More on the Oxfam stupidity

There is so much critical comment on the rubbish from Oxfam on wealth inequality, it is hard to know where to start.

Let us start with Fusion:

The result is that if you use Oxfam’s methodology, my niece, with 50 cents in pocket money, has more wealth than the bottom 40% of the world’s population combined. As do I, and as do you, most likely, assuming your net worth is positive. You don’t need to find eight super-wealthy billionaires to arrive at a shocking wealth statistic; you can take just about anybody.

Obviously the niece must have her 50 cents taken off her and redistributed.

Consider this: Would you rather have $75,000 in the bank and no debt and no degree, or $75,000 in the bank and $75,000 in student loans and a four-year college degree? As far as the Oxfam methodology is concerned, the difference is enormous: The person with $75,000 and no debt is in the top 10% of the world’s wealth distribution, while the person with the college degree is in the bottom 10%. And yet there’s a right answer to the question: You’re much better off with $75,000 in debt and a college degree than you are with no debt at all.

Oxfam would count a 24 year old Harvard medical graduate as being in the bottom 10% with negative net wealth. However the intangible asset of his or her degree will allow them to earn millions of dollars.

Stats Chat comments:

These are graduates from the Keck School of Medicine, at the University of Southern California, who owe an average of over US$200,000 in student loans.  By the Credit Suisse definition of wealth inequality they have less wealth than people living in poorly-maintained state housing in south Auckland. They have less wealth than immigrant agricultural workers in southern California. They have less wealth than subsistence farmers in Chad.

So a subsistence farmer in Chad has more wealth by this definition.

Danyl McL also works out a flaw:

Won’t the country’s poorest people be heavily indebted, and basically anyone with positive equity own more than all of them put together?

Yep.

Eric Crampton also has a blog on the Oxfam nonsense.

Communist China now more pro free trade than the US

The Herald reports:

Chinese President Xi Jinping cautioned against protectionism as he pushed back against criticism of globalisation by Donald Trump and other Western populists.

“Protectionism is like locking yourself in a dark room, which would seem to escape wind and rain, but also block out the sunshine,” Xi told the World Economic Forum on Tuesday, the first Chinese head of state to address the annual gathering in the Alpine resort town of Davos. “No one is a winner in a trade war.”

Xi used his speech to support a global economic order that has helped fuel China’s almost four-decade economic boom. While a surge in protectionist sentiment threatens to slow the engine of China’s growth, it also offers Xi a chance to advance his goal of shaping global economic systems.

What a funny world where we live where the leader of the Communist Party of China is more pro free trade than the leader of the Republican Party of the United States.

Sad!

UK Brexit strategy – exit the common market

Stuff reports:

Britain will quit the European Union’s single market when it exits the bloc, Prime Minister Theresa May said on Tuesday, in a decisive speech that quashed speculation she would seek a compromise deal to stay inside the world’s biggest trading bloc.

Setting out a vision that could chart Britain’s future for generations, May answered criticism that she has been coy about her plans with a direct pitch for a clean break, widely known in Britain as a “hard Brexit”.

May promised to seek the greatest possible access to European markets. But she also said Britain would aim to establish its own free trade deals with countries far beyond Europe, and to impose limits on immigration from the continent.

This is no surprise. To stay in the common market would mean freedom of movement and restrictions on immigration is what many wanted in voting Brexit.

Note you can be very pro immigration but against uncontrolled immigration.

May has set out four “principles” that will guide her approach to Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union, and defined 12 negotiating objectives.

CERTAINTY AND CLARITY:
* Providing certainty for business and the public sector whenever possible as negotiations take place

A STRONGER BRITAIN
* Taking back control of British law, ending jurisdiction of European Court of Justice
* Strengthening the union between the four nations of the United Kingdom
* Maintaining the common travel area between Ireland and the UK

A FAIRER BRITAIN:
* Controlling immigration to Britain from Europe
* Guaranteeing rights of EU citizens already living in Britain and rights of British nationals living in the EU as early as possible
* Ensure workers’ rights are fully protected and maintained

A GLOBAL BRITAIN:
* Pursuing a new, bold, comprehensive and ambitious free trade agreement with the EU with greatest possible access to the single market, without membership of it. Pursuing customs deal with the EU to ensure cross-border trade with Europe is as “frictionless as possible”
* Pursuing new trade agreements with the rest of the world
* Remaining a top destination for science, research and innovation
* Reaching practical arrangements with the EU for cooperation on law enforcement, terrorism, foreign affairs, foreign and defence policy
* Phased implementation approach delivering a smooth and orderly Brexit, seeking to ‘avoid a cliff edge’ disruption.

The two year countdown is due to be triggered by 31 March.

Against affordable housing

Stuff reports:

An Auckland beneficiary has been brought to tears after hundreds of people turned out to support her eviction fight.

Ioela Ana Rauti, also known as ‘Niki’, is refusing to accept an eviction notice from her home of over 30 years.

On October 12 the Tamaki Regeneration Company (TRC) handed her a 90-day eviction notice to vacate her two-bedroom home, in Taniwha St in Glen Innes.

TRC is a housing development company jointly owned by the Government and Auckland Council.

Rauti’s home is one of 2800 state houses TRC has earmarked to be replaced with 7500 new homes over the next 15 years.

So this will provide an extra 4,700 government owned homes in Auckland. Yet she thinks her rights as a tenant are more important than the government’s ability to provide more homes.

