Thursday, January 29, 2015

Quote of the Day:

‘There is no longer a set of social democratic ideas that will work. Keynesianism is
intellectually dead.  With Trade Unions no incomes policy will ever work. With our State
industries productivity will always be abysmal. Nobody… has the faintest idea how to
redistribute income; the tax and benefit system is  too complex and arbitrary to yield a
simple progressive result free from major anomalies. Social  democratic theory is just plain wrong…’

- economist John Vaizey – former Keynesian, former social democrat,
a Labour Party lord -- in a letter to The Times, 1980, stating the obvious
in explaining his abandonment of his former positions.
[Quoted in Alex Millmow’s brief sketch of Vaizey’s intellectual turnaround]

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RMA: From back when abolition wasn’t just a pipe dream… [updated]

“Every law that was ever written opened up a new way to graft.”
    - Robert Heinlein, 1949

“Landscape consultants, registered arborists, architects, environmental
consultants, iwi consultants, lawyers, planners … the number of snouts
in the trough is huge, and all with a vested interest in retaining current
practices under the [Resource Management] Act.  These parasites will
continue to proliferate and raise costs to all until the Act is abolished.”
- Peter Cresswell, 1996

Last weekend I stumbled across a few things back from the days before the Resource Management Act became a sacred cow, reminding me as I re-read them that the more things change in this world of benighted political restraint of rights and trade, the more they stay the same.

Moving my archives from one place to another, I stumbled on an old folder from the late 90s with RMA/Common Law on the spine – and when I blew the dust off, top of the pile inside was a report from 1996 titled “The Impact of the Resource Management Act on the ‘Housing and Construction’ Components of the Consumer Price Index.” It could have been written yesterday, and would have been read just as little.

Commissioned by a Reserve Bank concerned about rapidly rising house prices, especially in Auckland (stop me if you’ve heard this before), it found that the impact of National’s recently-introduced RMA was already severe:

The Principle Findings of this Report Are:

  • heavy-handed regulation of the supply of residential land carries a burden of significant economic and social costs
  • over-regulation affects prices, construction output and finally employment
  • those same price rises make a significant contribution to the CPI, which, in turn, forces a response from the Reserve Bank, which means that these distortions impact on the competitive performance of New Zealand's trading sector
  • These costs fall most heavily on those least able to deal with them… Those already comfortably settled, benefit from the increased capital value of their properties. Those struggling to become established, find themselves paying higher prices for housing, or are priced out of the market altogether.
  • The RMA, as it has been, and is being, implemented, has imposed massive extra costs on the residential housing market... These costs could be greatly reduced without diluting the environmental objectives of the Act
  • [Land] owners have lost any clearly defined 'right to use’
  • The major cause of ongoing increases in housing costs is the [Auckland Council]’s policy that Auckland's growth should be managed by a policy of containment … Opinion surveys and Census Data indicate that [this policy] seeks outcomes which the majority of Aucklanders do not want, and are likely to resist
  • Censorship of architectural design in many parts of the city has led to increases in costs and charges
    which are sometimes massive, especially in some of the poorer neighbourhoods

Nearly twenty years after the report was commissioned, and nearly twenty-five since National introduced the RMA, nothing has changed.  (Authored by the late Owen McShane, you can find it online here.)

Returning to New Zealand myself in 1995, I was horrified to find National’s Act of architectural censorship sitting athwart my clients’ property rights making housing a more expensive proposition for everyone, and quickly penned a piece I called ‘Resource Management and Environmental Fascism.’1 In my archived folder, I found a handwritten 11—stage plan sketched out in 1996 showing all the exuberance of youth – a plan to get rid of the damned thing before the entrenched vested interests it engendered had become too powerful to remove, and too addicted to the graft it opened up.

Here’s the short version2:

  • Progressively replace council administration of district planning with restrictive covenants on land title deeds. Such covenants to begin by reflecting the rules of existing district plans with their mush removed (i.e., all such restrictions to be objective, measureable and rights-based) and to allow later negotiation and registration of further agreed mutual restrictions by private land-owners. [As in “I’ll trade you my view over your parcel for your right to keep the shade from my tree.”]3
    • allows consistency with land-owners’ present expectations based on district plans, moving gradually and voluntarily to the embodiment of common law principles in titles
    • approximates the type of covenants a ‘far-sighted developer’ might have introduced
    • removes activities with which ill-equipped council planners would like to ‘participate’ in design
    • allows land-owners the freedom to renegotiate arrangements between themselves over time, and so build up a network in each neighbourhood of predictable and freely-chosen guidelines for future development
    • eventually
  • Establish doctrine that all new development liable to tortious suit under civil law, on the basis of the ‘English Laws Act, 1858’ that formally brought common law to NZ.
  • Abolish monopolistic legislation protecting industry groups, e.g., ‘Architects Act, 1963’
  • Enact a codification of basic common law principles outlining doctrines like ‘coming to the nuisance’ and rights to light, to air, to support, to undisturbed possession etc. to which all land-owners and their neighbours will now be both bound and protected.
  • Abolish Resource Management Act…
  • Hang/guillotine all council planners…
  • Set up a mechanism whereby title deed restrictions on individual titles (or on districts/precincts/ subdivisions) can be removed/introduced/amended by mutual agreement
    • this recognises the fact that some of the original deed restrictions will have been imperfectly done and often onerous, but properties were bought
    • such amendments may involve, e.g., a private deal involving compensation to affected parties3
    • a public vote to remove/amend deed restrictions in a clearly defined district such as a street, catchment area or specific region. Any such removal/amendment to be relevant only to the specific district[s] in question 4
  • Maintain an ongoing process of education in the main outlines of property rights and the foundations of common law, common knowledge of which once protected folk from the incursions of the wankers who wrote the RMA, but is now all too rare, especially in places like the judiciary where it should be a prerequisite.

Would I change any of it now? Well, since they sell much easier, I guess I’d now make it a 10-point plan. 

And, since the area has become a seriously confused and confusing political football, I might have used Epsom as the obvious example where restrictive covenants based on existing mush-free parts of the district plan without much change would be welcomed by existing property-owners as a starting point whereby their property rights could begin being permanently and properly protected.

