Archive for the ‘International Politics’ Category

Should parents be accountable for fat kids?

June 9th, 2014 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

As some doctors here for for taxes and bans on certain food and drinks, Cristina Odone has a different solution – hold parents responsible, rather than advertisers.

She writes in The Telegraph:

“What do we hate? The Nanny state!” might be a suitable marching song for conservatives — until, that is, children’s well-being is compromised. When parents abuse their role as their child’s protectors the state is right to intervene. Which is why the couple in Norfolk, arrested for allowing their son’s weight to reach 15 stone, should face court.

The son is aged only 11. To be 95 kgs at 11 years old is horrendous. He’s only five feet tall.

Imagine parents who regularly gave their son heroin; or a bottle of vodka. Anyone observing such behaviour would instinctively call the police to save the child. The same now has to be true of a child whose parents are feeding him too many of the wrong things. We now know that food — junk food, fatty food, sugar, additives  – can prove as damaging to a child’s health as heroin or alcohol. Indeed, sugar is so toxic that experts claim it is as bad as tobacco: it leads not only to obesity, but to diabetes too.

Parents who ignore these facts and ply their children with excess food (or just really bad food) are abusing their children as clearly as those who let them take drugs. In the case of the couple in Norfolk, their son suffers from autism: he is all the more at the mercy of his parents’ care. They defend his weight by claiming that it is down to bad genes. Wrong: it’s down to the parents.

Genes of course play a part. But they don’t get you that large at age 11.

The pressure is on to change Britons’ diet. Sadly, the best way forward is to scare the living daylights out of parents who have been too lazy to monitor their child’s eating. The threat of a prison sentence, and of social services taking the child in care, sound draconian but might prove the only solutions.

There is a point where it probably does become child abuse.

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Smoking rises after plain packaging in Australia

June 9th, 2014 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

My position on plain packaging has it that it might be justified, if there is evidence it actually reduces smoking rates. If NZ is to proceed with it, I have advocated for a regional trial of it so smoking rates in that region can be compared to the rest of the country after a few years.

So far only one country has implemented plain packaging.  The Australian reports (paywall) on what has happened:

Labor’s nanny state push to kill off the country’s addiction to cigarettes with plain packaging has backfired, with new sales figures showing tobacco consumption growing during the first full year of the new laws.

Policies should be based on evidence, and the evidence is that sales have increased. But maybe they were on an increasing trend anyway, and the law meant they did not increase so much?

The 0.3 per cent increase, though modest, goes against a 15.6 per slide in tobacco sales over the previous four years — and undermines claims by then health minister Nicola Roxon that Australia would introduce the “world’s toughest anti-smoking laws”.

Well that’s a huge reversal.

Plain packaging laws, which came into force in December 2012, have instead boosted demand for cheaper cigarettes, with reports of a more than 50 per cent rise in the market for lower cost cigarettes.

Makes sense. You destroy brand differentiation, and people then just choose on price – and the cheaper prices lead to greater sales. A huge own goal.

Australasian Association of Convenience Stores chief executive Jeff Rogut said sales by his members grew by $120 million or 5.4 per cent last year. “Talking to members, one of the most common refrains they get from people coming into stores is, ‘What are your cheapest smokes?’,” he said.

The law of unintended consequences.

In the wake of the introduction of plain packaging, and the hike in the tobacco excise, 21-year-old Brisbane finance worker Dunja Zivkovic said she has switched to a cheaper brand and smokes more. She said none of her friends had quit in the wake of the policy change.

Both Ms Zivkovic and her friend and fellow smoker, 32-year-old Gertrude Sios, insist plain packaging does not work as a ­deterrent.

“If someone is addicted to smoking, they’ll spend their last $12 on smokes, not food,” Ms Zivkovic said. Geoffrey Smith, the general manager of consumer products at Roy Morgan Research, said plain packaging was “not having much impact”. “It’s causing a shift towards lower priced product rather than ‘I’m stopping smoking’,” he said.

I’ve always been sceptical that brands cause people to smoke, as opposed to cause people to pick a particular brand.

“Smoking kills 15,000 people annually with social and economic costs estimated (at) $31.5 billion each year,” she said. “The latest ABS data shows smoking rates have been continuing to decline.” But data released in recent weeks by the NSW and South Australian governments show smoking on the rise.

Last year’s NSW population health survey, released last month, showed 16.4 per cent of all adults in the state smoke, up from 14.7 per cent in 2011, while in South Australia rates were up from 16.7 per cent to 19.4 per cent over the past year.

Which backs up the sales data.

The signs of increased smoking echo another Labor intervention into health policy — the 70 per cent tax hike on ready-mixed spirits or alcopops announced in 2008.

Nielsen research found that while alcopop consumption dropped by 30 per cent, there was an overall net decline in alcohol consumption of just 0.2 per cent.

People substituted to other alcoholic drinks such as hard spirits.

Some may argue that one year’s data is not enough to judge the policy on. If so, then how long a period would they agree is long enough to then decide if the policy has succeeded or failed?

If three years, then fine. No one else should implement plain packaging until the three years are up, and we can see if smoking rates declined or not due to plain packaging in Australia. So far, after one year, the answer seems to be no.

