The Dim-Post

May 31, 2010

Carrying away

Filed under: Politics — danylmc @ 8:15 pm

NZPA reports:

Announcing to the press gallery that he had had a vasectomy, Prime Minister John Key put another spin on the cut and thrust of politics.

Answering questions about changes to early childhood education funding during his regular Monday post-Cabinet presser, Key was asked if he would send his children to a centre where 80% of staff were qualified teachers or 100%.

“I think if I sent my 15-year-old or 17-year-old to early childhood at the moment they’d have a meltdown,” he quipped.

But what if his wife Bronagh had another?

“I’d be extremely worried because I’ve had a vasectomy.”

In the face of the stunned hacks, he said; “It’s probably too much information for the purposes of a press conference but anyway.”

I’ve been checking The Standard to find out what devious Crosby/Textor strategy this plays into: so far nothing.

A series of technical challenges

Filed under: economics — danylmc @ 3:51 pm

From Guyon Espiner’s Q & A interview with Treasury Secretary John Whitehead:

GUYON One of the other areas that I guess would be a bit of a shot in the arm for capital markets in New Zealand, would be increased savings. In Australia they’ve had compulsory retirement savings for 18 years. Do you advocate that here?

JOHN We haven’t advocated compulsory superannuation in the past. I think it’s another area where we need a really good debate. I think people that put issues like mining and compulsory superannuation on the agenda, it’s really good for New Zealand, because we need to work through what’s in our own interests, and that’s one of them. So we would certainly be interested in looking at that issue amongst others.

GUYON Do you support it, you’re the chief advisor to the government on the economy, do you support the idea of a compulsory retirement saving.

JOHN What I do support is that we need to get much better at savings in this country, and we need to look at a range of options for that. KiwiSaver has been one of those. Take the recent personal income tax and GST changes, I think [they] are helpful in that.

New Zealand is often compared (disparagingly) to Australia and Singapore. Right-wing economists like Don Brash are especially fond of Singapore with its flat tax structure and robust economic growth.

But Singapore and Australia also have compulsory superannuation schemes. Really successful ones that have grown their capital markets and been a windfall for their economies.  So I find it interesting that Treasury obviously don’t even think it’s an idea worth considering and Don Brash urged the government to shut down KiwiSaver and cash up the Cullen fund. (Australia and Singapore also both have very large sovereign wealth funds.)

When I was a child I’d explain to my parents that when I grew up I was going to be a multi-millionaire. They’d ask me how I planned to do that: what would I study, what job would I do etc. I’d sigh with exasperation and explain that I wasn’t going to study anything or have any job. I’d just have loads of money and a huge mansion and fly around the world all the time. People like Brash and the Treasury Secretary seem to have the same approach to our economy:

We should be like Australia and Singapore!

Oh, you mean introduce compulsory savings to grow our capital markets and establish a large sovereign wealth fund while investing huge sums in science and technology research to improve our productivity?

No.  I mean we should just have high wages and low taxes and high economic growth!

They do have some ideas on how to grow the economy: more tax cuts for the rich and making it easier for foreign investors to buy New Zealand assets; all those things that have been tried in New Zealand and many, many countries around the world and have never, ever worked. Let’s try them again!

Of course the real problem is that compulsory super interferes with the free market which is a taboo activity in the otherworldly cult of right-wing economic thought. Blogs like NoRightTurn and The Standard tend to look for class-based conspiracy theories in which people like Brash are always out to further the interests of the rich. Well if we had a compulsory super scheme with billions of dollars floating around looking for investment then that would suit the rich very nicely, thanks. The indifference (or hostility) towards a proven idea like compulsory super is a religious impulse not a rational one – which brings us back to the question of why a crucial government department like Treasury has been allowed to run itself like a religious sect for the past few decades.

Quote of the day, they’re the real heroes edition

Filed under: general idiocy — danylmc @ 12:09 pm

For none of us can ever express the exact measure of his needs or his thoughts or his sorrows; and human speech is like a cracked kettle on which we tap crude rhythms for bears to dance to, while we long to make music that will melt the stars.

Gustave Flaubert.

On that note the Deborah Hill-Cone piece in today’s Herald is pretty funny: not as good as her famous rant against epistemology but still special.

