Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Crap Journalism

The state of news journalism in New Zealand can be pretty damn poor at times and today we have this rubbish article from the NZ Herald, titled Govt cool on insulation extension. It says
The Government has not committed any new money to a housing insulation scheme despite reports showing it had provided $1.2 billion in health benefits - a four-fold return on its funding.
This seems incredible, how could the government be so short sighted on this issue! However the article continues
Housing Minister Phil Heatley announced last Thursday that the scheme had been so cost-effective that the Government could extend it for a year and help insulate 41,000 extra homes with the original budget. The funding was now expected to run out in July 2014.
Oh right! So the scheme will not run out until July 2014. The Government has over two years to decide if it wants to extend it.
Mr Heatley said through a spokesman that National would make any considerations on its future "in due course".
So rather than being "cool" on an extension to the scheme, the Government will look at in the two years it has until the scheme runs out. This article would have been better titled "Average Journalist writes crap article."

Monday, May 28, 2012

A little risk would pay off for KiwiSaver

The NZ Herald Editorial today is on KiwiSaver. It looks at number of aspects starting with the deferral of auto-enrolment:
A boost to New Zealand's savings culture has been put on hold with the Budget announcement that automatic enrolment in KiwiSaver in 2014-15 is no longer possible .... The deferral is unfortunate. Auto enrolment, which would place all employees, not just the newly hired, in KiwiSaver, has been strongly recommended by the OECD. Now, it will not be considered until there are sufficient surpluses to pay for it.
I mentioned this in my Budget blogpost yesterday and I feel it will keep cropping over the next wee while. The poor personal savings rate of New Zealanders is of real concern to the Credit Rating Agencies and I can't help but feel that the government has missed a trick in deferring auto-enrolment in its quest for a budget surplus.
The KiwiSaver default-provider arrangements have proved even more a bone of contention, and more damaging to the creation of a significant national savings pool that would propel economic growth. This is because they are not working in the best interests of young and young-ish KiwiSaver members .... Within those default schemes, their money is, by default, put into conservative funds. These are comprised mainly of low-risk, low-return assets, such as fixed interest .... But it makes no sense now for 25-year-olds with 40 years of KiwiSaver ahead of them to be in a conservative fund. History shows that, over time, growth assets provide by far the better returns, whatever the short-term fluctuations.
Four or so years ago when first signing up to KiwiSaver I was going to let my money go to one of the default scheme providers and not worry about it. Luckily enough my father, who is much more financially literate than I am, advised me to put it into a growth fund. When the market went down it lost money, but it was also able to buy plenty of shares at these low rates and when the market rebounded it made back what it lost and them some to the point where it now has a lot more in it than I have invested.

A lot of other young New Zealanders will not be as lucky as I was so it is fantastic to see the Herald arguing for a change in the default-provider scheme to more pro-growth funds.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

"It's clearly a budget. It's got a lot of numbers in it."

"It's clearly a budget. It's got a lot of numbers in it."
      - George W. Bush
The news this week has been dominated by Bill English's second Zero Budget.

The Budget's main aim is to get the government's books back in surplus by 2014/15, which has taken on something of a holy grail importance in the government's eyes and that of the public, whether it actually is or not. See Low hanging rotten fruit for some potential alternative aims.

Unfortunately that means it is not a particularly inspiring budget and anyone hoping for news to encourage economic growth will be sorely disappointed.

Stuff.co.nz has a summary of the main points here, but I would like to focus on a few of them.
Closing a tax loophole for those who rent out their bach and boat, saving $109m over four years
This appears to be the Government's vaunted plan to broaden the tax base and while you can't rarely argue against it, it is a pretty week effort at broadening the tax base (Anyone for a capital gains tax?).
Three tax credits abolished, saving $117 million over four years.
This appears to be part of the broader tax base as well and while I'm not opposed to the removal of any of them, it suggests a government really scraping the barrel, devoid of any big ideas.
An excise tax hike on tobacco, taking the price of a pack of 20 cigarettes to more than $20 by 2016
My only problem with this is that it should have been more. A 10% increase each year seems like nothing, 25% would have really said something.
Deferring KiwiSaver auto enrolment
This policy would have cost a lot of money so it does make some sense to defer until the government is running a surplus. However on the other hand the Credit Rating Agencies have been a lot more concerned with our low rate of personal savings than Government debt or deficits, so wouldn't the benefits of increased KiwiSaver participation have outweighed the negatives?
Increasing student loan repayment rate to 12 per cent
I have already blogged that I don't have a problem with this policy. The changes to the Student Allowance entitlements are concerning however, especially the potential impact on post graduate students.

The aim of the Government is to ensure a return to surplus in 2014/15 on that level it succeeds. Unfortunately New Zealand needs something more than that, a budget that encourages economic growth and adresses the major issues facing it, the ticking time bomb of superannuation and interest free student loans.

