The fiscal cliff deal

January 1st, 2013 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

It looks like there will be an agreement to avoid the so called fiscal cliff. That is good in the short term for Americans, but the deal looks like it will do little to reduce the deficit – which is why such an unpalatable fiscal cliff was designed – to force the President and Congress to make their own steps to reduce the deficit.

AP reports:

The contours of a deal to avert the ‘fiscal cliff’ are emerging early today (NZ time), with Democrats and Republicans agreeing to raise tax rates on family income over US$450,000 a year, increase the estate tax rate and extend unemployment benefits for one year, officials familiar with the negotiations said.

That side of the deal seems like a reasonable compromise on both sides. In reality come 1 January all the Bush tax cuts had expired anyway, so for the Republicans they are no longer voting for any tax increases – they are just voting for what tax cuts to reinstate. There is a significant difference. They can not get the numbers to reinstate all the tax cuts – so the tax side of the compromise seems okay.

But with a midnight deadline rapidly approaching, both sides were at an impasse over whether to put off automatic, across-the-board spending cuts set to take effect on January 1, and if so, how to pay for that. Democrats want to put off the cuts for one year and offset the so-called sequester with unspecified revenue.

The Republicans are proposing just a three month deferral of the spending cuts. I think a year delay means they will never get agreement on a sustainable plan to reduce spending, so the US Government can live within its means. They need the pressure of a looming deadline.

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Australia on ANZUS

January 1st, 2013 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Greg Ansley at NZ Herald reports on some interesting Australian views during the US and NZ stand off on nuclear ships.

“Several Nato and Asean countries have said to us that, while disturbed by New Zealand’s policies, they regard the Americans as having over-reacted and as running the risk of creating a ‘laager’ mentality in New Zealand,” it said.

This is basically correct. The NZ policy was wrong, yet the US reaction was over the top.

Canberra did not accept New Zealand’s belief that it was not affected by a global superpower threat and that regional security did not require a nuclear capability.

With more than 40 per cent of its combat ships nuclear-powered – and “almost all would assuredly be nuclear-capable” – the US could not be expected to maintain two navies, one for global security and another for regional stability.

A fair view.

The Cabinet was reminded that the (former) Soviet Union was trying to gain a foothold in the Pacific and had turned New Zealand’s policies to its propaganda advantage.

The USSR was delighted by the anti-nuclear policy. It weakened the western alliance, and gave them hope the West would crumble. As it turned out, it was the USSR which crumbled as it was unable to keep pace with the West.

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Make Your Own Deficit-Reduction Plan

December 29th, 2012 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

The Wall Street Journal has a nifty gadget to allow you to work out your own US deficit reduction plan.

In my deficit reduction plan, I have $390 billion increase in tax revenues – but all through reducing deductions – not increasing tax rates.

I leave military expenditure alone, but cut $111b from annually appropriated spending.

I trim $525b from benefits or mandatory entitlements (mainly social security).

In total I reduce the 2020 deficit from $1.1 trillion to a mere $76 billion.

Sadly I project the US will not take meaningful steps to rein in their deficit and debt. They may hit the fiscal cliff, but will then do a deal by the state of the union. And I predict the spending cuts will be incredibly small and insignificant.

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Daniel Inouye

December 20th, 2012 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Senator Daniel Inouye of Hawaii died earlier this week. He was aged 88, and was planning to run for a tenth Senate term in 2016, when he would have been 92.

In NZ politics, there is a general feeling that your peak political years are the 40s and 50s. Once you make 60, the timer has started and in your 70s you become (in my view) almost unelectable. However in the US it is very different, with many people being elected to office in their 60s, 70s, 80s and even 90s.

Inouye had been the President pro tempore of the Senate since 2010. That made him third in line for the presidency after the VP and Speaker of the House. In reality he would never have become President (except in a Tom Clancy novel) as no Speaker has even become President, but it is a weakness in the US succession laws to have the President pro tem in the line of succession  considering the position is always held by the longest serving Senator of the majority party.

Inouye has represented Hawaii in Washington for as long as it has been a state. They became a state in 1959 and he was in the House of Reps from 1959 to 1963 and a Senator since then.

He was a Japanese-American and served in WWII, once the ban on serving was lifted. Like many in Congress, he was seriously wounded and lost his right arm. War heroes do well in elections.