May 30, 2010

Two thoughts about Helen Clark

Filed under: Politics — danylmc @ 6:45 pm

1. DPF links to an SST article about Sir Ian McKellen:

“I find your society genuinely admirable in many ways. For example, I met Helen Clark while I was in Wellington. I was invited to her official residence, and waved in by a lone policeman who didn’t even check who I was, then I had a barbecue with her. I congratulated her on the public’s enlightened attitudes towards racial issues, but she disagreed. She said to me that New Zealand was really a very racist country, and she was determined to do everything she could as prime minister to change that. I thought that was a very bold, honest statement to make to a foreigner, and I really respected her for that.”

Would it be a cheap shot to suggest that Clark had just been reading the comments section on DPF’s blog before she met McKellen? I think it’s also the case that Clark had never lived or worked outside of New Zealand before she became Prime Minister. (I believe she was already an MP the first time she left the country.) You don’t get a very good sense of racial tensions as a tourist; I’m guessing visiting MPs get even less exposure to racism. But if you’ve spent time in Australia as an ‘ordinary person’ then chances are you’ve had your Aussie friends and workmates explain to you that it would be better for everyone if the aborigines were exterminated; if you’ve worked in Japan you’ve probably found yourself in arguments in the pub over whether Korean people are really human or not – and so it goes all around the world. It’s not that New Zealand has found racial harmony but I don’t think we’re what you’d call a ‘very racist country’. (There’s also a huge demographic element to our racism: older white men are often deeply racist; every other segment of society much less so.)

2. TVNZ has a new poll out: minor drop of support for National leading to an increase in support for the MP and the Greens. Nothing for Labour. Preferred PM has Key at 46%, Goff at 6%.

I think that when Labour MPs and staffers look at Goff’s numbers they reassure themselves that Helen Clark had low numbers when she took over as party leader and look at how well that turned out.

But this ignores the history around Clark’s assumption of the leadership. The 4th Labour government lied to its supporters to win the ’87 election and betrayed them immediately afterwards. They plunged the economy into a recession and they lied about the state of the crown accounts during the ’91 election. After their defeat the party was in tatters: Clark took control amidst bitter infighting. She was the first female party leader in our history. Jim Anderton had left the Labour Party in 89 and established New Labour: many left-wing voters supported Anderton over Clark.

Absolutely none of these conditions that handicapped Clark apply to Goff. The values and policies of the last Labour government were so popular the opposition had to adopt them. Goff took power in a bloodless and uncontested coup. There is no other viable opposition leader in national politics. Goff’ at 6% is a very different beast to the 6% Clark of the early 90s.

May 29, 2010

Something we can all enjoy

Filed under: tv — danylmc @ 2:36 pm

Rainy day youtube blogging:

(I think the words are backwards to scam copyright matching algorithms).

Autobiographical note

Filed under: personal — danylmc @ 10:13 am

Early this morning I went out running for an hour while the weather was clear. It is now pouring with rain again. If the smugness I feel could somehow be harnessed it would heat my home for a year.

Back and to the left

Filed under: Politics — danylmc @ 10:06 am

Tracey Watkins has a good summary of the blind trust story. There might still be something there in amidst all the wild accusations: Key may have visibility into his trust meaning he failed to disclose conflicts of interest. But Labour have wandered off into some weird conspiracy theory in which Key is collaborating with co-investors (that he has apparently never met) to prevent an excise tax increase on liquor. What’s their proof? There is none – it just might have happened. Why does Labour get so crazy when it comes to Key? They had a valid point to make but they buried it under implausible accusations. Watkins writes:

Why so determined to drag him down? It is not personal. Labour just want to chip away at the fairytale. Mr Key’s rags-to-riches tale of a state-house boy made good is a huge political asset. Understandably, Labour sees a huge upside in denting that and its goal is to taint the fairytale with the usual big money associations. But it hasn’t done that so far with these latest allegations. Nor with the prevous attempts – which, in the case of the H bomb, came at a heavy cost. And the wounds from that had only recently healed.

Part of it is Rovian politics: you attack your enemies strength and Key is certainly that. But I think there’s also the sense that Labour thinks that Key is a terrible Prime Minister and they’re frustrated by his enduring popularity: why does the public like him? HIM? They’ve been tricked – duped by Crosby/Textor – so all they have to do is pull away the curtain and reveal Key for what he REALLY is. But they always reveal more about Labour and their inability to conduct even a simple old smear campaign without pissing all over themselves like rats in a nest.

(I’m reluctant to ask this question but here goes anyway: does the fact that Whitechapel owns Key’s assets mean that they pay tax at the company rate rather than the trust rate?)

