Sunday, February 28, 2010

HBO gets real

Every Sunday morning used to be a bugger's muddle of trying to find Real Time with Bill Maher on YouTube before HBO had the episode pulled. HBO has finally capitulated and set up its own Bill Maher Channel, ending this mad scramble for intelligent debate. Good work, guys!

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Law Commission on Drugs Part 4 - NZ History of drug regulation

Chapter Four - The history and development of drug regulation, pages 44 to 59 of the Law Commission's Controlling and Regulating Drugs discussion document.

This chapter of the paper is split into two parts. The first looks at the history of drug regulation in NZ up to 1975. The second part looks at the time between the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975 to today (4.1).

Opium was widely used in Europe and America in the 18th and 19th Century to treat a range of ailments (4.2). Opium and morphine was introduced to NZ by gold miners, many of whom were former American Civil War veterans who had got hooked on them after being treated for injuries with these drugs (4.3). Opium, morphine and heroin were used in many imported medicines and tonics in NZ toward the end of the 19th Century.

The Law Commission neglects to mention that former Crimean War nurse and all-round good nun Suzanne Aubert was the first person to introduce and grow cannabis in NZ. Just as Queen Victoria used cannabis to alleviate her menstrual pains, Mother Mary Suzanne Aubert (Meri to the locals) made tinctures to treat her patients in NZ.

The first drug law in NZ dealt with opium (4.4):
Opium was first regulated under the Sale of Poisons Act 1866. Bottles or packets of opium laudanum powder and other poisons covered by the Act had to be “clearly and distinctly” labelled and the word “poison” had to appear on the label.
The Opium Prohibition Act 1901 banned the smoking of opium, and was aimed at persecuting Chinese immigrants (4.7). Grains and tinctures of opium were not prohibited, although the Sale of Poisons Act 1908 required importers to be licensed (4.5):
For example, a person could lawfully purchase approximately 24 grains of opium a week from a licensed vendor without a prescription. With a prescription, he or she could obtain up to 16 fluid ounces a week.
Chinese were forbidden from obtaining import licenses, and their residences could be searched without a warrant if there was reasonable cause to believe opium smoking was occurring on their property. After 1910, Chinese were the only ethnicity banned from buying opium without a prescription or a permit from the Minister of Customs (4.8).

Throughout the 20th Century, NZ's drug laws have mirrored international conventions (4.9). The first of these was the Shanghai Declaration (1909), followed by the Opium Convention (1912). The latter introduced controls on morphine, codeine, heroin and cocaine, as well as opium. The International Convention relating to Opium and Other Dangerous Drugs 1924 first introduced controls on cannabis (4.10).

The NZ government enacted this convention with the Dangerous Drugs Act 1927 (4.11). Smoking opium (manufacture, sale, possession and use thereof) was prohibited still, while all Dangerous Drugs listed in the schedule were fully restricted. Licenses were required to make or sell these substances, and could only be acquired for use by doctor's prescription (4.12).

The Medicine Men proved very popular with New Zealanders. From 4.14:
Health records from this period suggest that various drugs covered by the Act were liberally prescribed, particularly once prescriptions were publicly funded after 1941. Heroin was, for example, readily available on prescription in an oral dose form and was used widely in linctuses until the mid-1950s in New Zealand. Regulations made under the Dangerous Drugs Act during the 1940s permitted doctors to prescribe up to 16 oral doses of heroin in one prescription. By the end of the 1940s New Zealand was one of the highest users of heroin per capita in the world.
Barbiturate use in NZ during the 1940's was also high (4.16). Amphetamines became a restricted drug after 1957, not that that stopped Ronald Morrieson of Hawera (writer of Came a Hot Friday and The Scarecrow) using quite a lot of them.

All these international treaties were enacted before the United Nations came into being. The UN brought all these treaties together, as well as expanded upon them, with the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs 1961 (My headache-in-advance about covering Chapter Six grows more painful). From 4.17:
The Convention, which covered over 100 drugs, was significantly influenced by the prohibitionist approach that was beginning to dominate drug policy in the United States and culminated in President Nixon’s formal initiation of America’s “War on Drugs” in 1971.

NZ ratified this convention with the Narcotics Act 1965 (4.18). The Act introduced the distinction between possession for personal use and possession for supply. It introduced presumed quantities of drugs that would reverse the burden of proof. From 4.19:
If the person could not discharge this burden, he or she could be convicted of the more serious offence of dealing in narcotics. According to the Minister of Police at the time, the original quantities set in the Act were intended to be equivalent to “100 shots or doses” of a drug.
Police powers of search without warrant were introduced. Persons and private property could be searched without a court order if they were thought to be holding prohibited drugs (4.20).

In 1968, the Holyoake government commissioned the Blake-Palmer Policy Review to:
[E]nquire into and report on drug dependency and drug abuse in New Zealand and matters relating thereto and make recommendations.
4.22 continues:
The 1960s had brought significant changes to patterns of drug use in the West. Recreational drug use had become more widespread during the 1960s with the growth in youth counterculture and the emergence of psychedelic drugs. Originating in the youth movement in the United States, the psychedelic “hippie” counterculture spread to other western countries through the 1960s and 1970s. This counterculture promoted experimentation with cannabis and hallucinogens like LSD, mescaline and peyote to explore alternative states of consciousness. Despite the adoption of strong prohibition policies at both the international and national level, the use of such drugs had increased and became almost synonymous with youth culture, protest and social rebellion.
As opposed, for example, to the heroin, morphine and amphetamines that their parents grew up with.

The Blake-Palmer Review reported back in 1973, noting that NZ drug use reflected international trends (4.23) (Mental note here. In the US, the ill-fated Shafer Commission Report was released in 1972). Some interesting stats:
Between 1955 and 1963, the number of people charged with a drug offence never rose above 40 but, in 1972, 700 people were charged with drug offences.
In 2008, drug prosecution charges totalled 20,309. More than half of those, 10,698, were for possession or dealing cannabis. (No easy hyperlink. You have to play around with the Stats' Depts Table Builder).

The Blake-Palmer report recommended a new Act, partly in response to the UN's 1972 Convention on Drugs (4.25). All drugs which are subject to misuse (excluding alcohol and tobacco) were to be included. Maximum penalties would reflect the "relative degree of harm" of these drugs. While criminal sanctions were necessary for enforcement, the report recommended police use their discretion on people who were users not dealers (4.26).

4.27 sez:
The Committee recommended improving the treatment options and support for those dependent on drugs and argued for high quality community education about the risks of drug abuse and dependence. It stressed that one of the most effective sanctions would always lie in the provision of good, soundly based, unemotive educational programmes within the broader context of healthy living aimed at moderating the overall use of chemical substances:
[A]ttitudes of moderation as a norm in our society would, it is believed, do more to reduce the illicit misuse of drugs than over-reliance on criminal sanctionsby themselves.
The Misuse of Drugs Act 1975  (MODA) came into effect on 1 June 1977, one week after the release of Star Wars. The Act followed the Blake-Palmer recommendation of introducing a schedule of drugs (4.29). The Act allowed for a strict licensing regime, including medical and research purposes (4.30), as allowed under the international conventions.

Drugs were classified A, B or C. An amendment in 2000 clarified exactly what harm each Class represented; A was "very high risk", B was "high risk" and C "moderate risk." In the same year, the Expert Advisory Committee on Drugs was formed to evaluate substances (4.31). Note to self; it was Labour not National who introduced the EACD. Not that the EACD changed anything. No drug has changed Class since the original Act was drawn up in 1975 (4.32).

