company profits heads to them as their only payment for the risk, enterprise and diligence in exploring, drilling, transporting, refining and selling the stuff that is the lifeblood of industrial civilisation -- it's not just reward for delivering the goods successfully, it provides the funds needed to reinvest in producing even more oil, which in the end is the only way pump prices are going to come down.

As Matt B. pointed out a few weeks back in my comments section:

   How different peoples' reactions would be if, instead of reading "high prices," they read "scarcity".
    It would transform the debate. The immediate question that follows would not be demands for price controls or export restraints ,etc., but instead, "how do we raise supply?"

What we certainly shouldn't be supporting is a huge windfall gain to the very people who make raising supply impossible.

Think about this next time you pull up at the pump, or receive one of those illiterate emails. Would you rather give more money to those whose goal appears to be the long-term strangulation of oil production?  Or to those who make the long-term reduction of oil prices possible? 

In fact, don't just think about it: do something.  Next time and every time you hear a politician saying there's nothing they can do about high oil prices, write a letter saying "Bullshit!"

UPDATE: British truckies have blockaded streets around London in protest at the UK Government's grab, snatch and take through fuel taxes, which are the highest in Europe.  Liberty Scott has the news.

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Americans for paedophilia

LibertyWeepsBW-1 A post from 'Freedom's Phoenix' laments the death of the US Libertarian Party: Libertarian Party 1972 - 2008: Rest in Peace is the title.

   Once billed as “The Party of Principle” those principles were sold down the river [says the 'Phoenix'. On Sunday, May 25, 2008 the principles were abandoned, and the party was last seen gasping for air
before expiring...
    Far Right Republican congressman Bob Barr was nominated for president and the loudmouthed, huckster, Wayne Root, an “odds maker” from Las Vegas, traded with Barr in order to become his running mate. They brought to the LP the sort of backroom deal-making once only seen in the larger, corrupt parties.
    It is true that the principles did not die easily, however. On the first ballot conservative Barr was leading libertarian Dr. Mary Ruwart by just one vote. On the second ballot it was dead even. On the third vote Ruwart was in the lead. And then the “behind-the-scenes” deal of the two neocon infiltrators was announced...
    Realize that neither man is a libertarian, both are conservatives. Both endorse foreign interventionism... Only two weeks ago [Barr] adamantly said he was opposed to ending the war on drugs... Previously Barr was openly and viciously antigay and he authored one of the most discriminatory pieces of antigay legislation around, the Defense of Marriage Act...
    They want to take votes from McCain. And how will they do that? By arguing that McCain is not a “true conservative” and that Barr is. And exactly how will that be sold to the public? Barr will have to campaign, not as a libertarian, but as a Far Right conservative...

So the US Libertarian Party is now dead.  But the truth is the American Libertarian Party died long ago, right at the very moment of gestation. The so called "leading libertarian" whose failed candidacy 'Freedom's Phoenix' laments demonstrates why.  In Mary Ruwart's Short Answers to Tough Questions this appears:

"Children who willingly participate in sexual acts have the right to make that decision as well, even if it's distasteful to us personally. Some children will make poor choices just as some adults do in smoking and drinking to excess. When we outlaw child pornography, the prices paid for child performers rise, increasing the incentives for parents to use children against their will."

Ruwart supporters argue that this answer was "taken out of context" (how do you take "out of context" an enabling statement like "Children who willingly participate in sexual acts have the right to make that decision as well, even if it's distasteful to us personally") but the fact remains that despite the bleating of the likes of the Phoenix, the two leading choices running for the the US Libertarian Party's Presidential candidacy this year were a compulsion-touter who opposes immigration, abortion and gay marriage, and a flake who wants to make the world safe for the likes of the North American Man Boy Love Association -- to paraphrase Ayn Rand, "a Conservative who subordinates reason to faith, and substitutes theocracy for capitalism; or a 'hippy of the right' who subordinates reason to whims, and substitutes anarchism for capitalism."

Thus we see the result of having "principles" without a philosophical base, and party activists who can't even agree what 'freedom' means.  This, as I've said before, is why most US libertarians are not pro-liberty, they're just anti-state.  (And this is why, by contrast, New Zealand's Libertarianz party, which I support, is called "hard line" by one of the hippies.)

And here we get to the root of the Objectivist argument against irrational libertarianism. Without a rational philosophical foundation, without a decent "philosophical infrastructure," politics is simply a dangerous pursuit of empty slogans, floating abstractions, and range-of-the-moment compromises. How can you call these people allies in freedom, ask hardcore Objectivists, when American libertarians can't even agree on what the word "freedom" stands for, or whether a "free society" allows children to "willingly participate in sexual acts," or a religious community to enslave and rape twelve-year-old girls?

