A lesson for Auckland on rail, from California

Politicians, mostly of the left, love train sets. They must have been deprived as children with their parents refusing them Thomas the Tank Engine toys.

In California the state has been funding a massive boondoggle, a high-speed train between San Francisco and Los Angeles.

California’s high-speed rail project increasingly looks like an expensive social science experiment to test just how long interest groups can keep money flowing to a doomed endeavor before elected officials finally decide to cancel it. What combination of sweet-sounding scenarios, streamlined mockups, ever-changing and mind-numbing technical detail, and audacious spin will keep the dream alive?

Sold to the public in 2008 as a visionary plan to whisk riders along at 220 miles an hour, making the trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles in a little over two and a half hours, the project promised to attract most of the necessary billions from private investors, to operate without ongoing subsidies and to charge fares low enough to make it competitive with cheap flights. With those assurances, 53.7 percent of voters said yes to a $9.95 billion bond referendum to get the project started. But the assurances were at best wishful thinking, at worst an elaborate con.

Like all train proposals it is a massive con.   Read more »

GPS bracelets, idiots and a small change in the law

A ball and chain on a white background. Very high resolution 3D render.

Another escape from Corrections electronic monitoring has prompted the third police appeal for sightings of fugitives in 24 hours.

Invercargill man Quintin Hamilton is wanted by police for breaching home detention conditions, after allegedly cutting off his electronic monitoring bracelet at 12.30pm on Tuesday.

Police say Hamilton is dangerous, faces multiple charges and should not be approached.

He is the latest in a string of offenders accused of removing their bracelets. Read more »

What the hell is going on in Marlborough?

Brian “Where’s my Theatre?” Rudman would do well to look at the massive cost overrun of the “world-class theatre” in Marlborough. The luvvies got their cherished theatre but, being luvvies, couldn’t fund it so had to stitch up the council to get it to go ahead.

A review of the new theatre’s finances has revealed the theatre trust cannot pay off its loans, as it turns to council once more to keep the project afloat.

The Marlborough District Council is faced with paying off more than $5 million after it guaranteed the loans from the ASB Bank and the Rata Foundation.

The council will decide on Thursday whether it starts loan repayments now or waits three years, incurring interest.

The council carried out an operating cost review after it guaranteed a second ASB Bank loan in March.

Read more »

Mental Health Break

Corbyn loses confidence vote as Labour continues to implode

As our INCITE: Politics polling shows, Jeremy Corbyn is more popular than Andrew Little but he has lost a confidence vote in his caucus with 172 votes against him and just 40 votes in favour.

Labour MPs are preparing to launch a bruising leadership contest that will aim to topple leader Jeremy Corbyn after he reacted to an overwhelming vote of no confidence by declaring he had no intention to resign.

Politicians want Angela Eagle, who has stepped down as shadow business secretary, or Tom Watson, Labour’s deputy leader, to agree about which of them will trigger the challenge if their leader continues to hold on in the face of massive hostility.

MPs backing Eagle were on Tuesday night collecting names of colleagues who were prepared to nominate her in order to start a contest, but Watson supporters were calling for calm, insisting that Corbyn could yet stand down.

The Labour leader has so far held on despite a dramatic and destabilising coup attempt, started at the weekend, which has now seen two-thirds of his shadow cabinet step down, as well as 28 shadow ministers and 11 private parliamentary secretaries.

More than three-quarters of Labour MPs – 172 – voted to show that they had no confidence in his leadership, while 40 voted for him. Corbyn responded by issuing a warning that he had the support of Labour members, and that he was going nowhere.   Read more »

Map of the Day

From the Driver’s Seat: Cam Slater is no longer with Whaleoil

by Pete, Editor

image

I used to write columns “from the passenger seat”, providing insight into Whaleoil as a close observer.  From today that changes for a while. No doubt this will come as a shock to many, but Cam’s no longer here after the weekend.

The good news is that it is only for a little while. I’m not allowed to share with you what he’s up to, but the choice had to be made: Was he going to do two things poorly, or one thing well?

So Cam will be back in a month, perhaps two – depending.

The immediate question is: What will become of Whaleoil? Read more »

What is the difference between a poorly performing state school and a poorly performing charter school?