All in all an extraordinary life of service, especially representing the state of Hawaii for its entire existence.

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Gun control in the US

December 16th, 2012 at 7:52 am by David Farrar

When ever there is a mass shooting in the US, there is inevitably a debate on the gun laws in the US. I find the level of ignorance in the debate inevitably high.

Personally I like living in a country where the level of firearm ownership and use is relatively low, and the level of gun related crime is also low.

If you want to debate gun control in the US, you need to understand three things.

  1. The second amendment, “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” does mean there are limits to gun control laws, but these limits are less than many realise.
  2. The United States federal government has little role in gun laws. Each state gets to set their own laws. This is the basis of how government was formed in the US.
  3. The level of firearm ownership in the US is so huge, that it is naive to think it could or would ever have levels of ownership down with countries in in Europe.

I say this not to defend US gun culture. I’m not a fan of guns. But if you don’t understand how a political system works, then calls for change are an (understandable) knee-jerk response.

Now taking the 2nd amendment issue first, this clearly places a limit on gun control laws. You can’t just ban private gun ownership. And there is no possibility the 2nd amendment will ever be taken out of the Bill of Rights. Now the 2nd amendment does refer to a well-regulated militia, but courts have ruled that this doesn’t mean that gun ownership is only allowed for members of militias (especially as there are none now), but was allowed for traditional purposes such as self-defence.

The 2nd amendments writers were partially inspired by the English Bill of Rights and the earlier common law.

In terms of the actual law, it is worth noting Connecticut has the 5th toughest gun laws of the 50 states. Specifically:

To buy a gun, Connecticut law requires residents apply for a local permit, typically with the town’s police chief, have their fingerprints taken and submit to a state and federal background check with a 14-day waiting period. To buy a handgun, residents also are required to take a gun safety course.

The state is also one of seven to have an assault weapons ban that specifically lists more than 35 semiautomatic and automatic weapons. It does not appear to cover the .223 caliber rifle used in Friday’s attack.

In terms of the culture, Americans recall that it is only through gun ownership that they won their independence from Britain. Now I agree 200 years on, they don’t need guns with individuals to overthrow a government. But the reality is that this cultural tradition is hugely strong in America, and you are never going to have the US with Europe or NZ style gun laws or levels of gun ownership. It is like wishing for the Easter Bunny.

That is not to say that there are not improvements that can and should be made to the gun laws, especially around automatic weapons. But don’t think for a moment that you will ever have a case where criminals in the US can’t get their hands on lethal firearms.

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27 killed

December 15th, 2012 at 9:11 am by David Farrar

This is terrible, almost beyond belief. The Hartford Courant reports:

Twenty-seven people, including 18 children, have been killed in a shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, according to the Associated Press.

The shootings happened in a kindergarden classroom. How insane does someone have to be to shoot kids?

Newtown, Connecticut is a fairly small town of 28,000 people. The impact on them will be beyond belief.

It seems the (now dead) killer, Ryan Adam Lanza, killed his own mother who was one of the teachers, and many of the kids were in her class.

So very very sad.

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The new Blacklist

November 16th, 2012 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

John Fund at National Review writes:

Angela McCaskill was the first African-American woman to earn a Ph.D. at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., a school for the deaf and hard of hearing. She has now worked at Gallaudet for over 20 years, and in January 2011 she was named its chief diversity officer. Last year, she helped open a resource center for sexual minorities on campus. But she has now been placed on leave because of pressure from some students and faculty. Her job is on the line.

McCaskill’s sin? She was one of 200,000 people to sign a petition demanding a referendum on a law recognizing gay marriage, which was signed by Maryland’s Democratic governor, Martin O’Malley, in March. The referendum will be on the ballot next month, and the vote is expected to be close.

McCaskill’s signature became public when the Washington Blade posted a database online “outing” all those who had signed the petition. Even though her signature indicated only that she wanted the decision on gay marriage to be made by the people and not by the legislature and the governor, her critics declared that it demonstrated “bias.”

