Saturday, April 22, 2006

Forget Janet and John - here come Mary and Matt

This really takes the cake. What I'd really like to say is WHAT A LOAD OF BOLLOCKS.

This Christchurch School is trying to regulate the way staff speak to and about each other. For instance;

"Matt, we shouldn't really be talking about Mary behind her back." Or: "Matt, I can see you feel strongly about that. You really need to be saying it to Mary."

The obligation to respond extends to a person on the fringe of the conversation. "Come on, guys, Mary's not here. It's not part of the code."

And what do the staff think?

A current staff member said the code was not working and many of the staff regarded it as a joke.

"Every workplace gossips. The serious thing is they have taken away our trust because we are not allowed to talk freely to each other. Our support system is each other."

Explosion in premature births

This report from the Scotsman surprised me because it blames mother's lifestyles for premature births. My first child was three weeks early. I was still working in a very active job but getting pretty tired. So I thought perhaps I was going to read about how the growth of working women was contributing to this phenomenon. But no.

Researchers say it is difficult to explain the rise but obesity, smoking and social class might be part of the problem. Very young and older mothers are also more likely to have a premature birth.The factors cited are obesity, smoking and social class.

You find things in the darnedest places

As part of my DPB campaign I issued a press release on Thursday counteracting the demands from the child poverty advocates, The Maori Party included. Interestingly it has been turning over on the Maori Party website ever since.

Hone vs Perigo

Emotions are running very high on TV One's Eye to Eye as Hone Harawira and Lindsay Perigo go head-to-head over banning tobacco. Hone says tobacco came with colonisation and Perigo says so did cars, refrigerators and tvs. This is b...s... Grow-up. When asked by host Willie Jackson if he'd given up smoking Perigo replied, yes, he had but he thought he would take it up again the moment he got out of the studio.

Look, Harawira's loathing of the white tobacco manufacturers for "killing his people" is palpable. This is a race issue for him. But his desire to stop his people smoking is absolutely genuine and Perigo encouraged Hone's passionate appeals to his people - moral persuasion. But legislation to ban tobacco will not work.

Asked for the way forward Perigo said, put a tattoo on all politician's foreheads, health warning - dictatorship is bad for you.

(The programme replays on Tuesday evening)

Friday, April 21, 2006

Bedtime story.... we could do without.

Naenae - fast becoming a cesspit - hosted a Canadian tourist who had been burgled, trussed, hooded and dumped. I am so sorry.

A Canadian tourist is in Hutt Hospital with a broken nose, broken ribs, punctured lung and badly bruised body after being beaten and robbed.

He was found wandering battered and dazed on a street in Naenae early on Wednesday morning.

state of the art aptitude testing

Here is the latest aptitude test being employed by consultants:

1. How do you put a giraffe into a refrigerator?

The correct answer is: Open the refrigerator, put in the giraffe and close the door.
This question tests whether you tend to make simple things too complicated.

2. How do you put an elephant into a refrigerator?

Wrong Answer : Open the refrigerator, put in the elephant and close the door.
Correct Answer : Open the refrigerator, take out the giraffe, put in the elephant and close the door.
This tests your ability to think through the repercussions of your actions.

3. The Lion King is hosting an animal conference; all the animals attend except one. Which animal does not attend?

Correct Answer : The elephant. The elephant is in the refrigerator.
This tests your memory.

4. There is a river you must cross. But it is inhabited by crocodiles. How do you manage it?

Correct Answer: You swim across. All the crocodiles are attending the animal conference!
This tests your reasoning.

(Ta Adam Smith blog)

Children's Commissioner accused of "bullying"

Here Maxim have picked up on a release from the new Family First Lobby group which is headed by Bob McCoskrie, formerly host on Radio Rhema. If true, it's disgraceful but sadly, not surprising.

Update; TelstraClear News says it has been approached by one of the social workers involved who confirms the story.
Poll; Labour overtakes National
Quote; You don't have to fool all the people all of the time; you just have to fool enough to get elected.
– Gerald Barzan

The relentless advance of tax freedom day

The Centre for Independent Studies reports Australia's Tax Freedom Day will fall on April 25 this year - two days out on 2005.

