Friday, 12 December 2008

FRIDAY FUN: You can’t fix stupid [update 2]

True headlines by people and copy editors who should know better…
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UPDATE 1 (courtesy of Lance): chickaccusesUPDATE 2 (courtesy of the Sturminator):
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Chewing gum for the eyes [updated]

Annie Fox is having a go at the box.  She’s sick of ads that are too loud, too frequent and too aggressive.  She’s sick of programmes between the ads that aren’t worth turning off the mute button to watch.  And she’s welcoming RobiNZ to the "this pisses me off" brigade with a post bagging every single New Zealand quiz show because they’re all absolutely appalling.

One could tentatively suggest she just watches less TV, couldn’t one?  Television is just chewing gum for the eyes, and it sounds like the chewing gum is more more indigestible now than ever before.

UPDATE:  Speaking of the “this pisses me off” brigade, Cactus Kate is seriously contemplating carrying a sealed dummy for other people's howling children.  Makes sense.


Culture wars over the economic crisis

You’ve no doubt heard the whole litany: Alan Greenspan stuffed up.  Alan Greenspan admitted “a flaw” in his hands-off ideology.  Alan learned his chops from his friend Ayn Rand. So that means Rand’s Objectivism has failed.

I don’t know about you, but I keep hearing this all the time. “What makes it especially revolting,” says Harry Binswanger, longtime friend of Rand (who died in 1982), “is that the real destroyer of the economy is Greenspan, through his inflation-generating last years at the Fed.”

Commentators from Gareth Morgan to Harry Binswanger to Roger Kerr to George Reisman to the contributors at the Mises Institute have pointed this out, but for the most part haven’t been heard.  They’ve cogently, responsibly and thoroughly destroyed the myth of free-market failure, pointing out the role and responsibility of Greenspan and his central bankers for the present crash (whose seeds were set in Greenspan’s massive credit expansion from 2001 to 2004), and for all the earlier crashes over which they presided.  The priority of Alan Greenspan’s Fed in particular, notes Morgan, has become to keep economic growth going by the continual expansion of credit. “So much so that the periodic creative destruction that markets naturally undertake to prevent excesses, was no longer considered necessary. Oh dear.”

But for the most part, the mainstream media isn’t really listening.  The real story doesn't fit their pro-big-government playbook.

Now, however, Newsweek magazine has put the question to the Ayn Rand Institute’s Yaron Brook.  His response? 

    This is not a failure of free markets, this is not a failure of capitalism, but this is a failure of the exact opposite. It's a failure of the regulatory state. It's a failure of all the government policies of the last eight years. Actually, the last 95 years.

    Why do you say the last 95 years?
    I believe that the No. 1 cause of the current crisis is Federal Reserve policy. [The Federal Reserve was created in 1913.] The Federal Reserve, by necessity, creates economic problems; no matter how good a Federal Reserve chairman is, he's going to create cycles of booms and busts.

It’s a great (if short) interview.  You should read it.

And Britain’s Telegraph carries this blog from Ayn Rand Institute’s Alex Epstein: “What capitalists need to understand,” penned in response to Iain Martin's observation in the Telegraph that "A culture war has been launched against free markets and so far the hostilities have been astonishingly one-sided." This “unfortunately applies just as much to America as to Britain,” says Epstein (as it does here).

Our capitalists, from think-tank intellectuals to businessmen, are unforgivably timid in the face of an anti-capitalist onslaught of bailouts, handouts, deficit spending, and central planning. Why?

Good question – and he has the answer.  Find out what capitalists need to understand to make them more vocal in defence of their values.  What they need to know above all is this:

Today's crisis illustrates the evils of government intervention in the economy and vindicates supporters of laissez-faire capitalism… Today's events are not unexpected consequences of laissez-faire that Rand, Ludwig von Mises, and others failed to anticipate--they are expected consequences of the mixed economy that they explained decades ago.

The ‘other’ side isn’t silent, and they’re wrong.  So why should we be so silent when, unlike them, we have reality on our side.

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Recession doesn’t have to mean unemployment

Recession means correction.  It means businesses need to learn how to do more with less – to correct their prices and product lines to meet new market conditions, which generally means lowering costs and making savings.

But recession doesn’t necessarily need massive unemployment.

Just as markets for goods and services will clear if prices are allowed to fall to meet diminished demand, so too can labour markets clear when labour prices are allowed to fall to meet the new more parlous economic conditions.

For the most part however labour markets don’t clear  when labour prices need to drop -- and people lose their jobs instead.   For the most part people lose their jobs because labour prices aren’t allowed to drop, or because it’s considered easier to sack people that it is to negotiate for lower wages and salaries: the result is a recession-driven rise  in prices and a decrease in productivity.

But there is another way, one that more than a few businesses and their employees are now discovering -– as a friend just phoned excitedly to tell me. 

Staff at his company have agreed unanimously to pay cuts instead of sackings –- five percent pay cuts for wage earners; ten percent pay cuts for salary earners –- with the result that their projected redundancies don’t have to happen, and the company and all who work there have now given themselves the best chance they can to have a good Christmas, and to do more with less in the New Year: in other words, to survive, and hopefully to flourish as soon as things turn around.

