Sunday, 4 March 2012

SUNDAY MORNING FAIRY STORIES: The Passover

One of the most bloodthirsty myths in the Bible is also one of the most celebrated:

I’m talking about the “Passover.” The culmination of Ten Plagues inflicted on the Egyptians by Jehovah to prove he was the bigger god. The day when Jehovah killed every first-born in the kingdom (every one, from king to slave to cattle) passing over (geddit) only those households with the foresight to have smeared lamb’s blood on their front door…

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This slaughter gave the Ancient Israelites the impetus, somehow, to escape Egyptian bondage and head into the desert in search of a promised land. (Stopping along the way only to plunder and drown their former captors.)

Nice story. No wonder that (according to a later fairy story), Jesus and his disciples celebrated the slaughter. (That’s what they were doing at the Last Supper, remember, and why they were in Jerusalem.) And no wonder that to this day the Ten Plagues are still so celebrated, by both Christians and Jews! (There’s even Passover for Kids. Nice, huh.)

But the celebration is about a slaughter. A killing of every first-born in the country. Wholesale slaughter by a supposed “god of love.” Heck, you might even call if a heaven-sent holocaust! 

Fortunately, however, like so much in the Bible, and the Torah, the whole story is a fiction:

  • there is no record of large numbers of Hebrew slaves living among Egyptians, and none of 40,000 walking out. (Egyptian records confirm payments of salt to royal guards; you don’t think they’d mention the loss of of 40,000 slaves?)
  • there is no record of the Ten Plagues.

Sure, there are suggestions the Ten Plagues happened as the result of the massive eruption of the Santorini volcano, which snuffed out the glory of Minoan Crete (for which we do have records) turned the sky dark (the Ninth Plague) and the water red with ash (The First Plague), etc.

But Santorini erupted around 1600BC, at least eight centuries after Moses and the Red Sea Pedestrians are supposed to have begun their journey. And even at a stretch (a big stretch) there is no coherent explanation of how the explosion might have effected only Egypt’s first born (nor, as we’ve said before, and record of this occurring). And if the “miracles” of the slaughter were natural and not heaven-sent, then what made Yahweh even greater than the gods he was supposedly trying to supplant?

It’s all just so much incoherent balderdash.

Especially the idea that a god this bloodthirsty would be worth worshipping.

Or one with whom you’d want to make any sort of “covenant.”

Or that “god is love.”

Or that anyone subscribing to this sort of genocidal nastiness should be anywhere near any levers of political power.

[Pictures from the Brick Testament stories of Exodus.]

Saturday, 3 March 2012

GUEST POST: Houses are homes, not investments

Guest post by Vedran Vuk of Casey Research 

Recently, my parents were considering purchasing some real estate. As the financial professional in the family, they asked me, "What do you think? Will it go up in value? You know... not now, but eventually?" I've heard the same thing over and over again. In response, I shared my opinion: "Would you pay the current market price to live there even if its value never increased?" If the answer is yes, buy the property." Essentially, is the house worth it as a home, not as an investment?

In the past few decades, the concept of home ownership has been completely turned on its head. Previously, homes were considered a very long-term consumption good. Do you think anyone in the 18th, 19th, and prior centuries ever considered tripling the value of their homes by retirement time and selling them to move beachside? In the vast majority of cases, such ideas never crossed their minds.

Yet, somehow along the way, this became a reasonable investment expectation. Even today, home buyers still make their purchases with the hopes of escalating prices. But are homes really wise investments?

Consider the difference between your house and an investment such as Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) stock. At a major company, the opportunities can be truly limitless. Apple can produce cashflows from computers, iPods, iPads, and future innovations that are just dreams and concepts today. If the local market is oversaturated, Apple has the option of spreading out all across the world. As a result, Apple's stock price has gone from $17 in 2005 to $540 today. Can your house do the same? Unless there's a hyperinflation ahead or your house is located in the New York City or London of the 21st century, the answer is no. Why? Because your house is ultimately a product--and products have an upper bound to their prices.

To understand this difference, there's no need to drag out the Case-Shiller Index or analyze complex statistics. Suppose one bought a single-family house over a decade ago for $200K. At the peak of the housing bubble, the price reached $500K; to his joy, the owner sold it and moved thereafter to retire in the Bay of Plenty. Can the house's price go higher from here? With Apple, the stock price can just keep climbing with greater profits and innovations. But is that true with real estate?

For the sake of argument, let's say that prices do keep rising. Eventually, the second owner sells to another buyer for $1 million a decade later. Guy number two also peacefully retires in bounty. Well, where does that leave the third guy? Unless real salaries make an incredible jump in the same time period, no one will be able to afford the home next. The median worker earning $51K won't be selling such a house for retirement; instead, it will take him until retirement to afford it. In many ways, this "investment" more closely resembles a Ponzi scheme. (Yes, Ponzi schemes work: for those who get in early and get out - as the recent real-estate bubble demonstrated.) Ultimately, there's an upper bound to housing prices - they can't continue rising perpetually with no end.

The same is true of any product. At $300 for the newest iPod Touch, Apple might be doing well, but at $10,000 per unit, there likely would be very few buyers. As a homeowner, you're not holding a company that can innovate, cut costs, and enter new markets. You're ultimately holding a product which must be either sold to the next user or leased to the next renter. Houses are a good created for a specific use - to put a roof over one's head. They are not magical money machines. Previous generations understood this very simple concept. One built a home as a place to live and escape the elements - and worse yet, the squalor of tenement housing. Homes were not retirement tools, but rather long-term goods.

Unfortunately, policy makers still view homes as investments and are always worried about low prices. But is it really healthy to play another round of the same Ponzi scheme? Suppose the Reserve Bank manages to inflate housing prices again. There will be another boom in which some folks will make a tremendous amount of money. Eventually, housing prices will hit an unrealistic upper bound. Again, home prices will violently drop, resulting in homeowners deeper underwater than now. Of course, the banks will again take a hit as the mortgage holders. As long as real incomes trail the rise in housing prices, there will ultimately be a correction of some sort.

