US political cartoons of the week

November 24th, 2014 at 10:15 pm by Lindsay Addie

In the interests of being bi-partisan there is one that makes fun of Obama, the other the GOP.

Obama’s immigration policy and its legality under the US constitution.

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Nick Anderson (Houston Chronicle)

 

This one makes fun of the GOP’s chronic indecision.

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Michael Ramirez (Investors.com)

Cartoons were found here at Real Clear Politics.

 

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Comparing the front benches

November 24th, 2014 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

A comparison of the National (11) and Labour (8) front benches.

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MP Status

Only one of Labour’s front bench is a List MP – the leader. All the others are electorate MPs. National is two thirds electorate and one third list.

Gender

Both are close to one third female.

Ethnicity

Both around one quarter Maori.Labour also has a Pasifika front bencher.

Age

For the first time for a while (I think) Labour now has a younger front bench. Three quarters are aged below 50.

Area

Labour has issues here. Half the front bench is from Wellington and no one from Christchurch or provincial NZ.

Island

There is not a single South Island MP on Labour’s front bench. In fact only two SI MPs intheir top 17.

Decade Entered

National and Labour now have similar profiles in terms of longevity of front benchers in Parliament.

So overall this reshuffle has rejuvenated the Labour front bench and the two front benchers now looking quite similiar except Labour has an age advantage and National an area advantage.

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The 2014 New Zealand Post-Election Conference

November 24th, 2014 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

I’ve been to every post-election conference put on by Vic Uni since, well as far as I can recall.

They are the one form where all the campaign managers come together and talk about what they did wrong and right, and take questions about the election. You also get some interesting academic contributions on issues ranging from polling to media coverage.

The 2014 conference is on Wed 3 December. Speakers include:

  • John Key
  • David Carter
  • Steven Joyce
  • Te Ururoa Flavell
  • Peter Dunne
  • David Seymour
  • Russel Norman
  • Winston Peters
  • Nicola Kean
  • Corin Higgs
  • Jane Clifton
  • Kate McMillan
  • Colin James
  • Stephen Mills
  • Matthew Beveridge
  • Rob Salmond
  • Morgan Godfery
  • Stephen Church
  • Therese Arseneau
  • Nigel Roberts

Amusingly Labour have been unable to name the poor sucker who will front for them, to speak about their campaign :-)

If you’re a student of politics and elections, its a fascinating day. Only $65 to attend, or $30 for students.

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Little’s reshuffle

November 24th, 2014 at 1:06 pm by David Farrar

Overall Andrew Little has done a good job with his reshuffle, considering the somewhat limited options he has. I’d give it a 7/10. He has rejuvenated the front bench and not played factional politics too much. Most appointments seem to be based on merit.

His first week as leader has gone well. He has been comfortable in his press conferences, and his tone has been good. When asked on TV this morning why he is calling for Rennie to go, but not also the DPMC head, he gave a logical response based on their different roles.

He hasn’t set the world on fire, and maybe our expectations are lower because of the stuff ups by previous incumbents, but at this stage there is nothing much you can fault him on. Labour need a solid leader, and that may now have it.

In terms of the new line up, let’s start with the overall look, and then the details.

  • A plus for a fresh front bench, of whom only two were Ministers in the last Government
  • A plus for a front bench which has good gender and ethnic diversity
  • A plus for a front bench largely based on merit
  • A big negative for four of the top six being Wellington MPs including Leader, Deputy Leader, Leader of the House and Finance Spokesperson. Labour may struggle to reconnect with NZ when their top six is so beltway.
  • A small negative that no one wanted to be Deputy Leader (except Nanaia) so poor Annette had to be drafted in again

In terms of the individuals

  • Little having no portfolios outside security is sensible
  • King as Deputy Leader is a good short term move (she has it for a year only). While it is a bad look that they need an MP who entered Parliament 30 years ago to remain Deputy, her personal skills for he job are superb. One Labour insider commented to me that the gap between Anette and the next most competent female Labour MP is astonomical.
  • Robertson as Finance is a risk. He is a skilled politician and communicator, but I am not sure how much credibility he will have talking about the economy, when he has never worked in the private sector. His challenge is to bridge that gap.
  • Mahuta gets No 4 mainly because her followers all voted for Little. few could seriously suggest she is their 4th best MP. What are her achievements in the 18 years she has been an MP? With just one portfolio (Maori Development), her workload could be very light.
  • Twyford as Housing and Transport is a good choice – he knows the issues well.
  • Hipkins as Shadow Leader and Education also sound.
  • Sepuloni is promoted ahead of Ardern to get Social Development. A big opportunity for her considering she has had only one term in Parliament. Has to prove she deserves the spot.
  • A very good call making Davis front bench and giving him portfolios such as Police, Corrections and Domestic Violence. Could do very well so log as he gets Little to dump his policy of making people accused of rape having to prove their innocence.
  • Ardern gets demoted for the second time in a row and drops off the front bench (they have only eight front bench seats in the House). She gets a major portfolio in Justice but is against Amy Adams who I think will excel there.
  • Clark gets a promotion and Economic Development. Could have gone further but has a chance to prove himself
  • Sio has Pacific Island Affairs and Local Government. Doubt we’ll see much more than in the past,
  • Lees-Galloway gets the important (for Labour) portfolio of Labour. Suspect Little will lead most of the work in this area though.
  • Woods gets Environment and Climate Change. Likely to be over shadowed by the Greens.
  • Cunliffe, Parker, Shearer and Goff are Nos 14 to 17. This is smart by Little. All get a ranking to reflect their contribution, but also one low enough to suggest they are on the way out (maybe not for Shearer).
  • While Cunliffe has a low ranking, he has meaty portfolios in Regional Development, Tertiary Education and Science. A path to redemption.

