Thursday, September 24, 2015

It's time to buy a new Volkswagen

A couple of years ago I bought a Skoda Superb Wagon to replace my wife's older SUV. There was a time when I never thought I would buy a Skoda but these days they are made by Volkswagen Audi Group (VAG) and are terrific cars. The Skoda Superb is basically an Audi A6 with slightly different body panels and a price that is half the Audi's. It has a two litre diesel engine that produces 125Kw of power and 350Nm of torque, which in a car that weighs just 1500Kg means it goes like a scalded cat. And it is incredibly economical, getting around 800km range from a single tank of gas!

You might imagine that I got a little a little upset the other day to hear that Volkswagen has been 'cheating' its emissions tests on its diesel engines. After all, the Skoda has one of those Volkswagen diesel engines under its hood. But I'm not. In fact, I might take the opportunity of VAG's likely sales slump to press the dealer for a really good deal on a new Volkswagen or Audi.

You see, I don't think that Volkswagen has cheated me at all. I've got a damned good car that is beautifully made, economical to run, and fantastic to drive. And frankly, I don't give a shit about the U.S. Government's emissions standards. After all, this is the government that has lied to world repeatedly about everything from the motives behind the murder of its diplomatic staff in Libya to the extent of the recent hacking of government personnel files and whose leader continues to dupe his people about the impact of his climate change policies. I would rather trust Volkswagen to keep my family and the environment safe than the U.S. Government.

Environmental law has become a trojan horse for government interference in every aspect of our business and personal lives. Emissions regulations and taxes have pushed up the price of energy to levels where many people cannot afford to heat their houses or run their cars, impoverishing the elderly and bringing third-world illnesses to the first-world poor. The demands on companies like Volkswagen to comply with draconian, inconsistent and frankly unscientific environmental regulations impose huge costs on us all. Obviously, someone in the Volkswagen organisation, an engineer with a libertarian streak perhaps, became so fed up with trying to achieve the impossible - a smooth, powerful, fuel efficient car that also complied with all the emissions regulations - that they decided to rig the engine computers to fake the tests.

If nothing else, you've got to admire the chutzpah of it. Certainly, it is no reason not to buy a Volkswagen.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Give me a principled Marxist over an unprincipled Tory squib any day

There has been a great deal of comment about the removal of Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott and his replacement with that country's sixth prime minister in eight years, Malcolm Turnbull. Tony Abbott deserved to be defenestrated - not because he was (as some pundits have claimed) too ideological, but rather because he compromised his ideology where he shouldn't have and didn't compromise it where he should have done so. He stuck to his guns on gay marriage in spite of the mood for change but broke a lot of election promises in areas such as health and education reforms, lowering taxes and repeal of the Orwellian Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. He did stand by his position on repealing the repressive climate tax (which Labor PM Julia Gillard had introduced after breaking her election promise not to), but that was a rare show of backbone in an otherwise invertebrate performance.

Malcolm Turnbull's admiration for John Key says everything any New Zealander needs to know about the new Australian PM. John Key may have his strengths (um...his common touch and a nice smile, perhaps?) but standing on principle is not one of them. Key promised in the 2008 election not to introduce an Emissions Trading Scheme and that went out the window with many of his other promises as soon as he was ensconced in the office at the top of The Beehive.

The interesting thing about principles in politics is that it is only those on the left are allowed to have them. Liberal Party politicians in Australia, Conservatives in Britain and National Party members in New Zealand are all condemned as too ideological if they stick to their ostensible principles like small government, free markets and freedom of choice in education and health. But you can have the most extreme left-wing views and the mainstream media and chattering classes will give you a free pass. You can be an out-and-out Marxist, willing to nationalise all manner of private businesses without compensation, want to withdraw from any Western defence alliances, and be a supporter of terrorist groups like Hezbollah, and your reward is to be elected Leader of the Opposition in Britain.

But I actually admire Jeremy Corbyn more than Tony Abbott, Malcolm Turnbull or John Key. Give me a principled Marxist any day over an unprincipled Tory squib like David Cameron. At least you know where you stand with a Marxist.

Monday, September 7, 2015

All immigrants need is life, liberty and the opportunity to pursue happiness

In recent days we have seen a lot of hand-wringing, particularly from the Western liberal-left media, about the influx of refugees into Europe from Syria. On the one hand they say we must "do something", on the other it is clear they don't like the idea of letting such people into their own countries. In fact, modern so-called liberals tend not to be liberal at all when it comes to immigration. This is not surprising because immigration poses a dilemma for Western democratic socialism.