Gallaudet University’s president, T. Alan Hurwitz, announced that he was putting McCaskill on paid leave because “some feel it is inappropriate for an individual serving as chief diversity officer” to have signed such a petition. “I will use the extended time while she is on administrative leave to determine the appropriate next steps,” said Hurwitz, “taking into consideration the duties of this position at the university.” Just last year, Hurwitz had praised McCaskill as “a longtime devoted advocate of social justice and equity causes.” But she is apparently not allowed to have private political views

That’s pretty appalling. Her saying this is a matter that should be put to a referendum does not impact her job at all.

One should debate those with opposing views – not try to get them closed down or sacked.

Similarly, Los Angeles Film Festival director Richard Raddon was forced to step down after it was revealed that he had donated $1,500 to “Yes on 8.” The festival’s organizer put out a statement saying, “Our organization does not police the personal, religious or political choices of any employee, member or filmmaker.” Behind the scenes, however, many of the festival’s board members pressured Mr. Raddon to resign. “From now on, no one in entertainment will feel safe making a donation as measly as $100 to a conservative defense-of-marriage campaign,” mourned Brent Bozell, head of the conservative Media Research Center.

Nor is the modern-day blacklist confined to the entertainment industry. Marjorie Christoffersen, manager of the famous Los Angeles restaurant El Coyote, resigned after El Coyote was subjected to a month of boycotts and demonstrations because she had contributed $100 to the campaign against gay marriage. Christoffersen, who had been with El Coyote for 26 years, insisted her stance had nothing to do with prejudice against gays, but rather was rooted in her Mormon faith. That didn’t impress the blacklisters. Fellow employees at El Coyote vouched for her kindness to gay employees, including personally paying for the mother of an employee who had died of AIDS to fly to Los Angeles to attend his funeral. That didn’t matter either. And neither did the fact that El Coyote sent $10,000 to gay groups to “make up” for Ms. Christoffersen’s contribution. The boycott continued, and the slowdown in business forced Ms. Christoffersen to leave.

It’s like boycotting the Mad Butcher because he said some nice things about John Key. Targeting people, and the business they work for, just because they made a donation to a cause you don’t approve of is not healthy.

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More US gerrymandering

November 14th, 2012 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

I blogged previously on some boundary gerrymandering in Pennsylvania by the Republicans. To make it clear both parties gerrymander equally enthusiastically, here’s a good article on what the Democrats did in California:

This spring, a group of California Democrats gathered at a modern, airy office building just a few blocks from the U.S. Capitol. The meeting was House members only — no aides allowed — and the mission was seemingly impossible.

In previous years, the party had used its perennial control of California’s state Legislature to draw district maps that protected Democratic incumbents. But in 2010, California voters put redistricting in the hands of a citizens’ commission where decisions would be guided by public testimony and open debate.

So how to gerrymander the boundaries when you no longer have direct control?

The citizens’ commission had pledged to create districts based on testimony from the communities themselves, not from parties or statewide political players. To get around that, Democrats surreptitiously enlisted local voters, elected officials, labor unions and community groups to testify in support of configurations that coincided with the party’s interests.

When they appeared before the commission, those groups identified themselves as ordinary Californians and did not disclose their ties to the party. One woman who purported to represent the Asian community of the San Gabriel Valley was actually a lobbyist who grew up in rural Idaho, and lives in Sacramento.

A bit like being a struggling desperate home owner, who happens to be the Labour Party Vice-President!

California’s Democratic representatives got much of what they wanted from the 2010 redistricting cycle, especially in the northern part of the state. “Every member of the Northern California Democratic Caucus has a ticket back to DC,” said one enthusiastic memo written as the process was winding down. “This is a huge accomplishment that should be celebrated by advocates throughout the region.”

Statewide, Democrats had been expected to gain at most a seat or two as a result of redistricting. But an internal party projection says that the Democrats will likely pick up six or seven seats in a state where the party’s voter registrations have grown only marginally.

A very nice bonus.

The losers in this once-a-decade reshaping of the electoral map, experts say, were the state’s voters. The intent of the citizens’ commission was to directly link a lawmaker’s political fate to the will of his or her constituents. But as ProPublica’s review makes clear, Democratic incumbents are once again insulated from the will of the electorate.

They want insulation – they need a party list!

Read the full article – it is lengthy, but fascinating.