In terms of the unranked, surprised Louisa Wall and Stuart Nash not put into the top 20. Also somewhat surprised Sue Moroney not given a ranking.

As I said, overall a pretty smart reshuffle by Little, considering his limited options. The heavy Wellington skew at the top is a significant weakness, but overall he has done a good job of rejuvenation, and starting to put together what could look like a competent alternate Government.

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Heading back home

November 24th, 2014 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

A Brazilian court has ordered the deportation of convicted murderer and paedophile Phillip John Smith within 10 days.

Brazilian freelance journalist Alexandre Tortoriello said the court noted New Zealand had offered a police escort and to pay for Smith’s deportation, Radio NZ reported.

Maybe the cost could be charged to Smith out of the $10,000 he has.

Tony Ellis, who has represented Smith in New Zealand, has been trying to arrange a Brazilian lawyer to visit him in jail in Rio de Janeiro. But they all want payment upfront.

Smart lawyers.

Tortoriello said Smith had the opportunity to find a Brazilian lawyer and appeal, but this had to be done before he was deported, which could happen at any moment.

I suspect sooner rather than later.

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Maybe The Standard should charge commissions?

November 24th, 2014 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Whale quotes the SST:

Police are investigating an entity that funded Auckland mayor Len Brown’s 2010 and 2013 election campaigns.

More then $750,000 in backing for Brown’s two successful campaigns was paid by a trust that kept donors’ identities secret. Since February police have been investigating whether the trust breached the Local Electoral Act.

The Sunday Star-Times has confirmation from Brown’s former campaign team that Greg Presland was involved in the donor trust. He was also the main trustee of the trust that paid almost $20,000 in anonymous donations to former Labour leader David Cunliffe during Labour’s 2013 leadership contest.

Greg is of course one of the main authors at The Standard which of course campaigns vigorously against the use of secret trusts in politics!

Maybe they could help fund their blog if Greg put in the trust deeds that 1% of all donations go to The Standard :-)

As to whether there is a breach of the law, my initial response was there isn’t, as secret trusts were legal for local government elections in 2010 and 2013.

However the issue raised by the complainant is that a person must be listed as a donor and a trust is not a person. A company is and an incorporated society is, but a trust is generally regarded as not being a legal person, but something on behalf of the trustees (lawyers will correct me if I have this not quite right). So the complainant has said that as the trust is not a person, then the trustees should be named. That seems a not unreasonable thing to do. So it will be interesting what the Police decide – my pick is as usual, nothing.

 

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Winston back to Chinese bashing again

November 24th, 2014 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Streamlining rich Chinese into the country because they hold a Chinese-issued credit card has been slammed by New Zealand First leader Winston Peters who said it will lead to corruption here.

But the tourism industry welcomes the new move as knocking down a barrier to growth in getting wealthy Chinese to come to New Zealand.

Immigration New Zealand’s agreement with China UnionPay allows holders of Platinum and Diamond UnionPay credit cards to provide evidence of their “premium card” status instead of information on their employment and source of funds, as part of the visa application process.

UnionPay is the only domestic bankcard organisation in China.

In the joint statement by New Zealand and China last week, the Chinese side welcomed “New Zealand’s recent visa facilitation package for Chinese citizens visiting New Zealand for tourism and business, and is willing to work with the New Zealand side to create more favourable conditions for bilateral personnel exchange.” Chinese visa applicants are also required to meet other requirements such as being of good character and having an acceptable standard of health.

This is about making it easier for Chinese nationals to visit NZ, not making it easier for them to gain residency here. This is a crucial difference.

Nationals from many countries can visit here without needing a visa at all. Is Winston complaining that British people can visit NZ and not need to prove they have a job and a source of funds? Of course not, as they’re not Asian.

Tourism Industry Association (TIA) New Zealand chief executive Chris Roberts welcomed the new credit card immigration policy.

He said the TIA had been advocating strongly to the government for more streamlined visa processing for high-value Chinese visitors.

It is one of the key growth opportunities identified in the industry’s Tourism 2025 framework.

“The Tourism 2025 goal of almost doubling total tourism revenue to $41 billion a year can only be achieved by the public and private sectors co-operating to remove barriers to growth and seizing opportunities.

“Smart schemes to target high-value Chinese travellers to get the visas they need as quickly and easily as possible will make New Zealand more internationally competitive for this crucial market, which has grown quickly to become our second-biggest source of visitors after Australia.”

So again this is about tourism, not migration.

However, Peters said Prime Minister John Key had not learnt lessons from the Kim Dotcom affair which had cost the country “a packet in the courts” and tarnished both the government’s and our international reputation”.

