Thursday, 29 March 2012

Under Pressure

Must suck to be Judith Collins, these days.  Yet again she was the subject of three questions in parliament today, and had to resort to the "not in the public interest" defence, to the disgust of the various opposition parties.
What I want to know is how the issue is "in the public interest" according the the PM (well, the double dipper on behalf of the PM) in Question One, yet by Question Three the ACC Minister is hot on the "not in the public interest" trail.  How does that work?
As for the revelations on Close Up tonight, we will see where they go.  National look more and more like a foundering ship (big political parties rarely sink) and I can't help but think:
we will soon see another resignation, or several more resignations, and
that was one mighty expensive cup of tea.  It cost the wrath of the media, and for that price National get, ummm, John Banks.  lol.  These guys are giving clowns a bad name.


And what's up with suing Radio NZ?  If Mrs Collins succeeds (and she won't), who pays for that?  Sounds like more taxpayer funding for the Minister, in addition to her salary and perks.  What would Radio NZ do, increase their advertising?  Try to monetize the "Save Radio NZ" facebook page?


So again I wonder, why is the person who has been a central figure* in the creation of the current "how not to guide to privacy" also responsible for the review of privacy laws?
*I am not suggesting Mrs Collins is responsible for any leaks.

Down the Road

The problem, as yet unmentioned, with hydraulic fracturing, is not just the toxic nature of the chemicals used, or
the changes it creates in the ground.
The construction of fracking wells creates a long term (and by this I mean "forever") maintenance issue.  At the surface it's easy enough to maintain the well casing, but below the surface, and especially where the well punches through confining layers, the wells can, do and will fail.  In ten years, or fifty years, or one hundred years.  We won't know abut it until we find contamination in aquifers.
Down the road (and after all the money's gone), it won't be the company who did the fracking paying to fix the broken well casing, and clean the contaminated aquifer.  If the company still exists (and that in itself is a big if), most likely they will say "there's no proof we did it".  Unfortunately for the National Party, there's Hansard showing they could have stopped fracking, and chose not to.  They can't even use the "it seemed like a good idea, at the time" excuse.
I had to laugh at the Minister suggesting Mr Hughes was a hypocrite for opposing fracking, because Mr Hughes had surely, at some point in his lifetime, benefited from fossil fuels and therefore had no right to express a contrary opinion.  Based on that logic, the National government have no right to restrict access to the government's largesse in the areas of welfare (for Ms Bennett) or state housing (for Mr Key).  However, it's crap logic and National can legitimately make changes.  All this means is that the arguments against the changes need to rely on things like logical arguments and quantifiable evidence.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Private Emotion

Why does the idea of Judith Collins being responsible for the review and update of the Privacy Act make me nervous, rather than reassured?  It's my own little vote of no-confidence in the Minister.

Blaze of Glory

mickeysavage suggests that Nick Smith was "shot by friendly fire"
I'm not convinced, for reasons I will explain.
Essentially the two events are, in a sense, independent.  Without the email breach of privacy, the letters written by Dr Smith were still in breach of the Cabinet Manual and were grounds for resignation.  The email breach of privacy was the method by which the breach of the Cabinet Manual came to light, however the emails breach of privacy could (and probably would) have occurred, even in the absence of the letters from Dr Smith.  Ultimately, Dr Smith was forced to resign his ministerial portfolios due to his own shortcomings, not shot by friendly fire.
And this leads to the interesting bits.
While they appear to be homogeneous from the outside, the National Party are as fractured and factionalised as any other big political party.  It has been suggested that Judith Collins won't particularly care that Nick Smith became collateral damage.  It has been further suggested that Mrs Collins holds leadership ambitions.  Friends come and go, enemies accumulate.  And while National are trying desperately to present a united front, the finger-pointing behind the scenes must be phenomenal.  I'd suggest that Mrs Collins does care, in the way that the self-absorbed individualistic ideology supported by National requires.  If John Key does manage to plaster over the cracks and holes, and prevent an acute crisis in his government (and I'd not be surprised if he did manage) the repercussions will echo around the party for years.  This is a chronic problem for National.
iPredict, a grubby sandbox with a shiny cover that I avoid like the plague (and find Trevor Mallard's slavish following of it bemusing), has raised its odds on another minister departing before the end of the year.  Question time had Mrs Collins in a tight spot again today.  It has been suggested, around the blogs, that there may be some wiggle room in the answers.  There is none.  John Key hesitated over Nick Smith, and came under some intense scrutiny as a result.  He can't afford to do so if Mrs Collins is found to have been less than truthful about the leaking of Ms Pullar's identity, or they will both suffer the same fate.  And all that that brings.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012


Robert Winter has done a good job of following the POA vs. MUNZ dispute, and has called it for MUNZ at least a week or two back.
POA have been back-tracking for about the same period (note - I'm not suggesting causation) and today's court decision continues the trend.  Curiously, Granny has not updated with the outcome.  It's almost like she's on the side of....nah, couldn't be.

