Thursday, December 29, 2011

Mike Butler: Guns and utu

Matthew Wright’s new book “Guns and Utu”, steps back into 1818-1842 New Zealand, when tribal wars surged across the land, when war parties rushed out to kill, eat, and drink the blood of, their rivals, their anger driven by historic grievances for which they demanded settlement.

Anger, grievances, settlements; so what has changed? Here we are 200 years later, when tribes fight in courtrooms, over new grievances allegedly perpetrated by white colonists, where satisfaction is gained, not by killing and cannibalism, but by payments of cash, land, and businesses. The tribal balance of terror that existed when New Zealand Company colonists arrived in 1840, two weeks before the Treaty of Waitangi was signed, was what resulted from nearly 40 years of carnage that took place during contact with an outside world that pre-European Maori did not know existed.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Mike Butler: Daylight Robbery in 2011

How South Canterbury Finance was taken down, how finance companies failed, the new round of privatisation, the Air NZ bailout and train set repurchase, KiwiSaver fee rip-offs, and Chinese attempts to buy NZ dairy farms, all feature in an 80-page new section of a revised version of investigative journalist Ian Wishart’s 2001 book “Daylight Robbery”.

A legal notice is posted on the copyright-ISBN number page stressing that the book “contains very serious allegations relating to named individuals” some of which have been made under parliamentary privilege. Readers are urged to remember that some allegations of fraud made in the book remain unproven until a court has ruled upon them.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Steve Baron: Election Rhetoric Over

It was an interesting election night to say the least. The Labour vote collapsed, which will
be heart-breaking for many Labour supporters, even though Phil Goff put in a better than
expected campaign performance. There was an exceptional result for the Greens with a minor party getting over 10% of the party vote for the first time ever under MMP. The Lazarus like return of Winston Peters probably surprised many, even though he will be as effective as the castrated eunuch prancing around the opposition harem. The emergence of a new political party, the Conservatives, who will be encouraged by a 2.76% party vote (no easy feat for a mostly unheard of party and leader) and then there was even a dead-heat in Christchurch Central that will now be decided through special votes.

Steve Baron: The Incompetence of Big Business

I think I'm becoming a grumpy middle age man—I see very little value for money with what most businesses charge for their product or service and I'm feeling ripped off. The service of most businesses here in New Zealand also leaves a lot to be desired and I swear I'm never going to deal with another large corporation ever again. I'm convinced these businesses must spend at least half their time fixing up their own stuff-ups.

If you are by any chance trying to contact me right now then don't bother. My mobile has been blocked so I can't make, or even receive phone calls or texts. Why? Because I haven't paid the bill since moving from Cambridge to Wanganui. That's to be expected I guess, but even though I was very efficient and gave my telecommunications provider my new address before moving, they still sent the bill to the old address. Sure, I left my forwarding address with the new owners, but it seems the bill was never forwarded on to me. I did eventually received an overdue statement but by then it was too late—incommunicado. I tried to phone my telecommunication providers free-call number but I can't even do that—it's blocked too. I wonder if I can still make 111 calls... but thought it wise not to test that. If I need to and it doesn't work I guess you will read about me in the newspapers or hear it on the six o'clock news perhaps?

Steve Baron: Christmas Economics

This Christmas must surely be one of the most financially depressing for many families around the world ,since the Great Depression. As the global financial crisis (GFC) continues to unravel in Europe and the USA, it's tentacles have certainly reached here in the South Pacific. Huge amounts of money have been lost in finance company failures, business failures and the sharemarket. This has led to many jobs being lost with the associated consequences. While we wait for our political leaders to come up with the economic answers, the prospects are not looking good and answers seem to be few and far between—it's not a good time to be a Prime Minister or Minister of Finance. It would appear to me that our politicians are struggling to come up with an answer—we've tried both political sides, with right and left wing governments here in New Zealand and around the world, but history keeps repeating itself. Trying to understanding the international monetary system (IMS) and how it can be fixed is mind boggling to say the least but bear with me while I attempt to make some sense of it and look for some possible solutions.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Karl du Fresne: Capitalism has mislaid its moral compass

Cast your mind back to the 1990s. The Berlin Wall had collapsed, and with it the entire rotten edifice of Soviet communism. Democracy and free enterprise were taking root in countries previously kept under repressive state control. Internationally there was a marked swing from left to right. Thatcherism in Britain and Reaganism in the United States had radically changing the political landscape. Even in countries such as Britain, Australia and New Zealand, the traditional parties of the left were shedding their socialist heritage and reaching a new accommodation with economic liberalism.