“Instead of saying we have a rigorous immigration programme and policies capable of doing the job . . . he’s now transferred that right onto another country and another country’s system.

“If holding some sort of platinum card is going to be the criteria then you hugely expose yourself and leave yourself open to corruption.

Winston has tried this before. I blogged on almost the same issue in 2012. Nationals from 57 countries can visit NZ without even needing a visa. Chinese nationals do still need a visa, and have to provide

  • Proof of good health
  • Proof of good character
  • A proper purpose for visiting
  • Proof they plan to leave
  • Proof of funds to cover stay in NZ ($1,000/mth), and departure
  • Not have a serious criminal record

They still have to fill in a 16 page form. All this change is that having a platinum credit card is an acceptable substitute for a statement from an employer about what their earnings are.

Winston knows this of course, but can never resist an opportunity to scaremonger.

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A WWII hero in Auckland

November 24th, 2014 at 10:01 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

A 93-year-old woman living quietly in an Auckland rest home has been revealed as one of the bravest spies of World War Two.

On Tuesday Phyllis Latour Doyle – Pippa to her friends – will be bestowed with France’s highest decoration for what she did 70 years ago. …

She was parachuted into France to get information on German positions and on one mission, into Normandy, she played a crucial role in the D-Day landings. …

She first went into Aquitaine in Vichy France from 1942 and was dropped behind enemy lines under a new code name, Paulette, into the Calvados region of Normandy on May 1, 1944.

Aged 23, she had the identity of a poor 14-year-old French girl to make the Germans less suspicious. 

She used bicycles to tour the area, passing information through coded messages. …

She will receive her honour on Tuesday from French Ambassador Laurent Contini.

“I have deep admiration for her bravery and it will be with great honour that I will present her with the award of Chevalier de l’Ordre National de la Legion d’Honneur, France’s highest decoration,” the ambassador said.

Great to see her being honoured. I still think it was a huge mistake NZ never gave Nancy Wake an honour. I’m not sure if Pippa Doyle is a NZ citizen, but not too late for us to give her one also!

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Calls for Rennie to go

November 24th, 2014 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

States Services Minister Paula Bennett says commissioner Iain Rennie retains her confidence, despite opposition calls for him to be stood down over his handling of a sexual harassment complaint against former Cera boss Roger Sutton. …

Labour leader Andrew Little has called for Rennie to be dumped.

“The idea that you arrange a press conference for a senior public servant, about whom a finding of serious misconduct has been made, it is such a lack of judgment that I think it goes to his fitness to do the job,” he said. “He [Rennie] should be stood down and an investigation be conducted into how he came to make that decision.”

Bennett has confirmed she sought “constant” assurances that the investigation was “thorough and professional”. “I have expressed to the state services commissioner that I am disappointed with the handling of Mr Sutton’s resignation last Monday, and he accepts that it should have been handled differently, that there are lessons he has learnt, and that there will never be a repeat.”

On the substantive matter, I’m not convinced (on the evidence to date) that Rennie’s actions have reached the threshold where the head of the state sector in NZ should resign. Yes he made the wrong call in allowing the press conference, but I think one needs to be careful about having state sector CEOS forced out due to political pressure. I would expect a removal to be justified only if there was an ongoing series of wrong calls on multiple issues, rather than one situation handled badly.

On the issue of process, the Government can’t actually simply sack the State Services Commissioner. he can only be sacked by way of resolution of the House of Representatives. S16 of the State Sector Act 1988 states they can only be suspended by the Governor-General for up to 21 days, and they resume their job unless House of Representatives declares by resolution they ought to be removed from office. This shows that the threshold for removal is set very high.

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General Debate 24 November 2014

November 24th, 2014 at 8:00 am by Kokila Patel
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The foreign fighters proposed law

November 24th, 2014 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

John Key has released the draft legislation that will go to the House on Tuesday. It will got to select committee very briefly, and then come back to the House to be passed before Christmas.

The four main measures are:

  1. Extending the period the Minister of Internal Affairs can cancel a passport to up to three years from the existing law’s 12 months
  2. Giving the Minister of Internal Affairs the power to temporarily suspend passports for up to 10 working days in urgent cases
  3. Allowing the NZ Security Intelligence Service (NZSIS) to carry out video surveillance on private properties for the purpose of observing activities of security concern, modelled on the Police’s powers in the Search and Surveillance Act
  4. Allowing the NZSIS to conduct emergency surveillance for up to 48 hours prior to the issue of a warrant, with the approval of its Director and subject to the oversight of the Inspector General of Intelligence and Security.

The first two proposals do not seem a big issue to me. They are just an extension to an existing power.

The third proposal is long overdue arguably, and just brings the SIS powers  in line with the Police.

It is the 4th proposal that I have problems with, and frankly I don’t think the case for it has been made to justify it.

The justification in the bill is that information may come to light that someone not previously identified as a risk is about to travel to a conflict zone, and in the hours it takes to get a warrant, intelligence may be lost and they leave NZ.

I don’t think that is justification enough. Even if someone does leave to go to a conflict zone, that isn’t the end of the world. I’d rather they didn’t, but this isn’t enough of a threat to justify emergency surveillance without a warrant.