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Kiwi killed in Syria

June 8th, 2014 at 8:19 am by David Farrar

The HoS reports:

A New Zealander has been killed while fighting in Syria – the first Kiwi casualty in the civil war.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) said it is aware of “unconfirmed reports” a New Zealander has died fighting in the Middle East country.

It did not say when the death happened but confirmed the ministry provided consular assistance.

MFAT refused to release any further details, citing several reasons including privacy and a threat to national security.

The Kiwi’s death was also mentioned in a public statement by Syria’s permanent representative in New York, in which he referred to “criminals, mercenaries” from around the world.

“Thousands of innocent Syrians got killed, thousands were wounded, because of so-called cross border terrorists. They call themselves roundly speaking jihadists, they are not.

“For your information some of the terrorists who got killed came from Burkina Faso, some of them came from New Zealand … this is just to let you understand how absurd the issue we are dealing with.”

I’m not sure if the NZer is an immigrant, or was born here, but either way it is disturbing that one or more NZers are fighting in a civil war in Syria. If they are immigrants, then it suggests we need better targeting to exclude extremists.

A spokesman for the New Zealand-based Syrian Solidarity, Ali Akil, argued the fighters were not terrorists, but were helping to depose the murderous Bashar al-Assad regime. “If there is any terrorism, then it is the terrorism of Assad and his associates,” said Akil.

Banning passports would not stop New Zealanders from travelling to Syria to take up arms, he said.

“If they want to get there, they will get there. I would hope that the New Zealand public does care about what’s happening over there.

“We don’t encourage people to go and fight. They don’t need fighters; they do need weapons and food.”

The Assad regime is loathsome and should go. But some of the opposition groups are little better.

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The Chinese general who said no at Tiananmen Square

June 6th, 2014 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

The NY Times reports:

On a spring evening in 1989, with the student occupation of Tiananmen Square entering its second month and the Chinese leadership unnerved and divided, top army commanders were summoned to headquarters to pledge their support for the use of military force to quash the protests.

One refused.

In a stunning rebuke to his superiors, Maj. Gen. Xu Qinxian, leader of the mighty 38th Group Army, said the protests were a political problem, and should be settled through negotiations, not force, according to new accounts of his actions from researchers who interviewed him.

“I’d rather be beheaded than be a criminal in the eyes of history,” he told Yang Jisheng, a historian.

Although General Xu was soon arrested, his defiance sent shudders through the party establishment, fueling speculation of a military revolt and heightening the leadership’s belief that the student-led protests were nothing less than an existential threat to the Communist Party.

If only there had been a few more brave men like him who refused to say yes to killing peaceful protesters.

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Herald on EU

June 6th, 2014 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald editorial from Tuesday:

From time to time, national referendums have thrown a spanner in the European Union’s plans for closer ties between its members. But never has there been such a broad renunciation of that process as that delivered in the recent European Parliament elections. In an alarming number of the EU’s 28 member states, populist parties from the far right and far left triumphed over their mainstream opponents.

The impact was most notable in Britain, where the UK Independence Party topped the poll with 28 per cent of the vote, and France, where the anti-European National Front did likewise with 25 per cent support. Centrist pro-European parties will continue to be the dominant force in Brussels, but this is not an outcome that can be shrugged off.

It is clear that after 60 years, during which the EU and its forebears have, by and large, orchestrated peace and prosperity, many of its 500 million people have fallen out of love with the pan-Europe ideology.

They complain about the arrogance and expense of bureaucrats in Brussels who are intent on reducing the important of their national parliament. They regret replacing their national currencies with the euro, which, rather than making Europe more equal, has created instability. And those in the north decry an expansion that has saddled them with indebted nations in southern Europe. The EU has, says David Cameron, the British Prime Minister, become “too big, too bossy and too interfering”.

Especially the European courts over-riding national legislatures.

Others, however, believe the EU can be saved by reform.

The latter course can prevail if the European Parliament heeds the unmistakable lesson of this election and puts a brake on the drive towards ever closer union. It needs also to be less intrusive in the everyday affairs of its members. Equally, it must convince Europeans that it provides the framework to outperform other developed countries economically. The most convincing answer to the eurosceptics lies, as Germany’s Angela Merkel suggested, in “improving competitiveness on growth and creating jobs”. At some point, those countries using the euro must also embrace a more comprehensive fiscal union. If that is not done, a return to national currencies is the logical step.

You can’t have monetary union without fiscal union. Which is one reason Scotland won’t be able to keep the pound if they vote for independence – which is unlikely on the polls.

The economic tide is swinging in favour of the pro-Europeans. Much of the EU has been late to catch the global upswing, but even the weaker economies are starting to benefit. They will gain also from the tough measures taken over the past few years. Further, the conclusion of a successful free-trade pact with the United States would hammer home the message that union can deliver more wealth than individual endeavour.

A focus on free trade and freer economies is what the EU needs, not more regulations.

Oliver Hartwich also writes on the EU lack of democracy:

What is democracy? Well, usually democracy is when the people vote in an election and the winner then happens to form a government. It is as simple as that. And what is European Union democracy? It is when the people vote in an election and, regardless of the outcome, German chancellor Angela Merkel decides on the next president of the European Commission.

Oliver’s article is a fascinating analysis of the power games currently going on.