Political scientist Francis Fukuyama was sufficiently emboldened to write in 1992: “What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of post-war history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalisation of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.”

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Martin Durkin: Three Cheers for Urban Sprawl

“Hands off Our Land!” screams the Daily Telegraph, like some shotgun-toting red-faced farmer.  The newspaper, on behalf of the reactionary toffs who form the least pleasant section of its readership, has launched a campaign directed against ‘urban sprawl’ (ie. the rest of us).

On a good day, the Telegraph serves up enlightened articles by progressive liberals like Janet Daley and Simon Heffer and Jeff Randal (I’m talking about real liberals here, not American Trotskyites).  But then it disappears under the desk, drinks some devilish, bubbling potion and emerges looking like Mr Hyde, all wonky teeth and messy hair.  “Hands off Our Land” is the Telegraph at its worst - a campaign to thwart the government’s all-too-modest suggestions to reform Britain’s vicious planning laws.

Owen McShane: Why We Must Learn to Love Asset Sales ... part one

There is a general consensus that New Zealand must develop more innovative and internationally oriented businesses. Innovation is a prime driver of economic development and can also support higher wages. Yet the election campaign has further locked in place a set of beliefs that deprive innovative companies of the capital they need to fund their forays into international markets.

The campaign promoted wide-ranging capital gains taxes and promoted “No Asset Sales.” Capital gains taxes can be a serious disincentive for venture capital investors because they can make it more difficult to achieve the targeted rates of return required by investors. We should avoid imposing fines for success.

Phil McDermott: Rethink the Link ...should Auckland pour money into a hole in the ground

Anchoring the CBD, or Sinking it?
A cornerstone of the Draft Auckland Plan is implementing an underground inner city rail link.  At an estimated $2.3bn this is the single most expensive new commitment in the plan, and accounts for around 15% of capital spending identified. This seems a big price to pay to transform what is already a perfectly functional CBD with adequate and improving public transport (PT) arrangements. And unless it makes a substantial difference, it could become a major fiscal anchor on Auckland’s development.  This posting considers the prospects.

So why do we need the inner city rail link?

Friday, December 9, 2011

Marc Morano: Special Report Presented to UN Summit ... A to Z Climate Exposed

'The scientific reality is that on virtually every claim - from A-Z - the claims of the promoters of man-made climate fears are failing. The A-Z report includes key facts, peer-reviewed studies and the latest data and developments with links for further reading, on an exhaustive range of man-made global warming claims'. 

Below is the Introduction to the report. 

Full report is available here

Many of the proponents of man-made global warming are now claiming that climate change is worse than they predicted. According to an October 18, 2011 Daily Climate article, global warming activists claim that the “evidence builds that scientists underplay climate impacts” and “if anything, global climate disruption is likely to be significantly worse than has been suggested.”

Mike Butler: Partner of billboard vandal back at work in Green Party office

The partner of a man responsible for organising vandalism of National Party hoardings during the election campaign has been cleared to return to work for the Green Party, according to blogger Whale Oil.

Anne Heins, executive assistant to Greens co-leader Russel Norman, was last month stood down from her job after it was revealed her partner, Jolyon White, had led a campaign to attach stickers saying either “Drill it, mine it, sell it” or “The rich deserve more” on 700 National billboards.

Mike Butler: Whistle blown on government separatist corruption

John Robinson’s book “The Corruption of New Zealand Democracy” has been acclaimed as the “smoking musket” that shows how government agencies create information to con the public into believing its “treaty guilt trip”. His 120-page treaty overview was sparked when the Crown Forestry Rental Trust, in 2000, told him to rewrite demographic research that undermined treaty orthodoxy or not get paid.

Robinson is an academic with impeccable credentials – a university lecturer and interdisciplinary research scientist with MSc degrees in maths and physics from Auckland University, and a PhD from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He has researched Maori issues for Massey University, the Royal Commission on Social Policy, the Ministry of Maori Affairs, for the Treaty of Waitangi Unit at the Department of Justice, Te Puni Kokiri (the Ministry of Maori Development), the Treaty of Waitangi Research Unit at Victoria University, and the Crown Forestry Rental Trust.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Lindsay Mitchell: Child victims - no cut and dry answers

Three stories drew my attention today. Child death and child neglect and child neglect.

