Archive for November, 2009

2025 Taskforce Recommendations

November 30th, 2009 at 5:51 pm by David Farrar

Yet to read the full paper, but the Herald reports major recommendations are:

Dr Brash revealed 35 recommendations today but the centrepiece was to reduce government spending to 2005 levels of 29 per cent of gross domestic product by 2012-13.

This could be done by:

* Reducing benefit numbers through “ambitious” welfare reform;

* Ending Kiwisaver subsidies;

* Scrapping the New Zealand Superannuation Fund and using the money to pay off debt;

* Raising the age of superannuation eligibility; and

* Cutting universal subsidies for health and education.

Of these savings, $7 billion would be used to reduce all income and business taxes to a top rate of 20 per cent.

Dr Brash said unless tax and spending were slashed the Government’s “ambitious” goal could not be achieved.

“There may be some other cunning plan, but I am not aware of it,” Dr Brash said.

He said the proposed cuts were “not a massacre”, but a winding back of spending that had not been effective since 2005.

The taskforce’s other policy prescriptions included:

* Reducing the minimum wage and reintroducing a lower minimum youth wage;

* Changing employment laws to make it easier to sack workers;

* Extending probationary employment periods to a year for all workers;

As I type this I am literally on board NZ1 to Auckland sitting by the gate in Los Angeles. The wireless can still pick up the Koru Club signal – just. Will blog my thoughts on the different recommendations on Tuesday when back home.

Tags: ,

Likud and Zionism

November 30th, 2009 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

The rest of Thursday was learning about some of the history of Zionism and Likud specifically.  The first stop was the Menachem Begin Centre. Begin, who signed the peace treaty with Egypt, was effectively the third leader of the revisionist zionism movement. The modern founder of zionism was Theodor Herzl, and then Vladimir “Ze’ev” Jabotinsky led the revisionist faction, which Begin then led.

Begin died in 1992, and usually tops the polls of most admired former prime ministers. However for most of his career he was a terrorist/freedom fighter (depending on point of view) and was very much a political outcast until the 1970s.

The centre in his name, obviously is very favourable to him. They have a very nice set of displays, and audio-visual effects. The tour guide, who works for the centre, was a young Canadian girl who emigrated to Israel just two years ago, leaving her family behind.

Begin was a leader within the Irgun, and there is no doubt by today’s standards some of what they did would be called terrorism – especially the murder of the Sergeants. The British response was not much better.

There was also the infamous bombing of the King David Hotel, and to this day, there are bitter different points of views between the UK and Israel on it.

Not once in my time in Israel did I hear any demonisation of the Palestinian Authority. The two countries that were always criticised were in fact Britain (for former acts) and Iran (for current support of Hamas, Hizbollah etc). Britain was as much the enemy in the mid 1940s, as was the Arab states.

After the war of independence, tensions between the Ben-Gurion Government and Begin’s Irgun were massive, and in fact led to some bloodshed. Begin’s decision not to retaliate is said by his supporters to have prevented a civil war. Ben-Gurion seemed to despise Begin and would not even mention his name for several decades.

In 1977 Begin broke the 30 year monopoly of the Labour Party on power and became Prime Minister. His entire career had been as a hard liner who was against turning over any of the occupied territories to its neighbours. Yet he signed a peace treaty with Egypt in 1979, which set the precedent of land for peace, handing over the entire Sinai peninsula. He won the Nobel Peace Prize along with Anwar Sadat and Shimon Peres. His peace treaty was bitterly opposed my many in his own party.

jer19

The signatures on the final page of the peace treaty.

He also bombed the Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981, and in 1986 approved the invasion fo Lebanon, which eventually led to him retiring in 1983. He was a recluse until his death in 1992. One of the reasons for his popularity is he was seen as a simple man of the people – and refused to be buried on Mount Herzl, but instead on the Mount of Olives next to two young Irgun fighters who killed themselves in jail to avoid execution by the British.

jer20

A view of old Jerusalem from the Begin Centre.

After the centre, we went to the West Bank. It was fascinating to see first hand parts of the occupied territories. Two things struck me. The first is how big the West Bank is, and how much room there. It is not some crowded area like Gaza. The second is how close many Palestinian and Israeli cities and settlements are to each other. Don’t think there is some nice straight line you can draw between the two.