My friend tells me the spirit within the company has now gone from terminal to team-spirited.  There’s a new feeling, she tells me, that everyone feels they’re working together and doing what they can to help keep the company going and to keep each others jobs safe.

A great news story.

No, not every company can do this.  There are some that really do have to go to the wall lest the continuing malinvestment they represent keep dragging us all down –- three of this type have just poured enough alcohol down the throats of America’s politicians to save their skins at everyone else’s expense –- but honest companies with good product lines who just need to survive through the bad times so they can get through to see the good again should put some trust in their staff, and put it to them that they might consider wage cuts rather than the redundancies that would otherwise be the only alternative.

You might be pleasantly surprised at the response.

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Merimbula lake at Sunset’ – Kirsty McLaren, 2005


Beautiful.  Makes me think of holidays.  And I can’t wait. 

I love the way she gives it depth so simply.


Thursday, 11 December 2008

A message from American car makers … [updated]


UPDATE: It’s The End of the US Piano Industry notes Jeffrey Tucker.  And the bailout merchants didn’t even notice.

NOT PJ: Dancing with New Zealand’s Next Biggest Loser

Bernard Darnton offers some helpful suggestions on how to boost viewership of Parliament TV… 

Politics geeks have printed off their copies of the Parliamentary seating plan and locked their Freeview boxes to Parliament TV.

For some reason there are people who voluntarily watch this stuff – regularly. Don’t get me wrong: there is some value in watching Parliament. It’s like eating haggis. It’s something you should do once, for educational purposes, but don’t be surprised when you feel disgusted and don’t ever want to do it again.

The greatest commotion so far in this 49th Parliament’s short life has been over the 90-day probationary period for new employees. This is a stunningly good idea. The New Zealand public has just hired a bunch of new employees and it would be nice to know we could toss out the reprobates if they don’t behave.

Even better, if Parliament TV wanted to bump up the ratings a bit they could run it as a competition. Bring in Donald Trump for a series of Parliamentary Apprentice: “You’re fired!”

The Athenians knew a thing or two about democracy, having invented it, and they came up with the brilliant idea of ostracism. Each year they would rope off part of the agora in Athens, hold a tribal council, and vote someone off the island. Well, out of the city. The nominated person was exiled for ten years. Think how much sooner Winston would have gone under the rules of Survivor: Molesworth Street.

If we voted one MP a week out of Parliament we’d be down to a sensible number in just a couple of years. No more need to invent nonsense ministries to quiet the ranks. As a bonus, 99 cents per call to the 0900 number for getting rid of the buggers would probably fund all the government functions that we actually need.

Given that people will watch any old crap, Parliament TV could pack its schedule with dozens of shows like this. Rodney Hide’s formidable being-on-telly experience would set him in good stead for Dancing with the Members and he’s already got plenty of points on the board for Parliament’s Biggest Loser – a much contested title.

The choice of Lockwood Smith, a former game show host, as Speaker is inspired. No one could be better qualified. “Your starter for ten. Has the Minister received any reports showing the government in an improbably good light?” Bzzzt…

You at home could join in too. In Mitre 10 Nightmare Home contestants will attempt minor renovations while busybody neighbours appeal their choice of paint colour to the Environment Court. In the final episode, when the renovations are eventually complete, a gay building inspector will come round and criticise the contestants’ choice of lightbulbs and shower fittings.

New Zealand Idol could present some problems. No doubt our representatives would be keen for the title but, seriously, anyone who idolises MPs needs mittens and rubber wallpaper. New Zealand Idle, however, could become the smash hit of the season. The contest is wide open. Last year’s champion, Judith Tizard, isn’t returning and all-time superstar Jonathan Hunt’s seat has long gone cold despite decades of gentle warming. Let’s hope the competition for this one is stiff because, if all MPs did as little as these two, New Zealand would be a far freer and more prosperous place.

I hope this comes to pass. With more time spent preening for television and less time spent passing legislation – and don’t forget the frequent eliminations of contestants – it would be goodbye Big Brother and goodbye Supernanny state. But a warning: These programmes will contain scenes that some viewers may find offensive.

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Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Bye bye buy NZ

Wellington businessman Jim Donovan celebrates the end of the ‘Buy Kiwi-Made’ campaign with a cracking post that thoroughly explains how, to the extent such a campaign would have been successful, we would have succeeded only in making ourselves poorer.

As Frederic Bastiat so convincingly demonstrated decades ago, "it is better to buy from another what it would be more costly to make oneself."  That remains true whether than someone else comes from our village, our city, our country or the other side of the planet.  What we save in buying cheaper allows us either to buy or produce even more.  If we spend ten dollars on a Chinese T-shirt instead of forty on the locally-made equivalent, we have thirty dollars in our pocket to buy a book, a CD, or dinner for two at Middle East Cafe.  Which means that the economy (and ourselves) is richer by that book, that CD or that dinner.  Everybody wins.

‘Buy Kiwi-made’ made sense only to those who never look further than their own nose when formulating or commenting on policy.

