Ira Bailey

October 16th, 2012 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Keih Ng blogs:

The guy who tipped me off is Ira Bailey. He was one of the Urewera 17. He currently works as a system administrator, has a young child, and is not interested in being the media limelight. That’s why he asked for anonymity.

Mr Bailey is not interested in publicity? This must be a recent thing, as he has sought it in the past.

He did not have any special access to the system – he just had half an hour to kill at a WINZ office.

So Bailey says he just happened to be at a WINZ office, and was bored.

He plugged in his USB drive and it didn’t appear, so he had a poke around the system to find it – and found the giant vulnerability instead.

Yeah, I plug in USB drives to computer terminals all the time.

I should make very clear that I think Keith Ng has acted entirely properly and ethically. He go told of a security breach, he investigated it, he took evidence to prove it, he notified MSD and the Privacy Commissioner, he revealed the breach and handed all the data over to the Privacy Commissioner.

I also think Keith believes what Mr Bailey has told him. I’m just slightly more sceptical of the story that an experienced system admin just happens to be bored, at WINZ, and accidentally finds it. Especially when you consider what he then did.

He called MSD to ask if they had a reward system for reporting security vulnerabilities. This is not unusual practice, and it’s certainly not blackmail. Google and Facebook, for example, both pay for vulnerability reporting. It gives them a opportunity to close holes discretely, without causing embarrassment for their company.

Yes giant global tech companies have been known to have a reward system. I’ve never ever heard of a Govt Dept having such a system, and companies that do, tend to advertise the fact. I asked Keith if Baily asked for or suggested a specific amount, and he said no.

It is unfortunate Bailey thought his “accidental” half hour discovery was something MSD should pay for and did not do what Keith did, and just alert the Privacy Commissioner and publish what happened – either directly or via Keith.

MSD called Ira back two days later. They told Ira that they don’t pay for vulnerability reports. Ira told them he’d been talking to a journalist and the conversation didn’t go anywhere after that.

I’d be interested in details of that conversation. I’d also be interested in how after that MSD didn’t find the massive security hole. Whom was alerted to the request for payment?

Should he have reported the vulnerability, free of charge? Yeah, that would have been the selfless thing to do for the public good. But asking to be compensated for his troubles is not unreasonable, either. After all, it’s not as if the people MSD ended up relying on – KPMG – did it for free.

There is a difference between being asked to locate a vulnerability for a fee, and finding one and asking someone to pay you for it, or otherwise you’ll expose it in the media.

As I said I think Keith has acted entirely appropriately, and I’ve said so on radio – his actions has served the public interest. I’m reserving judgement on Bailey until I’ve heard more detail.

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Ng reveals massive MSD privacy breach

October 15th, 2012 at 7:55 am by David Farrar

This is a must read story. Keith Ng details how you can access pretty much the entire MSD computer system through their public kiosks. We are talking sensitive details magnitudes worse than in the ACC privacy breach. We’re talking:

  • fraud investigations
  • invoices including all contractors (including their media trainers who will now be much needed)
  • details of candidates for adoptions
  • children in CYFS care
  • medical records
  • Debts owed to MSD
  • Full names of kids in their High and Complex Needs section
  • Names of kids in CYFS residential care
  • Phone bills that reveal physical addresses of CYFS homes
  • Bills from pharmacies that deatils which children get which medications
  • An invoices from a community group for whanau support after a suicide, with the full name of the deceased

Keith says:

  • Public kiosks should not have been connected to the corporate network.
  • Servers that didn’t need to be globally accessible should not have been globally accessible, even if they only contained innocuous data.
  • Invoices, file logs and call logs, at a place like MSD, should not have been treated as innocuous data. 

That is a minimum. I’d expect invoices to be username and password accessible only. But the first point is the key one – the kiosks should not be linked to the corporate network.

It goes beyond saying that there must be a full inquiry into this. I have to say that my expectationis there should be staff resignations over this. This is not like ACC where the privacy breach was a mistake – a file accidentally attached to an e-mail. Mistakes will always happen. This appears to be a case of fundamentally flawed decisions – such as connecting the kiosks to the corporate network.

I don’t know how long it has been this way, but it must change.

Keith is a freelance journalist. If you want to help fund the excellent work he has done in this area, you can donate to it here. I have.

Talking on insecure data, you should also read how Whale managed to change the advertisements on The Standard through an insecure adserver. Also not a good look.

