The Jackal: December 2011

31 Dec 2011

RAP NEWS X

Jackal impersonators

A while ago I had a bit of trouble with a right-winger using my email address to steal the Jackal handle, and writing crap on left blogs in an attempt to discredit me. Thanks to quick acting moderators, this wasn't much of an issue.

However another right wing impersonator has now started to comment on Kiwibog using the Jackal handle. This is obviously not the original Jackal, as I've been banned from commenting at Kiwibog.

True to form, Farrar hasn't bothered to moderate the identity theft. In fact it's likely he's had to specifically remove the jackal handle from the systems banned list to allow comments to be made. Here's a sample of the impersonators drivel:

Jordan it isn’t fantasy land economics, as Reagans spell and the economies of Singapore and Hong Kong will attest to. We’ll never know if it will work in NZ because our politicians have no guts to tell people the truth about effort, reward risk and the falacies of socialism.  
[...]
What you are annoyed at Tristan is that Donna was an Albatross around ACT’s neck, and now that she can be dismissed for distorting Parliament’s proportionality, that particular piece of ammunition is taken away from the left’s arsenal.
[...]
The DPB was a nice touchy-feeley based benefit to help people through a situation, but it has morphed into something way more sinister. It has allowed some fathers to shirk their responsibilities, and rewards irresponsible mothers for shacking up with multiple partners/ semen donors -they aren’t fathers- thereby exposing the kids to an increased likelihood of being subjected to abuse.

Although it makes me a bit suspicious that the Kiwibog threads read like the internal dialog of a narcissistic psychopath... I wouldn't like to speculate about the similarities in the impersonators writing style with a particular well-known right wing blogger.

Strangely, another possibility has been highlighted by an unlikely source... the ever-abhorrent Redbaiter from TrueBlueNZ. He speculates that it's National party spin-doctors that are providing content for Kiwibog:

Could these people be the mystery writers publishing pro-National/Key posts on Kiwiblog? We’ll probably never know of course, but they certainly fit the necessary profile, and of course would be just the people that Farrar would not want to identify if they were. After all his protesting concerning his detachment from National, he’d have to close down his blog if it turned out some of his posts were secretly written by John Key’s press unit.

I wouldn't be surprised if this was the case.

30 Dec 2011

Tool

Following a theft of some tools, Detective Simon Beal reported:

“Tens of thousands of dollars of high value specialist equipment has been stolen. The items include multiple high end air tools, impact wrenches, and an unknown number of socket sets. The tools carry the brand “BAHCO.” This brand is not generally available on the open market,” he said.

Maybe Bunnings nicked them?

Stratos Television closure

Re: Formal complaint concerning the closure of Stratos Television.

By email: regulation.branch@comcom.govt.nz

Dear Neville Lord,

I purchased my freeview decoder specifically to watch Stratos Television and not infomercials. I have also grown to like TVNZ 7. One month after my purchase, closures were announced because of a lack of government funding.

The supplier had advertised their product as providing those services. The Consumer Guarantees Act 1993 (PDF) states:

14 Provisions relating to manufacturers’ express guarantees 
(1) An express guarantee given by a manufacturer in a document in respect of goods binds the manufacturer where the document is given to a consumer with the actual or apparent authority of the manufacturer in connection with the supply by a supplier of those goods to the consumer.
(2) An express guarantee which is included in a document relating to goods and which appears to have been made by the manu­facturer of the goods shall in the absence of proof to the contrary be presumed to have been made by the manufacturer.
(3) Proof that a consumer was given a document containing ex­press guarantees by a manufacturer in respect of goods in connection with the supply of those goods to the consumer shall, in the absence of proof to the contrary, constitute proof that the document was given to the consumer with the authority of the manufacturer.

That means the advertisement and documentation that said Stratos would be supplied if the product was purchased is an express guarantee.

It does not matter that the supplier is not directly linked to the broadcaster, as they advertised the service as if they had authority to do so.

21 Failure of substantial character
For the purposes of section 18 (3) of this Act, a failure to com­ply with a guarantee is of a substantial character in any case where—
(a) The goods would not have been acquired by a reason­able consumer fully acquainted with the nature and ex­tent of the failure; or
(b) The goods depart in one or more significant respects from the description by which they were supplied or, where they were supplied by reference to a sample or demonstration model, from the sample or demonstration model.

If the supplier had informed me that the service they were advertising would fail, I would not have purchased the product. This will be the same for may thousands of New Zealand consumers.

I could try to return the product, but this would not achieve what I actually want... the return of service for a product I purchased in good faith.

The act allows for compensation to be obtained for any reduction in value of the goods below the price paid or payable by the consumer. The value of the product is reduced because a service advertised that it would provide no longer exists.

It was reasonable to expect the continuation of that service when the item was purchased. Therefore all consumers of the misrepresented product are eligible for compensation.

As Chief Advisor of the Commerce Commission, I would appreciate you looking into this matter.

29 Dec 2011

Cathy Odgers Muppet

Click image to enlarge
There's something that separates many right wing bloggers out from the rest of the pack... their continued hypocritical commentary.

On 19 December, the invective Cathy Odgers complained on The Standard about a post entitled Prick, that was published on The Jackal:

Obviously being attacked by an anonymous blogger and comments here as a prick with my name doesn’t give me a right of reply using the authors real name back. Charming. (sic)
I know precisely who the Jackal is and given the depth of bile written on his blog about others, I’d say all bets were off Lynn.

All bets are off? As far as threats go… that’s decidedly pathetic!

Then three days after her whinging about being called a prick, she launches her immature Prick Awards... what a complete hypocritical Muppet!

Radioactive muttonbirds

Last Thursday, the NZ Herald reported:

Potentially radioactive muttonbirds nesting in NZ
The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF), which is charged with leading New Zealand's biosecurity system, said it took the potential for contamination of foods with radioactive material very seriously.
"However, we have no information at this time to suggest that muttonbirds might be significantly exposed to radioactive contamination due to this incident.
"MAF continues to monitor any new information that might cause us to change our advice to people about eating muttonbirds.''

Until testing is conducted, shouldn't people be warned not to eat Muttonbirds?

Despite the possible contamination, there's been no official warning about eating sooty terns (Onychoprion fuscata) that could have been exposed to Strontium-90 after the Fukushima nuclear accident.

Here's Josh Adams, head of the research team from the US Geological Survey, speaking to Radio NZ:



What kind of researcher into nuclear fallout doesn't understand that people can be exposed to Strontium-90 through dietary pathways?

Adams believes that the Muttonbirds offspring will not be affected... he's wrong! Sensitivity to radiation is elevated from conception through embryonic development... that means if the Muttonbirds are exposed, they will pass that exposure onto their offspring through maternal bone stores.