I also think there is a danger in trying to cover off every sort of theoretical possibility. You can justify almost anything with hypothetical justifications. You can justify torture if it is to discover the location of a nuclear bomb that will kill 100,000 people. But how likely is it? The question I would ask the SIS is whether there has ever been a situation where something bad happened because they had to wait six to 12 hours to get a warrant? Not a hypothetical situation, but an actual situation?

The danger of emergency powers is that can become a lazy norm. Why bother getting a warrant, if we can take a quick look for 48 hours, and then see if we learn enough to justify a warrant application? Now I have considerable respect for the current SIS Director, but the law should not be about the person in charge, but the institution.

So at this stage I’m unconvinced the fourth part of the law is justified, and if an MP would vote to remove it, unless I got better justification for it.

However it is worth noting there are some safeguards proposed for the emergency surveillance power. They are:

  • Only the Director can authorise
  • A maximum of 48 hours
  • Only when a delay is likely to lead to a loss of intelligence
  • The Commissioner of Security Warrants (CSW) must be notified within 12 hours
  • The CSW or the Minister can order the emergency surveillance to halt, once notified, if they do not think it meets the threshold
  • The Inspector-General of Security and Intelligence must be notified asap and can investigate if an emergency authorisation was appropriate
  • The SIS annual report must report how often an emergency surveillance was done
  • Law change is temporary, until 2018

These are good safeguards, but again I don’t think the case has been made for the power. If I was an MP I’d want details of actual harm caused in the past by not having this power.

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Doesn’t confidentiality apply both ways?

November 23rd, 2014 at 4:55 pm by David Farrar

I, along with many others, have been critical of Roger Sutton for breaching the confidentiality around the complaints against him by a CERA staffer. The press conference was a very bad idea, as it allowed him to spin his side of what happened.

But if one is to criticise Sutton for breaching the agreed upon confidentiality, doesn’t that apply both ways? A number of stories make it very clear that either the complainant is anonymously briefing media, or someone is on their behalf.

Now don’t get me wrong – the complainant is the wronged party. But if one is to criticise Sutton for talking publicly, then doesn’t the same apply to the other party?

As an example of the obvious briefings to the media.

The Herald:

The woman, who is bound by a confidentiality clause, said she was driven to take a stand because of what she says was similar treatment of other women at the organisation.

Another Herald story:

Meanwhile, other sources say there were problems with measures the commission put in place to keep Mr Sutton and the complainant at a distance while the allegations were being investigated.

These meant that he occasionally worked from Cera branch offices in the city, allowing the woman to work at the organisation’s HSBC Tower headquarters. The arrangement meant the complainant was told where Mr Sutton would be, so the two could avoid running into each other.

However, NZME News Service has been told Mr Sutton allegedly didn’t always stick to the arrangements and there were times the complainant believed they were both in the same building at the same time.

While their paths never crossed, the complainant raised concerns with the commission that Mr Sutton’s actions meant it was a very real possibility, the source said.

And today in the SST:

I’m told Sutton’s victim feels unable to walk down the street in her home city.

Now the complainant herself may not be talking to the media, but she is obviously talking to people who are talking to the media on her behalf. All these stories relay information only known to the complainant.

Now again Sutton is the one who has done wrong, and the SSC also stuffed up majorly with their press conference. But I think the ongoing anonymous briefings to the media on behalf of the complainant is not appropriate either.  Having this issue become an extended campaign of anonymous briefings to the media from one side, may encourage the other “side” to respond. I don’t think that would be a good outcome for anyone.

And once again so no one misrepresents me, I think both Sutton and the SSC are the ones who stuffed up and were in the wrong. But that doesn’t mean that one can’t be critical of what appears to be an ongoing release of information through anonymous sources.

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Slightly different to petrol stations

November 23rd, 2014 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

A supermarket boss told teenage checkout girls to fork out up to $700 when organised thieves walked off with full trolleys.

This sounds just as bad as the petrol station stories about making staff pay for drive offs, but there is a difference.

The mother of one of the Pak’nSave checkout girls said the company was “passing the buck” on to its least powerful workers. “Those sort of huge firms will just push you around and that’s just the way it is, they get away with it,” said the woman, who did not want to be named to protect her daughter from employment repercussions.

Her daughter, then 18, earned $13.75 and worked 10 to 30 hours a week. She was working with a colleague on one checkout early this year when two women approached with two trolleys. After the first, full of expensive goods, was scanned the first woman asked her to get her some eggs.

When she returned the woman was unloading the first trolley into a car as her accomplice prepared to pay the checkout operator for both trolleys – until her debit card was declined. “She said, I need to get another card from the car, then she went out and they took off with the first trolley. Cunning, eh?” said the worker’s mother.

The supermarket’s owner-operator Andrew Soutar insisted the teens were liable to split the cost of the theft, about $700, because they should have prevented it.

This is slightly different. The staff allowed the women to leave without paying. Yes they were conned, but there would be procedures such as don’t leave your till unattended, and don’t let someone leave unattended without leaving the unpaid groceries behind.

This is different to petrol stations where staff can’t actually do anything to prevent drive offs.

Now having said that, it’s still pretty heartless by the store owner. Rather than make the girls pay, I would give them a warning, tell them if they didn’t follow procedures in future then they may be liable, and use it as a training example for other staff on the sort of cons you can get.

