The modern National party on show

Does Bill English have a radical rightwing economic agenda and did we see flashes of that this past week in Treasury Secretary John Whitehead’s speech on the public sector and English’s foreign investment rule changes?

Is this the vulpine National party slinking out from its lair to ravage an unsuspecting populace? Is that what we will see on show at the party’s conference this weekend? read more

Flagging the atmospherics of mana

Colin James’s Dominion Post and Otago Daily Times column for 20 July 2009 Note how respectfully China’s government has been treating one of its indigenous minorities recently. And note China’s vote for the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Note also that China has arrested a Chinese-Australian Rio Tinto iron ore negotiator for stealing unspecified state secrets. And note that Chinese state steel companies are not happy with their negotiations with Australia on iron ore prices. read more

The economics of whacking kids

An enrolment deadline for the yes-means-no/no-means-yes referendum passed on Friday. Have you worked out how to vote? Will you vote?

Why vote? It is only indicative. MPs ignored the 82-92 per cent majority votes in the three previous citizens-initiated referendums, in 1995 on the number of firemen and in 1999 on reducing the number of seats in Parliament and on the needs of victims and minimum and hard labour sentences. read more

A positive way to an eco future

Federated Farmers is adamant: food, a necessary of life, must not be in the greenhouse gas emissions trading scheme (ETS). John Key and his Minister of Agriculture, David Carter, are adamant it must be in.

When the National party and Federated Farmers are openly at odds on a major issue, that is serious politics. read more

Smart electricity is a complex regulatory challenge

Here are two views about the electricity industry: it charges consumers too much; and the large government-owned parts don’t deliver big enough dividends to the government. The government holds both views.

Here are two more views about the electricity industry: for the good of the clean-green brand the proportion generated from renewable sources must rise; and generators must be free to build non-renewables plants. The government holds both views. read more

Bashing banks is easy. But what comes after?

Sir Fred Goodwin last week reduced his pension to $875,000 to escape a court case. That is a bad bank story. When banks go bad, voters get angry and politicians are cats on hot bricks.

Sir Fred was chief executive of the Royal Bank of Scotland, a big and venerable bank which he made enormously bigger with reckless acquisitions and then crashed with a reckless attitude to risk. read more

Getting water to flow quietly under the bridge

The issue in the Supreme Court’s suppression of evidence in the David Bain trial is not whether there were words on the tape or not. It is that the court found that the law does not trust a jury to make a wise decision.

The logic of that distrust is to abolish juries. After all, they are a medieval hangover. Judgment by one’s peers is not just a legal fiction but an actual fiction. Juries are unrepresentative. read more

Managing politics: Key needs a J2

Helen Clark had H2. John Key has charm and quick uptake. That was not enough to handle Richard Worth.

Heather Simpson, with whom a segment of the international community is now becoming acquainted, was Clark’s chief of staff, go-between, message carrier and enforcer. She was H2.

She could speak for Clark as if she was Clark. She negotiated with small parties. She fixed those who got out of line or favour. She fixed leaks, imagined and real. read more

An impatient PM and the constitution

The budget is at the core of our constitution. The power to tax is assigned to elected representatives. Bill English needed ACT’s or the Maori party’s votes for the authority to tax and spend last Thursday.

This principle reaches centuries back into British constitutional history. Two centuries ago the United States’ independence was founded on it. Three decades ago here an autocratic Prime Minister’s push to change tax rates by regulation triggered a decisive revolt in his party caucus. read more

The speed of the slowest quintile

Every so often there is a shock-horror probe into bear farming in China. And every so often there is a shock-horror probe into New Zealand pig farmers emulating the Chinese bear farmers.

Both are obeying the biblical injunction to humans to exert “dominion” over all the earth and all living things. Some interpret “dominion” as stewardship, which implies respect. Others read it as totalitarian domination: bears in cages in pain and pigs de-pigged in crates. read more