And maybe I’d now suggest shooting all the planners. Given what they and the Act that produced them have done to this country in the last quarter-century, hanging is too good for them.

And just think of how popular it would be on reality TV?


1. And, since it was written back in the days before computers fully usurped typewriters, I have it here only in very marked-up hard copy. But if anyone is sufficiently interested, you might persuade me to retype it and post it here later. [UPDATE: See below]
2. In full, it was even more ambitious. My heading says ‘Proposed Staged Abolition of RMA, Building Act, Local Government, Department of Conservation & Ministry of Environment’  – all of which (apart from Local Government) had barely been around long enough back then to become sacred cows. And my text describes staged privatisations of national parks, state forests, beaches etc in a way and in a form that protects existing private and public interests. Since my retyping fingers are not warm after the holidays however, I’ve only posted here the parts specifically related to RMA abolition…
3. And only affected parties. One of the earliest and best results of the stepped plan will be that effects of development only need be considered on those actually affected by those actually affected. Neither planners nor distant non-neighbours need be considered.
4. Although this process is used in the non-planned city of Houston to change title deeds, it is still open to abuse, and I’m not entirely in favour.

UPDATE:  Lucky you! Further perusal of my old folder reveals a smooth typed copy of my two-page May 1996 rant against the RMA. So I scanned it for your before you even decided you wanted to read it. (A point to any sharp-eyed reader who spots the inadvertent comma abuse…)

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Did you hear the one about the novelist and the PM? [updated]

Does everyone just feel obliged to speak up when a Booker Prize-winning novelist disparages a PM, or when a PM answers back? 

Aren’t they both entitled to talk?

Did any of the commentariat really have something to say? Or did they just feel the need to open their mouth -- and had no other target, or targets, on which to lash their tongue?

So those opposed to the PM targeted the prize-winner. And those in his favour targeted her. And no-one in the end was any the wiser about anything much at all, least of all about any of the subjects raised by the prize-winner, or in the PM’s response, because no-one was really listening very much at all.

This, by the way, is what is now called “debate” here in little old EnZed.

UPDATE: Eric got there first: “That so many got so riled up over this whole thing... I guess the summer stupid season isn't over yet. Wasn't there a state-of-the-nation address on or something that people should have been paying attention to?”

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Fiction of Austerity: How Greek Default May Sill Unravel the EU

Guest post by Frank Hollenbeck

Flag of GreeceGreece is back in the headlines. This should surprise no one. It was naïve to think that Greeks would accept being debt slaves forever.

Despite all the rumblings that Greece will be forced to leave the Euro, there is in reality no mechanism by which EU countries can force a Eurozone member to exit the currency union. It really is all a bluff. This is a standard scare tactic used by governments to induce people to give up freedom for a little security.

Greece currently owes a little over 300 billion euros to various creditors. About 200 billion is owed to the EU institutions, the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF), and the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), that raised funds based on EU guarantees. The remainder is owed to the IMF, ECB, and private creditors. If Greece were to default, it would probably be mostly on the debts owed to the EU. To get Greece down to a manageable debt level, a default of at least 150 billion euros is necessary.

Greek Default Threatens EU

Of course, such a default would mean that the guarantees would then kick in. Government officials in Europe are currently in panic mode since this would likely be another Lehman moment. Spain, Italy, and France have guaranteed about 50 percent of this debt. A default would mean an important increase in the debt load of each of these countries. This would likely be the tipping point for Italy which has a current debt to GDP level of over 130 percent and several decades of essentially no growth. Italy is too big to bail out. Bail-ins and ensuing bank runs would then become an increasing possibility. The ECB would probably step in to essentially monetize the debt of these spendthrift countries. The pressure on Germany to leave the euro would then be overwhelming.

Greece is actually in the driver’s seat. In 1947, Time Magazine attributed the following quotation to Keynes, “If you owe the bank thousands, then you have a problem. If you owe the bank millions, then the bank has a problem.” In the current situation, it is the EU that has a problem. Greece is currently running a primary surplus (i.e., income > expenses, but  income < expenses + interest, meaning an overall deficit); historical evidence shows that once a country reaches such a situation it is likely to default within the next two years.

Germany has threatened to hold back further funding if Greece reverses or halts current reforms. This is also a bluff. If there is one thing we have learned from European governments is that they have no backbone and will always take the easy solution to kick the can down the road. Greece will likely get more money from the EU to pay interest and principal, on the promise of token reforms. Of course, this violates one of the most important lessons in finance. Don’t throw good money after bad. In Europe, we are constantly putting short-term bandages on a terminally ill patient. The crisis will be postponed, only to be worse down the road. You simply cannot solve a debt problem with more debt.

The Illusion of Austerity

One day, the whole system will come crashing down. Except for Hungary, government spending as a percentage of GDP has been rising in Europe year after year since the financial crisis of 2008. For the EU's twenty-eight nations, government spending hit 49 percent of GDP in 2013, up from 45.5 percent in 2007. For Greece the ratio has gone from 46.8 percent in 2007 to a whopping 59 percent in 2013: so much for the fiction of austerity.

It is irrational to believe that growth will pick up when you guide your economy in the direction of communist Cuba instead of Singapore. Mario Draghi talks about reform such as making labour laws more flexible. This would be funny if he was not serious. The real problem is a century of socialist meddling in everything: getting progressively worse since the 1960s. You cannot fix the system; you have to tear it down starting at the foundations.

European Economies Are Inflexible

From 2003 to 2013, France has experienced constant “legislative inflation” (video) Take for example land use laws in France. Since the 80s and 90s environmentalists have, with the aid of EU institutions, erected a mountain of regulations. The use of land has to fit into a government urban plan, satisfy a mountain of restrictions such as coastal laws, wet land law, biodiversity laws, and natural zones preservation laws. Land for construction near even minor cities can be 1,000 times more expensive than agricultural land. These higher prices and a myriad of other impediments have brought private construction in France to a standstill.

“A democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting for what to have for lunch.” With Government spending in many European countries well over 50 percent of GDP, a majority of people work for the government. Over half of the borrowing that got Greece into trouble was for vote getting increases in public sector wages. Yet, even today public sector wages in Greece have barely budged. If the Greek Party Syriza wins the upcoming election (which it has) it has pledged to reverse the minor cuts in public sector employment already implemented.