When consumed orally or inhaled Strontium-90 has multiple pathogenic effects in the body and results in elevated levels of a variety of cancers.
Muttonbirds migratory pattern
With an average 10 years between exposure and cancer manifestation... it looks like MAF will get away with their idiotic decision not to place a ban on the collection of Muttonbirds.

Cameron Slater douchebag

The ever-repugnant Cameron Slater has been running his meaningless Whaleoil Awards in which he nominates The Jackal for worst blog of the year.

Obviously he cannot differentiate between what is actually a bad blog and something he personally dislikes. Only those who completely lack objectivity could appreciate his delusions.


Then there is the failed horse trainer/plumber from Ruakaka, Todd, who has a blog called The Jackal.

What has made the douchebag of a blogger think I'm a horse trainer or plumber from Ruakaka, I will never know?

It appears he's so obsessed with outing contributors to the Jackal, that he'll make any old shit up... but what else is new?

Climate change kills one in six trees

An old study (PDF) that is only now being reported on, has found that climate change is killing one in six trees in Africa's Sahel region:

Trees throughout Africa's Sahel region - vital to peoples' livelihoods - are dying as a result of long-term drought linked to climate change, according to a study.
It found that one in six trees in the region has died since the 1950s, whilst a fifth of species has disappeared locally, because of rising temperatures and lower rainfall linked to climate change.
At some sites, average temperatures rose by 0.8 degrees Celsius and rainfall decreased by 48 per cent.

Here's the studies conclusion:
Original field data show that forest species richness in northwest Senegal fell 33% from ca 1945 to 1993. Densities of trees of h ≥ 3 m declined 23% from 1954 to 1989. These changes shifted the Sahel, Sudan, and Guinean vegetation zones towards areas of higher rainfall at an average rate of 500 to 600 m yr – 1. The changes also decreased human carrying capacity below actual population densities. The possibility of future droughts in the Sahel raises the specter of another grave episode sometime in the 21st century.

Yet, this research shows that the impoverished flora may have lost its capacity to provide aid to a substantial population ravaged in the future by famine. This renders imperative a sustainable system of resource management. Ultimately, only natural regeneration can cover an extensive surface area, a condition necessary not only to map a comprehensive system of natural resource management, but also to engage positive climatic effects. In the face of desertification and climate change, sustainable natural resource management in the Sahel depends on natural regeneration.

Anonymous survival guide

Anonymous has released a Survival Guide for Citizens in a Revolution (PDF), which is well worth a read. Although focused on what to do in the event of a violent uprising, the document is relevant for any disaster like emergency situation.

This Guide is for civilians who feel they are about to be caught up in a violent uprising or revolution to overthrow the oppressive government of their country. Although a revolution in favor of the people is a joyful thing when seen from the outside, it can be a bloody mess for those inside it.
This guide will give you some basic ideas and tips for how you and your friends/neighbors/family can stay safe in the violent turmoil around you. It is not a ready-made recipe, but it contains general survival tactics and strategies.

This release follows what is one of groups best hacking escapades in which they compromised the security of the international cyber-security think-tank Stratfor. Although the Texas based company denies it, it's likely that Anonymous exposed the personal and financial details of thousands of the firm’s clients.

Anonymous posted the firms "private" client list online with some customers reporting that their credit cards were used to donate to charity. This is despite the FBI arresting 16 people in July, suspected of hacking PayPal on behalf of the amorphous group.

27 Dec 2011

Rena - a disaster waiting to happen

Last Thursday, Nick Perry wrote a great article informing us that the Rena had at least 17 safety problems before it crashed. But this wasn't enough to keep the unsafe flag of convenience ship detained...

For other problems, the captain turned to the Liberia Bureau of Maritime Affairs, which contracts with an American company to run its ship registry.
The Virginia-based office sent the captain a series of faxes on July 21 granting the ship one-month exemptions for some of the problems. Australian authorities could have overruled the exemptions but elected not to.
[...]
Records show Australian inspectors were particularly concerned with the rusted and improperly tensioned hatch cleats and the ill-fitting pins for the cargo.

This works like a perpetual warrant of fitness, whereby ships that are unfit to sail are allowed to continue indefinitely even when serious safety problems have been found. Here is one of the things the Australian authorities wanted repaired on the Rena:


The Australian Maritime Safety Authority imposed some conditions on the Rena prior to it crashing into the Astrolabe reef. These included repairs to:

The MF/HF radio equipment, hatch cover securing arrangements cargo securing equipment to be permanently repaired as per Flag dispensation.

The MV Rena was clearly a disaster waiting to happen. Dean Summers highlights the reason why:

Summers, the union representative, said it's time countries did more to grow and protect their domestic fleets rather than rely on flag-of-convenience vessels, which now account for more than half the world's merchant fleet.

In comparison to the number of foreign ships found to have deficiencies by Australian inspectors, (554) which resulted in 25 of them being detained in the year to July, no Australian flagged ships were impounded.

This shows that the increased reliance on flag of convenience ships has resulted in an unsafe shipping industry. Unless the system is changed, we can unfortunately expect more disasters resulting from unsafe flag of convenience ships.

The law is an arse

Today, Anna Leask from the NZ Herald reported:

Now, the Attorney-General has filed a memorandum in the High Court at Auckland seeking $13,669.45 in costs from Ambrose. Those costs include $3760 for hearing preparation costs and counsel fees; $5076 for general costs including researching and filing; $1377.70 for air travel and $278.52 for taxis.

This is how they close people down... by imposing unreasonable costs.

If Ambrose is justified in seeking a declaration from the High Court on whether the teapot tape conversation was in fact private or not... how can they impose costs on him? Without a ruling, no costs should be imposed.

This is more evidence that the law is an arse.

20 Dec 2011

Secret statistics

Today, the NZ Herald reported Govt's consultants' bill $375m and rising:

The Government spent more than $375 million on consultants and contractors in 2010-11 as a series of government restructurings made thousands of public sector workers redundant, figures show.

[...]

It also paid IT firm Silverstripe $2,500 a day for work on data.govt.nz, a project to give the public easier access to government statistics.

WTF! $2500 a day for something Statistics NZ should be doing anyway... and for a website that's a bloody disgrace!

It does have a system for attaining information without going through the Official Information Act 1982 though... let's see how that's working.

On 7 November, Tess Labett requested:
The total number of complaints received by the IPCA each year, shown by gender, age group and region. The proportion of complaints upheld as valid by the police.
14 November Independent Police Conduct Authority respnded:
Data not available for release.
15 November Tess Labett wrote:
Can I have an explanation please as to what that means? Surely this data must exist and isn't it public information?
5 December the IPCA said:
The data is not collected in the format requested. All data relating to complaints can be found in the IPCA annual report at www.ipca.govt.nz

Here's the IPCA report (PDF), which doesn't have the information requested.

