Thursday, June 28. 2012
In the ongoing Dotcom saga there have been a number of rather disturbing behaviours by the police and the Crown (although in fairness, I doubt the police are wildly enthusiastic about this particular waste of their time), but the most disturbing is contained in this judicial rebuttal to Crown arguements:
The Crown is appears to be arguing that when considering extradition proceedings the courts have no business questioning the validity of the warrants and the foreign judicial process obtaining it. I don’t want to be judicially murdered in Saudi Arabia if I make fun of Islam, or dumped in a Bangkok prison for a decade if I’m rude about the Thai royal family. The idea that the Crown are advancing, that New Zealand citizens should be extradited no-questions-asked to any foreign kangaroo court with no consideration, is a frankly terrifying position. I’m appalled the New Zealand government of the day is so desperate to do anything the FBI ask it would advance such a position.
Wednesday, July 20. 2011
A decade and a half ago I worked for a Murdoch-owned publisher, and my time there has left my quite astonished at a number of the opinions and facts that have come forth over the last week; I only want to address one of them here, however, not least because I feel comfortable I can do so without any breach of my professional ethics.
One of the more extraordinary spectacles for me has been watching Rupert Murdoch, one of his sons, and Rebekah Brooks deny that they had any knowledge of corrupt or illegal practises in various portions of the Murdoch empire, and theat payments, alleged to run to tens or hundreds of thousands of pounds, had somehow slipped under the collective radar. Why so extraordinary? Well, in that past life, I had a number of responsibilities, and one of them was ensuring a fortnightly report ran correctly. That fortnightly report containted the financial details for the performance of the papers, and it was delivered to the then-owning interest of our parent company, in the form of “Uncle Rupert”; if the report didn’t appear promptly, there would be a query from Uncle Rupert himself. If the numbers looked odd, there would be a personal call for a please explain.
Was this the Sun? News of the World? No, it was Wellington Newspapers, then publishing a couple of daily newspapers which between them managed a circulation of less than 150,000 people in the second-biggest city in New Zealand. I don’t know if we were the tiniest part of the Murdoch empire, but we were certainly a bloody small bit of it. And yet if I fucked up that report, my GM would be explaining to Murdoch where his financial reporting was.
You can understand my incredulity that in less than a decade Rupert Murdoch has gone from a man who tracks financial irregularities with his smallest properties to a man who doesn’t notice that his reporters are expensing thousands of pounds for bribes; from a day-to-day life where sign-off might be required at the GM level for something as simple as a couple of new camera lenses to one where it would be routine to hire private investigators for story after story.
An extraordinary change indeed.
Sunday, June 19. 2011
The better part of a decade back I was chatting to a bike mechanic about the way Yamaha and Subaru’s use of security dot systems—which spray scannable microdots into the undercoats that cover almost every metal part of a car or motobike—had apparently reduced the rate of theft in their newer model bikes and cars from “most stolen” to “barely ever”; he explained to me that this was simply that most thefts are by professional thieves; he could tell you off the top of the head which wreckers were fencing, in whole or in part, parts from stolen cars and bikes, and that’s where the money was. If you worked in the industry any length of time, apparently, you got a good feel for how many “second hand” spares had more to do with five-finger discounts.
Continue reading "Off the Piss"
Sunday, October 24. 2010
Remember Investigate magazine? A few years ago it seemed like you couldn’t go more than a week or two without seeing Investigate-sourced stories all over the mainstream press.
To describe Ian Wishart’s articles as merely eccentric would be an act of supreme politeness; the nadir for me was the period in which he was exposing what he alleged cabal of lesbians around Helen Clark, with all the outraged glee of a Father Coughlin or Henry Ford speaking of Jewish conspiracies, before the Holocaust made that unfashionable.
(In my darker moments I comapre the language and tone of commentary around homosexuality that permeates the American religious right, and bleeds into our own discourse with that of the similarly socially acceptable anti-semitism of the pre-WW II Western world, and find myself with the none-to-comforting thought that Germany was a place Jews fled to, not from in the late 19th and early 20th century. The parallels are disturbing.)
Investigate’s status as a go-to source for stories hostile to Labour in general and Clark personally was notable at the time; not so much for the stories themselves, but the sudden weight they had assumed in the national press. More remarkable still is their sudden disappearance; with the change in the party of government, it seems, Investigate is no longer interesting as a source of stories that can be quoted, but are too biased or flat-out insane to run under the banner of the papers themselves.
