Friday, 29 May 2009

Top NOT PC this week

If you’re wanting to catch up on the best of blogging here over the last seven days or so, then here’s what people were reading most:

I hope you enjoy them all.  See you next week,

Beer O’Clock: Let’s talk about beer

In which regular beer correspondent Neil Miller fulfils his promise to talk about Cooper’s Stout.  And beer snobs.

Liquor aficionado Frank Kelly Rich once penned a thoughtful piece on why beer appreciation (or “beer snobbery” as he called it) was superior in virtually every way to wine snobbery.   Of course, Mr Rich considers anyone who drinks out of a glass rather than a furtive paper bag to be a bit of snob really.  Fundamentally, he argued that beer snobs had it better because the dress code was more casual, there was no need to learn French and you could basically make everything up because no-one really knows what they are talking about when it comes to beer.

Enthusiasm and relish, he believed, was more important than experience and research. His article, “The subtle art of beer snobbery”, is, in my opinion, Rich’s best piece of work.  I recognise a number of truths in the piece and laughed so much that beer shot out of my nose.  It is amazing that this prolific yet constantly over-proof writer also finds time to edit Modern Drunkard Magazine, blog and write “The Modern Drunkard: A Handbook for Drinking in the 21st Century.”

However, in reality, professional beer writers cannot get away with simply making it all up – at least not for very long.  We are not marketers after all.  Beer writers certainly cannot follow Rich’s simple advice: “In fact, the only terms you really need to know are nutty, worty, fruity, hoppy, grainy, mouthy, sulpheristical, pine-needley, and bodacious.  What do they mean?  No one knows for sure.  The important thing is to use as many of them as possible when you rate a beer.  For example, you should never just say “this beer is worty.”  Instead, you should say “I find the wortiness of this beer fruity yet mouthy, with pine-needley undertones of sulpheristicallity, bodaciousamentally speaking.”

It’s marvellous satire though it is true that writers looking for a unique way of describing beer can get quite poetic.  Keith Stewart once described Harrington’s Wobbly Boot Porter as “a warm, cuddly, convivial beer.”  Cameron Williamson said that Young’s Double Chocolate Stout was “a totally indulgent oddity.”  My personal favourite description is from a poster on the Ratebeer website who writes of the rather awful St Peter’s Honey Porter that the “floral honey scent hits you like a two by four at first, making you feel like you are about to be molested by Winnie the Pooh’s deranged redneck cousin.”  That’s pretty hard to top.

Aussie beer scribes Ben Canaider and Greg Duncan Powell had a decent nudge at doing that when they described Cooper’s Best Extra Stout (6.3%) as not only tasting of a “burnt green stick” but also having “a bit of cooking chocolate, the bits scraped out the bottom of the roasting pan, old chests of drawers, brake fluid and iced coffee.”  I would be wary of accepting a dinner invitation at their place if they are cooking.

Cooper’s Best Extra Stout enjoys a fine reputation on both sides of the Tasman [and in the Castle garden].  It is still a family brewery and kept malting their own grain long after other brewers gave the practice up.  They have been committed to a policy of no additives and no preservatives since day one.  Their Stout is a pitch black beer with an espresso head.  The nose is dry, roasty and earthy while the flavours are iced coffee, toast and cream.  It is a dry dark brew.  A conveniently unverifiable legend also has it that this beer recommended by blood banks in Australia because of its high iron content.


Beer Writer
Real Beer New Zealand
Beer and Brewer Magazine
(Cross-posted from The Malthouse Blog)

Fifteen Albums That Changed Your Life

Then one fine morning she turned on a New York station
Couldn’t believe what she heard at all!
She started dancing to that fine, fine music
You know her life was saved by rock n’ roll . . .

- Lou Reed, from ‘Rock n’Roll’

After yesterday’s fiscal fraudulence (Tax cuts. Yeah right.) we’ve almost earned ourselves a frivolous Friday, don’t you think?  And what’s more life-saving than music, eh?

Anyway, a friend was talking last night about a Facebook thread she’s on where folk are discussing the Fifteen Albums That Changed Your Life – and since we started making a wee list over a few drinks I figured I’d offer up the benefit of my research.

So here they are in autobiographical order – each one of which at one time lifted back the scales from my ears and drew back a curtain from my soul. It’s not as if you won’t know most of them already, to be fair.

  1. Hello Sailor, by Hello Sailor
    Heard it, bought it, played it every night for two years.  Wore it out. This was my just what this particular thirteen-year-old ordered.
  2. Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols
    As the poet said, Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, But to be young was very heaven.  Or something like that anyway.
  3. 1969:Velvet Underground Live, by the Velvet Underground
    It seemed for a while there that the universe contained two kinds of people. Those who ‘got’ the VU, and those that didn’t.
  4. White Album, Beatles
    Friend’s older brother got sick of us playing air guitar to the Buzzcocks one afternoon, and dropped the needle on ‘Helter Skelter’ to show us who was boss. Turned out old hippies could rock out too!
  5. King of the Delta Blues Singers, Robert Johnson
    Strange what you uncover when you check out the influences of your influences.  Blues!  Who knew!!
  6. Ninth Symphony, Ludwig van Beethoven (LSO)
    Figuring there was more to this music gig than I’d heretofore discovered I started mining the second-hand classical record bins.  I stuck in my thumb and pulled out . . . this!  My God, I never knew music could do this.
  7. Second Piano Concerto, Sergei Rachmaninov (Moura Lympany)
    Then one fine morning I turned up this wee beauty, and I really and truly couldn’t believe what I heard at all.
  8. Jazz Classics in Digital Stereo.  Vol 3: New York
    It was that Jimmy Lunceford song ‘Stratosphere’ that did it.  What started out as a cheap tape full of tiddlywink music to play while studying suddenly told me that a whole world of jazz awaited my discovery. And the whole world got even bigger, and more exciting.
  9. Cotton Club soundtrack
    And then I discovered Duke Ellington, and I have John Barry and this soundtrack to thank for it.
  10. Tosca, Giacomo Puccini (Leontyne Price/Giuseppe de Stefano)
    Scratched to hell this old record was, even when I first got it, but it scratched an itch I hadn’t even known I had.
  11. Smoke & Strong Whiskey – Christy Moore
    He offers one hell of a rousing welcome to this particular cabaret.  Almost literally intoxicating, this was the drive-home-after-a session music for every Irishman I knew in London.
  12. The Essential Wagner – The Legendary Toscanini Recordings
    Another cheap cassette tape picked up in a Shepherd’s Bush bargain basement opened up a whole new world. I played it and played it as background music -- until one day something just happened.  I stopped it, rewound it, and just sat there and actually listened to it.  As friends will testify, I really haven’t been the same since. The thing is, after Wagner nothing else can ever sound the same again.
  13. Bossa Nova/Nevermind/Generation Terrorists
    While my back was turned, these buggers showed that the lost decade of music that was the eighties would finally result in something exciting.  Youngsters could still do it for themselves, and it could still be alright.
  14. Let Love In – Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds
    I’d lost track of old Nick over the years, never realising that he’d discovered melody in his middle ages.  I heard this, and I let Nick back in.
  15. Four Last Songs, Richard Strauss (Elizabeth Schwarzkopf)
    Balm.  Just balm. When the mood is right, these four songs can justify the whole world. I’ve since heard it sung better (thanks, Jesse Norman), but this album is still a well-played sentimental favourite.

So there’s my fifteen (and thanks Les, Francis, Graham, Tanja, Martin, Lindsay et al for some of the introductions).