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Ng on Labour’s fiscals

November 4th, 2011 at 4:55 pm by David Farrar

Keith Ng blogs:

Here’s the simple truth about asset sales and the Super Fund: In the short-term, it’s just moving money around. It doesn’t spend it, it doesn’t earn it. It’s effect on our net position in the short-term is bugger-all. Anyone who’s telling you that it’ll significantly change our position in the next few years is, at best, pulling some kind of accounting trick.

The real difference is in the long-term, and it depends entirely on interest rates, SOE performance, Super Fund management, etc. Labour’s making a pretty modest argument for restarting contributions to the Super Fund, saying that it’ll earn 0.5% above the cost of capital. It’s such a mundane claim, I don’t see how it can be reasonably challenged. And on the SOE front, National’s argument has always been about the wider economic impact – on the sharemarket, etc. – not that the government will see a fiscal gain.

Keith is basically right here. He does miss one aspect though – it is also about risk. Borrowing to invest in the Super Fund is a risk. Is an extra 0.5% above risk free bonds worth it? Since May, the Super Fund has lost $2.6 billion dollars. If the Super Fund has been used to pay off debt, then it would have reduced interest payments by $1b or so.

Now of course over time the Fund may do better than the risk free rate of return. But hell in eight years it has only managed 0.5% better. And with world financial markets still gloomy, is this the time to start borrowing billions more to invest on international sharemarkets? The days of the massive growth in equities may be over.

Keith is right that on the fiscal side of the mixed ownership model, there won’t be a lot of difference either way. The reduced dividends will approximately equal the reduced interest on debt.Labour’s projections for dividends and capital look hugely optimistic according to one commentator. I’ll check them out over the weekend.

There’s also some strange spin going on. David Parker said that KiwiSaver changes is the biggest item of new “spending”. Which is technically true, since tax cuts are cutting revenue, rather than increasing spending. But Labour’s tax cuts (tax-free threshold, GST changes, R&D tax credits) are actually bigger than the KiwiSaver changes. In fact, it’s bigger than all of Labour’s new spending combined, including the ones which haven’t been announced yet.

It’s like they are petrified of talking about it because fiscally responsible is the new black. Unfortunately for them, it’s also the biggest, most expensive goddamn thing in their policy.

Keith correctly identifies Labour’s tax cuts for all as their largest commitment. ACT are not promising tax cuts until we get back to surplus (which they would do quicker by spending cuts(. National are not promising tax cuts at this election. Labour however is promising income tax cuts for everyone earning up to $150,000. 40 of the 43 Labour MPs will get a tax cut.

Their tax cuts for all is their fiscal albatross.

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Joyce v Cunliffe’s numbers

July 18th, 2011 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Labour have said that over 15 years their tax package will reduce debt by $8b. Steven Joyce says it will increase debt by $15b. Let’s have a look at where their numbers differ.

First it is worth recalling that what is undisputed is that Labour’s package will result in more debt for at least the next seven years. It is only if Labour win this election, the 2014 election and 2017 election that in their third term would their tax switch start to reduce debt – by their own calculations.

By Steven Joyce’s calculations, it will never reduce debt. At a time when debt is growing massively, Labour is actually proposing to borrow for tax cuts – they very thing they have accused National of in the past.

Now I’m going to go through the differences line by line. Keith Ng has also blogged on some of the differences. Keith, like me, is a former parliamentary staffer for Labour (National for me of course) so we both tend to have a more favourable disposition towards numbers from our own side. But that doesn’t mean one can’t also look at the quality of the argument.

CGT – The $1.6b difference is not hugely significant, both Keith and I agree. This is for revenue over 13 years, so the difference is around $100m a year. Joyce uses a Treasury CGT model developed in 2011, and Cunliffe uses BERL. Joyce makes the point though (which has not been covered much) that getting a CGT in place by April 2013 would be nigh impossible considering the huge number of issues being left to the expert panel. You need time to appoint panel, have the panel do its work, then draft a bill up, and then go through select committee process.

New top tax rate – Joyce has this coming in at $934m less over 13 years. Not a big difference per annum. I would tend towards the lower figure because I think it is inevitable that a top personal tax rate of 39% and a company tax rate of 28% will see massive (legal) avoidance. We already know half the top 100 earners don’t pay the top rate. This policy will probably see it drop even lower.