Much of the West Bank will form a future Palestinian state. But it is not as simple as just going back to the 1967 boundaries. Even the Palestinians say they are not expecting Israel to abandon major cities in the area. What is likely to happen is that any area Israel keeps, might be replaced with some territory elsewhere from sovereign Israel. This can be made into a win-win but the devil is in the details.

wb1

A typical shot of the West Bank.

wb2

This is at the top of a strategically important hill in the 1967 war. The military are very reluctant to give up this area, as they say they could not prevent an invasion from reaching major cities without it. That is of course their point of view.

wb3

Below is a Palestinian town.

wb4

A photo of the group, in the West Bank. Regardless of the politics of the area, it was a fascinating place to view.

Then we headed to Tel Aviv where we visited the Jabotinsky Institute. This was the only part I did not enjoy much. It mainly consisted of a lecture on Jabotinsky, and the presentation was too zealous – mainly about how all the other Zionists turned out wrong and Jabotinsky was right. Was interesting to learn about him (I had never heard of him before), but what should have taken one hour took two and a half.

We then checked into out hotel in Tel Aviv. Now the hotels generally in Israel had been three star ones to keep costs down. The total cost for the six days was only 500 Euros, and that included hotels, food, travel, driver, and entry tickets.

Now the hotel in Jerusalem was very basic (probably a 2 to 2.5 star in reality) but okay to sleep in. But the hotel in Tel Aviv was a 0 star. You opened the door and immediately saw a cockroach. Not in just one room, and the first three rooms we opened. We gave up after that. Also I noticed the beds had just sheets on them, no sleeping covers. We eventually worked out based on the neighbourhood that this is one of those hotels that you normally rent by the hour.

We staged a walkout and found a much nicer one down the road. The owner actually got offended we were leaving. She was lucky we did not report it to the health authorities for demolition. Yuck. On the plus side it allowed us to hassle our host greatly about how he tried to book us into a prostitute hotel.

Then Thursday night was night clubbing until around 2 am in Tel Aviv. It has a active party scene. I had to cut out early to write my NBR column :-(

What I gained most from the day is understanding that the issues around Israel did not start in 1948 or 1967. The zionist movement grew out of the late 1800s, as a response to the discrimination and worse of the Jewish populations in almost every country on Earth. People will disagree on whether or not the response was the correct one, but it is simplistic to see it as merely to provide a homeland after the events of the Holocaust – the move for a homeland had been steadily underway for some decades. Most of the planning happened when there was no Palestine – when the area was part of the Ottoman Empire.

Today Israel is an established fact, and there is little doubt there will be a Palestinian state at some stage. But under what conditions, and what boundaries is a long way from being resolved.

Tags: , ,

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre

November 30th, 2009 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Thursday morning we visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

The Church is a sacred site for many Christians, who believe is the site of the death and resurrection of Jesus. Apart from the spiritual aspects, it is a magnificent ancient building and is a must see.

jer14

This is the entrance to the Church, which was constructed around 300 AD.

jer15

This is the Stone of Annointing, claimed to be the spot where Jesus was prepared for burial.

jer16

One of the many artworks on the walls.

jer17

Upstairs is the purported site of the crucifixion, You go up a narrow winding rock staircase to get to what is called Golgotha. You can see the rock the cross was placed in, and down below is also the rock that sealed his tomb.

Whether or not you are a believer, the church is a sacred place, and was a real highlight for me.

Tags: , ,

General Debate 30 November 2009

November 30th, 2009 at 8:00 am by David Farrar
Tags:

The Knesset

November 30th, 2009 at 2:20 am by David Farrar

Catching up on the last few days, as have had no time to blog.

Wednesday afternoon we visited the Knesset, and were very fortunate to not just have a private tour, but also hosted by the Knesset Chairman, Speaker Reuven Rivlin. We met in his private offices until he had was suddenly summoned to a meeting with the Prime Minister, to be told the PM was recommending a 10 month freeze on settlements.

jer13

The Speaker with the Swedish contingent, and Davidi (our host from Young Likud).

Rivlin was the Likud candidate for President in 2007, and has a reasonable chance of becoming President at the next election. His family have resided in Jerusalem since around 1800.

Just as Israelis are very proud of their Supreme Court, they are also proud that they have a universal democracy. There are no electorate seats in Israel – it is proportional representation for every party that gets over 2%. The threshold used to be 1%, then 1.5% and now is 2%. Some advocate it should keep going higher to prevent the small extremist parties. There are 18 parties in the 120 member Knesset, but they stood under 12 lists only.

Of the 120 Knesset members, 13 are Arabs. Some of them have been elected Deputy Speaker, and one has served as Acting President.

We also went and observed the Knesset in session. It is quite different to the NZ Parliament. The MK speakign does so from a platform next to the Speaker. The MKs themselves sit in four horseshoes (in the shape of the symbol on their coat of arms – its formal name escapes me).

