Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Obamanator

How some see Barack...

Arnold Schwarzenegger's Face Combined with Barack Obama -

is a little different to others...

The faces of Barack Obama and Osama Bin Laden combined together -

Hat-tip: browncardigan (I swear we've got different audiences, it's the only reason I shamelessly copy all your stuff).

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Robertson 1, Franks 0

I can confidently say that in the only poll that matters, the General Election, Grant Robertson is comfortably ahead of Stephen Franks.

This morning I cast a special vote for Grant and Labour in Sydney. I was the first customer at the temporary polling booth - perhaps I'm the first voter for the Wellington Central electorate, perhaps the first voter in the NZ General Election ...?

A cluster of unions had collected eligible members but it was wet so a number of the construction guys were stuck at work-sites (had it been dry, they'd have been able to turn up during their official "smoko", but as it was wet, if they left they'd miss out on four hours pay - there's an irony in that I'm sure). In fact, as I wandered back to the office, I could easily have been back in Wellington it was that cold.

Media showed up - TVNZ, TV3, ABC, SBS and Reuters. They got some good images of the haka. It was faithfully and respectfully performed following karakia. I stood in the back. I was asked to get in the front and should have but self-conciousness got the better of me.

Fourteen years ago, Grant and I stood against each other for the presidency of NZUSA. He didn't get my vote, I think he understood why. I'm happy to have been, possibly, the first person who voted for him this time.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

08Wire predicts another cliff-hanger

Last election I sat glued to my computer constantly mashing the refresh key as the evening swung from a National to a Labour government. I remember hearing Labour's Mike Williams cautioning against panic as he predicted Auckland seats would favour Labour. He was of course proven right. The closest of elections still gave Labour first go at forming a government. One that's lasted despite real awkwardness.

This year I'll at least be in New Zealand - in the Wellington region supporting Grant Robertson and Chris Hipkins (and also keeping a eye on Jils Angus Burney). All are good friends and all will make excellent MPs.

Not being the mathematical whizz 08wire and Steve Pierson are, I'm reliant on others for intelligent commentary on the polls. The thread on the poll of polls is particularly enlightening with Rob Salmond's analysis showing Labour's closing the gap. The comments are all the more encouraging with suggestions that Rob's being conservative by over-weighting older polls which had National in a stronger position.

I know Labour, the Greens and their partners have a job ahead of them but I don't think the election's out of reach. New Zealand's got to navigate difficult times in the near future and increasingly I think the public have questions about Key's capacity to be the kind of consistent and decisive leader needed. Key's mishandling of negotiations with Maori may well have cost him dearly. Come election day, it may only be ACT and United he can rely on and the prospect of Douglas being back in Cabinet will chill many who remember the turmoil of the early '90s.

Last Days of Bush

I wonder what George W's Facebook page looks like?

Hat-tip: browncardigan

Is Key himself a legitimate issue?

Is Key's character an issue for this election? I believe it is.

I think Key's lack of experience and his inconsistency seriously impact his credibility. His flip-flopping is well documented but that alone's not fatal. Instead, it's his shiftiness that troubles me. It's evident in his handling of Francesca Mould's questioning over his Rail shares. If the explanation was as innocent as he claims, why not say so at the earliest possible opportunity?

Christopher Hitchens has written a devastating piece criticising McCain and Palin - particularly Palin - for lacking the essential character to lead. His piece includes this quote:
A candidate may well change his or her position on, say, universal health care or Bosnia. But he or she cannot change the fact—if it happens to be a fact—that he or she is a pathological liar, or a dimwit, or a proud ignoramus. And even in the short run, this must and will tell.
Danyl at the DimPost has noted a increasingly negative tone to the campaign. His view is Labour are wrong to follow this strategy - he may be right but I think Key's character is important to his capacity to be PM.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Future fund loses $780M

Cossie's Future Fund has not faired well of late. Hardly surprising given the environment. The return for 07/08 is a modest 1.5 per cent. That's 3 per cent less that CPI and hugely down on the almost 7.4 per cent in the previous year. This is hard on people who're expecting to retire soon - I wonder what reforecasting is being done to assess the numbers of people who'll defer their retirements?