Loss ring-fencing. The TWG said loss ring-fencing will lead to behavioural changes, so Labour’s policy will only bring in half of what Labour says. Keith Ng basically agrees, so little dispute there.

Anti-avoidance. Labour have just invented a figure of $300m a year from greater anti-avoidance work. Now this is pie in the sky. If Labour announced actual law changes to reduce avoidance, then maybe you can estimate revenue changes. But this is the equivalent of “I hope it happens”. Keith Ng is right that it is probably not realistic to say Labour will not be able to get any extra revenue at all, but when you consider most experts are saying their tax package will make the tax system more complicated, I think avoidance will increase not decrease. In the absence of any specifics around anti-avoidance measures, I think you go with zero.

Agriculture ETS. this is basically an argument about what the price of a carbon credit will be. Cunliffe uses $50 and Joyce $25. Ng backs Cunliffe on the basis that the PCE has said they estimate the price will be $50 by 2030 if there is little international action on climate change and $100 if there is a moderate commitment. Australia’s ETS is priced at NZ$30.

However against that the current international price is 11 euros, which is NZ19 only. And bear in mind this is for the whole period 2013 – 2025. Let’s say the PCE is right and in 2030 the price is $50. Then if you assume linear price increases, maybe an average price is $35 for the period of the forecasts. So around halfway between what Joyce and Cunliffe say. Personally trying to predict ETS revenues more than a few years out is very challenging as it all depends on if a post-Kyoto agreement can be reached.

The first $5,000 tax free zone has a $2.2b difference over 13 years. Keith says:

Everyone earning over $5000/year would get the benefit of the whole tax free threshold. That’s pretty much everyone in the workforce. So if everyone already gets something, how would more people get it?

The cost of a tax-threshold only grows when new people enter the workforce.

So unless Joyce thinks he can create 3 million jobs (and find 3 million workers to fill them) in the next decade, this is a patently stupid and ridiculous result. Common sense would tell you that it is impossible.

This one goes firmly in Labour’s favour.

But Keith misses a key point. It is one I have blogged on many times, but gets so little media attention. Labour’s tax free zone is not just for people in the workforce. They have pledged it will also apply to everyone on benefits, even though benefits are calculated on an after tax basis.

Labour are actually promising to increase all benefits by $10 a week – the first ever increase (beyond inflation) for over 20 years. Tax cuts have never applied to benefits in the past (as they are calculated on an after tax basis). Cullen’s 2008 tax cuts did not. But Labour is saying they will pay people on the dole more money for not working.

Also as superannuation is calculated with a floor linked to the after tax average wage, their tax free threshold will increase the cost of superannuation.

So Keith is wrong when he says the tax-free threshold will only increase in cost when new people enter the workforce. It will increase in cost whenever we get new workers, new beneficiaries or new pensioners.

Now having said all that, National’s numbers do still look a bit high with the cost increasing approx $80 million a year, which suggest an extra 160,000 people per year working (as tax free zone is $500 of foregone revenue), on benefits or retired. So while Keith gets some stuff wrong, National’s numbers may be too high.

On GST there is no dispute, and for R&D tax credits Keith says National’s figures look more robust.

Then finally we have the biggie – finance costs, or the extra interest on the extra borrowing. There can be no debate that one should calculate finance costs, unless Labour has convinced the People’s Republic of China to loan us money at 0% interest. This is an extra $7.5 b of costs. Even if you take Labour’s numbers for some of the items, you will still have billions in finance costs.

Using Cunliffe’s numbers Labour is borrowing for at least seven years. If you go to Keith Ng’s numbers then I’d say (Keith didn’t do formally calculate this) that the borrowing is for at least a decade, and if you think Joyce’s numbers are more realistic (and for the most part I think they are) then Labour’s package is never fiscally positive.

But the up to $15b of extra debt is just the beginning. You see Labour done a big lie, and said it is a choice of asset sales or their tax package. But they have not calculated for any increased borrowing through no sales. If you add on the extra $7b they will need to borrow, then the borrowing figure climbs to up to $22b. Of course there will be over the long term less income from dividends.

But even putting aside the asset sales issue, the big big issue is spending. You see Labour’s debt track is already up to $15b higher – before they even fund a single spending promise. it is impossible to think that Labour is going to campaign on spending no more than National. Labour were increasing spending at $2b a year and National reduced this growth to $1.1b, then $0.8b and finally zero. Each time, to protests from Labour. Let’s say Labour promises an extra $1b a year of spending (they have implicitly already promised many billions through their opposition to spending reductions).