As well as three classes of drugs, the MODA introduced three levels of crime. As well as possession for personal use and supply, a new offence for "dealing" was invented. 4.33 with the nitty gritty:
Dealing is importing, exporting, producing, manufacturing, selling or otherwise supplying or administering a controlled drug to another person... The maximum penalties in the Act were increased in 1979 and have not been changed since. The maximum penalty for dealing in Class A drugs is imprisonment for life; a Class B drug 14 years; and a Class C drug eight years.
The maximum for dealing Class A drugs is the same sentence as murder. Class B is the same as rape, while Class C is like aggravated robbery. You'd have to be drunk as Rob Muldoon to consider that fair and just.

The presumption for supply burden of proof was re-affirmed (4.34). As per Blake-Plamer, possession for personal use had the lowest of all maximum sentences. From 4.35:
The maximum penalty for possession for personal use of a Class A drug is six months imprisonment and a fine of $1000 or both; a Class B or C drug three months imprisonment or a fine not exceeding $500 or both. The Act also contains a presumption against imprisonment for possession or use of a Class C drug. The Act did not incorporate the types of alternatives to prosecution and criminal sanction for drug users suggested by the Blake-Palmer Committee.
Going to show that Muldoon was our own Little Nixon; a hypocrite and drunk in one small vile package.

The Misuse of Drugs Act has been amended many times (4.38). 1978 saw Customs and Police get powers to untertake controlled deliveries, essentially intercepting some drugs in transit, wrapping them up again, and following the parcel to its destination. Detaining someone suspected of holding drugs for up to 21 days was also included here, as was interception of personal communication (4.39).

The MODA 1975 also made drug utensils illegal. 1988 saw an exception for needles obtained through needle exchange programmes (4.40). Designer drugs (4.42) such as Ecstasy were also appearing on the market by this stage, and analogues were added to the schedule of harmful drugs. The rise in methamphetamine saw precursors controlled too. These controls were tightened even further in 2005 (4.45). The 2005 Amendment introduced the new "Schedule D" in response to the flourishing BZP market (4.46). In 2008, another amendment moved BZP into the Class C department.

In the thirty-odd years the MODA has been around, it has been subject to 22 amendments and 10 Orders. "[I]t is questionable whether it now provides a coherent or effective legislative framework" (4.48). The offence and penalty structure has been around for a generation and has never been changed. There are also problems with the presumption for supply in the Act and the Bill of Rights, as successfully argued in the Hansen case (4.49).

But by far the biggest problem is the Act's incompatibility with the National Drug Policy and the principle of harm minimisation (4.50). By criminalising a health matter, the MODA places many barriers between drug users and treatment, education and care (4.53). Harm reduction strategies such as needle exchange programmes are also impaired by the legal status quo (4.54).

A new Act is needed to address these multiple issues.

Up next - the Current Approach

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Hell is other Kiwis

Every now and then, there's a glimpse of self-centred NIMByism behind the facade of the easygoing Kiwi myth. Yesterday, there was the NZ Bus refusal to advertise the Atheist Bus campaign. The spokesperson for Atheist Bus NZ was on bFM today explaining that many other Western countries ran the campaign without incident. It's just our allegedly compassionate Christianist godbotherers in NZ who wish to stifle this innocuous debate.

Then there's the Wet House planned for Island Bay (maximum occupancy 10 people) that has been canned. That harm reduction idea was killed with the help of reactionary crap like this site:

Children were at risk! One wet house resident in the UK killed three people! Watch the documentary of an obviously unwell man who might present some kind of threat!

The very latest round of NIMBYism has turned up in Hastings. While the Springhill Addiction Centre is undergoing refurbishment, an old rest home was going to be used as a temporary site for 20 people in recovery. This was too much for the NIMBYs of Mahora, who applied to the Environment Court (!) for a stay of proceedings. The Hawkes Bay DHB has given up, as Springhill would be opened before the court hearing had concluded.

It seems we only want to help those in need as long as our property prices remain unaffected.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Law Commission on Drugs Part 3 - Drug Policy

Chapter 3 - An introduction to the current drug policy of harm minimisation, pages 37 - 43 of the Law Commission's Controlling and Regulating Drugs Discussion Paper

The Law Commission's goal in the discussion paper is to support and improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the government's drug policy (3.1). The drug policy is contained in the National Drug Policy 2007 -2012 (3.2). This is the second edition of the NDP. The first was introduced in 1998 by the National led coalition government. The idea behind the NDP was to coordinate local, central and non-government agencies involved in alcohol and drug treatment.

The NDP recognises that drug use is primarily a health issue, and the health-based response is summed up in the principle of harm minimisation (3.3):
The overarching goal of the National Drug Policy is to prevent and reduce the health, social, and economic harms that are linked to tobacco, alcohol, illegal and other drug use.

Let's just step back for a moment. The National Drug Policy was introduced by the Associate Minister of Health at the time, the National government's Roger Sowry. The second iteration was presented by then Associate Minister of Health, Jim Anderton under a Labour government. The third version is due in time for 2013. The future is unwritten.

Back to it. What does harm minimisation mean anyway? Here's 3.4:
Harm minimisation is an approach that is designed to limit the overall harms that result from the consumption of drugs. Strategies that are designed to reduce or eliminate consumption, to provide treatment to users, or to make the conditions under which drugs are consumed safer are therefore a means to an end rather than ends in themselves. The ultimate question to be asked in respect of any drug policy measure is whether it is a cost effective means of minimising harm, however defined.
Manage consumption, treat and care. Yep, that sounds like the Health sector to me. No wonder this namby pamby welfare of drug users is sometimes mistaken for liberal, pro-legalisation agitprop (3.5). Indeed, this ideological battle isn't confined to NZ shores, but is happening around the world.

There's three pillars ( I call 'em prongs) to harm minimisation (3.6), demand reduction, supply control and problem limitation. These will be explained soon. It's a shame that the ideology trumps the reality (3.7). The NDP attempts to side-step the prohibition argument, focusing instead on effective strategies:
[T]he harm that is eliminated by any strategy needs to be greater than the harm that it imposes.

This is tricky because, as mentioned earlier, harms are bloody difficult to quantify (3.8). The Law Commission is open to better ideas. Lacking alternatives, hey, it's not that bad either (3.10).

In describing the three prongs in more depth, the Law Commission introduces the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) (3.11). I'm already getting a headache in advance thinking about writing up Chapter 6 of the report, which covers NZ's international obligations. My opinion of the UNODC is not high, seeing it has historically been an opaque, top-down, banana republic unto itself.

That said, perhaps things have changed. From 3.12:
The Executive Director of UNODC, Antonio Maria Costa, has suggested that there has been an imbalance in both resourcing and policy priorities between supply control measures and measures aimed at reducing demand and treating drug dependency and addiction.
OK, on to the three prongs (3.13):
supply control – measures that control or limit the availability of drugs;
demand reduction – measures that seek to limit the use of drugs by individuals, including abstinence; and
problem limitation – measures that reduce the harm that arises from existing drug use.

The first is Supply Control (3.15), and will already be familiar to anyone. It is regulation taken to the nth degree. Supply control means Cops, Customs, Courts and Prisons. Between 2000 and 2006, Police and Customs seized 453,746 kilograms of cannabis, 408 kilograms of stimulants, and under 14.5 kilograms of heroin (3.16).

