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Archive for August, 2011

Dicing with disaster?

31 August 2011 4 comments

National today announced new rules and regulations regarding oil and gas exploration in our coastal waters…

Listen to more on Nine to Noon

Hekia Parata, Acting Minister of Energy and Resources

And yet, it was only last year that the worst oil spill in history occurred in the Gulf of Mexico, threatening marine and coastal wildlife; local fishing industries; jobs; tourism; and costing billions in lost productivity and clean-up…

As a reminder what went down in the Gulf of Mexico, let’s not forget that there is no reason whatsoever that the same could not happen here, in our country…

BP Oil Spill Live Coverage Showcased by Google Earth

Further economic, environmental, commercial, and human consequences of the oil spill.

If an oil spill of similar magnitude and severity hit our coast, we would not have the same resources to effect a clean-up, as our American cuzzies did. And somehow, this just doesn’t sound right,

I hope to god that the powers-that-be know what they’re doing. The consequences of a disaster could make the Christchurch earthquakes look like an entree.

Sloppy Journalism 101

30 August 2011 4 comments

How to be a sloppy journalist…

NZ Herald journalist Derek Cheng writes about National’s planned “welfare reforms” on 14 August. Mr Cheng writes,

“The Government will limit how 16 and 17-year-old beneficiaries and 18-year-old teen parents can spend the state’s money to ensure they are not buying items such as alcohol or cigarettes…”

Mr Cheng continues in the same vein, a little later on,

“* money for basic living costs like food and groceries will be loaded onto a payment card that can only be used to buy certain goods and cannot be used to buy things like alcohol and cigarettes…”

That’s all very well and good… but it’s already illegal for 16 and 17 year olds to purchase alcohol and tobacco products.

Why has Mr Cheng not pointed this out in his article?

National’s policy release has been barely challenged by the mainstream media (MSS) and sounds as if 16 and 17 year olds are freely  purchasing tobacco and liquor in this country. They may well be.  But it is not dependent on whether or not under 18s are beneficiaries.

In fact, it could be argued that 16 and 17 year olds on a Living Alone Allowance are less likely to be able to afford expensive cigarettes and booze.

The Independent Youth Benefit rate (as at 1 April 2011) is $167.83 per week – NETT.

That’s right folks, that’s what this is all about: $167.83 a week. Out of that, a young person living independently has to pay board, food, clothing, transport, power, phone, and other outgoings.

That doesn’t leave much for boozing and fagging much, does it?

Yet, Mr Cheng ignores all this and simply parrots National Party policy, without any critical analysis whatsoever.

This is simply unacceptable. It brings to mind government-owned newspapers such as “Pravda” and “Izveztia” from the now-defunct Soviet Union. These newspapers were nothing more than mouthpieces for the Soviet Communist Party. they had as much to do with critical, investigative reporting – as Vegans have to raising cattle and lamb for supermarkets.

Perhaps the Herald should re-brand as “The New Zealand Government Herald“? Or simply, “The State Mouthpiece“?

Because that is what it seems to be evolving into.

As usual, the three Golden Rules to apply to the MSS are,

  1. Don’t believe everything you read, see, and hear.
  2. What am I not being told?
  3. Will it sell advertising?

That was Then, this is Now #6

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National Party policy quote: http://tinyurl.com/6zm3mo2

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Previous Blog post

That was Then, this is Now #5

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ACT List candidate mystery – solved?

29 August 2011 4 comments

 

It’s obvious really, why  List Spot #3 is vacant…

 

 

ACT will be selling that position on Trademe. (Minimum bid; $1. Buy now price; $5)

 

 

 

 

Greed is good?

28 August 2011 50 comments

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As we look back on the last 25 years of neo-liberal “reforms”, including User Pays; the canning of “Labour’s” superannuation savings plan in 1975 (by Muldoon – after being elected into office with his infamous “Dancing Cossacks”  TV ad); and National’s continuing high popularity in the polls, despite their avowed proposal to sell-down 49% of several State assets,  – it seems abundantly clear who has been  pulling the “strings”.

No, it’s not Washington. Nor the Bilderbergers. Nor the UN/New World Order/Illuminati.