One hundred years ago, Tax Freedom Day fell on 24 January. At the outbreak of World War II it fell on 26 February. By the late 1950s, it had extended to 19 March, and it shifted into April during the Whitlam years.

By 1998-99, Tax Freedom Day had been pushed out to 21 April. Last year (using revised ABS figures*) it was 23 April. This year it is another two days later than that. That’s another two days spent paying for the government rather than working for ourselves.

What the heck is "boomeritis"?

Find out here.

Which reminds me, the kids and I were looking at our poster purchased at the Stones concert. Keith Richard's hands are in really bad shape. The knuckles nearest to the tips of his fingers are swollen to twice their normal size. Which makes what he does doubly amazing.

Heart disease findings

I am tempted to predict a media release from Tariana Turia about the urgent need to address the racism in heart disease care on the back of this study publication;

Deaths caused by heart disease are increasing at "an alarming rate" among young and middle-aged adults, especially Maori, according to a study published in the New Zealand Medical Journal.

Either that or Hone will pick it up and use it to promote his tobacco prohibition campaign.

(On that subject, did the Maori Party promote a tobacco ban policy before the election?)

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Jackson on unsexy list

I couldn't resist this headline wondering whether it was a reference to Peter or Michael. Who else would you put on it? My nominations would include Keith Locke, Tama Iti and the Christchurch Wizard.

Quick fix remedy the wrong one

The last two days have seen a concerted effort by various groups to pressure the government into putting more cash into the homes of beneficiary children; the CPAG, Home and Family Society, Dr Cass Byrnes and the Maori Party have each made submissions. It isn't because the plight of these children doesn't concern me that I reject this proposal - it's the opposite.

Children's health is about more than income levels. An extensive study addressed this in 2002 when researchers compared poor children from homes reliant on government transfers with those from poor homes reliant on market income (benefit homes vs working homes).

Both groups had incomes below the poverty threshold yet the study found the first group were worse off than the second. In part this was because of parental characteristics which made them more likely to be on welfare. Their children were "more likely to be subject to restrictions in key items of consumption."

Despite similar incomes the beneficiary was more likely to report inadequacy of income. For instance 17 percent reported having postponed a child's visit to the doctor to keep costs down. In the second group this dropped to 8 percent. Didn't have suitable wet-weather clothing for each child applied to 16 percent in the benefit households and 9 in the working households. There is a lengthy list I could quote from.

"The results of this study suggest that poor children in families primarily reliant on government transfers are a particularly vulnerable group....The findings suggest a need for policies that have a wider focus than just income support."

We should absolutely resist any action that will encourage more people onto benefits. Quick fix remedies rarely endure and often aggravate.

Work stoppages

Statistics NZ has just released the number of work stoppages in 2005. Trending up again.

Racism in asthma care

Some press releases from the Maori Party I regard with vague amusement but others are beyond the pale (excuse the unintentional pun). Here Tariana is clamouring about racism in asthma care.

There are no barriers to Maori accessing medicines and advice on their use that do not apply to any other race. There are factors that disproportionately affect Maori eg higher smoking rates, benefit dependence, poor diet, crowding in inadequate homes. However, none of these factors is beyond the control of the individual, in particular, the parent. I am not buying it.

Having worked as a child asthma educator I know we did our best to reach as many people as possible. But my experience was fewer Maori parents took up the opportunity.

More on Mr Key

The Molesworth and Featherston has also noticed Mr Key's activities. (My criticism yesterday was not of what he did but how he drew further attention to it in such a self-serving manner.)

The Key to wealth and ignominy

National's finance spokesman John Key has always impressed us, as he has most political watchers. So, we are here to help.

You put your foot in a potentially steaming one, John, with that decision to take out a mortgage on the Wellington digs to take advantage of a perk available to MPs. (It became known through the otherwise innocuous – because it does not give details of size of wealth and assets – register of MP's assets.)Yes, most MPs structure their affairs to take advantage of the freebie. Yes, it is a rational economic decision. But are you not mega-wealthy? Can't you make more than the average wage on those Merrill Lynch shares every time the currency yawns and stretches? You are also fond of berating the Government for providing middle-class welfare through things like the Working for Families extension – as you did last week in this newsletter. Well, sorry John-boy.