The US Libertarian Party was doomed from its gestation, doomed from the moment the "hippies of the right" who founded it refused to understand that political activism without a philosophical base was worse than just empty sloganeering.  As I explained in my 'Cue Card' on Libertarianism:

    Libertarianism as a political idea is four-square for freedom. At the basis of libertarianism is the principle that all adult human interaction should be voluntary, or to put it another way, that capitalist acts between consenting adults should be legal. There are many ways to put the point.    
    In a political context,
freedom has only one specific meaning -- freedom from the initiation of force by other men. US libertarian Murray Rothbard puts it this way:

    "The Libertarian creed rests on one central axiom: that no man or group of men
    may aggress against the person or property of anyone else. This may be
    called the non-aggression axiom. Aggression is defined as the initiation
    of the use or threat of physical violence against the person or property of
    anyone else."

    This point has been well enough rehearsed under other Cue Card entries, but it should be noted at this juncture that many advocates of the Non-Aggression Principle, including myself, do not regard it as an axiom. An axiom is a fundamental, self-evident truth; it does not require “grounding’.” The Non-Aggression Principle is fundamental, but far from self-evident; it does need grounding. The question for libertarians is how it is grounded.
   Rothbard boasts that not insisting on such a foundation has enabled the Libertarian movement to be "eclectic."

As the party's final demise demonstrates, principles without foundations and "eclecticism" without understanding is not a virtue one should want to emulate. 

It's not as if the Non-Aggression principle is difficult to ground, as Tibor Machan demonstrates:

The concept of freedom, in its socially relevant sense, means the condition of individuals being free from aggression by others… It rests on the recognition of every individual’s equal moral nature as a self-determined and self-responsible agent, regardless of admittedly enormous circumstantial difference.

Fact is, it's not enough just to be an advocate for capitalism, or an advocate for freedom, without any understanding of the ideas on which these concepts are grounded.  Michael Berliner points out that this is what Ayn Rand sought to make clear in her own writing:

She understood that to defend the individual she must penetrate to the root: his need to use reason to survive. "I am not primarily an advocate of capitalism," she wrote in 1971, "but of egoism; and I am not primarily an advocate of egoism, but of reason. If one recognizes the supremacy of reason and applies it consistently, all the rest follows." This radical view put her at odds with conservatives, whom she vilified for their attempts to base capitalism on faith and altruism. Advocating a government to protect the individual's right to his property, she was not a liberal (or an anarchist). Advocating the indispensability of philosophy, she was not a libertarian.

Let me repeat Rand's summary of her own position to make the final point:

"I am not primarily an advocate of capitalism, but of egoism; and I am not primarily an advocate of egoism, but of reason. If one recognizes the supremacy of reason and applies it consistently, all the rest follows."

And if one doesn't, what has happened to US libertarianism follows just as inexorably.

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"Only" two percent?

I notice so called "cancer experts" are in the news this morning -- something that happens regularly when something as important as health care is politicised.  I'm not going to comment on that case this morning, or on what happens when health care is politicised, at least not directly; I'm going to tell you a brief story about some of the "cancer experts" in our government hospitals.

As some of you know, our friend and fellow blogger Annie Fox had a cancer last year that everyone thought would kill her.  It didn't.  After treatment, about which there can be no complaint, she underwent a year of full-body scans and tests and post-treatment observation to make sure the treatment had been successful.

Early last week she got the all-clear.  She was told the treatment programme had been successful, and apart from regular visits to keep an eye on the cancer, she was fine. 

She didn't even have time to celebrate.  She collapsed that same afternoon with a seizure, and was rushed into hospital. 

Turns out that despite the assurances of her "experts" she had a tumour the size of a large marble lodged in her brain.  Turns out that those 'full-body scans' to check against the development of other cancers in the body didn't include the head.  Why?  Because, her family were told when they met with the quacks to find out, "only two percent" of cases like these result in metastases in the brain ... so they don't bother.

Two percent.  So they don't bother.  Too bad if you or one of your loved ones is one of those two-percent, eh?

People buy lottery tickets and make significant long-term investments based on lesser odds than those, but in "our" government hospitals having a two-percent chance (it's only two-percent, eh) means you get tossed in the medical wastebasket.

You can say that such aggregating of averages is justified (it's only two percent of cancer patients, after all -- fuck 'em).  You can say that the health system can't afford such profligacy (if we ration the amount of scanning done, we'll fit under our 'budget cap.' And what about those unfortunate two percent? Oh, fuck 'em).  You can even say that the scanning of heads should be minimised due to the risk of scanning the brain -- but, even then, why in hell wouldn't you set up 'proxies' that give you and the patient some idea about what's going on:  Proxies paying special attention to symptoms that commonly develop when a person contracts a brain tumour, however minor -- headaches, loss of balance, loss of control of some motor functions, problems with vision, insomnia.  Why wouldn't you advise a patient that if any of these did occur they should get their arses back into the quack's office for further investigation?