So, do I think the current real estate market is just fine? No, of course not; but I don't think shocking houses prices back into a bubbly stratosphere is the solution. Ideally, I'd like to see increasing housing prices, but only at the pace of real growth in society's wealth. Over the last few decades, houses grew in value for good reasons and bad. On the good side, the economy had been expanding. On the bad side, central banks’ low-interest-rate bubble artificially inflated housing prices beyond what made sense for economies to sustain.

If US companies such as Apple are creating greater abundance in society, it makes sense for US housing prices to grow with greater wealth. But, bringing house prices higher on a wave of printed cash does not make anyone wise investors, but rather willing participants in a Ponzi scheme where someone else will be left holding the bag. Though that might be an attractive solution for those underwater on their mortgages, it's no solution for the economy as a whole--nor for the next buyer, or the next but one.

Vedran Vuk is a senior research analyst with Casey Research

Friday, 2 March 2012

Myth-busting, or ‘Things you know that ain’t so.’ #366: Chinese wages

There’s another myth that’s done the round for years.  That globalisation is a “race to the bottom.” In the way it’s usually couched, we hear that cheap Chinese goods produced by cheap Chinese labour will lower labour costs (i.e., wages) all round the world.

This obviously ignores the enormous benefits to everyone who can buy these cheaper goods for less money, leaving everyone free to spend their remaining income on things they couldn’t afford before (making everyone’s real wages higher, even if their nominal wages stay the same).

It ignores the historical evidence from the likes of Hong Kong, South Korea, Taiwan and Japan, which in only the last half-century have leapfrogged from being low-cost low-wage economies producing objects of some scorn to places producing high-cost, high quality goods and services at wage levels higher than those of their western customers.

Not to mention that it ignores what is happening to Chinese wages themselves. And the fact to grasp hear is that as China itself grows wealthier, the gap between Chinese wages and American wages (which as we all know are higher than our own)will plummet:

US manufacturing wages were 22 times that of China's in 2005. Today, that wage gap is under 10 times and likely will be under five by 2015.

And if China continues on this path (which, for all sorts of reasons, is not guaranteed) then by 2025 …

the wage gap is shrinking

Meanwhile, if we continue to set up barriers to this new wealth (as so many local idiots continue to call for) our wages will be going the other way.

Somebody tell some of the local idiots.

[Hat tip TVHE who asks“Why fear labour market globalisation?”]

Myth-busting: Things you know that ain’t so. #365: “the numbers of people on welfare plummeted under Labour”

There are more myths afoot in the political arena than anywhere else. No wonder, when it’s full of people who lie for a living.

Here’s one doing the rounds in Wellington at the moment: that “less than ten years ago” beneficiary numbers were reduced to “historical lows.”

Fortunately, Welfare Myth-Buster Lindsay Mitchell is all over this one:

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And this is without counting all the hundreds of thousands of middle class families turned into beneficiaries by Labour’s Welfare for Working Families election bribe.

“Historical lows”? Really?

Send the truth to Duncan Garner and Gordon Campbell.

Good news about good drinking

Since drinking is in the news again, courtesy of Jesse Ryder drinking enough to attract the Herald’s sub-editors, perhaps (I thought) I could help redress the balance a little bit from the usual headlines suggesting “drinking is bad” “drinking is dangerous” “drinking should be banned.”

So here’s two recent pieces of research on this important topic that never made the Herald, indicating drinking can be good. I offer them to you as a public service.First, alcohol encourages creativity; or, as Science News reports, “a boozy glow may trigger problem-solving sights”:

A moderate alcoholic high loosens a person’s focus of attention, making it easier to find connections among remotely related ideas, [psychology graduate student Andrew Jarosz of the University of Illinois at Chicago and his colleagues] propose online January 28 in Consciousness and Cognition

The reason suggested is simple enough: drinking alcohol “lowers the ability to control one’s thoughts,” allowing the drinker to jump outside his canalised ways of thinking about a problem and finding instead new and more inventive ways to think about it.  Sounds like a more fun way to solve a problem than sitting in a room “brainstorming” about it.

    Jarosz and University of Illinois psychologist Jennifer Wiley, a study coauthor, suspect their finding applies to musical and artistic inspiration. “A composer or artist fixated on previous work may indeed find creative benefits from intoxication,” they say.

Composers, artists and writers through the ages from Aristophanes to Mozart to Hemingway would undoubtedly agree with them—as would anyone who’s ever jotted down a great idea produced while wetting their throat in the pub.

One word of warning about this, however. People don't think as clearly when their bladders are full.

Second, in further news that will astonish those who write the Herald’s headlines, "People who consume alcohol earn significantly more at their jobs than non-drinkers..."

The study published in the Journal of Labor Research concluded drinkers earn 10 to 14 percent more than teetotalers, and that men who drink socially bring home an additional seven percent in pay.
    "Social drinking builds social capital," said Edward Stringham, an economics professor at San Jose State University and co-author of the study with fellow researcher Bethany Peters.
    "Social drinkers are out networking, building relationships, and adding contacts to their BlackBerries that result in bigger paychecks" …
    The researchers found some differences in the economic effects of drinking among men and women. They concluded that men who drink earn 10 percent more than abstainers and women drinkers earn 14 percent more than non-drinkers.

Good news all round really.

But it must be countered with another word of warning: apparently drinking could also make you carry a Blackberry. Perhaps because you’ve been blinded by endorphins.

So it’s not all good.

[Hat tip Geek Press]

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Gould, Morgan et al: Hopeless

imageIf you’ve ever wonder why Gareth ‘Bloody’ Morgan’s alleged investment company is the worst performing of all the Kiwisaver providers, perhaps the answer is that their economic analysis is as risible as the analysis in the books churned out by their principal.

Consider for example the Pollyanna like pronouncements by their “senior economist” John Carran recently that everything is about to become all rosy in the garden again—that official Chinese GDP figures (measuring the construction of empty cities, empty shopping malls and the like) are to be believed; that European banks have been inoculated from Greece’s by oodles of printed paper; that all the printing by all the world’s central banks will (sometime soon) bring about a second Land of Cockaigne; and that the US is one of these place in which Milk and Honey will soon be flowing. 