The petrol station owners were probably breaking the law. The supermarket owner is not I would say, but I think they are lacking some compassion. It was a fairly sophisticated con, and you should allow people to learn from their mistakes. Having said that, it would be useful to know how explicit and detailed the policies and procedures were on what to do in these situations.

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Where does Fairfax get their stats from?

November 23rd, 2014 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

A year may have passed but the message is still the same. 

The second annual National Day of Action to Bust Rape Culture was held in Auckland and Wellington today.   

Organsier Jessie Hume and 200 other supporters turned out to the High Court in Auckland this afternoon to demand resolutions to an “endemic and devastating” rape culture. 

Hume said half of the supporters formed a circle with one donning red to represent the one in 100 women who receive justice in the form of accountability through the courts when making a rape complaint. 

It’s thought just ten per cent of sexual assaults are reported and only one per cent of those will lead to a conviction, according to the Ministry of Justice. 

I have great sympathy for the cause, but less sympathy for dodgy statistics.

The statistic on only 10% of sexual assaults are reported could well be true, sadly.  It comes from a 2001 report and anecdotal evidence from female (and some male) friends is that many have been assaulted and not reported it.

But the 1% figure is clearly wrong. Fairfax have written it in a way that states only 1% of those reported will lead to a conviction.

I blogged in 2009 on an excellent report by the Ministry of Women’s Affairs which reviewed 2,000 sexual violation complaints over a 30 month period.

They found 13% of complaints lead to a conviction, and of complaints deemed “valid”, 20% led to a conviction.

Not don’t get me wrong both figures are too low, and the story is right that we should have a higher conviction rate for valid complaints. But they are massively higher than 1%.

The research on what happens to complaints is interesting. The data is:

  • 8% deemed “false” by Police
  • 26% deemed “no offence” which usually means the victim withdrew the complaint. This doesn’t mean there was no offence, just that the complainant didn’t want to proceed.
  • 11% did not have a suspect identified
  • 24% did have a suspect identified but were not prosecuted. It was stated this is normally due to victim withdrawal, insufficient evidence or conflicting evidence
  • 18% did lead to a prosecution but the person was found not guilty or the case dropped
  • 13% were prosecuted and a person convicted

Of the 31% that went to trial, 16% had a guilty plea, 30% had the case withdrawn or discharged and 52% went to trial. The conviction rate for those that went to trial was 49% guilty and 51% acquitted.

The biggest factor is victim withdrawal – either initially, or before charges are laid or even charges are laid. This is not surprising as going forward can be extremely traumatizing.  This is where I think the focus should be – on having a less traumatic judicial process for victims. But I don’t support changing the burden of proof as proposed by Andrew Little.

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Harre quits Internet Party

November 23rd, 2014 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Laila Harre said on The Nation yesterday that she is quitting as Leader of the Internet Party, and is no longer on the payroll. Dotcom’s $4.5 million has all been spent it seems.

While saying they mismanaged the last month, she seems to have a long list of others to blame, namely:

  • Georgina Beyer
  • The media
  • Labour
  • Greens
  • The “right” attacking

A week after the election I blogged on why the Internet Party failed. What I put it down to was:

  • Dotcom’s motives were not trusted with the $4,5 milion he out into it
  • Laila was the wrong leader for it
  • The Fuck John Key video backfired massively
  • The Moment of Truth fiasco

The Herald on Sunday profiles Dotcom today.

Three years ago the mansion bustled with up to 50 employees but that is now believed to have dwindled to fewer than 10 people, including a butler, security men, kitchen staff and gardeners.

Having only 10 servants instead of 50. That must be very tough.

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The optimum size of government

November 23rd, 2014 at 11:00 am by Lindsay Addie

Introduction

Earlier this year the Fraser Institute from Canada who research and analyze public policy issues published an article about the optimum size of government. The article cites the research of Canadian economist Livio Di Matteo who has written a research paper on this topic (see end of this post for the web link).

The key question is at what point does increasing government spending actually hinder economic growth and progress on complex social issues?

Over the years, economists have measured the effect of the size of government on economic growth and social outcomes such as life expectancy, infant mortality, homicide rates, educational attainment, and student reading proficiency.

The source data used by Di Matteo was from the OECD.

Findings

The key findings were.

Di Matteo’s analysis confirms other work showing a positive return to economic growth and social progress when governments focus their spending on basic, needed services like the protection of property. But his findings also demonstrate that a tipping point exists at which more government hinders economic growth and fails to contribute to social progress in a meaningful way.

The big takeaway in Di Matteo’s paper is that government works best (ie. economic growth) when government spending is 26% of GDP.  For societal programs the optimum figure is 30-35%. Beyond this point the benefits of unchecked spending by governments on social programmes show less and less benefits. Di Matteo (page 86) cites increased government spending on programmes to reduce infant mortality rates at birth as a typical example.

US Federal Government spending was according to the OECD in 2012 40% of GDP. Also bear in mind the huge US pubic debt ($US18 trillion) is too high. By comparison as of 2014 New Zealand government spending is just under 36% of GDP.

According to the Fraser Institute Canada is an example of what can be achieved by reducing the size of government.