What are yours?

“Entitlements” and moral inversion

There was one word I kept hearing over and over yesterday.  That word was “entitlement” or, occasionally in the plural, “entitlements” – as in “I’m not going to cut people’s entitlements, but I’m sure as shooting not going to cut people’s taxes either.”

“Entitlements”?  Really?  Is that the most accurate way to describe hand-outs to moochers?  To describe largesse forcibly extracted from the taxpayer?  As an entitlement?

We have entered strange times. 

While the wealth of producers is stolen to pay for these handouts – while their property is considered fair game – the handouts themselves are now considered the property of the moochers. As somehow untouchable.

It is a strange and destructive moral inversion.

And now a word from John Adams . . .


. . . who, of course, never had the misfortune to meet the folk from the National Party.

(Cartoon courtesy John Cox Art)

Thursday, 28 May 2009

The English Budget: "Ever get the feeling you've been cheated?" [update 3]


David Farrar calls it a "budget that almost writes itself." That's almost true once you factor in broken promises on tax cuts, the inability of politicians to stop spending what they haven't got and the underlying values of the National Party.

So let's see what the promises both kept and broken add up to both in dollars and in values betrayed. 

English promised over 5 billion dollars in extra spending over four years in areas -- health and education and feel-good crap -- where Labour's $20 billion spending binge had absolutely no net positive effect whatsoever. Which means they're keeping non-productive electoral bribes made for no other reason than headlines, and breaking their promises to productive New Zealanders who have to pay for this new blue binge.

He promised nearly one-third of a billion dollars to subsidise people who insulate their houses. Which means they're keeping their commitment to their post-election deal with the Greens, while breaking their clear election promise to the productive taxpayers who voted for National.

He promised to consume over 7.5 billion dollars over five years in Think Big infrastructure projects (for which the RMA is already being prepared) all of which will have to be paid for out of borrowing -- which means they’re keeping their promise to borrow money to bid up the prices of contractors and building materials at the very time these prices need to fall.

He admitted that the total spending bill adds up to $17 billion or red ink over the next two years -- $17 billion that will have to be borrowed -- $17 billion that could have been used by productive New Zealanders in bankrolling genuine productive spending.

So, if we remember John Key's commitment in the Wall Street Journal back in March, we might note he really is talking Adam Smith abroad while spending like John Maynard Keynes at home -- which means he must think either local commentators are stupid or Wall Street Journal readers don't do their homework.

And, of course he committed to maintaining "entitlements" -- what used to be called welfare payments -- meaning the likes of Welfare for Working Families, interest-free student loans, subsidised state-housing and the like which National (at one time) actually campaigned against. This means they're keeping their belated promises to the moochers, while breaking their firm commitment to the productive, i.e., the people paying for it all.

Asked by David Farrar "what their rationale was for deciding to break a tax cut promise rather than a spending promise such as interest-free student loans (especially as he originally opposed interest free student loans but always campaigned for tax cuts) English responded that people feel insecure in a recession, and they made a decision not to cut any current entitlements to help confidence and security."

My colleague Mr Darby warned this morning about the "fiscal child abuse" that has just been announced.

I characterised the Budget this morning as a Liars' Budget. And so it is. But it's very revealing to look at those to whom they're happy to lie, and and who they think it's important to keep "confident and secure." If you want to understand the values of today's National Party all you need to know is that they think it's important to keep their promises to moochers, but okay to lie to productive New Zealanders on whose shoulders the whole country actually rests.

If you're one of those heroes and you voted for these lying cheats, then you've been conned - as you have been if you voted ACT, whose MPs are lining up as we speak to vote this Budget in.

As Johnny Rotten once asked his audience, "Ever get the feeling you've been cheated?"

UPDATE 1: The very easily pleased Adolph from No Minister calls me "economically challenged and naive" for not standing up and applauding what Roger Douglas called a budget whose biggest deficit is one of courage and imagination -- a budget that could just as easily have been delivered by Michael Cullen.

Notes Lindsay Perigo, "Mr. Key taunted Labour Leader Phil Goff as 'Whack-it-on-the-bill Phil,' an advocate of 'Visanomics.' That's accurate enough. But in what respect does John Key claim to differ?" Care to tell us, National supporters?

UPDATE 2: I love Dave Gee's headline:
'Let Them Eat Pink Batts!'

UPDATE 3: And from Whale Oil:
While we are talking about the Dipstick from Dipton have a look at how Hong Kong is "stimulating" the economy. They have raised their tax cut today from 1500 to 1900NZD a year for stimulus. Meanwhile Bill the Dork talks about maintaining "entitlements" for losers.

A genuinely productive Budget . . .

Unlike the National/Act Government, who are about to expensively break their election promises on tax cuts this afternoon, Libertarianz luminaries have backed up their pre-election plans for the economy – the Don’t-Spend-So-Goddamn-Much Plan and the Get-the-Hell-Out-of-the-Way Plan – with an honest, constructive Alternative Budget this morning that recognises that government spending is not investment, it’s consumption (and it’s not consumption that drives an economy, it’s production) and if there was ever a time to cut the moochers loose it is now:

Libertarianz Party Alternative Budget
nikhaden     Libertarianz Finance spokesman Nik Haden today released the Libertarianz Party Alternative Budget for 2009.  “We are continuing to offer a substantial reduction in the tax burden, offset by a realignment of state priorities towards the proper role of the government.” said Mr Haden.
    “The economic recipe for financial success isn’t any different to before the financial crisis, so our essential message remains unchanged.  Just as individuals cannot for long continue to spend more than they earn, neither can governments.  A responsible approach to economic management is the best stimulus package as it gives people confidence that they won’t be saddled with debt in the future.”
    “The highlights of our budget are that the first $50,000 of everyone’s income would be tax-free and that GST would be abolished.  This would deliver a substantial boost to the economy by significantly increasing individuals’ spending power.  While there would be significant reductions in government spending, individuals will always know best how to spend their own money so such spending will necessarily be of higher value and more productive than when the government tries to do it for them.”
    “Unfortunately, I don’t have much confidence that Bill English will take up these ideas in his budget to be released later today.  However even if he isn’t prepared to make the significant tax and spending changes that are so urgently needed there is at least one thing he could quite reasonably commit to.  The current Treasury forecast for the year ended June 2009 shows a small net positive net Crown cash flow.  This shows that the Crown’s finances aren’t too bad, although recent economic events will push this balance negative in the short term.  What it does indicate though is that there is no need for the Crown to take New Zealand further into debt.  All that is required is that Bill English not let the government commit to any more expenditure.  If expenditure could be capped overall such that any increases were offset by decreases elsewhere, we won’t have to ask our kids to subsidise our current lifestyle.”
    “This outcome would fall a long way short of being ideal, but would be a good target for the Minister of Finance to aim for,” concluded Mr Haden.
    An executive summary of the Alternative Budget is available
    A video explaining the Libertarianz budget highlights from last year can be found at

I recommend following some of those links to see just how easy it would be to cut this government down to size.

NOT PJ: Power outrage

“I’d like the electricity company to give me $1000,” says our regular columnist Bernard Darnton this week, “but I’d like it even more if they gave me some electricity.”

With my promised tax cut a bitter memory, my only hope of a windfall now is getting my $1000 out of the electricity companies. According to the Commerce Commission, the power companies have been overcharging for electricity to the tune of $4.3 billion dollars.

