Thursday, October 31, 2013

Kevin Donnelly from Australia: Lifting student achievement

Forget the argument that non-government schools are no different to government schools in terms of outcomes – Catholic schools in particular have high completion rates and are better able to help disadvantaged students do better than otherwise might be expected.

It’s Year 12 examination time and while there are many other indicators of a student’s success at school – including sporting achievements and developing personal life skills – there’s no doubt that Year 12 results are high on the list.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Richard Epstein from the US: The EPA Gets High on Greenhouse Gases

The key event in the Environmental Protection Agency’s campaign to regulate carbon dioxide as a pollutant came on April 2, 2007. It was the Supreme Court’s decision in Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency. Justice John Paul Stevens, writing for a five-member majority, held that the EPA had a duty to decide whether greenhouse gas emissions from new vehicles are contributing to “air pollution which may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare.”

Six years later, the apocalyptic predictions about global warming have not been borne out, notwithstanding the dire rhetoric of Justice Stevens’s opinion. The earth’s temperature has remained stable in the face of increasing concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Indeed, according to measurements from the Climatic Research Unit of the University of East Anglia, “The Earth's average temperature warmed by 1.4ºF (0.8ºC) between the 1850s and 2000s, mostly during 1911-1944 and 1976-1998”—before the upsurge of carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere over the last 15 years.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Lindsay Mitchell: CPAG research flawed

Recent research by the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) is flawed.

CPAG's analysis of Child Youth and Family child abuse data claimed, "The data suggests there is no correlation between benefit receipt and child maltreatment". This despite earlier Auckland University research finding, "Of all children having a finding of maltreatment by age 5, 83 percent are seen on a benefit before age two".

I asked the Ministry of Social Development for the data supplied to CPAG and was given the number of substantiated cases of child abuse and the 0-17 year-old population for each CYF site office. These show that CPAG's calculations are incorrect. For instance, their report states, '...the proportion of 0-17 year olds who were victims of abuse in Papakura was not 4.0% but 0.40 of 1%.' (p9)"

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Ryan Bourne from the UK: China’s astonishing growth trajectory holds few lessons for democratic Britain

“I’ve seen the future and it works.” That was US journalist Lincoln Steffers’s message after visiting the Soviet Union in the 1920s. It’s worth remembering how wrong he turned out to be. Why? George Osborne and Boris Johnson have just come back from China, and they’ll be tempted to use the impressive things they’ve seen to justify huge infrastructure projects, like HS2 and a floating airport off the Kent coast.

Already, Osborne has claimed that China, unlike Britain, has ambition. There may be some truth in this. More uncomfortably, in conservative circles I’ve heard some discuss “the limits of democracy” – whether seen in the time it takes to build nuclear power stations, or the recent stand-off over the US debt ceiling. Sometimes this implies that China’s model of so-called political-economic “state capitalism” may be on to something.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Karl du Fresne: Are there rorts we don't know about?

There has long been a nagging suspicion that taxpayer-supported Maori organisations are not always held to the same standards of accountability as non-Maori ones.
Along with that, there is a suspicion that there exists within Maoridom a mindset which holds that allegations of dodgy practices should be dealt with in the Maori way; that Maori are accountable only to Maori, even when public money is at stake, and outside institutions have no business poking their noses in. Keep it in the family, so to speak.

What’s more, it’s sometimes hard to escape the feeling that government departments and other bureaucratic institutions play along with this in the interests of cultural sensitivity, even if it means turning a blind eye to irregularities.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Frank Newman: Payday loans

Central government is currently reviewing consumer credit law.  That has awakened media interest in the scandalous Payday Loan industry, which has grown exponentially in recent years with the arrival of overseas companies setting up shop (quite possibly because of the light handed regulatory environment of the non-bank lending sector and the low level of financial literacy in New Zealand).