Who's Next

I was pretty happy to see a Minister gone last week.  It seemed possible at the time that that would be the end of it.  Possibly due to a combination of other things on my mind and a lack of insight.  Meanwhile....
Debate at The Standard is overflowing with conspiracy theories.  Unlike the previous 9/11 nutter theories, I'm inclined to believe there is significant internal strife in the National Party.
In parliament, Grant Robertson got Judith Collins to paint herself into a corner.  It will only take a little leak to bring a complaint to the privileges committee, based on her answers, and there will be another minister gone.  And there's a fairly good chance of a little leak, there are some bruised egos in the National caucus tonight.  Nick Smith, for example, wants an enquiry to clear his name.
Whatever happens, this ACC privacy breach looks like it has legs.

Drug Ballad

While I was looking for the costs of running the Prime Minister's office I came across this report.
My views on "drugs" are not well received by my conservative-as-hell colleagues, being a liberal in a conservative profession is like being a round peg in a square hole.
A browse through the report shows the "War On P", yet another minor battle in the "War on Drugs", has resulted in not very much.
The report piqued my interest, due to its attempt to quantify success in statistical terms.  I don't intend to pull the report to bits with an argument on the merits of the data manipulation (partially because the description of he methodology is too poor).  Suffice to say that I am sceptical about any purportedly "good" statistical analysis that begins by referring to data as a singular.  The singular form is datum; its plural form is data.
Enough of that - the report shows that the various measures have varied little since the baseline year, 2006.  The exception is the wholesale bulk price, which has risen by 20% since 2006.  That's about 3.7% per year.  Now, what was the inflation rate over the corresponding period?  About 3 or 4 percent.
Back to the war on drugs - it's time to quit while we are behind and try something that actually works.


Relating to drugs, a confession:
I'm as dull as dishwater when it comes to intoxicants.  For fifteen years, or thereabouts, I've had alcohol up to in moderation less than monthly, no tobacco and nothing illegal.
Yet I was outraged when I was told I will be required to sign a workplace policy that requires me to provide a sample for testing to prove I am drug free.  Refusal to provide a sample means I head down the same path as someone who returns a positive sample.
First response, when outrage was expressed, was "if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear"
Followed by "everyone else is required to, too"
A decent discussion has lead me to believe that logic will not prevail in this instance.
I have nothing to hide, but I still don't want to be compelled.  My initial response will be passive resistance.
Weird juxtaposition: later in the day the boss was tapping his desk to Jefferson Airplane - "White Rabbit".

I'm Just A Patsy

Cameron Brewer has a whinge about the cost of running the mayor's office.
National, the party that espouses smaller government and gave us bigger government in Auckland, are the people to target complaints to.  Not only was the amalgamation in Auckland a stupid idea, it runs counter to the  ideals of the party.
Hint to Cameron - it's a big city, so it will have big budgets.
Looks like the $3.2m is a bit of a bargain when it's compared to the PM's office.  I doubt Mr Brewer will head down that particular route, at least not until after the next general election.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Expecting To Fly

Nick Smith resigned, POA are in retreat, the MFAT restructuring being restructured, all the opposition parties showing form in parliament.  The teflon has well and truly worn off, and we are left with a lightweight and poisonous tool.
My happy day is here again.  Almost


Avonside Drive.  Most of it is heart-breakingly bad, but the trees along the river caught the setting sun and for a fleeting moment were prettier than the last of the unpruned roses in the abandoned gardens.  The people, the few who remain, are without exception friendly.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Gut Feeling

Local government has always interested me.
The debate, if one can call it that, has consisted mostly of dog-whistles from the government.  The whole "rates have risen too quickly, therefore we must intervene in this manner" meme is so full of flaws I have a whole lot of  half-written posts attacking the individual wrongness of it all.
In amongst all the hoohaa about rates rises, staff costs rises and debt rises, there are some unasked and unanswered questions.  I'd like to know:
how much has the contracting out of services increased since [arbitrary time period, selected to emphasize the point]?, and
how much has the cost of contracted services increased over the same time period?
My gut feeling is that it will be easy enough to demonstrate the cost of contracting out has risen faster than the rise in rates.  This implies that councils have become more efficient, rather than less.
Let the pendulum swing.

Got to be Guilty

The Urewera Four were a subject I'd avoided commenting on until the trial was complete.  The verdicts were as I expected, my hope is that the sentencing judge will have the sense not to impose custodial sentences, or preferably, the police do not seek custodial sentences.
Come the first weekend of May there will be plenty of dickheads wandering about with firearms and bottles full of flamable liquids, shooting off their weapons and grumbling to each other about how awful the government is. They are called "farmers" and the occasion is the opening of duck hunting season, so the Police might not be that interested.  But frame it the right way and they sound a bit like terrorists.