It's worth remembering that in 2006/7, Costello made one-off changes to the tax system to enable additional contributions of up to $1 million. Here's what he said at the time:

For people who were planning a large payment into superannuation under the current rules and would have become subject to the contribution limits, we are announcing that subject to any applicable work test, they will be able to put $1 million of post-tax contributions into superannuation before the 30th of June 2007.
Costello couldn't have foreseen the global financial meltdown so he can't be held responsible for the fact that these additional contributions may have reduced the net benefits for some (he does tend to have a bob-each-way however as he's also said that he'd told Greenspan that he foresaw problems...). Still his various disingenuous declamations possibly won't help his credibility.

Also note that compared with John Key's plan to have 40 per cent of the NZ fund invested domestically, the Australia Future Fund invests only 9 per cent with close to 20 in global equities. The majority, 35 billion or approximately 60 million is in cash. Note that these figures exclude Telstra holdings which are in escrow. Finally, check out the principles guiding the Board's investment strategy (page 17) which include this statement:

that a higher expected return per unit risk (investment efficiency) can be obtained from a broadly diversified allocation across asset classes.
Given that John's so keen on Australian aspirations, why's he so ignorant of their strategies? Costello's miscalculation disproves his legendary soothsaying abilities, why would you believe Key's are better?

Four day five day Test with a difference

Australia have won so many Tests in four days, I almost missed the significance of today's news: Australia may lose a Test in four days.

Is Hayden's career over? His 29 in the second innings is his higest score in this series. But what about Watson? Good knock in the first innings but 2 in the second. Even Hussey failed... The freebie newspaper handed out to Sydney commuters is calling for the Pup to be handed captaincy! At 9.20pm EST, Australia need 434 runs with five wickets in hand and four sessions left to play.

I'll resist the temptation until NZ have beaten Bangladesh... four session, nine wickets in hand and 174 runs to win.

Actually, I might even hold out until after the two-Test series in November. Two Tests? WTF? Two Tests and only a warm-up game against NSW. Bastards. Assuming they don't play Katich, Lee, Pup or even Haddin. I suspect Stuey Clark, Bracken or Jacques will be well keen to prove a point.

Gratuitous blog-links

Three recent posts have caught my eye. Two, by Chis Trotter and NRT, deal with the prospect of an over-hang and the third is about special education.

Chris wrote this very critical piece concerning the prospect of a Maori-National coalition. Like Chris, I can't see it being sustainable because it appears to be inconsistent with Maori views (at least as they've been expressed in this survey). However, I don't agree with Chris that the prospect of a Maori-National coalition proves the fault of the Maori seats. I agree that Maori seats are somewhat incongruous in our MMP system but I don'think that means they ought not exist.

Though it's often be criticised as being naive, which it is not, the historical development of Maori seats and the link to the Treaty remains a sufficient justification for their existence IMO. The fact that our arrangements don't entirely cohere to an idealised standard doesn't mean they're defunct - certainly not while they work and there's no evidence to suggest they don't. That said, I tend to agree they may not be needed if we continue to see a genuine plurality in Parliament (plus there's a greater consensus around resolution of outstanding Treaty claims) but I'm not sure where there yet.

I'm intrigued by NRT's suggestion of list only MPs as a way of avoiding the distortionary effects of an overhang. My concern would be that there'd be something significant lost by discontinuing electorate MPs. Anyone who's worked in a public sector role will know just how effective and important electorate MPs can be; good electorate MPs earn their wage daily by helping navigate often hopelessly complex bureaucracy.

Finally to Grant Robertson's piece on Special Education. I share Robertson's focus on Special Education. If New Zealand is anything like Australia, then it's almost certain the demand for more and better support for kids with disabilities will increase (plus it's still not adequately funded).

I worked in Parliament in the early days of the National-NZFirst coalition which largely implemented Labour policy on funding for special education. The mix of funding for schools and for pupils seemed the right way to go to provide both mainstream and specialist facilities for an increasingly diverse range of kids. I was aghast to discover that an entirely arbitrary decision was taken to reduce funding available for individual kids - it was never explained and it quickly meant a log-jam of applications and a slowing of funding.