The quality of these drug hauls is not mentioned, but I doubt that it was all primo and uncut. And by some police and customs estimates, seizure rates count for around one tenth of actual consumption. No-one really knows for sure. But by that reckoning, NZ went through 45 tonnes of cannabis in six years!

At least, that's illegal drug supply control. Legal drugs have more nuanced regulation. Doctor prescriptions is a form of supply control too, as is licensed premises for alcohol, or age limits on buying tobacco.

Demand Reduction focuses on "reducing an individual's desire to use drugs" (3.18). Prohibition is a demand reduction strategy in two ways. It shapes social attitudes and culture, as well as deterring people from using drugs (3.19). Drug and lifestyle programs also contribute. Think FADE's giraffe or Nancy Reagan's Just Say No! campaign. There's also other, less abstinence-only based programs, such as CAYAD (3.21).

The prong of problem limitation involves reducing the harms of existing drug use (3.22). It can include emergency services, drug treatment, ongoing social support and self-help programmes (3.24).

The NDP has this to say about the Harm Reduction prong (3.25):
Some problem limitation interventions do not seek to eliminate or reduce drug use in the short to medium term, but instead aim to reduce the related harm to the individual and community.

Some of these strategies have proven controversial, as they ignore completely the abstinence approach. The Needle Exchange Programme would be a good example. Methadone treatment is another (3.29). Some other countries provide supervised injecting clinics (3.30).

Another option is drug testing facilities, which will inform users what exactly they are taking (3.31). Such a measure can prevent fatal overdoses or poisoning from bad shit. Anecdotally, some overseas nightclubs perform this service as a matter of business.

Up Next: The history and development of drug regulation.

Mutha Uckers

Steven Price at Media Law Journal reckons the Broadcasting Standards Authority fucked up in their decision against The Edge. I agree but for differing reasons. While he argues that the song is political and should get more slack because of it, I disagree with the BSA on the grounds that the song was insufficiently censored during a time when small children might have heard the song.

Unfortunately, Paul Henry is always on at a time when small children might hear his brain farts. The BSA refused to uphold a complaint against the Breakfast retard by describing homosexuality as "unnatural". This time, I agree with Price that the BSA made the right decision. The comments were a pretty low level of offensiveness. He's a simple mutha ucker.

Disclosure: Not gay, just goNZo.

The NZ Bus gods must be crazy

NZ Bus has refused permission for an advertising campaign paid for by public donations that has already featured in the UK. The Atheist Bus Campaign, which has raised over $20,000 from NZ supporters, was going to feature the phrase, There’s probably no god. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.”
Organisers of the Campaign tried to reach a resolution with NZ Bus, and later attempted mediation sessions through the Human Rights Commission. NZ Bus refused to participate in these mediation sessions. Because they are refusing to discuss the matter and reach an agreement, the organisers of the Campaign are now investigating the possibility of taking this case to the Human Rights Review Tribunal.

Religious ads have run on buses for yonks. Hell, even beer ads are permitted on the public-subsidised buses. I hope the campaigners do take it to the Human Rights Review Tribunal. In the meantime, I'm continuing my boycott of the proprietary Jesus card, Snapper.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Big font policy

There's a comment near the end of Adam Curtis' Century of Self; some politics junkie sets out the problem of polls and focus group politics:
You have a problem in terms of deciding what you're going to do if all you do is actually listen to masses of individual opinion... Increasingly, they're not set in context, so that's why people can say, y'know, "I want lower taxes and better public services." Of course they do.
Colin Espiner has a very good post on what looks suspiciously like law by the Your Views section of the NZ Herald:
An off-duty officer was beaten up after he tried to break up a fight in South Auckland, another had the extraordinary misfortune of having his lip chewed by a suspect drink driver in Whangarei, and last night an Oamaru policeman was kicked by a carload of people after its driver failed a breath test.

In response both Key and Police Minister Judith "Crusher'' Collins say they are thinking of changing the law to allow judges to impose tougher sentences on those who commit violence against the police.

"If you assault a police officer in the course of their work then you would face a tougher sentence,'' Key told TV One's Breakfast programme this morning.

Yeah, it's bloody awful. I understand the cop who got bashed in Oamaru is getting a metal plate installed  in his head because of it. But I share Colin Espiner's concern about knee-jerk policy ideas:
Of course I'm not trying to belittle the problem of violence against the police. But don't we have to look at the root cause rather than simply reach for the sentencing lever yet again? Both National and Labour before them have been merrily increasing sentences for violent crimes for ten years now, and has it made any difference? Not that I'd noticed.
Howard Broad was on NatRad's Checkpoint saying that although police shouldn't be armed as of right, they should have access to semi-automatic weapons from their cars. Police union guy Greg O'Connor is pushing for imprisonable terms for people who swear at police. Nothing personal, Mr O'Connor, but you can get fucked right there.

One brutal weekend for police is not sufficient enough cause to consider more stringent laws. Every now and then you get a freak wave, just as Russell Brown pointed out about the 10 random murders a couple of years ago that caused a mess in the press. Bluntly put, shit happens. We have the courts to judge these matters.

More disconcerting than chewed lips and beaten cops is the seemingly knee-jerk reaction from the National government. The underclass seemed so easy to fix before getting into government. Now that Key & co are in there, they have yet to realise that a wave of the Smiley Wand cannot cure all ills.

Governing, real governing, is a bit like a formal essay. You say what you're going to do, you do it, then you justify what you've done. The long-term welfare of the people is paramount. It cannot be accomplished by day-to-day microlegal pissing about depending on what the front page of the newspaper says. Which seems to be exactly what Key, Collins and, to a lesser extent, Simon Power are doing.

Live by the poll, die by the poll. It's all the same to me. But not at the expense of the public good.

The Sin Tax syntax

Finance Minster Bill English signalled on Q&A yesterday that cabinet is considering raising tax on tobacco. Again. As Business Day blogger Nick Smith pointed out last week, we are already paying over and above our dues:
In 1999-2000, smokers paid $950 million in excise, according to Treasury's 2001 Tax Review, and it is now more than $1.1 billion. Treatment, by comparison, is estimated at $225m. About 70 per cent of the price of tobacco is tax.
The dairy owner told me it's closer to 66 per cent. Either way, it's the largest tax rape on any good or service in NZ.

Our tax system may be broken, but the middle class addiction of property investment is being ignored. Meantime, the working class suckers are looking at getting hit by a GST rise and tax spiking on tobacco.

What a fiscal creep.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Law Commission on Drugs Part 2 - Drug Harms

Chapter 2 - The harms arising from drug use, pages 18 -36

It is "unarguable" that drugs, both legal and illegal, cause significant harm to society (2.1). There's a nice admission of societal biases. The harms of legal drugs are usually understated, while illegal drug harm is generally overstated. This comment is footnoted by the Law Commission's recent Alcohol in Our Lives paper.

Personally, I reckon society has got a fairly good grip on the harms of legal drugs, such as alcohol and tobacco. Public understanding of illegal drugs is more ignorance than overstatement. It's the moral tub thumpers that overstate the alleged harms. Ignorance and morality are the inbred parents of our current drug laws.

Psychoactive drugs change mood, perception, cognition and behaviour (2.2). Well, duh. That definition is accurate enough to include the publicly acceptable legal highs such as caffeine, sugar and chocolate, and wide enough to include non-drug events such as gambling, Shortland St and the weather. They narrow this down by describing how drugs change the psyche to create binary "effects and possible harms" - toxicity and dependence.