5 December, Tess Labett (Requester) responded:
I have read the IPCA Annual Report, however I cannot find the data I am seeking, which is 'outcomes' of complaints against the police. I understand that the IPCA receive about 2000 complaints each year and dismiss about half of these. I read that most of the remaining 1000 are referred to the police to investigate themselves and that most complaints relate to alleged police misconduct. Where can I find the statistics around the outcomes of their investigations please? What proportion are dismissed by the police, and what proportion of complainants receive an acknowledgement of police misconduct?

It appears that Tess Labett is being ignored by the IPCA, probably because hardly any of the 2052 complaints last year about Police misconduct were upheld.

That particular feature of data.co.nz appears to be set up specifically to waste peoples time in trying to attain information that will never be released without an Official Information Act request.

Even then, with Police Minister Judith Collins having to sign off on any release and the Office of the Ombudsman often being remiss in their duties, there's no guarantee that the information Tess Labett requires will be forthcoming... and that's bloody undemocratic!

Fukushima highlights industry failures

Last Friday, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda gave a press conference in which he claimed that the Fukushima nuclear reactors are now stable. This information has been widely accepted by many news services.

However Fukushima's operators, Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), have not measured the temperatures at the bottoms of the containment vessels. Readings would be inaccurate if containment vessels were punctured by melted fuel rods. High levels of radiation is making any proper confirmation unattainable.

So can we trust what TEPCO and the Japanese government says? Today, The Japan Times informed us that a new study into the cause of the Fukushima accident is due out on the 26 December, which shows that the claims of TEPCO that the tsunami caused the nuclear power plants failure is not correct. Kyodo writes:

If the allegation is found to be true, it would force Japan to overhaul all quake-safety findings at many nuclear plants because it has claimed that the tsunami, not the quake, crippled the Fukushima plant.

This could be a huge blow to the industry, as the report would show that all the nuclear power plants around the world that use the same technology are susceptible to similar catastrophic failure in the event of an earthquake. It's no wonder TEPCO tried to hide this fact.

Surely the United Nations' International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) would have ensured that there was accountability and honesty in the face of such a huge disaster. Unfortunately this does not seem to be the case. In March, Russian nuclear accident specialist Iouli Andreev said:

The IAEA should share blame for standards, he said, arguing it was too close to corporations building and running plants. And he dismissed an emergency incident team set up by the Vienna-based agency as "only a think-tank not a working force":
"This is only a fake organization because every organization which depends on the nuclear industry - and the IAEA depends on the nuclear industry - cannot perform properly.

It appears that the IAEA is biased and all too willing to help a corrupt industry that is more concerned with protecting their interests than the well being of people around the world. We shouldn't only be concerned with the health and wellbeing of people in Japan either. Today, the Medical Daily reported:

Study Connects U.S. Deaths to Fukushima, Contradicts EPA Reports
In the 14 weeks after Fukushima fallout arrived in the U.S., deaths reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention rose 4.46 percent from the same period in 2010, or roughly 14,000 deaths. The rise in reported deaths after Fukushima was largest among U.S. infants under age one. The 2010-2011 increase for infant deaths in the spring was 1.8 percent, compared to a decrease of 8.37 percent in the preceding 14 weeks.

The reason they've tried to cover up the amount of radiation released and the harm caused by the Fukushima disaster is that it questions the legitimacy of the entire nuclear power industry... an industry that appears to be without any impartial or proper oversight.

It's time to follow Germany's lead and close all nuclear power plants worldwide.

19 Dec 2011

Prick

Click image to enlarge

Decriminalizing marijuana

I realize that this post is somewhat redundant, being that John Key has said marijuana will not be decriminalized while he is Prime Minister. This position is somewhat idiotic... especially when you consider the following evidence concerning the overal benefits to society decriminalization would facilitate.

To clarify the boundaries of the discussion, I am not talking about decriminalization for youth and I am not claiming there are no adverse health effects... I am however taking an in-depth look at what decriminalization would mean for New Zealand based on evidence gathered here and abroad.

My goal is to present factual information to try and progress the current stagnated debate and remove some misconceptions concerning decriminalization. I should probably clarify that I'm a non-smoker and have no vested interest in seeing marijuana decriminalized.

Now that I have got the introduction out of the way... here's my argument on why marijuana should be decriminalized.
Mental health issues surrounding marijuana:

Some people have argued that marijuana causes mental ill-health in those who use it. This is perhaps the most important topic of discussion, being that 20% of adult New Zealanders will experience a mental health disorder. The question is does marijuana use result in mental ill-health or do people's pre-existing mental ill health lead to their drug and/or alcohol abuse?

Here’s what a few of the relevant studies say:


Summary: While at present there remains much that is not known about the causes of comorbidity, there is increasing evidence to suggest that simple causal hypotheses may not easily explain the association. There is a broad convergence of risk factors for both problematic substance use and mental disorders; a plausible hypothesis for the comorbidity between these disorders is that substance use and mental disorders (mood disorders, anxiety disorders, personality disorders and psychotic disorders) share common risk factors and life pathways. A number of longitudinal cohort and twin studies have explicitly examined this hypothesis and have concluded that common factors explain the comorbidity between alcohol, tobacco and cannabis use (Lynskey et al., 1998); dependence on different illicit drugs (Tsuang et al., 1998); alcohol and nicotine dependence (True et al., 1999); and nicotine dependence and major depression (Fergusson et al., 1996; K. Kendler et al., 1993).

Substance Use Among The Mentally Ill – Prevalence, Reasons for Use, and Effects on Illness (PDF Sorry, Pay-walled):

Substance use among a random sample of mentally ill, community-based patients was examined. Current use was found to have declined substantially from a high lifetime prevalence, and a family history of substance abuse was associated with moderate to heavy use. No association was found between heavy substance use and elevated psychopathology, hospitalization, or medication noncompliance. Hospital admissions and some symptoms were less prevalent among users preferring marijuana.

The question really does come down to a health issue… whereby those with a mental health condition who are using illicit drugs are less likely to come forward to seek proper medical assistance when a criminal conviction hangs over their heads. Decriminalization would alleviate this problem.

Conclusion: Marijuana activates reward centers in the brain, however it is not mentally addictive. Those who display an insatiable appetite for marijuana are probably suffering addictive personality disorder. Marijuana does not cause mental ill-health, however more people suffering from a mental health disorder self medicate with marijuana.


The effect of legal drugs on the use of illegal drugs:

If alcohol was an illegal drug, its classification under the Misuse of Drugs Act, using the new 2001 evidence-based criteria, would make it a class B drug. Alcohol has been demonstrated to have the harm equivalent of a Class B drug (High Risk to Public Health), which puts it in the same category as morphine, fantasy, ecstasy and d-amphetamine. Marijuana is a Class C drug.