It was obvious to me that the then Associate Minister, the late Brian Donnelly, was being frustrated by his senior colleague, Wyatt Creech, who was simply to bloody mean to properly fund the otherwise good scheme. Forunately Chris Carter's investing the necessaries at last.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Australian Liberal Leader's a Twitter

Malcolm Turnbull proves he's hip-with-the-kids.

NSW by-elections

Four Labor-held State seats are up for by-election tomorrow. The retirements of the Premier, Deputy Premier, Treasurer and Minister for Health will all test electorate reaction to the new Labor-leadership. Rather than offer my opinion - I can't even vote - I'll offer ABC polling expert, Anthony Green's.

Grooves for the weekend

Each week Ben Watt makes his hour-long radio set available online at buzzin'fly radio.

Listen to it.

Watt's buzzin'fly label is quite simply the best around in house/deep-house from the UK and Europe and he DJs regular spots in London. He's also often in Australia. I saw him a year or so back at a club off Oxford St, Sydney - it's possibly the last time I went to a dance gig in fact (over-night babysitters are in short supply).

Watt previously was one half of Everything but the Girl with his wife Tracy Thorn.

I read Watt's book, Patient, recently. It's a pretty frank narrative about his near-death in the late '90s just as ETBG were taking off. The copy I had is signed by Watt himself - a friend was one of his nurses (she was one of the nurses who looked after Rik Mayall too).

As you slide into the weekend I recommend Ben Watt; it's the last thing I do on a Friday evening as I sup a Gin.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Queen Bee's mask slips

QueenBee's wellingtonhive is popular and prolific blog. The mix of politics, trade news and general commentary is interesting although the editorial line is a little didactic (particularly given the claimed independence). But this latest post is simply tawdry .

I posted earlier about the double standard right-wing bloggers seem to have; on the one hand insisting on unregulated markets, unfettered individualism and freedom from the deadening hand of government but, on the other hand, censoring all criticism.

QueenBee's comments rule clearly states:

Keep comments relevant to the post in question. No speculation about anyone's sexuality.

So much for that. I guess it's hard to maintain standards in a group blog?

UPDATE: QB assures me that I've misinterpreted the intent of this piece. I accept her word.

Obama on Free Trade

An hour into the debate, Obama talks about Free Trade - an issue of importance to NZ which is well positioned to do a multi-lateral trade deal with Asian partners and the US. Suggesting he's pro-Free Trade is one thing, but agricultural special interests and unions may curb his enthusiasm. The level of subsidies payable to US farmers is not the only issue at play - so too is the flow of migrant labour - migrants who may be critical to Obama's winning in some key Southern States.


Parody and satire can be best response sometimes. 08wire's mash-up of Key is superb.

Deleted on lawyers advice

Bryan Spondre's keen to protect his talent. Matthew Hooton's been throwing out raw meat complete with wild and unsubstantiated accusations of corruption but any hint of criticism and Bryan deleterious hand descends to obliterate it.

His footprint is left however to tell you you've transgressed:

You’ve not c... Comment deleted because our lawyers told us too. Bryan Spondre Blog Producer.

I'm assuming my comment was considered prima facie defamatory, however it merely said that Matthew hadn't calmed down since Eye to Eye and that he shouldn't lend his considerable gravitas to the whirlygig of the right-wing blogosphere.

Ironic, sure. Sarcastic, yup. Insulting, not really. Defamatory, don't be ridiculous.

What's a little hard to understand is that Matthew's the tough-guy that stood-up to Winston and gave him an ear-full. Is he really so fragile that a gentle prod in the ribs requires editing?

Surprisingly, editing critical comments appears acceptable on the right. In response to a hopelessly ill-informed rant by Cactus Kate on, amongst other things, education comments I made about how well NZ was doing were not published (personal insults were fine but). In response to silly speculation by the wellingtonhive that government was restricting access to critical blogs, my clearly ironic piss-take was deleted also.

At kiwiblogblog, we accepted that our inflamatory posts would attract similarly inflammatory responses. We applied a tolerance in those, but not all, instances.

My advice for these bloggers is if don't want to be mocked; Calm down.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Billions may flow east, what about people?