Friday, October 22. 2010
When people say, “Avatar had $50 million in subsidies” it conjures up a particular image: Joe Taxpayer ladling $50 million to a bunch of film moguls. It’s understandable, not least because it’s how things like SMPs used to work, but it’s not true. Subsidies are many and varied; I can think of at least three major types off the top of my head:
The aforementioned subsidy for film production is a great example of this; film-makers get a break on their taxes in New Zealand. The thing is that when people toss around the idea that these cost something in a direct form they’re being, charitably, economically illiterate. No-one gave anyone anything. We simply neglected to take something. There is, you could argue, an opportunity cost, but in many cases, we can have something we wouldn’t otherwise get (Avatar work), or we can get nothing.
Framed that way, they sound quite tempting, right? Not always. We don’t have a capital gains tax in New Zealand, which means a major sink for our investment dollar in the last 7 or 8 years, even more than in the rest of the Western world, has been property speculation - not even property development, but borrowing money to buy houses that already exist in the hope a greater fool will make us rich. Unlike making movies, it’s not an activity that really spreads the wealth around; a built house requires pretty minimal upkeep. It may even have a perverse result, as rents rise to cover the costs of mortgages taken out with a view to capital gains, more money goes to service debts raised with offshore borrowing, rather than into the New Zealand economy, and we skew the view of what we invest in from activities that generate good first-world employment (special effects, software development, what have you), and into hoarding bricks and mortar.
So if we do have tax exemptions to attract foreign dollars, we ought to be quite careful that they’re an overall benefit.
Paying Your Bills
You’re a high-carbon-output business. Well, in New Zealand, I’m giving you money. Lots and lots of loverly money. That’s because I’m paying for your carbon credits.
(No-one’s paying my employer’s carbon credits, we just hand to spend a lot of money doing things like reducing the footprint of our server rooms with virtualisation and consolidation programs.)
There are no shortage of activities like this. Cities build sports stadiums for profitable sporting businesses to use. We cover the costs of businesses that might otherwise go broke.
Giving You Cash
Our domestic cultural industries are beneficiaries of this one; we ladle money into TV, local movies, ballet, opera, symphony orchestras, you name it. Outrageous Fortune collected almost $50 million during it’s run; whatever my share of that was, was totally worth it to hear the word “nungas” on TV, I might add.
In business these used to be our standard subsidy for farmers and other industries we’d decided we want to cultivate but couldn’t actually, you know, turn a profit. Sometimes that’s a good thing - I’d rather live in a New Zealand with an NZSO than not, for example - but in the case of SMPs, it damn near broke the country.
The Bigger Question
Implicit in the criticism of subsidies for Jackson’s work is that this in some way proves his companies haven’t really added value to the New Zealand economy, that he’s bludging off us in some dirty, underhanded way, slipping dollars out of our pockets.
As I noted above, it’s not really true; tax breaks cost us nothing in and of themselves, and have arguably helped funnel hundreds of millions of dollars into the country for productions involving the likes of Jackson and Rob Tapert (remember him? Been making internationally-known and profitable TV shows in New Zealand for the best part of a couple of decades?).
Moreover, the roots of the idea that there’s something wrong with encouraging particular industries is rooted firmly in the neoliberal religion that markets are perfect, governments are crap, and that governments oughtn’t pick winners. Now, if that argument’s coming from Richard Prebble or Roger Douglass, well, I think it’s a bunch of crap - after all, the East Asian neighbours, such as South Korea, we looked down on as third world countries when I were a lad have shot past us on the back of heavily controlled, directed, managed economies, not neoliberal paradises. Come to that, Britain’s economic rise was butressed by mercantalism, and China’s development is as a result of tight monetary control and a willingness to direct the economy whereever deemed strategic.
But I digress. I think it’s a load of crap. What’s odd, though, is that the flurry of concern about these subsidies so often comes from people who seem so otherwise uninterested in neoliberal dogma. The same line of thinking that argues taxs breaks distort the economy, the government shouldn’t pick winners, is the same line that says privitisation was and is good, that the Employment Courts are unfair and unreasonable, and so on. How many of the people bitching about Jackon’s “subsidies” are actually interested in that line of thinking in any genuine manner? How many are simply looking for another club to belabour someone who appears to have committed the great Kiwi sins of being very successful in his fields, wealthy, and uninterested in issuing grovelling apologies for daring to achieve these things?
Tuesday, June 15. 2010
This story annoys me more than a little.
Health Minister Tony Ryall said the “inequitable geographic provision” of the surgery was concerning.
