Thursday, May 31, 2012

I'm fine man, you're Feynman

NatRad talked to new NZ Initiative head honcho Dr Oliver Hartwich today, demonstrating where the think tank sits on the ManBearPig spectrum after the merger of the NZ Institute and Roger Kerr's NZBR. Suffice it to say it's at the neo-liberal end of the beast.

However, I do agree with Hartwich's proposition that the Nixon Shock of 1971 was the thing that rooted the present the most. Flash-trading algorithms, derivatives, naked short selling, the 2008 GFC; all of it can be laid at Richard Nixon's doorstep. One of my pet peeves with the Left is how they use Rogernomics as their whipping boy (Here's Laila Harre at it last week). When it was actually our own Little Nixon, Rob Muldoon's debt-fuelled response to the Nixon Shock that irrevocably bankrupted the country.

That's OK. I get my payback where I can. Take, for example, the social experiment I played on my Facebook circle last week, posting up a picture of my father with Milton Friedman:

Oh, I do love a good shit stir with my spectrum of friends.

Retiring Price WaterHouseCoopers Wonk and Working Group member John Shewan has the proof of it all in his Budget recap, which includes a useful gallop through the last 34 years' worth of Budgets. Witness Muldoon's fuckery with the economy:

Even visiting Nobel Prize Winner Richard Feynman picked up the scent with this immortal observation in 1979 (seen here from 5:15 to 5:30):

Don't worry, Europe and US. With your mismanagement of your economies, you'll be as destitute as us in no time. Dagg knows what their Rogernomics correction will look like, but it will be nowhere as pretty I bet.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Nice to Have Calendar

"National List MP based in the Mana Electorate", local MP and Moonwalking Education Minister Hekia Parata sent me a Matariki calendar in the mail today:

The smiling, waving, elegantly backtracking Minister nicely avoided my No Junk Mail sign by sending her taxpayer funded card by direct mail. It's nice to have. I was wondering where her electorate office had shuffled to, from the high visibility site off the State Highway to an upstairs hole opposite the Porirua Public Library.

I will be going off to join her on Facebook forthwith, where I might harangue her on her party's stance on drug abstinence education in schools and how well that's going.

Last chance to tweak MMP

The procrastination window for having a say on the tweaking of MMP is almost closed, with non-verbal submissions closing in two days. So, in the traditional Homer Simpson manner of doing a tax return, I'm sellotaping, copying and pasting this blog post as a submission. For new readers, please pardon the French. I'm from Palmy, eh.

The short answer to the MMP question is, I agree with everything Great Wonk Andrew Geddis said here. Change the List Vote threshold from 5 to 2.5 percent. LITFA* for by-election candidates, dual candidacy, order of List candidates, overhangs, and the ration of List to Electorate MPs.

* LITFA = Leave It The F*ck Alone. Status quo.

As an introduction for the scenic route, I consider that six seasons of MMP has proven fairly successful. New Zealand has enjoyed stable, predictable government, of both minority and majority hues. NZ has enjoyed an absence of coups in that time. Every government has lasted the constitutionally recognised three year term without imploding, which is more than you can say for some Developed World nation states (Canada, Belgium, Italy, Greece).

However, MMP has encountered one major flaw. There has been a failure to produce any new political representation in Parliament. Every single party since 1996 has either been an incumbent, or formed from the demagoguery of waka jumpers to secure a seat in the House for their new political vehicle (Greens and Progs from Alliance, Maori Party from Labour, Mana from the Maori Party). The only party to ever crack into Parliament from the outside was led by a former Parliamentarian, with Richard Prebble leading the Act Party into the Legislative Chamber at MMP's birth in 1996.

I consider the five percent threshold for representation primarily responsible for this outcome. Any new political movement is staring at a target of around 100,000 voters to get into Parliament, slightly less than the quota for calling a Citizens' Initiated Referendum. Compared with the insider knowledge and various advantages of the incumbent parties (for example, the Broadcasting Allocations for TV exposure), new political movements stand no chance to build their base. The hurdle is too damned high.

There are symptoms of this abyss. Since MMP's introduction, the fastest growing segment of the body politic has been the Enrolled Non Vote. Clearly, something in the machinery of proportional representation has fouled up to make this the case. Fully one quarter of the populace was disenfranchised by omission in last year's general election. This democratic deficit needs patching.