Why wouldn't you do that?  Frankly, I have no idea.  After all, I ain't the "expert" here.

Like I said, I'm not going to comment this morning on what happens when health care is politicised, at least not directly.  But I have shown you just one story showing what happens when the delivery of health care is decided by rationing.

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Sea of Ice - Caspar David Friedrich, 1824

                  Caspar_David_Friedrich_006
Friedrich was the German master of nineteenth-century romantic painting, in his case mastery in depicting landscapes of emotional extremity.

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Thursday, May 29, 2008

Another front opening on the War on Drug Users?

A chap called Mike Sabin is making the rounds of the country's impressionable parents, politicians and pedagogues, telling them that to fix the country's drug scourge we need to get even more authoritarian on the War on Drug Users than we already are.  The War on Drug Users that Annette King was open enough to admit a few weeks ago that we're losing.

A few days ago Mr Sabin was briefing parliament on the "Drug epidemic" -- a briefing the pollies were lapping up like dying men in a desert --  offering what Russell Brown calls a "miracle cure for all drug problems."  The cure includes:

  • Recognising that cannabis is a "gateway drug" that must be expunged from use;
  • Proposing a Drug Tzar who reports only to the Prime Minister (ie., with no outside  oversight or governance);
  • Compulsory drug testing in schools and workplaces;
  • A system where friends and family dob in users to the police for compulsory rehabilitation
    ... and much, much more..

Apparently the bare bones of the cure (which sounds far worse than the disease) is based on what Sabin says is the successful Montana Meth Project in the States.

If you think this all sounds either too good to be true (or too authoritarian to be taken seriously) then you'd be right, as  Russell Brown's successful fisking of the Montana Meth Project and the rest of Mr Sabin's proposals demonstrates.  This isn't a new front on the War on Drug Users -- it's the same failing War on Drugs in which the real damage is done by the War on Drugs itself.

If Russell doesn't convince you, just give some thought to what a Prime Minister like Helen Clark could do with an open-ended brief to conduct a covert War on selected New Zealanders -- a War conducted without any oversight or governance except by Heather Simpson...  and there you have the bare bones of every War on Drugs ever conducted.

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Miranda, The Tempest - John William Waterhouse

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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Blogs were there first, again

"A lie goes around the world while the truth is getting  its boots on."  This is a mantra which politicians live by -- but blogs are making more difficult.

Academician Greg Clydesdale from Massey University obviously thought it would work for him when he released a so called academic report suggesting Pacific Islanders were a nett drain on the New Zealand economy -- a report trumpeted on the front page of Wellington's largest paper, and telegraphed around the mainstream media with all the speed of The Big Lie. 

However, while the MSM were all abuzz debating the report's conclusions, blogger Lindsay Mitchell was checking the facts -- and the facts in the report, she said, were wrong.  Dead wrong.  His figures for crime, employment, housing and welfare, on which he was relying, didn't even begin to support his argument

It's taken the MSM nearly two weeks to catch up on Mitchell's observation, and it had to wait for a government department to check the figures:  Radio NZ reported this morning [audio here]that the Ministry of Pacific Island Affairs has organised reviews of Clydesdale's report, and

    Otago University associate professor of economics Paul Hansen says the paper is riddled with errors, does not back up its claims and is not fit for publication.
   
He believes it fails to support its central idea that the only goal of immigration is to generate economic growth.

The report's author, says Radio NZ, could not be reached for comment.  Not surprising.  Now how about tracking down for comment some of those editors who gave the report's conclusions front-page treatment without checking the facts within?

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Oil, oil everywhere

Punters complaining about the exorbitant profits petrol companies are supposedly making with rapidly rising pump prices should look at the charts Bernard Hickey published yesterday to see how local companies have in fact been squeezed between the international price of refined oil, and the amount that governments gouge from motorists in taxes, duties and GST.
                         Petrol_Taxes
It doesn't require a rocket scientist to realise that if anger should be directed anywhere then it's at the government, who take more from every litre delivered at the petrol pump than the owners of the petrol pumps do.

And here's more good oil on oil prices:

  • George Reisman exposes the ignorant and dishonest politicians who heap blame on wary oil executives for the consequences of their own reckless and destructive policies.  See  In the U.S. Senate the Guilty Repeat Their Interrogation of the Innocent.
  • Robert Murphy on the "big lie" the US Government is telling on inflation.  Murphy fisks the news that "slower than expected overall inflation was due to falling energy prices and flat food prices. Energy fell 0.2 pct, the largest drop since December, while food was unchanged in the month. Within the energy sector, gasoline fell 4.6 pct, the largest drop since December."  And guess what?  It's not exactly true.  See The Government's Statistical Whopper of the Year.
  • Ed Cline exposes the facts about the US relationship with Saudi Arabian oil producers that fatarse film-maker Michael Moore might have found if  he had a brain bigger than his stomach.  See Waging the War of Words.