Or the equally insipid “analysis” by their “senior equity analyst” Nathan Field, who also pins his hope on a fabled US recovery while appearing not to realise that the US stock market has been rising recently for no other reason than all the phony paper money pumped into markets by The Fed, and that there is and had been no credible signs of a US recovery (about which more below).

_BryanGouldThe level of reasoning on display is so dim it almost makes the analysis in the Herald this morning by failed British Labour Party MP Bryan Gould look good. Basing his “analysis” on facts both historical and from out of yesterday’s papers, Mr Gould reckons that  a recipe of spend, spend, spend is the answer to today’s economic woes. And he’s wrong on virtually everything he says, both factually and analytically.

_Quote_IdiotIn the 1930s [for example, says Gould], there were those, like Herbert Hoover, who insisted that austerity - cutting government spending - was the way to beat recession.

In fact Hoover did nothing of the sort, as he himself boasted in his 1932 presidential campaign.  Instead of doing nothing, he crowed, “we met the situation with proposals to private business and to Congress of the most gigantic program of economic defense and counterattack ever evolved in the history of the Republic.”  “Gigantic” then meant raising spending by nearly one half, and adding a deficit where before there was none:

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Spot any fiscal or monetary austerity there? (Note: these are not “gee-whiz graphs.” There is a zero baseline.)

The result of this non-austerity was to make the situation worse, not better---with even worse to follow when his successor, Franklin Roosevelt, followed the same medicine.

The myth of Hoover’s do-nothingness is just one of many myths from the Great Depression [PDF[ that are still peddled by the know-nothings of today to justify their own nostrums. It should be known to Mr Gould (who has the same pretensions to historical acumen as Mr Morgan and his colleagues at his lacklustre firm have to economic acumen) since the spending, debt, and deficit numbers are all given in tables published every year with the president's proposed federal budget [PDF]. So he really has no excuse. Because as often as this myth is repeated, the truth is the reverse: that Herbert Hoover was a big-government man who did not trust the free market whose meddling turned an ordinary depression into a Great one.

Not that accuracy is any part of Mr Gould’s intentions (even as a failed politician, lying was one of his professional talents) since he then goes on to suggest, quite erroneously, that the reason for the failure of Portugal, Ireland, Spain and the UK to get off the floor is not the enormous debts with which they’ve saddled themselves, which all have increased in the last four years, but some alleged “austerity” which all have inflicted on themselves.

If only they had.

It is not an austerity programme when you debt keeps rising—as it has in all these jurisdictions. It is not an austerity programme when you raise taxes—as all have done. The UK for example

raised capital gains taxes from 18% to 28%, which is the taxes that hit business formation the most.  Raising capital gains decreases the return on investing in new economic activities and investors can easily decide not to invest their capital so this tax reduces economic activity more quickly than other taxes.  If the UK had not raised taxes, they would most likely now be experiencing an economic boom.

It is not an austerity programme when governments spend beyond their means, and it is not a real rescue when the the real causes of the financial crisis [PDF] not only have not gone away but have been given more legs.

So what’s the argument Mr Gould gives for the success of his plan to spend more money?  It’s the wonderful success story of the United States of America in the last four years, wherein “President Obama's stimulus programme - bitterly opposed and relatively timid as it was - is pulling the US economy around.”

Really?!

Mr Gould seems to be reading the same poorly performing tea leaves as Mr Morgan’s poorly performing staff. Because far from recovering, as they both suggest, the latest data doesn't indicate a recovering US economy at all but precisely the reverse: a place wherein all that the Fed's phony paper money is sloshing around the highly inflated stock markets while  every real measure of recovery is on the floor or falling.

The evidence of an improved labor market, higher corporate earnings and the return of the housing market are all based upon misleading data [observes Charles Biderman in Forbes magazine]…

  • The only increase in cash since the March 2009 has been the Federal Reserve giving newly created money away as payment for government expenses… The combined $4 trillion deficit, when added to the $1.4 trillion given away to banks to buy their worthless mortgages equals the $5 trillion increase is US debt.
  • Corporate after-tax income is growing at just under 3% year-over-year, not keeping up with inflation… The reality is that if income tax collections are not growing very fast than neither are the number of new jobs. That calls into question the recent BLS press release that said jobs are growing fast.
  • Without seasonal adjustments unemployment claims are currently down the same 10% year-over-year as the past six months. In other words, by counting year-over-year numbers there is no improvement…
  • Real-time data, ignoring seasonal adjustments and counting year-over-year numbers, indicate both prices and sales of new and existing home sales are pretty much unchanged from year end 2011…
  • Yes the stock market has been going up, but that does not have to mean the U.S. economy is improving. While U.S. and European stocks have been going up, gold keeps rising faster. That means it is not gold that is a chimera, or a phantom, it is the U.S. currency that is a phantom.

This is not anything like the US of Mr Gould’s dreams then. This is the real US data from just yesterday--real data that doesn't corroborate an improving U.S. economy

Real data indicating Messrs Gould, Morgan, Carran, Field—and Pollyanna—have all been talking through their hats.

So perhaps instead of talking about some non-existent “austerity” of today, or talking up the failed super-Keynesian stimulus of the 1930s, they might instead look at the last time a serous economic depression was seriously allowed to play itself out by adopting the real hands-off approach Mr Gould erroneously attributes to Mr Hoover.

It was the Great Depression of 192o.  The Great Depression you’ve never heard of.

And the reason you’ve never heard of it before?  Because the hands-off real austerity turned around a bigger crash than 1929’s plunge in less than eight months.

And oddly enough, it was similar policies that eventually allowed most of the non-US western world to recover from the Great Depression , while Franklin Roosevelt (following Mr Gould’s recipe, which includes every ingredient necessary to stop a recovery in its tracks) was busy making it impossible for America to recover.

But don’t expect to hear that from a failed politician. Or Gareth Morgan’s “experts.”

DOWN TO THE DOCTORS: A systemic problem in the system

Unlike the Prime Minister, Libertarianz leader Dr Richard McGrath is unsurprised to learn a convicted sex offender has these last few years been alive and well and driving children around in his school’s van.