Their debates are not just confined to passing laws (as NZ is except for question time and general debate). They debate many varied issues every day. However where it is like NZ, is that few attend at any one time.

The visitors gallery is behind soundproof glass. We were told that no matter what we said, no one would hear it. I was tempted to jump up and start yelling out Allah Ackbar to test that assertion, but luckily my common sense won out that this would be a very bad thing to do :-)

The artwork in the Knesset is stunning – some of them took a decade to complete. It is a building well worth a tour.

As I mentioned in my NBR column, I was surprised at the degree of pragmatism I encountered amongst some of the politicians. You realise after a while that so called bottom lines are initial negotiating positions. We saw that the day we were there with the freeze on settlements (which is a good thing).

After the Knesset we had a meeting with Yigal Palmor, who has one of the more difficult jobs in Israel – he is the Spokesperson for the Foreign Affairs Ministry. Again fascinating discussions about prospects for peace agreements, and it was during that discussion the idea of both Israel and a future Palestine being part of NATO (to guarantee secure borders) was discussed.

I asked if the settlement freeze will make his job easier, as it will be popular internationally and he (correctly) predicted that the Palestinians would reject it as inadequate. He stressed the US reaction is very important. Paraphrasing, if the US supports Israel on something, then most of the rest of the world will offer mild or muted criticism only. But if the US itself is critical (even mildly), then Israel will face harsh denunciations around the world.

Also talked Iran with him, and asked outright if he thinks Iran would be more willing to drop its assumed nuclear weapons programme, if Israel disposed of its nuclear weapons. I was somewhat amused that he didn’t even try and deny Israel had nuclear weapons – he just said that he thinks Iran would want them regardless due to Pakistan and India.

We also have two impromptu meetings in the streets. One was with the Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem. He is a very close friend of Davidi, the Young Likud Chair, despite the fact he is also the Young Labour Chair.

We also ran into Davidi’s former army commander. He is now a General, and his job is head of counter-terrorism for the Armed Forces. Only had a brief chat to him, but we had dinner the next night with a former Deputy Chief of General Staff, who was in charge of the Northern Command.

A very interesting day all up.

Tags: , ,

Legal Aid review

November 29th, 2009 at 11:11 am by David Farrar

Yet to read the full report itself, but the Herald sums it up:

A damning review of legal aid says a sea change is needed to fix a system undermined by incompetent, unscrupulous and sometimes corrupt lawyers looking after their own interests.

The Legal Aid Review report released this morning recommended the Legal Services Agency, which administers the aid, lose its independent status and be folded into the Justice Ministry.

It said administrative costs were out of control and raised serious concerns about how the agency operated which had opened the system up to abuse by bad lawyers.

Wow that is much more damning and much more a radical solution than I expected. Some of the issues found:

* lawyers making sentencing submissions without having read the pre-sentence report;

* lawyers ignorant of legal principles and not realising their own ignorance;

* lawyers failing to turn up to court;

* “car boot lawyers” using a District Court law library phone as their office number and using interviewing rooms as their offices;

* lawyers gaming the system by delaying a plea or changing pleas part-way through the process to maximise payments – Dame Margaret said unverified sources believed up to 80 per cent of lawyers practising in Manukau District Court could be gaming the system;

* lawyers who demanded or accepted top up payments from clients who do not understand legal aid;

* widespread abuse of the preferred lawyer policy by duty solicitors, including taking backhanders for recommending particular lawyers to applicants.

I can’t imagine this report will just be filed somewhere to gather dust. Watch this space.

Tags: ,

Is Lisa Lewis the NZ businesswoman of the year?

November 29th, 2009 at 10:53 am by David Farrar

The SST asks the question:

Lewis, who last week also appeared online for Australian Penthouse, has been nominated for a prestigious national women’s business award, the Veuve Clicquot Business Woman Award – a title held previously by fashion designer Annah Stretton and reality TV queen Julie Christie.

Lewis has been nominated by Hong Kong lawyer Cathy Odgers, the author of a blog written under the pseudonym Cactus Kate.

Odgers said her nomination was the result of having a “hunt around for something to do where I could contribute in a life-changing way to another woman deserving of assistance in fighting discrimination in her chosen profession”.

The nomination procedure requires an extensive submission. Examples must be given of corporate social responsibility by the nominee, entrepreneurial drive, leadership skills and financial success.

Odgers described Lewis as an online pioneer in New Zealand for the provision of sexual entertainment services to a registered pay-per-view clientele. Of Lewis’s corporate social responsibility she writes: “Hamilton is a small town and in purveying her personal services she respects client confidentiality in a manner that would leave many lawyers and accountants hanging their heads in shame.”