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The 237th Marine Corps Ball

November 12th, 2012 at 4:09 pm by David Farrar

I was very fortunate to be a guest of the United States Marine Corps for their birthday ball last weekend. It was held in the Amora Hotel Ballroom, and was a great night. They had a video presentation on the history of the Marine Corps, and various speeches as part of an interesting formal ceremony. Then after that the dinner and the dancing.

In the booklet we were given, they had some quotes from or about the Marine Corps over time. Some of my favourites are:

The Marines I have seen around the world have the cleanest bodies, the filthiest minds, the highest morale, and the lowest morals of any group of animals I have ever seen. Thank God for the United States Marine Corps! – Eleanor Roosevelt, First Lady of the United States, 1945

Some people spend an entire lifetime wondering if they made a difference in the world. But, the Marines don’t have that problem. 
Ronald Reagan, President of the United States; 1985

“Sometimes it is entirely appropriate to kill a fly with a sledge-hammer!” – MAJ. HOLDREDGE 

“Retreat Hell! We’re just attacking in another direction.” (Attributed to Major General Oliver P. Smith, USMC, Korea, December 1950.)

WARRIORS BY DAY, LOVERS BY NIGHT, PROFESSIONALS BY CHOICE, AND MARINES BY THE GRACE OF GOD.

The girls at my table like the last quote especially :-)

Melissa Lee with Major General Ron Bailey, the commander of the Marines 1st Division. I’ve never seen a Major General dance Gangum Style before. We told Melissa that we expected her to be very proficient at it, as she is Korean :-)

The US and Marine flags.

Cutting the cake!

Jordan and Stephanie having fun.

But not as much fun as these girls – that photo could have gone terribly wrong :-)

Everywhere they are doing Gangnam Style!

Oh yeah, I couldn’t resist a photo with Glee Girl either.

Many thanks to the Marines and the US Embassy for a great night. Lots of fun, and great to support a fine institution. Semper Fi.

All the photos are from the US Embassy Flickr account.

Best dancer of the night was clearly Dr Duane McWaine!

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Electoral boundaries

November 8th, 2012 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

I’m glad that in NZ electoral boundaries are drawn up by the Representation Commission, which is primarily neutral officials.

Thomas Lumley at Stats Chat notes:

 Article II, Section 16 of the Pennsylvania Constitution says that the Commonwealth’s 50 senatorial districts and 203 representative districts “shall be composed of compact and contiguous territory as nearly equal in population as practicable.” It also says that “Unless absolutely necessary, no county, city, incorporated town, borough township or ward shall be divided in forming either a senatorial or representative district.”   

Now after reading that have a look at District 7 and especially District 12!

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The US Budget Dilemma

November 6th, 2012 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Have a look of this five minute video which describes and shows clearly how bad the US Budget deficit is. Basically it is impossible to close, which means I’d say the US will have to print money in a big way to cover the debt, which will of course mean the NZ dollar will keep rising relative to the US. We can do nothing to stop this, unless we have hundreds of billions to waste on trying to stop it happening.

The presenter tells us how the spending is $3.8 trillion for 2013, the income $2.5 trillion and deficit $1.3 trillion.

Now expenditure is in three categories. Mandatory entitlements, interest on debt and US Federal Government discretionary spending. The mandatory entitlements are $2.2 trillion and interest is $0.2 trillion which is (rounded) $2.5 trillion. So the federal income is just enough to meet mandatory entitlements (Social Security, Medicare etc) and debt interest.

Now of the $1.3 trillion “discretionary”, $0.9 trillion is on security such as the military.

So to balance the Budget, there are three options:

  1. Increase taxes by 50%
  2. Abolish the Federal Government, including the military
  3. Massively cutback entitlements on social security and Medicare which would probably lead to Greece style riots

It would be nice to think if you get the economy growing, then that will increase tax revenues enough. But the spending has been increasing far faster than the economy.

The presenter concludes it is a matter of when, not if, the US gets downgraded again.

 

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Super Storm Sandy

October 31st, 2012 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

The report at Stuff is sobering reading:

The most devastating storm in decades to hit the most densely populated US region has cut off modern communication and left millions without power, as thousands who fled their waterlogged homes wonder when – if – life will return to normal.

A weakening Sandy, the hurricane turned fearsome super storm, killed at least 50 people, many hit by falling trees, and still wasn’t finished. …

More than 8.2 million households were without power in 17 states as far west as Michigan.