The cumulative debt from an extra $1b/year of spending is:

  • Year 1 – $1b
  • Year 2 – $3b
  • Year 3 – $6b
  • Year 4 – $10b
  • Year 5 – $15b
  • Year 6 – $21b

Basically Labour are going to increase debt with their tax package, increase debt with their spending, and increase debt through not doing partial floats of SOEs.

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Trevor fails Maths 101

March 12th, 2010 at 7:28 am by David Farrar

Trevor posted at Red Alert:

My calculation is that the average residential rental property will inolve a loss of about $45 to the landlord v current depreciation arrangements.

(Average house price 416k but I’ve used median 360k. 2% depreciation = $7,200. 33c tax rate = $2,400 say $45 per week)

Can John Key guarantee that all families that rent their houses and get this increase as well as that in their GST will not be worse off.

Now Trevor has been slaughtered in the comments there for his basic errors, he has done a partial retraction:

Comments below have suggested that my estimate is high because I haven’t taken out land prices. Other emails have suggested that there are higher depreciation rates and that because a proportion of rented premises are apartments land is not quite the issue some suggest. I’m happy to use the property investors $34/week figure for the purpose of the discussion. The post goes to the principle.

Trevor retreats behind principle, after going on TV talking about his $45 a week figure. Shame on the media for running with it, without checking it out.

What are the mistakes Trevor made.

  1. The no depreciation on land is the big one. The median house value is $360,000. Looking through the WCC property database, I would estimate this averages out to $190,000 building and $170,000 land. So Trevor’s figures are already out by close to 100%
  2. The depreciation rate is 2% straight line or 3% diminishing value. For an exercise of this nature, SL is better in my opinion, so no problem there.
  3. The other massive mistake Trevor has made is overlooking that the depreciation has to be repaid when the house is sold. The gain to the landlord is not the tax rebate on the depreciation, but the interest free use of that money for some years. Now that can still add up to a useful amount (as I calculated here) but way way less than the tax rebate itself.

So taking 1 and 3 together, Trevor may be out by literally a magnitude.

Putting aside Trevor’s faulty maths, how great is it to see Labour championing the cause of landlords to claim non existent depreciation? If Labour has a strategist in their ranks, he or she must be in tears at Labour’s inability to run a coherent message.

UPDATE: If you thing I have been harsh on Trevor, read Keith Ng at Public Address:

Of course, this means Trevor Mallard’s own back-of-a-napkin adventures were even more full of shit.

As he acknowledges in his update, he included land values, so he massively overstates the cost, and he didn’t even consider clawback. The curious thing is how his clearly, completely and massively wrong estimate ended up being in the same ballpark as the Property Investors Federation’s completely unsubstantiated figure…

Oh. Right.

Full. Of. Shit.

I love it how Labour have become shrills for the Property Investors Federation.

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Keith Ng Ltd

September 7th, 2009 at 7:33 pm by David Farrar

Heh. Upsetting either Whale Oil or Cactus Kate is an inadvisable thing. Upsetting them both together has consequences, as one can see at Gotcha with the registration of a new company called Keith Ng Ltd, registered in Belize.

If not sure what this is about, read this on Public Address and this from Cactus Kate.

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Blogging and Journalism

April 21st, 2009 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

I spoke to the Young Labour conference on Sunday about blogging, and whether it is entertainment or citizen journalism (I say both). I was on a panel with Keith Ng and Robyn Gallagher and I thought the session went well. There was some great questions and discussion with the audience. I quipped at the beginning that I wanted to swap water glasses with Keith in case of poison :-) but had nothing to worry about – it was a very good natured session.

That leads me to this blog entry a blog I read had linked to, about ten journalism rules you can and should break on your blog:

  1. Use partial or fake names
  2. Tell part of the story
  3. Insert opinion
  4. Link to a report rather than rewrite it
  5. Link to background rather than repeat it
  6. Link to the enemy
  7. Use second person or even first person
  8. Get personal
  9. Answer your critics or supporters
  10. Fix your mistakes rather than just publish a correction

At the conference I did a comparison of NZ blogs to UK newspapers. The UK is lucky enough to have ten or so daily newspapers, and each has their own niche. They are best summed up in this Yes Minister scene (which I played at the conference).