Rauti, who lives on a government benefit, said she moved to the Taniwha St home in 1985 to look after her sick mum.

Her mum died in 1992, and since then Rauti has been issued several eviction notices from Housing New Zealand, which owned the state house before it was transferred to TRC.

So it appears she has not worked in 32 years and has had a free (or at least massively subsidised) house from the taxpayer all that time.

Rauti said she understood TRC will relocate her to one of the new homes in its Glenn Innes development but after inspecting some options, she’s adamant that none of them are good enough.

Of course not.

And they offered me a two-storey home but I have a heart problem, I am old – how am I supposed to get around?

Oh God you can’t possibly use stairs with a heart condition.

“It’s about the freedom to choose where you want to live – they are taking that freedom away from us.”

You only get the freedom to choose where you want to live if you own a home. A state house is not a house for life.

TRC housing general manager Neil Porteous said Rauti has been offered five properties over the past four months.

“We are currently holding a new warm, dry home nearby for her.

“We have not received any feedback from Ms Rauti on the houses we have offered her. We welcome her getting in touch with us to discuss her needs.”

So she won’t even talk to TRC.

 

Yardley on youth drinking dropping

Mike Yardley writes:

Over the barren news slumber of the summer holiday period, it’s always intriguing to see what dubious university research pieces, and the outlandish claims they support, are strategically wheeled out as guaranteed headline-grabbers. 

By February, such strident attempts to secure the elixir of news coverage would be long gone. This summer’s gold medal performance would have to go to the Department of Public Health researchers at the University of Otago’s Wellington campus (UOW).

Their study, published in the latest NZ Medical Journal, assessed the nature and scope of alcohol sport sponsorship over a summer of televised sport in New Zealand. They dissected five major sporting events televised two years ago, including cricket, tennis, football and rugby league.  

“Audiences were exposed to between 1.6 and 3.8 alcohol brand exposures per minute. For three out of the five events alcohol brands were visible for almost half of the game,” the study reports.  

And they want it banned. Ditto for the Greens, who ride the same expedient bandwagon, waging war against booze and fast food, while pledging to legalise recreational cannabis.

Ban everything!

These public health researchers, without offering the barest shred of evidence, would have you believe that somehow this juggernaut of alcohol brand exposure, pissing all over televised sport, is fuelling under-age drinking and binge-drinking.

The inconvenient truth is that the latest Ministry of Health statistics clearly indicate a continuing slide in general alcohol consumption – and its abuse. 

According to their data, the rate of hazardous drinking among 15 to 17 year olds has dropped to 21 per cent, while among 18 to 24 year olds, hazardous drinking has dipped from 49 per cent to 36 per cent in five years.

An inconvenient truth.

Trump vows America First

Donald Trump is now the 45th President of the United States. His inauguration speech was highly protectionist, pledging America First. Some extracts:

We assembled here today are issuing a new decree to be heard in every city, in every foreign capital, and in every hall of power. From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land. From this day forward, it’s going to be only America first, America first.

Winston should sue for copyright.

Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs will be made to benefit American workers and American families. We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies and destroying our jobs.

Protection will lead to great prosperity and strength.

Actually protectionism is a miserable failure.

We will follow two simple rules; buy American and hire American.

Trump of course himself has most of his products made in China.

Happy 60th birthday Scott Base

Friday was the 60th birthday of Scott Base. As readers will know I was at Scott Base a year ago, for its 59th birthday, so have been thinking a lot about my time here.

On the physical side, I was hugely impressed with Scott Base. It is small and compact but far superior (in my opinion) to the huge McMurdo. Having all the buildings inter-connected is great.

Also the sense of history with Hillary’s Hut having been renovated, as one of the first premises on Antarctica.

But what I still think about is the work done by the Kiwi scientists down in Antarctica. Unlike me, they don’t spend all their time at Scott Base. After a couple of days there, they head out in tents around the continent to do their science whether it be counting whales, mapping sensitive areas with drones, drilling through the core to find out what the climate was thousands of years ago and much more. It’s a raw and tough environment, but an amazing one.

The other thing I recall is how diligent the Antarctica NZ team were at preserving the environment – right down to having to pee in a bottle and have it shipped back to New Zealand.

So Happy Birthday Scott Base. The week I spent down there is one I will never forget.

Black market tobacco a growing problem

Stuff reports:

There is a high risk New Zealand’s tobacco black market could grow significantly, costing the Government over $10 million a year, a declassified document says.

A Stuff investigation last year, which included a reporter purchasing 80 grams of the illicit product, highlighted how easy it is to buy illegal tobacco online.

Police have also raised concerns the black market is fuelling armed robberies and burglaries in Christchurch.

This shows the problems of increasing taxes on a product. There comes a point where more and more people turn to the illegal black market.

Increased excise taxes on tobacco are and have been an effective way of reducing the numbers who smoke. I’m supportive of them. But tax alone won’t do it. If you keep increasing the tax, you’ll keep growing the black market.

The document outlined a possible scenario in which the market could reach a “tipping point” – where illegal tobacco is so much cheaper than legal tobacco that the market begins to boom.

It goes like this: increasing tobacco thefts, illegally imported tobacco, and sales of home-grown tobacco lead to an increased illicit supply.

The increased supply causes the price of illegal tobacco to drop.

The black market increases as cash-strapped smokers turn to illicit sources, therefore making New Zealand an attractive destination for illicit tobacco imports.