Socialism for the Rich

Europe saved Greece to bail out its bankers. Without the bailout, Greece would have defaulted and returned to the drachma. It would have been forced to drastically slash government salaries and payrolls. It would have had to cut the wage increases that got it into debt trouble in the first place. Instead, the bankers walked away, with private debt replaced by public debt. Now, Greece could sink all of Europe, with the European taxpayer and citizen unaware of the hardship he will shortly endure: all of this to transfer wealth from the have-nots to the haves.

Unfortunately, the economic platform of the left-leaning Syriza will make the economic situation much worse. You cannot repeal the law of scarcity. The same is true of the economic platforms of Podemos in Spain and the National Front in France.

Hold on to your hats since we are in for a turbulent future in Europe. It did not have to be this way.


 Frank Hollenbeck teaches finance and economics at the International University of Geneva. He was previously Senior Economist at the State Department, Chief Economist at Caterpillar Overseas, and associate director of a Swiss private bank.
This post first appeared at the
Mises Daily.

Labour’s global wealth tax?

I thought you might like to know that one of the top contenders for Labour’s vacant presidency position is Professor Nigel Haworth, from Auckland University, whose recommended summer reading included the much-debunked tome Capital in the 21st Century by French academic Thomas Piketty calling for a global wealth tax.

Perhaps some aspiring journo might ask Mr Little if we might expect Piketty-style rhetoric from the party should Mr Haworth achieve his desired position?  And Mr Haworth if he shares Piketty’s envy problem, and agrees with his anti-capitalism, his alleged facts, his rejection of liberté, and his obvious ignorance of the role of capital in raising wealth and wages?

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Friday, January 23, 2015

“Also to meet competency 1.2 your practice example must relate to demonstrating the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi”

I’m sure it will comfort you next time you find yourself in need of a nurse l to know that, in order for your nurse to  maintain their registration as a nurse, they must first “demonstrate their competence” as a nurse to The Council of Nurses.

A Council who does not hesitate to ensure – and this is important – your nurse’s “continuing competence” in something they call “competency 1.2,” which it turns our is something to do with “the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi” etc.

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For clarity, this “competency 1.2” is one of the very first “competencies” stressed by The Council of Nurses in their Handbook of Competencies for Registered Nurses; it means, and I swear I am not making this up, “a demonstrated ability to apply the Treaty of Waitangi/Te Tiriti o Waitangi to nursing practice.” Which is to say, to be culturally safe.

This is obviously very important. Because your nurse’s knowledge of, excuse me, a “continuing competence” in applying Governor Hobson’s three spare clauses (just imagine how useful it would be, for example, for your nurse to ensure your land is only acquired by the Crown)  is undoubtedly of much more immediate use in a medical emergency than their having taken the time to learn, say, the basic protocol of Advanced Cardiac Life Support.

So I guess you’d have to hope they studied up on that other stuff in their spare time.

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Why give a dangleberry about Davos?

Consider these two extracts from the Davos Devil’s Dictionary1:

- Davos, Davos
Several million gigaloules
Of dead loss

And

- Oh to be in Davos
Now that pricks are here

As we speak, the, (ahem) World Economic Forum is meeting in the Swiss ski resort of Davos to discuss political means to keeping attendees at the top of the tree.  The week began with 1700 private jets flying in to discuss the main item on the agenda: climate change (yes, it turns out global warming actually causes private jets.) It continued with IMF head Christine Lagarde declaring Eurozone QE is “already working” to trash the currency. It reached its highlight, for me at least, with Daniel Hannan’s masterful expose of the cronyist corruption on display.

Davos, he says, is a phoney-baloney cronyist.

Davos Man... derives most of his income, directly or indirectly, from state patronage. If he is in the private sector – and he is more likely to be a lobbyist, politician or bureaucrat than a businessman – he’ll be an instinctive monopolist, keen to persuade ministers and officials to raise barriers against his potential rivals…
    We know in our bones that Davos Man despises us and our values. As Samuel Huntingdon once put it, the delegates “view national boundaries as obstacles that thankfully are vanishing, and see national governments as residues from the past whose only useful function is to facilitate the élite’s global operations.”
    All right, you say, but surely it’s useful for powerful people to exchange ideas and learn from each other’s mistakes. Well, yes; but this lot rarely seem to learn. Whatever the problem, their preferred solution is always to establish a global bureaucracy staffed by people like themselves. Obviously, they don’t put it like that. “The stability of the global economy” is a much prettier phrase than “a juicy public sector post for me.”
    It’s like an Ayn Rand novel, where lobbyists reach cosy arrangements with each other in elliptical language. Remember the way she described members of a company board? “Men whose careers depended on keeping their faces bland, their remarks inconclusive and their clothes immaculate.”2 That’s Davos.

The Ayn Rand novel on point, of course, is Atlas Shrugged – her virtual textbook of anti-cronyism.

The World Economic Forum would … be a dodgy enough event even if all its members were disinterestedly seeking to advance human happiness. But, of course, most of them are doing no such thing. Surrounded by power and patronage, delegates naturally line one another up for jobs – jobs paid for, more often than not, by taxpayers.
    A mild aversion to cliché has, until now, held me back from quoting Adam Smith’s most famous aphorism. But, in the context of the World Economic Forum, nothing else will do: “People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.” Yup. And free-marketeers want no part in it.

NOTES:

1, Yes, I confess, no such tome exists.
2. For AR pedants, the precise quote, from the chapter ‘Account Overdrawn,’ is: “men who, through the decades of their careers, had relied for their security upon keeping their faces blank, their words inconclusive and their clothes impeccable…” But who would begrudge the man a bit of poetic licence.

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How the RMA continues to protect polluters

tukituki

Hawkes Bay’s Tukutuki River is polluted with regular discharges of council sewage, and the river’s recreational users are understandably outraged that the regional council will not prosecute the district council responsible.