This has prompted various empty vessels to clamour for their $1000-per-head refunds. Even if there were going to be refunds you wouldn’t be getting $1000. Of the $4.3 billion, $4.2 billion would probably be owed to Comalco and the rest of us would get $4.19 each.

That’s even assuming that the $4.3 billion is real, which it isn’t, for various complex economic reasons. (The main one being that if any government department had any idea what the price of anything “should” be we’d all be driving around in sporty new Ladas and watching North Korean TV sets paid for with all the foreign aid money that Zimbabwe kept sending us.)

The reason that the price of electricity keeps going up is that there simply isn’t enough of it around.

With something like crap journalism, if we run out we can just import more. If we have a dry year and the supply of live crosses to rain-drenched reporters standing in exposed locations talking about how wet it is dwindles, we can just download a bunch more stories about crap driving in swollen rivers off the satellite.

That’s not the case with electricity. If it doesn’t rain and there isn’t enough lake water to run the hydro stations at full capacity we have to generate that power locally somehow else. And for that to happen the price has to rise above the level at which “somehow else” is worthwhile.

Say a hydro station can generate power for 2 cents a unit and can produce a bajillion units of power. If we need less than a bajillion units of power the price could get down to 2 cents. If we need a bajillion-and-one units of power we need to fire up the new generator. Let’s say the only alternative is generating electricity by trapping Sue Kedgeley in a sow crate and capturing the hot air emissions. That bajillion-and-first unit of electricity, like most green power, will cost hundreds of dollars and it won’t get generated unless people are willing to pay that much.

The generator of the 2-cent hydro power, at this point making $699.98 profit per unit, will be trying to work out how to gold plate Rolls Royces. That’s simply the reward for producing something so valuable for so little.

What should happen now is that the sight of all the gold-plated Rolls Royces tooling around Twizel tempts someone else to enter the market with either another dam or at least something cheaper to run than a nonsense-spouting economically and scientifically illiterate MP.

So, assuming that the Commerce Commission was even close to right – and that’s a big if – someone should jump in to scoop up those spare billions that are supposedly washing around.

Of course no one does. First, because the huge profits aren’t that much when you consider the amount of capital involved. If my bank account contained the amount of cash required to build the Clyde Dam I certainly wouldn’t be doing anything as mad as building the Clyde Dam with it.

Second, because it’s impossible. Between the not-in-my-or-anyone-else’s-backyard types halting new hydro and wind schemes, the bans on nuclear and new thermal generation, and the laws of physics suggesting you don’t install solar panels on roofs in Dunedin it’s essentially impossible to build new generation.

In a free market, high prices act as in incentive to produce more. In an unfree “market”, high prices serve to ration supply. Better to generate less power and push price-sensitive consumers out of the market (i.e. kill a few old ladies) than disturb the mauri of a river.

Rather than getting Energy Minister Gerry Brownlee to threaten power companies not to raise prices, the government should be removing the obstacles to new generation. A new thermal station fuelled with copies of the Resource Management Act would be a good start.

* * Read Bernard Darnton every week here at NOT PC * *

It’s a Liars’ Budget

In what has already been dubbed by commentators “the most important Budget of our generation,” Bill English and John Key have already signalled they aren’t up to the job.
In a time of near desperate straits, when every productive New Zealanders desperately need every dollar of working capital they can lay their hands on to keep themselves and their employees above water and to begin the recovery that is so desperately needed, this pair  of thieves are about to announce  that they’re unable to get their ship properly in order; that as a consequence their profligate borrowing will further weigh down productive NZers; and that the very election promise which offered a glimmer of hope – the promise of tax cuts on which they were elected – is now about to be shamefully broken with the excuse from this pair of weasels that “we never saw it coming.”
If they never saw the world economic collapse coming, they are incompetent.
And since the slump had already begun when the promises of tax cuts were made, and re-pledged, they are liars.  As Brian Rudman pointed out just yesterday, “Key and English knew about the global crisis as they pledged tax cuts at last year’s election,” and they sailed blithely ahead making promises they never intended to deliver.  In fact, given that New Zealand’s economy went into the slump before the world slump began, it’s even more imperative that the engine of NZ’s economy be given back the fuel it needs to kickstart a genuine recovery. 
Instead that engine is to be starved of fuel so this government can instead stoke the flames of “entitlement spending” and feel-good bullshit.  Not only are we not to get the tax cuts promised, there is even talk of new taxes on the horizon, including perhaps the Capital Gains Tax that even Michael Cullen resisted.
In the most important budget for a generation then, we are this afternoon to be delivered a Liars’ Budget by incompetent fools.  It is not even just tax-and-spend: it is borrow and tax and spend like all hell, in the mistaken belief that pouring taxpayers’ money down the black hole of government and the multi-billion-dollar mirage of “infrastructure” will somehow inspire a recovery somewhere down the drain – just like it’s never done anywhere ever before.
And my colleague, Libertarianz finance co-spokesman and Auckland economist Mr Darby warns that the billions of dollars of red ink, funded by borrowing, will have implications for the youngest in society: the children who will have to pay this government’s debt.
juliandarby     "An unbalanced budget has to be funded, and if this is funded by additional borrowing, then future generations will bear the burden of paying off the debt. This is 'fiscal child abuse',” says Darby. “A responsible political party and government would, at the very least, balance the budget."
However, in its first budget, the National/ACT government appears to be about to fund a series of deficits by borrowing, thereby mortgaging the lives of future generations. "While this demonstrates that they are irresponsible, what is outrageous is that they are about to renege on their promise of tax cuts, a promise which formed a central part of their election campaign,” noted Darby. “To blame the recession for breaking this promise is no excuse, for the effects of the recession were well known to everyone when this promise was made. They are either incompetent, or they wilfully lied in order to get onto the Treasury benches," continued Darby.
The Libertarianz support tax reductions in all their forms. In fact, tax cuts are more important than ever so that money is returned to the productive members of society; for it is they who create wealth and jobs. It follows, therefore, that breaking the promise of tax cuts would hinder any recovery of New Zealand's economy.
Darby pointed out, however, that tax cuts must be accompanied by equivalent reductions in government spending. "It is essential that government spending is slashed. “Line-by-line” spending reviews are nowhere near enough – many government departments and programmes can easily be eliminated saving significant sums of money and allowing the promised tax cuts to proceed. And yet," highlights Darby, "this government has shown no interest in effecting any meaningful cuts to spending. On the contrary, they are about to embark on a multi-billion dollar programme of spending on infrastructure and home insulation."
Finally, Darby issued a warning. "This government is about to engage in fiscal child abuse by mortgaging the lives of future generations. They do this while breaking their central election promise of tax cuts and while creating significant spending programmes which will also hinder any economic recovery. Muldoon is alive and well in Wellington."
Frankly, I doubt even Muldoon was as cynical as this present pair of liars.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

The Hikoi and Rosa Parks

A superb letter to the editor published in this morning’s Christchurch Press shows that the issue at the heart of the hikoi is not just about racist seats on the Auckland council – it goes very much wider that that:

    Blacks in America once had special seats reserved for them; down the backs of buses. Fortunately for every black man and woman in the US today, one brave black woman, Rosa Parks, challenged the entire ethic behind such seats, by sitting up the front, and so starting the civil rights movement. And yet New Zealand Maori seem determined to reclaim those special bus seats back.
Rosa would surely be turning in her grave, trying to keep a wise distance from the Hikoi.
So long as we continue to seek a morality based on the tribe and the collective, and not a morality of man qua man, then we remain forever trapped in a State of barbarism, slaves to the State and the tyranny of the many.