The answer is mind-numbingly far more prosaic:  it’s us – the Baby Boomer generation. The 1960s and 1970s rebellious youth  weren’t just an “aberration” – they were a clear signal that the Baby Boomers had arrived; could be inclined to  incredible selfishness (hence the term the “Me Generation”); and we voted individually for personal gain – on a collective basis.

Yep. We have seen the “enemy” – and it’s us; graying; self-centered; resentful of the young (who we’ve well and truly shafted);  and looking back at ourselves in the mirror, wondering where it all went wrong.

The case of  Surgeons Ian Penny and Gary Hooper, who tried to rort the tax system using Trusts  and companies – even though they had graduated BEFORE student loans and fees were implemented in 1992 – is the clearest example ever of our collective unbridled selfishness.

To re-cap;

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A court battle is over for two surgeons who challenged Inland Revenue over claims they tried to avoid tax bills worth tens of thousands of dollars.

The Supreme Court has ruled unanimously against Ian Penny and Gary Hooper, saying they underpaid themselves from their own businesses to avoid the top personal tax rate.

The issue arose after the previous Labour-led Government raised the top personal tax rate to 39%, compared to the company rate which was then 33%.

The orthopaedic surgeons openly paid themselves a lower salary than the market rate, arguing that they had a choice about how they operated their business.

They tried to challenge a Court of Appeal decision that found in favour of Inland Revenue, which said the surgeons had paid themselves salaries too small to be commercially realistic.

It said they were therefore able to avoid paying the top tax rate, while the balance of their businesses’ profits went as dividends to family trusts.

The trusts funded items such as a loan for one surgeon, and a holiday home for the other.

Inland Revenue said using those business structures to create artificially low salaries amounted to tax avoidance, saving each man between $20,000 and $30,000 a year for three years, beginning in 2002.

Supreme Court Justice Blanchard on Wednesday delivered a judgement supporting that argument, ordering Mr Penny and Mr Hooper to pay Inland Revenue $25,000 in court costs.

Mr Hooper told [Radio New Zealand ]Checkpoint the court has created a salary benchmark that is higher than the one countless private practitioners have been using.

He says they have been following Inland Revenue advice and calculating their salaries based on public hospital rates.

An Inland Revenue deputy commissioner welcomed the ruling, telling Checkpoint it clearly states and reaffirms what the department’s commissioner felt was the case all along. Carolyn Tremain says IRD has yet to fully absorb the implications and consequences of the ruling.

PricewaterhouseCoopers John Shewan, who appeared as a witness for the surgeons, said the case is important for individuals and firms. He said tens of millions of dollars may now be claimed by Inland Revenue from cases it still has open on this matter.

Source:  Radio New Zealand

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Specifically,

Surgeons Ian Penny and Gary Hooper set up companies, owned indirectly through trusts, to buy their surgical services and paid themselves artificially low salaries.

After 2000, Hooper’s personal income fell from $650,000 to $120,000 a year. Penny’s dropped from $302,000 to $125,000, and then to $100,000, while the income of their companies grew.

Source:  Dominion Post

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What makes this case of case of tax avoidance stand out is that none of it was ever necessary in the first place.

Dr Ian Penny received his Bachelor of Medicine Bachelor (MB ChB) of Surgery from Otago University in 1981.  He became a Fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons in 1990.

Dr Gary Hooper received his Bachelor of Medicine Bachelor (MB ChB) of Surgery  from Otago University in 1978 and became a Fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons in 1985.

In simple terms, they graduated as doctors in the late ’70s and early ’80s. Tertiary education then was still nominally free. Plus,  student allowances were available to most students,

“Up until 1992, nearly every student (86.4 percent) studying at a public tertiary education institution in New Zealand received a living allowance or grant while they studied.

 Prior to the mid 1970s, student support was based on a system of bursaries and scholarships. In 1976, a new system of government-funded tertiary bursaries was introduced. This included a study or living costs grant that was available to most students.”

Source: NZUSA

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Student fees and student loans came into effect in 1992, during the Bolger-led National Government, when Ruth Richardson was Minister of Finance (and coincidentally the same year that Shortland Street came on air).

In simpler terms, Dr Penny and Dr Hooper enjoyed the benefit of near-free tertiary education before fees were raised in 1992. They had no student loans to repay, as  medical students currently do, and may well have benefitted from receiving a Student Allowance.