Isn't it reassuring to know that whatever their many other manifest failings, our robust justice and education systems can at least ensure that New Zealand children won't be put at risk by having convicted sex offenders teaching them in our taxpayer-funded factory schools.

Well, mostly.

There is  this guy who taught at eight schools around the country before he was rumbled.  The Prime Minister is puzzled.

John Key said it was known that the offender was "a fairly devious person.” "But we just don't know exactly why the system has failed to pick them up and it's just absolutely critical we restore that confidence," Key said. 
            The Government saw the case as a "potentially very serious issue" that may involve a number of agencies. "We want to make sure we understand fully what's gone on here, whether there is potentially a systemic problem in the system or whether it's a one off situation that it would have been very, very difficult to pick up," Key said.

Not just a problem in the system or a systemic problem. This is a fully fledged “a systemic problem in the system.” That  puts it in a whole other league of fuck up altogether. One that needs “a very full understanding” to work the fuck out.

Or not. Perhaps it’s actually very simple.

And it is.

The problem, John, is that our justice system gives special treatment to sex offenders, particularly child-rapists. It’s as simple as that. It separates sex offenders from other prisoners; it protects their anonymity, regularly suppressing sex offenders’ names at the time of their conviction; it fails to "rehabilitate" them—and fails to care that it doesn’t, (while continuing to reward the programmes that haven’t); and it neglects to keeps a close eye on sex offenders once they are released from prison—invariably at a much earlier date than their victims would have anticipated, and often without their victims even having been told. 

In short, it’s a shambles, John.

In fact, it took a member of the public to tip off one of your eight government schools—where said dirtbag was head of the Maori "department"—that this sexo was driving kids around in the school van. This, despite the dirtbag being on an obviously mis-named Extended Supervision Order.  Proof if proof were needed, John, that it takes more than fine words and naming an order “Extended Supervision” to make any of that supervision happen.

So while the “systems” in place in the Injustice Department are set up to help the sex offenders, while ignoring their past and future victims, the systems in place in the factory schools are more focussed on teachers delivering the Department’s latest warm and fuzzies, instead of focussing on who those teachers are and what they’re doing to the children delivered to them by the state.

There is an alternative to this farce, however. A clear alternative. Indeed, you could say a completely new system. One in which the folk who matter get to pay the piper and call his tunes. One in which parents themselves would have control over the purse strings, and a real say in what (and by whom) their children are educated. Competition between schools would weed out incompetent and predatory teachers quick smart. Of course the mainstream parties would never want anything that extreme.

No, sir, the current system is just fine by them, thank you very much. It’s only a systemic problem in the system, after all. So if it ain't broke, don't fix it.       

See ya next week!
Doc McGrath

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Still laughing at Wikileaks. And Stratfor.

I don’t know if you noticed, but Julian Assange’s Wikileaks just released a boatload of documents hacked or otherwise acquired from Stratfor Consultants, a global research firm that (in the words of Atlantic magazine) “brands itself as a CIA-like ‘global intelligence firm.”

Except, as The Atlantic also points out, “only Julian Assange and a few over-paying clients are fooled.” 

For comparison's sake, [says The Atlantic] The Atlantic often sends our agents into such dangerous locales as Iran or Syria. We call these men and women "reporters." Much like Statfor's agents, they collect intelligence, some of it secret, and then relay it back to us so that we may pass it on to our clients, whom we call "subscribers." Also like Stratfor, The Atlantic sometimes issues "secret cash bribes" to on-the-ground sources, whom we call "freelance writers." We also prefer to keep their cash bribes ("writer's fees") secret, and sometimes these sources are even anonymous.

Basically, they conclude: Stratfor Is a Joke and So Is Wikileaks for Taking It Seriously.

[Hat tip Glenn Reynolds/ Diana Hsieh ]

Glendowie Montessori Open Day

imageIf you’ve ever wanted to see and get the feel of a proper Montessori environment—there being so many Montesomething classrooms around instead, being just Montessori in name only—then this Sunday at Glendowie Montessori Preschool is your chance.

Come along and look around and talk to Directresses Carol and Cathy.

This is for anyone interested in Montessori education, whether as a parent, a friend of education, or you’re just interested to see and learn more about what makes a Montessori environment tick.

imageAfter all, it’s a ‘hands-on’ method of education. So take the chance to get ‘hands on’ with what the Montessori classroom has to offer, and have all those questions answered you’ve always wanted to know, like:

Or just send them a question of your own. They love questions.

(And if you already know you want quality Montessori education for your child, feel free to add your child’s name to their Wait List.)

Where: Glendowie Montessori Preschool, 227 West Tamaki Road, Glendowie, Auckland
When: Sunday 4th March, 3 to 4:30pm
What: Montessori Open Day!

GUEST POST: Licensed Building Practitioners Don’t Read ‘Anthem’

Guest post from Citizen LBP113707

As of today I am Citizen LBP113707. I was once an individual. I was once a craftsman. But not anymore. My personal style and the techniques with which I used to ply my trade no longer stand for anything. I now have to perform my work arbitered by people who produce nothing and who yearn for nothing of spiritual value. Unfortunately these sorry souls have found a threadbare reason to force their lack of life on to me and countless other craftsmen, many of whom have no doubt come to the realisation that it is time to find another way of earning a living.

DBHTherefore, since the coming of Licensed Building Practitioner status to my ‘sector’ (the words ‘trade’ and ‘profession’ no longer being appropriate), I shall no longer refer to myself as ‘I.’ I am now either ‘we’ or ‘us.’ We are no longer an individual. We are a number. We are now units aggregated into the great(er) collective.

Our ability to adapt, improve and to innovate is no longer required. Instead we must conform to the grey mandates of the collective. No longer are we required to explore new ideas. We are able to formulate new ideas in our minds but we are not to take these ideas any further unless we have received permission from our grey leaders; those more equal than us.

So now that we are card carrying Citizen LBP113707, what is the benefit to collective society to which we now belong? We will find that small-business owner-citizens will disappear as costs incurred and newly-enforced red tape will suck up more working hours than is viable.