This is why the Government can’t rely on tax increases alone and should look to make reduced harm products such as e-cigarettes easier to purchase than normal cigarettes.

Media coverage suggested the black market tobacco trade is booming across the ditch, with reports it is worth more than $1 billion.

Organised criminals are attracted by the huge money at stake and the softer penalties compared to those for importing and dealing drugs.

Customs estimated that black market tobacco made up 2 to 3 per cent of the New Zealand tobacco market, compared with Australia where it was over 14 per cent.

So the question is how do we avoid the Australian experience?

Greg O’Connor for Labour

The Herald reports:

Labour leader Andrew Little has confirmed discussions between the party and former Police Association president Greg O’Connor – saying O’Connor “lines up perfectly” with Labour’s calls for better police resourcing.

True they agree there. But Labour has opposed many many Government policies that O’Connor supported. For example their current policy is to abolish the three strikes law. I’m pretty sure O’Connor was a supporter of that.

$150 a begging – above the living wage!

Stuff reports:

A west Auckland beggar who says he makes up to $150 a day claims a “begging syndicate” aggressively targets shoppers.

Conrad is one of a number of beggars in Henderson’s Lincoln North Plaza. Some of the other beggars – shoppers complain – are aggressive and allegedly work as part of a begging “syndicate”.

Conrad, who did not want to give a surname, says he is one of at least six beggars who consider the plaza “their spot”. He claims he earns between $100 and $150 a day begging at the mall. 

Why work when you can get more money begging?

He says he is not aggressive when he begs. “I just ask,” he said.

A local retailer, who requested not to be named, says the beggars use scare tactics and shout at people who do not give them money. 

“Most of our customers just give them loose change because they are too scared.” 

So it is stand over tactics.

Baird resigns

The Herald reports:

Close to tears, New South Wales premier Mike Baird has revealed the ill health of his parents and sister has contributed to his shock decision to resign.

Baird unexpectedly released a statement on Twitter this morning saying that after 10 years in politics, he had decided to retire from public life.

At a media conference in Sydney soon after, an emotional Baird said the ill health of his parents and sister had contributed to the shock decision.

“There is a strong personal cost that comes in public life,” he said.

There certainly is. But still unusual to resign after less than three years as Premier.

Unlike Key who left with very high approval ratings, Baird had got quite unpopular by giving in to the wowsers. He tried to ban greyhound racing and introduced liquor laws that killed off Sydney nightlife and have been very unpopular. Everything the Police and public health activists have been demanding in NZ they got in NSW, and it has killed Sydney nightlife.

It is a lesson to NZ politicians who might be tempted to do the same.

Public Polls December 2016

Note only one poll in December, so the average is of Roy Morgan only.

The monthly newsletter summary is:

Curia’s Polling Newsletter – Issue 104, December 2016

There was only one political voting poll in December 2016 – a Roy Morgan. This means the monthly average reflects that poll only. 

The average of the public polls sees National 17% ahead of Labour in December, down 7% from November.

 The current seat projection is centre-right 57 seats, centre-left 53 which would see NZ First hold the balance of power.

We show the current New Zealand poll averages for party vote, country direction and preferred PM compared to three months ago, a year ago, three years ago and nine years ago. This allows easy comparisons between terms and Governments.

In the United States just before he is sworn in at the 45th President, Trump has a negative 6% favourability. No other recent President-Elect has had a negative favourability rating before they took office.

 In the UK Jeremy Corbyn’s net approval rating continues to plummet, now hitting -43%.

In Australia Pauline Hanson’s One Nation party is rising in the polls.

In Canada after a series of gaffes such as his praise for Fidel Castro, PM Trudeau’s approval rating has dropped by 14%, but is still a relatively strong +12%.

We also carry details of polls on National’s leadership, when the summer holidays should be plus the normal business and consumer confidence polls.

This newsletter is normally only available by e-mail.  If you would like to receive future issues, please go to http://curia.us10.list-manage.com/subscribe?u=e9168e04adbaaaf75e062779e&id=8507431512 to subscribe yourself.

 

Labour promises to weaken health and safety laws

Stuff reports:

Labour leader Andrew Little has promised to table a bill in Parliament to help re-entry to the Pike River mine drift. …

“The only excuse the Government has given so far for not helping the families get re-entry to the drift of the mine is they are concerned about liability of the directors. Well, we can fix that through legislation.”

Little said he the proposed bill would take liability from the Solid Energy directors and allow experts to go into the drift “to see what can be recovered”. 

So the former head of the miners union that campaigned and demanded safer workplaces is now saying he will pass a law removing health and safety liability from the most dangerous workplace in New Zealand, where 29 people died.

What a sad hypocrite.

Armstrong on Waitangi Day

John Armstrong writes:

Bill English has done the right thing in following John Key’s example and opting to maintain National’s prime ministerial boycott of national day commemorations at Waitangi. …

The new prime minister’s decision to follow in his predecessor’s footsteps, and stay away from Waitangi, is the right one not only for himself.

It is the right one for the National Party.

Of even more significance, it is more likely than not the right decision for the country.

The brutal truth is that while the Treaty’s influence has grown to the point where it is now cemented into New Zealand’s unwritten constitution, Waitangi Day is sinking under the weight of its conflicting roles.

It doubles as a mechanism for acknowledging legitimate Maori grievances past and present while also serving as the country’s national day and which is about projecting an image of unity and happy families.