So my local comparisons were:

  • Daily Telegraph – Kiwiblog
  • Financial Times – Bernard Hickey
  • The Times – Public Address
  • The Guardian – No Right Turn
  • The Independent – Tumeke!
  • Daily Express – No Minister
  • Daily Mail – Winston Peters
  • Daily Mirror – The Standard
  • The Sun – Whale Oil

People can make their own additional suggestions I am sure!

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Keith Ng on minimum wage

February 3rd, 2009 at 9:48 am by David Farrar

Keith Ng at Public Address takes a different position on the minimum wage to most of the other left bloggers:

Businesses are taking the brunt of declining exports, consumption and investment. They try to cut costs by cutting overtime hours, not hiring new staff, and trimming back the hours for temporary employees.

It’s that last group who are now on the plank, and if the minimum wage increases, they will be the ones who are most expendable and relatively expensive. Increasing the cost of hiring people will just force these businesses to cut back on hours, or push them into lay-off territory.

Nor will the supposed benefits be worth squat. If you raise the minimum wage by 10% ($1.20) and cause, say, 1 in 20 of those minimum wage workers to lose their jobs, the other 19 are not going to spend their additional earnings. Rather, they’re going to freak out about people getting fired, and get even tighter with their spending.

Increasing the minimum wage is not inherently a bad thing, but to do it now, when so many businesses and their employees are tethering on the edge is a seriously bad idea. The social harm done by the job losses would far outweigh the $20 or $30 it might mean for those other families.

I suspect the Government may keep it constant in real terms, which will be a 50c or so increase in nominal terms. What will be interesting is how many job losses DOL predicts will occur with even a 50c increase?

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The new and improved journalist test

September 10th, 2008 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

David Cohen at NBR has done a new and improved test of whether you are a journalist, and it even tells you what sort of journalist you are. Extracts:

1) You are walking down the road and you come across the scene of a recent mass shooting.  The dead and dying are scattered all over the place.  You:
a.     Give first aid to the injured yourself
b.     Call an ambulance
c.     Call Jim Tucker to figure out the most culturally appropriate course of action
d.     Take photos on your mobile phone and post them on Scoop

4) A “death knock” is:
a.  When an undertaker comes to your house
b.  The noise your car makes when it is 100,000km overdue for its service
c.  An unfortunate practice whereby journalists inflict themselves in an intrusive and callous manner upon the relatives of people who have recently died in tragic and/or brutal circumstances
d.  The noise inside our head the morning after drinking far too many flaming maitais

And the scoring system:

Mostly As:  you are Barbara Dreaver.
Mostly Bs:  you are so overwhelmingly boring people could actually be killed by the dreariness of your writing and it would be a major public health hazard if you ever became a journalist.
Mostly Cs:  You are Keith Ng.
Mostly Ds:  You are Duncan Garner.

Heh heh heh.

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Congratulations Keith

July 22nd, 2008 at 11:25 am by David Farrar

Keith Ng is temporarily giving up blogging at Public Address, which is a loss to the blogosphere.

However his talents are not lost to the nation, as I understand he is taking up a job in the Prime Minister’s Office.

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How to recover?

June 29th, 2008 at 7:18 pm by David Farrar

Keith Ng looks at how Labour can recover from four post-budget polls which has them 20% to 25% behind National.

It’s a label that Labour can’t seem to shake off, but that’s because nobody knows what Labour really stands for, says Dr Jon Johansson, a leadership expert at Victoria University. “The real weakness of Clark is that there is no over-arching explanation as to what the purpose of her government is. We’ve seen this right through the three terms.

“It never mattered for the first two terms, when National was in disarray,” says Johansson. “One year it’s economic transformation, then it’s environmental sustainability. In the absence of some over-arching narrative about purpose, people end up thinking, ‘Well, all these people want is to stay in power’. Clark has always abhorred rhetoric, and now she’s paying the price for that.”

It is true that Labour has almost swapped goals every few months, and with none of them really being achieved. If National gains office and wants to retain office it is going to have to have a couple of simple goals which it can measure progress against at every election.

Johansson thinks that Clark needs to explain the purpose of her government, and in particular, front up over its most unpopular positions: the Electoral Finance Act and why it took so long to give tax cuts.