Also, while being  given ‘guidelines’ within which to build (the rigidity of which belies the name, the practices being spoken about being ‘enforced’ on us) we will nonetheless bear all responsibility when any of these guidelines fail. As they will. This means we will have to find ways to hide our finances to protect ourselves when our grey leaders come to clean us out regardless of whether we are to blame or not.

Monday, 27 February 2012

Stop patronising us - Pacific leaders

Here’s something very encouraging that happened over the weekend: the reaction of Pacific groups to in NZ to Paula Bennett’s patronising “green paper” on so called “vulnerable” children.

At the national conference of the Pacifica women’s council over the weekend, the Minister of Social Development was told bluntly her suggestions the Pacific family is the solution to child abuse and neglect is based on “a romantic myth.” [AUDIO REPORT HERE]

Basically, Bennett’s report recommends “recreating traditional island villages in cities as a solution to Pacific Child abuse and neglect.”  But the response of participants at the meeting was essentially: “Get real.”

The chief executive of west Auckland’s Waves anti-violence trust [for example] told the national conference of the Pacifica women’s council it is a wonderful fantasy.

The assertion, she says, that “taking care of the Pacific family automatically ensures healthy, safe children is a myth.”

And Peggy Fairburn-Dunlop, lecturer in Pacific Studies at AUT, says the suggestion is the Pacific family is the solution,

but it’s time to stop ignoring that it’s also a big part of the problem… We all know there are things that are not so good that go on within families, and we can no longer hide those and pretend we don’t see them.

A refreshing honesty that if transmitted more widely should itself begin to be part of the solution.

Equally, she says, it’s dangerous to make policy on the assumption all Pacific families are the same—suggesting at least implicitly that it’s time to start treating people as individuals rather than as “members” of some community predicated on skin colour.

And South Auckland youth worker Katrina Mika reckons young families of whatever colour  just need good parenting help, not (in my words, not hers) more patronising mush from Ministers.

And many suggested even the idea of calling these children “vulnerable” was itself patronising, which it is, and all children should be treated equally, whatever their race.

I couldn’t agree more.

And I couldn’t be happier hearing sentiments like these from those one so rarely expects it.

Friday, 24 February 2012

Schadenfreude, thy name is Graham

imageA few years back, a friend’s father arrived home from a meeting to select National’s successor in the blue ribbon seat of Remuera after Alan Highet’s retirement.  Said friend’s father, “It’s always been said we could elect a donkey to stand for National in this electorate and it’d still get in. Well, that’s we’ve done this year.”

The donkey they selected was Douglas Montrose Graham, former Minister of Injustice, known to some in the past as Lord Montrose, and (after a guilty verdict in the High Court today) now known only as Inmate Graham.*

Because this mellifluous piece of human excrement, this canker on justice and bloated sack of self-importance, has today been found guilty of fraud.

Not for what he did as Minister of Injustice in the Shipley Government, when he mandated that defendants have their assets confiscated by the state, even before they’d been found guilty.

Not for what he did as Minister in Charge of Treaty Capitulations in the Bolger Government, when he took millions of dollars out of the pockets of New Zealand taxpayers to give to tribalists for things those taxpayers didn’t do.

Not for what he did as Minister of Apartheid, lecturing NZers at one point during his reign “The sooner we realise there are laws for one and laws for another, the better.”

Not because after a lifetime in the trough he retired to Tuscany to write his memoirs in Italy—and demanded a further sinecure from the taxpayer to pay for sojourn.

Not because he came out of retirement to tell taxpayers “You better keep paying your taxes” so he could be kept in his retirement in the style to which a lifetime of troughing had made him accustomed.

He was not tried in court on any of those things, more’s the pity, but the bastard did finally find himself in court for defrauding investors of Lombard Finance—his defence, ironically enough, was one of incompetence—and was tried and today found guilty.

Guilty of helping to defraud investors of $127 million. [Full judgement here.]

No, it was not for any of those many other things of which he was culpable. But it’s enough.  This is an entity who has never made on honest living, his entire wealth having come out of the pockets of unwilling taxpayers and deluded investors.  Such a life demands a deserving final chapter.

Never could schadenfreude have come to a more deserving dirtbag. The only tragedy is that hundreds of investors had to lose their life savings to make it happen.

* * * *

* He won’t be, of course. Being guilty of fraud causing losses to investors of around $227 million will never attract a custodial sentence. Jail is for people who attend a different class of social function.

No, McCully wasn’t there

There’s been an email thread going around the advertising industry in recent weeks, started when an email from the head one big agency calling his competitors “bastards”—bastards moreover who were going to “steal his staff”—was inadvertently sent to that very bastard.

The email started as an informal internal memo telling colleagues to get down to a certain Auckland careers show before those other bastards stole the hot talent they’d just been talking about. Naturally, the abuse and the error were enough to send the email string viral, with much mirth all round at the schadenfreude involved.

And, this being the advertising industry, it was only natural that the whole thing was a complete set-up. A set-up set up by the very talent hoping to be picked up at the careers show, in collusion with the the heads of those big two advertising agencies who were sponsoring the event.

Now you’ve got to admit, that shows real talent.

But what’s it got to do with Murray McCully and his now very public emails?

Well, the little dwarf certainly has no talent, but he sure is a shifty little fuck.  Just shifty enough to make wonder whether anyone really stole them. Just the sort of devious attention-seeker who might think letting his own emails out into the wild might garner him some; with just the sort of machiavellian mind that might think numerous emails about overpaid and overfed diplomats might be a good release about the time you’re about to cut the fat out of MFAT.

After all, his (now former) opposite number in Canberra has said much worse than anything in the fairly tame emails released thus far. The rat fucker.

And the local journalists who swallowed whole the story of them being hacked, making the emails and not the cutting of diplomatic FAT the story, are no less gullible than local ad men.  Are they.

GUEST POST: Importers ask government to break strike

Guest post by Daniel Silva of the Importers Institute

The Importers Institute has today asked the government to pass urgent legislation empowering the Port of Auckland to dismiss striking port workers and contract out the work to private operators.