The Central Hawke's Bay District Council's new wastewater plants have failed to meet the conditions of a new resource consent six times since it came into force in October…
    Spokesperson for the group Friends of the Tukituki, Simon Lusk, said the district council had 10 years to put a new sewage treatment plan in place, and the regional council was failing in its statutory duty…
    Mr Lusk said the pollution flowing into the Tukituki River from the sewage plant was an absolute disgrace. 
    Labour's water spokesperson Meka Whaitiri questioned the regional council's ability to enforce any resource consents granted for the Ruataniwha Dam, after it declined to prosecute.
    She said the council was not doing its job.
    "If we can't get a waster water issue sorted out within 10 years what faith have we got in them doing the right things to ensure that this proposed dam is going to meet environmental standards."
    Ms Whaitiri said another body should be overseeing the activity of the regional council which was both a developer and regulator.

Bear in mind, customers, that this is happening under the present-day regime of the Resource Management Act, which you might have heard is there to protect the environment.

Of course, it does nothing of the sort.

What it does instead is issue a licence to pollute—it gives meat processors a licence to dump their wastewater into rivers and oceans; it gifts farmers, pulp and paper mills and landfill sites to discharge their waste into lakes and rivers; it gifts councils a licence to dump sewage effluent directly into an ocean and river outfalls all over the country.  A license that, especially if you’re a council, you are able to flaunt at will – especially, as Ms Whaitiri points out, since they are frequently (and inappropriately) both developer and regulator.

The regional council's chief executive Liz Lambert said it was drawing up an abatement notice, but her council did not think punishing the district council was appropriate.
    "We believe that any financial punishment really doesn't help the ratepayer.
    "We'd rather see the money go towards the right outcome."
    Hawkes' Bay council's chief executive John Freeman said they designed the plants to meet the Regional Council's standards but they had run into issues with the chemical filtration process.

Can you see Joe and Jackie home-owner getting the same leeway from the likes of Ms Lambert?

Just to repeat, all this happens and had been happening for years under the present regime of the RMA. (And no, campers, nothing Nick Smith is proposing will either weaken that or strengthen it.)

So get this straight: whatever you might hear in your daily headlines, the RMA is not an Act that protects the environment*—partly because it has failed to recognise the property rights of those affected by this kind of pollution, and because it has removed almost every legal mechanism for them to protect their legitimate rights.  If we look at common law, however, we discover that common law offers precisely what both the environment and those affected most urgently need: i.e., a mechanism whereby their legitimate rights in the river are legally protected.

Elizabeth Brubaker of Canadian ground Environment Probe describes some famous cases on point here.

Landowners and tenants have often used trespass law to keep pollutants off their property. They
have fought sawdust from a lumber mill, fluorides from an aluminum plant, and pesticide spray.
Those living along rivers have used trespass law to prevent sewage discharges from littering the
rivers’ beds and banks.
In one early-twentieth-century case, a New York farmer complained that upstream sewers
polluted his creek. He argued that the filth piling up on the creek’s bed and along its banks
constituted a trespass. The court agreed. It gave the polluting town a year to build a new sewage
system. But after that, it ruled, the town would no longer be allowed to pollute the creek. The
court acknowledged that its decision would inconvenience the public. Regardless, it said, ongoing
trespasses have to be restrained.
In its defence, the town argued that its sewage was only one of many sources of pollution,
including another town and several tanneries. Cleaning up its effluent would not clean up the
creek. The court agreed that the town’s sewage constituted only a third of the pollution in the
creek. But that made no difference. The farmer had the right to sue whomever he wanted. If he
wished to take on all polluters, fine. If he wished to target just one, that, too, was fine. Higher
courts agreed: The injunction would stand…

Common law courts, whose role is to protect property rights, are a much stiffer hurdle for polluters to cross than a complaisant council regulator whose roles are regulatorily confused. And no fear waving the “public good” flag either as a fig leaf for your folly:

A famous nuisance case of the nineteenth century dealt with water pollution. The case concerned Birmingham, England, which built a large public sewer in 1851. The sewer dumped the town’s
filth into the local river. The owner of a downstream estate complained that the sewage caused
disease, killed fish, and was unsuitable for watering cattle or washing sheep. Birmingham argued
that the court should allow the pollution for the public good. It warned of disaster if it was not
allowed to dump its sewage into the river. In its words, “The evil that must ensue if the Court
should interfere would be incalculable.... Birmingham will be converted into one vast cesspool ...
The deluge of filth will cause a plague, which will not be confined to the 250,000 inhabitants of
Birmingham, but will spread over the entire valley and become a national calamity.” Private
interests, it argued, “must bend to those of the country at large.”
The judge hearing the case dismissed Birmingham’s argument as an “extreme position ... of
remarkable novelty.” He was not, he explained, a public safety committee. His job was simply to
interpret the law and to define who had what rights. In this case, the plaintiff had a clear right to
enjoy his river. Birmingham, in creating a nuisance, had violated that right. It was not allowed to
do that. In the judge’s words, “Public works ... must be so executed as not to interfere with the
private rights of individuals.” The judge concluded that he must grant an injunction, regardless of
its consequences. As he explained, “It is a matter of almost absolute indifference whether the
decision will affect a population of 25,000 or a single individual.”
A century later, another English case pitted a river-front landowner and a fishing club against a
polluting local government, along with a chemical company and a power station. The court issued
an injunction restraining the defendants from altering the river’s quality or temperature or
interfering with the plaintiffs’ enjoyment of their fishing rights. Although the local government
urged the court to substitute damages for an injunction, the court refused. Damages, one judge
noted, “would be a wholly inadequate remedy,” since the plaintiffs had “not been incorporated in
order to fish for monthly sums.” His colleague added, “The power of the courts to issue an
injunction for nuisance has proved itself to be the best method so far devised of securing the
cleanliness of our rivers.”
The court’s refusal to compromise an individual’s property rights for the convenience of society
reflected common-law traditions. Indeed, in the eighteenth century, the famous English jurist
William Blackstone wrote, “So great ... is the regard of the law for private property that it will not
authorize the least violation of it; no, not even for the general good of the whole community.”
Unfortunately, in the intervening centuries, many judges have abandoned this principle, and have
instead weighed the private benefits of protecting property rights against the social costs of doing
so.
    Courts [and legislation] often now attempt to balance private rights with the so-called public good….