The original royal inquiry into the electoral system in 1986 recommended a four percent threshold. The rationale for this was to ensure nutjobs didn't hold the balance of power. I contend that this threshold hasn't prevented nutjobs from entering Parliament; Alamein Kopu, Gordon Copeland, John Banks and Richard Prosser, to name a few. Parliament has endured without damage. Indeed, the general electorate has if anything proven only too happy to chuck out parties who play silly buggers. RIP Alliance, Mauri Pacific, Progs.

The threshold for List representation in the Party Vote should be lowered to 2.5 percent. The lower threshold would eliminate the electorate seat exception which appears to screw the electoral scrum with dirty deals in Fortress Epsom and Ohariu Pa. Why should, as Graeme Edgeler said here, Epsom voters get more power than other electorates? It defies the convention of proportionality:
35. But while that was not in itself unfair, what was wrong was that it was the voters of Epsom who had the power to decide whether the 85,496 people who gave ACT their party vote were going to be represented.
2.5 percent equates to 50,000 votes, around the same size as an electorate. So what if an electorate is spread out over the entire country? They should still have representation. You can trust the electorate to judge them the next time around on their merits.

OK, that's the threshold done and dusted. The last five points of contention are straight forward.

 I have no worries about existing List MPs standing in by elections, or of candidates standing for both Electorate and List seats. If the Greens consider outspending the Act Party in the Mt Albert by election as money well spent, good for them. The party can choose its calculus for national exposure versus winning the seat. The public can read, write and execute the final say at the voting booth.

But don't expect them to be experts at the raw code. Giving voters the opportunity to rank List candidates is like Marxism; nice in theory but devastating in practice. MMP works with a Two Ticks front end. The punters don't have to know how to compute the Sainte-Laguë back end. Hell, even a political animal like me doesn't know how that formula works. But it does. Do not add undue complexity to this elegance, especially when the marginal utility of shuffling the List positions is three quarters of bugger all.

Overhangs and the balance of List to Electorate seats are part of the package, not bugs in the system. Do not muck with these settings.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Black Swans threaten Tauranga

It seems that Tauranga is under attack from a scourge of Black Swans:
Black swans have been the subject of regular complaints for leaving faeces on beaches and mud flats, posing aviation hazards at Tauranga Airport and threatening seagrass meadows by consumption.
 How dare these birds crap outdoors. Can't they be toilet trained? And this is the first I've heard of a plague of Black Swans devouring seagrass meadows and causing birdstrike at the Tauranga aerodrome (Airport my arse).

Clearly, these harmless non-threatening birds need to be culled. Violently. After corralling them with jet skis, of course:
Jetskis and boats were used to herd swans away from public, over toward Matakana Island where the birds were then shot.
 I'm no SAFE nut, but it all just sounds like a lame excuse to shoot big birds at point blank range. Can't they just shoot the jet-skiers instead?

Joyce, Interrupted

Caesar Joyce tells an audience of accountants that all the fuss over the rapidly growing National Super bill is a distraction:
"I think the superannuation thing is a distraction from what we're dealing with over the next 10 years... The reality is that if our GDP grows strongly over the next 10 or 15 years there will be a lot more choices for those sorts of issues for our older generations further out."
She'll be right, sez Joyce. The reality is that NZ's GDP has not been growing strongly over the last ten or 15 years. And, with a global meltdown or two on the horizon, you'd have to drink an awful lot of spiked Jungle Juice to believe that NZ's GDP is going to grow strongly over the next decade or two.

Last year, David Chaston at looked at the intergenerational wealth transfer of baby boomer retirement:
Basically, someone who finished high school with the School Certificate qualification in 1962 will be aged 65 in 2011, and eligible for NZ Super.

Statistics NZ has relevant data of earnings and taxes from 1962 and we can use that data to track the earnings in that working life - and from that data determine the taxes paid over that period.

Essentially, our statistically average person will have earned about NZ$1.4 million and paid about NZ$342,000 in tax, taking home a pay packet of a little over NZ$1 million over those 50 years.

Converting these raw earnings and taxes to 2011 dollars, they earned NZ$2.7 million, paid NZ$620,000 in taxes, and had take-home pay of a bit more than NZ$2 million.

However, for the next 20 years of retirement, they will claim in 2011 dollars NZ Super to the value of NZ$544,000 - or almost 88% of all the taxes they have ever paid.
It gets worse. Most baby boomers were single income households. It wasn't until the 1980s that two income households became the norm. Chances are that statistically average taxpayer from 1962 was married, supporting a family with that sole income. Whether they remained married or separated, the taxpayer is on the hook for two pensions today. In that scenario, baby boomers will squeeze way more out of the government in transfers than they ever paid in.