The Union today threatened to extend a two-week strike into three weeks. During that period, importers and exporters will have to spend many millions of dollars diverting cargo to other ports and airfreight, to keep shops and industry supplied. The exodus of shipping services from Auckland to other ports will accelerate.

This is not a genuine labour dispute for better pay and conditions. What the Union is demanding is quite simply a monopoly on wharf work, usurping the right of management to manage the Port. In effect, they are striking for the right to run the Port for the benefit of the Union. Their members will get nothing from this action, except for one month's lost wages and most probably redundancy.

The Importers Institute asked the Port management what the cost would be of moving the work over to private contractors without delay. We were told that is not possible. Under current legislation, a Court would probably force the Port to take back the striking workers. This is apparently something to do with the 'good faith' nonsense legislated by Margaret Wilson a few years ago.

We call it nonsense because the Union has been guilty of the utmost bad faith. They have lied through their teeth concerning the average remuneration of their members (over $90,000) as well as pretty much about everything else concerning this dispute.

The current government has had plenty of time to reverse the legislative excesses of the last government, but chose instead to smile and wave. The time has now come for the government to assume its responsibilities and prevent a bunch of industrial thugs from holding New Zealand to ransom.

We already have legislation that prohibits some forms of industrial action, for example sympathy strikes. That has not stopped the managers of the Union from going off to Sydney to ask their comrades in other countries to boycott New Zealand. The government's obligation is clear and urgent.

Daniel Silva is the head of the Importers Institute, an informal national association of New Zealand importing companies keeping members informed on topical issues of interest, and representing importers’ interests before policy makers and the public.

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Drew House, by Simon Laws

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The Australian climate offers opportunity especially for unique holiday houses. Like this one for photographer Marian Drew and family by Simon Laws of Anthill Construction for “a one of a kind campsite” in Seventy South, near Gladstone and right next to  “the most northerly surf break on the east Australian coast, at the start of the Great Barrier Reef.”

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Prefabricated housing doesn’t have to be dull.

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[Hat tip the Organic Architecture blog]

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Slavery, secession, states’ “rights” and those who (still) defend them

Around seven-score and twelve years ago the Confederate slave states of the United States America seceded from the Union in a bid to protect their alleged right to own human beings as property, and brought about the first war of the industrial age.

The obscenity of slavery brought about a war on industrial scale that became the bloody pointer to the “Great War” and its charnel houses on the Somme, at Passchendaele, at Verdun—a war about which there is nothing to celebrate except its end—and attitudes that still taint America today.

BoganThe flag of the slave states, the Confederate ‘Stars and Bars’ Flag of War, is now largely just a symbol of the Bogan. Thank goodness. But astonishingly, there are today still otherwise learned folk about who defend the Confederacy on whose behalf troops took it into battle. Who defend the Secession. Who defend, explicitly, the state collectivism of so called “states' rights” and, implicitly, the barnyard collectivism of state-sanctioned racism.

Disgracefully, some call themselves lovers of liberty.  Unbelievably, many of them are happy to pretend the war was never about slavery. Bizarrely, many of them camp out at the Mises Institute (motto taken from Mises’ own, i.e.: “Never Give In to Evil, But Proceed Against it Ever More Strongly”) and help to poison both the name of a good man and the Institute’s otherwise excellent economic work.

Fortunately, a short and easy read by one Jonathan Blanks demolishes this posturing. If this issue is one you’ve ever followed, then I commend it to your attention:

They are all prostitutes. Well, two of them are.

Whale Oil has done sterling work hunting down the real story behind the case of Tania Wysocki. Turns out the only real prostitutes in this story are Herald journalist Simon Collins and Labour MP Jacinda Ardern,who between them  pimped out her story  and those of many other undeserving poor in the much celebrated Herald series.

Anyway, after driving out and listening to Tania, something neither Jacinda nor Collins bothered to do, (Collins having written his story on the way and then doing more talking than listening), Whale Oil has a very different story than the one that was pimped out. Take a look:

Ayn Rand was an “illegal” immigrant…

There’s a few things that US Republican candidates (and other antediluvian anti-immigration  bigots) can learn from Ayn Rand—one of them, reckons Shikha Dalmia, is Ayn Rand being an “illegal” immigrant…

[Sorry, video won't embed, so click the pic to watch it at the WSJ site.]

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(Bottom line of Rand’s story: you have no more reason to tell the truth to an immigration officer than you do an SS office looking for your child.)

[Hat tip Y. Lee]

It’s still all Greek to some people [update 3]

You’ll have heard it reported in recent days that Greece has been “saved.” That the Greek government has been bailed out by the European Central Bank and the EU Rescue Fund (EFSF), that things will be tough for a while, but the Greeks will now be able to dig themselves out of their hole.

Nothing could be further from the truth—and the fact Gareth Morgan subscribes to this fiction (among three other fictions) is almost certain proof the outcome won’t be all rosy.

What has just happened in this second Greek bailout (remember how the first bailout was going to save things?) is another enormous tranche of borrowing lent to the Greek government to save it from its previous enormous borrowing. And if that sounds stupid, it is—but only if you think this is a rescue of Greece.

It is not a rescue of Greece.

Because it is not so much a bailout of Greece by European central bankers, but a bailout of European bankers put together by European central bankers—with German taxpayers picking up the tab.  Greece is now officially a ward of the international community—and as a ward its only job now is to make its guardians rich, or at least to provide a conduit for whatever of its mis-loaned money its guardians can claw back through good old EuroPolitik.

Face it, there was no other way European bankers were going to get any of their money out of Greece—not with Greek 1-Year Bond Yield having just hit 682%.  So when you hear bankers whooping it up because the “rescue” plan has gone through just remember to whom the lifebelt has just been thrown. And it’s not the Greeks.

Frankly, the best thing the Greeks could do now is default, and then leave the Euro Currency Zone.  And the best thing German taxpayers could do is let them—and then leave the zone themselves.

NB: Liberty Scott has an excellent summary of how things came to this pass, and how a Greek default would help:

PS: Oh, and in case you were wondering … yes, Virginia, bailing out banks is inflationary.