For ten years I have racked my brain over what can be done to either improve the lot of children who are born into circumstances of material and spiritual impoverishment, or reduce the likelihood of it happening in the first place. Initially I looked at the problem theoretically and philosophically, then I got involved at a political level, then a practical level for a number of years. And still I find myself without a single hard and fast answer.

Mike Butler: The no-vote protest vote

Why did the losers lose in last week’s general election? Labour leader-in-departure Phil Goff says it was not their time, and Shane Jones wants to know why three out of every four voters thought Team Goff was unfit to govern. Nearly 300,000 voters deserted Labour between 2005 and 2011 (1) voting with their feet against the Clark-Cullen leadership and Team Goff, plus the policies that went with them.

What were Goff’s unpopular policies? You don’t have to look far to see what went wrong. He promoted a capital gains tax on all property excluding the family home, a policy that former Labour leader David Lange warned would not only lose one election, but would lose the next three.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Marc Morano: Scientific case for man-made global warming fears is dead

Many of the proponents of man-made global warming are now claiming that climate change is worse than they predicted. According to an Oct. 18, 2011, Daily Climate article, global warming activists claim that the "evidence builds that scientists underplay climate impacts," and "if anything, global climate disruption is likely to be significantly worse than has been suggested.

But a forthcoming Climate Depot A-Z Climate Reality Check report on the failure of the science behind man-made global warming theory will shatter any such illusions that the climate is "worse than we thought." Recent scientific data and developments reveal that Mother Nature is playing a  cruel joke on the promoters of man-made climate fears. The scientific reality is that on virtually every claim, the scientific case for man-made climate fears has collapsed. The only thing "worse than we thought" is the shoddy journalism of the mainstream media, which parrots global warming activists' baseless talking points.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Oliver Marc Hartwich: Incentives are life and death

If there was one word to sum up the whole body of economic theory, it would have to be ‘incentives.’ People act on incentives. As William Stanley Jevons (1835–82), one of the founding fathers of neoclassical economics, put it, the whole economy is ‘a calculus of pleasure and pain.’

Greece is playing out a most macabre application of incentives. Greece may be the madhouse of the world economy, but there is method in its madness. According to a report in The Lancet, the number of HIV infections in Greece has skyrocketed. The increase was partly due to the termination of drug rehabilitation and street-work programs as a result of government austerity measures. But there was a more chilling explanation.

Gerry Eckhoff: The Haves and the Have Yachts

Governments all over world are trying to deal with their financial debt problems but appear not to acknowledge the cause - as they battle to control the effects. Massive Government, national and international bank debt is the problem so why is the answer - according to the very people that got us into this mess – even more debt. Banks should be allow to fail but in doing so will bring down governments with them.

Lord Acton, Lord Chief Justice of England 1875 said…. “The issue which has swept down the centuries and which will have to be fought sooner or later is - the people vs the banks”. Is the movement “Occupy Wall St” the start of Lord Acton’s prophecy?

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Richard Epstein: Curing the Unemployment Blues

One of the enduring faiths of modern progressive thought is that omniscient policy makers can cancel out the errors of one form of economic intervention by implementing a second. That lesson was brought home to me when I was a third year student at Yale Law School, whenever discussion turned to the perennial debate over the minimum wage.

The charge against the minimum wage was that it had to introduce some measure of unemployment into labor markets by raising wages above the market-clearing price. “Not to worry,” came the confident reply. The way to handle that imperfection is to raise the level of welfare benefits in order to remove the dislocations created by the minimum wage. If one government program had its rough edges, a second government program could ride to the rescue. 
Implicit in this argument was the tantalizing, but fatal, assumption of economic abundance: The government has the power to tax, and with that power, has access to a cornucopia of public funds that never runs empty—at least until it does.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Ron Smith: Pornography and the public interest

Media stories during the last week, about proposed Auckland University research into the place of pornography in society, raise much wider issues than the deliberate deception involved in the Marsden Fund reporting of this issue. Apart from the obvious questions about the importance of this particular investigation and others in the recently issued Marsden list, there is a general question about the desirability of awarding more than fifty million dollars to public institutions (largely universities), that are already in receipt of public funds, and about how the decisions to allocate these funds are made.