You can thank the author here at SOLO.

National’s tax-cut lie [update 2]

He rather lets the Nats off the hook at the end, but Brian Rudman’s piece in today’s Herald is worth reading just to be reminded what a cynically broken election promise looks like.

As Rudman says, “Key and English knew about the global crisis as they pledged tax cuts at last year’s election,” and now they’re about to renege on a promise they knew they could never deliver.  In short, they lied – and you bought it.  Rudman summarises:

    Earlier this month, Prime Minister John Key signalled to an audience of his friends at a Business New Zealand meeting the promised tax cuts would be delayed to some unspecified time in the future. He said New Zealand could not afford "a runaway balance sheet".
    Yet back on September 30 last year, Mr English was mocking then Finance Minister Michael Cullen for being over-cautious on the issue. He said: "Dr Cullen cannot be trusted to deliver on any future tax promises."
    He compared that with National which "will have an ongoing programme of personal tax cuts.”

Yeah right.

[English[ said he would treat Labour's tax cuts, which came into force the next day, "as the first tranche on our tax-cut programme. That will be followed by another tranche of tax reductions on April 1, 2009 [which were fully wiped out by increases in ACC levies], and further tranches in 2010 and 2011". He declared: "National has structured its credible economic package to take account of the changing international climate. Our tax cut programme will not require any additional borrowing."

. . . another lie, since even at the time a lot of sleight 0f hand and legerdemain was being used to shuffle the blame for the borrowing onto the need to fund their $7 billion infrastructure binge – rather than it simply being the case that the Nats lacked the balls to cut spending when most needed.  Too many dead spending rats had already been swallowed . . . yet even in October last year, after “the books” had been opened and several more dead rats fell out, Key and English both said “the pledge to deliver about $50 a week to workers on the average wage remained on track.”

Folks, they never meant a word of it. They lied to you – and the lying continued even after they’d won the election on the back of that very lie:

    On December 16, Mr English was up in the House confirming "National will not be going back on any of those promises, as we fully costed and funded them."
   [Yet] the Government is now making out some economic thunderbolt has suddenly hit New Zealand and thrown their pre-election calculations out the window.
    But even economic ignoramuses like myself knew a global crisis was nigh.

In fact, the global crisis wasn’t just nigh – the global collapse had already happened.  All you had to do was look in the newspapers – or the housing markets.  The Dow Jones average is enough to tell the story that’s now being fudged by National – that they were somehow blindsided by a crisis they didn’t see coming.  The f’ing collapse had already happened – as  Tom Woods summarises in his book Meltdown ,which records the course of the crash, “When the New York Stock Exchange closed on October 9, 2007, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was 14,164.53, the highest close ever. Thirteen months later, on November 20, 2008, it closed at 7,552.29, a drop of 46.7 percent.”

Yet over all of those thirteen months and right through their election campaign National never missed a beat – and no political journalist ever asked them to reconcile the irreconcilable.  Sure, bloggers did (well, two of them), and at least one political party, but the Nats just kept on regardless – they kept right on promising “significant personal tax cuts” of  “about $50 a week to workers on the average wage,” and just before Christmas were again confirming “National will not be going back on any of those promises, as we fully costed and funded them,” and they never meant a bloody word of it at any time.

They lied. You bought it.  And fair play to Brian Rudman for being one of the few to point that out, however softly.

Which just leaves one final question that the voters of Mt Albert might be in a position to ask:  “So where are our tax cuts now, you bastards?”

UPDATE 1: Even died-in-the-wool Nat Whale Oil agrees.  See:

    I find myself in agreement with [Rudman].
I wonder why it is that it is deemed acceptable to renege on tax cut promises yet steadfastly adhere to the "no cutting of so-called entitlements" promises?
Perhaps Bill English could explain to the ever patient taxpayer why they should not get a tax cut and they should continue to pay for Working for Families, or Universal Superannuation,  both totally daft ideas completely without logic or merit in these hard economic times.

Not to mention the utterly nonsensical promise to add even more spending: one-third of a billion dollars of taxpayers' money to insulate other people's houses.

UPDATE 2: Right on cue Paul Walker at Anti Dismal quotes a letter Don Boudreaux sent to the New York Times on the reasons for tax cuts:

    By far, the chief economic reason for cutting taxes is to increase the return to productive activity - to increase the return to investment, to risk-taking, to creativity, to work. The economic justification for lower taxes rests squarely on the understanding that cutting marginal tax rates makes profitable many productive efforts, including hiring more workers, that are unprofitable at higher tax rates.

And of course the chief moral reason is that it’s our frigging money they’re spending like water – at a time when we need our money most.

DOWN TO THE DOCTOR’S: Scandal, more scandal & vigilantism

An irreverent look at some headlines from the past week, by Libertarianz leader Richard McGrath.

  1. British scandal lesson valid in our House too – Thanks to British law and the efforts (and money) of the Daily Telegraph, hundreds of British MPs are now squirming under the light as their profligate and corrupt expenses claims are exposed. Unfortunately, in New Zealand it is far more difficult to discover just how much our MPs are spending on themselves via the public purse. As this opinion piece notes, details of our parliamentarians’ expenses are exempted from searches under the Official Information Act -- the politicians made this loophole for themselves when the OIA was drafted. And there is no requirement for them to keep details of how they spend the $14,800 they each receive annually for entertainment, membership fees and other “out=of pocket” expenses. It’s time the activities of our MPs were made transparent, instead of having to rely on inside information to reveal the few scraps of information, such as Jonathan Hunt’s $29,000 taxi bill, and the accommodation allowance rort perpetrated by Phillida Bunkle and Marian Hobbs. It’s time the books were opened and this loophole for corrupt MPs was closed.
  2. Vigilantes back on the streets – The Martinborough Militia are back! Days after one of their number was arrested for allegedly discharging a shotgun, the fifty-plus members of the town’s militia are back on the streets doing their overnight patrols, assisting the town constable in preventing the burglary of elderly people’s homes. This sort of community action is commendable in my view. But there needs to be discipline within the ranks to ensure that the militia themselves don’t become the aggressors.
  3. Debts make cuts in health services likely – It appears the previous CEO of Wairarapa Health and his board may have been fibbing when it told Aunty Helen it would work within its budget if she built it a shiny new hospital. Well, Masterton has its new hospital, David Meates has moved on to become CEO at the Canterbury DHB, while the Wairarapa DHB is still running huge budget deficits. New boss Tracey Adamson has a difficult job ahead of her – she will have to cut services. This is the reality when health care is rationed – or rather, when the money you might have spent on purchasing private medical insurance is taken in taxes, put into a pot and divvied up according to who screams the loudest. From each, according to his ability; to each, according to his need.
  4. Council knew before opening that musical would bomb – A scandal that deserves to bring down the Auckland City Council. Over four million dollars of ratepayer money has been used to bail out losses incurred by entertainment companies in Auckland over the past six month. It should be apparent to everyone that any further sponsorship or bailouts of entertainment companies by ratepayers should be halted forthwith. The good citizens of Auckland should be marching on the City Council with pitchforks and flaming torches and demanding some answers and accountability. This is outrageous!         

See y’all next week!
Doc McGrath

Racing in the Street [update 3]

From the more-laws-where-we’ve-already-got-laws file we’ve got Judith ‘Grandstander’ Collins who, instead of simply insisting that the police and judiciary apply laws already on the books, wants (just like her predecessor ‘Plugs’ Cosgrove) to get a headline for herself for beating up on youngsters in cars.