Donovan does however leave out one reason to celebrate the campaign’s demise: less time in our lounges for louche loser Oliver Driver.

That’s got to be something to celebrate, whatever your political views.  Read his post.


Stand in line … and wait

In a comment on yesterday’s post advocating open immigration, Sus talked about the runaround she had with US Immigration.  Mike Flynn at Reason magazine reckons the runaround needed to immigrate legally to the US is one prime reason so many do it illegally.  Click on his chart below to see what he means.



90 days to take a chance on some talent [updated]

There’s outrage around the union- and compulsion-dominated traps that the new government is about to allow employers and employees to test each other out for ninety days before the full, costly, restrictive panoply of labour law descends to intrude upon the relationship.

Council of Trade Unions President Helen Kelly says

    it will bring about bad practice in small businesses, instead of businesses being very careful when employing people and checking their references. She says people should have dignity at work and be treated fairly.
    Ms Kelly says unjustified dismissal and unjustified disadvantaged are being removed from the law. She says under the bill people can be sacked for attending their grandmother's funeral or being sick, which have nothing to do with incompetency.

Association of Salaried Medical Specialists executive director Ian Powell says

    the practical effect of the law change will be to increase the vulnerability of new employees at precisely the point when they are most vulnerable. He says denying rights of protection against unfair dismissal is dangerous in the hand of bad or inexperienced employers

Neil Jones at The Standard says the decision to introduce the legislation under urgency

is frankly an astonishing abuse of our democracy. A piece of legislation that will remove basic work rights from hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders in any one year is being rammed through Parliament without any discussion or debate.

And summing it all up Sue Bradford calls it “a disgraceful attack on both workers' rights and on democracy.”

They appear to think that it is only the intrusion of government that keeps wages and conditions up, rather than the productive profit-seeking of entrepreneurs and businessmen, and that in the absence of intrusion – even for ninety days – the conditions of workers will go to the wall. 

They seem to consider that employers hire employees only to dismiss them, instead of to put them to work.

They seem unaware that as the world’s economic crisis hits home here in New Zealand job-seekers are going to need every bit of help they can to find new employment, and this is a small step towards that.

They seem to have forgotten in their “anger” over urgency that a substantively similar bill was presented and much debated just two years ago -- and in the case of The Standard they seem to have forgotten all their arguments in favour of ramming through under urgency the Electoral Finance Act and the Emissions Trading Act, two of the biggest assaults on democracy, free speech and prosperity seen in recent years, and both of which saw the bills being written as the earlier clauses were being passed.

And they seem blithely unaware that there are many people who want desperately to become a worker, but who are locked about because present employment law discourages employers from taking a risk on them – that a ninety-day trial is just what many would-be workers need in order to prove themselves. 

This is not an attack on workers.  It’s a leg up for those who want to work, but who are presently locked out.  The facts are these:

It could only be a bad or inexperienced employee advocate who was unaware that to invest ninety days in a  new employee is a considerable investment – since the new employee who hits the ground running on day one is rare – a “sunk cost” that no reasonable employer would throw away on a whim in the manner Ms Kelly and Mr Powell and Ms Bradford think they will.

It could only be an incompetent employee advocate who was unaware of the risk every employer takes when they hire every new employee, and the risk is often highest with those who need employment the most -- the young, the old, the inexperienced, the under-qualified, those who’ve been out of work or their profession for a while – and who an entrepreneurial employer might consider for their position  if they have to chance to “try before they buy.”

And it could only be a politician who could call this an attack on “workers’ rights” when what it is in fact is a step, a small step, towards helping the unemployed become workers.

The fact is that every business and every entrepreneur survives by taking a risk; by seeing a new vision or a new idea, assessing it, and then backing their judgement.  That’s where wealth (and jobs) comes from.  But while they live by risk, present employment law does not encourage them to take risks when they choose who to hire because, as too many Employment Court decisions have shown, letting an unsuitable employee go is a about as easy as getting David Cunliffe to express humility: which means the downside of hiring someone who turns out to be unsuitable is high.

The fact is that in in the present legal environment when an employer has to choose between John who’s well-qualified but dull and Hone who is less-qualified and less-experienced but perhaps a little sharper, the employer is more likely to offer nice-but-dull John their job, and to show Hone the door.  Too risky, you see.  Too expensive a process if your personnel department gets it wrong. Much easier to play it safe and select the employee who just ticks all the boxes, and let the “riskier” candidate go.

You see, present law favours nice-but-dull, while it lowers the boom on those candidates who need someone to take a risk on them. Those “riskier” candidates are finding it hard to get a toe on the employment ladder, and the fact is that present employment law is helping to making that happen.

We all suffer by that – employers and manufacturers who miss out on good talent at good prices; would-be employees who keep finding the door shut in their face; and consumers, who don’t get to take enjoy the products of what this pool of untapped talent can do.  In a time of rising unemployment, every barrier to productive employment that can be removed is worthwhile. Every job-hunter should welcome this move. 