Clearly, there are areas of research where specialised equipment and technical expertise that are not already available may be required before investigations can be made, but this does not seem to apply in many of the cases, including the case in point: ‘Public engagement towards a more inclusive and equitable society’, which is the code for the proposed pornography investigation. It seems perfectly appropriate for social scientists in one of our universities to research the place of pornography in our society, without the need of an anodyne title. What is not clear is why staff employed full-time at a university, who anyway have an obligation to spend a significant proportion of their time in research, should be awarded $790,000 to do it. Of course, in general terms, we do know what Marsden money is awarded for in this sort of case. It is to free a particular researcher (or researchers) by employing someone else to do their teaching, and/or, to appoint others persons to contribute to the research. In the specific case, it seems that an ‘interactive website’ and an ‘art exhibition’ are also envisaged.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Karl du Fresne: Whats going on at TV3

I am reluctant to accuse media organisations of political bias. I have seen those allegations hurled about far too often and far too loosely, invariably by politically aligned people frustrated that their side wasn’t the only one getting newspaper space or air time. But in the past couple of weeks I have begun to wonder seriously whether TV3 is running some sort of political agenda.

My suspicions were aroused by political coverage that in recent weeks has too often seemed slanted to discredit National. An example was Patrick Gower’s report last week about a supposedly hush-hush meeting between John Key and the head of the international oil exploration firm Anadarko. As only he can, Gower reported this in such a way as to suggest that there was something underhand going on. (“TV3 can reveal that Prime Minister John Key made time in his diary this week for a secretive meeting with the boss of an oil company that wants to undertake deep sea drilling off New Zealand’s coast.”) Never mind that prime ministers probably have meetings with international businessmen all the time without necessarily alerting the media. If there was something dodgy going on, it certainly wasn’t substantiated by the TV3 report. But never mind: Gower nonetheless raised dark connections with the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster in 2010 (Anadarko had a 25 percent share in the Deepwater Horizon rig) and generously gave Greens co-leader Metiria Turei an opportunity to link Key with “catastrophic oil spills”.  In other words, the story was spun to put the worst possible complexion on what may have been an entirely innocent and legitimate meeting.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Lindsay Mitchell: 1200 children born today might well be dead if born in the 1960s

I am watching the Bryan Bruce documentary about child poverty and am completely exasperated. So much is left unsaid. He blames Rogernomics for everything that is wrong with children's health. His slant is thoroughly political despite contrary pleading that child welfare is an ethical and moral problem.

New Zealand apparently used to be a socialist Utopia. That is stated baldly. Bryan Bruce, who looks of a similar age to me, grew up in a country where children got a free bottle of milk everyday and so we lived in paradise. Putting aside non-fatal preventable disease, as I pointed out earlier, in 1960 the infant mortality rate was 23 per 1,000 infants. Today the figure is 4.8.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Steve Baron: Direct Democracy: Some Major Objections and Responses

Even though direct democracy has been successfully used in Switzerland for over 140 years, it still has its critics. Many see it as a threat to representative democracy and something to be avoided at any cost. There have often been calls for the Citizens Initiated Referenda Act 1993 to be repealed. Former Prime Minister and law professor, Sir Geoffrey Palmer, when discussing the CIR Act in his book Bridled Power said:

The Act should be repealed. It appears to offer a chance for citizens to influence policy but in substance that opportunity is like a mirage in the desert. Referenda should be reserved for those few and important issues of constitution and conscience that should be bound by the people's voice.

Steve Baron: What would you tell Afghanistan about democracy?

What do you think of when I say the word 'democracy' and what do you even expect from your political system? It's an important subject, especially when New Zealand is about to go to the polls, yet something most people often take for granted, especially given that over 20% of New Zealanders don't even bother to vote each election—and that number is growing.

Just recently I have been forced to think even harder about our democracy because amongst the many emails I receive (most of which include offers to enlarge certain parts of my anatomy and Russian beauties offering me their undying love if I agree to marry them) was an email from Democracy International. This US based organization helps provide technical assistance and implements democracy and governance programs worldwide. It is financially supported by a grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). They are bringing a delegation of civic leaders from Afghanistan to New Zealand to look at our political system, observe our elections and meet with various people with a background in elections.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Owen McShane: Unwinding the Sustainable Development Mindset

I am frequently reminded of Richard Prebble's commentary on the wonderful TV Show “Yes Minister” (still running on SKY). He said “The public thinks that “Yes Minister” is a comedy, the civil service knows that it's a documentary, and the Cabinet Ministers know that it’s a tragedy.”