While we wait the time it takes for the first car to be crushed for either driving in a convoy, for going along a street more than once, or for (gasp) going into a skid (all of which may now lead to having your car eventually crushed if you do it three times in four years), let’s enjoy a song by Bruce Springsteen: ‘Racing in the Street’:

Apparently it’s not on Judith Collins’s iPod.  I’m sure she’d like to upload ‘I Eat Heavy Metal’ sung by John Lee Hooker  – but I’m not sure she’d understand the irony.

UPDATE 1:  Brad Taylor makes the point I’ve hinted at crystal clear in his well-named post The Boy-Racer Moral Panic:

    I find the focus on ‘intimidation’ and ‘anti-social’ driving rather troubling. The legislation is pandering to the same sort of bigoted public sentiment which fueled prior panics over rock & roll, punk, etc. . . [W] e already have laws against dangerous driving and street racing, and it’s not clear to me the penalties are too light.
    My main problem with the law, though, is that it does more than simply crack down on dangerous driving. Being able to lose your driving license for having your car stereo too loud seems ridiculous, as does allowing councils to stop drivers from ‘cruising’ city streets.
This legislation is not primarily about road safety, but the moral distaste many people have for spiky-haired hoodlums in loud and garish cars. I, for one, think it’s a bigoted piece of populist crap.

UPDATE 2: And how about this: No Right Turn takes a stand on principle:

"Boy racers": why you should care
    Firstly, they discard the entire idea of justice, instead seeking to curb street racing by punishing the innocent. If a person commits multiple street racing offences, they will punish them by taking someone else's car away and crushing it.
Secondly, it takes a car crusher to human rights, violating the freedoms of movement, association, peaceful assembly, and from unreasonable search and seizure, not to mention the rights to justice and the right against disproportionate punishment - all of which are affirmed in the Bill of Rights Act and in multiple international instruments our government has sworn to uphold.
No-one likes boy racers. They're loud, obnoxious, and a danger to cats. But justice and human rights are indivisible. We need to protect them for everyone, even people we despise, or we have no right to claim those protections ourselves. What the government is doing here is simply wrong, and we should stand up and tell them so.

Well said those men.

UPDATE 3:  Strange bedfellows indeed.  Even, cough, John Banks is against:

Auckland City mayor John Banks compares [Judith Collins’s]  plans to the "draconian" ban on gang patches in Wanganui. . . Prime Minister John Key said [the plans] would stop boy-racers "circling the same streets again and again". The proposed law will allow local authorities to make bylaws preventing people "cruising" down certain streets. Transport Minister Steven Joyce said cruising was defined as "repeatedly driving over the same section of road in a motor vehicle that draws attention to the sound of its engine or creates a convoy that impedes traffic flow". This meant cruising would not capture those "just looking for a carpark". But Mr Banks last night said he would not be rushing to introduce an anti-cruising ban on Queen St. "I'm the Mayor for all of the people that live in this city. We promote good behaviour and boy-racers that behave themselves are not an issue. There are bigger problems in the CBD Auckland today than boy-racers."


UPDATE 4: And from Danyl at the Dim Post:

    The main goal of the legislation . . .  seems to be the generation of positive media coverage for Judith Collins, ideally prime time news stories in which she is seen crushing cars and then delivering a piece to camera. Less importantly it will provide an additional revenue stream for her departments by allowing Police to confiscate cars belonging to people with overdue fines and then auction them off.
I predict that the number of cars crushed subsequent to Collins’ staged media event will be tiny, possibly even zero, and that ‘boy racers’ will also be a small proportion of the people who have their cars confiscated and sold.

Von Sternberg House – Richard Neutra


I was sure I’d blogged this house before, but for the life of me I can’t find a decent post on it. (Well, apart from this one.)

This is by far my favourite house by Neutra (pronounced NOI-tra). Designed in 1934 for film director Joseph von Sternberg, director of Marlene Dietrich in The Blue Angel.  (Von Sternberg famously insisted that there be no door locks on the bathrooms, in case a temperamental actor or actress or two decided to end it all in the stalls.)

ftsl06_neutra   “I selected a distant meadow,” von Sternberg recounted later, “in the midst of an empty landscape, barren and forlorn, to make a retreat for myself, my books, and my collection of modern art.”
    The building’s major space was a double-height living area surrounded by a balcony that was used as an art gallery. Displayed there were works by Gauguin, Kandinsky, Matisse, Léger, de Chirico, Kokoschka, Brancusi and Archipenko. Von Sternberg’s mirrored bath and bedroom, with a view of the rooftop reflecting pool, were the only rooms on the second floor.
    On the first level, east of the living area, lay a studio and kitchen, followed by staff quarters and the garages, one for regular cars and a larger one for the Rolls-Royce. A specially designed space for the owner’s huge dogs was behind the garage. To enliven the otherwise simple, aluminium-clad façade, Neutra designed—in the best Hollywood manner—a series of remarkable “special effects,” which extended into the landscape. Most prominent was the high curvilinear wall around the front patio, which emphasized the streamlined personality of the house. A shallow moat-like lily pool surrounded the wall and, in broken stretches, the entire house. A long thin wall extended from the west façade, exaggerating the house’s size and dividing the front and rear gardens.

Head to the house’s website here to see a stunning slideshow of the Julius Shulman photographs of the house and, if you don’t already know, to discover which influential novelist lived here after Von Sternberg, where she began the novel that has come to define our times – the novelist who described the house as “unbelievably wonderful.”

Later, in answering a query from a fan, she [the novelist] described it as being “extremely modern—made of steel, glass and concrete, mostly glass. So you see, I’m the kind of ballplayer who endorses only what she really smokes—and smokes only what she really endorses.”

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Pol-jos are softcocks

Blogger Robert Stacy McCain offers a nine-point summary of what it takes to be a political journalist these days. 
    To be a journalist in Washington is to live one's life surrounded by men who have never driven 110 mph, never spent a night in jail, and never won a fist-fight in their lives.
    The upper echelons of American journalism have become the exclusive monopoly of former teacher's pets, who as children were never sent to the principal's office, who as teenagers were never suspended for showing up drunk for chemistry class, who as college students never woke up at 6:30 a.m. on the porch of the ATO house, who never played in a rock band or sold a pound of weed or dove from a 50-foot cliff into an abandoned rock quarry.
Yes, he's talking about Washington journalists, but are our local lot any better? 

Hat tip here to Tim Blair, who reckons he scores five out of ten on the "anti-wuss qualifications."  If we take a bit of poetic license (it was Engineering Mechanics, not Chemistry), I make seven -- but I have no idea what an ATO House is.  :-)

What's your score?  Be as honest as you have to.

"The greatest story in a generation."

The New York Times calls the story and consequences of the Watergate break-in "the greatest story in a generation." The New York Times then explains just how exactly they missed the scoop.

By contrast, local media have described the resurrection of the closest local equivalent to the story -- the theft and publication of the opposition leaders' emails just before an election -- as "PR spin" and dismissed ongoing complaints about the theft and publication as "hollow complaints."

Is it just possible they're missing a bigger story than than the actual content of those emails?

Can’t we just ban stupidity from office? [updated]

Reports have it that “Prime Minister John Key is proposing to combat the drug P by banning its main ingredient, pseudoephedrine.” This is akin to banning the tides by insisting people close their windows at night so they can’t see the moon.