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"Think small"

This morning's Herald cartoon is a beauty:
              cartoon144

Harsh but true.

If you'd like to keep track of the mission to Mars, head here www.nasa.gov/

And if you'd like to see what the US government should be doing with Mars, have a read of Ron Pisaturo's ingenious suggestion.

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Key confirms National **is** a party of compulsion

Speaking yesterday on National's plans for Kiwisaver, National's Kate Wilkinson told her audience, "The National Party is not a party of compulsion."

No wonder journalists described her words as "a gaffe."  No wonder John Key leapt to point out that Ms Wilkinson is not involved in writing National Party policy (she knows the party's principles, you see, and is prepared to make them public).  No wonder he wanted to immediately clarify National's position, on Kiwisaver and much else: Compulsion is the name of National's game, he confirmed to a grateful media.  "There will be compulsory employer contributions," Flip Flop Boy told applauding reporters.

SOLO's Mark Hubbard points out that John Boy's commitment violates "in one fell swoop" four of the nine central principles ostensibly promoted by his Party.

    The National Party purportedly promotes the following principles:
  *Individual freedom and choice
  *Personal responsibility
  *Competitive enterprise and rewards for achievement
  *Limited government
    Mr Key's commitment ... to compulsory KiwiSaver Employer contributions is directly in breach of all these principles. There cannot be 'individual freedom and choice' when he is prepared to perpetrate compulsion. There cannot be 'personal responsibility' when he is prepared to replace responsibility with compulsion. We cannot have 'competitive enterprise' when employers are weighed down by compulsory levies, charges, and taxes such as this. There cannot be 'limited government' when the taxpayer is forced to finance the huge bureaucracies that are needed to administer policies such as this.

National Party supporters questioned on this violation of their party's principles said, "Who cares,"  "What principles?" and "Anything for power." 

And Ms Wilkinson?  She's gone into hiding.  Apparently the National Party isn't the party she thought it was.

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Speaking invitation

Crikey, my posts on religion at NOT PC have caught the eye of some unusual readers over the last few years.  Here's the latest speaking invitation to appear in my inbox:

The Second International Conference on Religion and Media will be held in Tehran and Qom, Iran, from November 9th to 12th, 2008. We cordially invite all media researchers and scholars, representatives from diverse religious traditions, professionals and students involved with the subjects of the conference to attend and submit a paper. Further information could be found at conference website: http://www.religion-media.ir/
A few scholarships are available to partially subsidize the costs of participants with selected papers.
Sincerely,
Mahdiye Tavakol
Conference Coordinator
IRIB University,
Niyayesh Highway, Vali-e-Asr Street,
Tehran, Iran.

What topic suggestions do you have for a paper?

Enfeebled for lack of energy

Apologists for the destructive energy policies of successive governments airily dismiss the increasing evidence of the destructive results of their anti-industrial policies -- they blithely assert that switching off heaters and changing a few lightbulbs will fix the job.  And uber-apologist Energy Minister David Parker insists that the result of banning the construction of new thermal power stations and making impossible the construction of hydro is a "twenty-first century power system."

This is the "twenty-first century power system" that had its first blackout in Wellington on Monday.  This is the power system that is already at capacity -- the system that is hostage to low rainfall, low wind, and the intermittent failure of aging and overstretched transmission facilities -- the sort of the failures that caused Auckland's famous blackouts a few years back.

These are the sort of apologists that give apologists a bad name.

Energy demand in New Zealand has increased at an annual rate of roughly 150MW, but energy generation hasn't.  Energy generators have wanted to, but haven't been allowed to.  And the result this week is news that factories from Bluff to Auckland aren't just switching off heaters and changing a few lightbulbs, they're already running fewer shifts and producing less wealth, all because of the parlous state of the present system, and with no new real generation capacity in sight.

This means we're already making ourselves poorer because of the restrictions on supply caused by the policies of successive governments.  And given that construction of new generators has been made all but illegal, we've got much worse to come.

Who's responsible?  There are two main culprits: The anti-industrial dream team of the RMA and the Kyoto Protocol. The ban on the construction of new thermal power stations because of our Kyoto commitments (commitments signed up to by the National Party), and the near-impossibility of constructing serious new generating capacity because of the Resource Management Act (drawn up under Labour's Geoffrey Palmer and introduced by National's Simon Upton).  Between them they're making us poorer.

Fact is, we either meet that increasing annual demand of 150MW per year, or we make ourselves poorer.  If we're going to have any show of meeting that continually increasing demand -- which means, to remain as an industrial economy -- we need to build new power now, so when we're in need of 750MW more in five years time it's there to draw on.