Well, this is hardly the only surgery that’s targeted. Premature birth? You’ll fly to the nearest regional centre for care. We don’t have surgeons and nurse specialists in every hospital in the country. Seriously ill child? Move to Auckland, because they’ll be going to Starship. There is a never-ending list of procedures you won’t get in Patea, or Hawera, or New Plymouth, or even Hamilton. Unless the health budget is infinite, or unless fat advocacy has gained enough clout we’ll start running down other medical care options to fund it, obesity surgery is no different. Perhaps that’s where the money saved by slashing mental heath services, in a country that traditionally tops lists for suicides, will end up; unless Ryall’s ministerial wishes are backed by increased funding.
“It’s terrifying that I’ve got a life expectancy of five years.” The Whanganui woman, who has been morbidly obese since she was 16, has been told she will be dead by 30 without bariatric surgery.
That is fucking terrifying. I guess that’s why:
In February last year the minister stood alongside Health Minister Tony Ryall as they announced that the Government was removing the healthy-food requirement for school tuckshops. The policy had been put in place by Labour and required schools to sell healthy foods and limit the sale of the likes of donuts, sausage rolls and meat pies.
I guess Tony can work out how to make DHBs spend more on morbidly obese 25 year olds, but he’s unalterably opposed to doing anything useful about it when they’re teenagers.
She said she could move to the catchment in Counties-Manukau. “But that’s a huge thing – to leave all the support of my family and friends – and not to mention costly, for only a possible `maybe’.”
At this point I’m afraid I lost all fucking sympathy. If my daughter got sick enough to need care only available in the Starship catchment area and I refused to move to get her treated, would we get loving newspaper articles about hard done by we were? Would we fuck. We’d be vilified for being unwilling to endure a little hardship to save our daughter’s life, and rightly so. And if you aren’t willing to move cities to have a shot at saving your own life, well, that says it all, really.
Friday, February 26. 2010
I’m going to miss the magic cloud of Internet that follows me around. (at least, without it costing me per kilobyte..)
One of the little perks of my work is getting a better (read: cheaper and more capable) cellphone plan that I’ve had previously. That’s nice and all, and after much deliberation I slapped a small data plan on it. It still costs less than I’ve been spending on my old plan, but I have a shiny new capability.
Kiwis and Aussies will be unsurprised to learn that $10/mo gets me a pitiful 100MB of data; any international reader from the first world will most likely be slack-jawed with amazement. This is a charge rate comparable to Actrix’s rates for international traffic two decades ago; at that point Actrix at least had the excuse that as and that they were one of the first ISPs in the world they were running on what was, at the time, horrifically expensive proprietary Unix hardware and, perhaps more importantly, New Zealand’s international Internet pipe was less than a half megabit for the whole country.
But still. Two decades.
Two things rammed it home for me: LCA2010 where I got to work with a warm, comfortable, CBD-encompassing cloud of 802.11 goodness courtesy of CityLink’s event sponsorship for a week, and Christine’s comment above. In Canada, whose inhabitants consider themselves horribly mobile Internet deprived, she enjoys a 6GB/mo plan. That would cost me $600 per month at the rates I’ve got.
Continue reading "Propelling Us to Third World Status"
Thursday, February 25. 2010
...about the Wellington City Council’s efforts to “ban liquor consumption” in the city, but then I drank half a bottle of Rabbit Ranch’s Central Otago pinot noir. It was very nice indeed, but it has rather left me a little short on the word front.
There are three points that especially bug me around this, I guess:
(To add to my final point: in all the time I’ve lived in Wellington, I have yet—and I know I’m tempting fate by blogging this—yet to be bothered in the central city streets by aggressive drunks in any serious way; the near-punchups I’ve had to deal with have all happened in central city bars.)
Tuesday, December 1. 2009
…the Brits wanted him as EU President. Although I would have thought that whole “not believing in God makes you the same as a terrorist” thing and the related call for religions to unite to crush their enemies in a sort of latter-day Crusade would have been a bit of a problem.
Saturday, November 28. 2009
…on how the Fairfax Group can save some money. Instead of outsourcing subbing to Australia, outsource writing political news to National Party PR people and fire your journalists. After all, writing like:
A high-powered government advisory group has spent the past six months debating how to fix New Zealand’s lopsided and unfair system.
…makes it clear you’re already doing the former, so you may as well get on with stop paying your reporters a salary they’re obviously no longer earning.
A land tax, of 0.1 per cent, possibly included in council rates, could cost the average homeowner $214 a year, raising more than $460 million and would be enough to fund a cut in the top personal tax rate to 30 cents in the dollar.
Yes, I can clearly see that I need more money at the expense of retirees who own their own homes. Also, I can see how it will be much fairer to shift the “tax burden” from “money I can spend” to “assets whose value I have no control over and no ability to realise an income from”.
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