Unfortunately for New Zealand this Government doesn't want to face it and I have serious doubts that the alternative have the ability to face them.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Human Rights Baby!!!

Just last week I was blogging about the decision of North Carolinians to place themselves on the wrong side of history. And in a delicious twist history decided to show up.

On the 9th of May, my homeboy, Barack Obama went ahead and confirmed what we had all assumed he believed all along:
It is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married.
While his words do not carry any legal weight and he has no intention to introduce federal legislation anytime soon, the simple fact of the most powerful man in the world affirming his belief in marriage equality is a big fucking deal!

It also has the effect of pushing same-sex marriage to the fore in this country and forcing our party leaders to voice their own views on same-sex marriage.

John Key:
I am not personally opposed to gay marriage.
Metiria Turei
Their policy is that same legal rights and responsibilities should apply to all couples regardless of whether that couple is gay, lesbian, transgender or heterosexual
Tariana Turia
she would support same-sex marriage on the basis that individuals and whanau had the right to choose for themselves whether or not to marry.
and this pathetic statement from David Shearer
I fully support marriage equality in principle but would like to see the detail of any legislation before giving formal support.
So the party leaders representing over ninety percent of the seats in the house support same-sex marriage. How come we can't get a cross party bill going? Step up John Key:
It's not my number one issue, that's for sure. That has been true of most of those conscience or moral issues. The previous Government had a lot of those on the agenda from prostitution law reform through to civil unions. We haven't had any and that's reflected that these are tough economic times and we need to spend our precious time in Parliament resolving those issues.
Fair enough I suppose, the government has limited time on it's and needs to focus on the really important issues, like the possible mass arrival of asylum seekers. Dickhead! If you have time for imaginary boat people, then you certainly have time for marriage equality.

Labour MP Louisa Wall has a Same-Sex Marriage bill ready to go in the members ballot so fingers crossed some time in the near future we can have an end to discrimination and equal rights for same-sex couples!

New Monbiot

The latest from George Monbiot:
The unbiblical and ahistorical nature of the modern Christian cult of the nuclear family is a marvel rare to behold. Those who promote it are followers of a man born out of wedlock and allegedly sired by someone other than his mother's partner.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Ginger News

In this edition of Ginger News: Chairs, especially designer chairs, are evil!
I hate to piss on the party, but chairs suck. All of them. No designer has ever made a good chair, because it is impossible. Some are better than others, but all are bad. Not only are chairs a health hazard, they also have a problematic history that has inextricably tied them to our culture of status-obsessed individualism. Worse still, we’ve become dependent on them and it’s not clear that we’ll ever be free.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012


A mate of mine has set me on to a press release from David Parker (pictured) the Labour Party Finance spokesman.

Entitled Nek minnit economics – disappointing growth means disappointing books.

I am slightly confused about the intention of this release. Are they trying to get down with the kids? Are they trying to paint John Key as the Nek Minnit guy? Or were they just hoping it sounded clever and catchy?

Whatever the actual reason, this is douche bag politics.

We the people

As reported by the Guardian, the people of North Carolina have decided to place themselves on the wrong side of history.

A constitutional amendment has been passed by a vote of 61% to 39% defining marriage as between a man and a woman. Unfortunately the amendment goes further than that and will have consequences for all manners of domestic partnerships.

Overall the trend in the states is towards marriage equality but it may a little longer in coming for North Carolinians.

The Guardian's Ana Maria Cox has a great piece on the North Carolina amendment, the overall context and what it means:
There are no pink processionals crowding the streets of Durham, and while my St Paul neighborhood sees a lot of pairs of women pushing one stroller down the street, I have yet to be invited to the big "WE ARE UNDERMINING THE FOUNDATIONS OF YOUR MORALITY" party, which social conservatives seem to imagine taking place just out of sight. The fact is, both of these initiatives are propelled less by the presence of an in-your-face homosexual "agenda" than by the gradual, inevitable, and growing normalization and acceptance of gays and lesbians as complete equals in our society.

New Monbiot

George Monbiot's latest column is available at Guardian.co.uk. It is a cracker, enjoy!
Modern government could be interpreted as a device for projecting corporate power. Since the 1980s, in Britain, the US and other nations, the primary mission of governments has been to grant their sponsors in the private sector ever greater access to public money and public life.

Ginger News

It has been a few weeks between printings but allow me to present Ginger News Issue Two.

This edition looks at the age old question: Is fiction good for you?

Monday, May 7, 2012

What's that got to do with the price of razor blades?

Stuff.co.nz reports: Manufacturers continue to hit consumers with price rises by stealth by cutting product sizes. Basically, rather than raising prices companies are cutting quantity to avoid the consumer backlash associated with a price rise.