Divisiveness and inclusiveness are oil and water. They don’t mix.

No they don’t.

Id like to see us have a Waitangi Day and a New Zealand Day. One to focus on the Treaty (which is important) and one to focus on celebrating everything great about New Zealand (which can include the Treaty but is far more than that)

Good to see a successfully integrated refugee stand for Parliament

The Herald reports:

A Green Party candidate is aiming to be the first refugee to become an MP in New Zealand.

Auckland barrister Golriz Ghahraman, originally from Iran, has been confirmed as a candidate for the general election.

She says electing a refugee to Parliament would send a strong message during a global refugee crisis and at a time of rising anti-refugee and immigrant sentiment.

“It would be historic for New Zealand and I think it will mean something at this particular moment in a time when we are seeing one of the worst humanitarian disasters in a lifetime in the Middle East,” Ghahraman said.

“To say that someone fleeing that part of the world could actually be so accepted, that she could take part in a democratic society, would be really meaningful.

“Especially with the rhetoric of Donald Trump and Brexit, I got to the point where I thought some of us who are witnessing this actually need to put our hands up and be at the table in the higher levels of governance.”

Her family fled Iran’s repressive Islamic regime in 1990 when she was 9 and they were granted political asylum in New Zealand.

“Having an ambitious, educated mother, she was mostly the driver of us moving away, and she had a lot of trouble continuing to work because she wouldn’t adhere to Islamic dress codes and eventually it became dangerous for us,” she said.

The family travelled to New Zealand on the advice of a relative, who was also a refugee, and found the country was “incredibly welcoming”, she said.

The 35-year-old has since built up an impressive CV as a human rights lawyer in New Zealand and overseas. She worked as a prosecutor at United Nations tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, where heads of state were on trial for mass atrocities. After getting her masters degree in International Human Rights Law at Oxford University she also worked on the Khmer Rouge tribunal in Cambodia.

Great to see a refugee do so well in New Zealand they gain a Masters from Oxford and want to stand for Parliament. There will be many areas where I disagree with her, but I welcome her candidacy.

The Greens are certainly doing far better than Labour in attracting young talented New Zealanders to stand for them.

Seymour on the Gold Card

David Seymour writes in Stuff:

We probably shouldn’t sweat the small stuff, but the Gold Card is one of those annoying fixtures on New Zealand’s policy landscape. In its own small way, it represents everything wrong with New Zealand politics.

Cynics might think I’m just annoyed because it provides an answer to the question “what has Winston Peters actually done for the last 20 years”, but he probably didn’t even think of it himself, anyway.

If stories around Wellington are true, the way it came about borders on corruption. It was not done to benefit over-65s. It was the work of a very crafty bus company lobbyist who thought “how can I get an extra few million dollars of taxpayers’ money thrown at our industry?”

Of course, just asking for money would not work, the private benefit had to be dressed up as some kind of public good. What could sound nobler than combining senior citizens with public transport? So, he fed the idea to New Zealand First, et voila.

Yep a genius move from the lobbyist who managed to get taxpayers to hand over tens of millions of dollars to transport operators.

Perhaps those less-than-admirable means could be justified by noble ends, but what is the justification for taxing $26 million dollars a year so that anyone, including millionaires, can take a free ferry to lunch on Waiheke Island?

If (and that is a big if) there is a problem with affordability of public transport, it should be targeted on need not age.

Is Obama the worse President since WW2? Part 2 – Domestic Policy

This post is part 2 in a 3 part series coinciding with the end of the Presidency of Barack Obama on January 20th and covers a variety of domestic policy matters. Obama claims the economic turnaround after the GFC, Obamacare and environmental issues as his signature achievements. This is a more critical look at some highlights of his 8 year term.

Economic recovery

Despite the enactment of a near $1 trillion stimulus package in 2009 designed to attempt to lift the US out of the 2008 post GFC recession, it was clear that the stimulus was targeted more at Democrat constituencies such as budget strapped left leaning cities and protecting various unions such as the infamous bailout of General Motors that shafted bondholders to protect United Auto Workers jobs. Obama sheepishly had to admit when the results of the stimulus fell far short of expectations, that there weren’t as many “shovel ready” jobs as he thought. In fact, Prof Alan Blinder at Princeton and Moody’s economist Mark Zandi calculated in 2012 that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act or ARRA (as the stimulus was called) actually cost more than the economic growth it generated for a net loss of $51 billion!

The failure of the stimulus and of Obama’s economic policies in general have resulted in the worse recovery from a recession since the Great Depression. This chart below, produced by the Minneapolis Federal Reserve, tracks all post WW2 recoveries in terms of GDP growth over time and the Obama recovery (2007 in red) has been the longest and slowest recovery from any of the 12 post war recessions.

Obama’s 8 years in office have resulted in the following negative economic statistics:

  • Record low participation rate in the labour market. In 2008 this figure was just over 66% but has dropped sharply to almost 62%, the lowest level since the mid 70’s with the US ranking now only 35th in the world. By comparison, New Zealand’s labour participation rate is a healthy 70%. This figure is alarming and must be set against the much-trumpeted reduction in the US unemployment rate. The official unemployment figure shows a healthy drop from 9.4% to 4.9% but it does not count the approximately 16 million people who have dropped out of the American workforce and are no longer actively seeking work. They are no longer covered in the unemployment figures. THIS problem shows up in the participation rate and is a clear indicator of the poor recovery.
  • Stagnant income growth. Household Median income dropped dramatically from a 2006 to 2016 decade high of $70,000 and it has taken over a decade to bounce back to this same level meaning that US incomes have been essentially flat for 10 years. This is the first time this has happened since the Great Depression and further evidence of the painfully slow recovery from the GFC.
  • Large increase food stamp use. Food stamps are a Federal Government household consumer assistance programme for the poor. In 2008 there were just over 32 million people on food stamps (they now use pre-loaded debit cards not stamps) and by September of 2016 this number had climbed alarmingly to over 43 million (in November of 2012 they reached a peak of almost 48 million).