And, if that doesn't take the sparkle out Joyce's Jungle Juice, perhaps Elizabeth Warren's doom and gloom will dilute Joyce's happy babbling:

Friday, May 25, 2012

How to get ahead in publishing

NatRad has a fascinating interview with Peter Usborne, the guy behind Private Eye magazine and the Usborne books for kids I fell in love with thirty years ago. In my time, my favorite edition was the Spy Handbook. I made my first spy kit in a matchbox at age 12; cyphers, wax pen, Morse string, etc. I knew a dead drop from a false trail.

Alas, kids these days have less free time and space to play. Sticker books are the way ahead for publishers to print some cash, according to the guru. Unlike adult books, children's books seem recession-proof. And they can't get enough of those sticker books.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Don't mention the Super Gorilla

Bill English did not once refer to National Superannuation in his Budget Speech. No doubt, he's hiding this heavy expenditure under a concrete lined bushel. No wonder. Comparing the 2013 expenditure to five years ago shows how fast and how big the Super Gorilla in the room is getting.

Looking back at 2009, courtesy of Dim Post's graphic here, National Super took up the lion's share of the Welfare Budget with 7.744 billion on Super spent that year. The 2013 figure is budgeted as $10.2 billion (taken from Keith Ng's excellent interactive graphic here, once I got sick of trawling Treasury's Budget .pdfs and .xls for the figure).

In five years, Super spending has increased by a third. With the boomers retiring in droves, that figure is going to get a lot bigger a lot quicker, but Bill English is relaxed about that. Even David Farrar, who agrees that the Super equation is unsustainable, still maintains that nothing should change until at least 2025.

Any guesses how much Super will cost by then? Or who is going to pay for it? Who cares? sez Bill. John Key will be collecting his Super in Hawaii by then so it's not this government's concern.

UPDATE: Nadine Chlamers-Ross has the low-down on the scary numbers.

Raking Leaves Up Against a Tree

Wherein the blogger composes new lyrics to Foreigner's Waiting for a Girl Like You whilst performing seasonal chores.

So long, he's been working too hard, in the Deep South too long.
Sometimes he won't know what he'll say, he only knows it's a matter of mind.
When you hate someone, when you hate everyone.
It sounds so right, so strong and blue, he needs to blurt so you know too.

Maybe he's wrong, someone tell him he's a racist moron.
That brain of his he keeps in his pants, should think twice before it rants.

I've been raking up against a tree, thinking of current news.
I've been raking up against a tree, without a leaf blower.
I've been raking with time to think in peace and form some views.
Yeah, raking leaves up against a tree, thinking of current news.

That's all done, all those leaves could be put to use.
Bonfires burning effigies of Lou Crimp.
Ditch Guy Fawkes Day, the wrong season by far.
Matariki fires, yeah, burn the hate away.

Yeah, that makes more sense, less of a fire risk in this damp season.
Much more fun than getting him to listen to reason.

I've been raking up against a tree, thinking of current news.
I've been raking up against a tree, without a leaf blower.
I've been raking with time to think in peace and form some views.
Yeah, raking leaves up against a tree, thinking of current news.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Fourth Estate and Real Estate

Inspired by the above graphic by Chris Glen, I thought I might revisit how my No Snake Oil Merchants signage is going.

After five months of operation, there have been only two instances of attempted trespass. The first occurred within a week of putting the sign up, with a godbotherer opening the gate as I leaned out of the window in my dressing gown. After being curtly reassured that no, I was sure I didn't want god in my life, they kindly buggered off.

Around a fortnight ago, a couple of young girls had a go at crossing the threshold. They might have been girl scouts, school fundraisers or Mormons. An emphatic waving of hands was enough for them to consider any sale futile.

However, I have had to amend the No Junk Mail sign, after the advertorial content of APN's competitor, Fairfax, became intolerable.

Fairfax's free local paper, the Kapiti Observer, is delivered twice weekly. The Monday edition is usually a thin 16 pages, but at least its advertorial level is somewhat balanced with the staple editorial diet of car accidents, homegrow busts, petty teen crime, sports and amateur dramatics (at the theatre and local council).

The Thursday edition is a much more offensive affront to local news. Fully half this edition is real estate alone. The car yard ads are on top of that. The Church Notices take up more space than the rest of the Classifieds combined.

This is worrisome on a number of levels. When a newspaper relies on only one or two sectors of business to pay its way, it may lose its editorial independence. Certainly its soul. This rot isn't just a worry for Fairfax and the Kapiti Observer, but also its local competition, the independently owned Kapiti News.