But there is one group who suffers disproportionately more than any other from the way restrictive employment law forces employers to ‘play it safe,’ and despite the great boon this bill would offer them they are unlikely to be listening to any of the arguments, or contacting Ms Kelly or Mr Powell or Ms Bradford to tell them to pull their heads in.

That group is the seemingly unemployable and unemployed Maori youth.

Whatever you believe about the present unemployment figures (a rate of just under 4%, with every chance of that increasing) there are nearly 300,000 people are either on a benefit or otherwise seemingly unemployable.  Included in those figures are a whopping 27% of young Maori who are unemployed – young talent that is under-skilled, under-experienced, under-qualified (and in too many cases criminally-qualified). These are the very people who most need somebody to take a risk on them – who need employers to be free to take a chance on them.

But they aren't listening to this debate.  They won’t be ringing Ms Kelly and Mr Powell and Ms Bradford to tell them to sit down and shit up. 

There's someone who could ring them on their behalf though.   Someone who could make a tangible difference.  With some justice, the Maori Party could point out to them that present employment law locks out “their” people.  They could call this present employment law racist -- and in this case they might actually be right.  It's targeted against the very group the Maori Party claim to represent. It makes life worse for them.  This one bill could do more to open doors for under-skilled and under-qualified young Maori than any hundred government programmes aimed at closing their gaps -- it would give them the chance at real employment, and the chance for many of them to turn their lives around.

Maybe the ones who should be fronting this debate with Kate Wilkinson are those two who could most easily silence the likes of Kelly, Powell and Bradford.  But are Tariana Turia and Pita Sharples  really aware of the issues at stake?  We might find out sooner than we think.

UPDATE: “The Maori Party failed their first test of common sense.” – Cactus Kate, in her post ‘Maori Party – FAIL.’

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Monna Vanna – Dante Gabriel Rossetti


Playwright Maurice Maeterlinck saw Monna Vanna as a heroine -- “a woman revered as the epitome of honor and virtue, who must surrender her body for a night to the hated leader of the Florentine army,” and whose choices that night “unleashed a torrent of conflicts and sub-conflicts.”

What estimation do you think Rossetti makes of Monna, and why?  Look at the clues the artist offers[click here and scroll down a little for some of them].

Is Monna, as depicted here, in some way similar to Judith, who was faced with a similar choice?


Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Don’t play it again, Sam

A guest post here from my colleague Graham Clark, lead singer, guitarist and song writer for the brilliant band Brilleaux.

    I just read on the front page of the Herald that Auckland’s council is passing a law that forbids BUSKERS from playing a song more than once every hour!!
    Does that mean you can play a 45 minute version of ‘Sister Ray,’ but Not 2 x 5 minute versions of ‘Sweet Jane’?
    What about encores?
    What about requests?
    Who exactly is going to police this, and at whose expense?
    Are they going to allocate some TWAT in grey zip-up shoes and a clipboard to stand there with each busker and write down what songs they play and then bust them if they play a song twice?
    How would Mr Grey-Shoes even know what’s being played.
   And who exactly gets to feel Mr Grey-Shoes’ hand upon their collar?  Does this apply only to buskers who have applied for a council-approved busking licence, or does it apply to tourists or travelling buskers also?
    What if you are walking down Queen Street and accidentally whistle the same song twice - can you get busted? 
    There is only one considered response: “FUCK OFF!!”
    I can’t wait till my band gets to play at the next festival in Auckland - I am going to play the same song several times and see if we can get ourselves busted.
    It just shows how things have changed.  In the good old days musicians used to have to resort to trashing hotel room,  chucking TVs out of windows, doing drugs or getting drunk and disorderly to get arrested.  Now all you have to do is play the same song twice.

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Lock up your valuables: the legislature is back in session! [updated]

It’s time to quote Mark Twain again, who reminds us that “No man's life, liberty, or property is safe while the legislature is in session.” 

The legislature is now back in session, and far too swiftly for my liking.  Time to lock up your valuables.

Remember just because you’re not interested in politics, it doesn’t mean politics isn’t interested in you.

Just for your reference then, here (complete with my comments) is the 27-point “action plan” that the new National/ACT/Maori/Dung Government hope to impose on the country before Christmas which now has two additions (about which see below).

Here’s the Speech from the Throne, which outlines the new Government’s programme beyond that – or at least as much as they want to talk about at this stage.

And here’s the new seating plan for parliament, for those who (for some unfathomable reason) like to watch the imbeciles on television, and who’d like to know which moron is which [hat tip Kiwiblog].

The two immediate additions to the government urgent programme over and above the previously announced “first 100 days action plan” are to implement Wayne Mapp’s proposal allowing new employees a ninety-day trial with their new employer before the full panoply of restrictive state-imposed employment law comes into play (a small advance for employment law, but at least some small help to employers and employees in what is about to be a very troubled employment market), and the announcement of the make-up and terms of reference for the select committee inquiry into so called “climate change” -- which has explicitly at least ruled out an inquiry into the science behind the scare stories, concentrating instead on guessing what other countries might do about the scare stories, how they might respond to what we might do, and whether a carbon tax or a trading scam is the right way for NZers to be fleeced.