So what you might say. Isn't that the just what we should expect in this greed orientated capitalist society we live in?

Probably and while it is a little devious it is also quite clever. Companies costs rise which means they need to raise their prices, nothing devious there just a fact of commerce. Consumers don't like prices rises (although they do like pay rises in their own jobs which contribute directly to price rises, although that is not the only factor) so companies are trying to keep their customers happy while maintaining their margins. A little devious, a bit dishonest but quite clever.

Ultimately it is the consumers responsibility to ensure they are getting a deal they are comfortable with. You don't need to be furiously checking every item you buy, just clever, especially when it comes to the more expensive items.

But what caught my eye in the article was this paragraph:
The world's biggest producer of men's razors, Gillette, is the latest culprit cutting the number of replacement cartridges in its Mach3 Turbo packs from five to four while keeping the price the same, effectively a 20 per cent price increase.
I believe New Zealand men and women are getting royally ripped off when it comes to the price of razor blades in the country. For instance from Countdown.co.nz you get a four pack of Gillette Fusion blades for $25.99 ($6.50 per blade), while in the UK you can get the same pack for £10.05 or $20.38 ($5.10 a blade) from www.boots.co.uk, over five dollars cheaper. And that doesn't take into account the fantastic deals you can get in the UK on bulk packs. Take this option from Superdrug.co.uk: a razor with blade plus ten spares for only £20 or $40.55 ($3.69 a blade).

So you can see why I thought there was a problem. So I asked Google if there was someway to get razor blades cheaper in this country and in it's infinite wisdom it gave me this.

Clicking the link will take you to BestBuyBlades.com who appear to have had the same problem as me.
We are three young and creative kiwi entrepeneurs that were sick of paying ridiculous prices for good genuine razor blades which are a every day necessity. Consequently we decided to do something about it; we scoured the globe to find large international exporters and whole salers which were able to supply us with your quality everyday razor blades (both Schick and Gillette) and have parallel imported them so that we can deliver them directly to your door step via our unique service set and forget while providing you with massive savings.
And it's true. A four pack of Gillette Fusion blades is $18.99 ($4.75 per blade) including delivery to your door. If you use their Set and Forget service it is $16.99 ($4.25). Brilliant savings and you just need to be clever about it. In my case just using Google solved my problem.

Disclaimer: I haven't received payment or razor blades in kind for this post. I was just upset about the price of my razor blades and think these guys offer a fantastic service.

Herald Editorial: Student Loans

The Herald editorial today is on the changes to Student loan repayments: Govt right to tighten up on student loans. Most of what they say is common sense and rather obvious. However there is this paragraph:
In terms of student allowances, the Government plans to cut costs by tightening the eligibility rules, especially in relation to the definition of income. It also wants to focus allowances on the first years of tertiary study - there will be a four-year cap - and on students who can least afford to study. Such targeting is welcome. Too many allowances are being paid to youngsters whose parents could afford to offer support but, instead, are exploiting income loopholes.
I blogged before that I support a universal allowance, however if we don't have one, those who need it the least shouldn't be exploiting it. However I have to ask the questions, how many students are exploiting the current loopholes? How are they going to clampdown? And is it even worth it? I suppose we will find out come Budget Day.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

The Battle for TVNZ 7

The NZ Herald reports:
United Future leader Peter Dunne has labelled a move to replace TVNZ7 with a channel repeating TV One programmes a "disgusting insult".
The channel in questions will be TV One + 1. Which is simply TV One running an hour behind. It is the same as the TV3 + 1 already running on Freeview which is a copy of the various UK channels that were doing it while I lived there.

And the Honourable Peter Dunne really does go to town on them:
"TV One represents the worst of television in this country. It is crass, superficial, lowest common denominator rubbish.

"It is too obsessed with its own self-imagined 'stars' and the culture surrounding them than to have any credible claim on being a legitimate national broadcaster.

"By contrast, TVNZ7 has always appealed to a higher standard - both in terms of quality and the range of programmes offered.

"To replace TVNZ7 with the rubbish of TV One is a disgusting insult to the hundreds of thousands of regular TVNZ7 viewers."
Right on man!

Let's have a look at the TVNZ logic.
In a statement, TVNZ said changing viewer habit have seen "time-shifted channels" established internationally.

"Long working hours, shift work and traffic problems have had an impact on the numbers able to watch the evening news in its traditional time slot, and there is now an identifiable global trend towards time-shifting by consumers," the statement said.

TVNZ acting chief executive, Rodney Parker, said the "plus one" channel meets the broadcaster's strategy of reaching more New Zealanders.