I think it is too late on both those fronts. The basic truth is the motives behind the EFA were a crude attempt to fuck over National and critics of the Government, and help gain a permament grasp on power.

The tax cuts issues may once have been redeemable for them, but they mishandled the Budget even though it did deliver tax cuts. Instead of the public seeing a Government talking about how pleased they were to let peopel keep more of their own money, they just saw a gloating Dr Cullen boast about how he had prevented National from offering bigger tax cuts.

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Keith Ng on Greens compost

June 3rd, 2008 at 11:50 am by David Farrar

Keith Ng focuses his fact checker on the Greens claims about the cost of milk increasing 60% and that it is all Fonterra”s fault and the greedy supermarkets. Some key points Keith makes:

  • Milk has only increased 28% in the last year, and is only 2% higher than two years ago, 3% higher than three years ago and only 8% higher than four years ago. In other words the cost of milk dipped last year and is now at much the same level as it has been for the last four years.
  • Dairy products make up only 1.2% of household expenditure or $11.60 a week. Capping Fonterra’s prices would save less than $2 a week per household.

Keith then looks at their call for farmers to move away from areas where we export, into areas where we import so we are self sufficient. Keith sums this up as:

Which, I assume, means that she wants New Zealand farming to diversify — away from the areas where it’s strongest, and into areas where it’s not.

He does a nice analogy:

To cutting down dairy production in favour of wheat etc. is like pouring water down the drain so you have empty vessels to catch rain with.

His summary:

This goes far, far beyond disappointing. Not only has the Greens managed to be wrong and stupid, but they’ve also managed to marry pre-Rod Donald naivety with Winston-like populism.

Did he really compare them to Winston?

It’s the kind of stunt that Winston pulls — making outrageous claims, safe in the knowledge that there will be no repercussions because it’s too ridiculous to be taken seriously.

Oh yes he did.

But even while trying to be populist, they still manage to look like the boogeyman from the ideological fringes.

Indeed.

They are right that Labour has been all talk about climate change, and that National won’t be any better. The only place where leadership on climate change can come from is the Greens. But they need to accept the simple fact that most of the people who support action on climate change are not out to destroy capitalism or globalisation.

This is not about cynical political rebranding, it’s about building a real consensus. The Greens can’t earn the trust of a broader voter base until you give up the radical part of themselves. Every time you push a radical left agenda, you’re pushing supporters of climate change action further away.

I like the implicit assertion that many in the Greens are out to destroy capitalism and globalisation.
Sadly, Keith is correct.

As I said yesterday, there are environmental areas where the Greens could have a positive influence on a National Government. But their “social justice” wing which does want to destroy capitalism is a big turn off for many.

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NZ First condemned by everyone

April 3rd, 2008 at 12:19 pm by David Farrar

People have been expecting NZ First to start bashing Asian immigrants for months, to try and lift their poll ratings like it did in 1996. Peter Brown’s outburst yesterday was not him just thinking aloud, but part of a planned strategy. It had to fall to him, as Winston being Foreign Minister can’t do it directly.  He is now refusing to comment on his own Deputy Leader’s comments.

The EMA Northern have condemned (hat tip: The Hive) NZ First and Brown:

Comments by New Zealand First MP Peter Brown are racial stereotyping of the worst sort, says Alasdair Thompson, chief executive of the Employers & Manufacturers Association (Northern).

“It was post war migrants like Mr Brown who brought here the bigotry of the British class system and a rabid form of unionism,” Mr Thompson said.

“Mr Brown should stop being hypocritical.

And the Auckland Chamber of Commerce weighs in:

“Asian New Zealanders, and those overseas, should see this for what it is: a pathetic piece of political posturing by a minority party.

Hon Chris Carter:

 ”I think he’s absolutely being racist,” Carter said. “He shouldn’t be condemning people because of their race or culture.”

Hon Clayton Cosgrove:

 Immigration Minister Clayton Cosgrove told NZPA Mr Brown’s comments were ironic, given that he was a “native born British chap”.

He hoped Mr Brown did not “take his own advice” and return to the UK.

We wait to hear what the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Leader of New Zealand First has to say on the issue.