Payday loans are short-term unsecured loans of small amounts intended to get the borrower though to the next payday, but generally they have a maximum term of a month or two. According to the website of the lenders, typical examples are paying for groceries, power bills, vehicle breakdowns, and the like. The reality is there are probably a host of other reasons why desperate people end up at the doorstep of these usurious lenders. They usually start out of small amounts – just a few hundred dollars, and every lender has different terms, but they do have one thing in common – outrageously high interest rates: 500% per annum is not unusual.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Mike Butler: Whangarei land sold, not ‘lost’

Allegations at the Nga Hapu o Whangarei hearings last week that “culturally significant” sites were “lost” or “taken” as a result of ‘‘unscrupulous tactics sanctioned and assisted by the Crown” disguise the fact that the land was not lost, it was sold.(1)

Tribunal officials and tribal representatives visited harbours, rivers, forests and urban areas on which sit Government and corporate entities between Whangarei's east coast and Kaipara District's west coast. The hearings process began on Sunday with ritual welcomes.

Mike Butler: A world with 30-million slaves

There are around 30 million slaves in the world today, according to the first Global Slavery Index Report by the Walk Free Foundation. The 10 countries with the highest number of enslaved or exploited workers are: India, China, Pakistan, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Russian Federation, Thailand, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Myanmar and Bangladesh.
Mauritania, with about 150,000 slaves, retains the highest proportion of enslaved people in the world, with aspects of "chattel slavery" that back to the American experience of the institution, where human beings are considered "full property of their masters who exercise total ownership over them and their descendants."

Friday, October 18, 2013

Karl du Fresne: Leave it to Maori and hope for the best

The recent conviction of a Hawke’s Bay kaitiaki, or “guardian” of customary fisheries, makes a mockery of the word.
Napier District Court heard that authorisations issued by Rangi Spooner under customary fishing regulations covered multiple dates instead of the allowed 48-hour period. A man named Jason Brown obtained 11 such authorisations and was later convicted of illegally selling crayfish for $10 each. A separate hearing was told that Brown caught 1730 crays, supposedly for events at his house. That’s a helluva lot of crayfish.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Richard Epstein: The Obamacare Train Wreck

Defunding or repealing the law is practically impossible, but here’s how we can fix it.

It is now common knowledge that the bugs in the Obamacare website have been embedded in the system from the start. For the past two weeks, not only have many individuals found it impossible to access the website, but they are often frozen in place once they pass through the initial portal. The problems will just get worse. The current law requires extensive communications between enrollees and their chosen insurance carriers, as well as massive interaction with both federal and state organizations. As a result, web traffic builds up behind bottlenecks and leads to massive frustration. As I warned last May, watching Obamacare unravel is a painful business.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Ron Smith: Iran, Israel and Nuclear Weapons

A couple of critics of my recent posting (29 September) on the Iranian nuclear weapon programme commented that I had failed to notice the already existing substantial arsenal possessed by Israel.  There are a number of observations that might be made about this criticism and the most obvious of these is that they represent the classic ‘change the subject’ move.  The fact that Israel has a substantial nuclear arsenal, and has had such weapons for nearly fifty years, is quite beside the point.

Iran is not saying that it ought to be allowed to develop nuclear weapons because another party in the region has such weapons.  It is saying that it has no nuclear weapon programme and that its present nuclear activities are entirely peaceful. 

Monday, October 14, 2013

Richard Prebble: Insight into Politics - Voting systems matter

Recent events, the German, the Australian and last week’s local body elections, remind us how the voting system can change the result. Our media reports that Angela Merkel and her Christian Democrats have had a stunning win.  It was a remarkable result. The Conservatives are the largest party and have increased their vote and under First Past the Post they would have a huge majority.  But Germany has MMP.  The Christian Democrats are just short of 50% of the seats. While the Social Democrats (Labour) and the Greens had an awful election result with the Left Party (the former Communist party) they have a majority in the Bundestag and could form the government. 

The Social Democrats have promised not to go into coalition with the Left Party.  How long before that promise is forgotten?

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Ron Smith: Greenpeace and the Temptations of Utopianism

The Greenpeace response to the actions of the Russian authorities, following the invasion of their oil-drilling platform by Greenpeace activists, has been revealing and deeply ironic.  The Russian actions, they said, were an ‘assault on the very principle of peaceful protest.  Most pointedly, Greenpeace also said of the Russian tactics, that they were, ‘intimidatory’.

Of course, they were right in this latter comment.  What the Russians did (and are continuing to do) is indeed, intimidatory.  They are intent on putting up the price of the kind of ‘protest’ that is Greenpeace’s stock-in-trade.  And this is where the irony comes in.