The federal and many provincial governments took sweeping action to cut spending and reform programs. This led to a major structural change in the government’s involvement in the Canadian economy. The Canadian reforms produced considerable fiscal savings, reduced the size and scope of government, created room for important tax reforms, and ultimately helped usher in a period of sustained economic growth and job creation.

This final point is worth emphasizing: Canada’s total government spending as a share of GDP fell from a peak of 53 percent in 1992 to 39 percent in 2007, and despite this more than one-quarter decline in the size of government, the economy grew, the job market expanded, and poverty rates fell dramatically.

It is of note that reducing government spending didn’t increase poverty rates in fact the opposite happened.

[UPDATE]: The Fraser Institute article mentions poverty in Canada. Note the article was written in March 2014 and as clearly stated are not discussing the most recent data and is talking about a specific period.

Conclusions

There are of course many debating points here but the challenge for economists and politicians is to better understand the specific effects of state spending. The mind-set should be that government spending be carefully monitored and not expanded unless there are concrete reasons to do so.

Sources

OECD Data

Measuring government in the 21st Century by Livio Di Matteo

World Bank

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PM and Cook

November 23rd, 2014 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reported:

The dinner conversation traversed diverse subjects such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Rewi Alley, cooking skills, and Mr Xi’s preference for three-star hotels in China.

Mr Key, who is the chief cook in the Key household, said Mr Xi said he used to be quite a good cook himself but doesn’t cook any more.

I think it is rather cool that despite being PM, he still has time to cook for his family (and can do so). A very good way to stay grounded.

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Review: Interstellar (2014)

November 23rd, 2014 at 9:00 am by Kokila Patel

By John Stringer

80KoreaPic copy

Went and saw this last night, it was definitely on my list of new releases to see on the big screen, butFury won out first (Review: Fury (Brad Pitt) the Tank movie 2014) and I think I made the right choice despite very good reviews across the board.

I’m not quite sure how to feel about this movie, so let’s cut to the building blocks.

81KoreaPic copy

Lead man is Matthew McConaughey (Cooper) well-known to all of us but not really a big star (U-571etc). This is perhaps his biggest break since Sahara 2005 when he was also the lead.  A restrained, square-jaw, McC is undisputedly manly but does he have the gravitas to carry-it-off? Just I think, as an interstellar pilot.  He’s a reprise of Keir Dullea (Dr. David Bowman) of the 1968 classic 2001:Space Odyssey and this film is essentially an oblique rework. It even has HAL 9000s in the form of “Case” and “Tars” coolOdyssey monolith-esque walking talking robot jenga blocks.

Lead woman is Anne Hathaway and ever since her AMAZING piece in Les Miserables is just legend! We also have Michael Caine, John Lithgow (Third Rock from the Sun, appropriately), Ellen Burstyn (The Five People You Meet in Heaven,appropriately) and Matt Damon makes an unexpected mid-way appearance.  Wes Bentley (Seneca Crane of Hunger Games, and the creepy kid in American Beauty) is a crew member. Produced and directed by the UK Nolan brothers; Chris Nolan made his big break with Batman Begins, same year as Sahara.

The synopsis is a team of explorers travel through a wormhole near Saturn, put there by“them” in an attempt to lead us to a potentially habitable planet that will sustain humanity. “We were never meant to stay here, but to leave.” Things are bad on earth. There is a subplot of the Great Depression Dust Bowl, and the movie even has vox pop video records of actual people talking about that experience but appropriated to the current.

And we get lots of fields of corn, ala Signs (Gibson) and Field of Dreams (Cosner). What is it with corn fields (is it the crop circles)? There’s even a great chasing through the corn fields as per North By North West.  So, several classical movie allusions hidden in here.

Here’s the trailer…

There is a very cool unexpected tsunami scene. I liked too, that since things ‘collapsed,’ drones from India have continued flying for decades powered by solar panels, and occasionally come down.  Cooper ‘grabs’ them using his laptop and harvests their solar units to run his combine harvesters (frustrated farmer-astronaut).  There is also a great piece during the Parent-Teacher interview, when “Murph” the daughter is scolded and gets into a fight for believing the Apollo Moon missions were not a faked conspiracy to bankrupt the Russians into space exploration and expense, now Educational dogma. Space Jock daddy ain’t havin’ that (Unbelievers! …Ah well, back to farm).

The movie tantalizingly does not set us in an era; there’s no opener “Earth: 2034.” Gramps Lithgow recalls the late 20th century, people still drive pickups, there were wars over food. Crops have progressive blights and are failing. “We still have corn, but that too will die.”Most people are farmers.  The earth population is much reduced. NASA has secretly survived, hidden away.  So, perhaps mid 21st century ( 2050?) but it does not pinpoint it for us.  Because this movie slides Time all over the place.

Great special effects, spacescapes, craft, cryogenic freezing, robots, but this movie is a philosophical piece inside the capsules and on icy planets with great views, and so has more humanity and monologues of interest than Gravity had, which was visually spectacular but just lacked the human element. This movie has a good blend of both and the second half is better than the first.