I last quoted Prebble’s comment in an essay “Can a New Government Actually Change Anything?” written just before the last change in government. Maybe it is time to re-visit it.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Ron Smith: Spying and the public interest

It is widely understood that, as a general principle, ‘eaves-dropping’ on the activities or conversations of others without their knowledge or permission, is an invasion of privacy and is to be deplored. This is reflected in our law.

On the other hand, it is accepted that covertly observing the activities of drug-dealers, or terrorists, or listening-in to their conversations may be justified. We override their normal rights to privacy in the wider public interest. This is different from a public interest in the doings of the rich and famous. Here, though the interest may be acknowledged, we do not usually accept that it is sufficient to outweigh the right to privacy of the persons concerned. In a similar way, we do not accept that a public interest in knowing the detail of crimes that may have been committed, justifies hacking into the communications of victims or other third parties, by media agents wishing to gain an advantage on their competitors. The reason for the distinction is that, in these latter two cases, there are generally no grounds for presuming the persons who are the subject of this surveillance are engaged in serious antisocial activities. It is also worth noting that even in the first category (drug dealers, or terrorists) there are frequently administrative processes to test the justification for what is a serious breach of human rights.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Mike Butler: Deluded Greens and Nat billboards

How squeaky clean is Green Party co-leader Russel Norman over the billboard stickering, and where are the reporters asking all the questions to find out how it all happened? Compare the media reaction to the "Green delusion" pamphlets in 2005 with the current billboard stickering.

In 2005, which anti-Green pamphlets were connected to the Exclusive Brethren, and then to National Party leader Don Brash, reporters kept asking the questions until they chased the story down. In 2011, when the Green Party is under the spotlight, reporters seem quite happy to accept Russel Norman's apology and assertion that he had nothing to do with it and leave it at that.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Lindsay Mitchell: The sham that is Labour's welfare policy

In an effort to differentiate themselves from National, Labour is promising to extend the In Work Tax Credit (IWTC) to beneficiary parents and scrap any work-testing of the domestic purposes benefit (DPB). The first can only be a cynical vote catcher because the IWTC was a Labour creation after all. Or are we to accept that it was a good idea in government but not in opposition?

Promoting the second promise Annette King says that there shouldn't be an 'arbitrary' youngest child age for requiring a sole parent to find a job. Yet, in the same breath, she is also promising an extension of paid parental leave to 26 weeks. Isn't that an 'arbitrary' figure? In any case Australia and the United Kingdom, the two countries we generally compare ourselves to, have welfare rules based upon a work requirement set against the age of the youngest dependent child.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Martin Durkin: The Green Superstate - what the global warmers really want

Who poses the greater threat to freedom?   Colonel Gaddafi?  The Taliban?  Or let’s look closer to home, at a sinister group with far, far greater influence on the future of Western civilization.

The Green zealots, with their bicycles and wispy dresses and organic fruit juice, should have us quaking in our boots.  With terrifying single-mindedness, the Green movement is waging war against freedom, for more State control.   And they’ve been at it from the start. 

In his Population Bomb (written in the 60s) Paul Ehrlich says, ‘The policeman against environmental deterioration must be the powerful Department of Population and the Environment.’   Sounds scary, but when the future of the planet hangs in the balance, there’s no room for half measures. 

Ron Smith: Sounds of the election

Whilst we listen to Messrs Key and Goff and, occasionally, Mr Peters and Mr Brash (and duets from the Greens and Maori), there is also to be heard the distant sound of chickens coming home to roost in Greece and Italy (and, potentially, in sundry other places). Although all the New Zealand parties are, to a greater or lesser extent, in denial about present public expenditure trends, it may well be, that this election will be determined by an inclination to favour the most cautious.

Clearly, what is happening in Greece and Italy has the potential to be a social catastrophe in those countries and the triggering factor is escalating public debt. Apart from the implications for pensions and public amenities (as well as continuing social disorder), it may be worth noting that in both these prominent cases, public confidence in politicians has sunk to such a level, that administrative power has been handed over to non-elected officials. This, in itself, has the potential to become part of a wider problem, and it is a problem that both countries have experienced within the lifetimes of persons still living.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Mike Butler: Property investors squeezed

Property investors are between a rock and a hard place in the coming election with the Labour Party, Greens, and Hone Harawira calling for a range of measures against rental property and the National Party silent about further moves after a number of dramatic changes imposed without warning. Those who expected change under a National-led government did not expect more tax and more compliance issues that came with the Residential Tenancies Amendment Act 2010, since the National Party went into the 2008 election promising to retain existing tax rules and deduction provisions for rental property owners, and since the party perceived no need to cool down the housing market.