Here’s the Institute of Alcoholic studies (2007) research into Alcohol and Mental Health (PDF):

A UK study (Cambridge and South Cambridgeshire) found the majority of patients presenting with first episode psychosis reported substance use. Reported substance use in this population was twice that of the general population. Cannabis and alcohol were the two most frequently reported forms of substance use/abuse, 51% of the sample meeting standard criteria for cannabis abuse/dependence and 43% meeting the criteria for alcohol abuse/dependence at some point in their life. 
American research suggests that overall, the prevalence of alcohol dependence is almost twice as high in those with psychiatric disorders as in the general population. One US study found that 19.9% of the general population had one or more psychiatric disorders, but in those with alcohol abuse or dependence the figure rose to 36.6%.

Therefore the symptomatic qualities for alcohol use by those with a predisposition to mental ill-health is relatively the same as marijuana... meaning those who have a predisposition to mental ill-health are just as likely to use alcohol to self medicate. The study continues:

The odds of being a smoker, a hazardous drinker or a drug user increase whenever one of the others co-exists. For example, heavy smokers have a twelve-fold increase in the odds of being drug dependent and those scoring above 16 on the AUDIT score a six-fold increase. However, age is also a major risk factor for drug dependence, with the youngest group having thirty-fold greater odds than the oldest group.

Conclusion: Reducing the availability of legal drugs by limiting outlets and increasing cost would also reduce people with a predisposition for mental ill-health to self medicate. This in turn would reduce the amount of consumption of marijuana and the negative social impact from problem users.

Drug education:

People with a predisposition for mental illness are more likely to have addictive personality disorder. Such afflictions usually develop well before people are introduced to alcohol or drugs. Programmes developed specifically to educate people about the risk of drug abuse are highly beneficial to society.

Here is what the Otago University study says:

In general, studies of drug education programmes have found these programmes to be most effective in increasing knowledge about the risks of drug abuse [79]. However this increased level of knowledge does not always translate in reductions of drug use behaviours [83]. An example of these issues has been provided by the evaluation of the US drug education programme Drug Abuse Resistant Education (DARE). This programme brings police officers into the class to educate young people about the risks of drug abuse. Evaluations have found that the programme is effective in increasing student knowledge but that the effects decrease with time and do not appear to alter later risks of drug abuse [85-89].

Conclusion: Increasing peoples knowledge reduces drug use, but without a continuation of early childhood education programmes, results decline over time. Decriminalization coupled with proper health and educational services reduces the amount of people self medicating and abusing drugs

The cost of keeping marijuana criminalized:

The latest Department of Corrections Annual Report (PDF) shows:

The total revenue spent for incarceration was $1,176,097,000. That works out to be $172,397.68 per year for each of the 6,822 prisoners for 2010/11. That’s also not the actual cost for Corrections with total taxpayer funds running at nearly $2.2 billion to 30 June.

Keep in mind that the 2.2 billion the taxpayer gave to the Department of Justice this year does not include Police or Court costs. Factor those into the lost productivity from restrictions placed on people who are prosecuted, the health consequences from people not coming forward to receive rehabilitation because of fear of prosecution, the cost to society because people undertake crime to be able to afford the $500 per ounce*, the cost to society because the gangs retain (often with violence) a major income stream that funds other crimes and the lost capital because it's not being taxed… and I think the financial side of the argument to decriminalize is settled.

*This might be an incorrect estimate of the current average price of marijuana.

Conclusion: The money saved from decriminalization can best be used for health and drug education, this would reduce overall consumption and therefore decrease the amount of young people being introduced to marijuana. A defined age limit would also help.

Decriminalization and consumption:

Some people have argued that decriminalization leads to increased consumption of marijuana. In fact South Australia's marijuana use increased from 26% to 36% after decriminalization.

However marijuana use has been increasing worldwide, which is the reason some places that have instigated decriminalization have shown increased usage of marijuana.

Here’s what the UN World Drug Report (15MB PDF) shows:

Global cannabis herb seizures increased over the 2006-2008 period (+23%), especially in South America, reaching levels last reported in 2004. Global cannabis resin seizures increased markedly over the 2006-2008 period (+62%) and clearly exceeded the previous peak of 2004. Large increases in cannabis resin seizures in 2008 were reported from the Near and Middle East region, as well as from Europe and Africa.

The 10% increase shown in South Australia is well below the worldwide increase of 23%. Here’s what New Zealand's Parliamentary Services says:

Decriminalization of cannabis in the Netherlands, Australia and the USA has not led to significant increases in cannabis use, but has led to law enforcement cost savings.

Conclusion: There is an overal reduction in consumption after decriminalization, especially when education and rehabilitation programs are also implemented.

Criminality and consumption:

The Massey University Conviction and Sentencing for Cannabis Use Offences in New Zealand report (PDF) shows:

In 1999 68.9% of people surveyed had tried cannabis by the age of 21... In 2011 80% of those aged 21 had tried cannabis.

Clearly the current laws are not working to reduce introduction or consumption of cannabis. The law is simply being ignored and costing us taxpayers many millions of dollars.


The presumed benefit of the criminalisation of cannabis possession is the deterrence of cannabis use. There is, however, little evidence of a strong deterrent effect. Substantial increases in marijuana use occurred in the 1960s and 1970s despite the application of criminal penalties for cannabis possession both in the U.S. (7, 23, 44) and in Australia (17). These trends in cannabis use do not constitute conclusive evidence regarding the lack of a deterrent effect, as it is not known whether rates of use might have increased even more if cannabis possession had not been prohibited. Nonetheless, it is noteworthy that nonusers rarely cite fear of legal consequences as a reason for their nonuse (34, 44). Rather, the simple lack of interest or fear of adverse health consequences are the most commonly given reasons for abstention from cannabis use (33, 44). There is no discernable trend in perceived availability of cannabis despite high levels of drug enforcement in the U.S. (30, 31, 52). Criminological research on the deterrence of other forms of deviant behaviour indicates that deterrence does not generally occur if the risk of detection and punishment is low. This is clearly the case with cannabis use (23). In Canada, which until the late 1980s had the highest per capita rates of arrest for cannabis possession in the world, it was estimated that less than one per cent of users and one tenth of one per cent of use incidents were detected by the police (33).
Thus, in both Australia and the United States, laws prohibiting cannabis possession entail considerable enforcement and social costs, yet they appear to have little impact on deterring cannabis use. In the 1970s 11 U.S. states enacted “decriminalisation” laws which reduced the penalties of cannabis possession to a fine only, and more recently, several jurisdictions in Australia have enacted similar measures. In 1987, South Australia introduced a “civil penalty” approach to minor cannabis offences (including personal use and cultivation), which involves the issuing of expiation notices or “on-the-spot” fines to detected offenders. In the 1990’s, the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory have followed with the introduction of similar expiation schemes. More recently, Victoria implemented a system of cautions for minor cannabis offenders in 1998 and Western Australia has since followed with a similar scheme. 
[...]
Impacts on patterns of cannabis use: The potential impact of the introduction of the expiation approach upon levels and patterns of cannabis use in South Australia has been assessed in several drug use surveys, with each analysis adding more recent data to the picture (eg, 11, 18, 19). None of the studies have found an increase in cannabis use in the South Australian community which is attributable to the introduction of the Cannabis Expiation Notice scheme. Lifetime use of cannabis did increase significantly in South Australia from 26% in 1985 to 36% in 1995, but similar increases were observed over the same period in jurisdictions with a total prohibition approach to cannabis, such as Victoria and Tasmania. Similarly, there was an Australia-wide increase in rates of weekly cannabis use over the ten year period from 1985 to 1995, and South Australia did not differ from the rest of Australia on this indicator (19). A comparative study of minor cannabis offenders in South Australia and Western Australia concluded that both the CEN scheme and the more punitive prohibition approach had little deterrent effect upon cannabis users (3). Offenders from both jurisdictions reported that an expiation notice or conviction had little or no impact upon subsequent cannabis and other drug use, and most subjects reported that even if they were caught again, they would not stop using the drug (3).
Conclusion: Keeping marijuana use a criminal offense does not reduce consumption.