Have the proponents of the War on Drugs learned nothing in the thirty-eight years since that War was declared by Richard Nixon as diversion from other more pressing personal affairs?

If you ban the stuff it doesn't just go away. Thirty-eight years of "an increasing drug tide" should tell you that.

Have the proponents of bans learned nothing over those thirty-eight years about the results of their bans? That if you ban drugs, you simply put the sale and manufacture of drugs in the hands of outlaws. Sure, we all like to think our kids won't partake -- but how often did YOU ever "Just Say No" back in your day? And drugs are now much nastier than they were when you bought your buds from from a mate of a mate. Do you really want your daughter consuming virulent recreational pharmaceuticals cooked up by a bloke known only as 'Scabies'? Or would you prefer her buying from someone more trustworthy - like a pharmacist, a grower, a cannabis cafe, or from the makers of the formerly legal party pills, for example?

Have ban supporters learned nothing from figures showing lower rates of drug use in more liberal jurisdictions like Europe as opposed to the much higher rates in more prohibition-minded places like the US; have they learned nothing from the results of partial legalisation in places like London and the Netherlands, or of complete legalisation in places like Portugal.

"Judging by every metric, decriminalization in Portugal has been a resounding success," says Glenn Greenwald, an attorney, author and fluent Portuguese speaker, who conducted research [on Portugal's 2001 decriminalisation] . "It has enabled the Portuguese government to manage and control the drug problem far better than virtually every other Western country does." [Read Greenwald’s report for the CATO Institute here.]

Have they learned nothing from the prevalence of drugs in prisons? For goodness sake, if you can't even make them disappear from supposedly the most secure places in the country, then how on earth are you going to make them disappear from people's more private places?

Have they learned nothing from the results of all the bans? That if you ban particular stuff, it just changes its form.

You make it difficult to import cannabis and “buddha sticks,” and people bring in heroin instead. You make it difficult to bring in heroin, and people start making “homebake heroine” made from codeine. You make it harder to get hold of codeine-based drugs, and people find a way to make the even more virulent ‘P’ out of stuff contained in common cold remedies.

What’s next? It's almost like watching an episode of ‘McGyver.' Ban all the ingredients you like, but criminals are still going to find a way to make recreational pharmaceuticals using a roll of toilet paper, a lady's stocking, a tub of shoe polish, and a small bit of blue tack. And the drugs get progressively more virulent each time.

The reason they’ve got more virulent is what economist Milton Friedman called the ‘Iron Law of Prohibition.’

Friedman proved that prohibition changes the way people use drugs, making many people use stronger, more dangerous variants than they would in a legal market. During alcohol prohibition, moonshine eclipsed beer; during drug prohibition, crack is eclipsing coke. He called his rule explaining this curious historical fact “the Iron Law of Prohibition”: the harder the police crack down on a substance, the more concentrated the substance will become.
Why? If you run a bootleg bar in Prohibition-era Chicago and you are going to make a gallon of alcoholic drink, you could make a gallon of beer, which one person can drink and constitutes one sale – or you can make a gallon of pucheen, which is so strong it takes thirty people to drink it and constitutes thirty sales. Prohibition encourages you produce and provide the stronger, more harmful drink. If you are a drug dealer in Hackney, you can use the kilo of cocaine you own to sell to casual coke users who will snort it and come back a month later – or you can microwave it into crack, which is far more addictive, and you will have your customer coming back for more in a few hours. Prohibition encourages you to produce and provide the more harmful drug.
For Friedman, the solution was stark: take drugs back from criminals and hand them to doctors, pharmacists, and off-licenses. Legalize. Chronic drug use will be a problem whatever we do, but adding a vast layer of criminality, making the drugs more toxic, and squandering £20bn on enforcing prohibition that could be spent on prescription and rehab, only exacerbates the problem. “Drugs are a tragedy for addicts,” he said. “But criminalizing their use converts that tragedy into a disaster for society, for users and non-users alike.”

Friedman once told Bush Snr’s drugs tsar Bill Bennett, “You are not mistaken in believing that drugs are a scourge that is devastating our society. Your mistake is failing to recognize that the very measures you favour are a major source of the evils you deplore.” The evils have only got worse since.

Banning pseudoephedrine is just another road down that sorry path. And it will make it damn difficult for all of us presently suffering from cold (and colds) because we haven’t pumped enough carbon dioxide into the atmosphere to warm us up. ;^)

Frankly, and unusually, I agree with Arnold Schwarzenegger: “I think it’s time for a debate.”

UPDATE: Let's be clear, in the Herald report from which I quoted above JohnBoy said "he understood pseudoephedrine was banned in some American states, and he wanted to know if that would work here."

Well he doesn't have to look far to get his information -- only as far as Lindsay Mitchell who has a look at what happened in Oregon when they banned pseudoephedrine. No surprises. More meth - more meth-related crime.

But that's not the sort of conclusion he's calling for, is it.

State funding of political parties? Surely you're joking, Mr Key! [updated]

It’s a rare occasion indeed when when I can simply copy and paste a post from a top-six local blog with which I'm in perfect agreement. This, from Whale Oil, is such a post:

Key may increase public funding for elections - Prime Minister John Key says he is "not completely closed" to the prospect of using more public funding to run political parties and their campaigns - an apparent softening of National's vehement opposition to such suggestions in...

There should be NO public funding of political parties. God I hate politicians, bloody trough snuffling wankers. This has made me so angry.
Has John Key not seen what is happening in the UK?

Apparently not.

UPDATE: Home Paddock and Kiwiblog join the chorus in shooting down this particular trial balloon -- one that John Key was once against, right before he was for it. Or not.

LIBERTARIAN SUS: National’s Four Corners

Susan Ryder goes looking for National round every corner . . .

“Disappointing and unhelpful” was Prime Minister John Key’s reaction to the news that the United States intends to subsidise its dairy industry.

But surely the real surprise is why anyone should be shocked at the USA’s change of direction. President Obama is a socialist, so government interference is what he does best. And in subsidising an arm of the agricultural sector, he is doing exactly what his hero, FDR, did in similar economic circumstances 75 years ago.

If nothing else, Barack Obama is sticking to the red corner. John Key, on the other hand, continues to bounce between all four – red, green, brown and blue, (alright then, bluish) – depending upon the subject. Here’s what he said to Newstalk ZB’s Mike Hosking yesterday on (a) this week’s Budget and (b) special Maori seats for the new Auckland council:

MH: The Budget this week: Are you worried about a downgrade from the (credit-rating) agencies or not?

JK: I’m not, because of the actions that Bill English and the Cabinet have taken. Our two focuses [sic] have been:

  1. Firstly, we can’t afford to be downgraded. If we do, it adds 1-2% to interest rates to every borrower, homeowner and business. That’s bad news; it would cost Mum and Dad a lot of money and we’re not going to do that. And secondly, it would saddle the next generation of New Zealanders with a lot of debt and that’s unfair as well.
  2. We’re worried about jobs and making sure we come out of this recession. I think we’ve got the balance nicely ... we’re not breaking any entitlements, you know. Zero per cent loans, they stay; Working for Families, that stays; benefit entitlements, they all stay. But obviously we’ve had to tweak one or two things which, in a perfect world, we wouldn’t do.

Let’s pause to take stock of that. His government is happy to retain all that welfare at the expense of “tweaking one or two things”, i.e., by not delivering promised tax cuts to the very people who fund all that Labour-imposed welfare.

Ding, ding: Round 1 to the red corner! Back to the bout …

MH: The big hikoi today: Do they (Maori) stand a chance of getting any seats at all, or not?