Which, if you recall, is precisely the position Nick Smith argues for the RMA.

On this, as on much else, he is wrong.


* What it does protect is polluters, planners, consultants and other vermin, but that’s almost another story altogether…

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Is he really an alcoholic?

It’s very easy to label everyone who likes a drink an alcoholic. Not so.

There’s a big difference. A man who drinks too much on occasion is still the same man as he was sober.  An alcoholic, a real alcoholic, is not the same man at all.  You can’t predict anything about him for sure except that he will be someone you never met before.
- Raymond Chandler, The Long Goodbye

Discuss.

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Thursday, January 22, 2015

A question for Gauleiter Brownlee

News just in from a NOT PC roving correspondent that Gerry Brownlee has ordered up 100 double-cab utes “for Christchurch earthquake recovery.”

New, not second-hand.

Double-cabs, not even your average cheap-jack big-tray ute.

Perhaps because only100 really  big utes can fill up the carparks of Gauleiter Brownlee’s failing "frame"?

The mind boggles.

Click here to read more ... >>

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RMA reform? Mush, without any details to give it form

Motu - Impacts of planning rules

That table above was released last night as part of a 65-page report accompanying Nick Smith’s speech detailing outlining his plans to gut abolish reform tinker with the Resource Management Act, the RMA.

It shows what the report writers consider to be the range of costs that hit house and apartment builders under the RMA. (Not shown, though the report’s authors tried to model them, were the costs of home and apartment builders simply giving up in the face of the overwhelming uncertainties associated with planning anything under the RMA.)

The costs are high.

On face value its suggests the RMA adds almost $200,000 to the cost of an apartment, and around $150,000 to the cost of a stand-alone house. Costs that, with all of the uncertainty involved, every would-be home or apartment builder has to factor in at the very outset of their project. Extra and unnecessary costs that kill would-be projects necessary to help reduce end-sale prices down. Costs that kill the deal in any case for most would-be first-home buyers.

Even if council’s district plans allow you to build (within the plans’ very subjective limits) a speculative house or apartment on your own land,  these added costs to every development tip the balance enormously against that project being profitable – just one reason so few developments are started compared to what the market wants – just one reason those projects that are started are usually at the upper end of the market, the better to help the project recover these costs – just another reason that the Housing Accords have failed to deliver affordable houses even though they have “released” land-owners’ land for that purpose.

A commenter last night on Nick Smith’s 10-point headline to change the RMA suggested all would be solved if Smith’s point 5, i.e., “giving greater weight to property rights,” were made the only point. He has a point. Long forgotten by virtually all other commentators is what it actually means to do something as of right. To build as of right. To plan a project as of right.  To carry out a project bearing your own costs and no others as of right.  The certainty (and speed) that comes with making and carrying out your own decisions as of right.

PropertyRightsLong forgotten too by most commentators who’ve already leapt into print to talk about “balancing” environment and development is that properly protected property rights themselves provide the greatest protection for both the natural environment and for  the human environment – as over seven-hundred years of common law would make clear to any commentator who bothered studying the history.

And it really wouldn’t be so hard to hard to bring that back.

Is that anything like what Nick Smith is suggesting? Is that any part of his “reform agenda”?  Is objective law – by which we mean law that is clear, that protects rights, and that makes answers to all legal issues self-evident in advance – any part of his thinking?

Well, now that we have all the detail we're going to get about his “reform agenda,” the only detail that is clear is that there is not enough detail to know.  But I doubt it.

Because as another commenter noted last night, the theme of Smith’s 10-point agenda is less about recognising rights than it is about centralising control,*  making it easier for councils to change their plans; a suite of “standard planning templates” which council planners will have to follow;  a “consolidation” of rules and plans across all councils; a “strengthening” of powers for national standards and national regulations.

This makes things no easier for Joe Builder. It does offer more work for John Bureaucrat.

Click here to read more ... >>

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Q: So what happens when oil hits $45 a barrel?

Two lengthy answers here to two simple questions:

  • Q: What happens to fracking, and to  the U.S. economy and beyond, when oil hits $45 a barrel?
  • Q: Is the U.S. economy built on a mountain of shale oil debt?
  • Supplementary Question For You To Ponder: Since virtually all real commodities are also going down, including milk powder, and for somewhat similar reasons, what lessons for our own dairy boom?

Or in other words, in investors’ desperate search for yield has all the Fed’s counterfeit capital been pumped into supplying more commodities, like oil, than the market actually demands? If so, does that make the recent savage surge in oil supply a classic Austrian mountain of malinvestment?

And if so, then what happens next?

U.S. Economy Built on a Mountain of Shale Oil Debt?
Intro, by Ryan McMaken

There's nothing bad about drilling for oil. And there's nothing bad about the fact that the industry has created a lot of jobs. It is problematic however, that the industry is highly leveraged and reliant on easy money policies to keep the exploration and drilling going. Similarly, there was nothing bad about building a lot of housing during the 1990s and 2000s. The problems arose not from the fact that homes were being built, but from the fact that they were built on a mountain of debt based on easy money. The shale oil industry may simply be the next (Austrian) textbook example of malinvestment.

Ben Swann recently interviewed Marin Katusa, author of The Colder War about the shale oil industry.

"A big effect of QE," he says, was that money flooded into the shale sector as people were chasing yield. The result is there is now a "$150 billion of debt in the US shale sector," and if oil prices continue to go down, "There's going to be a lot of defaults." And Katusa worries about the "spillover" into other industries.

"What's going on the US shale sector right now will be bigger than Lehman Brothers." he says.

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Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Mr Smith went to Nelson

There will be 10 “dramatic” changes to the Resource Management Act, we’re told, outlined by Minister Nick Smith tonight in Nelson.  The Herald lists them without giving details:

Nick Smith's RMA reforms
1. Add management of natural hazards
2. Recognise urban planning
3. Prioritise housing affordability
4. Acknowledge importance of infrastructure
5. Greater weight to property rights
6. National planning templates
7. Speed up plan-making
8. Encouraging collaborative resolution
9. Strengthening national tools
10. Internet for simplicity and speed

At first sight these look like the tinkering announced but not pursued last year, with the fascinating addition of item 5 – about which I’m keen to learn more, even if I find it hard based on past experience to be at all excited.