You can see the make-up of the committee and the terms of reference here (hat tip NRT: head to the bottom of page 9 for the inquiry details).  Time to start putting together your submissions.

UPDATE: Lindsay Perigo is cautiously excited:

The most promising moment of today's Speech from the Throne came right at the start, says SOLO Principal Lindsay Perigo.
"Just four sentences in, after noting the new government's commitment to economic growth, the Governor-General read out the following:
'In pursuing this goal of economic growth my Government will be guided by the principle of individual freedom and a belief in the capacity and right of individuals to shape and improve their own lives.'
"This is probably the first time in living memory the principle of individual freedom has been mentioned at all, let alone as central, in a formal government agenda," notes Perigo.
"Of course, too much shouldn't be expected from a government stuffed with anti-freedom conservatives and the occasional unreconstructed Muldoonist, but it's fair to assume Prime Minister John Key knows what his party is supposed to represent, and we freedom-lovers will be demanding that he deliver on his welcome inclusion of it in today's agenda-setting document.

However … read on for his full analysis of the Speech from the Throne.

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LIBERTARIAN SUS: Open immigration – let’s do it!

This post arises from a question in reply to a comment I made at "Crusader Rabbit" last week on this post.  It also serves to address concerns raised by CR author 'KG' on Libertarianz immigration policy:
Q:  What's your solution to open immigration in light of Muslim terrorism?

The question of the ramifications of open immigration in this age of global terrorism is one that arises from otherwise libertarian-leaning folk from the blue corner in particular, (albeit not exclusively), and I understand their concerns.

Click here to read more ... >>

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Obamessiah: Anyone got any answers? Just throw ‘em on up.

51718220 Does this [watch 8 min. video] look like a chap with all the answers?  Or more like a guy who’s saying "it all sure as hell beats the hell out of me; anyone here know what to do?"

'Cos Obama sure as hell hasn't any answers, has he -– not unless changing a few lightbulbs and socialism with a smile can be called any kind of answer.

Can someone please explain the Broken Window Fallacy to Obama?  That when the government takes business’s money and spends it to “create” make-work jobs, then that means those businesses who’ve been stolen from have just that amount less with which to create real jobs. 

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Another blog bites the dust [updated]

It looks like another local blog has bitten the post-election dust: this time it’s NZBC, which has been putting out some good stuff in recent months.  [UPDATE: Chris from NZBC reports “Rumours of NZBC's demise are greatly exaggerated. Stephen may have decided to take a break from blogging, but the rest of us are just on a kind of extended, work- and baby-imposed sabbatical. Or something.” Yet another cost of babies: baby-imposed sabbaticals.]

So how come some bloggers fall by the wayside while others just keep right on writing on?  To answer that, I’ll direct you to what long-time blogger Walter Olson as to say about it

    Olson, who has been writing his OverLawyered blog since July 1, 1999, [and you would imagine] knows a thing or two about longevity. His blog is widely considered to be the oldest legal blog and is also one of the most popular, regularly surpassing 9,000 unique daily visitors.
“People who force themselves to blog, it’s a sad spectacle,” he says. “You can tell reading it that it’s painful to them.” The key is to find a topic that will sustain you. “You have to think, ‘Boy, there’s so much to write about I can’t imagine getting tired of it anytime soon,’” he says.

That’s the key.  If you don’t have a selfish reason for blogging, then you ain’t gonna sustain the time and effort required.  It’s not primarily about having hundreds of readers –- although that’s great if you can pull that off -- it’s about having to say something and maintaining a forum in which to say it.

Here’s an old cartoon from the now-defunct Cox and Forkum blog that accurately describes the blogger’s cycle:


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Rush Creek Village, Ohio – Theodore Van Fossen, Martha Wakefield

401236304_6bb0e9b3e9 A little known subdivision in Ohio, created in the late fifties-early sixties, based its philosophy and the design of its 49 houses on the principles of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Usonian houses

“Rush Creek,” says the New York Times in this story (that gets just a few details wrong, which is not bad for The NY Times), “is the country's most enduring and successful -- and undiscovered -- middle-class community built according to Wright's principles.”   Hat tip Prairie Mod, who say

401248580_27ac57e372 The article recounts the origin of the community and how it's survived through the years, changing the lives of the people who have sought out this architectural secret. It's the sort of lifestyle and community that is founded on the same principles that are at the heart of living PrairieMod. Check out the article and also cruise this link to see some Flickr photos of some of the houses in this remarkable Wright-inspired community.

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Monday, 8 December 2008

Urgency! Urgency! Urgency! [update 2]

Wow! Isn’t this new National/ACT/Maori/Peter Dunne-Nothin Government hitting the ground running.  John Key has flown around the world in a plane.  He’s spoken to world leaders.  New ministers have got their heads down and their sleeves rolled up – they’ve been diving into their portfolios to get down to business.  And in its first out-of-the-blue “crisis,” new Foreign Minister Murray McCully took action to get those poor helpless travellers out of Thailand (well, you know, he would have taken action if we had an air force.) 