Frank Newman: Heritage hassles

A decision by the Environment Court has blocked the demolition of an earthquake prone building in Wellington. That has reignited the debate about how much of the past should be preserved and who should bear the cost of protecting items of heritage value.

The Court acknowledged the Harcourts Building on Lambton Quay has “significant seismicity issues” and can't be rented out but said the building contributed strongly to the “Lambton Quay streetscape”. Having no commercial value did not justify its demolition, the Court said.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Karl du Fresne: A shot in the dark

Some of us (but only a minority, by the look of things) have taken the time during the past couple of weeks to cast our votes in the local government elections. As a result of this three-yearly exercise in participatory democracy, some cities and towns will have new mayors by this time next week. A much larger number will have an intake of new councillors.

As always, the candidates include a significant proportion of no-hopers, cranks, misfits, oddballs, mischief-makers, egotists and single-issue obsessives. Fortunately, local government also attracts conscientious, capable people who genuinely want to serve their communities. The problem for voters is that it’s often hard to tell the difference between the two types of candidate.

Lindsay Mitchell: Complaints about ECE care

In my article Vulnerable Children bill: Will it make a difference? published a few days ago, I wrote:
Today abuse is split into four categories; emotional, physical, sexual and neglect. In 2012 emotional abuse made up 56 percent of substantiated findings, physical – 15 percent , sexual – 6 percent and neglect, 22 percent. Child, Youth and Family record data about the nature of substantiated findings. Unfortunately information about the relationship between the offender and victim is not available.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Mike Butler: Refund from Ngai Tahu required

While South Island tribe Ngai Tahu is demanding more than the $68.5-million top-up paid this year under the relativity clause of their 1998 settlement, the government could demand return of the $170-million paid in 1998 on the grounds that it was paid in error. Ngai Tahu has entered arbitration with the Crown over interpretation of the clauses that detail how the relativity payment should be calculated, according to news reports. (1)

The Ngai Tahu agreement, like that of Waikato-Tainui, was reached in an environment in which the government argued that all treaty settlements should total no more than $1-billion dollars, with the settlement cap called a “fiscal envelope”.

Frank Newman: Interest rate rises and Meridian

It should come as no surprise that interest rates are likely to start rising from about April next year. Last week the Governor of the Reserve Bank, Graeme Wheeler, reaffirmed that outlook but was more specific about the size and speed of interest rate rises.

Radio New Zealand reported, “The Reserve Bank says the official cash rate could increase by 2% from 2014 to the beginning of 2016, which could mean interest rates on first mortgages of 7 - 8%. The central bank says if the Loan Value Ratio restrictions do not slow house price inflation, larger increases in the benchmark interest rate would be required.” In other words, expect interest rates to rise by 2% over the next two years, and more and faster if the property market (in Auckland) continues to charge ahead at 10% a year.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Bryce Edwards: Politics Daily - Why you shouldn’t vote

If you’re feeling disinclined to vote in the current local government elections, then perhaps you simply shouldn’t. Ignore the chorus of political commentators, bloggers and various politicos who are pleading and hectoring you to vote, and simply refuse to take part in this year’s elections. 

Certainly if you’re bored by it all, unimpressed with the lack of meaningful electoral options, or just disgruntled with the state of your local authority and democracy, then one of the most powerful options you have is to protest by not participating. 

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Matt Ridley: Global lukewarming need not be catastrophic

In the climate debate, which side are you on? Do you think climate change is the most urgent crisis facing mankind requiring almost unlimited spending? Or that it’s all a hoax, dreamt up to justify socialism, and nothing is happening anyway?

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Barend Vlaardingerbroek: The rule of international law – have we turned a corner?

September 2013 may well go down in the history books of tomorrow as one of the most historic months in world history. This was the month when international law stared down a challenge from the Wild West style of gunboat diplomacy, and set the Middle East, and thereby the world, on an overdue new path with regard to geopolitical conflict resolution.

All right, perhaps I am putting it a bit too optimistically. But it has certainly been an exciting month for people interested in that hitherto largely toothless tiger international law, not to mention observers of the great geopolitical chess game. And it has been a delightful month for the latter, as they have been watching a Grand Master running circles around an ostentatious rank novice.