This comment, picked up by the Herald, looks interesting however:

Dr Smith said changes to the purposes and principles, known as section 6 and 7, were "essential."
    The amendments were still being worked out, but Dr Smith wanted economic growth, urban development and management of natural hazards to be added to these crucial sections.
    At present, these sections provided for protection of coastlines, landscapes, historic heritage, lakes, rivers and vegetation.
    "The idea that the only consideration in resource consenting is protection of nature is naïve," Dr Smith said.

I’ll take a look at the proposals overnight,if they actually appear anywhere in more detail than this, and aim to post a considered response tomorrow.

No tits out for the wowsers [updates]

It’s no tits out for the wowsers, and now none for Sun readers either thanks to the wowsers.

This morning, Britain’s sun newspaper published its last Page Three girl getting her gear off – ending a publishing tradition that goes back before sex was invented in Britain.  And according to The Herald ( so it must be true) “Page 3 girls have led the backlash against The Sun's decision to end its topless tradition, claiming the move has been "dictated by comfy-shoe-wearing no-bra-wearing man-haters.”

Model Rhian Sugden, 28, criticised at the move, suggesting it was "only a matter of time" before everything they did was dictated by such people.
    Former glamour model Jodie Marsh insisted that "telling girls they shouldn't do Page 3 is not being a feminist."
    She said she "loved" posing for Page 3 and that it made her feel powerful and earned her good money.
    "Women should empower and encourage other women," she wrote on Twitter. "For that is the only way to truly be 'equal' and have rights..."
    She said campaigners should focus on more important issues that affect women, such as female genital mutilation…
    "The real oppression to women is in places where women aren't allowed to drive and are made to (or brainwashed into wanting to) wear a burka."

Yeah, but that’s difficult activism from a feminazi. Far easier to slander a few of your better-looking sisters for their non-oppression than try to protect several million being actually oppressed.

    Former glamour model Nicola McLean said she did not think Page 3 was a "sexual equality" issue.
    She told ITV's Good Morning Britain: "It has been going for many years, which is one of the reasons I feel so sad that it has seemingly come to an end.
    "I don't think it is outdated. I think the girls still look fantastic on the page, they still clearly enjoy what they are doing, people still want to see it.
    "Everybody still wants Page 3, apart from the feminists who are fighting an argument I just don't agree with.
    "If you meet any Page 3 girl who has gone on to pose for the Sun, we are all very strong-minded women that have made our own choice and feel very happy with what we are doing.
    "We certainly don't feel like we have been victimised."

Rumours that Page 3 Girls will be replaced by the Fat Slags – more acceptable to feminazi wowsers – were denied by Viz magazine.

UPDATE 2: Have The Sun just done the ultimate troll, enlisting their own competitors?  This just in on The Sun’s Twitter feed, promoting tomorrow’s Page3

What you won’t hear in Obama’s State of the Union address tonight [updated]

Cunningly timed to be delivered at a similar time to Nick Smith’s savage slashing of cautious tinkering with the RMA, U.S. President Obama’s State of the Union speech (or perhaps it’s the other way around) will tell tall tales and many myths.

Here are 11 facts you won’t hear:

  1. Today’s young Americans … are the first generation to be poorer than their parents.
  2. They will also pay all their lives into a retirement system than won't be there for them when they get there.
  3. Young Americans indebt themselves more than anyone else on the planet to attend university, requiring them to spend a large part of their careers paying off debt.
  4. Americans of all ages are earning less than they did two decades ago when adjusted for inflation. Yet they’re paying more in taxes.
  5. And US taxation is an increasing burden not only in quantity but complexity…
  6. But despite record levels of tax collection, the national debt keeps increasing. It now stands at more than $18 trillion, well over 100% of GDP.
  7. In fact over 14% of all federal tax revenue collected goes to pay interest on the debt. Another 20% goes towards destruction, war, bombs, drones, and spying.
  8. They also create roughly 200 pages of new rules and regulations every single day. These rules govern something as sacred as what you can/cannot put in your own body, or often make it more difficult to do business.
  9. Many of these regulations carry severe civil and criminal penalties; this is … why America leads the world in the number of people incarcerated.
  10. More people rot away in US prisons than did in the Soviet gulag at the height of communism…
  11. In total, there were 79,066 pages of new regulation passed last year, with a total regulatory cost of $181.5 billion (based on the government’s own estimate).

It’s the trend that needs to be turned around, and it cause, but won’t be.

The trend is pretty obvious for anyone paying attention.
    We know deep down that there are consequences to waging endless [misdirected] wars.
    There are consequences to racking up $18 trillion in debt.
    There are consequences to treating people like milk cows and regulating every aspect of their existence.
    There are consequences to awarding total control of the money supply to an unelected central banking elite.
    [There are consequences to] government debt growing every year [at a rate] far outpacing GDP growth.
    And the primary consequence is this: despite the enviable number of Starbucks and iPads per capita, Americans are working harder to make ends meet, and are far less free, than they used to be.
    That’s not progress. It’s precisely the opposite

Crikey, NZ is expensive

It’s not just housing in New Zealand that’s expensive. It’s, well, it’s nearly everything. Despite incomes here being less than stellar, our cost of living is world class. Certainly top ten.

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Mind you, at least the cost of living is not as high as those socialist paradises of Scandinavia and South America.

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Truly nothing to do with Islam

Pat Condell nails it.

[Hat tip Suzuki Samurai]

He can’t sing, but he answers back well, AKA: How to talk to a politician when a politician’s listening

Pommy shadow “culture minister” and would-be culture warrior Chris Bryant, MP, attacked what he thought would be an easy target, James Blunt, as an example of “privilege” dominating “the arts.”

Blunt, who can barely write a song strong enough to defend itself, nonetheless penned a self-aware response that could be a model to how to address a politician.