And thank goodness he is gone.  I can't think of a single good thing Nick Smith has done.  Amongst engineers he is lauded for his work on the law reforming the recognition of professional engineering, via the Chartered Professional Engineers Act, but even that was a piece of crap.
His indiscretions, as a Minister, come down two possibilities.  Either he did not know sending the letters in question was wrong, or he knew and did it anyway.  One is woefully ignorant, the other is blatantly corrupt.  Either way, he had to go.
(photo credit - Otago Daily Times)

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow: Owen McShane

Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow: Owen McShane
Robert Winter expresses his thoughts on the passing of Owen McShane.  Owen was an intelligent and articulate man; his death is a loss to New Zealand, my condolences to his family

Stuff and Nonsense

Question One today contained two stunningly dumb answers
Half way through the exchange the Prime Minister explains how much his cat loves him.
And toward the end we get this gem:
 I stand by the principle that principles are very important
For goodness sake, the National Party has produced some respectable Prime Ministers who have shown intelligence, wit and sound judgement.  This bloke is an embarrassment.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Chop Me In Half

Rod Oram gets it right, in part.
In a nutshell, the increase in local government debt has been driven mostly by what is politely referred to as "deferred maintenance".  What he means is that for decades local authorities let their infrastructure decay, to keep rates rises down.
This approach of undertaking minimal maintenance only works for so long.  One day your children and grandchildren actually have to pay to stop it breaking down so much.  Not maintaining systems, deferring costs into the future, is borrowing from future generations.  That "one day" has been the last decade, where we have seen a combination of rates rises, cushioned by increasing local government debt (another form of borrowing from future generations).
Ultimately the solution is in the hands of the electorate of each local government.  It would be nice to see central government keep out of local government, except perhaps to provide information.  Rather than doing the nanny-state-National thing and deciding it knows better than I do about the governance of my local area.
It would be nice to think that the mess that Kaipara District Council and Dunedin City Council find themselves in is not used as an excuse to implement National's poorly thought through agenda.
Footnote - I disagree with Mr Oram's ideas that we are over-governed, and to this end I think amalgamation is not the right solution to the problems faced by local government.  If anything we need de-amalgamation, to make local government more local.

Monday, 5 March 2012

Desert Where Her Heart Is

Two more of the cheer-leaders of the right have been attacking beneficiaries in the last day or so.  Yes, confirming their places amongst the heartless are Lindsay Mitchell and Deborah Coddington.
Amusingly, while they both come from a similar ideological view-point, and both express abhorent views, they also contradict each other.
Lindsay Mitchell attempts a fisk of various opponents of the government's proposed changes, and gets pretty poor results.
But the question put to the Prime Minister by Green MP Metiria Turei , asked why was the government "intent on forcing single parents with little babies as young as 12 months" into work? The answer is to discourage women from adding babies to their benefit.
Well, no, that's not the answer, for several reasons.  The proposed requirement is that mothers are "ready for part time work when their child is twelve months old".  With National's success at increasing unemployment and decreasing the number of jobs, being ready for work and working are quite different things.  Babies are, quite frankly, a pain in the backside, and a lot of hard work.  Having a baby for "economic reasons" is not something that happens in New Zealand any more, hence the decrease in average births per woman since the 1960s.  Anyone who has a baby to be better off financially is either:

  • in a pretty dire financial situation already (and trying to punish them by cuts to social welfare is misguided), or
  • only going to make that mistake once.

Or both of the above.
Despite the article headline being about helping children, Mitchell dedicates most of her opinion-piece to methods of punishing mothers.  So I remain unenlightened as to how decreasing the amount of support provided to mothers actually helps children.  As I see it, Lindsay Mitchell doesn't care about children at all.  What she wants is for poor people to not have children at all.
And there is no mention of fathers.  For Mitchell, somehow, fathers are not part of the equation at all.
As we head toward the end of opnion-piece we get the raw ideology.
Freedom of choice is what the reforms are essentially about re-balancing. True freedom of choice can't encroach on someone else's. Most voters are behind the reforms because they feel unfairly treated when one group is allowed to make a choice that they are denied. Why is it fair for single parents to be supported to stay at home indefinitely when most partnered parents go back to work quite quickly?
Lindsay and I disagree fundamentally about the first sentence - I think the reforms are an attempt to reimpose an outdated sexist moral code and to make a show of trying to save money (by transferring the costs to the health and justice budgets, and to individuals and insurance companies).
The second sentence is straight rubbish - all freedom of choice encroaches on some else's freedom of choice.  In this case the proposal is to legislate to reduce the freedom of choice of women on the DPB.  And in doing so, encroach on the freedom of choice of children.  This is, in Lindsay Mitchell's world, a way of helping these children.  Bizarre.
Hard to believe, but the third sentence worse than the second.  An unsupported statement ("Most voters are behind the reforms..." - proof please).  The inability to distinguish between voters and citizens, though if you do not believe in society it is an easy enough mistake to make.  And outright lies ("...when  one group is allowed to make a choice they are denied.); the DPB is available to anyone who meets the eligibility criteria. One criterion is "not in a relationship"; if one of Mitchell's disenchanted voters wants to go on the DPB, they can, if they ditch their partner.  The thing is that most people choose not to (that freedom of choice thing again) because, in the circumstances they find themselves in, it's better to stay with their partner.
The DPB is, for most of its recipients, a last resort and a temporary measure.  Punishing all the recipients based on the perceived failings of a select few recipients is sheer bloody-minded stupidity.
And the final quoted sentence - sorry, I stopped reading at "wah wah, it's not fair."  This line of argument  is too poor to be used so bluntly by any serious commentator.  Actually, its use is quite fitting, then.