Responding to recommendations from the anti-property Tax Working Group, the 2010 Budget:

1. Ended landlords' and businesses' ability to claim depreciation on buildings with an estimated useful life of 50 years or more.
2. Tightened the definition of income for Working for Families eligibility to exclude investment and rental losses.
3. Changed the rules on loss attributing qualifying companies so that tax losses of those companies could be attributed to shareholders. (1)

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Steve Baron: The Wisdom of Solomon Needed?

On top of voting for your local Member of Parliament (MP) and casting your Party vote this election, you also get to cast two other votes in the Electoral Referendum. It's not a difficult decision and you don't need to have the wisdom of Solomon, or be a Political Scientist to make a sensible decision but it does require a bit of time and effort to understand the various options. In this article I hope to make these options more clear. It must also be kept in mind that this referendum has extremely important ramifications for New Zealand, perhaps even more important than who we elect as the government, because choosing an electoral system makes an enormous difference to the eventual make-up of future governments/parliaments.

The first decision you need to make in the referendum is whether or not you want to keep the current Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) system or switch to another electoral system. The second decision you need to make is whether you want First-Past-the-Post (FPP), Preferential Voting (PV), Single Transferable Voting (STV) or Supplementary Member Voting (SM), should the majority of New Zealanders decide to switch from the current MMP system. All very technical names and enough to turn any reader off right now, but stick with me as I explain each of them in due course.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Steve Baron: Direct democracy in New Zealand

Direct democracy in New Zealand continues to be a work in progress. In 1893 New Zealand debated having a constitutional framework similar to Switzerland. Although never enacted, a Referendum Bill was introduced to parliament. However, the Bill only provided for non-binding, government-controlled referendums—in other words, plebiscites. This Bill was also re-introduced again in 1918 but failed. A statutory provision for constitutional referendums is also provided for under the Electoral Act 1993, section 268. This statutory provision is singularly entrenched which means that it can only be amended or repealed if passed by a 75% majority of all MPs, or by a majority in a referendum. Then, in 1984, Social Credit MP Garry Knapp introduced the Popular Initiatives Bill which would have enabled 100,000 voters to trigger a non-binding referendum. The Bill was deferred pending a Royal Commission on the Electoral System.

The Citizens' Initiated Referenda Act 1993 came about mostly due to broken election promises by the 1984 Labour government. These radical policies for the times caused immense frustration and anger amongst New Zealanders. People at that time felt they had been deceived. According to a number of academic surveys, MPs were less respected than ever before. As a nation we had lost confidence in our political representatives.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Gerry Eckhoff: The Hot Issue of Fresh Water

The debate over the use of fresh water, as is a tradition in this country, is controlled by those who generally speaking have never left their desk but read copious quantities of reports by others whose hands on knowledge of this subject is determined by their proximately to the office water cooler.

A case in point was a recent article by Rod Oram in the Sunday Star Times. Orams article thundered that we must show courage if –quote “we are to stand chance of using this precious resource sustainably.” As most of the “precious” fresh water currently flows out to sea, it is difficult to understand Orams assertion of our need for “sustainable” use. It would seem that he and others of his race believe in “sustainable waste” of this “precious” resource called fresh water by insisting that sustainable flows reach the coastal water to be totally lost for productive use.

Michael Coote: Liar, liar, pants on fire!

This sort of accusation summed up the initial general election debates between our leading political Pinocchios, prime minister John Key and opposition leader Phil Goff.

Mr Key had indeed been caught out in telling “porKeys” when earlier on he had tried to use the Standard & Poor’s downgrade of New Zealand’s long term sovereign debt to suggest in Parliament that the election of a Labour-led government would lead to further downgrades.

Bryce Wilkinson: Controller and Auditor-Generals Report Misses the Point

The rushed Crown Retail Deposit Scheme introduced by the previous government at the onset of the 2008 general election campaign has cost taxpayers about $2 billion to date of which about $0.9 billion may yet be recovered according to a report this month by the Controller and Auditor General.

Since the fee income for the Crown to 30 June 2010 was only $237 million, it looks like taxpayers have been taken to the cleaners (yet again) for of the order of $0.9 billion.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Mike Butler: Rich pricks vs bludgers

The current New Zealand election campaign is increasingly looking like a showdown between what are colloquially referred to as “rich pricks” and “bludgers”. The term “rich prick” was widely circulated when former deputy prime minister Michael Cullen used the term in a heated debate in Parliament in December of 2007, in reference to National Party leader John Key. Cullen later claimed that he did not mean the outburst to be heard.