I would consider Shortland St to be toxic and harmful with many addicts, but the report is limited to looking at illegal ingested substances. Soap is legal in NZ. But the toxicity/dependence paradigm is apt. You can easily apply those terms to caffeine, sugar and chocolate, and they are applicable to the other legal and illegal drugs on the wider legislative menu.

The report goes on to list other less direct harms associated with drug use; prostitution, fraud and impaired driving (2.3). Drug use can also harm others (2.4), and reads like that infamous BERL report, which will rear its head eight paragraphs into the future.

2.5 caveats these supposed harms, stating that much of it is unquantifiable, and polydrug use clouds where harms might be attributed. Harms differ depending on a range of uncontrollable factors (2.6), and not all drugs are equal in the harm department (2.7). The harms caused by drug prohibition are often confused as drug harm (2.8)

And if drugs are so bad for people, why do they take them anyway? 2.9 sez:
These benefits may include the pleasurable effects of an altered state of consciousness (ranging from increased relaxation to increased energy), better social bonding with peers, or an escape from the realities of everyday life. Many of these benefits have parallels with the social benefits of alcohol (although the latter are more readily acknowledged than the former).
This is what happens when you ask a lawyer what Fun means. There are other uses too. The name Drugs is a bit of a giveaway. Their main contribution to humanity is as medicine. From 2.10:
Heroin, for example, was available on prescription in New Zealand until the mid-1950s. Some consider the inability to develop and use illegal drugs like cannabis for medicinal purposes as a particular harm of drug prohibition.
This is why many drug reformers get so angry over the current drug laws, and why many are especially angry with alleged Justice Minister Simon Power at his immediate dismissal of the subject. What right does he have to stand between a chronic pain sufferer and the most effective pain relief?

"Notwithstanding these real challenges in describing and quantifying the harms", 2.11 introduces the infamous BERL report, and spends the next page and a half quoting liberally from the discredited document. 2.14 spends a short time describing the 2005 UK Drug Harm Index, but not actually mentioning what it concluded. To refresh your memory and to fill its absence from the Law Commission report, here it is again:

In fairness to the Law Commission, they spend the next few  paragraphs (2.15 to 2.20) caveating all to hell these quantifications of harms, concluding with great scepticism in 2.21. The report goes into some detail comparing and contrasting the relative harms of cannabis and methamphetamine.

2.22 describes cannabis, 2.23 describes how it is used (reefer, pipe, bong, "spotted", vaporiser or eating). In the last example of eating, they don't explain that cannabis is a readily fat-soluble food ingredient. Some poor bugger reading that line in the report might conclude that people sit down and eat the buds by themselves.

Immediate effects and harms of cannabis use are listed (2.25, 2.26). Fatal overdoses are mentioned in 2.27:
Cannabis use has a much lower risk of fatal overdose or other life-threatening conditions than many other psychoactive drugs. It has been estimated that a lethal dose of cannabis is in the range of 15 grams to 70 grams, which is many times greater than what even heavy users would consume in a day.
This is the first outright lie in the report. No-one in recorded history has ever died from a cannabis overdose. The report somewhat admits this by footnoting the NZ Drug Foundation:
The New Zealand Drug Foundation ( estimates that a lethal dose is 40,000 times that which is needed to become intoxicated. In total, two human deaths have been reported from cannabis poisoning worldwide. However, it is not clear that those deaths were the result of cannabis.
People have drank themselves to death. A lethal dose of caffeine varies between 60 and 80 cups of espresso in a 24 hour period. Hell, men have carked it over Viagra. But no-one has ever died from smoking too much cannabis.

The long-term effects of cannabis use is explored in 2.28, quoting extensively from the Dunedin and Christchurch Longitudinal Studies:
In New Zealand, the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study found that 18.3% of cannabis users in its cohort were cannabis dependent at age 26. This proportion was similar to that observed for alcohol (17.9%) but lower than that observed for tobacco (34%)... Cannabis dependent users were more likely to be male and Mäori.
Male and Maori. That's another big clue, which will be revisited in a future chapter.

Smoked cannabis harm is compared with tobacco (2.29), and minor cognitive impairment is mentioned in 2.30 (verbal learning, memory, attention). "Debate continues about the extent of these impairments, and whether they can be recovered after cannabis use stops." The old chestnut of the supposed causal link between chronic use and psychiatric disorders comes up in 2.30 to 2.33.

BERL reappears in 2.34, this time to estimate the social harms of cannabis. A long disclaimer is listed in 2.35, before 2.36's insistence that the BERL numbers are indicative and not, for example, expensive meaningless drivel.

The link between cannabis and crime is explored (2.37). 2.38 says there is no link:
However, there is little support here or elsewhere for the view that cannabis intoxication itself causes users to commit crime. It is more likely that the same factors predispose people to commit crime and to use cannabis. In New Zealand, NZ-ADAM findings were that only a small proportion of participants who had been using cannabis at the time of their arrest believed that their drug use had contributed to “some” or “all” of the activities which led to that arrest.  NZ-ADAM findings also support international research which suggests that cannabis generally inhibits aggression and violence in users.
Public Health harms supposedly include drug driving (2.40), although evidence presented shows fewer problems compared with alcohol. Pregnant women are advised against using cannabis (2.41), adding to the long long list of things they should avoid while breeding.

The report spends some time on the "substantial" costs of cannabis prohibition (2.42 to 2.44). Most of the figures quoted are just wild estimates (BERL returns). One thing does stick out:
[A]lthough 30% of NZ-ADAM participants considered that the cannabis market was very or fairly risky or violent, the cannabis market was also perceived to be less violent or risky than the other drug markets covered (amphetamines, ecstasy, and heroin).
The National-led Health select committee in 1998 blamed cannabis prohibition for problems in effective drug education (2.45), not to mention the blatant hypocrisy and double standards observed by the "younger generation."

The report moves onto methamphetamine use. In comparison to cannabis, the harms of meth are almost at the other end of the spectrum. Although there are no recorded deaths from meth in NZ (2.51), long term users experience far more psychotic symptoms (2.52), more and stronger dependence issues (2.54).

The link between meth and crime looms large (2.58 and 2.59):
62% of methamphetamine users reported [in the NZADAM study] that their use of methamphetamine had contributed to some extent to their current criminal activity, with 47% saying it had contributed “all/a lot” and 15% saying it had “some” contribution... Of particular public concern is the perceived link between methamphetamine intoxication and violent crime... In New Zealand, NZ-ADAM identified that methamphetamine was the most likely of all drugs covered to increase users’ likelihood of getting angry.
The meth manufacturing process is in itself highly hazardous (2.63 to 2.66), and more users admit driving under the influence, including risky behaviour;  "driving too fast, losing their temper at another driver, losing concentration, or nearly hitting something."

Not all drugs are equal.

Up Next: Chapter 3 - Drug Policy

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Write Stuff

As many of my close friends know, I've been mulling my Great Kiwi Novel Kiwianatopia for some small time now. It's still all in my head, as I have had issues with not only breathing life into the characters, but also a grand fear of turning out anything less than a goddamn masterpiece. It doesn't help that I compare everything to Alan Moore's portfolio.

Thankfully, I've had some excellent advice. Apart from The Guardian's advice (Part One, Part Two) from some of my favourite authors, including Neil Gaiman, Will Self and Ian Rankin, I highly recommend Charlie Brooker's Screenwipe Special, which includes such luminaries as Dr Who's Russell T Davies, the guy behind Black Books and Father Ted, and the Eastenders' scribe:

But what I really need is a muse...