Deborah Coddington's opinion-piece is more coherent.  She outlines the miserable lives the parents of abused children live.  There's no suggestion that the important decisions in their lives involve rational thinking.  And acknowledgement that there is a disconnect, at a fundamental level, of the link between cause and effect.  All of which I have seen personally, and I agree.
But the opinion-piece has a few other note-worthy features:

  • The cringe-inducing use of what Coddington sees as the lingua franca of the stereotypical abusive parent.
  • The dog-whistling use of rhetorical questions, and
  • The inability to see beyond the ideological straitjacket that requires:
  • the mother of an abused child to carry all the responsibility, and
  • the only valid family structure is the nuclear (dad, mum and two point five children) family.

Another couple of cowardly attacks on the defenseless - what next.  Oh yeah, more of the same until at least 2014.

If Things Were Perfect

The Anglican Church have decided to demolish their cathedral in Christchurch.  Cr Aaron Keown is upset.
It's their cathedral, and it's their decision to make.  I loved the old cathedral, it was a beautiful part of the city.  If things were perfect then it would be rebuilt looking exactly the same, but now earthquake-proof.  But they are not.
I'm quietly admiring the bravery of the Bishop, it must have been an agonising decision, and I can see that other organisations would have asked for a hand-out.  Instead the collected thoughtfulness and confidence shown, in what are  uncertain times, is admirable.  So good luck to Cr Keown with his proposed televised debate; his likely opponents look to be formidable.
The earthquakes in Canterbury have been transformational events.  Things will never be the same;  that includes the cathedral.  I trust that a new structure will be built, and that it will be an appropriate centre-piece for the city.

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Mr Telephone Man

Yabba are some form of brand owned by Telecom. I've been puzzling over their advertising for some time. The advertisement is for a pre-paid international calling card, and what strikes me is that the most expensive place to place a call to is New Zealand.
The differences are significant, depending on the country it's three to five times more expensive to place a call within New Zealand. How can that be right? I am compelled to believe that Telecom are taking advantage of their yabba card customers.
We are told that private business is better because it is more competitive and efficient, due to the profit motive. In this instance the profit motive is abundantly clear. It's the efficiency that is noticeably absent.

Friday, 2 March 2012

Losing My Religion

I'm constantly fascinated in people's belief in, and reverence of, money.  It seems to be some form of religion.
"Economic grounds" are used to justify all sorts of bizarre stuff, without a hint of common sense.  Previously when there was no other explanation, some form of deity was assigned responsibility.
We dedicate whole sections of our media, newspapers, TV, radio, internet etc. to "the economy"
The wealthy are to be respected, because their wealth demonstrates that they understand the new deity, money.
We have places of worship where the deity lives, previously referred to as churches and now called banks.
We have symbols of the deity, previously crosses, stars or statues, now called currency
I quit this religion.  Money is little pieces of metal, sheets of plastic and some record kept on a server somewhere.  That's all.
The real rich have true friends, and the skills to stay alive under wildly changing circumstances, like being able to feed themselves and their family, and provide them with shelter and warmth, without taking from others or the environment in an unsustainable manner.  The wealthy only have money.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

It Doesn't Change

Thank goodness National haven't suggested vouchers as part of welfare reform.  Vouchers are just another form of currency, but their restrictions means their face value is less than the cash equivalent.  I can't believe anyone thinks they are a good idea.

This Is The Way

Bob Parker may have found his calling - raising awareness of disaster preparedness.
From what I have heard, his presentation to the Emergency Management Conference was very good.
Truth is there are many good people who would make a better mayor of Christchurch than Bob, and Bob could make a real go of this public speaking thing, based on his experience.  It's what's called a win-win situation.