A humanitarian reason to decriminalize marijuana:

The cannabinoid receptors that every human being has in their brains effects a number of physiologic systems, particularly beneficial for those who have ADHD, nausea and chronic pain. THC has even been shown to induce the regression or eradication of malignant brain tumors.

Marijuana is a medicine, and like many medicines some people choose to abuse it. Their abuse and peoples ignorance should not allow the medicine to be restricted.

Decriminalization allows people with serious illnesses like cancer and rheumatoid arthritis to use one of the best pain medications known to mankind.

Summary:

Decriminalization reduces adverse health consequences by allowing people to come forward without fear of criminal prosecution to get the medical assistance they require. The funds saved from decriminalization can better be spent on health and education programs, which in turn would reduce consumption of legal and illegal substances due to the comorbidity relationship.

18 Dec 2011

America is gone

15 Dec 2011

National's privatization propaganda

Today, Bill English and Tony Ryall, announced the Next steps in the mixed ownership programme:

“The Government has previously set a number of tests – including retaining majority Government control and significant participation by New Zealand investors who will be at the front of the queue for shares. The Treasury confirms these tests can be met.

They're lying. National has refused to release pertinent information about the asset sales to ONE News, who in August called in the Ombudsmen to investigate. On 22 November TVNZ reported:

Finally this morning, ONE News found out that despite claims that up to 90% of these assets will remain in New Zealand hands, the Treasury has not provided the Government with any detailed analysis on that aspect of the asset sales policy.
[...]
The response to the ONE News complaint reveals the Government has received very little official advice to back up some of its major claims about the asset sales programme.

For Nick Smith and Tony Ryall to again claim Treasury has confirmed that assets will remain in Kiwi hands is complete and unadulterated bullshit! So there is no real benefit for New Zealander's.

Even the International Journal of Contemporary Business Studies recently released study concludes (PDF), that privatisation is not necessarily beneficial:

We can’t say that privatization itself is good or bad. So many issues like macroeconomic stability, strengthening the financial system, liberalization, improved governance and deregulation which serve as an important base for its success especially in low-income countries, are served as prerequisite for successful privatization. This will generate a facilitating environment in which the private sector can effectively work. Nevertheless if we study in broader spectrum the role of the government is more critical and important after privatization because it has to serve as a regulator and this is more imperative and subtle.

National haven't announced any proper regulatory regime because to do so will push down potential profits. Absence of government control is shown to be hard to later introduce and will come at the expense of long term returns to the general public in the form of competition.

Here's what the International Monetary Fund's Fiscal and Macroeconomic Impact of Privatization paper (PDF) states:

Firms with monopoly power that are likely to be regulated only lightly should sell for a better price than those that will be more heavily regulated. However, artificially inflating the sale price by precommitting to a lax regulatory regime would lead to a higher price at sale at the expense of potentially large efficiency costs in the rest of the economy and lower social returns over time. Moreover, countries have sometimes found it difficult to implement adequate regulatory restrictions not put in place before the firms were sold.

Despite this fact, English and Ryall continue with their propaganda:

“The alternative is a lot more debt, which would need to be borrowed on nervous global financial markets at a time when many other countries are struggling with too much debt.

If the Minister of Finance was worried about more debt, why did he continue to borrow when it was not necessary? On June 9, Trevor Mallard asked Bill English a number of pertinent questions in the House of Representatives:

Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Labour) to the Minister of Finance: Does he believe that the Government should take a cautious approach to borrowing in light of “uncertainty and volatility in financial markets”?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance) : Yes. That is why we are committed to reducing our borrowing over the next 4 years.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Why is he then speculating on the fixed interest market by borrowing $100 million a week more than necessary?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: It has been on the advice of the Debt Management Office. Because conditions are favourable up until the end of this month, the Government is borrowing more than is strictly necessary for its cash requirements. This means that over the next couple of years we will be borrowing less than is strictly necessary, and in the current international environment I think that is a good thing.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Why is Treasury’s best estimate of the effect on the exchange rate and on jobs of this excessive borrowing?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: It has not given a specific estimate of that. The member may well know that Treasury is generally opposed to almost any borrowing whatsoever.

The OECD’s Statistical Annex (PDF) predicts New Zealand’s General government gross financial liabilities as a percentage of GDP to grow to 50% by 2013. That's an increase from $17 billion when National took over to an $80 billion mountain of debt by 2013.

Obviously New Zealand's dubious award for growing inequality the fastest of all OECD countries isn't enough for National... so expect them to implement further austerity measures once our assets are sold.

Legal liability for oil spills

Last week, Transport minister Steven Joyce said the cost of the oil cleanup from the Rena disaster hit $19.5 million... and he expects the cost, and the salvage operation, to continue for some months.

Over 350 tonnes of oil as well as other toxic chemicals spilled into the ocean from the grounded cargo ship Rena... in my opinion $19.5 million a vastly inaccurate figure concerning the true cost of the cleanup and salvage operation.

My reasoning is based on the recently released Institute for Maritime Studies report (PDF) that shows ship source pollution from 230 tonnes of bunker C oil would result in a likely cost of US$129.5 million or US$563,126 per tonne. That's over $171 million in NZ dollars.

Why the gross inaccurate costings concerning the Rena disaster?

The National Government failed to increase legal liability under the Bunker Convention, and liability for the Rena disaster is capped at $12.1 million. That means the New Zealand taxpayer will pay for any costs over and above that comparatively tiny cap.

Based on the Institute for Maritime Studies costings for oil spills from ships... that's potentially NZ$248 million above the liability cap. You can therefore see why Steven Joyce would want to minimize the cost, being that it was National's decision to ignore any proper legislation, even when they were alerted to the issue on many occasions.