Law Commission on Drugs Part 1

I've changed the title of the last post to better match the chapters of the Law Commission's CRD paper. No point needlessly making this series more complicated than it already is. While we're talking admin, the Law Commission has nicely laid out the report with numbered paragraphs for easy reference. For example, 4.41 refers to Chapter 4, paragraph 41. These are going to pop up here quite often, so get used to them. OK, here we go...

Chapter 1 - Introduction to the review, pages 10 -17

Recreational drugs can be a polarising social issue (1.1) On one hand, there's the argument that drugs are dehumanising (1.2), and James Q Wilson is quoted for effect:
"We treat the two drugs differently, not simply because nicotine is so widely used as to be beyond the reach of effective prohibition, but because its use does not destroy the user’s essential humanity. Tobacco shortens one’s life, cocaine debases it. Nicotine alters one’s habit, cocaine alters one’s soul."
The comparison is ludicrous for a couple of reasons. Firstly, if one were to compare apples with apples, you would compare tobacco with coca leaves, or nicotine concentrate with cocaine. Secondly, the Yanks can talk about "one's soul" til the Palins come home, but here in secular NZ you'll be pushing it uphill to debase an argument with soul transmogrification. Render unto Caesar etc.

Nothing personal against James Q Wilson. I've been scanning his book Bureaucracy: What Government Agencies Do and Why They Do It this afternoon, reading about the turf wars and pissing competitions between the DEA and the FBI over the War on Drugs. Shame he can't see the wood for the trees.

On the other extreme, there:
"are those who believe that people should be free to use whatever substances they want, with any attempt by society to limit that use an unwarranted interference with personal autonomy and freedom of choice." (1.3)
That's a bit simplistic, something you'd probably hear from an Ayn Rand libertarian, although no particular person is quoted to justify such a statement. The Law Commission then discounts James Q Wilson somewhat, noting:
"[P] sychoactive substances have been used across the world for thousands of years. At the same time, most would also recognise that all psychoactive substances may cause harm, not only to the individual but to society as a whole. Regulation of their use is therefore needed to minimise this harm. (1.4)
The footnote to this statement is as vital to enlightenment as any Terry Pratchett novel footnote:
It has even been suggested that “there has never been a society that has not had some form of psychoactive drug or drugs used by at least some of its members”.
The distinctions between legal and illegal drugs throughout history have been "somewhat arbitrary," (1.5) however we "can not turn back the clock." (1.6)
Our approach to various drugs including alcohol is inextricably linked to our history and culture.
This statement is vitally important, and the reason why will become clearer in Chapter 4. Although both harmful drugs, 1.7 explains why alcohol and tobacco have been excluded from the review:
Our review would have been unmanageably large if we had attempted to include alcohol and tobacco within it.
The Law Commission acknowledges that this may go down like a cup of cold sick in some quarters. They're not wrong:
1.8 This will not please everyone. Many of those who regard the current approach to drugs as illogical, hypocritical, and based on double standards will no doubt want us to take a bolder approach. Law reform, however, is the art of the possible.
It's an early omen that foreshadows the lack of real scope of recommendations later in the report. And it's downright strange, seeing as the Law Commission is at this very moment reviewing the liquor laws. No explanation is given as to why they don't do the obvious and have one law to rule them all.

Just how many affected people are we talking about? There's a couple of interesting charts taken from the Ministry of Health drug survey:

Ah, that might explain the blatant hypocrisy of drug classification. It's that tyranny of the majority thing. I bet the alcohol lobby can afford to keep their racket going forever with numbers like that. Pity the 400,000+ NZers who had used cannabis in the last 12 months though. Although arguably a bigger segment of the population than the LGBT community, they don't get boo in.

How about some global numbers? Here's the UNODC:

The World Bank reckons there are roughly 6.7 billion people in the world. According to these numbers, that means that there's over a quarter of a billion stoners around the globe.

The report looks at national drug trends. Amphetamine use has levelled off since the high in 2001 (1.16), while Ecstasy seems to have decreased before a slight increase, although it's difficult to tell seeing as BZP may be being marketed as Ecstasy these days (1.18).

BZP is the fourth most popular drug (1.19). There was a grand experiment between 2002 and 2006 when BZP was on sale to the public (1.20):
A report prepared for the Ministry of Health estimated that in total approximately 20 million doses of party pills containing BZP or trifluoromethylphenylpiperazine (TFMPP) and related substances were sold in New Zealand between 2002 and 2006.
The Law Commission report neglects to mention that during those four years, not one fatality was caused by BZP, through use, abuse or overdose.

NZ has the second highest use of cannabis per capita in the world. Only the Canadians go harder (1.21). LSD and shroom consumption is negligible and dropping (1.24), while opiate use is even less.

The chapter concludes by noting that illegal drug consumption is "significant" and that the proportion of the population using drugs is "not really changing." (1.27)

Law Commission on Drugs - Introduction

For the first time in over 35 years, New Zealand's Misuse of Drugs Act 1975 has been subjected to serious official review. Sure, every parliamentary Health select committee between here and Muldoon that has looked at the subject has concluded that cannabis shouldn't be dealt with as it is. Each Health select committee has dutifully passed the buck to the Justice & Electoral select committee to look at, and every over-worked J&E committee has diligently ignored the matter.

The Law Commission's Controlling and Regulating Drugs discussion paper breaks this drought. Justice Minister Simon Power thinks he can dismiss the 408 page report out of hand, stating that the government's policy demands no loosening of the laws:
"There's not a single, solitary chance that as long as I'm Minister of Justice, we'll be relaxing drug laws in New Zealand. The Prime Minister has made the war against P and drugs a key part of his leadership and as long as I'm the Minister of Justice, we will not be relaxing drug laws."
But if John Key can perform backward somersaults over GST rises, he can damned well change his mind on drug reform too. Facts change, eh. And the Law Commission paper is full of facts.

F'instance, did you know that the first drug law in NZ one hundred years ago was very thinly-disguised racism? Or that although current laws allow cultivation and research licences of these restricted drugs, there are only 21 research licences in NZ at present, and no cultivation licence has ever been issued? Or that the law allows a Minister of Health to withdraw a person's prescribed medication without their doctor's agreement or even directly contradicting the doctor's advice?

In fact, there may be too many facts in this dense report. The size and scope of the CRD report makes it difficult for laypeople to crack into, and would be about as interesting and dry to most people as reading the Auckland City White Pages phone directory. Hell, even I'm daunted by it. I'm no lawyer.

NORML has posted up a short list of easy things the public can do to support a review of the Misuse of Drugs Act, including a sample submission which people are encouraged to mash up to fit their perspective. I'm going to take a leaf out of Bryce@Liberation's book and post up bite-sized annotated analysis of the report over the next month leading up to Drug Awareness Week in March. Anyway, enough blab. Let's get down to it.

What is the point of the CRD report? The Terms of Reference are pretty concise, so here's a cut and paste straight from page 5:
The Commission will review the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975 and make proposals for a new legislative regime consistent with New Zealand’s international obligations concerning illegal and other drugs.