It's not enough to say we can achieve this target by "conservation."  Conservation is not a source of energy, it's the complete abandonment of the goal of producing energy.  As George Reisman points out, "Conservation is not a source of energy.  It's actual meaning is simply using less.  Conservation is a source or energy for use only at the price of deprivation of energy use somewhere else."

Our factories and producers are already being choked off.  If our energy supplies continue to dwindle there can be no other result for our industrialised economic system than progressive and inexorable enfeeblement.

Is that what you want?

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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Loudon goes global on Obama

What began as a few posts on his New Zeal blog exploring the political origins of Barack Obama has ended up with Christchurch blogger Trevor Loudon being invited to Washington to deliver his research in person.

barack-obama-official-small Obama, whom Loudon describes as “Keith Locke with charisma,” grew up and has lived his life in what Max Friedman calls a “Marxist Rich Environment.”  So too have many other red nappy babies who have lived to tell a more rational tale, Lindsay Perigo amongst them, but Loudon says that Obama’s ties to the extreme left are not only historical, but are contemporary and ongoing.

Obama's teenage mentor was the communist poet Frank Marshall Davis. Loudon posted on this on his blog back in March 2007, and it was this discovery that first piqued his interest. He discovered that Obama’s career has been supported for many years by the Chicago branch of the US Communist Party (a CPUSA breakaway group), the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism and the Chicago branch of Democratic Socialists of America (which is, despite its name, a Marxist organization). Part of the information documenting Obama's ongoing interactions with the latter two groups, including his decision to launch his political campaign in 1995 at the home of two convicted terrorists, was published in a series of 20 articles on Loudon's blog.

Loudon_Washinghton These posts quickly garnered the attention of the US blogosphere, starting with the Democratic Socialists themselves, and spreading gradually to right-wing US blogs, gingerbread conservative outlets and, more recently, the conservative organisation 'Accuracy In Media' founded by Max Friedman (pictured right with Loudon and other AIM colleagues) which combined this with further juicy Communist Party associations (communist mentor unmasked!) and threw it out as an example of how the news media has a liberal bias for not reporting the story.

It was this 'Accuracy in Media' article that went viral, being republished on hundreds, if not thousands of US websites.  If this is to be believed, even the increasingly desperate Clintonistas are distributing it. 

AIM’s Cliff Kincaid has published several subsequent articles on the subject, all of which have been republished all over the US.  A small group formed, which included Cliff Kincaid, Loudon, and two of the US’s leading communist history researchers Max Friedman and Herb Romerstein (that's the whole team above), to undertake more extensive research into Obama’s background, culminating in a press conference in Washington DC last week which released two major dossiers:

The journalists covering the conference included a Russian TV station, leading the group to joke that the Russians were there to see what “we had on their man.” The conference has been extensively covered favourably on hundreds of US websites including Renew America and WorldNetDaily -- and mockingly in a half-page story on page 3 of the Washington Post.  Loudon’s material has also been picked up by David Horowitz's Frontpage Magazine and Discover the Network website. 

Loudon heads back to Christchurch this week, satisfied in the knowledge that Scott Dixon isn't the only Kiwi making waves in the States.

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Government outage

Like most productive people, I was very happy to hear that Parliament Buildings and the Government Centre of Wellington were shut down yesterday morning by a power cut.  For nearly twenty minutes yesterday, the Government was unable to meddle.  That twenty-minute outage must have saved the country millions!

Any government outage is something to celebrate. If only it could have lasted longer.

I'd like to think that the outage might concentrate politicians' minds (such as they are) on the parlous state of NZ's power generation and reticulation -- particularly the former -- and the absolute necessity for an industrial economy to have power.  Never mind government shutting down for twenty minutes, that's a genuine boon to the economy, but without sufficient power we simply don't have an industrial economy.

I'd like to think too that the politicians from all parliamentary parties might have taken the opportunity of the outage to think about how close we are to the limits of NZ's power generating capacity, and the consequences (not for them, but for NZ's industry) of this serious lack of capacity.

I'd also like to think that the politicians from the Labour Party might have taken the opportunity of the outage to reflect on their ban on the construction of new thermal power stations, and the politicians of the National Party might have taken the opportunity to reflect on their signing of the Kyoto Protocol when in government (which is what makes the ban on the construction of new thermal power stations necessary) and on their introduction of the Resource Management Act when in government (which makes the urgent construction of alternatives to new thermal power stations necessary, but all but impossible).

I'd like to think that all the politicians would think seriously about all of this ... but I suspect I'm expecting too much.