And now, parliament starts sitting again today!  Under urgency!

Shit, this a government that has things to do.  Things to do urgently.  They have an an action plan.  They’ve promised a first-hundred days of action that started back on November 19.  (Or today, depending on who you listen to.)

“Action Plan!”  “First Hundred Days of Action!”  “Urgency!” Sheesh, it almost leaves a feller breathless, don’t it?

  When you hear the words “action plan” and “first hundred days” you surely know you’re listening to spin.  At least, you would if you weren’t a press gallery buffoon like John Boy Armstrong.  What’s in this “27-point action plan” that requires so much urgency and comes accompanied with so much bluster? 

Anything about getting government off the necks of producers when it’s never been more urgent to do so?  Anything about slashing the fat from bloated government departments (hell, even slashing whole goddamn departments) so the dead weight of their unproductive carcasses can be taken off producers’ shoulders?  Anything at all about ceasing to pay no-hopers to breed, which would stop in its tracks the headlines of no-hopers killing those they’ve been paid to produce?

Of course not.  For the most part, they’re neither urgently necessary nor at all productive – just a politically-fuelled mixture of banal and batshit crazy that the sycophantic commentariat are lapping up like a little boy laps up his mother’s warm milk and oaties.  Let’s look at this “action plan” and see whether either urgency is justified, or “action” is a fair description (my comments are in italics).

    On the economy :
    • The introduction and passage of National's tax package into law before Christmas, with tax cuts beginning on 1 April 2009. 
        Derisory tax cuts that will be fully wiped out by hikes in ACC levies, and without any concomitant cuts in spending: which means taxpayers will have an extra borrowing bill to suck up, and producers will have to compete in the capital markets for the same credit as this government.
    • Updating and publishing the economic and fiscal forecasts to gauge the true state of the government's books and determine the on-going effects of the international economic crisis.
        They’re going to urgently publish some more forecasts?  Gee.  Can’t wait.
    • Appointing a Minister of Infrastructure and begin implementing National's infrastructure plan.
        They’re going to spend $7 billion more of your money.  While cutting taxes.  Which means they’re going to borrow money to bid up the prices of contractors and building materials at the very time these need to contract from their inflated heights in order to assist real recovery. Only to a politician (or to an economist in thrall to politicians) can this make sense. Another spending binge, just like the last spending binge – and we get to pick up the tab. Again.
    • The introduction of an RMA reform bill to reduce the costs, delays, and uncertainties in the Act.
        Window dressing.  It’s just a few revisions to exempt the government from the RMA so it can get on with its multi-billon dollar ThingBig 2.0 public works programme, and a few others to allow “companies to win the right to take private land.”  Nothing to see here, nothing at all.
    • The introduction and passage of National's transitional relief package into law to offer extra assistance to Kiwis who are worst hit by redundancy.
        More spending.  More welfare.  No change.
    • Calling in public service chief executives and instruct them to undertake a line-by-line review of their department's spending.
        And this will save how much?

It’s pathetic isn’t it.  In the face of the world’s biggest economic calamity for decades, that was National’s “urgent” economic plan to address it: basically the same menu they had a year ago with extra spending to go.   More spending, more welfare, and some tax cuts that aren’t worth a damn.   Nothing to see here at all.  So what about the next seven points on the “action plan,” those promised to “fix” Laura N’Order:

  • On Law and Order, that nice Mr Key says National will:
    • Introduce legislation to remove the right of the worst repeat violent offenders to be released on parole. 
        One point that’s worth a damn.
    • Introduce legislation to clamp down on criminal gangs and their drug trade.
        Populist tosh that, to the extent that it’s successful, should help to raise profits for the criminals who remain in the drug trade – and make lessening freedom of association for the rest of us all the easier whenever the government wants to.
    • Introduce legislation to toughen the bail laws to make it harder for criminals awaiting trial to get bail.
        Another point that’s worth a damn iff at the same time court waiting times are brought down so people whom the courts must still consider innocent don’t have to rot in jail while they wait for their docket to come up.
    • Introduce legislation to tackle increasing violent youth crime by bolstering the Youth Court with a range of new interventions and sentences.
        John Key's 'Plan Blue' is for the state to either coddle kids or shackle them -- or have them sent to boot camp.  None of which, I submit, requires urgency or will seriously address increasing violent youth crime.  But it will attract headlines, which is all this exercise is really about, eh.
    • Introduce legislation to require DNA testing for every person arrested for an imprisonable offence.
       This is abuse.  It’s as simple as that. Remember that an arrest is not a conviction.  An arrest used to mean you were still presumed to be innocent, remember?  Not any more.  As from now you will retain (for the moment) the right not to give evidence against yourself, but even before being convicted you will lose your right not to give the state bits of your body.  The National Party has had the presumption of innocence doctrine in its sights for some time. Such a long-held cornerstone of liberty against state power should not be overturned so easily, or at all.
    • Introduce legislation to give police the power to issue on-the-spot protection orders to help them protect victims of domestic violence.
        Window dressing that will empower unproven accusations to have the force of law.
    • Introduce legislation to compensate victims by levying criminals and putting the money into a Victims’ Compensation Scheme.
       More window dressing.  The amount proposed, just $50 per crime, will cost more to collect than it will ever amount to.  The principle with victim restitution should be that criminals should never be able to gain a value from their crimes, and should to the fullest extent possible be forced to make restitution for their crimes to their victim(s).  This is not even a first step towards establishing that principle.