UPDATE 1: Mish summarises the options:

The sooner Greece exits the euro, the more likely Greece will be able to prevent still more capital flight. The smart money has already left. (Please see Germany Draws Up Plans for Greece to Leave Euro; Athens Rehearses the Nightmare of Default; Merkel's Denial Rings Hollow.)…
    The best solution would be for Germany to exit the Eurozone first, but that is not going to happen.
The next best option would be for a simultaneous bank holiday involving all Greece, Portugal. Spain, and Ireland at the same time as noted in
Why Greece Must Exit the Eurozone, How it Will Happen (and Why Portugal and Spain Will Follow); Does the Euro Act Like a Gold Standard?
That too is highly unlikely. Thus the odds of a protracted, one-by-one, and very costly breakup of the eurozone is the most likely outcome whether or not Greece survives the Ides of March.
For further discussion including an analysis of why it would be best for Germany to exit the Eurozone, please see
Eurozone Breakup Logistics (Never Believe Anything Until It's Officially Denied).

Short of a real gold standard emerging, my own opinion is that best economic outcome would see the more solvent countries (solvent only in relative terms, you understand) such as Germany, Finland, Austria, The Netherlands etc. leaving the Eurozone to go back either to their original currencies or a common one, which would quickly find their/its own value; leaving the less solvent, the halt and the lame, to soldier on under the (relative) discipline of a bargain basement Euro.

It would certainly make a southern European holiday something of a bargain.

UPDATE 2: Philip Bagus on “The Future of the Euro”:

“The problems of the eurozone are ultimately malinvestments…    even before the crisis, governments had accumulated malinvestments due to their excessive welfare spending.
    Two causes had incentivized social spending in Europe’s periphery. The first cause is low interest rates… an expansionary monetary policy by the European Central Bank (ECB) and … an implicit bailout guarantee…
    The second cause is that the euro is a tragedy of the commons.”
 

UPDATE 3: An overview on what just happened in Greece from Krazy Economy, “A Note on Greek Banks Recapitalization

As an overview, here is what we have:
The Greeks (actually you can insert any European Common Market country you want because the pattern is consistent throughout) borrowed from anywhere they could for a massive spending spree.
They required the banks to be a major lender.
They required the banks to have little or no reserves against the loans to the government.
The government can’t repay the loans.
The banks are failing.
The government, with money acquired from elsewhere because it has done stupid, insane things, is going to buy the failed [Greek] banks.
These banks are even more tied to government policies than before.
The government has ownership and control of the banks.
Does anyone think that the Greek banks will be better off?

Meanwhile, and this is perhaps the main point of the whole fiasco, the reality evasion in high places and low:

The failure of putting two and two together is a common theme in the entire European debt crisis. It is most blatant with the Greeks.
This week there have been more “strikes,” riots, and protests against the terms required by the agencies that would bail out the Greeks. Many of the chanted slogans and posters and banners declare that the foreigners are dictators and imperialists. The protestors want the politicians to “resist”!
    The Greeks appear like angry four year olds who have been told that they can’t have the toy on the shelf because mommy doesn’t have the money. How and what are the politicians suppose to resist? They are suppose to resist the requirement that they do not incur more debt. They are suppose to resist the requirement that they try to pay back their existing debt. They are suppose to resist the requirement that if they are given money they spend it wisely instead of like a drunken sailor (my apologies to sailors).
    The Greek protestors have no contact with reality. None. They have no idea that money has some connection to real things. That real things are made by someone who wants to be paid for their efforts. That borrowing actually means that the lender expects to be paid back.
    The Greek country is a testament to modern education and economic “thinking.”

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

One year on, and Christchurch is still on welfare [updated]

I think I agree with Lindsay Mitchell and others who feel uneasy about the mawkishness of the widely publicised public commemorations one year on from Christchurch’s February 22 earthquake. As she says,

The commemoration of tragedy, not confined to Christchurch by any means, is starting to take on a strange religiosity in a largely secular country.

To which reaction I add my disgust at the entities grandstanding in the commemoration who have done nothing since the tragedy but get in the way of individuals trying to recover from the disaster.

The earthquake was the first disaster. It has delivered a second one: the political decisions made in the aftermath.

From day one on, the earthquake has delivered to the kind of person who feels drawn to clipboards and jackboots the power over others they could never get in real life. In fact, virtually the whole panoply of government, central and local, has been ranged against those trying to recover—from Gauleiter Brownlee and Boss Parker on down, with the clipboard wielders in the van: standing athwart individuals trying to rebuild staying “Stop!”

Folk in houses only partially damaged, or not damaged at all, are told by council thugs to “Get Out.”  “By order!”

Folk in other houses are still waiting to be told by government’s minions whether or not they will be allowed to rebuild, repair or remove themselves, or whether (or not) EQC will bother paying their repairers.

Builders have been left to sit on their hands while all this happens, since there’s precious little rebuilding going on, or allowed to go on.  Not just due to the dithering of  EQC et al. Right round the city, while people desperately seek new housing and queue for the few rentals around, there is good land to build houses on. But it can’t be built on and it won’t be built on, because the council’s overlords and underplanners have deemed it all off limits: “off limits” because to build here would violate their precious “strategic plan” for the city—after earthquakes strong enough to shake the city to the core, but not strong enough to shake a “strategic plan” drawn up long before earthquakes were even thought about, and dangerously infected even then with the poison of so-called “Smart Growth.”

IMG_0281[1]Meanwhile, those belatedly selected by the government’s mandarins to build “temporary accommodation” for Christchurch’s evicted hordes have finally coughed up around the city what can only be called refugee camps—the all-too predictable sub-standard apologies of places that will quickly become the slums of tomorrow, while helping to kill residents’ dreams of todays. [Read David Haywood talk here about his move into the spirit-killing Linwood Park “Temporary”  Earthquake Village he’s photographed at right.]

Touring around the outskirts of Christchurch one year on an outsider can only be impressed at all the energy and activity going on. Going on in all the homes and businesses located and relocated there on the outskirts, frequently over the opposition of planners who wish them elsewhere.