Economist Gareth Morgan coined the term “nation of bludgers” in a 2005 commentary on the Working For Families policy. According to the Concise Oxford Dictionary, a “bludger” is a loafer who avoids work.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Matt Ridley: From quantity to quality

This Halloween, the United Nations declared over the summer, a baby will be born somewhere on Earth who will tip the world's population over seven billion for the first time. Truly do international bureaucrats have the power of prophecy!

The precision is bunk, of course, or rather a public-relations gimmick. According to demographers, nobody knows the exact population of the world to within 100 million. (Incidentally, the record-setting baby will not be the seven billionth human being to have existed, as some press reports have implied—more like the 108 billionth.)

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Richard Epstein: Going Red on Property Rights

Earlier this month, I attended a Chinese-American Conference in Beijing on property rights co-sponsored by the William and Mary Law School and the Tsinghua University Law School. One purpose of the conference was to award in absentia the Brigham-Kanner Prize to retired Justice Sandra Day O’Connor for her contributions to understanding the law of property. The intensive two-day discussions on property rights were open, animated, and cordial. They also revealed deep ironies in both the Chinese and American approaches to property rights.

On the Chinese side, much grand rhetoric spoke of the power and wisdom of the socialist state, which until 1988 had doggedly held that private property was illegal. Even today, Chinese property law does not grant outright ownerships to any of its citizens. Instead, it draws a basic distinction between urban and rural lands. The former are owned by the state on behalf of the people. The latter are owned by collectives that parcel out use rights to its various members. In both of these situations, the individual person in possession of a particular parcel of land has a set of precarious use rights that are respected in any dispute between private individuals, but can be overridden by the action of the state or the collectives (which are themselves under government control).

Owen McShane: The Best News this Year.

The fault in the Maui Gas Line is the best news we have had this year. I am confident that most people in New Zealand had no idea how dependent we all are on natural gas as a fuel and energy source and how much benefit the Maui Gas Field provides.

The only long term answer to this problem, caused by a leak in a single pipeline, is to have several gas wells distributed around the country (some of which will be off-shore) all supplying gas into a "gas grid" like the electric grid, which would mean every location would have alternative sources of gas should one link in the network fail.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Steve Baron: What is direct democracy?

Direct democracy is a concept that a growing number of citizens and states around the world are exploring and embracing. There are 190 million people in Switzerland, Italy, Liechtenstein and 24 States in the USA who now embrace the referendum system. 70% of the US population now live in a state that gives them the right to vote on initiatives and referendums.

To many people, direct democracy can mean different things. Some picture the classical/pre-modern (Athens) style of direct democracy where citizens meet in the town square and decide on important issues. Others see it as an opportunity to rid the world of devious self-serving politicians, where we can all sit at home and make all necessary political decisions via our laptops. Whatever it means to you, direct democracy has certainly become a much discussed topic over the last twenty or so years even though it has had numerous critics.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Phil McDermott: Getting past the words

The Draft Auckland Plan is a daunting document – both in ambition and in presentation.  It covers a range of fields.  In what started out as a spatial planning exercise, Auckland Council boldly sets thirty year priorities for central government in areas like transport, health, and education; spells out what industry might do and how it might perform;  and promulgates its own long-term agenda in the areas of land use, urban design, and infrastructure.

So when we get past the vision, the photos, the charts, the the strategies, the principles, and directives, what does it all boil down to?

Roger Kerr: Anyone for Another Vote?

New Zealanders don't get to vote very often about parliamentary matters.  On 26 November we get to vote in the general election and on the future of MMP.  We can be thankful that we live in a country with such firmly rooted democratic freedoms.

Yet some countries, such as Switzerland and the United States, provide greater opportunities for voters to participate directly in democracy than occurs in New Zealand.  Might New Zealanders be better off with more of a direct say in key parliamentary decisions?

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Lindsay Mitchell: Poverty excuse a cop-out

The NZ Council of Christian Social Services publishes a quarterly Vulnerability Report. The most recent issue contained the following graph which shows the correlation between children being poor and risk of maltreatment or neglect.