When a charter school does not perform it is shut down. This is one of the many strengths of the charter school model. Charter schools are accountable. Charter schools either succeed or they fail. If they fail they are shut down. A poorly performing state school, however, is allowed to continue to fail year after year after year, yet education unions have focused all their energy on wiping out charter schools no matter how well they are performing.

Thousands of children are spending most or all their years of education in a poorly performing school, a new report has found.

A third of New Zealand’s underperforming schools are persistent low achievers, some of which have been that way for up to 10 years, says a report put out this morning by think-tank New Zealand Initiative.

…Many schools were failing to meet Education Review Office (ERO) quality measures, the report said. It also warned that “some schools, despite intervention, perform poorly for as long as, and in some cases, longer than, the entire school career of their students – with possibly serious implications for the students in them and the state of our nation”.

Read more »

Rudman whining about trains to the airport now, not his theatre

Old boy Rudman – who loves a good troughing spendthrift Council – is bemoaning the right decision to axe rail to the airport.

Auckland Transport chairman Lester Levy is dangling the vision of driverless buses tootling back and forth to the airport to distract attention from his board’s decision to kill dreams of a train link from Onehunga.

It’s not the only thing driverless which comes to mind when it comes to Auckland transport. This week’s burial of airport heavy rail brought to the surface once more the behind-the-scenes tussle among a gaggle of politicians and bureaucrats from AT, Auckland Council, New Zealand Transport Agency, and the airport company, over whose turn it is to pull the levers.

The AT board officially pulled the plug at Monday’s meeting. But NZTA, the Government’s road builders, had all but sabotaged the proposed route already, with its plans to trench the motorway at Kirkbride Rd in Mangere so deep that trains would not have been able to manage the gradient. The airport company was adding to the problems by insisting a train station would have to be underground, and be built to its deadlines.

I expect wowsers to do that. There are plenty of people who crack a woody over rail. And that’s ok – we’re all entitled to our opinions.   Read more »

Photo Of The Day

Meanest Divorce: Snow Camo: Kevin Cotter tells the story, when his wife of 12 years moved out of their Tuscon, Ariz. home in 2009, she left behind just one thing: Her old wedding dress, pristinely preserved in his closet. "What do you expect me to do with it?" he asked. “Whatever the $%^@# you want,” she replied. The comment hit a nerve, and a couple of months later Cotter and his family started joking about ways he could repurpose the gown. The frock had cost him nearly a grand anyway and seemed like such a waste just sitting in storage.

Another Mean Divorce: Snow Camo: Kevin Cotter tells the story, when his wife of 12 years moved out of their Tuscon, Ariz. home in 2009, she left behind just one thing: Her old wedding dress, pristinely preserved in his closet. “What do you expect me to do with it?” he asked. “Whatever the $%^@# you want,” she replied. The comment hit a nerve, and a couple of months later Cotter and his family started joking about ways he could repurpose the gown. The frock had cost him nearly a grand anyway and seemed like such a waste just sitting in storage.

The Meanest Divorce

He Kidnapped Their children. She Bankrupted his Family. He Hid Out For Seven Years. She Had Him Put In Jail. A Story Of Love Turned To Hate

“Tell me something,” Chuck Smith asked, staring with a Rasputin-like stare. “Would you let your kids suffer? Would you break the law to keep them safe?” His voice, usually as fervent as an evangelist’s, drops to a half-whisper. “Would you sacrifice everything for your own kids?”

In 1984, Cuernavaca, Mexico, fifty miles southwest of Mexico City, while divorcing his wife, Carolyn, Chuck Smith, Houston’s most infamous father, then 26 years old, the scion of one of Houston’s wealthiest and most politically influential automobile dealers, kidnapped his own two sons—Charles, age 6, and Christopher, only 4—and vanished for more than seven years.

Chuck testified that the boys tearfully begged him to take them away from their mother, who had become so addicted to prescription drugs that she slept through the day, forgetting to feed them, shaking them when they woke her. On occasion, Chuck said, she refused to allow them out of their room, forcing them to urinate in the closet. Fearing that the divorce courts would still not give him full custody, Chuck decided there was only one thing to do. “What self-respecting father,” he asked, his 250-pound body looming as he paces the room, “would leave his boys in that environment?”

Read more »