JK: Well, I wouldn’t say no. I mean, I think the hikoi … there’ll be a lot of people who turn out for a variety of reasons. Some will protest because of that. Some will protest because they want a different structure on that second tier of a Super City or more people to be elected from wards and not at large, and some people will just protest for the sake of protest.

MH: But Maori seats: Are you into them or not?

JK: Well, um, I’ve had presentations on the manawhenua seats, you know, and the government is considering those but it’s far too early to tell if we’d change anything at this point. As I say, I think this hikoi is a bit ahead of itself. We haven’t had the select committee process yet, where people can actually present their arguments and those arguments can be tested. So it really would have made more sense for it to be later. I can understand why they’re having it today because of the significance of Bastion Point, but I do think they’re ahead of themselves.

MH: What are their odds, do you think, in percentage terms?

JK: (Quickly) - I’m not going to put odds on it.

Well, no. Because it’s a thorny issue with many people. Because it might involve having to make a decision and sticking with it. No U-turns, no flip-flopping, no back-tracking, but actually taking a principled stand for equality.

But isn’t this an example of what happens when parties with little in common join forces to form a coalition? It would appear that National has learned little from watching Helen Clark’s nine years of manoeuvring around the minefields of juggling New Zealand First, the Alliance, the Greens and Jim Anderton. The Maori party is unashamedly single-minded in its pursuit of preferential treatment for New Zealanders of Maori descent. To give the party credit, it makes no bones about it. John Key’s brown chooks are simply coming home, via the Auckland Harbour Bridge, to roost.

“It’s not about race; it’s about rights!” cried one of today’s protestors. Dead wrong, pal. It is about race. It’s only about race.

You are marching for special race-based treatment, even though all seats are open to anybody to contest. You are marching for division, for separatism, for bloodlines. And in that last respect, you are no different to the masked monsters of the Klan - but then racism always does make for strange bedfellows. Conversely, the true opponent of racism is not concerned with another’s DNA.

Of course, John Key could say that, too. He could say that what matters is what a candidate says and does, as opposed to whom his parents are. That he doesn’t even seem to understand that point has Round 2 going to the brown corner. Unanimously.

* * Susan Ryder writes every Tuesday here at NOT PC * *

Monday, 25 May 2009

Arthur Erickson, 1924-2008

Canadian architect Arthur Erickson has died. In fact he died last year, and I only just found out.

Preferring to work with space and how you move through it, he didn’t like “flashy” architecture. "Disney, to me, is the great Satan of our period," he told an audience in 2000 with a twinkle in his eye. "After him, we had masses of people looking for entertainment in architecture. It changed the purpose of design. Now museums are becoming the flashiest places around and museum-going has become the new entertainment." He didn't need to visit Te Papa (or Bilbao) to find that out.


My own favourite building of Erickson’s is a museum: his deceptively subtle Museum of Anthropology in Vancouver. Built not so much to look at (which makes it difficult to show in photographs) as it is to move through, to experience, and to link observer, artefacts and the landscape beyond – opening up to “a reverent view of the ocean and the mountains.”


As this obituary says, “Architect Arthur Erickson wanted people to go in his buildings not look at them.”

The biggest dead rat of all [updated]

The National Party spent all last election swallowing dead rats, to the loud applause of its staunchly Labour-Lite supporters who thought this tactic was sheer genius. 

Interest-free student loans to bribe university-age voters? Me too, said the geniuses in the National Party strategy machine. KiwiSaver? Me too, they said. Labour’s Emission’s Trading Scam – a deadweight tax directly on producers – me too!  Foreign policy? Me too. Welfare for Working families?  Me too. No privatisations?  Promising not to slashing bureaucrat numbers? Keeping the cap on GP's fees? No bulk funding for schools?  Income-related rents for state house tenants? No strike force for the Air Force? Keeping the Families Commission? Spending hundreds of millions on a motorway bribe to Peter Dunne-nothing? Me too, me too, me too was the refrain.  There was the faintest whiff of controversy?  Oh, go on then, me too.

National supporters swallowed all the dead rats and kept on coming back for more. They went along with it.  They talked up the “moderation” and they talked about tax cuts.  They kept talking about tax cuts.

But we now know that they lied.  There will be no tax cuts.

When it comes to choosing which promise to break, one of the very few promises National made last year that was worth a damn is the one they choose to break. Like a thin man after an all-you-can-eat competition, what was swallowed so eagerly under all the bright lights now has to be paid for.  By you.

But you asked for it.  You wanted Labour-Lite, and you’ve got it. But now you can remove the word “Lite,” and any claim that this lot are either honest or competent.

You might object that no one could know in the election campaign of October/November last year that things were about to collapse.  That Billy Bob and John Boy wouldn’t know how bad things were until Treasury’s frightening forecasts of December last  year. This is just bullshit on a stick.

FallingOffACliff First of all, anybody who could read a newspaper in October last year could see that the crash had already happened.  It wasn’t about to happen, it already  had (see the graph at right of the Dow Jones index from July 2008, and notice just when exactly it all fell off a cliff).  And despite the almost surreal election campaign, when “don’t mention the crash” seemed to be the refrain, anybody who could understand what they were reading back then would have realised right away the implications for the government’s budget and the spending promises being made.  If they didn’t know, they were incompetent.  If they did know, they were lying about all the promises.

Second, this was a party who – even in the face of the world economic collapse – were promising to borrow to fund tax cuts.  This is reprehensible enough in normal times.  In the face of the worst economic collapse since the onset of the Great Depression, it was either a promise that those who made it knew they could never deliver, or a promise they were too incompetent to know they could not deliver.  They either lied, or just didn’t care enough to tell the truth.

A responsible political party doesn’t promise what it can’t deliver.  It would know that it can’t promise tax cuts without corresponding cuts in government spending.  John Boy and Billy Bob thought they could fake it.  That they could borrow and spend and promise the earth – and somehow never be found out.

Bastards-Tax-CutsBut this Thursday it’s crunch time.  Caught between the rock of an economic slump that had already happened when they started swallowing dead rats, and the hard place of credit-rating agencies about to mark down a government about to go heavily into debt, the Billy Bob and John Boy are about to kick in the teeth are those very people who’ve been over-taxed for the last umpty-tum years, while keeping the good times going for all the parasites they’ve been paying for.

And people wonder why we call them bastards.

UPDATE 1: Paul Walker points out National have now given us the National Infrastructure Advisory Board to go along with all the other dead rats on the sinking fiscal ship.  Aren’t we lucky.

UPDATE 2:  And just to show I’m an equal-opportunity despiser, its worth pointing out that the ACT Party will be voting to support the National Party’s broen promise on Thursday – voting for no tax cuts, no real spending cuts, and around a decade of solid deficit spending. 

Is that really what you’d describe as “the courage to do what’s right?”

So who gains from city mergers?

A good rule of thumb when designing centres of political power is to imagine your political opponents are in power, and to tie up the reins of power accordingly. This sort of wisdom has been thrown to the winds however by the designers of Auckland’s new megalithic mega-authority.

Here in Auckland we have the strange situation where the proposed Auckland Super-City was first driven by the centre left, but has now been adopted by the centre right in the hope and expectation that their current control of the Auckland City Council will feed into control (for ever) of the new mega-balls-up .

Owen McShane asked Wendell Cox, an international expert on local government and governance, if large scale amalgamations were typically driven from the left or the right. The money quote in Cox’s reply is this:

The only economies of scale in government consolidation are for lobbyists.”