Children in the poorest decile (10 in the case because it uses the Health scale - not Education) are ten times more likely than the children in wealthiest to be admitted to hospital for reasons of maltreatment or neglect. Below the graph is the angle the NZ Council of Christian Social Services takes on it.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Ron Smith: Talking about war

A hundred years ago, the government department responsible for the use of armed force, was called the ‘War Ministry’. Now it is called the ‘Ministry of Defence’ and we like it to engage in ‘peace-keeping’ and not ‘war’. Most citizens are not in, in a strict-sense, ‘pacifist’ (they do not repudiate the use of violent means in all circumstances) but they regret the all too evident human consequences of war, which makes them lukewarm supporters of ‘defence’, as an abstract proposition.

One consequence of this is a perpetual failure, by societies like ours, to make adequate provision for likely defence contingencies. Thus the period up to the New Zealand humanitarian intervention into East Timor (now Timor Leste) in 1999, was characterised by vociferous criticism of defence expenditure (‘toys for the boys’) by people who were then enthusiastic advocates of the operation. The consequence, of course, was to deploy forces that were inadequately trained and inadequately equipped.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Karl du Fresne: A Rugby World Cup of two halves

First published in the Nelson Mail,  October 12...
I am in two minds, almost literally, about the Rugby World Cup, and I suspect I’m not the only one. On the one hand, you can look at the event as purely a sporting contest in which teams from around the world compete, in theory, to find out who’s best. (I say “in theory” because the RWC really only determines which team performs best “on the day”. There are probably half a dozen teams capable of winning if the ball bounces their way.)

On this level – as a showcase of skill, athleticism, tactics, brute force and dogged determination – the Cup so far has been a great success. Rugby fans have been treated to some sensational contests and, in the very best sporting tradition, a couple of monumental upsets.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Lindsay Mitchell: ACT policy priorities - welfare missing again

The Nelson Mail reports on a meeting held by Don Brash:

"If National needs a scapegoat, if you like, we could be that scapegoat," he said. The main priorities were to cut government spending, reform the Resource Management Act, restore a youth minimum wage and raise the age of eligibility for superannuation.

No problem with those but it's so disappointing to again see ACT failing to prioritise welfare.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Ron Smith: Afghanistan and the SAS

It was entirely predictable that news of the death on active service in Afghanistan of L/Cpl Leon Smith of the NZ SAS detachment would be greeted by an almost unanimous media chorus of questions about bringing the troops home. It was predictable because that was what had happened on the previous occasion (the death of Cpl Grant in late August), and, with variations, on occasions before that.

Almost as sadly predictable was the response of New Zealand politicians, with the exception of those who are actually politically responsible for the deployment at the present time. All the rest, including those who had been politically responsible at earlier times, and who ought to have known better (for example, Phil Goff) dutifully answered in the affirmative, ‘Yes, the SAS detachment should be brought home’. So what are we to make of this?

Monday, October 10, 2011

Steve Baron: Governments & Governance - Where is the power?

The world is changing — political power is changing. Sovereign governments around the world are persistently signing their countries up to international agreements, laws and conventions, usually with the intention to strengthen human rights, improve free trade due to the increase in global trade, quell armed conflict and to address environmental concerns.

The question for New Zealanders to consider though — is the government (and therefore New Zealanders) handing over power to an unknown group of outsiders who then control our destinies? Is there cause for concern or is this just the way the world is going and we simply need to jump on for the ride as this international governance is simply a new process or new method of governing?

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Roger Kerr: Does Workfare Work?

Work-for-the-dole or ‘workfare’ schemes frequently appear on the menu of measures considered by welfare reformers. Indeed the Welfare Working Group proposed one in its final report, currently being considered by the government as part of its election manifesto. Do such schemes work, and what are they intended to achieve?

Work-for-the-dole usually entails continuation of a benefit payment in return for undertaking some community service activity. The idea often finds favour with taxpayers who want both a return for their money and a moral, mutual obligation enforced.

Owen McShane: Let’s Get Close to the Water.

In his seminal work of 1996 “The Mythical Conception of Rail Transit in Los Angeles”, Jonathan Richmond explained that the powerful myths and symbols surrounding rail allow convictions to displace rational analysis. Once rail is adopted as a solution to urban problems any proposal that appears to promote the viability of rail will also be adopted. Unfortunately, these downstream policies are almost always destructive to the general urban economy.

 Randal O’Toole’s 2004 book “Great Rail Disasters – the Impact of Rail Transit on Urban Liveability” argues that such rail-supportive policies have damaged the larger urban economies and that contrary to the mythology, recent heavy investments in rail have reduced the urban “liveability” of New World Cities.