Contrast their free tuition with that of medical students, in the 21st Century:  “on average medical students will graduate with around $80,000 of debt and nearly 90% will have a student loan“, according to the  New Zealand Medical Students’ Association in April, last year.

So with a free education; in receipt of student allowances; and no student loan; Dr’s Penny and Hooper were, as Revenue Minister Peter Dunne stated;

… the important thing about this decision is to bear in mind the scale of what was happening. This wasn’t people minimising their income because they were reinvesting in their business. This was people minimising their income because they were actually minimising their tax liability but still enjoying the full benefits of the income they were in reality earning.

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So not only did these gentlemen benefit from a free education – but they were now minimising their income because they were actually minimising their tax liability [whilst] still enjoying the full benefits of the income they were in reality earning.”

God, you’ve no idea how sick this incident has  made me.  Let me explain why.

Prior to the introduction of “Rogernomics” in 1984 (and National’s addition from 1990 onward),  education in this country had been free (or as close as possible to free) to nearly all New Zealanders. Education whether at Primary School or University was funded by the previous generation; our Mums & Dads; Grandmothers & Grand dads. The idea was terribly simple; education was a right, and not to be determined by ability to pay.

In turn, as we graduated from schools and Universities, we – my generation, the “Baby Boomers” – were to fund our children through their education, through our taxes.

Except, it did not quite happen that way.

In 1984 we unknowingly elected a Labour Government that had been taken over by a secret cabal of neo-liberals, conservatives, and proponants of the Free Market. A raft of  radical changes were implemented throughout the economy and impacting directly on society.

Despite public objection; mass protests; and even vocal opposition from within the Government by some Labour MPs such as Jim Anderton, Labour was re-elected in 1987.  Curiously, they had increased their majority from 55 to 57.

During Labour’s two terms (1984 to 1990), they cut taxes twice, and implemented a new tax in 1986, called GST.

National followed, implementing User Pays in tertiary education whilst  cutting taxes in 1996 and 1998.

In 2008, despite evidence that the world was plunging into a global recession, John Key promised that National would again cut taxes. As New Zealand went into deep recession; unemployment rose; businesses closed down – National cut taxes in April 2009 and October last year.

Most of the public, it seems, will swallow User Pays if they stand to reap a benefit from tax cuts.

The social contract therefore, was well and truly broken between our (the Baby Boomers) generation, and our parents/grandparents.

We had taken their gift – that of free education which they had paid for – but we decided not to pass it on to our children. Instead, we accepted one tax cut after another. And social services were either cut or User Pays applied, to pay for those tax cuts.

To my generation of fellow Baby Boomers, I say this; we’ve well and truly  shafted our own children. We denied them the very same opportunities of a free education that our parents had bequeathed to us. Instead, we voted ourselves seven  hefty tax-cuts; instigated User Pays; and left our children saddled with $13.9 billion in student debt.

Is it any wonder that our children our leaving New Zealand in greater and greater numbers? They’re not just emigrating to seek better paying jobs – they’re sticking it to us for our unmitigated greed. Whether consciously or sub-consciously, our children realise what our generation has wrought, and by god, they are not happy.

No doubt there are some folk who will cheer on Drs Penny and  Hooper. These people  feel that paying taxes is “unfair” and that it is unreasonable for the State to take the money that they have worked hard for.

Perhaps I should take a moment to remind these people what their taxes were, and in many cases  are still, used for…

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Inter-island Ferry, Aramoana

Dams and other power generation projects

Our first television broadcast system

Roading and highways

Hospitals

University education

Dental care for our Children

Our Police and justice system

Railways and other public transport

Schools

State Housing

Infrastructure such as power transmission lines

Social welfare and superannuation

Bridges

Postal and telecommunications systems

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Many of these assets no longer reside in public ownership – but they were originally built and maintained by previous generations of taxpayers; our parents, grandparents, et al.

As the Baby Boomer generation, what have we built and left our children?

$13.9 billion in student debt?

No wonder they are departing our shores…

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But I leave the last word to this expat Kiwi, now living in Australia,

A Victorian-based Kiwi with a student loan debt, who did not want to be named because he did not want to be found by the Government, said he did not intend to pay back any of his student loan.