Is this not middle class welfare capture extraordinaire? Do you need the cash? It is costing those poor taxpayers you are fond of saying need relief. Take our advice. Pay off the mortgage with your loose change and lance a potential boil before Labour wakes up to it.

Artistic interference

Scotland imposed a smoking ban similar to ours on March 31. One theatre manager is defying the on-stage smoking ban because he believes it is "interference with art". (Perhaps Russell Crowe could try that one but it would pose the tougher question of whether his music constitutes art). Loved this quote;

The theatre and comedy producer David Johnson said: "The ban is ludicrous, it's pathetic, frankly. You can show sex on stage but you couldn't show them smoking afterwards."

The Greens are not left-wing.

Who said so?

According to Vernon Small, writing in today's DomPost, Nandor Tanczos. Apparently he has written a paper explaining why the Greens are not a left-wing party as part of his bid for the co-leadership. Sadly it is available at their website but only to members. As I can't access it I am doing my best to imagine what it says.

The Greens are not left-wing because;

-They oppose massive redistribution of wealth
-They believe the state should reduce legislation that interferes with employment
-They believe free trade is fair trade
-They believe in private property rights
-They believe indigenous people have the same rights as other New Zealanders

Yeah. That sounds like the Green Party we all know and love.

Sympathy for the devil

This kid is locked up for ROBBERY. ROBBERY. I guarantee it won't be the first.

But the entire story is about why we should feel sorry for him. Don't tell me...the system is letting him down.

This unpleasant and uncomfortable experience might be the best thing that could happen to him if it's not already too late. If it were my son I'd be sick over it but at the same time I'd be telling him, this is the consequence of your actions.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Eat your heart out, Tom

Is this the somewhat portly, grizzly and balding cartoonist Tom Scott who depicted Mick Jagger in the DomPost today asking, "If time really was on our side we'd look better than this surely?"

Scott is four years Jagger's junior.

Oh, the sacrifices....

Last week a letter appeared in the DomPost about John Key. If my memory serves me right it was the feature letter along with a photo of Key. Today his response appears, drawing further attention to the original complaint.

Guilty as charged

Ken Wilson asserts (Letters April 13) that by claiming a parliamentary accommodation allowance when I can afford not to do so, I am guilty of rorting the taxpayer.

Such logic can be applied to any of the genuine costs that I incur as an MP, including travel and related expenses.

Rather than my rorting the system, maybe Mr Wilson would like to tally up the immense contribution in terms of family time, the alternative income I could earn were I not in Parliament, and the considerable financial donations I make each year, and then reflect on whether I am rorting the system.

If that makes me guilty of a rort, I stand guilty as charged.

John Key, National MP, Helensville.

Mick Jagger is a Maniac

It isn't enough to say the Stones have still got it. They've got more than ever. More energy, more charisma, more lovability. And if there was ever a shining example of synergy this is it. We were up in the stands alongside the stage which runs the width of the ground, which Mick runs over and over. Dancing like a maniac with those long skinny arms and big hands flailing about but the hips and thighs pulling it all together with tight rhythmic and rapid movements. He is ageless.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Hardship assistance - where to from here?

The Special Benefit, extra non-repayable hardship assistance, was scrapped on April 1 but those already receiving it would continue to.

The Ministry of Social Development, through their official media statement, says one of the reasons the Special Benefit was replaced with Temporary Additional Support is, "Establishing upper limits on individual allowable costs helps to ensure people do not receive last resort hardship assistance for items that may not be affordable to other people on low incomes. For example, the maximum repayment cost for a television in Special Benefit was $70 per week. Repaid over 52 weeks, this allows the purchase of a television costing $3,600 - which is well out of the reach of most people on low and middle incomes."

So being without a TV, or a quality TV, was such a hardship the taxpayer had to pay for them. The beneficiary who received the money didn't have to pay it back and if they managed to "qualify" before April 1 for a TV costing $3,600 they will continue to get it paid for.