The issues to be considered by the Commission will include:

(a)     whether the legislative regime should reflect the principle of harm minimisation underpinning the National Drug Policy;

(b)     the most suitable model or models for the control of drugs;

(c)     which substances the statutory regime should cover;

(d)     how new psychoactive substances should be treated;

(e)     whether drugs should continue to be subject to the current classification system or should be categorised by some alternative process or mechanism;

(f)     if a classification system for categorising drugs is retained, whether the current placement of substances is appropriate;

(g)     the appropriate offence and penalty structure;

(h)     whether the existing statutory dealing presumption should continue to apply in light of the Supreme Court’s decision in the Hansen case;

(i)     whether the enforcement powers proposed by the Commission in its report on Search and Surveillance Powers are adequate to investigate drug offences;

(j)     what legislative framework provides the most suitable structure to reflect the linkages between drugs and other similar substances;

(k)     which agency or agencies should be responsible for the administration of the legislative regime.

It is not intended that the Commission will make recommendations with respect to the regulation of alcohol or tobacco in undertaking this review.

The Preface on Page 7 goes into the details. In 2007, Associate Minister of Health Jim Anderton asked the Law Commission to review the Misuse of Drugs Act. I remember the moment well. I was in the Minister's office with the MSMers when he announced it. It was the same day that the minister announced that BZP was to be banned.

Whichever way you cut it, the man who called the review was not some soft on drugs hippie. BZP is a fairly low-level drug. It is non-addictive and even the screwed scrum of the Expert Advisory Committee on Drugs were hard pressed to find anything more dangerous in the side effects department other than nausea and anxiety. Nothing worse than what you'd get from watching Dancing with the Stars or attending an Act conference. However, BZP was a new thing to New Zealand, and the Misuse of Drugs Act had no mechanism to handle new things.

The Preface points to another broken prong:
Most significantly, the Act’s policy framework appears to be out of step with current drug policy. Although it has been amended numerous times to reflect new developments in drug use, there is concern that the Act is now outdated and does not reflect current knowledge and understanding about drug use and related health, social and economic harms. The Act pre-dates and does not seem to be well aligned to the National Drug Policy and its overarching goal of minimising drug-related harm.
As the name suggests, the first National Drug Policy (NDP) was formed by the last National government. I looked at the issue here, when covering Jim Anderton's new version of the NDP. The last National government also formed the Expert Advisory Committee on Drugs (EACD), a supposedly independent board of experts who were charged with providing objective advice on the classification of recreational substances.

Which is why it's so weird that John Key's National government wishes to ignore the Law Commission's report. The loud slamming of the reform door shows an ideological ignorance out of step with John Key's alleged centrism. He can ignore that hypocrisy at his peril.

Up next: The Current Approach

Thursday, February 18, 2010

No Tolley Left Behind

Kudos to Trevor Mallard for the Supplementary Question ambush that ensnared Education Minister Anne Tolley:

Annette King performed a similar entrapment on Social Development Minister Paula Bennett a little later on over Whanau Ora:

That Westie temper will get Paula Bennett into real trouble one day. Annette King is experienced enough to Tai Ch'i that bolshieness back at her twice as hard.

And I am continually amazed at what a thoroughly Fair Go Speaker Lockwood Smith is.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The insidious Kerry Prendergast

Wellington City Council are pondering an extension of the CBD liquor ban to encompass the entire city. The Council is looking at throwing the matter open to public submissions later in the year, but if they go ahead with the ban plan they'll have a fight on their hands. It is one thing to clamp down in the CBD, but the Bill of Rights and enforceability issues will cause all sorts of unnecessary problems.

For example:
It is supported by police who say a consistent city-wide policy would aid enforcement. Police also have the power to search any vehicle entering a liquor ban zone.
Are you absolutely positively sure you want the cops to have the right to search without a warrant all vehicles entering or leaving the city? Is a champagne breakfast in the Ohariu Wilton Reserve really that much of a threat to public order? Do you think all those Newtown drunks are just going to stop drinking in public and go to one of Rex Nicholls' swanky bars instead?

There's one thing a few public drinkers and Wellington City Council have in common. Neither group know their limits.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Media non grata

If anyone doubts the prohibitive harm that the War on Drugs can cause, have a read of this story on former journalist Peter Verschaffelt, who hasn't been convicted of a crime yet:
He had been a beneficiary for nearly four years and had applied for more than 200 jobs in the media but no one wanted to employ him while he faced charges.

Now four TVNZ staff are under investigation after a NZ Herald leak following that Close Up story. Dakta Green fears for their careers:
"Nobody in New Zealand should be ever punished by their boss simply for smoking cannabis on their own time", said Dakta Green today. "So long as no-one is being hurt and no disturbance caused, what goes on outside of the job is no matter of the company or the employer".

Over the weekend, I had the opportunity to get a grip of the events surrounding that fateful trip from an eye witness. They corroborate Dakta's words:
"Any claims of wrongdoing alleged against the TVNZ staff in question are nothing but hearsay", he said. "We enjoyed their company and I believe they enjoyed ours, but I can categorically say they never smoked cannabis with us on the CannaBus."
So fearful are media companies of some imagined damage to their brand, they are not above destroying careers on the hearsay of intoxication. While it's acceptable practice to pickle themselves at Toto or Prego, they will rain down a shitstorm of poison if there's so much as a hint of alternative social intercourse. Ladies and gentlemen, that is not just hypocrisy, it's wildly disproportionate and wrong.

Yeah, I'm not happy how Close Up skewed the show, but there's no way anyone's job should be on the line because of it. Hell, even Tony Veitch has been given another bite at the apple. Let them alone.

Today is Monday

# An intriguing profile on Gareth Morgan, including life on buses, the benefits of being your own boss, and the problem of the Christian/Muslim race for hearts and minds in Africa.

# Andrew Geddis at Pundit looks at Paul Quinn's Private Member's Bill to disenfranchise the imprisoned.

# Alison Mau bitchslaps the women's rag editors and a photographic stalker on Morning TV.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Google can you hear me?

Yeah Gudday,

I notice from my Sitemeter that there's quite a few readers tuning in from Google. Mountain View are searching for by name. Well, I'm asking for you to peel off a few bills and support

There's a generational review of the Misuse of Drugs Act on over here, and there's a heap of ideas that can be stitched together for three quarters of fuck all. NORML needs money. Same goes for all my readers. If you have ever thought that it is time to stop this bullshit War on Drugs in its tracks, now's the time to something about it.

With enough regular income, we might actually be able to employ a staff and make a difference.

John Key on drugs

Click image to embiggerate

Fatwa on Close Up

TVNZ's infotainment magazine show Close Up has had a rough week. When they're not ditching the PM for ex-All Black mea culpas, they're filming derogatory mockumentaries on serious issues.

Tuesday's Close Up featured a short look at Dakta Green, the Daktory and Mary Jane the Cannabus. Clocking in at under six minutes, the first two minutes features a strange confrontation that is never adequately explained. Over a heavy soundtrack of Bob Marley and Sublime's cover of Smoke Two Joints, a 4:20 sesh is filmed complete with blurry camera effects.

There's a brief look at the Daktory, again featuring the blurry camera work, as well as a look at Dakta's bedroom, while Cypress Hill plays over top of the commentary. Bizarrely, the final minute looks at Dakta's personal life and the effect that full time campaigning and imprisonment has had on family contact.

Dakta responded to the biased program the following day at the Daktory blog:
After the disgracefully one sided story that was shown on Tv1’s Close Up last night, we are encouraging everyone to send letters of complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority.
To add insult to injury, the makers of that biased report are now being investigated for smoking marijuana after filming:
The Herald understands a complaint about the item included an allegation that four TVNZ staff took drugs with the Norml contingent in the bus after filming had finished for the day.

The complainant said the group had photos of the staff smoking the cannabis.