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Australian views

June 6th, 2014 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

Some very interesting data in the annual poll by the Lowy Institute on views held by Australians. Some extracts:

  • 31% say best friend in Asia is China, 28% Japan, 12% Singapore. I wonder how Kiwis would answer that question?
  • 65% say acceptable for Australia to spy on China, and 51% say on New Zealand.
  • The biggest critical threats to Australia’s vital interests are terrorism 65%, nuclear proliferation 64%, Iran’s nuclear programme 53%, cyber attacks 51%, asylum seekers 48%, climate change 46%
  • 71% support the Government turning back boats, when safe to do so. 59% support off shore processing. 42% support an outright ban on asylum seekers coming by boat being allowed to settle in Australia
  • Given a polar choice, 53% would choose a good democracy and 42% a strong economy if it is one but not the other.
  • 52% say alliance with US is very important and 78% say very or fairly important
  • On a warmth scale from 0 to 100, NZ is country Australians feel most warm about at 84 degrees. North Korea is bottom at 29 degrees. Obviously Gareth Morgan needs to do a tour of Australia extolling how great they are. Canada is 81, US 71, France 71, Japan 67, China 60.
  • Only 22% say Australia should be its current population of 23 million, or less. 42% say target should be 30 million, and 34% say 40 million or more.
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Does Fairtrade help the poor?

June 4th, 2014 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Forbes reports:

This will come as a surprise to those who have bought into the marketing malarkey about Fairtrade products and not as a surprise to any of those who have really looked at the issue. Which is that there doesn’t seem to be any great benefit in the system for the poor peasantry that it’s supposedly designed to help. In fact, it actually seems to make people worse off, not better off. This isn’t I hasten to add, the result of a study done by some hateful neoliberal like myself. No, this is the result from a four year long research program by the impeccably liberal (and veering over into Marxian third world nonsense at times) School of Oriental and African Studies in London.

So what did they find?

What did surprise us is how wages are typically lower, and on the whole conditions worse, for workers in areas with Fairtrade organisations than for those in other areas.

Careful statistical analysis allowed us to separate out the possible effects of other factors, such as the scale of production. Still, the differences were in most cases, and especially for wages, statistically significant. Explaining why it should be that workers in areas dominated by Fairtrade organisations are so often worse off than workers in other areas is a complex and challenging task. 

Indeed. A good reminder though that good intentions often have perverse consequences.

Forbes looks at why this might be:

The first is implicit there, in the way that they talk about the scale of production. Fairtrade is really only open to people working at the level of an individual peasant. Indeed, some of the various schemes insist that mechanisation should not be allowed as one example of the resolutely small scale that they insist everyone work at. And in agriculture (where almost all Fairtrade is) is one of those sectors where there are huge, vast even, economies of scale. This matters, this matters a lot.

For the maximum amount that labour can be paid is of course the value of the production from that labour. And it might be all very well to insist that people using the most basic hand tools to grow something should get a bit more money. But their productivity is still going to be that of someone growing something using only hand held tools. Whereas mechanising the production process (which inevitably means much larger scale production) will mean vastly more productive labour and thus at least the potential for much higher wages for that labour.

So the insistence that there’s a bit of extra money but only if you stick with the inefficient methods therefore means that Fairtrade is putting a cap on the possible earnings. For they’re resolutely ruling out the possibility of using some more efficient production method. Fairtrade might make the poor peasantry marginally better paid but at the price of insisting that they remain poor peasants.

The second thing is that about the community projects. Some of that Fairtrade premium is meant to be spent on public goods in those areas. Which is just absolutely great, assuming (as in the case described, it isn’t) that the public good is actually available to those it is supposed to benefit. But even then we come back to the same old problem. They might now be poor peasants with free toilets. But they’re still poor peasants, free toilets or no. And this is something that hateful neoliberals like me have been saying for a long time now. Fairtrade is simply a vastly inefficient method of making the lives of the poorest people in the world better.

Liberalising markets has been beyond doubt the best way to lift people from poverty. China and India have shown this with several hundred million people.

All of which leads us to one final difficult question. There is a substantial premium paid for Fairtrade products. If it’s not going to those peasants and the community projects aren’t all that much either, then where is it all going? The answer being that there’s an awful lot of Sebastians and Jocastas being employed on western world middle class wages to run these schemes. And that’s where the money is going. Sure, non Fairtrade products have marketing systems too but which do you think is going to be more efficient? That of Nestle or that of some well meaning and not very driven do-gooders?

To be frank about this Fairtrade simply doesn’t do what it says on the tin. Imagine that you are worried about the poor of the world (I am, it’s a morally good thing to worry about, to try to do something about). And that you’d like to do something about it. The best answer is to go buy things made by poor people in poor countries. And if they’re not charging you enough, if you want to pay a premium over their price, then simply bundle up that extra money and send it to one of the better development charities.

It’ll make the world a better place both more efficiently and more quickly if you do that.

Good advice.

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The power of a symbol

June 4th, 2014 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Thailand’s military rulers say they are monitoring a new form of silent resistance to the coup — a three-fingered salute borrowed from The Hunger Games — and will arrest those in large groups who ignore warnings to lower their arms. 

The raised arm salute has become an unofficial symbol of opposition to Thailand’s May 22 coup, and a creative response to several bans the ruling junta has placed on freedom of expression. 

On Sunday, authorities deployed nearly 6,000 soldiers and police in Bangkok to prevent planned protests against the coup. Amid the heavy security, small flash mobs popped up in a central shopping district where the salute was unveiled for the first time.  