The 37-year-old’s loan was about $18,000 when he left New Zealand in 1997. He expected it was now in the order of $50,000. The man was not worried about being caught as the Government did not have his details and he did not want to return to New Zealand.

“I would never live there anyway, I feel just like my whole generation were basically sold down the river by the government. I don’t feel connected at all, I don’t even care if the All Blacks win.

“I just realised it was futile living [in New Zealand] trying to pay student loans and not having any life, so I left. My missus had a student loan and she had quite a good degree and she had paid 99c off the principal of her loan after working three years.”

Source: Dominion Post

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Further Reading

Greed of boomers led us to a total bust

New Zealand’s wealth gap widens

Over-55s own most of NZ’s wealth

 

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High milk prices? Well, now we know why…

26 August 2011 2 comments

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I guess this explains why milk, other dairy products, tomatoes, etc,  are so expensive.

And the Minister for Agriculture, David Carter, can save taxpayers the expense of a Parliamentary inquiry into why milk is so expensive here in NZ…

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I guess it wasn’t such a bright idea to allow supermarkets to buy each other up, until we had only two, nation-wide chains remaining. Duopolies are not noted for promoting competition and keeping prices down.

New Zealand’s supermarket duopoly:

Progressive Enterprises

Foodstuffs

Chalk up yet another cock-up for the free market, unregulated economy?

I think so.

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+++ Updates +++

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Parliament’s Commerce Select Committee inquiry into milk prices gets under way,

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Full Story

Full Story

Full Story

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Related issues

Why did the fat kiwi cross the road?

Hey, People! Leave our kids alone!

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Silly Idea # 341,907,774

26 August 2011 56 comments

Floating cities: PayPal billionaire plans to build a whole new libertarian colony off the coast of San Francisco

  • Ocean state would have no welfare, no minimum wage, and few restrictions on weapons
  • Platforms would house 270 people and hundreds could eventually join together

PayPal-founder Peter Thiel was so inspired by Atlas Shrugged – Ayn Rand’s novel about free-market capitalism – that he’s trying to make its title a reality.

The Silicon Valley billionaire has funnelled $1.25million to the Seasteading Institute, an organisation that aspires to launch a floating colony into international waters, freeing them and like-minded thinkers to live by libertarian ideals.

Mr Thiel recently told Details magazine: ‘The United States Constitution had things you could do at the beginning that you couldn’t do later. So the question is, can you go back to the beginning of things? How do you start over?’

Life on the ocean wave: A design for one of the floating cities which Peter Thiel wants to start constructing next year off the coast of San Francisco

Green land: An aerial view of the city, complete with landcaped gardens. Mr Thiel believes many of the islands could eventually be joined together

Design for living: This island even has a high-level helicopter pad. The cities would be constructed on oil-rig like terminals

The floating sovereign nations that Mr Thiel imagines would be built on oil-rig-like platforms anchored in areas free of regulation, laws, and moral conventions.

The Seasteading Institute says it will ‘give people the freedom to choose the government they want instead of being stuck with the government they get’.

Mr Theil, the venture capitalist who famously helped Facebook expand beyond the Harvard campus, called Seasteading an ‘open frontier for experimenting with new ideas for government’.

After making his first investment in the project in 2008, Mr Thiel said: ‘Decades from now, those looking back at the start of the century will understand that Seasteading was an obvious step towards encouraging the development of more efficient, practical public sector models around the world.

‘We’re at a fascinating juncture: the nature of government is about to change at a very fundamental level.’

Light city: Peter Thiel called the project, Seasteading, an ‘open a frontier for experimenting with new ideas for government’

Mr Thiel and his colleagues say their ocean state would have no welfare, looser building codes, no minimum wage, and few restrictions on weapons.

Mr Thiel said: 'the nature of government is about to change at a very fundamental level'

Aiming to have tens of millions of residents by 2050, the Seasteading Institute says architectural plans for a prototype involve a movable, diesel-powered structure with room for 270 residents.

The long-term plan would be to have dozens and eventually hundreds of the platforms linked together.

Patri Friedman, a former Google engineer who is working on the project told Details that they hope to launch a flotilla of offices off the San Francisco coast next year.