Nearly two million of those were in New York, where large swaths of lower Manhattan lost electricity and entire streets ended up under water – as did seven subway tunnels between Manhattan and Brooklyn at one point, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority said.

The New York Stock Exchange was closed for a second day from weather, the first time that has happened since a blizzard in 1888.

The city’s subway system, the lifeblood of more than five million residents, was damaged like never before and closed indefinitely, and Consolidated Edison said electricity in and around New York could take a week to restore.

New York with no subway system!

Forecasting firm IHS Global Insight predicted the storm will end up causing about US$20 billion in damages and US$10 billion to US$30 billion in lost business. Another firm, AIR Worldwide, estimated losses up to Us$15 billion – big numbers probably offset by reconstruction and repairs that will contribute to longer-term growth.

Not really – this is a common mistake. Yes reconstruction does contribute to economic growth, but the money spent on it has an opportunity cost – and is money not invested in other areas – which would often contribute more to economic growth.

One of the most dramatic tales came from lower Manhattan, where a failed backup generator forced New York University’s Tisch Hospital to relocate more than 200 patients, including 20 babies from neonatal intensive care.

Dozens of ambulances lined up in the rainy night and the tiny patients were gingerly moved out, some attached to battery-powered respirators as gusts of wind blew their blankets.

So emotional.

What damage could be seen on the coastline was, in some locations, staggering – “unthinkable,” New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said of what unfolded along the Jersey Shore, where houses were swept from their foundations and amusement park rides were washed into the ocean. “Beyond anything I thought I would ever see.”

The power of nature.

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The final presidential debate

October 24th, 2012 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Well I only followed it on Twitter, but the polls show Obama was judged better by a clear majority. This is not a surprise. His approval ratings for foreign policy have been consistently high, and in my opinion he does deserve credit for some of his work in this area. He did basically exit Iraq gracefully (on much the same timetable as Bush proposed though), and the surge in Afghanistan has worked (as it did in Iraq) and they are on track to leave there in the next term. And you have to give brownie points for killing Osama Bin Laden. The mission was risky, and could have ended in a Iran style Carter disaster effectively ending Obama’s presidency. It was a gutsy call to do it.

The killing of the US Ambassador to Libya is of course a low point – especially the misinformation from the US Government on why and how it happened, and the revelations that they were asked multiple times for more security. That issue is yet to be resolved.

The biggest reason not to vote for Obama on foreign policy grounds is probably the fact that John Kerry is his likely next Secretary of State. I think Hillary Clinton has generally done a good job, and I actually have a lot of respect for her. I have almost none for John Kerry. Think how close we came to a Kerry/Edwards presidency!

Too soon after the debate to know how it may have influenced the polls. Five Thirty Eight is projecting Obama 291 and Romney 247 – pretty close.  Real Clear Politics has Obama 281 and Romney 257. Pollster has Obama 254, Romney 191 and 94 tossups.

All the focus is now going on the key swing states – especially Ohio.

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A US ballot

October 3rd, 2012 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

A reader sent these in, to give others an idea of how many choices most US people get when they vote. He says some years there are four pages of things to vote on.

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US media trust

September 23rd, 2012 at 9:50 am by David Farrar

Gallup has released the latest of its annual polls measuring trust or distrust in the US media by Americans.

A record high 60% say they have not very much trust or no trust at all in the media to report the news fully, accurately and fairly.  This has declined 14% over the last decade.

What is interesting is the breakdown by affiliation. 58% of Democrats say they have a fair or great deal of trust in the media and only 26% of Republicans say the same. Now some may say that this is because Republicans are detached from reality, but they also found that Independents have only 31% trust in the media. What this suggests to me is that the majority of the media are seen as Democrat-aligned and too sycophantic to the Democrats – hence the rest of America has little faith in them.

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The US ship ban ends

September 22nd, 2012 at 8:16 am by David Farrar

This is a significant move by the United States.  Claire Trevett reports:

In a key shift, the United States is lifting a ban on New Zealand navy vessels visiting US ports, and will remove obstacles to defence talks and exercises.

US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced the shifts in policy after talks with Defence Minister Jonathan Coleman in Auckland today.

Mr Panetta said the restrictions would be lifted in the interests of closer defence cooperation in the Asia Pacific.