Sometimes the most deserving stories are simply ignored. Back in August, the government announced it had concluded a deal with the Australian government to permit super portability. This removed an exception that meant NZers could only access their super at retirement, even if they'd left Australia - in this way NZers were being treated as if they were Australians (this makes sense given the fluidity of movements across the Tasman).

The deal is worth billions. Some estimates of unclaimed Australian super suggest 30 per cent of the $13 billion (AUD) could be heading east (though the value of this may have depreciated significantly in the last month). The arrangement requires legislation, however it's expected to be in place in 2009.

I know several people who'll directly benefit from this development - kiwis who've done a few years in Australia but returned home and will now shift their Australian investments back to kiwisaver accounts. I know a few others for whom this might also tip the balance and cause them to return home. This deal depended on the existence of kiwisaver.

In the mash-up of policies National announced recently, Lockwood's immigration policy is nothing of the sort - it's a migration policy that contains almost nothing of substance that'll encourage kiwis home. There's barely a few lines on emigration, the vast majority of policies are focused on increasing immigration.

Scarey brown folk might run the show?

NRT blogs on Rodney Hide's concerns that the Maori Party may potentially hold the balance of power in the next Parliament. Anyone can vote for the Maori Party with their party vote, therefore I'm not at all sure how they're any different from any other minor party? As NRT notes, there might be issues about overhangs and how they occur, but that's not what Rodney focused on.

Our MMP system of government has so far allowed minor parties a fairly significant role in the make up of government. Some parties have managed this better than others. National's faired poorly given that barely managed to see out its first and only term under MMP and NZFirst have shown, shall we say, flexibility. Labour's clearly done well having now managed three full terms - terms during which they've largely implemented their own manifesto while adequately providing space for their partners. I'm sure there'd be a diversity of views about the adequacy of this space however... particularly from the Greens.

Assuming NZFirst are a spent force, there's space for new centre party and the Maori Party may be just the ticket. Both Labour and National have their enmities with some within the Maori Party but both should be able to develop workable coalitions if required. However, can National do what Labour has which is to manage multiple coalition partners? Could you imagine a Cabinet that included both Roger Douglas and Tariana Turia?

Leadership first requires a consistent narrative

Listening to Helen Clark on Checkpoint yesterday confirmed for me what others had been saying: Labour's energised around a clear and consistent policy agenda.

Clark's unrivalled as a political leader. Over nine years, she's built a policy framework that culminated in yesterday's announcement on student allowances. If you focus just on the economics, first fees were regulated, then the loan scheme amended to reduce debt and accelerate repayments, then interest was forgone and now finally reinstating universal allowances. Labour can now say the upfront cost of allowances is comparable to the costs of lending (as I've noted here and here this doesn't take into account the revenue-side).

The economics, however, is only part of the narrative. Each election Labour's refined and extended its investment in tertiary education. In the first term, the focus was on industry training. Here the bought considerable business good will by trebling their investment, allowing companies greater flexibility and lending political muscle to a scheme that had languished under National Ministers (not Lockwood and Birch however). Through the first two terms, Labour wrestled back some control of the system but progressively linking funding to outputs - this might've angered some such as Southern Institute of Technology but it means training is more closely aligned to labour market demand.

Throughout this time, Labour's weathered various storms. Maharey was frequently challenged by the Opposition through the transition as various providers went rogue - none more so that CPIT which rorted uncapped funding to grow low-cost and low-value training. But despite this, a consistent narrative was driving Labour, so much so that it forced the Opposition into line. Key's famous about turn on interest-free loans is the clearest evidence of its effectiveness.

Yesterday Mary Wilson charged Clark with being cynical. Clark easily rebutted this pointing out the consistency with which her government has acted over the decade. When English came on afterwards he had little room to move. Despite the predictability of Labour's announcement, National's never developed an alternative narrative (having abandoned it's pre-99 approach given its failure).

Labour's record on education, tertiary and other pathways, provides it with the strong narrative that National lacks. National would have dearly loved to have campaigned purely tax cuts but its package is not nearly strong enough. Having put so many eggs in this one basket, it's struggling to compete in the final stages of the election. Will Labour's resurgence be enough to recapture the votes it needs? I don't know. However, Clark's position as the premier politician of her time has never been clearer than it was yesterday.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Moving on...