Obamacare

Obamacare (or the Affordable Care Act as it is more formally known) is President Obama’s signature piece of legislation and touted by him and his supporters as one of his greatest domestic policy achievements. Expanding the availability and affordability of healthcare has been the dream of several Presidents given the US’s unique, complex and costly healthcare system. Unfortunately, Obama came to the task with plenty of liberal ideological baggage and he only sought big top-down solutions to the problems. Rather than look at raft of simpler and less complex reforms that would free up the clunky insurance based system, he proposed a complex jam down that added new layers of cost and complexity. When it was apparent that he was uninterested in any market based reforms as proposed by Republicans, he opted for the big government driven overhaul that was replete with mandates and taxes. Obama made it clear he was going to pass this reform come hell or high water and so it was that, unique in US legislative history in the case of landmark groundbreaking legislation, he did so without a single vote from the opposing party.

So unpopular was Obamacare from the outset and the way Obama and the Democrats chose to implement it, that it led to the unprecedented loss of the normally very safely Democratic Massachusetts senate seat vacated by the death of liberal icon Ted Kennedy. Scott Brown led a people’ revolt based around denying Obama a filibuster proof majority in the Senate to stop Obamacare. Down to 59 seats after the January 2010 MA special (like a by) election, Obama was forced to engage in legislative sleight of hand via what is called reconciliation. Only budget bills can pass the Senate by simple majority, all others are subject to the filibuster which the GOP senators were more than prepared to use. Senate Democrats created a shell budget bill and emptied it out and inserted the Obamacare legislation wording inside the shell and passed that new ‘budget’ bill by simple majority, parliamentary chicanery that poured fuel on the fire of an already unpopular law.

Why has Obamacare been so unpopular when its goals (to extend healthcare to the uninsured) were so altruistic? There are 4 main factors that led to its widespread popularity:

1 – Obama promised that premiums would stabilize then go down due to economies of scale. In fact, they went up, in some states massively. Some families have seen their premiums more than double over the last 5 years. This occurred because the whole edifice was premised on forcing the young and healthy to buy insurance when normally they opt out because their medical needs are infrequent and cheap enough to cover out-of-pocket. Many refused to buy costly polices despite possible fines thus forcing insurers to try and recover the costs of the unhealthy people they were now forced to cover and that could only be done by increasing premiums. This problem has escalated over time not improved so the year-on-year premium increases have gotten worse not better.

2 – Obama promised repeatedly that if you liked your doctor you could keep your doctor. In reality, many of the plans offered through the exchanges offered only approved doctors on proscribed networks forcing many to give up existing doctors; sometimes specialists that were long sought after due to them treating unique even life threatening conditions. Many were forced by financial necessity onto networks with so few available doctors that long waiting lists to be seen became a feature for many forced to find a new GP on their new network.

3 – Obama promised if you like your plan you can keep your plan. In reality, employers were forced by compulsory mandates to offer comprehensive mandated coverage for all employees in a one-size-fits-all mentality meaning people were paying for coverage of things they never needed (e.g. if you don’t smoke or drink, you don’t need cover for drug/alcohol treatment or if you are a couple over 55, you don’t need cover for obstetrics). This meant people’s policies often were changed as employers and the self-employed looked for more affordable options. This usually meant a big increase in deductibles and a much higher out of pocket contribution as well as lower aggregate coverage caps all coupled with higher premiums. Many millions of people ended up with inferior and yet more costly cover.

4 – Problems with the exchanges. Creating the Obamacare insurance exchanges (online marketplaces to compare insurance policies on offer) became a massively costly exercise at the Federal level and for several states that tried to set up state exchanges. The Federal exchange cost hundreds of millions of dollars and yet was virtually inoperative on the day of launch and it took months before it was remotely functional. Several states poured tens of millions into state exchanges that were never functional and had to be abandoned in favour of the using a state portal on the federal exchange (as many smaller states opted for). Furthermore, as the fiscal instability and unaffordability of the whole Obamacare system got worse and worse for the insurance companies, more and more pulled out of the exchanges leaving many in counties across the US with only one costly insurance option available in the exchange. Right now, one third of Americans live in counties with only one insurance option on the exchange.

Federal government subsidies are available for lower income earners to take the sting out of the premium increases but for the middle class and self-employed, health insurance for many has become prohibitively expensive whilst the good coverage they had enjoyed for decades was now curtailed and limited. This was one of the hidden reasons why Clinton lost the election because she was not committed to anything more than tinkering round the edges of what had become a very unpopular policy and the 2017 Obamacare policy renewals with hefty premium increases arrived about 10 days before the November 8th election. Obama did help 20 million more people get coverage but did it on the backs of the remaining 270 million (who had coverage) who now pay a more for an inferior product. Messing with healthcare has come at a huge cost to the Democrats who can place some of the blame for their losses at the House, Senate and State level fairly and squarely on the shoulders of Obamacare.