Asked what the symbol meant, protesters have given varying explanations. Some say it stands for the French Revolution’s trinity of values: liberty, equality, fraternity. Others say it means freedom, election and democracy. A photo montage circulating online paired a picture from the science fiction blockbuster The Hunger Games with a graphic of three fingers labelled, 1. No Coup, 2. Liberty, 3. Democracy. 

In the book and movie series, the salute is a symbol of rebellion against totalitarian rule and stands for: Thank you, Admiration and Goodbye to someone you love.  

‘‘We know it comes from the movie, and let’s say it represents resistance against the authorities,’’ Weerachon said, noting that if authorities encounter the salute they will first ask protesters to stop.  

‘‘If a single individual raises three fingers in the air, we are not going to arrest him or her,’’ he told The Associated Press. ‘‘But if it is a political gathering of five people or more, then we will have to take some action.’’ 

‘‘If it persists, then we will have to make an arrest,’’ he said. 

Social activist Sombat Boonngam-anong, who has helped organise anti-coup protests, posted an explanation of the salute on his Facebook page along with a call to step up the silent acts of defiance. 

‘‘Raising three fingers has become a symbol in calling for fundamental political rights,’’ wrote Sombat, a member of the ‘‘Red Shirt’’ protest movement that had backed the now-ousted government and warned it would take action if there was a coup. He called on people to raise ‘‘3 fingers, 3 times a day’’ — at 9 a.m., 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. — in safe public places where no police or military is present.  

The more who do it, the less the military can do about it. A clever way to protest and undermine the military regime.

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Infighting on the right in Australia

June 4th, 2014 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The Age reports:

Demented? Unhinged?

Call it definition of character.

Malcolm Turnbull, a barrister by trade and chairman of the board by inclination, chooses his words and his adversaries for maximum effect.

And so, when he lined up neo-conservative commentator Andrew Bolt for a free character assessment, he was addressing not simply the bothersome Bolt, but the jury and the shareholders of his current organisation, which happens to be the Liberal Party.

The Liberal Party, of course, isn’t exactly Turnbull’s party at present. It’s Tony Abbott’s party, the same Tony Abbott who stripped the chairman’s title from Turnbull a few years ago by one vote and then, glory be, took the whole show to government.

So what has happened?

Andrew Bolt had the temerity at the weekend to get Abbott on his TV show and ask him if he thought Turnbull had designs on the prime ministership.

Well, duh.

Bolt suggested Turnbull was trying to do some undermining by having dinner with Clive Palmer, a man Abbott can’t stand but whose little party and fellow travellers will control the Senate balance of power next month.

It’s not immediately obvious how such a dinner might lever Turnbull to the prime ministership, nor how this might have been a secret meeting, given it was at a popular restaurant. Clive likes to eat, and the restaurant was a few hundred centimetres from Turnbull’s luxury Canberra pad, which might have been a better rendezvous for a secret meeting.

Bolt isn’t a man who gives up easily. Next he was blogging about how Turnbull had spoken at the launch of a Parliamentary Friends of the ABC, and how awful this was, given that the ABC was no friend of the Abbott government.

Well, duh. Again. Turnbull is Communications Minister. The ABC is the national broadcaster.

I think the author is being somewhat silly. The Freinds of the ABC is a lobby group that attacks the Coalition for its funding cuts of the ABC. Turnbull speaking to them is a very big thing.

It is clear Turnbull is positioning to take over – which is very different to launching a coup. A coup would fail as he has little caucus support. But I am far from convinced Abbott will make it to the election, unless his political management improves.

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Anti-semitism rises further

June 2nd, 2014 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

An Egyptian court that sentenced to death 37 Islamists and handed life terms to 492 others defended its verdict, saying the men were “demons” who followed Jewish scripture. …

In a statement Sunday to justify its decision, the court said: “The accused came out of the depths of hell…

to plunder Egypt’s wealth, tyrannise its people and they killed the deputy commissioner.”

It described the men as “enemies of the nation” who used mosques to promote the teachings of “their holy book, the Talmud,” the central scripture of Judaism.

So the Egyptian military (or their judges) defend executing Islamists on the grounds that they were actually following Jewish scripture. So the message they send out is the Jews are evil and behind everything bad, and it is okay to execute anyone influenced by them. That’s as bad as the Islamists.

Also in Europe:

A suspected French jihadist who spent time in Syria is in custody over the shooting deaths of three people at a Belgian Jewish museum, prosecutors said, crystalising fears that European radicals will parlay their experiences in Syria into terrorism back home.

When Mehdi Nemmouche was arrested in southern France on Friday, he was in possession of firearms, a large quantity of ammunition and a video claiming responsibility for the May 24 attack, a Belgian prosecutor said.

In a one-minute rampage that deeply shook Europe’s Jewish community, a gunman opened fire at the Brussels museum. In addition to the fatalities, another person was gravely wounded.

Killed three people because they were at a Jewish museum.

Is there any other race (or religion) in the world that attracts such hatred, and in such a lethal way? And it isn’t new. Has been happening for hundreds of years.

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BBC censors the term “girl”

June 2nd, 2014 at 7:21 am by David Farrar

The Daily Mail reports:

The BBC was embroiled in an extraordinary censorship row last night after cutting the word ‘girl’ from a documentary about the Commonwealth Games, fearing it might cause ‘offence’.