For years and years I, and many many other students besides, argued strenulously for universal allowances and lower fees.

We railed first against Marshall and Goff and then against Lockwood and Creech. We pointed out the apalling inequity that while we were missing out, people who were unemployed were supported. We argued that poorer kids were put off and that education was a right. That your parents couldn't be expected to support you until you were twenty five. Sometimes, things got weird such as when the marriage loop-hole was championed by Shortland Street's Nick and Rachel.

My view then as now is that investing in higher education is vital to our future prosperity.

The left have always been the most amenable to this argument. The right have said its simple self-interest; that farmers don't get tax-payer funded training nor do pilots. Farmers do by the way, see here and here. Progressively however, Labour have modified and improved funding for students and for higher education to the point now where the annual cost of borrowing can be converted into universal allowances. Of course there's a impact on the Crown accounts - future debts will neither be incurred nor repaid but the Crown will still have to meet the costs of allowances. Of course there's some inequity between cohorts; I repaid my loan and I don't imagine I'll get a refund. These are not the main objections however, at least not the ones being trotted out by the likes of Farrar and Hooton.

Farrar and Hooton have discovered fiscal responsibility just in time to pronounce Clark and Cullen unfit. Universal tax cuts might be fine, but universal allowances; Labour's scuttling the boat. Predictable faux-outrage.

I'd have my reservations about this policy absent others but the fact is that Labour's track-record on education is extremely good. Critically for me, they have consistently invested in industry training and have now announced plans to further expand participation. Whereas the tertiary sector risked becoming faddish and irrelevant under Creech's funding system - a system that encouraged all providers to offer degrees and vandalised trade training - changes over the last ten years have created specialisation, refocused providers on local labour markets and promoted research.

I've said elsewhere this wouldn't be my number one priority - that'd be early childhood and special education - but when you examine the overall mix and balance of education policy, Labour's record is unrivalled and soon Generation Debt, a generation created by National, will be a thing of the past.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Political fluffer

There's never a shortage of fools in politics. Some, but not in fact many, are elected but most are content to bray from the sidelines. Foolishness is good copy, fools make great sycophants and fools never know when to shut up.

Each and every election throws up hundreds of opportunities for foolishness. Cameras are mostly trained on the real talent but citizen-journalism provides unprecdented digital opportunity; 15 megabites of fame anyone? Youtube's awash with gaffes, open-microphones and candid asides. A PublicAddress commentator wondered if Stephen Franks apparent homophobia would be "this election's macaca moment" but I suspect Hooten crude exchange with Winston Peters will take some beating.

Hooten's a genuine standard-setter and has clearly been angling for this opportunity for a while. Cheered on by his blog-mates, he's cast himself as people's champion. The one who stood up to Winston on their behalf and said what needed saying. The cool kids will be impressed!

I can't help wonder but, did Willie Jackson, Matthew's mate, just cast him as Winston's fluffer?

Monday, October 06, 2008

Channelling Brian Neeson

You'd have thought John lost to Brian Neeson based on this morning's news that National will lock 'em and throw away the key (sorry, an obvious but compelling pun).

Neeson was the architect of the Degrees of Murder members bill in 1996/97 which, if memory serves, differentiated several categories of culpable homocide, murder, from manslaughter so that an offender could be sentenced not just to prison for their natural life but to thoroughly punative and heavily secured incarceration.

The problem then as now is that the policy is idiotic, expensive and unlikely to reduce violent offending.

Key's tapping into public emnity with the Parole Board which, in releasing the likes of Antonie Dixon, has been in the media too often. There's a boring predictability about this tactic. Opposition's talk up crime every election - here's Brash launching National's 2005 policy:

Parole is a failed experiment. The next National Government will abolish parole as we know it.

I'm inclined to agree with the Standard's analysis, that National's retreading of law and order policies is designed to fill a gap while they re-work their tax policy. Moreover, Steve Pierson confirms that crime has progressively declined since 1993.

I also can't help but think that negative campaigning is the wrong way to go for National. Particularly for Key. What happened to the Labour-plus approach English spoke of? Surely that group of voters are more amenable to a positive strategy - that's my impression of how Rudd won.