UPDATE 1The Hive reports yesterday's outage presages more to come:

The blackout that struck central Wellington yesterday may be a regular occurrence unless we have a deluge down south. Major users are talking about contingency plans for their companies running a 9 working day fortnight later in the winter. Maybe small and medium enterprise should be making similar preparations.

And maybe politicians could consider their culpability.

UPDATE 2: Good to see the blackout has concentrated the minds of the media and the grey ones on the parlous state of NZ's power generation capacity.  Electricity demand has been increasing at 150MW per year, while real capacity has increased at only a fraction of the number required. 

We now hear from Transpower's Patrick Strange that industry is already feeling the pinch this year -- factories from Bluff to Auckland running fewer shifts and producing less wealth, all because of the parlous state of the present system, and with no new real generation capacity in sight.

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Rhinemaidens pursued by Alberich - Arthur Rackham

    Rackham-03-Rhinemaidens&Alberich2

From Arthur Rackham's series of illustrations for Richard Wagner's Ring Cycle.  Evil pursues beauty.

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Monday, May 26, 2008

Debate on education vouchers, and why I'm against

Since there's a debate tonight in Wellington on implementing education vouchers -- Roger Kerr, Heather Roy and Stephen Whittington arguing for vouchers, John Minto, Arthur Graves and Labour's Grant Robertson arguing against, details of the debate at Kiwiblog -- I figured it a good time to post educational historian Andrew Coulson's reasons for opposing education vouchers, with which I wholly agree -- though I doubt that Minto and Robertson would:

Q: In your view, what is the most promising proposal for reform in education policy?
The best realistic policy we've developed is a combination of personal use tax credits and scholarship donation tax credits. Basically, if you pay for the education of your own or someone else's children, we cut your taxes. Cato published model legislation along these lines last December and we'll soon be releasing a tool that estimates its fiscal impact. In all five states we've looked at so far, this proposal would generate substantial savings.
Q:Why are tax credits superior to vouchers?
The key benefit of tax credits is that they reduce compulsion. Under vouchers, everyone has to fund every kind of school; that produces battles over what kinds of schools should get vouchers--for instance over the voucher funding of conversative Islamic schools in the Netherlands. With tax credits, people are either spending their own money on their own children, or they are choosing the scholarship organization that gets their donation. No one has to pay for education they find objectionable. [Emphasis mine.]

Feel free to make Coulson's point tonight to both debatees.  And read more about his views here:  'Toward Market Education: Are Vouchers or Tax Credits the Better Path?'

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News about Annie Fox

For those who know and love Annie Fox, I have dreadful news for you. At the end of last week she was told that her Cancer Card has been reissued, and with a vengeance. Her new course of treatment begins today.

With her permission, I'll post regular updates to keep you informed -- and I'll pass on whatever messages you'd like to send her.

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Becoming a Conscientious Objector

Libertarianz East Coast Bays candidate Elah Zemorah reckons it'd be great if we could have available the 'Opt Out' choice on our Taxes like we do on our Kiwisaver.  Here's what you could tell the Ninth Floor:

Dear Prime Minister,

I hereby inform you that as of today's date I will no longer be paying my Tax. 

To this end I will henceforth become completely self-sufficient.  I will no longer ask for any of the 'essential' services that are provided by the State.  I will pay for my health via a private provider.  Should I choose to have children I will be sending them to the school of my choice, paid in full by myself and my husband, one that reflects our values -- and will educate them in a manner that is consistent with nothing short of excellence.

Since I have never been a member of a Union and never wish to be I will have an individual contract with my employer that is consistent with how I have proven my value to him.  Should we not come to an agreeable contract with regards to my remunerations I shall move on to an employer where there will be an agreeable contract.  I disagree on the morality that the State set a minimum wage for all employers to obey. 

I might add at this stage that should he wish to open for business on a Public holiday, if I was willing to work on that particular day that would form part of the voluntary contract we have both freely signed.

I would like to remind you that this is MY money which I go out to earn five days of the week, (I might add that most weeks it is six days).  To be consistent with Individual Property Rights (which you may like to familiarise yourself with), you do not have my permission to take any of this via the Inland Revenue Department, or any other method of legalised theft. In short, I will be acting only on what will be my objective best interests, since I own my life and I am the best person to judge rational self-interest.

Yours sincerely
Elahrairah Zamora

PS: That sorts out Central government.  I will also be writing a letter to my local government explaining to them why I will no longer be paying my rates.

Feel free to compose and send your own letter confirming your intention to become a Conscientious Objector.

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Kiwis can still fly.

ALeqM5hXw_TRfJK8tcciDXJgqiYQTMePlQ Congratulations to Scott Dixon, the first New Zealander to win the Indy 500, "the most prestigious race in north America."

"What a day, man, I just couldn't believe it," said an ecstatic Dixon after his triumph.

What an inspiration.

UPDATE: The Herald celebrates the world's fastest Manurewan.