It is my guess that some people on benefits will be paying their cable subscriptions out of their main benefit and using the Special Benefit to pay for the wide-screen TV. I am sure it hasn't escaped the public's notice that satellite dishes proliferate amongst housing for the "neediest".

But back to the real problem with the Special Benefit. It was discretionary. Case managers could, and did, decline applications. Exercising discretion is too close to discriminating or even judging. So it has been scrapped for "a fairer rules based approach" which will make it "more transparent and easier for clients to understand and case managers to administer."

Now that nobody can be denied the extra hardship assistance, newly called Temporary Additional Support, how much will be allowed for TVs? And what was that about welfare being a safety net?

Car craziness

Talking about waste and abuse inherent in state welfare systems (referred to in a following essay) this article from today's DomPost, about the huge increase in the number of car-related payments made to beneficiaries, reminded me of something I was told last year.

This company is contracted by the state to tow away vehicles. When the owner turns up to collect said car they have to pay three or four hundred dollars. In the case of a beneficiary a quick call is made to WINZ and a payment is arranged.

How crazy is that? The state contracts to confiscate the car and then pays to return it.

The Separation of Charity and State

I've never posted an entire essay before but this is so good I can't resist.

The Separation of Charity and State
by Jacob G. Hornberger, Posted April 17, 2006

The primary function of the federal government these days is to help out others with federal welfare assistance. The assistance is dispensed in a variety of ways — directly, in the form of a money payment (Social Security); indirectly, by helping people with payments to third parties (Medicare and Medicaid); subsidies to government entities and private organizations (grants to public schools or corporate welfare); and in-kind benefits, such as housing or food. After the recent Hurricane Katrina disaster, federal officials even went so far as to disburse bank debit cards to hurricane victims.

Federal welfare assistance to Americans has become such an ingrained part of our lives that most Americans hardly give it a second thought. While “waste, fraud, and abuse” have become a standard part of the welfare-state lexicon, the answer for many is simply, “The system needs reform.”

Yet when recommended reforms are instituted, “waste, fraud, and abuse” inevitably rear their ugly heads again, which then generates the call for new reforms, perpetuating an endless cycle of problems and reforms.

All this fiddling avoids the central issue: Why not separate charity and the state, in the same manner our ancestors separated church and state? Why not get government totally out of the charity business? I’m suggesting that we do much more than simply repeal all welfare-state programs. I’m suggesting that we go further and elevate our vision to the same level as that of our American ancestors when they separated church and state. I’m suggesting the following amendment to the Constitution: “The federal government shall not provide any subsidy, grant, welfare, aid, loan, or other special privilege to anyone.”

(The amendment could, at the same time, bar the states from engaging in the same activity, pursuant to the principles of the Fourteenth Amendment, but for purposes of this discussion, the amendment will be limited only to the federal government.)

After all, think about what our ancestors bequeathed to us by providing similar language in the Constitution regarding religion. They could have provided for a system in which the federal government subsidized and regulated churches and other religious activity. If they had, today we would have the same cries of “waste, fraud, and abuse” that we hear about welfare-state programs and the same calls for “reform.”

Instead, the Founding Fathers raised their vision to a higher level and asked a much more fundamental question: Why not get the federal government totally out of the religion business? No subsidies and no regulations. And, thus, no “waste, fraud, and abuse” and no perpetual calls for “reforming” the system.

“But who will build the churches if the federal government doesn’t help out?”

“Where will the poor go to church, since they don’t have the money to build churches?”

“Who will protect us from unscrupulous church ministers?”

“Who will keep the churches operating?”

“What if rich people don’t give money to the churches?”

“What if everyone rejects God and religion?”

To our ancestors, what mattered above all else was freedom, even if the results of that freedom were not what everyone hoped for and anticipated. In other words, even if the result of a constitutional prohibition against federal assistance and regulation of religion was that no churches were built, or the poor had no churches to attend, or that rich people refused to donate to the churches, or that there were unscrupulous ministers, or that everyone rejected God and religion, those were consequences with which they could live. Even if every one of those consequences materialized, our ancestors would not have reversed their position against federal involvement in religious activity.