Odgers said examples of Lewis’s entrepreneurial drive were her dedication and training “to ensure she can deliver the quality of service and required aesthetics her profession demands”.

“Lisa has kept her body in incredible shape using a complex cardio and weight-training regime combined with a stringent diet that many women would run away from in horror.”

Her leadership style was direct and she epitomised a Kiwi “can-do” attitude, said Odgers. “She fits into any social circumstance, whether surrounded by the grace and charm required of high society sipping Veuve Clicquot or with sweaty rugby players at a local pub over a beer.”

Kiwiblog wishes Lisa all the best in winning the title.

Tags: ,

General Debate 29 November 2009

November 29th, 2009 at 8:00 am by David Farrar
Tags:

General Debate 28 November 2009

November 28th, 2009 at 8:00 am by David Farrar
Tags:

History and Government of Israel

November 27th, 2009 at 6:13 pm by David Farrar

Our first day in Israel was sightseeing around old Jerusalem. On our second day, we did a mixture of history and current affairs, thanks to our hosts, Young Likud.

First up we went to The Greats of the Nation on Mount Herzl. Theodor Herzl was the founder of modern Zionism, and seen as the seer of the State of Israel even though he died in 1904.
jer6

This is the memorial to Herzl, whose remains were moved to Israel in 1949.

jer7

On the tomb on Yitzmak Rabin, the Israeli Prime Minister who struck peace with with the PLO through the Oslo Accords, and was assassinated in 1995.

jer8

And Golda Meir, one of the first elected female leaders in the world, when she became PM in 1969.

We then went Yad Vashem, which is the Holocaust Memorial.

jer9

This is a photo of a photo taken from a liberated concentration camp. At this stage we were told no photos are allowed, which is a pity as so many of the scenes there need to be shown as widely as possible.

The museum is very moving, and very detailed. There is a huge amount of documentation, plus audio and visual displays. Allow two hours at least. I thought I knew a lot about the Holocaust, but I learnt a lot more at the museum.

At the very end you can search their database of holocaust victims. I spent a while searching for various relatives, which made it very real.

The museum covers well not just the Holocaust, but the conditions that led to it, and also the many people who risked their lives to help the victims.

jer10

A Holocaust monument in the exterior of the museum.

jer11

Female soldiers are a very common sight in Israel as military service is compulsory for both genders.

jer7

This is a picture of one of the Supreme Court courtrooms. The Israeli Supreme Court is much hallowed in Israel, as the vision was to found a country based on the rule of law.

The Supreme Court is unusual, in that it is not just an appellate court. It does hear appeals from District Courts (akin to our High Courts) but also is the High Court of Justice and has original jurisdiction on some matters such as petitions against the state. So rather than be a leisurely few cases a year supreme court, it hears over 5,000 cases a year.

The reasons for this is the British, it seems. When the British ruled the area, they did not want the lower courts hearing petitions against their actions, so they

It can and does strike down laws that conflict with the Basic Law. Rather controversially it just a few days ago declared a law allowing for private prisons (I think owned not just managed but am not sure) to breach human rights for prisoners. It tends to be seen as an activist or liberal court, but in a country with no constitution and no existence until 1948, they have been forced to create their own law, relying on overseas precedents where possible.

The Court has 15 members (was 12 until recently) and normally sits in benches of three. More important cases can have bigger benches, and one case had 11 Judges sit on it. There must be an odd number.

We also went to the Knesset, which I will blog about in a new post.

The Supreme Court Building is quite magnificent – a mixture of old and new. Definitely worth a tour.

Tags: , ,

Obama’s emissions target

November 27th, 2009 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

Barack Obama has said the US will wim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 17% by 2020, but this is 17% on their 2005 levels, not 1990 levels.

The growth from 1990 to 2005 has been around 17%, so in fact their target is to be around the same as in 1990 – a 0% change.

Now bear in mind the Greens have got hysterical because NZ has *only* pledged a 10% to 20% reduction on 1990 levels. Obama’s target makes NZ’s target seem wildly ambitious, not bottom of the pack.

Tags: , ,

Peter Gibbons worked with Weatherston

November 27th, 2009 at 10:01 am by Peter Gibbons

 It has become fashionable in some parts of the right-wing blogosphere, particularly the prickly part in Hong Kong and the oily section in Auckland, to deride Mr Farrar’s conservative credentials and indeed to allegedly expel him from the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy (though I believe he still has his authentic membership certificate).
 