Broadcaster Mark Beaumont, 31, joked after being hurled to the floor by a judo champion: ‘I am not sure I can live that down – being beaten by a 19-year-old girl.’

His remark was broadcast in full when the 30-minute episode of The Queen’s Baton Relay was first shown on the BBC News Channel in April.

But evidently sensitive to charges of sexism, BBC executives decided to edit out the word ‘girl’ when the programme was repeated last week, leaving an awkward pause in place of the offending word.

Asked by a viewer what had happened, Mr Beaumont tweeted: ‘Maybe the editor thought it was sexist – it wasn’t. I’m not worried about it.’

Even the judo champion involved, Cynthia Rahming, was left bemused. ‘I wasn’t offended – I didn’t find it sexist,’ she told The Mail on Sunday.

It doesn’t matter whether or not people think it was sexist. The BBC should not be censoring what someone said because it is politically incorrect. Deliberately editing a word or words out should only occur when it is a word not suitable for broadcast.

Feminist novelist Kathy Lette, 55, however, said: ‘If the athlete didn’t find it upsetting why should the BBC mount their politically correct high horse and gallop off into the sanctimonious sunset?’

Exactly.

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Court rules no harm from GM crops

May 31st, 2014 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

Yahoo News reports:

Organic farmer Steve Marsh has lost a landmark Supreme Court damages case against a neighbour who grew genetically modified canola.

The case, which pitted Mr Marsh against Kojonup neighbour Mike Baxter, attracted worldwide attention and today’s judgment is expected to have major ramifications for farming in Australia.

Justice Ken Martin dismissed Mr Marsh’s claims. A decision on costs was reserved.

Mr Marsh claimed he lost certified organic status on his farm because Mr Baxter failed in his duty of care to prevent contamination from his GM crop. He sought damages of $85,000 and an indefinite ban on Mr Baxter planting and harvesting GM crops.

In his judgment summary, Justice Martin dismissed both causes of action against Mr Baxter – common law negligence involving the breach of a duty to ensure there was no escape of GM material, and the tort of private nuisance.

Evidence at trial was that Roundup Ready (RR) canola swathes were harmless to animals, people and land unless the canola seed germinated in the soil and cross-fertilised.

“There was no evidence at the trial of any genetic transference risks posed by the RR canola swathes blown into Eagle Rest at the end of 2010,” Justice Martin said.

The full court judgment is here.

I quite paragraph 326:

First, as is now established, it has not been shown from any evidence led at this trial that GM canola per se is in any way physically dangerous or injurious to persons, animals or to property.

A win for science. A loss for hysteria.

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Public health specialists call for WHO to see e-cigarettes as a solution

May 30th, 2014 at 11:25 am by David Farrar

Nicotine Policy reports:

Over 50 leading scientists from 15 countries have written to Margaret Chan Director-General of the World Health Organization to ask WHO reconsider its intention to classify e-cigarettes the same as regular cigarettes, warning that they risk missing an opportunity to drastically reduce smoking and the illness and death associated with it.

Ahead of the WHO sponsored Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) meeting in Moscow this October, the scientists have reacted to aleaked document from a FCTC preparatory meeting indicating that the WHO considers e-cigarettes a “threat” to public health and intends to sideline their use as an accessible alternative to regular tobacco and cigarettes. Snus is already included in the FCTC.

In their letter to WHO Director-General Margaret Chan, the 53 signatories argue that tobacco harm reduction products could play a significant role in meeting the 2025 UN objectives to reduce non-communicable diseases. E-cigarettes and other safer nicotine products are part of the solution, not part of the problem, they say.

This is an incredibly significant letter. The signatories to the letter (includes two NZers) are all highly respected specialists in public health and anti-smoking policy.

Anti-smoking activists tend to fall into two categories. Some, like the letter signatories, are focused entirely on reducing harm from smoking. They want (as I do) to have fewer people smoking, and getting lung cancer and other diseases from smoking.

The other category of activists focus on trying to damage the companies that sell the products they don’t like – whether it be tobacco, fast food, soft drinks, alcohol or whatever. They like, for example, plain packaging, because it may hurt companies they don’t like – even if there is no evidence it reduces smoking rates.

So this group of specialists is telling the WHO that it would be a very bad mistake to treat e-cigarettes the same as tobacco. They are an alternative product that causes far less harm and can get people off tobacco.

Ironically in New Zealand, e-cigarettes are currently banned.

As I said, the letter from the public health specialists is very significant. The two NZ signatories are Dr Murray Laugeson and Associate Professor Chris Bullen (Director, National Institute for Health Innovation, University of Auckland). Dr Laugeson is spent 18 years as the principal medical officer for the Ministry of Health and his CV states he is NZ’s most experienced researcher on smoking policy and cigarettes.

Perhaps the Government would do better to look at allowing e-cigarettes, as promoted by the signatories, rather than pursing measures that have not been found to be effective?

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UKIP and French National Front storm European elections

May 26th, 2014 at 1:13 pm by David Farrar

The Guardian reports:

Nigel Farage unleashed his much promised political earthquake across British politics as Ukip easily topped the poll in the European elections, marking the first time in modern history that neither Labour nor theConservatives have won a British national election.