So some good, some bad and a whole  lot of window dressing.  And nothing really that could justify the phrase “action plan.”  So what about the third component: education. Will they fix what’s being taught to young New Zealanders that means one-in-five leaves schools functionally illiterate and innumerate (just as they were when National was last in power)?  That has left some 800,000 NZ workers unable even to transfer printed information to an order form?  Will they begin to wean young NZers off the cradle-to-grave welfare expectations they imbibe in Nanny’s indoctrination centres?  Will they work towards taking power away from the Ministry and the teacher unions? Will they hell.  We’re looking at more testing, even more paperwork, and ever more bossyboots governance of successful educators by those who are provably unsuccessful.

In education, Nation will (“under urgency”!:
• Amend the Education Act 1989 so the Minister of Education can set agreed National Standards in literacy and numeracy.
   Like King Canute commanding the tides, National intends to command literacy and numeracy to rise without any plan to abandon the teaching methods that have so demonstrably caused the problem.
• Publish requirements for primary and intermediate schools to report to parents in plain English about how their child is doing compared to the set National Standards, and compared to other children their age.
   More paperwork for teachers over-burdened by the stuff.
• Begin work on allocating the additional $500 million capital investment in schools in preparation for our first Budget to start future-proofing our schools.
    More window dressing.  As Phil Rennie demonstrated, the Clark Government blew an extra $3.1 billion on education, a 26% real increase, with exactly nothing at all to show for it, showing convincingly that if throwing money at the factory schools could fix the problems of the factory schools, that would have already happened.  Clearly, National has learned nothing from the news.
• Introduce a "voluntary bonding" scheme which offers student loan debt write-offs to graduate teachers who agree to work in hard-to-staff communities or subjects.
    The payoff for National’s student election bribe.  Forcing the impecunious to pay for the education of those who will one day be wealthy.
• Amend the Education Act 1989 to increase the current fines for parents of truant children from $150 and $400 for first time and repeat offenders respectively, and allow the Ministry of Education to take prosecutions.
    Frankly, I’d be giving parents whose children don’t attend the factory schools a medal, not a fine.

So nothing there worth a damn either.  How about the next “sector”?  I bet you’re just champing at the bit to find out, aren’t you?  What “changes” will we see here that requires so much urgency.  Will we see a change to the attitude that places ideology above patient care?  To the  die-while-you-wait health system that perpetuates this attitude?  To a cut in the number of bureaucratic parasites that infest the government’s creaking hospital “system”?  Of course not.

In health, National will:
• Instruct the Ministry of Health and DHBs to halt the growth in health bureaucracy.
    Clearly the story of King Canute is required reading for National’s ministers.  “Instructing” bureaucrats to stop doing what bureaucrats without setting up a mechanism to do that  is like passing laws to stop the tides flooding the land without building flood walls to do the job.  Which means this is more window dressing.
• Open the books on the true state of hospital waiting lists and the crisis in services.
    The old political ploy: Point the finger for failure at the last government so you can buy time for your own stuff-ups to take hold.
• Fast-track funding for 24-hour Plunketline.
    Keeping their promise on populist vote-buying – hardly a matter requiring urgency.
• Instruct that a full 12-month course of Herceptin be publicly available.
    Keeping another promise on populist vote-buying.
• Begin implementing National's Tackling Waiting Lists plan.
   Another plan without detail that, like Tony Ryall’s command to emergency rooms, shows the effect of studying King Canute is having a resounding effect on National’s policy writers.  Look to see the same sort of command-and-fudge approach to waiting lists that the Clark Government used.
• Establish a "voluntary bonding scheme" offering student loan debt write-off to graduate doctors, nurses, and midwives agreeing to work in hard-to-staff communities or specialties.
    As above, this is the necessary payoff for National’s student election bribe.  Forcing the impecunious to pay for the education of those who will one day be wealthy – the result of abject timidity to remove the price controls that have made communities and specialities hard to staff.

John Key said at the release of this “action plan,” "Our commitment to move immediately to tackle the issues that matter demonstrates our determination to build a brighter future for all New Zealanders."

I invite you to consider how many of these 27 points genuinely tackle the issues that matter, whether there is really any need to move urgently on any of them (beyond the urgent need to look like “action men”), and what this shows about any genuine determination about “building a brighter future” for anyone but themselves and their cabinet colleagues.

The truth is that given the scale of the world's economic problems very few of those "points" could really be called "action" in the full meaning of that word, and those that appear so are either window dressing at best, or at worst they make Cullen’s tax-and-spend proclivities look conservative – at least he was up front about making you pay through the nose, instead of extracting the readies by stealth.

We are about to see two weeks of “urgency” – two weeks of much sound and fury that will signify nothing at all beyond the sound and the fury, and end in nothing much more than we had before.