One topic however on which Mr Farrar was undoubtedly still strong, vitriolic and fiery was the trial of now-convicted murderer Clayton Weatherston.  So strong, vitriolic and fiery was he (and his legions of devoted commenters) that the Solicitor-General actually took a look at the issue before deciding against taking any action against this blog.  As a result though, Mr Farrar adopted a much stricter policy about what could and couldn’t appear on his blog during trials.
 
Today, Justice Minister Simon Power announced “the partial defence of provocation is to be abolished after the Crimes (Provocation Repeal) Amendment bill was passed last nigth [sic].”  Weatherston had controversially attempted to use this defence at his trial which seemed to most simply to be an excuse to besmirch the victim and showcase his ego.
 
In a number of his posts Mr Farrar stressed he did not know Clayton Weatherston or his victim Sophie Elliott. 
 
Well, I did know Clayton Weatherston.  I worked with him for almost a year.
 
I worked with him at Treasury.  I was an analyst, he was the team’s economist.  He gave me the distinct initial impression that he had been at Treasury for some time and was quite senior though I was told later he had only been there a few months before me and was a summer intern who had stayed on.
 
His role was to support the policy team with economic advice and expertise though I saw little evidence of this.  He always seemed to be working on ill-defined special projects which no one else knew about.  He was very quiet, kept to himself mostly but was not unpleasant.
 
In one of our rare conversations, he talked quite excitedly about being the Shaq the Cat mascot in Dunedin for several years.  He got letters from Shaquille O’Neal’s lawyers telling him to stop breaking copyright and was warned by the Police for inciting opposition fans with obscene gestures involving his tail.
 
This seemed highly out of character for the quiet, almost shy economist I saw at work.
 
In terms of style, even then he had a haircut that showcased the studied deliberate messiness which only half an hour with hair gel can achieve.  He either wore the most casual, hippest clothes or a hugely expensive suit.  There was no middle ground in his wardrobe.
 
He left Treasury to return to Otago University.  I think he was studying the economics of sports gambling and seemed to be looking forward to the change.  His going away event was low-key and sparsely attended.  He rather faded out and I did not think much more about him for many years.
 
When I saw the breaking news regarding the death of Sophie and the arrest of Weatherston, I was simply shocked and appalled.  I had no sense that Weatherston could be capable of such evil.  Certainly, he was aloof, faintly arrogant but not the most unpleasant person I had ever worked with.  Not even in the top ten. 

I cannot pretend to understand why he did what he did.  Frankly, I do not wish to. 
 
I can say that I think the fact that Sophie was leaving Dunedin to start work in Treasury was an issue for Weatherston.  By all accounts Sophie was extremely smart and personable.  It is likely that she would have superseded Weatherston’s limited legacy at Treasury very quickly.   My sense is that this realisation would not have sat well with him.  Beyond that, there is nothing I can add.

Tags: ,

Humour transplants needed

November 27th, 2009 at 8:23 am by David Farrar

My God. Someone please ring up Hell Pizza and ask them to deliver some humour transplants to the Labour Caucus Room.

ACT staffer Andrew Falloon joked on his Facebook status that he is off to the Abel Tasman National Park for 8 nights before Gerry Brownlee rips it up and Charles Chauvel both uses this in a question in Parliament, and blogs about it on Red Alert.

Really that is just so sad. I am so glad I no longer work in Parliament if I have to put up with crap like that.

At least Gerry Brownlee shows he still has an excellent sense of humour:

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: This summer will be the largest exploration activity ever seen in New Zealand waters.

Hon Darren Hughes: That’s just the Minister on the beach.

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: Seven offshore wells are being drilled, and thousands of kilometres of seismic data are being shot. In fact, New Zealand is ranked in the top 10 countries for offshore exploration wells. This year we have put in place a seismic data acquisition programme to continue the success. It is a good programme. I know that you do not like us responding to interjections, Mr Speaker, but I just want to say that in order that no one rushes to the beach to save the whales, I will be publishing the dates that I am on holiday.

Heh.

Tags: ,

Goff’s u-turn

November 27th, 2009 at 7:50 am by David Farrar

My goodness, Phil Goff is desperate. He has actually done a full u-turn on his party’s removal of the right for Maori to test their common law property rights in court.

The Herald reports:

Labour leader Phil Goff has re-opened the political warfare over the foreshore and seabed law, saying the Government’s plan to repeal it will divide the country again.

Mr Goff yesterday changed Labour’s position on the law, saying it was working well the way it was now, and repeal would make “wounds fester”.

What an idiot. He doesn’t think there are festering wounds at the moment.