Here’s how he answered:

Regrettably the right and left are of virtually equal distastefulness on the issue.
In Toronto, it was a right wing government trying to kill a left wing local government and merge it with more conservative governments, hoping to move things to the right (and get rid of a socialist mayor for whom they had particular dislike . . .).
In the US, much of the consolidation movement – so far getting nowhere (there must be a God) – is pushed by the elitist left. . . Often you will find the most vocal proponents of these policies are central city business organizations and central city leftist elites.
Then, there are always the misled rightists who think that larger governments will employ fewer people per capita, not realizing that the larger the government the more personnel it needs and trade unions become even more powerful. As I like to say, the only economies of scale in government consolidation are for lobbyists. Here are my main reports on the issue:

- Local and Regional Governance in the Greater Toronto Area: A Review of Alternatives
- The Toronto Megacity: Destroying Community at Great Cost
- Growth, Economic Development, and Local Government Structure in Pennsylvania
- Are Bigger Governments Better?
New York.
- Report Debunks Myths Why Property Taxes Are So High In New York

- Government Efficiency: The Case for Local Control
- Government Consolidation in Indiana: Separating Rhetoric from Reality

Owen then asked Wendell whether the end result of such amalgamations was generally “a shift to the left or to the right.” He replied:

You can bet that the left always wins.
The left is better at power and governance (not in terms of quality but in terms of control) and thus routinely takes over the reigns of power. That much power should not be available in a municipal government.
Bureaucrats tend to be elitist and generally more left wing, so the advice the councillors and the mayor receives will be more to the left. Democracy is diluted. Taxes are raised from a larger base and spending goes up... not just on personnel.
Here is my commentary in The National Post on the 10th anniversary of the Toronto merger. Interestingly, there was not a single letter to the editor posted in response – at that point Toronto was having severe budget difficulties:

- ’Megacity fallout: Toronto's Current Financial Woes Are The Direct Result Of Mike Harris's Perhaps Vengeful Decision To Merge Municipalities

So who knows? We could end up with Mike Lee, Sandra Coney or even Russel ‘take back the bridge’ Norman as the new Super-City Mayor! How d’you fancy that, Auckland?

Hikoi of the hopeless [update 2]

1500 Greens blocked the Harbour Bridge yesterday.  Today, a similar number of racists (and school children trucked in by their teachers to add to the numbers) are blocking the motorways to protest the lack of racist seats on the new Auckland uber-city.

I’ll say that again: this hikoi is not to protest Rodney Hide’s Super City, it’s to protest that Rodney hasn’t thrown them some race-based seats.

Twenty-eight years ago, many of these same people were out on the streets protesting playing rugby against a regime who divided up the body politic on the basis of race.  Now, they’re out disrupting traffic  because the new city being stream-rolled through isn’t going to be based on racial separatism.  The ironies abound.

As I said the other day, there’s  certainly plenty of reasons to protest against the uber-city – here’s several right here – but objecting that it’s not sufficiently racist is not one of them.  In fact, it’s the only thing about the uber-city to like.

Say no to the hikoi, to racist government, and to the Auckland uber-city.

UPDATE 1:  Here’s Johnny Clegg, for everyone who still appreciates irony:

UPDATE 2: My favourite comment on the whole farrago comes from Gregster at SOLO:
And though there were hundreds of them out today, not one day's work was lost.
Although Leighton Smith's was a close contender, that 
Blacks in the US used to have 'special seats' reserved for them -- they were down the back of buses. Fortunately for every individual black man and woman in the US today, one brave black woman, Rosa Parks, challenged the entire ethic behind these special seats by sitting up the front.

Life in a cold climate

It’s as cold as hell.  Colder than charity.  Colder than a ticket taker’s smile at the Rialto Theatre on Saturday night.  Colder than a West Coast well-digger’s arse.*

It’s cold outside.  And I’ve got to tell you, it’s pretty frigging cold inside too.

So what about that global warming, huh? Where’s the “global warming” now that Autumn’s not here? 

Muriel Newman covers the convenient name change for today’s fashionable catastrophism from “global warming” – a name too easily falsified – to “climate change” because climate changes all the time.  Changing the name “reframes” the debate.

    Re-framing is a technique used by politicians to make radical ideas more palatable to the public by replacing controversial expressions with language that evokes empathy, cooperation, and a sense of interconnectedness.[2] The concept is largely based on the work of George Lakoff, Professor of Linguistics at Berkley University and well known adviser to the environmental movement, who believes that if you control the language of a debate then you control the way that people think. . .
But what is a continuing surprise is how our political leaders could be so unaware of what is going on that they can be contemplating passing laws to combat catastrophic global warming when the climate stopped warming of its own accord more than a decade ago. Could this possibly be a modern day version of the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale “The Emperor Has No Clothes”, where everyone can see that the planet is cooling but with the country’s rulers claiming they are fighting global warming, loyal subjects are afraid to speak out for fear of ridicule or persecution? 
    Yet with global warming well and truly over and global cooling upon us, serious questions need to be asked. How can the government justify appropriating taxpayers’ money for schemes based on global warming when the warming stopped over a decade ago? Where are the government’s science advisers in all of this? Why are they not advising the government that we are now in a global cooling phase - and if they are advising the government of this, but the government is not listening, why not?

*Yes, customers, some of these quips have been pinched from Tom Waits.

Sunday, 24 May 2009

If the future of “transport” was Green . . . [updated]

Today Russel Norman and several thousand fellow luddites took a walk over Auckland’s Harbour Bridge to show the future of Auckland transport under Green governance.  And so they did. The the result of their somnambulist, self-absorbed stroll over Auckland’s most important traffic conduit was predictable: complete traffic chaos around Auckland. And this was on a Sunday!

Anybody wanting to drive around the city’s inner suburbs this morning while Norman and his sweaty rabble hiked their way over the bridge would have been better advised to have stayed in bed, since the resulting gridlock meant that any kind of movement was Sisyphian, and painfully slow.

“We need a revolution in transport in Auckland,” says Russel Norman fresh from demonstrating just what his Green transport “revolution” would do for anyone who wants to move around the city using anything more potent than an ox cart.  Just as the defining characteristic of Green energy systems is that they don’t really produce energy, so was can now see the defining characteristic of Green transport solutions – that they make it hard to get around.

What’s needed is not a revolution for luddites, but one that takes cognisance of how the vast majority of Aucklanders actually want to move around the city, not how a vocal minority think we should.

If the future of transport was Green, then the idea of actual transport – to move people and their things around – would be something to be read about only in history books.

UPDATELiberty Scott weighs in:

Oh and if you think NZTA stuffed up, you might find it isn't legally empowered to exempt people from traffic rules - the fact it did so before for the Hikoi does not change that.

    The Greens endorsed it, so it's about time to see how many other traffic laws the Greens happily will let you break. . .  The Greens have decided it's better to break a law than propose a new one. The oath that Green MPs declared to uphold the law has slipped to one side when it comes to inciting people to break this one - odd for a party that is so keen on promoting new laws. . .
    Let's be clear, I don't care either way if a walkway or cycleway is attached to the Auckland Harbour Bridge, as long as those who will use it pay for it. The NZ Transit Authority cannot authorise people to walk and cycle on a motorway . . .  However, this rather pathetic little protest is about people wanting to force you to pay for a facility for them to use - and not giving a damn about who they disrupt along the way.

That’s “green transport solutions” in a nutshell.  Read vav .