Of course, as history has shown, their decision to separate church and state not only produced religious freedom — that is, freedom from the federal government — it also produced a wondrous outcome in which there are hundreds of thousands of churches and countless religious activities for both rich and poor alike, all voluntarily funded and self-regulated. And those who don’t believe in God or who reject religious activity are free to follow their convictions as well.

Force and charity

Why not have the same vision with respect to charity?

After all, what meaning does charity have when it is engaged in by government? Charity connotes a willing heart of one person that reaches out to help another person. Yet government is based on force, and how can force be reconciled with any meaningful concept of charity?

Think of the process involved in government-provided welfare. The government requires everyone to send it a certain percentage of his income in order to provide the financial means for it to give welfare assistance to others. This requirement is not voluntary. Despite what any tax protester may tell you, if you don’t pay your taxes you are subjecting yourself to the distinct possibility of being hounded by the IRS and by federal prosecutors.

I repeat: the payment of your income taxes is not voluntary. In other words, it’s not like making donations to your church. If you stop donating to your church, the minister is not going to put a freeze on your bank account, garnish your wages, or put a lien on your home. The IRS, once it catches up with you, will do all those things. And it will enforce those levies and liens, even to the point of a foreclosure sale of your home. And if you resist with force (e.g., guns) the marshal’s enforcement of the foreclosure sale, which requires you to vacate your home and deliver possession to the new owner, you will be shot dead.

“But if people have democratically voted to impose such taxes on everyone so that the government can provide welfare for people, doesn’t that mean we’re free?”

Well, consider this: If people had democratically voted to impose taxes on everyone so that the government could provide financial assistance to churches, would that mean that we’re free? Of course not. Freedom pertains to individuals and it entails the right of people to decide what to do with their own money. If a bunch of us get together and vote to donate your money to our church, how does that make you free? The same principle of individual freedom with respect to the funding of churches applies to the funding of charity. Why shouldn’t each person have the right to decide that matter for himself with his own money? Isn’t that what genuine freedom is all about?

Proponents of the welfare state sometimes suggest that when federal officials dole out money to people, it reflects the goodness and compassion of the American people. But how can that be? When your employer withholds part of your income to send it to the IRS, does it reflect compassion for others either by you or your employer? Or does it instead reflect fear of IRS retaliation for nonpayment of taxes?

And when a federal bureaucrat sends money to someone in need, how does that make you a compassionate and caring person? It doesn’t. And it also doesn’t mean that the bureaucrat is a good and caring person, because he’s not donating his own money but instead doling out the money that the IRS has forcibly exacted from American taxpayers.

Welfare and morality

In fact, while proponents of the welfare state imply that their system is founded on moral principles, the situation is actually the opposite. The welfare-state system constitutes a grave violation of the principles of morality, not to mention the principles of freedom and free will.

Think of it this way: Suppose I hold a gun to someone’s head and force him to take $5,000 out his bank account at an ATM. I then go into the poorest part of Washington, D.C., and I give every cent of what I took from him to poor people.

Would anyone say that I had performed a moral or compassionate act? No. Everyone would clearly see that I had conducted myself in an immoral manner. If I want to help the poor, then I should do it with my own money or with money that people have voluntarily donated to me for that purpose. To use money that I have forced other people to give me doesn’t make me a caring and compassionate person and, for that matter, it doesn’t make the person from whom I’ve forcibly taken the money a caring and compassionate person, even though his money was given to the poor. It simply makes me a thief and him a victim of theft.

While everyone can clearly see the moral implications of that scenario, for some reason people’s reasoning becomes cloudy when government enters the picture. If government does the same thing, the feeling is that what would ordinarily be considered an immoral act is somehow converted into a moral act. Or the feeling is that if a majority of the people vote in favor of the action, somehow it becomes moral.

Isn’t that what the entire concept of the welfare state is based on: a perversion of moral values as well as a denial of the freedom of the individual to decide what to do with his own money? What would be wrong with a system in which people keep their own earnings and decide for themselves which charities, if any, they wish to donate to or which people they wish to help?