Goff is calculating (probably correctly) that he will get a short-term boost from this in the polls, which will shore up his leadership. However he is making his job of being able to form a Government after the next election harder, as the chances of Labour and the Greens by themselves achieving 62 or more seats is very remote. Maybe he is counting on Winston making it back?

No Right Turn has let loose:

Today in Palmerston North (of course), Labour leader Phil Goff gave a speech to Grey Power (of course) attacking the government for dealing with the Maori Party, “reopening” Treaty settlements, and revisiting the Foreshore and Seabed Act. While carefully caveated (of course), the underlying message was loud and clear: “National is in bed with the bloody Maaris”. …

Well, fuck him. Racism has no place in our society, and a proper left-wing party would be fighting against it, not engendering and exploiting it for political gain. Our defining belief is equality, and that means equality for all, not just Pakeha. If Labour doesn’t understand that, and wants to go down this path, then its just another reason for me to vote Green.

I think it is quite legitimate for Labour to say they have problems with the ETS and associated deals on Treaty settlements. Also legitimate to say they support the Foreshore & Seabed Act. But when Goff starts chucking in stuff about how John Key didn’t condemn Hone Harawira badly enough (which is hilarious when you consider Goff voted against the privileges committee report into Winston Peters), it is a pretty blatant attempt to do you know what.

The recent Marae-Digipoll showed Labour’s support amongst Maori had collapsed massively since the election. I guess they have decided not to try and change that, and hope they pick up enough Grey Power votes in exchange.

Tags: , ,

Middle East politics

November 27th, 2009 at 7:15 am by David Farrar

My weekly Dispatch from St Johnnysburg at NBR, has become a Dispatch from Tel Aviv, on Middle East politics.

I discuss Iran and nuclear weapons and Palestine.

Comments and feedback can be left at NBR.

Tags: , ,

General Debate 27 November 2009

November 27th, 2009 at 6:43 am by David Farrar
Tags:

Jerusalem

November 26th, 2009 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

On Tuesday I flew from Tehran to Tel Aviv via Turkey. Iran will not let you enter if you have been to Israel previously, so I guessed they would not be that keen on me heading there straight afterwards, so I had been very careful  not to mention the Israel part of my trip publicly.

I got a bit nervous at the airport though when I realised that as I was on the same airline from Tehran to Istanbul and Istanbul to Tel Aviv, they could see the next leg, as they asked me if I wanted to check my bags all the way through. I very quietly said yes.

The flight to Istanbul was a nightmare as the airport fogged in, and we circled for an hour then diverted to Ankara, refueled and then went back to Istanbul. A two hour flight took almost six hours, and I missed my connecting flight. Got transferred onto a later one okay though.

Just as Iran is not that keen on visitors who have been to Israel, Israel is not that keen on people who have just flown in from Iran. At the gate in Istanbul, I was taken aside and questioned for around 10 minutes about why I had been in Iran, how long would I be in Israel etc.

Eventually got onto flight. When we went through passport control at Tel Aviv, I thought it would be even worse, but the officer accepted my story straight away, and took only a couple of minutes.

Met up with the rest of the group. We have five Swedes, two Finns two Austrians, a Swiss and one Kiwi.

Around 5 pm we went to the Shrine of the Book. This museum houses the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Aleppo Codex. Most people will have heard of the Dead Sea Scrolls, but now the Codex, which is basically the oldest existing bible – around 3,000 years old. It isn’t a bible per se – more the authoritative source for the bible. So you get some idea of its historical value.

jer1

This is a photo of a model of old Jerusalem at the Shrine of the Book. The model is huge – only a 50:1 ratio.

jer2

Then went to the Mount of Olives and saw some of the 150,000 graves there, plus the superb view of old Jerusalem.

At 8 pm we hit Old Jerusalem. I can’t describe how wonderful the city is – such a sense of history. We visited the Western (or Wailing) Wall, and also had tours through the Generations Centre and best of all though the tunnels underneath the wall.

jer3

This is the base of the Western Wall. All day and night many Jews go there to pray.

The original temple here was the Temple of Solomon. After that was destroyed in 586 BC, a second temple was constructed by Herod in around 19 BC. The wall is part of the remains of that temple. Judaism believes a third temple will be constructed there when the Messiah comes.

The original temple was on the Temple Mount, which is the holiest site in Judaism as it is taught as the place where God created Adam. It is also sacred to Islam as the site where Muhammed ascended to heaven.

jer5

The tunnels under the Western Wall are incredible. So much history down there. Not one for claustrophobics though. Also a bad place to be if there is an earthquake!

jer4

Also did a walk through the alleyways and bazaars of East Jerusalem. This is basically Palestinian/Arab area, and is likely to be officially part of a future Palestine state. While there has been violence in the past, things were generally very relaxed in this area, with people from all religions and races walking about.