The Liberal Democrats have suffered a near total wipeout and are course to lose all but one of their 11 MEPs, placing serious pressure on Nick Clegg to justify his leadership of his party.

In a stunning warning to the established political parties, which lined up over the weekend to say they took the Ukip threat seriously, Farage’s party was expected to win about 28% of the national poll. This was a near doubling of the 16.5% it secured in the last European elections in 2009 when it came second to the Tories and took 13 seats. Just 20 years ago, in its first European parliamentary election, Ukip managed just 1% of the vote.

Labour predicted that, when all the final results were assembled, they would have polled 25.7%, with the Tories on 24.5 % and the Green partyin fourth place.

Farage said the result justified the description of an earthquake because “never before in the history of British politics has a party seen to be an insurgent party ever topped the polls in a national election”.

This makes the 2015 UK election very difficult to predict. UKIP take a lot of votes away from the Conservatives and this hurts them as they have FPP. But if they manage some sort of arrangement, then their combined vote will be higher than Labour, Greens and Lib Dems.

Ironically the UKIP may end up defeating the main thing they want – a referendum on Europe. If there is a change of Government, then there won’t be one.

Meanwhile in France:

France’s Front National won the election there with a projected 25% of the vote, while the governing socialists of President François Hollande collapsed to 14%, according to exit polls.

It is disturbing to see neo-Nazis getting elected in France, Germany, Austria, Greece etc.

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Abbott

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

I don’t think the question anymore is whether Tony Abbott has lost the next election, and the Coalition will be a one term Government.

I think the question is now how many terms in opposition will they have?

The only way they might recover is a change in leader. The trouble is Hockey is equally damaged and most of the caucus hate Malcolm Turnbull (but the public love him). Could Turnbull end up Prime Minister? Let’s see how bad the polls go in the next six months.

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Beware the spirit level

May 21st, 2014 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

Matt Nolan at TVHE warns:

I see that the Spirit Level authors are in town, and as a result there was a recent Herald article took aim at income inequality in New Zealand, relying strongly on the book ‘The Spirit Level’.  A conversation about the inequalities society believes are fair, or at least justifiable, is a good thing.  However, the Spirit Level’s claims that simply targeting measures like the Gini coefficient will make everyone better off is a misleading, and dangerous, place to start this conversation.

 In their initial book Wilkinson and Pikett make the claim that the relative distance between incomes (which they in turn call inequality) in a country/region causes a variety of social ills (worse health outcomes, higher crime rates, etc).  They stated that this implies everyone, even those with higher tax burdens, would be better off if we increased taxes and transfers and lowered income inequality.

When I initially reviewed the book I found that their claims were significantly oversold, the book was filled with inconsistencies, and their policy conclusions were unjustified.  This disappointed me, not because I think we should ignore inequality, but because I believe that asking why income inequality has changed and who has been hurt is an incredibly important question – one that has not been given enough attention.

It turns out that there are a number of left-leaning economists found the claims oversold.  For example, in the Oxford Economic Handbook of Economic Inequality, three authors (Leigh, Jencks, and Smeeding) point out that a relationship between health outcomes and inequality does not seem to exist.

The Spirit Level uses cherry picked data to reach the conclusions they wanted.

An example with life expectancy is in this blog post.

Peter Saunders has also debunked much of the book, which I covered here. He also shows how you can find stats that argue the opposite:

Saunders constructs a social misery index showing that social misery is higher (r^2-0.39, p<0.001) is countries with greater income equality by focusing on racist bigotry, suicide rate, divorce rate, reverse fertility rate, alcohol consumption and HIV infection rate.

The questions that media should be asking the authors is why did they leave out countries like Hong Kong, when their inclusion would have changed their conclusions.

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The World’s Resources Aren’t Running Out

May 19th, 2014 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Matt Ridley writes in the WSJ:

How many times have you heard that we humans are “using up” the world’s resources, “running out” of oil, “reaching the limits” of the atmosphere’s capacity to cope with pollution or “approaching the carrying capacity” of the land’s ability to support a greater population? The assumption behind all such statements is that there is a fixed amount of stuff—metals, oil, clean air, land—and that we risk exhausting it through our consumption. …

But here’s a peculiar feature of human history: We burst through such limits again and again. After all, as a Saudi oil minister once said, the Stone Age didn’t end for lack of stone. Ecologists call this “niche construction”—that people (and indeed some other animals) can create new opportunities for themselves by making their habitats more productive in some way. Agriculture is the classic example of niche construction: We stopped relying on nature’s bounty and substituted an artificial and much larger bounty.

Economists call the same phenomenon innovation. What frustrates them about ecologists is the latter’s tendency to think in terms of static limits. Ecologists can’t seem to see that when whale oil starts to run out, petroleum is discovered, or that when farm yields flatten, fertilizer comes along, or that when glass fiber is invented, demand for copper falls.

I think that last point is core to the entire debate over environmental issues – and why the prophets of doom have been wrong almost every time.

I have lived among both tribes. I studied various forms of ecology in an academic setting for seven years and then worked at the Economist magazine for eight years. When I was an ecologist (in the academic sense of the word, not the political one, though I also had antinuclear stickers on my car), I very much espoused the carrying-capacity viewpoint—that there were limits to growth. I nowadays lean to the view that there are no limits because we can invent new ways of doing more with less.

Human innovation is the resource that has no limit – and the most important resource.