We get lectured about time continuums and poltergeists, gravity as a communication tool transcending time for Beings in a fifth dimension, and all that pseudoscientific gumph. Michael Caine has a lifetime full of blackboards covered in real maths; science and maths as the Hope of humanity. Except mid-mission Anne Hathaway introduces Love.  Maybe love is what should decide what choices we make, isn’t that core to humanity, maybe that’s what things are really all about? Ya’ think? Gee, all that time I waisted on that PhD.

And of course McC (Cooper) is sighing and crying the whole time about his abandoned family back home in the dust, starving, and “Murph” his daughter who daddy promised to come back to. A grudge held across time and space and a whole lifetime. That’s gotta suck.

The movie holds together, with a great climax into a time conundrum reminiscent of the psychedelic Space Odyssey finale, but better explained.

But I’m not sure how I feel about it. I loved the Dr Who time gymnastics (they have to make decisions that will cost them back on earth (if they ever get back)…”every hour we spent here is seven back on earth.”  So they work fast, to get back to family before they die or are as old as they are now.

Some poignant TV video logs to eachother over time, pics of babies coming and going, people aging, as the crew just stay the same, and a tear jerker at the end between Cooper and Murph (no spoiler).

But there were too many implausible bits that jarred.  The crew bar one descend to ahopeful planet leaving the black guy behind to scramble data over the relative longer time and try and learn something about gravity to help the NASA team back on earth. When the crew finally make it back to the ship, well black guy has been there alone for 23 years.  Same with Matt Damon, who has lived an eternity alone on a space rock; and at the end, Anne Hathaway, playing house all by herself for eons.  It just doesn’t wash. People go mad that alone.  What do they do for decades, play Solitaire?

After 23 years Cooper just brushes past the black crew member and doesn’t even say hello. Callous as a comet core. Racism and ageism in space?

And the ending is unresolved, a bit like Space Odyssey.  It felt rushed. Gee, we’ve run out of time in a time movie. The sub plot around the son is simply abandoned, we see him no more. Why all the earlier development and angst? Murph dismisses Cooper, “I’ve got my children around me now.”  Hello?  A lifetime apart, not knowing if he was alive, you’d want a chat and cup of tea, maybe a Mackers, yeah?  Nup. “You belong up there, in the stars..GO!” Man alone in the sunsets stuff.  Saving family by leaving.

Some overly loud sudden crescendos of classical music (I suppose to mirror Odyssey’sfamous sound track of the Blue Danube?).

Overall I enjoyed this. The characters are excellent and the dust threat on earth interesting.  The NASA conspiracy is believable, but once we get out there in time continuums and bouncing off black holes, and breathing pure ammonia, well, the science and attempt to be ‘believable’ lost me. But, a good addition to the sci fi stable this season.  I preferred the story and action of Tom Cruise’s latest outings Oblivion and Edge of Tomorrow; and Prometheus; and Gravity.

7/10 stars plus a black hole from me.

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General Debate 23 November 2014

November 23rd, 2014 at 8:00 am by Kokila Patel
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Bill Cosby

November 23rd, 2014 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

Normally one is not inclined to pass judgement on someone who has never been convicted of any crime. But at last count around two dozen women have come forward to say they were drugged and raped by Bill Cosby, which is enough for me to conclude that there is no smoke without fire.

It’s sad as more and more of our childhood icons such as Rolf Harris and Bill Cosby are exposed not just as flawed human beings, but in fact serial predators and rapists.

Also disturbing is that some of the allegations against Cosby are decades old, but only through social media, has they gained global prominence – which allowed other victims to come forward.

Almost beyond belief is the fact that he appeared in Florida this weekend, and got a standing ovation from the crowd.

The Cosby Show was the most popular show on television for much of the 1980s. It was No 1 in the US from 1985 to 1989. For many people Cosby was playing himself when he portrayed Cliff Huxtable. But it turns out he was very much acting.

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Taxpayer funding for America’s Cup should cease

November 22nd, 2014 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Treasury has advised against taxpayer backing for Team New Zealand in the next America’s Cup, labelling it “poor value for money”.

The Government contributed $5 million to Team New Zealand to help retain key staff soon after its 8-9 loss in the 34th Cup in September last year – against Treasury advice – and is considering investing a similar amount to the $36 million contributed last time.

The news that the cup is likely to be in Bermuda, not San Francisco, means that the case for further taxpayer money is even weaker than before.

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The focus should be on students not schools

November 22nd, 2014 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Free uniforms and stationery are on offer to those who enrol at a new charter school.

How terrible. Helping poor families.

Millions of dollars will be spent on new charter or “partnership” schools despite hundreds of spare places at surrounding state options.

I don’t care about schools. I care about outcomes for students. The outcomes in these communities to date have been pretty poor.

That has not stopped disquiet from one principal who says it is unfair to expect lower decile schools to compete with charter schools offering free uniforms, stationery and no donations.

They complain that fees are too high and then complain when a school is innovative enough to not need them.

Six intermediate schools are near the site of Middle School West Auckland, a Year 7-10 partnership school that will have a maximum roll of 240.

The schools have enough spare places to enrol an additional 588 students at Year 7-8, according to the ministry document.

Yes, but they are all offering much the same, while the charter school is offering something different, Parents will have a choice.