Tags: , ,

More on monetary policy

November 26th, 2009 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Matt Nolan blogs:

Monetary policy at heart isn’t about “unemployment” or “output” or “the exchange rate” (which is a relative price).  Monetary policy is about money, it is about the supply of money, it is about the price level and inflation.  The “interest rate” is merely an instrument central banks use to control the money supply and keep “inflation stable”.  By keeping inflation stable we increase certainty and we help make sure that money remains a good indicator of the relative value of REAL goods and services.

The idea that we should mess around with this to tinker with other things misses the point – if our exchange rate is funny, unemployment is high, or output is below potential we have to ask “what issues in REAL economy are causing this”.  Monetary policy in itself is irrelevant – monetary policy IS about money, it IS about inflation, it IS about expectations regarding these nominal variables, it IS NOT about real economic variables.

I am not saying that monetary policy hasn’t moved real variables – but in a world where monetary policy IS solely focused on inflation and consistent expectations is a world where monetary policies impact on the real economy is at its best.

It worries me greatly that Labour have abandoned support for a bipartisan monetary policy consensus.

Tags: ,

Catholics and girls move up the order

November 26th, 2009 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The Telegraph reports:

Gordon Brown has paved the way for sweeping changes to the 300-year-old law which prevents Roman Catholics ascending to the throne.

Mr Brown has made it clear he also wants to change the rule of primogeniture, which prevents women taking their place ahead of men in the line to the throne.

The Prime Minister will travel to a Commonwealth summit in Trinidad today and will raise the controversial issue fellow heads of government.

Good to see some modernisation. It has been bizarre that Catholics have been barred from becoming the New Zealand Head of State.

Tags:

Online Petitions

November 26th, 2009 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The SMH reports:

Politicians are tweeting, blogging and poking, but most remain out of reach when it comes to receiving petitions over the internet.

But all that will change if the Australian Government accepts a recommendation from a parliamentary committee that the House of Representatives should treat electronic petitions the same way it treats those delivered on paper.

What a good idea. No 10 Downing Street allows this, as does the Australian Senate. Would be a good initiative for New Zealand Parliament to also embrace.

Tags: ,

Tax Options

November 26th, 2009 at 10:07 am by David Farrar

Colin Espiner writes:

Top personal tax rates could fall but homeowners may pay higher rates under the latest proposals from the Government’s advisory group on changes to the tax system.

In its final deliberations before reporting to the Government, the Tax Working Group says the current system is “not sustainable” and there are “major growth, fairness, and integrity issues”.

Good to hear strong language, as that makes it harder for the Government to do nothing.

TAXING TIMES: THE OPTIONS

* Cut top personal tax rate in line with corporate and trust tax rates

* Cut taxes on capital income and remove ability to offset wage and salary income

* Close tax shelter loopholes

* Raise property taxes and/or GST

* Adjust tax rates on interest payments for inflation

* Increase rates to push down property prices and ring-fence losses on rental properties

* Make income on capital investments tax-free until money is withdrawn

Also good to see this comment:

Labour’s finance spokesman, David Cunliffe, said Labour agreed the current tax system was unfair. The party was opposed to a capital gains tax on a first home but would enter in “good faith” discussions on any other proposals.

National and Labour may not be able to agree on what particular tax rates should be, but it would be good if they could agree on the basics such as better to tax immobile stuff such as land rather than labour and capital which is mobile and can move offshore.

Tags:

Kick a Ginger Day

November 26th, 2009 at 8:35 am by David Farrar

AP reports:

CALABASAS, California — Authorities say there were at least five attacks on red-haired students at a Southern California middle school after a Facebook group announced “Kick a Ginger Day.”

However, nobody was seriously hurt and no arrests were made.

How very stupid. They should know not to actually kick Gingas in case they catch Gingervitis.

Investigators say the Facebook message may have been inspired by a South Park TV episode that satirised racial prejudice by portraying a campaign against red-haired, fair-skinned “ginger” people.

Good grief. That episode aired in 2005. And back then it was also blamed.

In that episode, Cartman organises all the gingas to start killing non-gingas as they are not members of the master race. So will someone also blame Southpark for any murders of brunettes?

Tags: , ,

Another MP landlord and tenant

November 26th, 2009 at 8:25 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Lindsay Tisch’s arrangement meant the $410 a week he has been claiming from the public purse for his Wellington accommodation was paid to his own property investment company.

This made him landlord and tenant – with the taxpayer picking up the bill.