“What if no one donates to charity?”

“What if children turn their backs on their parents?”

“What if everyone hates the poor?”

“What if people refuse to help those in need?”

But aren’t those the same types of questions that would be asked in response to freedom of religion, that is, the separation of church and state? Sure, it’s theoretically possible that everyone will refuse to help others, but how likely is that? Anyway, if that really were the case, how likely is it that all those selfish people would democratically approve of a welfare state in which the federal bureaucrats have the power to take their money and give it to others?

What we need more than ever in this country at this point in our history is a rebirth of liberty. That entails Americans’ igniting a spark for individual freedom within themselves. It also entails the necessity of their gaining a sense of confidence and trust, not only in themselves but also in others and in freedom itself. Just as Americans don’t fear religious freedom and the potential adverse consequences that come with such freedom, they need to lose similar fears regarding charitable freedom. Once that day comes, Americans will be prepared to do with charity what our ancestors did with religion — separate charity and state.

Across the ditch

Almost a quarter million Australian men aged 25-44 are no longer looking for work according to The Age. As a percentage of that age group the figure has more than doubled from 4 in 1978 to 9 today. Almost half are living on disability pensions.

Meanwhile, the welfare lobby are calling for more welfare spending and John Howard is defending his version of Working for Families which has been branded "welfare for millionaires". The family tax credits are being attacked for "discouraging work and handing benefits to high income earners." Where have we heard that before? Only difference is, over there it is Labor doing the criticising.

So much confusion in the mushy middle. Rampant redistributionism reigns and the main parties merely bicker about the details. The same is happening here, Australia, the UK and the US. Whatever they call themselves, they are all big-spending governments.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Rumsfeld is reporting to the Presidents' Cabinet. He says "3 Brazilian soldiers were killed today in Iraq."

The President says "Oh, my God" as he buries his head in his hands.

The entire Cabinet is stunned. Usually Bush shows no reaction whatsoever to these reports.

Just then Bush looks up and asks "How many is a brazilian?"

(Ta Dad)

Tummy taboo topsy-turvy

US cheerleaders have been banned from showing their midriffs and the ban is about to extend to Australia. Will NZ be next? Isn't this ludicrous? The decent specimens made illegal while the somewhat less appealing types go freely amongst us. There should be midriff police slapping tickets on their big backsides while the svelte are encouraged to continue setting the standard.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Compulsory health insurance

Something quite sensational is happening in Massachussets. The government has passed a law to make health insurance compulsory. Those who fail to buy insurance by July 2007 will be fined. For those below a certain level of income the govt will subsidise policies. This is highly controversial with some taking the view that getting the govt out of health care is the only way to go - it is afterall govt interference which pushed the cost of health insurance out of many people's reach. If the insurer's fail to respond to this move by lowering premiums the cost to the taxpayer will blow out. I confess to being rather confused about this issue (still seems like socialised health) but a couple of American readers may be able to shed some light.

The Libertarian argument."The arrogance of elected government officials never ceases. However, in a welfare-state society like that of the United States, one cannot expect anything less. The Massachusetts Legislature approved a bill last week that would force all residents of the state of Massachusetts to purchase health insurance. If they do not, then they will be forced to pay a fine, and if they do not pay the fine, they will be dragged off to jail for breaking the law."

Student allowances

Student allowances are another form of welfare administered by the Ministry of Social Development. Their latest Studylink newsletter details the widening of eligibility for Student Allowances which took effect on 1 January 2006 (it also covers the circumstances by which you can live and work overseas and still have your student loan interest written off). Eligibility for a Student Allowance is based on parental/partner income and NZ citizens, permanent residents and refugees qualify.

So I thought I'd take a quick look at who uses the scheme. Here's a quick comparison between 1999 and 2005

The amount distributed is fairly steady. In 2005 $360m up from $350m. Slightly more females are receiving student allowances at 53 up from 50 percent. The ethnic make-up is the most interesting aspect. In 1999 9 percent were Maori, Asians made up 12 percent. By 2005 Maori had increased to 11 percent and Asians to 22.

Twice as many Asians as Maori are taking up student allowances.