On a slightly related note, it reminds me of a further Cactus Kate story from Tuesday night. As we were heading along Blair Street, we ran into Keith Ng. Cactus looks at Keith somewhat warily when I mention he blogs for Public Address. I then mention he won a Press Council complaint against Deborah Coddington over her Asian crime story, and Cactus literally leaps forward and embraces Keith in full bear hug, finally releasing him after thanking him for his work.  It was very very funny.

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An unproportional result

March 10th, 2008 at 10:40 am by David Farrar

Keith Ng blogs on an issue I planned to cover in more detail. What would happen if an overhang in seats for the Maori Party resulted in a Government being elected that got less votes than the Opposition?  Keith gives an example:

Anderton, Dunne and Hide gets <2% party vote between them. Maori Party gets all 7 Maori seats, with 3% of the party vote. We get a Parliament of 125 MPs. National + Hide + Dunne have 62 seats. Labour + Greens + Anderton have 56 seats.

In this scenario, the Maori Party could reverse a 6-seat gap with 3% of party votes.

That would be a fundamental slap in the face of proportional representation, and the scale of it would be made possible because of the Maori seats.

In this scenario, I would predict one of two likely responses.

The first is that MMP would be swept aside as its main virtue (and I support MMP over FPP) would be undermined.

The second is that the major parties would respond to this overhang situation by creating their own overhangs by creating party vote only parties and electorate seat only parties. Then all electorate seats would be overhangs (and we would ironically have a Supplementary Member style electoral  system) and the House would have 190 MPs!

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The subjectivity of facts

March 3rd, 2008 at 7:36 am by David Farrar

The Herald has a new column (I think just online but not sure) called “Just the facts” by Keith Ng.

Now I’m very supportive of any attempt by the media to fact check claims by politicians – or even to put them into context. And I think Keith generally has a good track record with checking the facts out.

But there is a danger on having just one person set up as “the fact checker”. Factcheck.org in the US had around a dozen staff.  Because one’s personal political views can influence what facts you find relevant, what story you tell with facts.  There is a reason people refer to “lies, damned lies and statistics”.

As an example, I’ll criticise below one of Keith’s fact checks – not to say I am right and Keith is wrong, but how the use or non use of certain facts can give different impressions:

“Violent youth crime is at an all-time high”.
JOHN KEY (STATE OF THE NATION SPEECH, JAN 29)

That’s true, but

Okay the insignificant little detail that John Key is correct is given just two words.  Wouldn’t it have been useful to provide the actual statistics on violent youth offending. Then people could judge how significant the increase is. Just two words supporting the fact he is correct, and several hundred words on trying to undermine his assertion.

violent old-people crime is at an all-time high, too. Violent crime for every age group over 13 is, technically, “at an all-time high”, and the fastest growing group of violent offenders is in the 51-99 category.

So the defence to the rise in violent youth crime, is that violent crime is up for all age groups. Okay well why not give us offending rates in say 2000 and 2007 for all age groups so people can see the absolute rates and the growth for each age group.

Boot camp for old people, anyone? Young people commit more violent crimes than people over 30, but the increase is happening across the board.

That looks like sarcasm, not facts. One can have an entire separate debate about “boot camps” – something along the lines of better to turn people away from crime when they are younger. And also the overwhelming support for the policy from experts in the youth offending area.  But hey I’m getting away from the facts.

And again why not provide the facts for violent offending of under 30s  and over 30s.

Youth crime as a whole is actually decreasing:

Could have been useful to mention that the overall reported crime figures are generally held to be relatively meaningless as they treat murdering someone the same as having a joint on you. One could do an entire article on why the overall crime rate is such a flawed measure – instead of using it as rebuttal to a true statement about violent youth crime offending.

As an alternative why not point out what areas of youth crime are increasing (violent and sexual I think)  and what areas are decreasing?

2006 saw the lowest number of arrests for youth offending since 1995.

Now the context of the statement is a speech by the National Leader, criticising the current Govt’s policies. Why not compare 2006 to 1999 instead of the previous high of 1995?

When the change in population is taken into account, that’s a 17 per cent decrease over 10 years.

And how much took place from 1995 to 1999, and how much from 2000 to 2006? All facts which would be useful.

I could go through and apply a similar analysis to the other “Just the Facts” articles, but I won’t. The purpose isn’t to attack Keith (who I think is an excellent journalist), but to show that there are dangers in labelling any article as “Just the facts”. It all comes down to what is subjective choices as to which facts to include, whether or not to use absolute or relative data, what time frames to choose etc etc.

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