This is where the real business of Christchurch is now being done—in rubble used as concert chambers, garages being used as factories, in factory units being used as offices, in offices being used as shopping malls, in houses being used as shops offices, factories and over-cramped boarding houses.  But the council’s town planners and earthquake mandarins haven’t helped any of this process in any way at all; in the days after the earthquake they stopped owners demolishing dangerous buildings, and since the second they’ve done all they can to hinder these necessary and spontaneous “re-zoning” of activities within the city.  And it’s fair to say the council, CERA and Gerry Brownlee have treated business owners with property still inside the CBD with nothing but contempt.  Little wonder these business and property owners have been protesting for virtually the whole of the twelve months since the second big earthquake, and for four months before that.

So to see all these various lackies and sawdust caesars standing up on their hind legs today spouting about their good works keeping Christchurch on its knees is too much for me to stomach.

One year on Christchurch continues to struggle. What the earthquake couldn’t do, governments central and local have done instead. The first disaster was the earthquakes. The second disaster is the political decisions made in their aftermath.

Give people back their lives. Give them back their property rights. Discard this pathetic idea that only government can do things—when all it does do is either tax, ban or subsidise. Take Christchurch off its knees, take it off welfare, make it an Enterprise Zone for Galt’s sake …. and then get the hell out of the way.

That’s my advice for the mandarins one year on. Just get the hell out of the way.

UPDATE:  Auckland council without an earthquake is considering doing what Christchurch council after an earthquake is not considering, i.e., relaxing (albeit only very slightly) the planners’ ring fence around the city.

But even these baby steps are beyond the pale for Christchurch’s planners.

Stephen Fry, Steven Joyce and Government broadband

imageHe loves gadgets and he’s tweeted from many places around the world, but Stephen Fry was less than satisfied with government broadband here in EnZed. And he reckons we EnZedders should rise up and take on those responsible.

“You wouldn't put up with potholes in your roads,” he says, though we do, don’t we, “so you shouldn't have to put up with Third World broadband standards as well.”

But we do, don’t we.  We not only put up with it, you vote for it.

So who’s responsible for the potholes in local broadband? Well, it’s fashionable to blame the private telcos, of course.  But consider that around six years ago, right when those private telcos were considering plans to roll out the next generation of broadband across the country, Labour’s David Cunliffe began dismembering Telecom—to the loud applause of  Labour hacks, National stalwarts and Telecom’s competitors—and announcing plans to “roll out” government fibre.

Would-be private investors in next-generation broadband began quietly reconsidering their own investment plans. Why put your own head in the noose when you could reap the benefit of a taxpayer “investment.”

Then around four years ago in a throwback to its Think-Big Muldoonist past the incoming National government began announcing that it would be they who would be “rolling out” the next generation of high-speed, bells-and-whistles broadband, the “roll out” of which would be a flagship policy of their first term.

Potential users and rival telcos alike waited with bated breath while nothing continued to happen. And now that the former promoter of National’s next generation of high-speed, bells-and-whistles broadband Steven Joyce has moved on to bigger, better and brassier things, the non-roll out has been left to first-time minister Amy Adams—who instead of being photographed in front of new high-tech equipment sits in her new office writing press releases boasting :

The Government has set aside $1.5 billion for ultra-fast broadband, and aims to have the service reaching 75 percent of New Zealand in the next 3 5 7 10 years… contracts had been locked in, the rollout was under way, and competitive wholesale prices had been secured, but it was up to the industry to ensure New Zealanders got the quality and performance they expected at prices they could afford…

Or in other words, “we’ve spent lots of your money already with only paper promises and electioneering hype to show for it. But stop whining, because you’ll get it when you get it.”

At least she recognises, if only partially, that government itself delivers nothing. That in the end it is still “up to the industry.” But perhaps she and other EnZedders might reflect that the industry might have done better and much earlier—that big private investment might have been directed into this area much sooner—if big government hadn’t been flexing its muscles for the last six years in the hope of  a political windfall.

After all, it looks like up to $33 billion could be the real return to NZ from the investment, if it ever comes to pass, some of which would have rubbed off on private investors. But when any private investment would have been drowned out by government and (no doubt) damned by luddite nationalists in every party, and when NZ’s largest telecommunications company is being dismembered and partially nationalised as a reward for owning and having rolled out the last national network, it’s no wonder no private investor wanted to take the risk.

As a blogger who’s now left the building once said:

If telecommunications companies think someone is going to steal their networks,they won't build any more of them! It's really simple. Now we are stuck with waiting for the government to waste my tax money building something that every private interest is now too scared to.

Former Telstra Australia head Sol Trujillo said much the same when similar threats were directed his way from the Australian government. He:

derided Kevin Rudd's election-promised "partnership" to build an across-Australian broadband network, calling it a "kumbaya, holding hands" theory. It might have been an election promise, but looks like no- one stopped to ask the company supposedly being partnered. Said Trujillo: "We are only going to participate in the things that we own and control."
    Mr Trujillo, firmly backed by chairman Donald McGauchie, said Telstra was happy to invest $4 billion or more of its own money rather than the taxpayers' - but only on its terms and pricing…
Australia needs a fast, modern telecoms infrastructure [says Trujillo]. And the quickest way to get there is to allow unfettered competition. Mr Trujillo says that America and Europe learned long ago that “to foster competition the government cannot control the levers, it must let the market work. Virtually every other country has moved towards less regulation in telecoms” …
    Worried that giving rivals a free ride would undermine his profits, Mr Trujillo is threatening not to lay the fibre: “My duty is to our shareholders—including 1.6m ordinary Australians. I will only invest where I can earn an economic return.”

So when private investors aren’t able to earn a return? Or they are (falsely) led to believe they can be given an unearned free ride on someone else’s network? Then you end up where you are today. As our late friend Anna Woolf said back in 2008: Remove the Red Tape, the Fibre Optics will follow. Or don’t, and it won’t.

So when you’re complaining about your broadband service today, it’s government broadband you’re complaining about.

Potholes and all.