The lack of any type of proper legal liability has created an oil and shipping industry predominated by cowboys. The environmental and financial consequences of the governments failure to ensure that safety is the top priority has resulted in legal action in Wellington's High Court.

Today, Radio NZ reported:

An iwi and Greenpeace have been awarded a judicial review of the Government's granting of a permit to explore for oil off the East Cape. 
Te Whanau-a-Apanui, Greenpeace and the Crown will put their cases at a defended hearing in the High Court in Wellington in June next year.
The eastern Bay of Plenty tribe and Greenpeace are seeking an order for the permit to be quashed on both environmental and Treaty of Waitangi grounds.

In my opinion, there are grounds to place a moratorium on all further oil drilling until environmental safety can be assured and the legal liability issue is sorted out... and I'm not the only one to think so.

In April, the Tennessee based Vanderbilt University published the study Deterring and Compensating Oil-Spill Catastrophes: The Need for Strict and Two-Tier Liability (PDF), that outlines a way forward:

Identifiable responsible party. The oil company that owns the lease and undertakes the drilling is fully responsible for all financial harms directly associated with the spill. This ensures that there is one party overseeing the whole process, a party who coordinates and monitors the actions of those beneath it. There is no separate liability for other firms involved in the drilling. Thus, for example, there is no joint and several liability under this system. The oil company can establish whatever contractual arrangements it wishes with other firms involved in the drilling operations, and the oil company in turn can recoup costs due to negligence or other specified behavior of its corporate partners based on whatever contractual arrangements it makes with them.
Strict Liability. The responsible party is strictly liable for all losses due to the spill. There is consequently no need to ascertain the appropriate level of care and whether the drilling operations met that level of care. Nor is there a need to evaluate the behavior of other partners in the drilling effort. The only informational requirement for implementing our liability proposal is to determine the amount of damages.  
Tax on noncompensable risk imposed. No corporation has sufficient resources to cover the most extreme potential losses from an accident. In the case of a mega-catastrophe, the government will pay significant amounts and/or losses will go uncompensated. The operator is essentially judgment proof for extreme accidents. Absent other arrangements, operators will therefore take excessive risks. To correct this propensity, the operator should pay a tax for the expected external losses imposed beyond the amount that it will be able to pay. 
Having this arrangement in place will allow operators to drill even if they do not have the resources to cover losses in excess of the BP Deepwater Horizon spill. This tax establishes what we term a tiered liability system when imposed in conjunction with liability for damages up to the cap specified in the demonstration of financial capacity.
Demonstration of financial capacity. The government should restrict deepwater oil drilling to firms that can demonstrate a combination of adequate financial resources, expected compensation from other participants, and insurance to cover the cost of catastrophic spills of the magnitude of the BP Deepwater Horizon spill.
The responsible party will be strictly liable for all damages up to its financial capacity. Although the financial capacity requirement will vary depending on the risky activity’s potential for harm, an appropriate amount for deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico might be $20 billion, which is the size of the fund that BP created at President Obama’s urging after the spill.
Damages. There are three components to our damages proposal. First, it will completely eliminate any cap on damages. (The statutory cap set by the Oil Pollution Act is currently a paltry US$75 million.) Second, it will eliminate all punitive damages for oil spills. Third, it will compensate only direct losses. The elimination of the damages cap coupled with our tiered-liability system will establish efficient incentives for safety.
Because catastrophic oil spills can be readily monitored by the government, the courts, and the public, additional punitive damages are not needed to establish the efficient level of care. Payments for financial and property damage losses are limited to losses the spill caused directly. More distant economic ramifications of these losses are not compensable.
Natural resource damages and restoration. For natural resource damages, the primary emphasis should be on restoration. Restoration should continue until the natural resource benefits of additional restoration no longer exceed their costs.
Recipient of net resource value losses. For any shortfall of the restoration from complete restoration, the oil company must pay the government for the natural resource damages it incurs. Such damages would also include losses for the period before a resource is restored. The government may choose to use these funds for further restoration at the site, for restoration elsewhere, for other environmental efforts, or for other purposes.
Regulatory complement. Liability should be coupled with a regulatory regime where the regulation of drilling activities is based on a comparison of the benefits and costs of these efforts, with the goal to maximize net benefits. Full adherence to regulatory standards would not protect a firm against damages from accidents.
Focused, net economic benefits. In assessing the benefits of deepwater oil drilling, there should be no additional premium accorded to the economic benefits associated with national security or employment effects beyond the assessed benefits for other less risky drilling activities or other sources of energy.
Any crediting of oil exploration of any kind with broader economic benefits to the economy must be done on a net benefit basis that also incorporates recognition of the environmental harms associated with the production and consumption of petroleum products, including the effect on global climate change.
Moratorium on all new deepwater drilling.  Until Congress adopts these proposals, the government should impose a moratorium on all new deepwater-drilling activities. Firms that accept strict liability, demonstrate adequate financial resources to pay for the costs of a major disaster, pay the tax for the expected damages beyond its financial capacity, and subject proposed drilling operations to a safety review should be exempted from the moratorium.
Although we tailored the proposals to oil drilling, they can be readily adapted to other contexts. Spills from oil tankers, such as the Exxon Valdez, represent an obvious extension. The hazards of nuclear reactors also represent an analogous situation of a low probability/catastrophic loss activity. 
Clearly, we would not extend our proposal to require that all economic activity have the tiered liability structure. But we would extend our proposal to situations in which the prospect of catastrophic losses is sufficiently prominent that legislative damages caps have been enacted. Oil drilling, oil transport, and nuclear power are among the most prominent economic activities that meet this test.

Some very well thought out and practical steps there to protect the environment. Viscusi and Zeckhauser have clearly shown that without proper legal liability for oil spills; the industry will continue to cut corners.

Unfortunately without legal action, the current National government will fail to even acknowledge that the system leads to an increased likelihood of "accidents" occurring because of insignificant financial liability.

This situation should be unacceptable to anybody who likes beaches and a bank balance in that's in the black.

Garth George the dinosaur

Today, Garth George wrote a stupid article for the NZ Herald in which he apparently quotes a couple of his mates:

"The Greens," he wrote, "are a serious threat to the sanctity of life ethic and the right to life of every person from conception to natural death. They are also a threat to the sanctity of marriage.

Allowing a woman the choice depending on their circumstances is hardly a threat to "the sanctity of life." Likewise allowing somebody who has reached the end of their life and is suffering to choose a dignified death is hardly usurping nature.

Only sadists expect others to suffer interminable pain, which in my opinion amounts to torture. Nature can often be very cruel... finding ways to alleviate that cruelty is what humanity is all about.

We should recognise that the long-term objective of the Greens is to reduce the world's population, creating a world in which nature is the dominant 'right' with humanity subservient to that 'deity'."