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Cullen's budget didn't deliver tax cuts, and MSM finally notices

Sometimes today's mainstream media takes a few days to catch up. 

After Rob Muldoon delivered a budget, all the media would be asking about "fiscal drag" -- the process whereby the state inexorably steals your salary by ensuring that tax thresholds are not adjusted for inflation.  Today's media seems largely to have forgotten about the phenomenon, but we're not all so forgetful.

Two hours after Michael Cullen announced his budget last week, which included all those 'tax cuts' all the media has been talking about, this humble blog pointed out that they weren't tax cuts at all -- in fact as Liberty Scott pointed out that evening, the 'cuts' weren't even sufficient to take account of the increased tax we'd all been paying due to inflation: "at best [they] only half addressed inflation. People are still paying more in real terms in income tax than they were in 2000."  Cullen Really is Still Taxing You More.

As Julian says at Kiwiblog, this was really the main story of Cullen's budget, and it's been missed and ignored by the media -- until now. Almost all the mainstream media swallowed whole the story of tax cuts, but the Business Herald's Fran O'Sullivan finally spotted the scam and exposed it over the weekend -- pointing out, for instance that "those earning more than $80,000 (8 per cent) would basically fund their cut through the fiscal drag effect."

Nice to see the mainstream media spot the obvious, albeit a few days late.

Unfortunately there's one other fallacy they've still yet to puncture, which is "the post-Budget controversy over whether the so-called generosity of Cullen's tax cuts ... will persuade Reserve Bank Governor Alan Bollard against embarking on interest-rate cuts this year" -- a controversy based on the assumption that tax cuts are inflationary.

They're not.  As I've explained before, essentially they just change who gets to spend your money-- you, or the government.  At the visible hand in economics blog they peddle

the common view ... that tax cuts increase inflationary pressure [because] tax cuts increase “aggregate demand“, which in turn will lead upward pressure on prices, and therefore an upward shift in interest rates.
But as Paul Walker asks, "why does aggregate demand increase? Why does demand change if I spend a dollar rather than the government spending that dollar? ... [T]he real issue isn't aggregate demand but rather how does the government fund its dollar of spending now that it has given me my dollar back."

Frankly, as Phil Rennie points out, the important point to note about about tax cuts in this context  "is that they are actually less inflationary than government spending."  I agree. Eric Crampton explained why a few months ago, and the essential argument still holds:

CPIandGovtj    Even if you start from Bollard's premises, his worries about tax cuts seem odd. If the government has the money, it either saves it or spends it. If it spends the money, it tends to hire people. Hiring people also requires buying office space to put them in. What have been the two big components of inflation? Wages and non-traded goods (housing/buildings). When government spends money, it spends it in the areas most likely to push prices up.

Just think about all those bureaucrats packed into all those buildings in Wellington, for example, and wonder what that increased demand does to the price of Wellington commercial property. The chaps at The Befuddled Monkey explain this graphically (figures are for the USA):

  1. "When government spends money, it spends it in the areas most likely to push prices up.
  2. "...a very sizable proportion of New Zealand’s goods are being made in Asian countries (who are essentially exporting deflation).."*
  3. Most price inflation occurs in areas of major government meddling, not in those in which meddling is only minor and we're still free to produce.  (Recent price rises in oil and food only make this point more accurate.)

So the moral of the story:

  1. Tax cuts good.
  2. Government meddling bad.
  3. Cullen dishonest.
  4. O'Sullivan the only political journalist with nous.
  5. Some economists do know what they're talking about -- and the media should talk to them more.
  6. Stick with NOT PC -- we'll see you right.

UPDATE: Matt from the Visible Hand in Economics blog objects that it is not "fully representative" to say above that the Visible Hand in Economics blog peddles "the common view ... that tax cuts increase inflationary pressure."   "I don't think that this quote is fully representative of my post," Matt responds:

   In my post I said that if government spending was also cut the tax cuts would not be inflationary. Also I made the case that tax cuts without any change in spending might not be as inflationary as we would expect given the "supply-side" response of tax cuts.
    I think it is more than fair to treat government spending as exogenous as I did [ie., as determined by conditions outside the economy], but I can understand the argument that lower government surpluses will lead to more "fiscal restraint." However, given the lack of fiscal restraint over the last decade is it fair to assume that either Labour or National are really going to hit the brakes on the growth of government?
    Also the "exporting inflation" {sic] argument is an exaggeration. As we increase demand for foreign goods our exchange rate depreciates - increasing the domestic price of foreign goods.
    However, don't get me wrong, I completely agree that government spending is more inflationary than tax cuts. But that wasn't the case I was discussing on the Visible Hand in Economics.