Partnership schools cannot charge donations, and the school would provide free uniforms and stationery, Mr Poole said, but not as “sweeteners”.

“What we want is that every child walks through the gate at 100 per cent equal.”

Shouldn’t the left be cheering this on?

Mr Poole said that, despite attacks from opponents of charter schools, they did not get more funding, and start-up costs were well below usual amounts for state schools. Creative budgeting and a lack of expensive infrastructure like playing fields enabled them to offer smaller classes and items such as uniforms, he said.

It’s about flexibility. A charter school has greater ability to set its own priorities.

What’s interesting is that the principal complaining about a charter school offering free stationery took part in a protest march where he complained about funding for stationery.

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Garner on Little

November 22nd, 2014 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Duncan Garner writes:

A bunch of faceless union hacks chose Andrew Little to lead the Labour Party this week.

That’s the truth. It’s as simple and as brutal as that.

Six unions got to vote in the leadership race – but just one union, Service and Food Workers, actually gave all its members the right to exercise their vote.

The other five unions gave the power to about 100 senior delegates to cast the crucial votes on behalf of those on the factory floor.

Who are these delegates? Who knows. If it wasn’t for Little’s 100 union mates who wielded the power and the final say, Little would have come a distant second in this race.

The Labour system is awful. If you want to do membership voting, then do it as the Greens do it – one member, one vote. Not one union delegate having 30 votes.

This is unprecedented for Labour – 27 of its MPs don’t want Little to be their boss.

Yet leader he is. It’s a perverse outcome that looks farcical. But the process is the process – despite it looking like an ass. It certainly doesn’t seem fair to Robertson, and of course he’s gutted and licking his wounds.

So what to make of Little?

In my time covering politics I found him to be straight-forward, competent, organised, gruff, a little grim, dry and blunt but likeable.

So it’s not all bad. Get Labour back up into the early 30s and it’s game on – that’s MMP.

At 30% you lose less badly. At 35% you can govern if Winston chooses you.

At least Little’s not a trumped-up fake like the last leader and a stuttering mess, like the one before that.

Ouch.

But this is a divided bunch. If I was Little I’d offer the deputy leader’s job to Jacinda Ardern.

They need some Auckland influence in there – and she’s a Robertson loyalist. Little could offer the job to Robertson – but then the leader and deputy are from Wellington and that’s a problem.

He must not offer it to failed leadership contender Nanaia Mahuta for all the obvious reasons. And he must promote new blood like Kelvin Davis and Stuart Nash on to the front bench.

I agree Ardern is the logical choice for Deputy. She doesn’t want to be his Deputy, but she is a List MP and a servant of the party. She should be told that she has to take the role.

And what about Robertson? Is he finished? I say no.

He’s promised not to run again for leader – but surely that commitment only lasts for this term.

Robertson, in my view, will always have ambitions to be the leader. But he wants to give Little three years.

However, should Little fail and John Key wins a fourth term, Robertson’s commitment to never stand again means nothing.

Little is now the boss. But don’t write off the apprentice – politics is a long game and Robertson is still running a marathon, not a sprint.

Or will he be Jacinda’s campaign manager next time, rather than vice versa?

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A profile of Little

November 22nd, 2014 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Andrea Vance at Stuff has a profile of Andrew Little.

In the mid-2000s, the EPMU took on Air New Zealand over plans to outsource heavy maintenance engineering and airport services. Little hired experts and drew up an alternative business strategy.

A former airline executive – on the other side of the negotiating table – was impressed.

“There is a really interesting blend of practical compassion within Andrew. That pragmatism realises the commercial realities of a business … It was a very tense and adversarial approach taken by both parties but there was a degree of calmness about him, borne out of recognising as a leader that he has got to let the situation unfold a little bit.”

He says Little “opened his eyes”.

“We understood [then] the impact of the decision that we would have been taking. He was a measured, reasonable voice as opposed to antagonistic. He played a very good, diffusing role.”

Little is “well regarded” by many in the business world, the former airline executive says.

The irony is Little is more popular with some employers he negotiated with, than some of his rival union leaders.

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Key elected head of the International Democrat Union

November 22nd, 2014 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

John Key was yesterday elected Chairman of the International Democrat Union. This is the global union of centre right parties. It is unprecedented for the leader of such a small country to become the chair.

It has 54 members including the Australian Liberal Party, Canadian Conservative Party, Taiwanese Kuomintang, French UPM, German CDU, UK Conservative and US Republican Party. It was founded by Margaret Thatcher, Helmut Kohl, Jacques Chrirac and George H W Bush. John Howard has just retired as the Chairman.

I have had some involvement myself in the IDU and the IYDU. To be elected Chair means that dozens of other Prime Ministers and party leaders are in support of you. It is a sign that John Key is recognised internationally as one of the most successful centre right leaders around the world.

Global politics, like domestic politics, often works on the strength of relationships. Key’s ascension to the IDU leadership is significant.

When he first became National Party leader, some on the left mocked Key as someone who would be incompetent on foreign affairs – how could a money trader know anything about diplomacy. Since then Key has developed strong relationships with both the US and Chinese Presidents, is good friends with the Australian, British and Canadian PMs, and now has been elected by his peers to be the leader of the global grouping of centre-right parties.

 

 

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