Last night, TVNZ spokeswoman Megan Richards would not give any details of the "serious allegations" or say how many staff were involved, but confirmed that an investigation was under way.
Not content with abusing the trust of someone trying to rally against the stupid cannabis prohibition laws, the alleged journos did so after abusing the hospitality of their subjects. That's not just hypocritical, it's plain rude.

It's two-faced stuff like this that reinforces why I deal with the media very reluctantly. Bring back Genevieve Westcott, I say. At least she knows what investigative journalism means.

Friday, February 12, 2010

4:20 News Index

I'm still wading through Part One of the Law Commission's review of the Misuse of Drugs Act. To distill some reference points for public submissions in reply to it, here's a summary from the MSM and blogs so far, as well as an index of 4:20 News blog posts from 2008 to now.

Last night's TVNZ and TV3 stories on the report, including Simon Power's instant dismissal of it. There's a large cast of characters, including the Law Commission's Warren Young, NORML's Phil Saxby, Green Cross' Billy McKee, the NZ Drug Foundation's Ross Bell and MethCon salesman Mike Sabin.

NBR broke the story here, with an NZPA release. The NZ Herald's story is here, tagged as Drug Abuse as always. Stuff reports it here, and on forced treatment of dope fiends here.

This morning's Morning Report began their program discussing the matter with Billy McKee, Phil Saxby, Mike Sabin, Simon Power. Later on, Sean Plunket speaks to police union man Greg O'Connor. O'Connor keeps toeing the drugs = organised crime trope. Nine to Noon's Kathryn Ryan speaks to LawCom's Warren Young, Addiction Treatment's Chris Kalin and United Future's Peter Dunne.

Russell Brown is furious at the outright dismissal of the LawCom's report by Simon Power. Nandor Tanczos is not impressed with the tame conclusions that the Commission reached anyway. Dim Post points out the illogic of the status quo:
There are more serious problems facing the nation but the drug laws – medicinal heroin but not medicinal cannabis; pot growers get prison, brewery owners get knighthoods – are easily the least logical, most absurd and do the most to undermine the moral authority of the state and the justice system.
4:20 News

2008 Feb, March, July Medpot Health select committee and debrief

2009 March, April, bonus April 420 Special, May, bonus May Dakta Green Special, June, July, July Health select committee dump from 2008, August, October, November, December

2010 January

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Law Commission favours more realistic drug laws

The Law Commission has released its review of the Misuse of Drugs Act. The full report is here. At 408 pages, it's a bit early for me to report how great it art. Fortunately, TVNZ sez:
The commission's Issues Paper on Controlling and Regulating Drugs canvasses a range of options for dealing with offences including a formal cautioning scheme, an infringement notice regime and a greater use of diversion into education and treatment.

"These more flexible approaches are likely to be much more effective at reducing drug harm than simply punishing drug users," says Palmer.

I'll blog more once I've had a dig through the document, but it sounds like some good ideas are in there. Mind you, there were some quite good ideas in the Tax Working Group report and look where that ended up.

The Law Commission is calling for public submissions with an April 30 deadline. Their message board at TalkLaw is also accepting feedback. Get in there.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


Bernard Hickey seethes on Nine to Noon, saying that John Key has left the big property rort in place. He also notes the Tax Working Group reckons an increase in GST will only bring in around $200 million a year, after compensation has been awarded to low incomes. That's a lot of political pain for stuff all gain.

It had to happen sometime. One of John Key's blurts has come back to haunt him. Grant Robertson posts a John Key promise from before the election saying National will not increase GST:

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Elegantly wasted

I think John Key just had a "Deep Dark Secret" moment. In Beltway-speak, I'm referring to former Labour president Mike Williams' overselling of Michael Cullen's bland budget talking up some deep dark secret that the Budget contained that would Make Everything Better. Of course, there was nothing of the sort. A few hay bales of straw were added to the camel's back. In Palmy, the DDS analogy might be translated as "Big Fucking Deal."

Yes, the speech was verbose. So verbose, John Key didn't even read the speech out in full at Parliament. Bah! Marathons are for Finance Ministers on Budget Day. I attempted to stick it through Wordle, but my OS and Java aren't speaking to each other for some reason, and I've got better things to do than puzzle it out. If anyone else has a go at parsing it, please let me know.

Anyway, Key makes clear where his antennae are tuned:
Only by lifting our country’s economic performance can we deliver New Zealanders the jobs, increased incomes and better living standards they aspire to and deserve.
Jobs, incomes, living standards. Luvvy-duvvy. Goff can say that with a straight face too. Further down, there's a reality iceberg. But no worries:
While unemployment is higher than any of us would wish it to be, it is encouraging that the loss of existing employment almost completely halted in the last quarter. But every person out of work is one too many. That is why the Government’s focus remains on the economy and on jobs.
OK, so it's economy first, then jobs, income and living standards, in that order. That explains the DOC estate dig, as well as the dig at Double Brown Bollard laying out the facts on Q&A the other day. Bollard sez:
I don't think we can catch up with Australia, Australia's a most unusual country, Australia has been blessed by God sprinkling minerals across the top of the surface in very easily accessible areas in places where it doesn't annoy people to mine them. China's there buying all that, it's not rocket science, they've run the economy well, but we just don't have those advantages, but that's all good news for New Zealand because there's a lot of crumbs come off the Australian table that we can take advantage of.

I'd blame comets, geology and joss before blaming God for us getting Pineapple Lumps, but that's just me. I realised not so long ago that NZ is also not Singapore and never will be. Wired has the GPS plots of last year's shipping lines. Long story short, yellow is the route of ultimate ticket clipping:

It's why Singapore has the biggest goddamned fleet of ghost ships in the world right now. NZ is a freaking backwater in a global recession. There's pluses and minuses to that. And John Key doesn't get it. In fairness, neither does Labour.

Back to the blab:
We are keeping a tight lid on new spending over the foreseeable future, which will enable us to get the budget back into surplus and keep public debt under control. Tight control of spending will also help to keep pressure off interest rates, which means lower mortgage costs for New Zealanders.

Overall, our economic policies are aimed at shifting the economy more towards exports and productive investment, and away from consumption and borrowing.
Key wants lower mortgage rates AND lower borrowing. OK. How does that work? Does that mean you'll be tilting the investment field closer to level? Actually, no. No CGT, land tax, or in fact any tax on the half trillion dollar property sector. Key might end up paying the US government more tax money for his apartment in Hawaii than he pays for his four or whatever properties in NZ (Owned by a family trust, actually. Including his own home. Trusts, PIE and top tax rates are not being levelled). Full shields to the property sector. Rest easy, Rick Barker!
The Government’s other priority this year is to make significant reforms in social sectors like the welfare system, education, the justice system, health and state housing.

OK, so the priorities are economy, jobs, income, living standards, the welfare system, education, the justice system, health and state housing. Bloody hell, you do have a full plate, mate!

Fast forward through blah on 2009...
None of this would have been possible without ACT, the Maori Party and United Future, and I want to acknowledge their ongoing collaboration and support.

Hat Tips to coalition partners, or Majority Gatekeepers as I call them. Who needs a bicameral parliamentary system when you can have minority parties at half the price and twice the convenience? On to tax:
The Government agrees with the Tax Working Group that New Zealand relies heavily on the taxes most harmful to growth, particularly corporate and personal income taxes; that there is a hole in the tax base around the taxation of property; that the tax system lacks integrity and fairness because of differences in the treatment of entities; and that there are significant risks to the sustainability of the tax revenue base.

