Economist

Face of the day

Today’s Face of the day is a man of courage, a man who stood for freedom of expression, a man who persisted in the face of danger. His body guard was not able to save him or the others at his newspaper. I honour him, and them today and I challenge us all to not let their deaths be in vain. We too must be brave. We too must stand strong against this worldwide threat against the freedoms that we hold so dear.

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Charlie Hebdo editor Stephane Charbonnier Photo: AFP

Stephane Charbonnier, editor of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, was among four cartoonists killed in the Paris massacre which left 12 people dead in total.

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Because trains are gay

The Economist asks “Why don’t Americans ride trains?”:

AMERICA has by far the largest rail network in the world, with more than twice as much track as China. But it lags far behind other first-world countries in ridership. Instead of passengers, most of America’s massive rail network is used to carry freight. Why don’t Americans ride trains?

I’ve told you because they are gay.

There are many reasons why Americans don’t ride the rails as often as their European cousins. Most obviously, America is bigger than most European countries. Outside the northeast corridor, the central Texas megalopolis, California and the eastern Midwest, density is sometimes too low to support intercity train travel. Underinvestment, and a preference for shiny new visions over boring upgrades, has not helped.  Read more »

Merit Pay for Teachers Not Such a Bad Thing

This report will seriously unhinge teacher unions. In Canada debate has moved to discussing merit pay for teachers:

Education minister Jeff Johnson got the attention of the Alberta Teachers’ Association when he recently mused about introducing merit pay for Alberta teachers. Predictably, the ATA harshly condemned Johnson’s proposal and vowed to fight any attempt to incorporate merit pay in teacher compensation.

Typical response from unions, more interested in patch protection than excellence.

One of the main arguments the ATA gave for opposing merit pay was that it does not boost student academic achievement. However, there is no evidence that the current salary grid promotes student achievement.

Under the current salary grid, only two factors matter in teacher compensation—years of teaching experience and years of university education. John with six years of university and fifteen years of experience gets paid more than Doris with five years of university and six years of experience. End of story.

It doesn’t matter whether Doris happens to grade more papers, teach better lessons, coach more sports teams, or serve on more committees than John. Even though most people would agree Doris is the better teacher, John is higher on the grid and consequently receives a higher salary. In the ATA’s view, that is exactly how it should be.  Read more »

Shining light into Dark Corners

Len Brown appears to be moving closer and closer to a position of cutting off the influence of MUNZ in the Ports of Auckland dispute. How does someone once so loony become almost sane?

The more I look into it the clearer it becomes – the two political operatives in his office (Conor Roberts and James Bews-Hair) appear to be at the centre of this change of sanity.  The time has come to put a bit of sunlight on these two back-roomers.  Let’s look at Bews-Hair first (he’s more of a challenge compared to Labour’s great white hope).

From a general perspective my research into Bews-Hair has exposed a very peculiar character, what the Aussies would call a faceless man. (It was bloody hard getting a photo of him) He is the very definition of a backroom operator: He hates daylight and loathes any public attention. In fact, he is so shady that he apparently gets all nervous and anxious even if he finds himself in a room full of people.

His skulking, though, has been remarkably successful.  Curiously (and I still don’t get this), almost all of it seems to be anti-leftie in its focus:

  • In the 90’s he was part of Labour right. He was very close mates with Phil Quin (and of course later worked in Goff’s ministerial office with Shearer).  I am told he was heavily involved in the outrageous fake polling racket of marginal electorates.
  • Bews-Hair was the Labour right’s economist –  which I guess came in handy when making up poll numbers
  • Ten years ago he was in charge of fighting a well-financed battle against leftie attempts to destroy Sky City’s money-printing machines in both Australia and NZ. In NZ.  Bews-Hair was particularly good mates with the Minister responsible for reforming gambling, George Hawkins – and he made the most of that fact.  Provisions pushed by the anti-gambling lobby (and their many friends in Government) to reduce casino gambling harm were watered down across the board. Most notably, the story goes, he made sure proposed community good taxes for casinos were sunk. Bews-Hair is also the main reason that gaming machines are still alllowed to accept bank notes (meaning people can wreck their lives $20 at a time rather than a coin at a time). Strange work for a Labour-man.
  • In Australia, he was doing battle with Australasia’s only “No Pokies” MP Nick Xenophon. Fortunately Bews-Hair had befriended the Rann brothers (one of whom became Premier of SA). Again he harvested his friendship on behalf of the family wreckers, saved their cushy tax status and insulated Sky City from the savage attacks of the enemies of gambling.
  • It seems Bews-Hair needed to cleanse his supposedly pink soul after that lot and he took a touchy feely do-gooder community development job in the Far North. Presumably he was meant to hug trees and the indolent with equal gusto. It appears, though, that he can’t help himself. He wrote an economic development startegy that effectively linked the Far North at the hip with the mining industry. He then set up a regional industry group for the miners that secured public funding to do all sorts of studies and PR campaigns promoting mining.  To this day, it is still working.

And now, as I’ve previously posted, he’s back in Auckland and at it again. Cosy deals over casino convention centres, turning pinko Len into a union crusher, pedalling user pays for roads like some sort of Treasury zealot.

During my research the most telling thing I was told was: “he almost never does something for one reason, there’s usually at least two agendas and often multiple. It’s because of this that so many people dislike him, and even more don’t understand him”.

So there is obviously a serious amount of evil running through him, but what I don’t get is why on earth he insists on attaching himself to the Labour Party, particularly as they don’t seem to like him anymore? Maybe he has a thing for women with facial hair – that could be why he keeps on ending up in hospital.

He certainly isn’t a tin-foil hat wearer though he has been known to wear a cabbage leaf hat…perhaps to help him fit in with the weirder of the Brown hangers-on.

And finally, yes, my intention was to scare the devious pants off a critter who prefers very dark corners, by showing how much I can find out about him without even trying.  Sunlight hurts!

Will probably leave Conor Roberts for next week. One thing though, Roberts assures me that there is no feud between him and Bews-Hair. Presumably that is because they are holed up at completely different ends of the Town Hall.

Happy, happy, joy, joy

The Economist has an article that will bend Labour and other assorted pity-partiers out of shape:

DESPITE global economic gloom, the world is a happier place than it was before the financial crisis began. That is the counterintuitive conclusion of a poll of 19,000 adults in 24 countries by Ipsos, a research company. Some 77% of respondents now describe themselves as happy, up three points on 2007, the last year before the crisis. Fully 22% (up from 20%) describe themselves as very happy—a more important measure, says Ipsos’s John Wright, since whenever three-quarters of people agree on anything, “you need to pay attention to intensity in the results.”

All such polls come with a health warning. The level of happiness is self-reported—and the term means different things to different people. The Ipsos poll, measuring degrees of happiness, is not strictly comparable with those that ask about “well-being” (such as Gallup) or “life satisfaction” (the World Values survey), so it is hard to test the validity of the conclusions against other efforts. The margin of error is wide, at plus or minus 3.1 points for most countries. Still, Ipsos has been doing its survey regularly for five years and the figures have proved fairly stable during that time, not wildly volatile which they would have been if they had been flaky.

Two conclusions emerge. Large, fast-growing emerging markets do not share rich industrialised countries’ pessimism. The already large “very happy” cohort rose 16 points in Turkey, ten points in Mexico and five points in India. Even rich-country pessimism is uneven. The share of “very happy” people rose six points in—of all places—Japan, defying tsunami and nuclear accidents. But growth amid global misery does not explain everything: the biggest falls in happiness also occurred in large emerging markets, in Indonesia, Brazil and—a perennial miseryguts—Russia.