Neither side will change their stance on US ship visits to New Zealand, but Mr Panetta said the restrictions had been in place since the suspension of Anzus. He believed removing them could be made without affecting core tenets of US policy.

Currently waivers are required before New Zealand can take part in exercises or talks with the US.

Mr Panetta said the changes signified a “new era” in the relationship.

The ban had become somewhat farcical considering  that NZ and US troops were serving together in Afghanistan and the like. The silliness which saw the NZ ship have to park down the road from Pearl Harbour, while Japanese ships could dock, illustrated this.

Mr Panetta said he expected to see a New Zealand Navy vessel in a US port soon but it was up to New Zealand when that happened.

“While we acknowledge our countries continue to have differences of opinion in limited areas, today we have acknowledged we are embarking on a new course in our relationship that will not let those differences stand in the way of greater engagement on security issues.”

I expect we will see a NZ ship in a US port, and then a US ship in a NZ port. The vast majority of the US fleet has neither nuclear arms nor power.

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Further to the post on US media

September 11th, 2012 at 7:00 pm by David Farrar

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US media trust

September 10th, 2012 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Pew has done a further annual survey of faith in news media in the US. The scores for net believability are:

  • Local TV news +30
  • 60 minutes +29
  • ABC News +18
  • WSJ +17
  • CNN +16
  • CBS +14
  • Daily newspaper +14
  • NBC +11
  • NPR +5
  • MSNBC +0
  • New York Times -1
  • Fox News -2
  • USA Today -2

Interesting that Fox News is viewed as basically as reliable as the New York Times and USA Today.

All media outlets have declined significantly over time in reliability.

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The US Political Party Quiz

September 10th, 2012 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Pew Research has a 12 question quiz on where you fit in the US political spectrum. My results were:

  • Overall a moderate republican
  • On economic issues, slightly to the right of the Tea Party
  • On social issues, slightly to the left of a liberal Democrat
What is interesting is that on economic issues, there is only a minor variation by age.  But on social issues there is a massive difference between the average under 30 and over 65.

By race, there is little difference on social issues, but a big difference on economic issues.

Feel free to state in comments where you were placed overall, and on economic and social issues.

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Key’s diction too much for the State Department

September 4th, 2012 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

3 News reports:

Prime Minister John Key has been quoted as telling US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that New Zealand would “welcome the opportunity to cooperate with the US in the next conflicts”.

The comments were posted on the US State Department’s website on Friday last week but went unnoticed until host of TV3 show Media 3, Russell Brown, wrote about the comments on his blog.

According to the transcript, Mr Key said: “New Zealand warmly supports the United States rebalancing towards the Asia Pacific, and we welcome the opportunity to cooperate with the US in the next conflicts.”

In response, Mr Brown writes: “What the hell sort of thing is that to say when we’ve just buried several New Zealanders, killed in the dying days of a long and ultimately fruitless war at the behest of the US?”

“This isn’t Key saying something feckless off the top of his head, as he sometimes does – someone else wrote, or at least read, that line. I’m surprised it hasn’t been regarded as news, frankly.”

New Zealand journalists alerted Brown to the transcriber’s error on Twitter, revealing the quote was incorrect.

An audio recording of the meeting proves Mr Key did not say New Zealand would back the US “in the next conflicts”. It’s clear – to New Zealand ears, at least – that he is saying “in that context”.

In several places in the transcript, Mr Key’s words are listed as being “inaudible”. “The Prime Minister’s diction appears to have rather defeated the State Department’s transcriber,” writes Mr Brown.

Heh. Just as well someone spotted the error, so if there is some future conflict the US can’t point to it and say “You promised you’d be there” :-)

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The history of the 4th of July

July 9th, 2012 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

Last week was the 4th of July, or US Independence Day.

The IT Countrey Justice has done an extensive blog on the Declaration of Independence and Thomas Jefferson. Students of history should read the whole thing. Some of my favourites include this Thomas Jefferson quote:

Believe me, dear Sir: there is not in the British empire a man who more cordially loves a union with Great Britain than I do. But, by the God that made me, I will cease to exist before I yield to a connection on such terms as the British Parliament propose; and in this, I think I speak the sentiments of America.