Reluctantly I have amended the No Junk Mail sign to exclude newspapers as well. There is nothing new to be found in them, and I'm tired of reading about NZ's reliance on property speculation for its income. My only hope now is that someone at the paper will teach the newspaper delivery guy to read:

The Fucker is nigh

Labour's caucus continues to show all the discipline and budgetary skills of a free form jazz collective and not a government in waiting. Jane Clifton looks at Shearer's odds and offers a good suggestion:
Shearer needs someone – be it his new office manager or some other functionary – to do Heather Simpson’s old “H2” job of keeping order and administering tough love to various caucus members on the leader’s behalf... I’ll bet no one remotely scary has been to ask Cunliffe what the hell he thought he was doing making his own State of the Nation address. Suffice it to say, he’d have found parts of his anatomy detachable had he tried this under Clark.
 I said much the same back here, way before Shearer took over from Goff.

And in other news, seven new episodes of The Thick of It have been written and will be broadcast later this year.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Television Man

A fine piece of Landmark Television appeared on public service television earlier in the week. Maori Television's Native Affairs held a special one hour show on the Tuhoe Terror Raids and subsequent trials, by media and in the courts. You can watch it here, or read some excellent reviews here, here and here.

Julian Wilcox led an informative hour. The Urewera 4 had their say. Police mouth Greg O'Connor's Angry Dick monologue warmed things up nicely and the panel's four talking heads had enough time to say their respective piece.

Unlike, for example, this from Q&A the other week:
PAUL  Well, look, I can remember sitting over there on the other side of the studio having debate after debate after debate when Helen Clark was trying to get rid of the cigarette sponsorship on the racing cars, when she was trying to get the smoking out of the offices, and to a lot of people it seemed kooky, nanny state.  Out of the bars nanny state.
BOB  Yeah, drugs is one.
BRYCE  And I'm not sure that were going down the opposite
RON  And, Bob
PAUL  Well, the war on
RON  You're probably one who would like Don Brash, would advocate decriminalising
BOB  No, I'm not Don Brash.
RON  Decriminalising dope.  Well, dope is
BOB  Don't go there. I'm not talking about
RON  No, but its the same you're talking smoking and you're talking about social well-being of our populace.
BOB  Uh-huh.
RON  You can't
BOB  And the health of the country.
Jesus, Paul, Bob and Ron.  You don't have to be stoned to be a rude bastard. That wasn't Landmark so much as Landfill TV. Will someone put that dithering Holmes out to pasture and get someone who can generate content other than Kafka?

The imminent death of TVNZ7 was marked early in the week at an Auckland meeting with a mock funeral. The coffin was a nice touch, but the dreary hymns were laying it on a bit thick. The people at TVNZ7 aren't going out with a dirge. No sirree, they're going out guns blazing. As Brit butter patsie John Lyndon once noted long ago, anger is an energy.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Blaming the wrong drug

It's a bit of a surprise to see Wellington coroner Ian Smith declaring Lisa McMillan's death a methamphetamine overdose:
The coroner ruled her death it was due to a brain haemorrhage as a result of methamphetamine toxicity. He did not make any recommendations following the death.
The conclusion is surprising, because the Law Commission's Controlling & Regulating Drugs Discussion Document made it clear that there had been no reported cases of meth OD in NZ:
2.51 There are no known deaths due to methamphetamine overdose in New Zealand. However, large doses can cause potentially life-threatening conditions, such as hyperthermia, renal and liver failure, cardiac arrhythmias, heart attacks, cerebrovascular haemorrhages, strokes and seizures. Toxic reactions can occur irrespective of “dose, frequency of use or route of administration, and have been reported with small amounts and on the first occasion of use”.
 Cerebrovascular haemorrhages can also be caused by paracetamol, fatal overdoses of which are chronically under-reported in the media compared to illegal drugs:

You might note that meth doesn't make it onto this list either. It is not a drug known for overdoses.

The last graf in this report on Ms McMillan hints at another cause of death:
While both her partner and brother had noticed she seemed to be taking an excessive amount of Panadol in the months leading up to her death, she had no history of drug or alcohol use. 
 But we can't go blaming legal drugs. Not while there's an illegal scapegoat at hand.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Mexican Radio

Funny thing about governments; they're all keen on prohibition right up until the moment they aren't. Take, for example, the US appetite for Mexican food:
As long as Mexican food has existed in this country, government has tried to legislate it out of existence. This is partly because of stereotypes but mostly because government is government. The resulting underground Mexican food economy, meanwhile, has birthed some of the cuisine’s most innovative trends. 
It's this same US racist leanings that first saw cannabis prohibition in the 1920's, seeing how the blacks and Hispanics preferred reefer madness to whiskey tremens. Ironic really, considering that you will never find the perfect taco in a franchise store. Only that Yank diet of orange gloop they call cheese, and unfeasibly large cups of lolly water.