Take water, a commodity that limits the production of food in many places. Estimates made in the 1960s and 1970s of water demand by the year 2000 proved grossly overestimated: The world used half as much water as experts had projected 30 years before.

Projecting more than a decade ahead is dangerous. Projecting 100 years ahead is almost nonsensical. Image living in 1900 projecting what the world would be like in 2000?

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Why courts should not interfere with search engines

May 16th, 2014 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Paedophiles, scandal-hit politicians and others seeking to cleanse their online reputations are demanding that Google remove any links to inconvenient truths about their past, in the wake of a historic legal judgement, it has emerged.

The ‘take down’ requests to the world’s biggest internet search engine came after a European Court ruling on Tuesday that people have the “right to be forgotten.” The controversial decision, by the Court of Justice of the European Union, was in response to a case brought by a Spanish man who complained that an auction notice of his repossessed home on Google’s search results had infringed his privacy. 

So who will benefit from this barmy ruling?

And it has emerged that a former British politician seeking re-election has demanded that links to information about his behaviour in office be removed, while a man convicted of possessing child abuse images has requested links to pages about his conviction be deleted. And a doctor wants negative reviews from patients removed from the results, according to the BBC.

Good on the European Union Court of Justice for ensuring paedophiles can demand information about their convictions be hidden. What a blow for human rights.

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Appalling

May 16th, 2014 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

A Muslim-by-birth Sudanese woman who married a Christian man has been sentenced to death after she refused to recant her Christian faith, her lawyer says.

Meriam Ibrahim, whose father was Muslim but her mother was an Orthodox Christian from Ethiopia, was convicted of “apostasy” – literally the rejection of a religion – on Sunday (local time) and given four days to repent and escape death, lawyer Al-Shareef Ali al-Shareef Mohammed said.

The 26 year old, who is eight months pregnant, was sentenced after that grace period expired, Mohammed said.

The sentence drew immediate condemnation from Amnesty International, which called it “abhorrent.” Mohammed called the conviction rushed and legally flawed since the judge refused to hear key defence witnesses, as well as ignored constitutional provisions on freedom of worship and equality among citizens.

“The fact that a woman could be sentenced to death for her religious choice, and to flogging for being married to a man of an allegedly different religion, is abhorrent and should never be even considered,” Amnesty said in a statement, quoting its Sudan researcher, Manar Idriss.

Maybe the UN Human Rights Commission could focus on this.

No state should be imposing any sanctions on a citizen for their choice of religion, let alone the death sentence. No state that does so, should be allowed a vote in international fora.

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Flight changes

May 15th, 2014 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

The Prime Minister of Malaysia writes:

Najib, writing in the Wall Street Journal, urged the International Civil Aviation Organisation, which has been meeting in Montreal, to act on a Malaysian recommendation to implement real-time tracking of aircraft.

Yes. If we can trace an iPhone around the world, let’s do it for planes also.

He said the communication systems on aircraft such as transponders and the Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting Systems (ACARS) should be changed so they cannot be disabled mid-air.

Najib said the systems on board the missing plane “were disabled. MH370 went dark.”

Also a good idea. There is no good reason you want someone to be able to turn them off.

He said that policy makers need to reconsider the capabilities of airliners’ black box recording devices.

“At the moment, the location pingers – which are activated if a plane crashes – last for only 30 days. This should be increased to at least 90 days, as the European Union has proposed,” he said.

At least 90 days. How much cost is there for some extra batteries?

Najib said it was “wholly inadequate” that today’s black boxes only record the last two hours of cockpit conversations, meaning the important minutes and hours after the plane vanished will not be available.

“Given that a standard i-phone can record 24 hours of audio, surely the black box should have sufficient memory to record cockpit conversations for the full duration of any flight,” he said.

The problem is the pilot unions are against. But again I agree.

Najib also said that airliners’ emergency locator transmitters – which emit a distress signal when the plane is in trouble – could be improved.

“Currently they don’t work very well under water and their mandated battery life is just 24 hours.”

To be honest the status qup sounds like a bit of a custerf**k.

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The Australian Budget

May 14th, 2014 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

The Australian Budget yesterday was a great example of what happens when previous Governments don’t get spending under control and the deficit gets so large.

As we are about to hit surplus. Australia has a $30 billion deficit.

Some of the Government Budget decisions include:

  • The government will axe 16,500 jobs over three years, by cutting 230 bureaucratic programs and 70 government agencies.
  • A temporary tax increase on those earning over $180,000
  • A cut in tertiary education subsidies by 20%
  • A lower repayment threshold and higher interest rate on student loans
  • Increase in pension age to 70
  • A part charge for seeing a GP

 

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Will NZ Labour follow UK Labour with rent controls?

May 13th, 2014 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Fraser Nelson writes in the Daily Telegraph:

Something very strange has come over senior members of the Labour Party. Thoughtful, sensible, well-educated men and women are starting to behave like excitable, angry, slogan-chanting teenagers. A party that had gone through the painful process of modernisation in the Nineties, and made itself into a party of competence, now seems gripped by nostalgia. Not so long ago, Labour led the European Left in pioneering reforms of government – but that Blair-era generation has gone from the stage. In its place stands a group of people too young to remember the Seventies, yet seemingly dedicated to repeating its mistakes.