Plus ca change.

UPDATE 1: The odour of capitulation in the National caucus must be all-enveloping.  Annie Fox points out that following the stabbing and killing of a Christchurch taxi driver former entrepreneur Stephen Joyce has now joined the ranks of the knee-jerk Nanny populists :

    "Transport Minister Steven Joyce will review the use of distress buttons, video cameras and safety screens to separate drivers and passengers."
    Does the government have rules on the use of buttons, cameras and screens? If they do have these rules then the only thing Joyce needs to do is get rid of them.
    But let's presume that they rules don't exist - why is the government wasting time and resources on this matter - surely it is the responsibility of the taxi driver what security he would like. Just like they decide if they are going to have a Navman or CD player or air freshener.

Absolutely right.  As she says, it didn’t take long for Joyce to become just another politician.

UPDATE 2Bob Jones has a brilliant idea for the National Party to keep the Maori Party on side and help solve the economic crisis:

- free breakfast in bed for Maoris - also solve looming unemployment problem with breakfast makers and deliverers. Maori Party now in bag for sure.

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“One of the most interesting and versatile words in the English language today”

I’ve been told I swear too fucking much.  (Parenthetical question: is that truly possible)?

This assumes that there’s something wrong with words like “fuck.”  I don’t agree.  I’m with George Carlin:  I think it’s one of “the most interesting and versatile words in the English language today.”  Sure, Eskimos might have twenty-seven fucking words to describe snow, but this one word can be used in at least twenty-seven different ways!  No wonder it’s so fucking popular:

[Hat tip Sport Review for reminding me about this clip.]


Libertarian Front celebrates second birthday

Congratulations Callum on two years of fine blogging.  Long may it continue.

Bend it like Mike Lee [updated]

david_beckham_victoria_beckham_boobA question for you this morning: What’s the difference between soccer player David Beckham and Auckland Regional Council head honcho Mike Lee?

In truth, there’s many differences -– from athleticism to talent to the number of Oscar-winning films with their name in the title –– not to mention the length of their wives’ skirts -- but there’s one particular difference thrown up over the weekend:

David Beckham has made a fairly large fortune playing a game that millions around the world want to see, a fortune his wife has no trouble spending.

Whereas Mike Lee just threw away a small fortune promoting a soccer game at Auckland’s Mt Smart with David Beckham that only 16,000 Aucklanders wanted to see -- around 4000 too few to make back the money Lee spent on the game – and the money he just threw away was yours and mine.

In other words: This wasn’t an entrepreneur risking his own money on a dubious promotion; it was a local-body politician spending your money so he could pretend to be an entrepreneur -– money that Mrs Beckham will have no trouble spending down Rodeo Drive.

So where does Mike Lee get the power to throw your money away like this?  To answer that, you only have to go back to 2002, when then Local Government Minister Sandra Lee (no relation AFAIK) revised the Local Government Act to gift councils "a power of general competence" – and who in their right mind would use the words “competence” and “council” without the intervening words “lack thereof” – so that councillors could legally do whatever the hell they like with your money.

And they have. This game presents in microcosm the reason the rates you pay on your property are so bloody huge while the things you’re allowed to do with your own land is such a bloody small list. 

In essence (as I said at the time) what Lee’s Act overturned was a crucial constitutional principle -- the principle that citizens may do whatever they wish apart from what is specifically outlawed, whereas governments and councils may only do what is specifically legislated for.

The main purpose of this constitutional principle is to keep a leash on government, both central and local.  You may judge from your own rates bill what removing this leash has done.

But we now have a new Minister of Local Government, and to remove the “power of general competence [sic]” would be the easiest thing in the world for that new minister.  If Rodney Hide – for it is he of whom I speak -- wants to knock off an easy and urgent target, this would be one of the easiest and most urgent.  He could do worse than refer to Libertarianz’ submission to Sandra Lee’s 2001 bill to see where to cut.

It would be as easy as Mrs Beckham spending money.

UPDATE:   Rodney Mayor Penny Webster is another local-body blowhard who needs a rocket up her fiscal arse.  Councils must “be prudent” in tough times says the woman who’s presided over enormous rate increases in the Rodney district, “but this shouldn't entail pruning.”  Well, Penny, yes it bloody should. In case you haven’t noticed, those people whom you and your ilk view as cash cows are struggling under the cloud of a coming depression.  They’re struggling to pay their bills, and they fully expect you to take “a slash-and-burn approach” to your bloated, flatulent council – a council that has levied rate increases every year for six years (2007/8 rates in Rodney lifted again by up to 12% for properties and 14% for sections) on the back of RDC salary levels rising 116% in the 5 years to 2006, even as fulltime staff numbers increased from 249 to 450.

So yes, Ms Webster, prudent really does mean slash and burn.  How about you give your bloody ratepayers a break -– you could start by taking those staff numbers back to what they were five years ago, and getting rid of all the expensive make-work nonsense those overpaid, unemployable clipboard wielding blowhards have been doing.  And then apologise for being an apologist for bloat, and resign.

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