Far out

Filed under: drugs — danylmc @ 9:02 am

Here again is the graph from the Lancet on the most harmful drugs of abuse:

If you accept the findings of the study – especially the placing of alcohol in the list – then a lot of the stories in our newspapers sound pretty crazy:

Parents of King’s College students want alcohol at their children’s after-ball party – but only if every Mum or Dad attends too.

A 15-member parent committee – which includes New Zealand’s richest man, Graeme Hart, and businessman Michael Stiassny – is trying to avoid a police crackdown on booze-fuelled after-ball parties.

Under the plan, hundreds of students under 18 would need to bring a parent to buy drinks for them from a licensed bar at the same venue as the ball.

The move comes three weeks after King’s boarder James Webster, 16, died after binge-drinking neat vodka and amid a police crackdown on the illegal serving of liquor at after-ball parties.

Here’s the same story with alcohol replaced by drugs that are deemed less dangerous:

Parents of King’s College students want LSD at their children’s after-ball party – but only if every Mum or Dad attends too.

A 15-member parent committee – which includes New Zealand’s richest man, Graeme Hart, and businessman Michael Stiassny – is trying to avoid a police crackdown on drug-fuelled after-ball parties.

Under the plan, hundreds of students under 18 would need to bring a parent to buy ecstasy for them from a licensed drug dealer at the same venue as the ball.

The move comes three weeks after a King’s boarder died after overdosing on Librium and amid a police crackdown on the illegal serving of amphetamines at after-ball parties.

May 28, 2010

Stage 1

Filed under: Politics — danylmc @ 7:16 am

Shockingly enough it looks as if Labour’s latest attack against Key actually stacks up:

The company referred to is Whitechapel Ltd. Simple Companies Office searches reveal it was set up a week after Mr Key became Prime Minister and that he and his wife, Bronagh, sold their shares in Highwater Vineyard Ltd, Earl of Auckland Ltd and Dairy Investment Fund Ltd to the company shortly after. Whitechapel still owns the shares.

But Mr Key – since Aldgate was formed – has been on the record as saying he owns part of a vineyard. Yesterday he told reporters he had “no clue what’s in my blind trust”.

He also denied any knowledge of Whitechapel and said he had never received any reports or any other documentation regarding the company.

Asked yesterday if his ownership of a vineyard might cloud his judgment on alcohol reform issues, Mr Key said he “wouldn’t know” he owned shares in the business.

Uh huh. I think this could be the first genuine media crisis Key has faced as PM. Last November I blogged about the generic script for scandal management:

  1. Deny that you’ve done anything wrong.
  2. Explain to the media that your scandal is ‘a beltway issue’/’not a story’.
  3. Play the moral equivalence card (ie try and make the story about your opposition).
  4. Confuse the issue with technical details.
  5. Play the victim.
  6. If it looks grim then publically apologise for creating the perception that you may have done something wrong. Make a token gesture of repentance.

If the story has legs then I think we’ll see all of these. The middle four might not occur in that sequence but I’ll try and tick them all off as they come up. I’ll limit it to statements from Key and his office. DPF alone will probably hit most of these notes sometime in the next few hours.

May 27, 2010

Okay now I see it

Filed under: Politics — danylmc @ 11:32 am

All this talk about wine and vineyards is really just an irrelevant tangent. This story by Vernon Small explains the allegations made by Labour:

In Parliament yesterday Mr Key agreed he did not know and could not know what was in his Aldgate Trust listed in the MPs’ register of pecuniary interests.

The Cabinet Manual recommends the use of blind trusts to ensure a minister can never be sure what his holdings are at any given time so there can be no conflict of interest.

But Mr Hodgson said investigations by Labour showed Mr Key’s assets began to be transferred to a company called Whitechapel Ltd shortly after the 2008 election. That included his shares in Dairy Investment Fund Ltd, an interest in Highwater Vineyard in Central Otago and – later – a property company Earl of Auckland.

The directors of Whitechapel include Mr Key’s lawyer from his family trust.

Mr Hodgson said it was easy for Mr Key to know he still owned those assets because they would show up in a search of Whitechapel at the Companies’ Office register. It was clearly a vehicle used by the trust managers to manage Mr Key’s assets.

So the allegation is that Key transferred his assets into a company managed by his blind trust – but that he had visibility of the assets owned by that company. This contradicts his previous statements to Parliament. So they might have something there.

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