‘Big ideas start as weird ideas,’ Mr Friedman said.

He predicted that full-time settlement will follow in about seven years.

But while some Ayn Rand acolytes may think the idea is brilliant, it’s not without its critics.

Margaret Crawford, an expert on urban planning and a professor of architecture at Berkeley, told Details: ‘it’s a silly idea without any urban-planning implications whatsoever.’

Big ideas: A close-up of how one of the islands could look. The billionaire founder of Paypal has invested $1.25million to create a floating island utopia

Mr Thiel told an audience at the Seasteading Institute Conference in 2009 that: ‘There are quite a lot of people who think it’s not possible.

‘That’s a good thing. We don’t need to really worry about those people very much, because since they don’t think it’s possible they won’t take us very seriously. And they will not actually try to stop us until it’s too late.’

I fully support founding such a colony. In fact, I’ll donate $100 for a (one way) ticket for Don Brash to migrate there.

I’ve suggested – on several occassions – that neo-liberals who want to live in a free-market, minimalist government, zero-tax, user-pays society have just such a country to migrate to: Somalia.

Somalia is perfect and meets their criteria in every respect.

Of course, as part of user-pays, they would have to pay for their own security; their own private police force. And why shouldn’t they? After all, why should other taxpayers pay for protection of someone elses’ property, in a User Pays nirvana?

Strangely enough, as far as I’m aware, no neo-lib has ever taken up my offer.

And stranger even still, neo-libs seem to prefer living in New Zealand; a country built on collective efforts by it’s citizens to build up every aspect of present day society; electricity sector, education, railways, health, roading, police, bridges, libraries, etc. Even telecommunications, airlines, and television started off as tax-payer funded services. All paid by our taxes.

Private enterprise was focused on providing citizens with supermarkets, clothing, shoes (once upon a time), and other consumer goods. It was a good balance.

“Mr Thiel and his colleagues say their ocean state would have no welfare, looser building codes, no minimum wage, and few restrictions on weapons.”

No minimum wage? But… who would clean their toilets?

No building codes? On a free-standing oceanic city? Oh, I can see that working… not.

Few restrictions on weapons. I can see gun nuts loving that. Including gentlemen like Anders Behring Breivik, David Gray, Martin Bryant, et al.

Call me cynical, but I doubt if Peter Thiel’s  ‘Seasteading’ project will succeed. For one thing, human nature is involved – and as we all know, human nature can be a bugger of a thing to deal with.

Secondly, what happens if Thiel’s ‘island’ gets in trouble? Perhaps struck by a hurricane? Will the Seasteaders expect rescue from the international community? And will they be willing to PAY for assistance? (User pays, of course.)

The article further states,

“The Seasteading Institute says it will ‘give people the freedom to choose the government they want instead of being stuck with the government they get’.”

Uh oh. That sounds perilously close to that pesky concept popularly know as “de-mo-cra-cy”. Damned dangerous, that “de-mo-cra-cy”. What happens if, in time, the population of ‘Seastead’ elect a government that is more interventionist?

Will Thiel then build another libertarian community? To get away from the first ‘Seastead’, taken over over “leftists”?

Personally, I think Somalia would still be a cheaper option.

Let’s be honest here, though.

This is about one thing: money. Thiel wants to keep as much of his money as possible and not pay taxes.  There may be other, immensely wealthy individuals, who feel lifewise.

Well, I say “good luck” to them. Let them set up their little sovereign “Island State”. Let them learn the hard way that a functioning, balanced,  society involves more than just having a bloated bank balance. A dynamic society is a collection of mutually supporting groups and individuals – not just a handful of wealthy people.

My guess is that this little “Profit Paradise” will not last long. Nor will it be self-sufficient. And, the inhabitants will still want to spend (most of) their time on the US mainland, socialising, doing business, and all the other things that the rest of us enjoy.  Their Island State will be nothing more than a taxation “bolthole”; a floating bank account.

And herein lies the dishonesty of such an idea.

But if billionaires want to spend their entire lives on such an Island, and not leave, then they are welcome to it.  Imagine being forced to live your life in one little area; never leaving; and associating only with others of your ilk.

It’s called “prison”.

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