Marx's ideal of international socialist solidarity has morphed in Western countries into a highly nationalistic socialism that is all about preserving the privilege and exclusivity of the domestic welfare state. Western socialists pretend to be concerned with the victims of repression in countries like Syria but actually they see such people as a threat to their increasingly fragile world. They realise that each immigrant is a challenge to the carefully constructed power balance in Western societies between the increasing unproductive majority of the population and the productive minority who support them. Unproductive immigrants add to the burden on a base of taxpayers already staggering under the weight of welfare demands, and productive immigrants merely serve to show how unnecessary and counterproductive much of the modern welfare state really is.

The reason I am truly liberal on immigration is because I am a humanist. Socialists try to paint themselves as humanists, but a true humanist is someone who values human potential. A true humanist sees immigrants for their opportunity to add to our society as producers, not as victims who only ever consume limited resources.

A guest post by Alex Nowraseth from the Cato Institute on Not PC's blog proposes building a wall around the welfare system to exclude immigrants. Personally, I think this is morally indefensible. Are immigrants merely slaves to the indolent native-born? The only moral solution is to reduce, or better abolish, the welfare state so that the productive of society, whether immigrants or native-born, are unshackled to pursue their own interests.

The Statue of Liberty was inscribed with the famous words from Emma Lazarus' poem "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free" and America lived up to this exhortation by absorbing more than 30 million immigrants between 1850 and 1920. It was only a comparatively free and capitalist society like the United States was during that period that could afford to absorb so many from those huddled masses. Americans understood back then that immigrants bring with them in their minds and bodies the opportunities they create. They don't need to be given anything other than life, liberty and the opportunity to pursue their own happiness.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

'Don't just stand by and watch'

I have written before about the lack of heroism in today's world but it is pleasing to see the noble trait is not dead. The actions of Americans Spencer Stone, Alek Skarlatos and Anthony Sadler, Briton Chris Norman, and especially the 51-year-old French-American Mark Moogalian (who was the first to act and received a serious bullet wound for his trouble) in subduing an Islamic terrorist intent on taking the lives of innocent train passengers in France is enormously admirable. It is fitting that French President Francois Hollande has awarded them the Légion d'honneur, the highest French honour, for their bravery.

Sadler said he hoped others would draw a lesson from what happened. “Hiding or sitting back is not going to accomplish anything, and the gunman would’ve been successful if my friend Spencer had not gotten up. So I just want that lesson to be learned going forward, in times of terror like that, to please do something. Don’t just stand by and watch.”

Well said.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Liberals who aren't when it comes to immigration

Last night I watched a television news article about Syrian refugees trying to cross the Aegean Sea from Turkey to Greece. Crowded into small, inflatable boats that were already foundering as they were pushed out from shore into the waves, the men, women and children were so obviously risking their lives it was tragic to watch. As if any further evidence of their peril were required, we watched as a man dragged himself back to shore from a capsized boat further out to sea.

I am a liberal on immigration. I believe Western nations should encourage free and open immigration for any law-abiding individual that wants to come to our countries and support themselves. What surprises me is that many so-called liberals I encounter are anything but liberal on immigration issues.

If I think logically about it, the attitudes of these liberals shouldn't surprise me at all. More than anything, they want to protect their cosy, unsustainable lifestyle and they understand that the biggest risk comes from the people they purport to care about - the poor and downtrodden of other countries.

Today I was speaking with a female colleague (whom I know to be left-wing) about the news article and she confirmed my suspicions by saying she thought immigration was a threat to the 'social cohesion' here in New Zealand. Social cohesion is liberal newspeak for entrenched privilege. It is the carefully constructed, interdependent, socio-political hegemony that milks the productive to maintain the less-productive in comfort, that is maintained by a majority of the electorate continuing to hypocritically vote for their self-interest while telling themselves they are doing it out of concern for those less fortunate than themselves. It is no surprise, therefore, to see the left-wing Labour Party in blaming Chinese immigrants for rising house prices in our largest city.

Western liberals regard immigrants as charity cases - needing to be taken care of from the moment they arrive with all-encompassing social support and generous welfare benefits. But immigrants tend not to regard themselves as charity cases - they often want nothing more than the opportunity to be free to work hard to improve their lot. They are happy to start off in a new society living and working in conditions and for wages that most Western liberals would find inadequate, in order to end up in much better lives. They have no interest in maintaining the privileged positions of those in our society who are not prepared to work as hard as they are and that is why they are regarded as a threat to the so-called social cohesion.

We should give immigrants what they want - a safe harbour and the opportunity to improve themselves. They do not want anything more than that.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

FBI Director Wants Everyone to Leave Backdoors Unlocked so He Can Search at Will

The director of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation, James Comey, has called for technology companies to build 'backdoors' into their encryption systems so that the US Government can access anyone's digital communications. The most obvious flaw in his plan, as outlined in this article, is that any backdoor created for the US intelligence agencies can also be exploited by America's enemies. The vulnerability of US Government systems to hackers has been repeatedly proven, most recently with the hacking of the US Office of Personnel Management in which the confidential records of 21.5 million people who had been required to go through background checks for US government jobs were stolen, probably by the Chinese Government.