But Key intends to do absolutely nothing about it. I can understand Key telling the 2025 Taskforce to get fucked, but the Tax Working Group gave wider options than them and all that Key hints at here is tinkering. John Key the Tinkerbell?

National have quite clearly missing the Education bus, what with Business NZ's Phil O'Reilly bitching about the lack of training options on Nat Rad last week. The Poly-Wolys are closed shops, the unis have limited restrictions, it's all a big fat nothing.

Holy Fred Dagg, I'm not a quarter way through Key's speech and I'm bored. Here's Kiwiblog with the guts of the rest of it. Bernard Hickey here. David Slack is veritably scathing here. TVHE here, etc.

Just one more thing about the raising of GST to 15 percent. Key's dreaming but that's the expendable one. The price is not right. All in all, it's an opportunity wasted.

The Imprisoner's Dilemma

Ever get the feeling that MSM News is an unquestioning regurgitation of government press releases? Here's last night's story told by TVNZ and TV3:

Don't let the clipart fool you. Para for para, they're birds of a feather, parroting off whatever the spin department says.

I mean, how hard is it to conclude from those numbers that by 2017, the government is OK with spending a billion dollars a year housing prisoners, plus overheads. Or the contradictory messages spinning out of the Beehive, such as how National are going hammer and tongs Tough On Crime on one hand, yet expecting slower growth in the prison muster on the other. Something doesn't add up.

Here's onegoodmove with another clip from QI:

Monday, February 08, 2010

Screwing the pooch

It may be time for Radio New Zealand to gently push Matthew Hooten out the window of the Nine to Noon politics slot. Today's slot sounded more like Exceltium Hour, with Hooten's narrative dominating the discussion on Maori & Foreshore like he owned the plot. Andrew Campbell barely got boo in.

Laila Harre had the good grace to step aside when she felt her perspective was going to be compromised with a new job. Meantime Hooten has stayed on whilst feeding his dark materiel to forestry, Maori and whatever other paymasters he has on retainer.

Yeah, he may be onto something with a straight-forward repeal, but he's compromised all to hell as a politics commentator. He's donkey deep in this.

Or at the very least make it fair fight between spinners and be done with it.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

The Learning Curve

I've been keeping out of the National Standards debate for the simple reason that I don't have kids. There's a heap of others who are far more clued up on this thing. Even so, I can't help but think that John Key might go down on his fricken knees to beg Katherine Rich back and get her in on the List in 2011 to keep a lid on Education. Or Welfare.

My mate was down for the races the other day, and seeing he's got three kids in the thick of it, I cross-examined him on the matter. For the record, this top bloke is a Nat through and through. He's no unionist. Biggest thing that matters he sez, is good teachers. Screw the tests, screw the curriculum, it's all about good teachers.

One of the best teachers he's met has left his local school and become a funeral director. Someone who was evidentially great for teaching kids has found a better life in Six Feet Under-land. Not the first case I've come across either. I saw my old Career Guidance Counsellor from high school when we were seeing off Second Mum.

He went on to say that his kids already have some tests, the AsTTle (Assessment Tools for Teaching and Learning) system from John Hattie at a guess. He knows where they're at, right down to areas of interest. He's not fussed with these new tests for his kids. They'll be fine.

Which might very well be true. These matters were largely fixed early in Clark's Labour government, when school zones were introduced and real estate agents around the country rejoiced. Parents who can afford it now buy their schools, just like those middle class US families Elizabeth Warren was talking about.

So, if the middle classes aren't going to see any huge benefit from this new testing regime, what's the point of it?

National's rationale has been multi-pronged. Firstly, it is to identify the 20 percent of primary school kids who are "falling through the cracks." OK, fair call. You identify that 20 percent (assuming that schools couldn't already do so). Now what? Alternative and Deaf schools are closing down. National, where's your therapy? Where's the rehabilitation? It seems that mainstreaming is the cost efficient cure du jour.

Dudes, you are seriously going to need a bigger boot camp. Are we ruling out triple-bunking in prisons too?

Second prong is weeding out the poor performing teachers. Gordon Campbell covers that union-bashing angle nicely. Key sez 30 percent of teachers "cannot adequately teach numeracy or literacy". Grant Robertson sez ten. Either way, the cure for a national shortage of teachers is a bigger shortage of teachers. Good teachers would rather be funeral directors than stay in teaching right now. Why are they leaving in droves? Mightn't the mindbuggeringly high turnover of teachers be a better priority right now?

And while we're looking at poor performers, why is John Key fronting this one? Helen Clark didn't jump into portfolios until a few years in. Key's doing in scarcely one year in and he's the minister for everything. According to Trans Tasman's Roll Call 2009, Anne Tolley was the poorest performing government frontbencher. Even Nick Smith managed to hold it together better. Clearly, the mainstream of front bench life is not improving her odds of catching up in class.

Another prong in favour of primary school national standards now is that this is supposed to be a multi-year indicator for parents, and the sooner the thing is planted, the sooner they'll get the information. Sweet, unbiased, relevant information, down to three decimal places. Call me old-fashioned, but I'm damned glad I didn't go to primary school with a fistful of Key Performance Indicators looming all the time. That shit would have done my head in.

But what do I know? From creche to university, Big Ed is all one big lonely robot kindergarten to me. Here's some liquid numbers called music:

Friday, February 05, 2010

That's television

Following on from Charlie Brooker's How to Report the News a few days ago, I was listening to The Panel today when Simon Pound mentioned the whole Newswipe series was worth delving into. And he's not wrong. I'm hooked.

Ironically enough, there was bugger all chance of finding the vids at the official website. Meantime, here's Season One Episode One in three parts. The first looks at an idiot's view on the credit crunch, with special emphasis on quantitative easing. Part Two deconstructs the costs involved in putting together a TV show, using meta-humour at its finest. Part Three looks at some awful awful game show porn from the '80s, Star Quality. It's like torture by vaudevillians. The UK Apprentice gets a dressing down too.

Chur Mr Pound!

You've Come a Long Way Baby

Dim Post reckons NZ kicks buttock. We've come a long way in such a short time.

New Zealand. There's a place for everyone.

Pole Land

The NZ Flag Change story continues in the NZ Herald, with a burst of support for an unusual coincidence. Both DPMC head honcho Maarten Wevers and business opiner Fran O'Sullivan are quite fond of their poles.

I myself have only recently installed my own flag pole in the Northland suburb not two months ago. It's not some big bastard, just an aluminium stick really. But the good goNZo flies night or day, through sun, sleet and retina-detaching wind gusts.

I was a bit pensive at first, wondering whether a whipping flag might annoy the neighbours, seeing how we live on top of each other. But they assure me it's neither eye nor ear polluting, and it's better than staring at the old man's beard.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Wot unemployment?

Dave at Big News says it best:
In December Treasury said unemployment would peak at a 7%. John Key said that Treasury was being too pessimistic. Figures released shows that unemployment is now 7.3%. The last time it was that high National was in Government, too.
More good comments from No Right Turn and Visible Hand (who also looks at underemployment). More than a few economic observers have been surprised by the figure. Rates Blog was guessing 6.8:
The 7.3% unemployment rate is the highest level since the June 1999 quarter and up from 4.7% in December 2008 and 3.5% in December 2007. The number of employed people fell by 2,000 to 2,152,000.
It's gonna get worse too. Wait til winter. I know a few mates who are living off their savings, soon to be redundant, or loathing their current position with no hope of an alternative in a no-job market. I smell a powerful election issue.