Dear Chris Bryant MP,
   You classist gimp. I happened to go to a boarding school. No one helped me at boarding school to get into the music business. I bought my first guitar with money I saved from holiday jobs (sandwich packing!). I was taught the only four chords I know by a friend. No one at school had ANY knowledge or contacts in the music business, and I was expected to become a soldier or a lawyer or perhaps a stockbroker. So alien was it, that people laughed at the idea of me going into the music business, and certainly no one was of any use.
    In the army, again, people thought it was a mad idea. None of them knew anyone in the business either.
    And when I left the army, going against everyone’s advice, EVERYONE I met in the British music industry told me there was no way it would work for me because I was too posh. One record company even asked if I could speak in a different accent. (I told them I could try Russian).
    Every step of the way, my background has been AGAINST me succeeding in the music business. And when I have managed to break through, I was STILL scoffed at for being too posh for the industry.
    And then you come along, looking for votes, telling working class people that posh people like me don’t deserve it, and that we must redress the balance. But it is your populist, envy-based, vote-hunting ideas which make our country crap, far more than me and my shit songs, and my plummy accent.
    I got signed in America, where they don’t give a stuff about, or even understand what you mean by me and “my ilk,” you prejudiced wazzock, and I worked my arse off. What you teach is the politics of jealousy. Rather than celebrating success and figuring out how we can all exploit it further as the Americans do, you instead talk about how we can hobble that success and “level the playing field”. Perhaps what you’ve failed to realise is that the only head-start my school gave me in the music business, where the VAST majority of people are NOT from boarding school, is to tell me that I should aim high. Perhaps it protected me from your kind of narrow-minded, self-defeating, lead-us-to-a-dead-end, remove-the-‘G’-from-‘GB’ thinking, which is to look at others’ success and say, “it’s not fair.”

Up yours,

James Cucking Funt

NB: Turns out the Bluntster is quite sharp on Twitter too. (As they say: WARNING: This might make you like him.)

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

So they’re “reforming” the RMA again?

In the middle of last year John Key told a roomful of council numpties that if he was returned to government after the election,

one of our top priorities will be to progress the Resource Management Act amendments that we’ve had to park for the time being.
    Our changes to the RMA will tackle housing affordability by freeing-up land supply and making it easier to build, extend, and renovate houses.
   Consenting will be sped up and simplified.

Since these same promises have been made every single time the Resource Management Act has been amended – right back to Nick Smith’s first tinkering with it back in the late 90s – and right up to the Key Government’s last chocolate-coated turd -- I won’t be holding my breath for Nick Smith’s promised announcement tomorrow any more than I have been for the last twenty years of promises.

The problems have been known about long enough – the inability to build new houses in NZ cities at a price new home-owners can afford and at which spec builders can make a profit –nearly  all of them stemming from the Local Government Act’s encouragement for council’s to grow like cancer, and the Resource Management Act’s virtual removal of property rights in land.

Yet I can guarantee that neither will be addressed tomorrow.

Whose_Bloody_Land_is_it_Anyway

Instead, if we are to take Amy Adam’s tepid 7-point plan from last year as the template , all we can expect is more flaccid bullshit like “a national planning template” which will allegedly create “a simplified planning framework” (yeah right); “streamlined” costs and processes (d’you believe that at all?); district plans now available online (on Skynet yet?); “better consideration of natural hazards in planning” (expect more building in more places to be banned); and finally, district plans that are more “proactive” (Galt save us!).

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Sunday, January 18, 2015

It makes perfect sense

Friday, January 16, 2015

Case Study House #5, by Whitney R. Smith: ‘The Loggia House’


While many mid-century modern architects could do little more than design a floor and a ceiling and four walls of glass – unleashing one glass box after another on the world – architects like Whitney R. Smith was doing something different.

While they may have looked superficially similar Smith was designing layered spaces that nested and interlocked, in houses with broad roofs which provided a "sense of shelter," with the fire "burning deep in the solid masonry" of the house – deceptively simple houses giving both prospect and refuge, that brought in and opened up to nature.

"Basically the fundamental innovations of those designs had to do with a radical integration of indoors and outdoors within the houses' plans," said Elizabeth A.T. Smith [no relation], chief curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago. "They were very much opened up to nature and were oriented around gardens and natural plantings.

"I think that one of the primary characteristics of Smith's designs not only in these but throughout his career was his synthesis of experimental materials and structures with a real sense of appreciation for nature, the climate in Southern California and the landscape. And he was able to fuse these concerns to create very sensitively designed works of architecture."

My favourite is his 3-bedroom Case Study House, sadly never built. But what a floor plan!


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And with its small scale and ingenious use of privacy screening, a very model of metropolitan living in a benevolent climate like ours.

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[Pics by Space 72, Save Wright, Esther McCoy's Case Study Houses 1945-1962]

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Thursday, January 15, 2015

Religion v Free Speech

Ever wondered why religionists from Anjem Choudary to Cat Stevens/Yusuf Islam to the Pope to the UN representative for the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) maintain there are “limits” to free speech protecting their own particular brand of obnoxiousness?

It’s because the tenets of religion are incompatible with the right to free speech.

Faith and force are corollaries,” wrote Ayn Rand. The claim to a non-sensory, non-rational means of knowledge is the rejection of reason. “When men reject reason, they have no means left for dealing with one another—except brute, physical force.”"Reason is the only objective means of communication and of understanding among men; when men deal with one another by means of reason, reality is their objective standard and frame of reference. But when men claim to possess supernatural means of knowledge, no persuasion, communication or understanding are possible. Why do we kill wild animals in the jungle? Because no other way of dealing with them is open to us. And that is the state to which [faith] reduces mankind—a state where, in case of disagreement, men have no recourse except to physical violence."
    Far from providing grounds for the existence or protection of rights, religion necessarily leads to the systematic denial and violation of rights. When faith is accepted as a means of knowledge, force inexorably follows.