IRS targeting of conservatives

Early in Obama’s second term it was revealed that the Internal Revenue Service (the IRS – the US equivalent of the IRD) had deliberately targeted right wing advocacy groups for special attention when applications were made for charitable tax exempt status. Specific provisions of the tax code allow advocacy groups with not-for-profit trading activity to solicit tax free donations under certain conditions. Liberal groups applying were subject to normal scrutiny and receive authorsations within the usual time frame. Conservative groups (specifically those associated with the so-called Tea Party movement) were subject to petty time wasting delays, excessively intrusive questioning, endless requests for additional paperwork and key, high profile conservative groups were subject to random audits. This targeting was done in the latter part of Obama’s first term creating the impression that Democrats were trying to silence conservative opposition in the run up to Obama’s 2012 re-election.

When this illegal activity was uncovered, the IRS maintained at first it was a rogue operation initiated from a regional office only in Ohio. When it panned out to be a head office (and higher) request, the key senior manager at the IRS responsible for administering and driving the policy (Lois Lerner) refused to answer questions put by Congressional investigators by pleading the 5th Amendment (the right to not incriminate one’s self in court), reinforcing conservative views that she has something serious to hide. Congressional investigators subpoenaed her email records and were met with lengthy and elaborate stonewalling with excuses like her hard drive and cell phone emails had been destroyed. It became clear that the Administration was trying to hide the involvement of the White House because it exercised what is called Executive Privilege over almost all communications with the IRS over this matter. Frustrated at the lies and obfuscation by the IRS Commissioner John Koskinan, some Congressional Republicans called for his impeachment. It was a scandal that the MSM were relatively uninterested in covering. Had the Bush White House IRS appointees targeted liberal groups in like manner, it would’ve gotten Watergate level coverage.

Fast and Furious

Fast and Furious was the name given to a programme organized by the head office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, a division of the Department of Treasury. The aim of the programme was to flush out potential US based suppliers of illegal arms to the Mexican drug cartels. Undercover agents entered registered US arms dealers to make purchases of weapons posing as cartel members and these sales were supposed to be tracked. Various regional managers in the ATF voiced serious objections to the programme as the tracking mechanism were weak and ineffectual. Rather than snap supposedly rogue gun dealers in the US (none were found to have breached firearms sales restrictions), the Administration become responsible for distributing hundreds of high powered pistols and semi-automatic weapons into the hands of the ruthless Mexican cartels. This fueled a fresh orgy of violence that led to the deaths of thousands of innocent bystanders in the increasingly brutal war between the cartels over the drug turf, some of which spilled over the border into US border states. Border Patrol Office Brian Terry and US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent Jamie Zapata were both identified as being murdered by weapons allowed into cartel hands by Fast and Furious.

The scandal within this scandal was the attempt by the Administration to blame the existence of the failed programme on the Phoenix office of the ATF when in reality, knowledge and approval of the programme went at least as high as the head of the Department of Justice, Attorney General Eric Holder. Holder was proven to have lied to Congress when he testified under oath that he had no knowledge of the programme when evidence was unearthed that he did know. This led to an unprecedented motion of contempt passed by the House of Representatives. While Obama stuck by Holder and did not sack him, the scandal tainted Holder stayed for the remainder of his tenure and he resigned part way into Obama’s second term and was replaced by Loretta Lynch.

VA waiting lists

The Veterans Administration is the only 100% government run health system in the US (apart from those on Indian Reservations) and provides free health care to all US military personnel and their families. Even Medicare (for the elderly) and Medicaid (for the poor) are programmes that involve Federal government subsidies towards private sector health providers. In terms of the level and quality of service the VA provides vets, it has been a weeping sore for some time. In April 2104, it exploded into a full-blown scandal when it transpired that the Phoenix VA Hospital administrators had been leaving vets on lengthy waiting lists for essential medical treatment that then led to the untimely death of 35 vets and then covered up the failure in its systematic reporting on meeting wait list targets all the while pocketing large bonuses for supposedly exceeding the targets. On further examination, it turned out that five more VA hospitals across the country had been indulging in a similar cover up.

In 2014 The Secretary of the VA General Shineski eventually resigned over the scandal but the mid-level managers who perpetrated the fraud were never fired but placed on gardening leave with most eventually reinstated due to the complex, arcane union driven appeals process. Obama appointed Proctor and Gamble CEO Robert McDonald as the new VA Secretary and offered soothing spin about the problems being cleaned up but it appeared that little of substance was done to address the underlying systemic management failures that lay behind the scandal other than to ask Congress for billions more in funding.

Executive Amnesty on Immigration

Democrats in general (and Obama in particular) see illegal immigration as being very much to their political advantage. By allowing illegals in by not properly policing the borders and not catching up and returning illegals caught by law enforcement and supporting a path to citizenship, it means a steady flow of new Democrat voters.

Rising illegal migrant numbers has lead to an increase in violent crime in border states (as some of the Mexican drug war spills over into the US), state education and health budgets are strained by the influx of new children that can’t speak English and people who get sick and go to county emergency rooms. Whole suburbs of cities get taken over by Hispanic migrants and US citizens become the unwitting victims of the random acts of violence (murder and rape) by illegals and their gangs.