Allowing mankind to continue to dominate and procreate beyond the earths capabilities is a sure way to ensure our mutual destruction.

It's a no brainer really... either the worlds population stabilizes at seven billion and we work towards reducing the problems we already face or we continue to reproduce until resources fail to sustain us.

Coupled with the effects of climate change on crops and it's a recipe for unprecedented disaster. Perhaps he/she is untravelled and hasn't seen the overcrowding in other countries... it's awful!

Another mate of mine suggests that same-sex adoption is likely to be pushed by the Greens and Labour this term, but opposed by NZ First. The big question is whether National will resist this social engineering. The same applies to same-sex marriage.

I'm surprised that same sex marriages and adoption are illegal in New Zealand... especially considering the boost to the economy that arises from such legislative common sense.

New Zealand has certainly fallen well behind the progressive attitudes that resulted in us becoming the first self-governing country in the world in which all women had the right to vote in parliamentary elections.

As for the decriminalisation of abortion, Labour MP Steve Chadwick, who was championing this law change, lost her list seat at the election but we can expect that "cause" to be picked up by another Labour, or Green, MP.

George's "mate" seems to think that abortion was until recently a crime. However the Contraception, Sterilisation, and Abortion Act 1977 (PDF) says otherwise. Steve Chadwick was elected in 1999, 22 years after decriminalization. George's mate the dinosaur is obviously an idiot!

The article does get a little better though:

Among other matters which will be carefully watched is what the Government will do about the drinking age and the intolerable harm done by excessive alcohol consumption.

This will be back on the parliamentary agenda early next year but unfortunately last term's National-led government showed little will to deal with the obvious harms of alcohol abuse.

It has ignored many of the solutions put forward by the Law Commission after consulting extensively with the public, and far too many senior politicians are promoting a split drinking age that will send a mixed message and fail to acknowledge the harm alcohol does to the developing brains of teenagers.

I bet George doesn't realize that less than 10% of the heavy (problem) drinkers in New Zealand are under the age of 20. The heavy drinking culture is essentially an adult problem.

C'mon NZ Herald... surely you can do better?

UPDATE: Garth George plagiarized most of the article from some bigot called Ken Orr... what a hack!

The next 10 years will be very unlike the last 10 years

14 Dec 2011

Rural effluent delivery

Last Saturday, Rural Delivery reported that Taranaki farmers were already fencing around waterways before the Clean Streams Accord was introduced in 2003 and according to the Taranaki Regional Councils Director of Operations, Rob Phillips, the water quality in the area was "pretty good." Apparently there was a rigorous testing regime that ensured clean waterways. Yeah right!

Rural Delivery sung the praises of the industry with enough propaganda to make Goebbels cry. The misinformation from Director of Dairy NZ, Tim Mackle, who talked about a farmers warrant of fitness and code of compliance was particularly deplorable! Together they painted a rosy picture that everything was hunky dory in the world of dairy farming.

Today, Idiot/Savant blew their bullshit out of the water:

Farmers lie about dirty dairying
Every year, MAF produces an annual snapshot of progress (collected here), and every year it shows that farmers are slowly but surely fencing their waterways, complying with the RMA, and setting nutrient budgets. So we don't have a problem, right?
Wrong. That report is based on what farmers tell Fonterra assessors every year. And it turns out that they lie, overstating their compliance on excluding stock from waterways by 50%:
The Clean Streams Accord’s Snapshot of Progress claims that 84 percent of Fonterra dairy farms have fully fenced off all Accord-type waterways. However a technical report by MAF, also released today, reports that just 42 percent of farms had achieved complete stock exclusion from Accord waterways.(Link added) 
Which neatly explains why, despite annual snapshots showing regular progress, our lakes and streams get dirtier and dirtier. Our farmers are not committed to resolving this problem. They just tell the assessors whatever they want to hear, and continue on behaving in their old, polluting ways. Fonterra gets greenwash headlines, the government gets to pretend there is no problem, farmers make money at the expense of the rest of us... and our environment continues to be destroyed.


Back in May Tim Mackle said that the pollution in the Waituna Lagoon was not a result of effluent runoff from farms, totally ignoring the analysis done as part of the National Rivers Water Quality Network programme by the National Institute for Water and Atmospheric Science (Niwa) that showed diffuse pollution from land use (farming) is overwhelmingly the main cause of water quality degradation.


Keep in mind that dairy farmer's pay on average less tax than a couple of old age pensioners when you consider that the plants for remedial measures are being provided by the council. Since 1996 1.9 million free plants were provided to farmers in Taranaki. At an average cost of $2.50 per plant that works out to be $4.75 million of rates going directly to improving the privately owned properties of dairy farmers... and that's just the tip of the iceberg.

Despite the evidence being clear that farmers are to blame for 90% of waterways being unsafe to swim in, the Minister of Agriculture, David Carter effectively said that the tax payer will be footing the bill because it's a "national good."

It would be in the national interest that our waterways are cleaned up, but the cost for that clean up should not be fobbed off onto the general public... especially considering the tax avoidance farmers are currently engaging in.

The public is not discounted for that loss of clean water by cheaper milk prices... making the current situation a complete con job.

Heatley lies again

On 5 November, National's Housing Spokesman Phil Heatley, made a media release in which he states:

"Over the past three years, National has increased the overall State housing portfolio by more than 1000 homes and completed upgrades to tens of thousands of other homes, including insulation, clean heating and essential maintenance," says Mr Heatley.

However figures attained through the Official Information Act show that he's lying. Between 2008 and 2011 413 new houses were built. There were also 683 redevelopments (New houses on existing land). Only 537 of these new builds are attributable to National's governance. 256 houses were demolished.

The total vacant properties went from 1588 to 2059. That's an increase of 471 vacant state houses since National was elected in 2008.

In February, Phil Heatley said:

Since July 2008, Housing New Zealand Corporation (HNZC) has sold 24 properties worth more than $700,000 each, providing $19 million to be reinvested in less expensive housing.
[...]
Mr Heatley said HNZC had 186 properties valued at more than $700,000 in its portfolio - many of which were built on large sections in areas that were once cheap, but had become expensive and desirable.

Between 2008 and 2011 548 state houses were sold making on average $144,195 per sale. National is now planning to undertake further unpopular evictions to be able to sell or demolish more state houses.

256 demolished + 471 more vacant + 548 sold = 1275. Total new build since 2008 (including those arranged under Labour) = 1096. That's a grand total of 179 fewer houses being provided since National gained power.

13 Dec 2011

A blighted future

On 29 November, National announced a Boost in national preventive health:

Mr Ryall says these new national health target results demonstrate that the public health service remains fully committed to delivering better care for patients.

The Ministry of Health made a number of claims in their Health Target propaganda (PDF) that paints a rosy picture about the wellbeing of New Zealander's.

Meanwhile in the real world, third world diseases are becoming more prevalent than ever before.