Recipe for Zippy's Nachos El Grandes soon ( a la Che Tibby). It's mouth-wateringly good and eye-wateringly bad, but it's more work putting a RastaChef post together than you might think. The lens keeps fogging up and the lighting budget is Lilliputian. But the Slow Cooking movement is like the civil service. In the fullness of time and all.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Laughing Stock

It seems the diversionary flares have failed. Non-existent boat people had a shot fired over their bow by National. The shot was fired 3500 miles away from the nearest bow, but at least potential boat people in the deepest parts of Indonesia, India and Papua New Guinea now know that the NZ government won't treat them lightly if they decide to darken our shores with their foreign habits.

Sponge Nurse Paula Bennett has offered one million dollars towards WINZ case workers becoming family planning advisors, setting off feminist and liberal umbrage that will erode next election's female vote like spermicidal jelly on priest underwear. I'm all for contraception, condoms offered freely at high schools and so forth. Surely Vote Health for Community Services Card holders would have been a safer bet?

Then again, without this good policy poorly delivered, we wouldn't have Colin Craig's biblical viewpoint to mock. The Cargo Cult Christian Party is now being treated seriously by the MSM due to the lack of seriousness of Act's John Banks, another Christian with a thorn his side (more of a massive prick, really). Jane Clifton has a nice obituary for Act out at the Listener which is worth a read.

Then there's John Key keeping public morale up during his crash test dummy run to budget surplus in two years, telling school kids that if any of them wants his job they can have it. Because, frankly, he's getting a bit sick of it, actually. Surely bets are being taken somewhere on how long it'll take between Key leaving the job and disappearing off over the horizon again.

If the captain of NZ Inc is getting sea sickness and looking at the lifeboats wistfully, what hope is there for the plebs in steerage? Better off overseas, eh. Shame I'm a patriot who doesn't travel well. I'm stuck here like an extra in Bladerunner.

Friday, May 04, 2012

Super City, Mega Donations

The Don Brash death rattle known as John Banks staggers on, each step cracking open yet another cans of worms.

Take, for example, the helicopter sized hole in the local body election laws which National and Act failed to patch properly when the SuperCity project was rushed into reality. It was under these laws, endorsed by Nact, that Banks tried and failed to gain the mayor's job.

While the monetary thresholds were adjusted in the legislation, no tidying of local body electoral law really occurred, making the rules governing the SuperCity elections largely the same as the ones governing the election of the mayor of Masterton.

The self-inflicted loophole sprang readily to mind while listening to NatRad's Focus on Politics, which had Key saying that the John Dot Banks mess is neither his nor his government's responsibility. Oh yes it is! They wrote it off, they own it.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

We Are All Made Of Stars

 Stuff's sub-editors get a bit CSI anthropomorphic with the blurb above. The article is dry as dust, but I can understand the attempt to sex up the story. Try getting people to switch off the reality shows and pay attention to the wonders of reality is noble, but real stars are no match for the fake ones on TV.

Few people are struck by the wonder that alchemy is possible, although turning lead into gold, like fusion, still costs more in inputs that you get in outputs. It is the same process of cosmic recycling, pushing hydrogen into ever weightier elements, that created our world. All the complex elements here could not have formed merely from our sun's vomit alone. We are all made of stars but that amazing fact won't sell the toothpaste and tampons.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Slouching towards Zardoz

The 21st Century continues heading towards its bifurcation into Zardozian awfulness with the visit to New Zealand by United States Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano. Body bombers are the threat du jour, apparently. That is, if you don't count all the nutjobs enabled by US enforcement entrapping them with offers of C4 and so forth.

There's a glimmer of hope for frequent business travellers and other Friends of America:
While warning on potential security threats, Napolitano also hinted that travel between the United States and New Zealand could be streamlined for frequent travellers. Ahead of a meeting with Prime Minister John Key, Napolitano said she would be viewing the "smart gate" system that operates between Australia and New Zealand tomorrow.
Of course, cattle class TSA screening will continue for the rest of the mob, where grandmother crotch anomalies just add to the holidaying experiences. Here's Vanity Vair with some long form journalism on how all that security blanket is a waste of money. Something to read at the airport while you're waiting for your pre-flight anal probe and mouth swab.