Because illegal immigration is mostly unpopular with the majority voting public, attempts at immigration reform flounder in Congress. Democrats universally oppose anything other than no real border controls and a full path to citizenship and elite moderate Republicans are usually weak on border enforcement and support some kind of amnesty and a path to citizenship albeit slower and harsher than what Democrats want. Rank and file voters revolt when these alliances unite in Congress and attempt to reform the system and the issue gets postponed over and over again.

Even with a record House majority and a filibuster proof Senate (2009 – 2010), Obama could not get his permissive reform passed so he decided to cut through the usual legislative pathway and passed a sweeping amnesty by Executive Order bypassing Congress by using his power as the head of the Executive through such things as:

  • Ordering ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) to release illegals caught (known as catch and release) and to not cooperate with local state, county and city law enforcement agencies who mostly frequently catch illegals;
  • Not enforcing extradition of violent repeat illegal felons meaning they are sometimes released into communities to reoffend again;
  • Keeping and even increasing Federal funding for so-called sanctuary cities who instruct their police departments to not enforce any Federal immigration law;
  • Not going forward with spending appropriated funds on border protections measures such as extending the double fencing or hiring more Border Patrol agent thus hamstringing interdiction efforts;
  • Funding the college education through Federal grants of the so-called Dreamers (children of illegals born in the US).

Such unconstitutional conduct has been stopped at the Federal appeals court level but is indicative of Obama’s disdain for normal lawmaking and seeking to impose an unpopular policy on an unwilling electorate to please the ideological leanings of his own party via the back door.

Decline of race relations

Politicisation of the bureaucracy is a feature of the American political system with over 3,000 political appointees who fill the upper echelons of every US Federal Government agency. Nowhere in the Obama Administration was politicisation taken further than ever before than in the Department of Justice. It proceeded to act on a number of race based issues that skewered dramatically in favour of what is called affirmative action including:

  • The refusal of the DOJ to prosecute members of the New Black Panther Party whose members where filmed intimidating voters in predominantly black precincts during the 2008 Presidential Elections. Such blatant acts of intimidation were normally routinely prosecuted.
  • Aggressively challenging in State then Federal courts various voter ID laws enacted by mostly Republican State Legislatures in various states across the US. Republicans allege voter fraud in some areas due to lax voter registration and voting procedures and attempt to limit such fraudulent activity by requiring voters prove citizenship eligibility via a photo ID at the time of voting such a driver’s license or passport. Democrats allege that Republicans enact such laws to suppress minority and black voters who are less likely to have either forms of ID (States that enact such laws offer a free no DL photo ID).
  • After the race riots in Ferguson, Missouri after the police shooting of Michael Brown (and in several other municipalities where black men were shot by police), the DOJ would engage in aggressive investigations to see whether racist hate crimes had been committed by police. Whilst no DOJ investigation of this type has unearthed anything, it has had a chilling effect on policing with heavily minority precincts now more lightly policed and a greater reluctance to stop anyone for anything other than very serious obvious crimes. The so-called broken windows policy pioneered in New York City that targeted pity criminals was responsible for a large decline in major crimes has been largely stopped by this activity.

The response of radical black advocates was to form the Black Lives Matter movement (generously funded by left wing billionaire George Soros). BLM has aggressively targeted police departments all over the US and this has fueled the rise of targeted random shootings of mostly white police officers. Since Ferguson almost 20 policemen have been shot by radical anti-cop activists in ambush style killings. BLM protests are intrusive and sometimes violent and in key minority dominated cities, has led to riots and lootings. The level of intrusive policing has scaled back leading to an increase in property and violent crime across large cities in the US with heavily black populations the most glaring example being Chicago which has seen a sharp upswing in gun related shootings and killings.

Solyndra

Solydra was a rapidly growing manufacturer of solar panels based in California that became a darling of the new Obama Department of Energy that was heavily focused on alternative energy sources. In 2009, Solyndra was given over $500 million in combined grants and loans and proceeded to build a fancy factory in Fremont, California, one of the most costly and bureaucratic places in the country to open a new factory. By 2011 it had shut its doors and gone bankrupt leaving 1,100 people out of work. Upon investigation, it turned out that the company’s finances were shaky from the start and its business plan very weak but Obama’s highly ideological anti fossil fuel Energy Secretary Steve Chu wanted a showpiece of the Administration’s commitment to green energy and ignored the objections of more savvy business analysts at the Office of Management and Budget and pushed ahead with the loans to create a great green energy photo op for President Obama. The scandal had political overtones with major Obama donor billionaire Jim Kaiser accused of channeling some of the D of E loan back to Democrats via his campaign donations due to his position on the Solyndra board. There were several similar but smaller defaults on loans made to politically favoured green energy companies.

Spying on journalists

In one of the most egregious and naked displays of power in the entire Obama term came when Eric Holder’s Department of Justice ordered agents to track the movements, phone calls and emails of Fox News reporter James Rosen ostensibly because they believed him to be the source of leaks to the North Koreans. Holder initially tried to deny he’d signed off on the surveillance until forced to admit that he did under oath. The reporting of this surveillance was perhaps one of the few times when the Obama Administration came under withering fire from the MSM; many of their reporters decrying the chilling effect such spying would have on free speech and their to get their confidential sources for stories to open up.