And about why it is 4th July:

The resolution of independence had been adopted with twelve affirmative votes and one abstention. With this, the colonies had officially severed political ties with Great Britain. In a now-famous letter written to his wife on the following day, John Adams predicted that July 2 would become a great American holiday. Adams thought that the vote for independence would be commemorated; he did not foresee that Americans—including himself—would instead celebrate Independence Day on the date that the announcement of that act was finalized.

I find it funny that even back then, the day of the official PR announcement was more important than the actual day of the decision to vote for independence.

To be fair of course back then communications were so different, than it is in hindsight quite normal, it would have been the day people heard of the decision that became the important one. Then we have the best part of the declaration:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life,Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. 

The Countrey Justice states:

The form is almost poetical, and it seems that the preamble was designed to be read aloud, its ringing phraseology building to an emotional yet reasonable crescendo

It is a masterpiece of oratory. I see the John Adams mini-series has started again on Sky. I highly recommend it for people who want to capture a sense of the revolution that changed the world.

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Stupid US

July 5th, 2012 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

John Armstrong writes:

Petty, petulant and pathetic. What other conclusion is it possible to draw from the absurd, vindictive and ultimately short-sighted refusal by the United States military to allow two New Zealand naval vessels to berth at the Pearl Harbour military base?

Having invited New Zealand to participate in the Rimpac exercises off Hawaii for the first time in nearly three decades, the Pentagon then slaps this country in the face by making the frigate Te Kaha and the refuelling ship Endeavour tie up at civilian port facilities in Honolulu.

They invite us. and then say we have to park down the road. Some Pentagon bozo should receive a visit from Hillary Clinton and told to pull their head in.

John Key should have ignored the diplomatic niceties and gone with gut feeling. He should have pointed out that resolving the anti-nuclear impasse has not come without cost for New Zealand. A terse brief statement including the words “New Zealand”, “Afghanistan” and “sacrifice” would have not have gone amiss.

Key has to be diplomatic, but it does piss me off that we do have soldiers fighting and dying in Afghanistan. and the USG is fixated on an almost 30 year old issue.

This tawdry episode smells very much like the revenge of the United States Navy, the branch of the American military machine most affected by New Zealand’s ban on nuclear-armed and nuclear-powered warships and consequently the one most averse to resolving the subsequent two decades-plus stand-off.

The berthing ban is even more ridiculous given other Rimpac participants include Japan which almost destroyed the American Pacific fleet based at Pearl Harbour some 70 years ago. 

Exactly.

I know Ambassador Huebner is the US representative to New Zealand, and not vice-versa. I do hope however he reports back on how insensitive the US decision was, and counter-productive.

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The US Marines

June 12th, 2012 at 7:13 am by David Farrar

Last night the US Embassy celebrated Independence Day early, to coincide with the 70th anniversary of US marines arriving in New Zealand (which is today). As well as the normal contingent of Marines at the Embassy, we have 54 Marines visiting here for three weeks. It was a pleasure meeting and talking to many of them last night.

The reception was at the Town Hall, which was decorated in red, white and blue. 1940s movies were playing on the screens, and a jeep somehow got into the reception also.

The highlight was the coming onto stage of two WWII veterans – one US, and one NZ. The US veteran had not been back to New Zealand since 1944. It was very moving.

Ambassador Huebner spoke very well, and quoted Oprah of all people. But it was a good quote about how some friends want to travel in your limo with you, but the true friend is the one who will catch the bus with you.

As our men were fighting in Europe against the Nazis and Fascists, we had between 15,000 and 45,000 US servicemen stationed in New Zealand, whose job was to risk their lives defending our country should Japan invade. Thankfully the invasion never came, but we did see 1,500 Kiwi women marry a US serviceman.

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What the Walker victory means

June 7th, 2012 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Forbes reports:

Public sector unions have reached their high water mark. Let the cleanup begin as the red ink recedes.