Like Voltaire said:

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What ‘The West’ refers to …

From Dr Michael Hurd’s article ‘What the Terrorist War Against “the West” Really Means’:

The “West” does not refer primarily to a geographic region, and it’s obviously not limited to the United States. The “West” refers to a set of ideas embodied in countries like the United States and France, almost always subconsciously in the minds of most people. It refers to a set of attitudes, beliefs and convictions that most people don’t even realize they possess, at least until something like this happens. It’s rooted in the pro-reason (and implicitly pro-freedom) ideas of Aristotle, objective reality, rational science, and all the ideas and principles which tend to dominate in periods of enlightenment and inventiveness (ancient Greece, the Renaissance, the Industrial Revolutions of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries); and are nowhere to be found in periods dominated by raw faith, allegiance to church over freedom and concern with the afterlife over the present and real life (the Dark Ages, and the period of religious totalitarianism now taking hold in much of the Middle East and attempting to spread beyond.)
    So what does it mean to have a “pro-Western” attitude?
Examples are as follows

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Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Advice

The Wisdom of the Ancients…

Much of what is most commonly passed off as being “The Wisdom of the Ancients” is neither very wise, nor all that ancient – particularly the favourite books of today’s western and mid-eastern religionists. (Which makes you wonder where Yahweh, Elohim and Allah were all this while.)

To give some context to both the guff (which is voluminous) and the good stuff (of which there is despairingly little) here’s a list in chronological order, from latest to most recent, of what is considered the great books of sacred wisdom (along with a few more hopeful milestones along the way). Not only is it true that  …

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… but most of cultures’ myths and fables were borrowed from each other.

Here’s your list:

The Sumerian creation myth of the Old Babylonian Period, written on what is known as the Barton Cylinder, dates to around 2400 BCE.

Those days were indeed faraway days. Those nights were indeed faraway nights. Those years were indeed faraway years. The storm roared, the lights flashed. In the sacred area of Nibru (Nippur), the storm roared, the lights flashed. Heaven talked with Earth, Earth talked with Heaven. [The first part of the myth deals with the description of the sanctuary of Nippur, detailing a sacred marriage between An and Ninhursag during which heaven and earth touch] Enlil's older sister / with Ninhursag / he had intercourse / he kissed her / the semen of seven twins / he planted in her womb.

The Pyramid Texts are a collection of ancient Egyptian religious texts from the time of the Old Kingdom, ca. 2400-2300 BCE. The spells, or "utterances", of the pyramid texts are primarily concerned with protecting the pharaoh's remains.

The Ancient Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh, often regarded as the first great work of literature, dating from the Third Dynasty of Ur (circa 2100 BC), tells tales of the Great Flood and the .

The Enûma Eliš, the early Babylonian creation mythos, probably dates to the Bronze Age, to the time of Hammurabi or perhaps the early Kassite era (roughly 18th to 16th centuries BCE), although some scholars favour a later date of c. 1100 BCE.

The Vedas are the oldest writings of Hinduism, four Indian texts containing several mythological and poetical accounts of the origin of the world, hymns praising the gods, and ancient prayers for life, prosperity, etc. composed and/or collected about 1500 – 1100 BCE.

The Egyptian Book of the Dead: ancient Egyptian funerary texts used from about 1550 BC to 50 BC to guard a deceased person on their journey to the underworld (afterlife) and help them avoid the pitfalls and deceptions during the journey.

The Iliad and its sequel, The Odyssey, an ancient Greek epic poem traditionally attributed to Homer and composed in the 8th century BCE.

The Kojiki , the inspiration behind Shinto practices and myths, is the oldest extant chronicle in Japan, dating from the early 8th century BCE.

Upanishads, the sacred books of Hinduism, first dozen or so being the oldest and most important. Around 800-100BCE.

The Theogony i.e. "the genealogy or birth of the gods," is a poem by Hesiod describing the origins and genealogies of the Greek gods, composed circa 700 B.C.

The Avesta is the religious book of Zoroastrians containing a collection of sacred texts, much of which was destroyed by subsequent religionists, but which was probably first written down around the 6th or 7th centuries BCE to help cohere the disparate cultures of the Persian Empire.

If religion is primitive philosophy, then the first step up the road to human adulthood was taken in ancient Greece in the 6th century BCE, with the birth and first publication of the pre-Socratic philosophers. While other cultures were confusing mythology for their religion, these giants were taking reason on its first tottering steps.

imageTao Te Ching, a classic Chinese text composed according to tradition around the 6th century BC by the sage Laotsu, is the fundamental text of both philosophical and religious Taoism.

The Torah, the Judaic sacred text and the first of the monotheistic Abrahamic texts (Abraham being most famous for agreeing to kill his son, for which nearly 50% of the world’s religionists now give thanks), comprises the first five books of the Bible – the “Five Books of Moses” – incorporating many of the earlier mythological tropes, especially those of Babylonian, Zoroastrian and Mesopotamian mythology -- written during the so-called Babylonian Captivity in the 6th century BC and finalised in the 2th century BC.

The Agamas, the original texts of Jainism, were composed around around the 6th to 3rd century BCE.

The Golden Verses of Pythagoras are a collection of moral exhortations traditionally attributed to Pythagoras, probably dating to the 5th century BCE.

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Tuesday, January 13, 2015

“One of the best arguments against people who claim Islam as a religion of war”?

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A friend posted this entertaining contribution to a recent Oxford University debate: Huffpost UK political editor Mehdi Hasan arguing that Islam is a peaceful religion.  You should watch it to see how an entertaining secular Shi’a Muslim counters the claims.

Cartoon by Jyllands Posten“One of the best arguments against people who claim Islam as a religion of war,” said the post.

And, you know, we all wish it were true that Islam really were a religion of peace, that we could all live together and just get along, that everyone has just got Islam wrong and if they would only stop then peace would soon break out.

But this is to ignore too much.

“One of the best arguments against people who claim Islam as a religion of war” is made in spite of Islam’s beginnings in having been initiated and spread specifically as a doctrine justifying war and conquest.

This in spite of Islam’s followers being responsible (taking the count only in recent weeks) for firebombing a newspaper in Hamburg; for murdering journalists and shoppers in Paris, cafe-goers in Sydney, and a whole town of 2000 people in Nigeria  -- not to mention assorted beheadings and atrocities in Syria and Iraq, and the Boko Haram savages who strapped a bomb to a 10-year old girl to show how peaceful Islam is.

This in spite of passages such as this in the Quran and Hadith inveighing upon good Muslims to advance their religion by violence:

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