"TV ONE has been selected as the time-shifted channel to maximise exposure for the great local content, news and current affairs that it features," Mr Parker said.
If people are having trouble watching the news in a traditional time slot, there are a couple of options available to them. They could record it or they could go and watch it online. Do we really need another channel for the handful of people who don't own personal video recorders and are incapable of using the internet? What about the people who can't watch the news at Six or Seven? We now need a TV One + 2 channel. Rather than wasting his time coming up with bullshit logic, Rodney Parker should be using it to maximise exposure for the great local content, news and current affairs on TVNZ 7.

It is great to see Peter Dunne coming on board with this. With asset sales a likely Dunne deal (See what I did there!) it would be nice to see Peter Dunne leverage his vote to save TVNZ 7.

We've got the wind, the rain and the Phoenix plus the Hurricanes

The Hurricanes beat the Blues last night at the stadium and while it was not a vintage performance there were a number of positives to take out of it.

Victor Vito continues to be the stand out performer from the Canes forward pack and must be a lock in for the AB's number six jersey.

TJ Perenara and Andre Taylor continue to perform week in and week out. Perenara's ball juggling was the highlight of a man of the match performance (Why would he worry about Piri coming back?) and although it is probably too early for an AB's call up for him , Taylor's form will have to plummet for him not to make the June squad.

It also appeared that Cory Jane is getting back to his best and Beauden Barrett had another good game, especially in comparison to Michael Hobbs on the opposite side.

And what about the Blues. They started off okay but finished comically and now is the time for Pat Lam to accept that he can not turn this team around and resign. For the Blues franchise to salvage anything from this season requires new blood now. To not do could damage the Blues prospects for a further two or three seasons.

Chances are that anybody could come in and make a difference, the simple effect of change would likely prove rejuvenating for the players, but I wouldn't mind seeing Graham Henry back in action.

New Monbiot

I am not quite sure how but George Monbiot has managed to release two new posts without me realising.

This piece on protesting against mobile phones:
Protesting against mobiles is damaging the environmental movement
And this on the inequalities of international law:
Imperialism didn't end. These days it's known as international law

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The DomPost reports Thousands of Kiwis face Budget pay cut. Currently graduates lose ten cents in every dollar they earn over $19,084 to repay their student loan (I am one of these graduates) The government is set to increase this rate in the budget.
Mr Key would not be drawn on the new rate, but said it would raise "tens of millions of dollars".
Figures supplied by Inland Revenue show that at the 10 per cent rate that applies now, $690.6million was received in student loan repayments in the year till June 30, 2011.
A one or two cent rise in the rate could pay back an extra seventy to one-hundred and forty million dollars.

Unfortunately some of the responses have been unable to keep things in perspective:
New Zealand Union of Students Associations president Pete Hodkinson said a lift in the repayment rate was a tax increase because it was taken straight out of pay, like PAYE.
Pete Hodkinson appears to be an idiot. My kiwisaver is also taken directly out of my pay, does he consider that a tax? Or how about the donations I make through payroll giving? Statistics show that graduates earn more than non-graduates and they should have to pay for their education which affords them this privilege. In times of economic uncertainty when we all have to tighten our belts there is no reason to exclude graduates.
Labour deputy leader Grant Robertson said the change would put more financial pressure on graduates. The rate should balance the need for loans to be paid off quickly with the need for graduates to meet their costs and be able to take out a mortgage. The increase put that at risk.
The financial pressure on graduates is tiny. Most graduates are single with no dependents and their biggest financial issue is buying shiny new toys. Graduates straight out of university cannot believe how much disposable income they have. There is little reason they cannot pay off their loans before taking out a mortgage. This is disappointing from Grant Robertson who I like.

A lot of the comments on Kiwiblog appear to focus on a number of factors.

1)Why are they not focusing on people overseas who are not making repayments? The government has been focusing on these people, reducing the repayment holiday, working with foreign governments to chase down people. Unfortunately these people are overseas and the government is limited in what they can do about it. I don't like a lot of the things this National Government is doing, but I can not fault them on this.

2)Who do students think pays for their interest free loans? I imagine most students don't spend a lot of time thinking about this question. But if they did they would probably reach the conclusions that it is taxpayers. Which in a few short years they will be and as university graduates earn more on average than non-graduates they pay more in tax on average as well.

Unfortunately the article also says:
Tertiary Education Minister Steven Joyce has also said changes would be made to student allowances. "We're really looking to make sure that we target the allowances to those in the early years of study and those families that can least afford it."

The change would not be dramatic, he said. The cost of allowances had risen to $600m a year, and the Government needed to curb that.

The parental income threshold for allowances was frozen this year and would probably be frozen for another three or four years. Loopholes in the definition of income would also be tightened.
I am in favour of a universal student allowance, although now is not the best time to implement it. However we should not be cutting the allowance from those who need it.