By using the company, Mr Tisch has been able to claim close to the maximum $24,000 a year in expenses that MPs from outside Wellington are entitled to for accommodation.

This is basically what the Greens also were doing, through their Super Fund. It is legal and within the rules, but it means an MP maximises the amount they can claim, rather than be restricted to interest only.

Other MPs are using similar arrangements to Mr Tisch, but Parliament’s Speaker Lockwood Smith last night denied it was a loophole and said he was happy for the practice to continue as long as the rent they claimed was based on an independent market valuation.

With respect, I disagree. Perception is all important, and I just think it is a bad look if an MP has any interest in a property that the taxpayer pays for – directly or indirectly.

I think the rules should change so that you can only claim rental expenses on Wellington accommodation you have no interest in.

He now has the apartment rented out privately.

Which is the best thing to do.

Tags: ,

General Debate 26 November 2009

November 26th, 2009 at 8:06 am by David Farrar
Tags:

About Iran

November 25th, 2009 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

ira11

This is me outside the former US Embassy. It is a huge compound in the middle of Tehran. You can get arrested if you take photos of Government buildings, or police officers, and I wasn’t sure whether this could get me in trouble, so did the photo quickly. Probably didn’t help that through a timing error with the laundry the only shirt that was dry was my Martha’s Vineyard shirt, which might have people conclude I was from the US. I made sure I kept my passport with me at all times.

ira9

The walls are covered with anti-US artwork.

ira10

And the compulsory reference to the Great Satan.

The above is probably what most people view Iran as being about. In fact most Iranians are very warm and hospitable I found, and I enjoyed my stay here more than some of the other countries – partly because the taxi drivers do not rip you off, no touts, and the merchants are not overly aggressive (they encourage sales but not harrass you – even in the bazaars).

But there are some downsides, which now I am out of the country, I should cover:

  • The Internet is seriously filtered and almost as bad is dialup in most places. Kiwiblog is blocked for example (for politics). Amusingly Whale Oil/Gotcha is not. Cactus Kate is blocked (for sex). Many Iranians get around the filter through the use of proxies. They seem to be common knowledge and as they get blocked more new ones get circulated. They block almost anything relating to the old Shah, including some Wikipedia pages.
  • No external cellphone coverage. Local cellphones work, but not ones from outside. No phone calls or text messages.
  • No ATMs. Well they do have a few, but they only work with local cards for the bank they are located in. Combined that with almost no credit card facilities and you need a lot of cash. On the plus side you get 7,500 Rials to a NZ$ and a lot of things costs under 10,000 Rials :-)
  • The dress code is strict. Unlike every other country to date, all women must wear a hajib – including tourists. And all men must wear trousers/jeans. I was even a bit nervous about having a t-shirt as only saw one other person with short sleeves in my whole stay, but I am told they are a bit more common in summer.
  • While most locals are not at all anti-Western, they are very anti-Israel (to be fair as is most of Middle East). I got asked over dinner which countries I had already visited on this trip, and I accidentally said Israel instead of Egypt, and they looked shocked. Of course if you have been to Israel, you are not allowed entry to Iran, so it may just have been that.
  • The normal Police were quite helpful and friendly, but I am told you want to avoid the religious militia.
  • Women have to travel on the back of the bus. Seriously. Even if you are married, men sit and stand in the front half, and women in the back half.
  • Foreigners are relatively rare. I understand only around 200 Kiwis a year go into Iran, and you do feel very much the stranger at times. I was lucky Paul speaks some Farsi, which helps.
  • The traffic in Tehran is terrible and their flights are often delayed, which makes internal travel challenging.

Again though, while I was a bit nervous at times, it was a very enjoyable experience. While I never heard any criticism of the Supreme Leader (and was careful not to offer any), many locals were happy to share their thoughts on the President (and generally very uncomplimentary).

Oh one amusing story. As you can imagine Iran can be a difficult posting for a diplomat if their partner is of the same sex as them. I got told that one Commonwealth country’s Ambassador (not NZ) had his partner officially registered as his butler to avoid any issues. All the expats knew they were a couple of course, and they went to functions together. One wit said to the partner, that he was the only Butler he knew, where it was spelt with two “t”s :-)

If the Iranian Government stopped scaring people so much, I think Iran could become a great tourist destination. It’s a wonderful country, with a huge amount to see, and in many sense feels relatively “Western”. But I think it will be sometime away. If you are visiting the region though, I would advocate that you do try and get a visa and pay a visit – you will probably be pleasantly surprised by the experience. And the NZ Embassy is extremely friendly, professional and helpful.

Tags: , ,