Despite a last-minute smear campaign accusing Scott Walker of fathering an illegitimate love child, the governor’s recall election victory sends a clear message that should resonate around the nation: The fiscal cancer devouring state budgets has a cure, and he has found it. The costly defeat for the entrenched union interests that tried to oust Walker in retribution for challenging their power was marked by President Obama’s refusal to lend his weight to the campaign for fear of being stained by defeat. …

This fight is not without precedent. Progressive patron saint Franklin Delano Roosevelt—who more than any other president set our country on a course away from the founding principles of limited government—knew that public sector unions would be the death of the social welfare state he worked so hard to create. Hence, he consistently opposed allowing government employees to unionize. Today, Greece sets the example of what happens when public sector unions gain the upper hand. …

In 1959 Wisconsin became the first state to allow collective bargaining by government employees. The projected cost of supporting Baby Boomer union retirees now threatens to bankrupt the state, as it does many others. Scott Walker ran for office promising change. The fiscal medicine he is administering may be bitter, but it looks like it is starting to work.  The state budget has been balanced.  The unemployment rate has been dropping and is now below the national average. Property taxes are down. Fraudulent sick leave policies—which allowed employees to call in sick and then work the next shift for overtime pay—have been ended. The government has stopped forcibly collecting union dues from workers’ paychecks.

Best of all, the myth that union bosses represent their members’ interests has been exposed as a lie. Now that union dues are voluntary, tens of thousands of union members have stopped paying them.

I’ve always thought that unions should invoice their members directly for their membership fees – not have employers do it for them.

This is the first time a Governor has won a recall election. It provides Walker with a renewed mandate, and more importantly shows other Governors that they can retain support by implementing similar policies.

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Guest Post: US Healthcare – Obamacare before the Supreme Court

April 2nd, 2012 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

For those not paying attention to the titles and the tagline – note that this is a guest post from PaulL, long time commenter here, not from DPF.

Obamacare is before the Supreme Court at the moment, with the potential that it could be struck down.  What is the argument, and why does this matter?

Firstly, I don’t claim to be an expert, merely an interested lay person.  I’m sure many who comment on Kiwiblog may have something to contribute, and this thread should give a place to do so.

Obamacare was enacted as an individual mandate.  Americans would be obliged to buy health insurance, if they did not they would attract a penalty, said penalty to be collected by the IRS.  The Democrats could in concept have enacted instead a public health insurance system paid for by taxes, as much of the western world has, but they didn’t have sufficient political support to pass a bill with that structure, so instead they added compulsion on top of an existing insurance-based system.

A number of Republican states have taken exception to this mechanism, and are asking the Supreme Court to strike down aspects of the legislation on the basis that the Federal government doesn’t have the ability under the Constitution to compel citizens to engage in commerce.  This argument hinges around the extent to which the Federal government is permitted to regulate commerce – whilst the Federal government has wide tax powers, it has more limited powers to regulate commerce.

The interesting bit of this to me is the political tradeoffs involved.  It is quite possible to rewrite this legislation as a tax and rebate – citizens could have been subject to a tax to pay for their healthcare, with said tax being refunded as a credit if they purchase private health cover.  The actual fiscal effect on citizens is the same – they need to buy health insurance, if they don’t there is an amount to pay to the government.  And that construct apparently would be very constitutional.  The problem is that Americans (rightly, in my assessment) have a strong aversion to new taxes, and if the law was written that way it would not have passed.

The Democrats are stuck – despite this penalty being collected by the IRS they argued strongly at time of the law being passed that it was not, in fact, a tax.  Now, in front of the Supreme Court, they’d much rather be arguing that it was a tax, as that would make it much more sustainable.  But they’d be accused of speaking with forked tongues if they did so.

This is important politically – if bits of Obamacare are found to be unconstitutional, the headlines that go with that would have negative impacts on Obama irrespective of the details of the political chicanery that got to this point, and irrespective of the value or otherwise of Obamacare.  A decision should come down from the Supreme Court in June/July, which will be in prime campaigning season for the Presidential election.

This is also potentially important for health care in the USA.  I’d personally argue that the bits of the legislation that make health insurance more affordable are the important bits, the bits that force people to buy it seem to me to be unreasonable extensions of government power (in the US context).  I can understand the government taking measures to make health insurance more affordable, but if, even once it is made more affordable, people don’t want to buy it, why would the government be forcing them to do so?  If the penalty is struck down, that doesn’t prevent the remainder of the legislation from continuing to have effect.

Certainly this will be an interesting circus as it moves along, and one that potentially will have the effect of denying oxygen to Obama at a key point in campaigning.

Thanks Paul for the guest post.

The Supreme Court hearings were interesting. Scotusblog has extensive coverage of them.

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