Perhaps it's time for a stunt like English's fight for life?

Friday, October 03, 2008

Tax cuts

National's quandry on tax is complicated by the financial crisis. Global demand is likely to soften in the short-term which will impact NZ just like every other country. Cutting personal and/or corporate tax can't offset this and so even if National gets some political advantage going into the election, it still faces the prospect that GDP may weaken over the next three years. That's not their fault, but it's unclear what they will do about it.

I've been impressed by the commentary of the New Zealand Institute. Compared with the Business Roundtable, Skilling's team are unencumbered by past battles and less ideological. Several publications point out that New Zealand's low trade intensity and foreign direct investment are significant constraints on economic growth - Key might have thought his infrastructure plans might improve FDI but that may be less likely now.

A tax cut doesn't lift productivity. A corporate rate cut may improve profits and encourage investors, but by itself, it has only a one-off benefit. National's cure-all tax cuts may realise an electoral advantage later this year, but it is an inadequate response that, alone, is unlikely to realise sustainable productivity improvements. I don't doubt they know this, but they've backed themselves into a corner and must deliver even if it ends up crowding out other options.


Brown cardigan boys say: "this amazes me" - me too.

Have I posted this before, I don't recall

Eddie Izzard has become a respectable actor, but was once a brilliant comedian - this lego animation is as good as the original performance.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Meh, kinda walked into that

Bryan Spondre's given me just enough rope... just enough. As he says, it's just the interweb.

Pissing contest and wet feet; there's a certain inevitability.

Chastened but not chaste

QueenBee's site the Hive is a slightly toned down version of the run of the mill right-wing attack site. The language is more muted and the editorial line less didactic but the focus is no different.

Several posts show QueenBee is less and less able to quiet her prejudices. Here she's hyping the already over-the-top story that the Police are at the beck and call of the ninth floor. Here it's the paranoid speculation that right-wing blog sites are being blocked government departments. Plus there's more links to the reprehensible Slater than could be explained as inadvertent.

The Hive is more clipping service than blog. I'm guessing QueenBee's interest is in developing blog-channels back to the MSM, not in providing some new insights for the blogosphere.

QueenBee gave kiwiblogblog a verbal lashing for being not being constructive, I suggest that her own standards have declined inversely in relation to her ratings. It gets to us all after a while.

Update: QueenBee's reaction to my comment is here. QueenBee speculates that something she said about kiwiblogblog "got under my skin"; not really, however had criticism been genuine, it would have been at least heeded by its author. Queen's obsession with metrics is a bit of a giveaway for a new blogger. Controversy is easy and temporarily gratifying, but it's indulgent and only sustainable if you're prepared to plumb the depths Slater does. That is my experience at least.

Not decided but distracted

Endless colours, templates and gadgets - backin15 is a chameleon.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Do you know... Obama's doing?

Hat-tip: brown cardigan

Blogger pathology

I have to stop picking fights. They're largely irrelevant and almost certainly patholical; an opportunity to vent my frustrations at not being in NZ.

Having discontinued my involvement in kiwiblogblog, I'd intended to leave the fray and simply enjoy the PublicAddress cluster of bloggers however, I've once again found myself poking sticks at right-wing bloggers. Most recently Matthew Hooton and Cactus Kate.

Matthew's a legitimate target to the extent that, having built his business by dealing with clients who're pissed off with Labour, he now seems intent on repositioning himself as a commentator when really, he's a cypher. I can't see the logic in his posts on the Police investigations of emails leaked from Brash's office though? If anything they serve only to remind the public that Key's the latest in a long line-up of largely ineffective and dispensiable leaders, plus it leads to speculation about Key's role in Brash's fall from grace. I'm guessing that it is intended as a distraction so we stop talking about Key's inept and/or corrupt dealings with Rail.

Kate though, I don't quite know why I bothered. I've read her blog on and off for a while and mostly I've concluded it's not meant for me - it's meant for younger, more mobile professionals who aspire to know where to simultaneously get a manicure and a cocktail. But her tendency to prattle on about how shit NZ is annoys me and god knows she'll tell you she's got lots of other more important things she could do. Do I know have to check if I've graduated into a class with Rachel Glucina?