The latest to turn is David Lammy, a Harvard-educated lawyer who was a health minister under Tony Blair at the age of 29. A few months ago, he proposed an idea for London: rent controls, where the government lays down terms to landlords. There is a “patently obvious” demand for such controls, he said, because it’s so costly to rent in the capital. So landlords can be told not to charge so much. No one took the idea very seriously: after all, since when could government order lower prices? Wasn’t that kind of thing tried in the Soviet Union with, erm, mixed results?

But yesterday, Ed Miliband declared that he likes the idea so much he’ll roll it out nationwide. 

Muldoon tried rent controls. They were a disaster, along with his price and wage controls.

NZ Labour policy is for rent controls in Christchurch. Never mind this will stop new properties being built. Will NZ Labour propose rent controls nationwide? Don’t roll it out – many of their policies come from the UK Labour Party.

Mr Miliband’s strategy is, anyway, perfectly defensible. A populist wave is sweeping Europe at the moment, as demonstrated by the rise of Ukip in England and the SNP in Scotland. He is hoping it might also last long enough to sweep him into 10 Downing Street. Politicians can win easy applause nowadays by raging against the “establishment”, and accusing their enemies of being out of touch. In many ways, Mr Miliband seems to be positioning Labour as the Ukip of the Left; an angry party itching to exact vengeance on a growing list of enemies, inviting voters to blame their problems on corporate greed.

Sound familiar?

The economist Assar Lindbeck, a housing expert, once said that “rent control appears to be the most efficient technique presently known to destroy a city – except for bombing”. Who would have thought that this policy would be on a Labour Party manifesto in the 21st century? 

Watch this space in NZ.

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Maybe Australia needs some welfare reform also

May 12th, 2014 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

The Adelaide Advertiser reports:

The Advertiser revealed on Thursday that there are a whopping 7313 Australians who receive the disabled pension but don’t live in Australia.

Many of them live in holiday destinations such as Bali and Thailand, where the $813 dollars they receive from the taxpayer every fortnight goes much further in the form of rupiah or baht.

More than 1200 of them are in Greece, nursing the kind of injuries which are so permanently debilitating that they apparently prevent them from ever re-entering the workforce, yet not from jumping on a 30-hour economy class flight to Europe and a ferry ride to the island of their choice.

Almost 1000 of them are over the ditch in New Zealand, just a stone’s throw from the country which is kindly subsidising their existence. …

The purse for this largesse is sizeable, coming in at $99.9 million a year. And at a time when the nation has been put on notice that the age of entitlement is over, it is a stellar example of how witless governments are when it comes to reining in unjustifiable drains on revenue, yet so adept at creating new streams of revenue by launching another assault on the people who are actually working.

The way it works now is an insult to people with genuine and permanent disabilities, exploding as it has from 500,000 to 800,000 recipients in less than two decades, its annual bill careening towards $15 billion.

The rule of thumb for government should be to provide generous support for those who genuinely cannot work.

It should also involve the ruthless denial of assistance to those who simply choose not to work, and who hide behind confected conditions to opt out of a contributive life, even heading overseas to bludge in a more agreeable climate where the beers are cheaper.

A good summary those last two paragraphs.

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Nastiness in Australia

May 10th, 2014 at 9:25 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

The Electrical Trades Union has apologised for comparing Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott to Adolf Hitler.

The apology comes after an image published on the union’s newsletter infuriated Jewish groups who condemned the protrayal.

The ETU released a brief statement on Friday (local time) apologising for the newsletter and pulled the offending article from its Facebook page.

“The ETU sincerely and unreservedly apologises,” the statement said.

“The theme of the magazine was to show the demonisation of unions has had a long history.”

The cover of the autumn newsletter for the Victorian branch of the ETU has used a digitally altered picture of Tony Abbott, complete with a tiny moustache and a tattoo on his chest similar to the Third Reich eagle.

In the picture, Mr Abbott is portrayed wearing a white singlet, gold necklace and smoking a cigarette under the headline “The Abbott crimes”. The back page of the newsletter has a large picture of Hitler with two anti-union quotes attributed to the dictator and Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi head of propaganda.

The ETU was a major donor to the Australian Green Party. In 2013 they donated $300,000 for just one seat – Melbourne, held by the Greens. In 2010 they gave $325,000 to the Greens.

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The evils of sharia law

May 7th, 2014 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Sharia police in the Indonesian province of Aceh will publicly flog a young woman for adultery after she was turned in by eight vigilantes who had already gang-raped her as punishment.

The woman, a 25-year-old widow, and her alleged partner, a married 40-year old man, were caught inside her home last Thursday by a group of eight who were intent on enforcing the sharia prohibition on sex outside marriage, local media reports say.

The eight, who included a 13-year-old boy, tied up and beat the man and repeatedly raped the woman before dousing both in raw sewage.

They then marched the couple to the office of the local sharia police.

Hard to get a better example of why sharia law is evil.

Religions and states should not be mixed up, with the state having the power to enforce religious dictates. This is what happens when you do.

As always, it is important to distinguish between Islam and Islamism. There’s nothing wrong with a religion where people choose to join it, and voluntarily follow its teachings.

But there’s a lot wrong with Islamism, which is a political ideology based on implementing certain interpretations of Islamic practice into law.

It is my view that Islamism (not Islam) is as incompatible with having free democratic states as communism and fascism are. They are have an ideology where the state is all powerful.

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