Today, the Otago Daily Times reported:

AN ESCALATING level of reported cases of whooping cough has Tairawhiti public health officials worried. 
“In the past month we have seen 15 cases of whooping cough notified to Public Health. 
“At the same time last year we had no cases at all,” says Tairawhiti District Health medical officer of health, Dr Geoffrey Cramp. 
Whooping cough — also known as pertussis — causes a cough that usually lasts longer than two weeks. A whooping sound on breathing in gives the condition its name. 
The cough can cause young babies to stop breathing for a short time and turn a dusky blue colour.

Thanks to the insane policies of consecutive National governments, we now have the fastest growing inequality of all OECD countries.

Is this what John Key meant by a brighter future... children getting third world diseases in what used to be a first world country? It's shameful!

Oil On Canvas

Blinking Slater

Speaking on Breakfast TV this morning Cameron Slater was going on about getting a couple of things wrong this year and posting an apology or retraction.

I don’t recall Slater ever apologising or posting a retraction for his numerous inaccuracies and illegal hate speech. In fact doing so would go against his numero uno rule that explaining is losing.

When Slater said he wanted Arie Smith-Voorkamp to be "gut-shot and left to die" and "hung, drawn and quartered" prior to us learning of his Asperger's syndrome and compulsive disorder to steal light bulb fittings… there was no apology.


Did you notice his body language? The blink blink after he knew he was lying. What a douche bag!

11 Dec 2011

Karl Du Fresne - Asshole of the Week Award

It appears that the right wingers didn't like the documentary Inside Child Poverty all that much. There has even been a formal complaint to the Electoral Commission about the program. They're obviously a bit ticked off that the excellent doco told the truth so close to an election.

The hour long program was made by Bryan Bruce and highlighted the growing use of food banks, increasingly mouldy damp houses, and rising medical and electricity bills.

This information is nothing new to those who work at the coal face of the poverty problem, with Auckland City Missioner Diane Robertson saying:

"Here at the mission, we are seeing more and more families coming to us in desperate need, with children who are not being fed, clothed or housed adequately, and who are not receiving adequate medical care."

Despite the many promises of consecutive governments, nothing has been done to address our growing impoverishment. Confirmation of worsening inequality came earlier this month in the form of an OECD report that showed inequality in New Zealand has grown the fastest out of all OECD countries. On Wednesday, the NZ Herald reported:

"There is nothing inevitable about high and growing inequalities. This study dispels the assumption that the benefits of economic growth will automatically trickle down to the disadvantaged," said OECD secretary-general Angel Gurria.
[...]
The income gap was also widened further by tax and benefit changes which have become less redistributive in most countries since the 1990s. Income taxes on the rich have been lowered, and welfare benefits for the poor have been cut.

That's why it's so disgusting to see some of the misinformed articles that came out against the documentary. The worst of these was written by Karl Du Fresne and appeared in the Dominion Post last Tuesday. Here's a paragraph from the hateful article called Documentary misses the mark on NZ child poverty:

This was a disgracefully simplistic, emotionally manipulative programme, but fortunately not everyone was fooled. This newspaper published letters from people who had grown up in state houses and pointed out that the mould Bruce was so appalled by in some of the homes he visited could be avoided simply by proper ventilation in other words, opening windows.

The answer is not for people who have mould in the houses they rent to open the windows in winter, as this will do nothing to reduce mould once it's established.

Considering that another OECD report showed New Zealand rentals were overpriced by 43%, and a recent BRANZ study found 59% of NZ houses are not maintained properly, the answer is for the landlords to remove the mould and ensure houses are safe to reside in, not to blame people trapped in poverty for their predicament.

For his blame the victim mentality and hateful bigotry, Karl Du Fresne has effectively won himself an Asshole of the Week Award.

Charter school surprise

There is something very wrong about announcing a major policy just after the election. People weren't given a chance to make a decision based on proposed policy, which in some ways is even worse than a broken election promise.

Being that National's coalition deal with Act is being used as an excuse for the delayed charter school announcement, one would expect that John Banks had informed us about their plans prior to the election.

However this was not the case, with the only (woefully lacking in detail) announcement coming after the coalition deal was signed. Here's Act's charter school policy announcement made over a week after the election:

The provision to set up a trial charter school system - under sections 155 (Kura Kaupapa Maori) and 156 (designated character schools) of the Education Act – for disadvantaged communities, specifically in areas such as South Auckland and parts of Christchurch where educational underachievement is most entrenched.  A private sector-chaired implementation group will be established to develop the proposal for implementation in this parliamentary term.

Act is claiming that legislation already exists that has given the government a mandate to set up a trial charter school system. Let's have a look at exactly what the legislation states:

156 Designated character schools
  • (1) Subject to subsection (2), the Minister may, by notice in the Gazette when establishing the school, designate a State school as a designated character school
  • (2) The Minister shall not establish a school as a designated character school unless satisfied that—
  • (a) the parents of at least 21 people who would, if the school were established, be entitled to free enrolment there, want the school to be established; and
  • (b) the parents want the school to have a character that is in some specific way or ways different from the character of ordinary State schools; and
  • (c) the parents have given the Minister a clear written description and explanation (expressed in the form of aims, purposes, and objectives for the school) of the way or ways; and
  • (d) students at a school with such a character would get an education of a kind that—
  • (i) differs significantly from the education they would get at an ordinary State school; and
  • (ii) is not available at any other State school that children of the parents concerned can conveniently attend; and
  • (e) it is desirable for students whose parents want them to do so to get such an education.

Not only did they fail to announce their intentions to start a trial charter school system before the election, it appears that their policy is in breach of the Education Act 1989, being that the minister could not be satisfied that the parents of 21 students wanted a charter school because there was no time given to seek that approval.

It also appears that the Education Act does not give provision for schools that already exist to be changed into charter schools... so unless National and Act are prepared to ignore or retrospectively change the Education Act, they currently have no mandate for charter schools, even on a trial basis.

But let's just put that fact aside for now, as I'm sure National and Act will ignore the law as it is written. What about the supposed benefits of charter schools? Here's what the in-depth Standford University study (PDF) into Charter School performance in 16 US states concludes:

Executive Summary
The group portrait shows wide variation in performance. The study reveals that a decent fraction of charter schools, 17 percent, provide superior education opportunities for their students.  Nearly half of the charter schools nationwide have results that are no different from the local public school options and over a third, 37 percent, deliver learning results that are significantly worse than their student would have realized had they remained in traditional public schools.

That means on average charter schools are 20% worse than publicly funded schools. Clearly on the basis of previous experience there is no good argument for implementation.

Couple this with there being no electoral or parental mandate under the Education Act 1989, and the government is once again trying to force what is already an unpopular policy down peoples throats without any semblance of a mandate.

Have they learnt nothing from the implementation failure that is National Standards?