Environmental overreach

The Obama Administration EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) has been one of the most ideologically aggressive in its history. When it was clear that Obama could not get Cap and Trade or a Carbon tax through even the heavily Democratic Congress, he resorted to the enactment of the environmental movement’s aggressive anti-fossil fuel anti-business agenda by executive edict via EPA findings and rulings. The EPA used older legislation such as the Endangered Species Act, Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act to drive coal mines and coal fired power plants out of business, to restrict oil drilling on Federal land and in the Gulf of Mexico and to punish industry through zealous interpretations of these laws forcing some into costly and sometimes bankrupting litigation. The ultimate irony came when the EPA itself was the cause of a massive chemical spill into the Colorado River that had a devastating effect on local Indian tribes. The EPA were utterly unrepentant and attempted to deny blame all the while prosecuting business aggressively for far less egregious offences. The EPA also displayed contempt at attempts by Congress to scrutinize its efforts and have it follow laws rather than govern by regulatory fiat via aggressive Findings. The EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson was found to have used a series of private email addresses via which she communicated with environmental lobbyists to avoid Congressional scrutiny.

Obama’s intensely ideological stance on environmental issues was most apparent in the way he handled the approval of the Keystone XL Pipeline. Despite strenuous efforts to avoid any environmentally sensitive sites, Obama did the bidding of the various environmental groups by stalling the approval for years with needless ‘reviews’ before finally killing the deal killing with it the tens of thousands of well paying mostly union jobs that would arise from its construction. The irony is the environmental damage from oil shipped by rail (from the huge rise in oil rail car accidents and spillages) could have largely been avoided by transporting the oil via the Keystone pipeline.

Conclusion

Obama has left a very chequered domestic policy legacy. There were serious scandals that were poorly reported by a largely sycophantic press and his signature liberal initiatives have largely collapsed and failed under the predictable burden of their own ideological flaws. Obama’s legacy will be quickly erased by President Trump mostly because very little of what Obama was bipartisan and so lodged in the popular psyche of Americans.

It’s dead Jim

Stuff reports:

Australia has declared the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) not dead ahead of key trade talks with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Sydney on Saturday, despite opposition to the trade pact from US President-elect Donald Trump.

The talks between Australian Prime Minister Turnbull and Abe also come amid heightened regional tension as China asserts its claims over the disputed South China Sea, setting up a potential clash with the incoming Trump administration.

“Talk of the TPP being dead is premature. We need to give the Americans time to work through this issue,” Australian Trade Minister Steven Ciobo told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) radio on Friday.

It’s dead Jim.

Someone wants a cap on tourists

Tom O’Connor writes in Stuff:

The recent discovery of human waste along a popular cycling track in Taupo was as predictable as it was avoidable. …

But do we really want further increases in the hordes who already clog our special places each summer simply to provide increased profits for the self-serving exploiters of the tourism industry?

No doubt they will trot out the mindless and false mantra that tourism brings jobs and extra money that eventually flows into the nation’s economy. Most of the tour packages are sold offshore and most of the jobs are poorly paid. Furthermore, we could also say the same about drug trafficking.

First Mr O’Connor equates tourism to drug trafficking.

Secondly he just ignores the fact tourism brings in around $10 billion a year to New Zealand, and the tourism sector has around 110,000 jobs.

We need to be doing much more than simply throwing the doors to New Zealand open to endless crowds of tourists who will crowd and foul our scenic places, pose a danger on our roads and put unbearable pressure on limited infrastructure. We need national regulations for mitigation and that must include a realistic cap on visitor numbers.

This may be the stupidest proposal of all time. Or at least for a few months.

Scores of countries have visa free travel to New Zealand. To have a cap on tourist numbers means we would have to impose visas on every country on Earth. It would also break several agreements we have. The result would be a massive decrease in not just tourism, but all travel to NZ and also would mean many countries would retaliate with a visa requirement for NZers.

I don’t know a single country in the developed world that has a cap on visitor numbers. There is a reason for that.

Yet Mr O’Connor wants this because someone took a shit by a cycling track.

By this logic New York should scrap the New York marathon because some competitors answer the call of nature where they shouldn’t.

A Kiwi gets a senior role in the Trump White House

The Herald reports:

Chris Liddell, the Kiwi joining Donald Trump’s administration as an assistant to the President and director of Strategic Initiatives, is one of New Zealand’s leading businessmen.

The 58-year-old’s impressive C.V. includes stints as the chief financial officer of Microsoft and General Motors.

While at GM, he helped engineer its US$23 billion float in 2010 – at the time one of the biggest sharemarket listings in history.

The chairman of accounting software maker Xero, the father-of-two has held positions as the CFO of International Paper, a chief executive of Carter Holt Harvey and co-CEO of investment bank Credit Suisse First Boston.

A companion to the New Zealand Order of Merit, Liddell also chairs Next Foundation – an environmental and education fund.

Liddell told the Herald in late 2015 that he sees philanthropy as a natural extension of his business career. “I don’t see them as two separate things – just a natural part of life’s journey.” Liddell said at the time that he came from a “relatively poor” background.

“My father died when I was young and left my mother with five kids at school,” he said.

“If it hadn’t been for the New Zealand education system and all the other things that we benefit from in New Zealand, I wouldn’t have had the opportunities that I’ve had.”

Liddell is a globally successful Kiwi. Regardless of what you think of Trump he is President of the United States for the next four or eight years, so having a Kiwi in his White House should be beneficial to us.

If the reports are correct that he is an Assistant to the President, that makes him a very senior staffer. The three levels of staff are:

  1. Assistant to the President
  2. Deputy Assistant to the President
  3. Special Assistant to the President

And below that are all the staff not directly appointed by the President.