For the record, the paragraph of Matt's from which NOT PC quoted reflects the common Keynesian view, and reads as follows:

The common view I work off when stating that tax cuts increase inflationary pressure is that tax cuts increase “aggregate demand“, which in turn will lead upward pressure on prices, and therefore an upward shift in interest rates.

This aggregating together of consumer demand (in Henry Hazlitt's words "a retrograde step which conceals real relationships and real causation [leading to the erection of] and elaborate structure of fictitious relationships and fictitious causation") conceals three fundamental things that strongly effect the argument in this case:

  1. It completely ignores saving rates -- which are generally higher for higher income earners;
  2. It completely conceals the distinction between an increased demand for consumer goods (and which particular goods are being demanded) and an increased demand for producer goods (and which particular producer goods are being demanded) and the different effect on production of increased spending on the latter;
  3. That government itself is not a producer, it's a consumer ('government investment' is just "a high-toned phrase for inflation or for tax-and-spend give-aways" - ref: Foundation for Economic Education).

In other words, when governments get our money it's mostly poured down an unproductive black hole with too much money chasing too few goods, whereas only some of ours is. 

It also ignores completely the most fundamental point about inflation: that (in the words of Milton Friedman) it is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon -- inflation is a measure of how much governments and their central banks are inflating the money supply (which is what governments and their central banks tend to do), not a measure of the rise and fall of prices (which is what prices naturally tend to do).

That said, I note that Matt does draw attention to the "supply side" effect of the tax cuts -- although Eric Crampton notes, if instead of making the tax cuts 'progressive' they'd instead "knocked all the rates back somewhat , the supply side action would have been a lot more effective" -- and I take his point completely that "If society really wants lower taxes we could cut spending" (which should really read "we should insist that government spending is cut"), and to expect "fiscal restraint" from either red or blue team is like expecting sartorial restraint from Paris Hilton.

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Problem is Keystone cops, not the right to silence.

After the acquittal of Chris Kahui, former politician Geoffrey Palmer says there's a problem with the law.  No there's not, says prominent defence lawyer Barry Hart -- pointing to the acquittals of Chris Kahui and George Gwaze, the problem he says is with the police investigations.  While I'm always inclined to presume that both are wrong when a lawyer and a politician are arguing, in this case it's the lawyer who's right.

Palmer's suggestion that our legal system abandons the right to silence -- a basic legal protection against state authority that have been with us for centuries -- is the sort of thing one would expect to see from angry talkback callers  after a few drinks, not from a supposedly learned chap who once wrote a book called Unbridled Power. 

Suggestions from Palmer and Labour's Russell Fairbrother that the protection of the right to silence in New Zealand today was different from old English society, which developed the law to protect powerless suspects "against the overwhelming power of the state,"  are worse than spurious. As Auckland University associate professor of law Scott Optican says, they are "ridiculous."   The power of the state now is no less overwhelming now and, as Optican points out, "although police could not force people to speak before a trial, they could call them as witnesses in court, where they had to speak."

So what's the problem?

The problem is that we're all angry that people have been killed, investigations and court cases have been held, and the killers still haven't been found and convicted.  But anger at the failure to achieve convictions isn't a reason to throw away one's brain. 

Because lawyer Barry Hart is right.  The problem is not the right to silence in NZ law, the problem appears to be the incompetence of NZ police investigations. We all looked askance at the Keystone Cops approach to investigating the killings of Chris & Cru Kahui, and as we saw in the trials of Chris Kahui for their killing and  of George Gwaze for killing his niece, the police appeared to be blithely unaware of some basic information about both cases.

Where, for example, was Macsyna King when her babies were supposed to have been killed?  After months of investigation the police didn't know, and Kahui's defence team had to show them.   The police, you see, hadn't thought to look at her phone records.  Not good enough. 

Similar failures in police procedure appeared in the case against George Gwaze, in this case the most basic information about what caused his niece's death.

The Kahui/King 'family' was deadly to its youngest members -- let's not let them and the incompetent police investigation of their killing be just as deadly to NZ law.

UPDATE 1:  Joining the 'Sort Out the Police' brigade is ZenTiger, who uses biting satire and two other stories of police incompetence to make his point, and  Blair Mulholland, who points out the police are largely ignoring their most basic duty: to protect us. 

    Like all bureaucracies, their first instinct is self-perpetuation and preservation, no matter what the consequences for their sworn duties.  They have become a huge threat to our rights and our individual sovereignty - a wayward beast run amok.
    The police have:

    ..and that's just for starters.
    Policing in this country has reached crisis point.  We need nothing less than an independent Royal Commission to sort it out.

I doubt that a Royal Commission is the answer -- after all, the New South Wales police endure a Royal Commission every election cycle, and they're still 'the best police money can buy.'  In my humble opinion, Trevor Loudon's ten-point plan to fix the police is still the best place to start.

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