The naïveté of Comey's intentions is secondary, however, to the more important considerations of which he appears to be ignorant. It seems almost quaint to discuss the US Constitution and the Bill of Rights, given how utterly those documents have been philosophically shredded in recent decades, however the Fourth Amendment states that,

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

It is pretty unambiguous, isn't it? What part of that statement says that the US Government can require everyone to leave the digital equivalent of the backdoors of their houses unlocked so that one of its agencies can enter and search at will? Even the US Supreme Court, which has been only too willing to ignore James Madison's plain English and allow all sorts of unwarranted searches and seizures in recent decades, has to its credit upheld the rights of the people in respect of smartphones searches in two recent cases.

James Madison and many of his contemporaries originally thought that the powers granted to the Federal Government in the original seven articles of the US Constitution were implicitly limited, but they came to realise that the reverse was true. They understood that government power and individual rights were inherently in conflict and that for citizens to be sovereign (which is the most fundamental tenet of the US Declaration of Independence), government powers had to be explicitly limited. This is why the Bill of Rights was written.

James Comey believes the opposite to James Madison. The former believes the citizenry lives at the pleasure of the government and that therefore it is the right of the government to know everything about each and every one of its citizens, irrespective of whether there is reasonable cause to believe that a citizen has committed a crime. In James Comey's eyes, we are all guilty until proven innocent. This is why his view is so fundamentally wrong. It is why James Comey and his type that are the greatest threat to liberty today, rather than the threats from the likes of terrorist groups like ISIS that he uses to justify his demands for ever-greater power over our lives.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Yes, Bob Jones, I've had enough of airlines treating us like cattle, too.

A few months ago, the well-known New Zealand businessman, raconteur and boxing pundit, Bob Jones, was ejected from an Air New Zealand flight on the grounds that he refused to respond to a stewardess who wanted to know whether he was familiar with the operation of an emergency exit next to which he was sitting. Bob used to be best known for his brief political foray in the mid-1980s when he formed The New Zealand Party with the express intention of unseating the then prime minister, Rob Muldoon, whose politics and style of rule had come to more closely resemble that of Josef Stalin rather than the head of government in a Westminster democracy. Bob and his fledgling party attracted around 12% of the votes in the 1984 election, enough to unseat Muldoon and his cronies and to usher in the neo-liberal Labour Party that slashed taxes, sold off state assets, closed down unnecessary government agencies and led a most remarkable turn-around in New Zealand's economic fortunes from which the country still benefits today. I worked on that campaign with Bob Jones when I was a university student and remember him as always pleasant, courteous and good-humoured.

Bob Jones was in the news again this week because he has responded to his defenestration from that Air New Zealand flight in the best possible way - by buying his own executive jet. Actually, despite reports to the contrary, it is not the first time Bob has had his own executive jet - I recall his public investment company owned one during the height of the sharemarket boom that followed the defeat of the Muldoon regime. But his latest acquisition was a perfectly symbolic raised middle finger to New Zealand's national airline.

I've been reasonably successful financially in my career but not enough (yet) to buy my own executive jet. I most definitely would if I could because the treatment of commercial airline passengers all around the world is an absolute disgrace. Bob Jones is right to compare Air New Zealand unfavourably to Soviet-era airlines. As bad as Aeroflot once was (and it's safety record was so bad travel agents used to call it 'Aero-flop' in recognition of the propensity of its aircraft to crash), it at least operated in an era when airlines understood that good customer service didn't include bullying. Today, most airlines and airports treat their customers like cattle and I think it is only a matter of time before their staff resort to electric cattle prods to achieve their aims. Of course, they are aided by government security officials who treat all passengers, no matter how law-abiding, like convicted criminals.

The only aspect of all this with which I disagree with Bob Jones is that Air New Zealand is especially bad. Actually, all airlines in this part of the world are far ahead of those in the United States as anyone who has recently flown domestically there will tell you. Not only are U.S. airport security procedures far more intrusive (and literally bodily-intrusive in many cases) than ours, they have enormous structural issues due to the hub-and-spoke nature of their transit routes, a practice of always overbooking flights (which is frankly fraudulent) and a national psych that is anti-service - all of which results in an industry that regards passengers as something less valuable than insentient freight.

The only area in which Air New Zealand is worse than U.S. airlines is in its appalling, infantile safety videos (see example here). I guess they are supposed to be amusing but I find such videos only to be insulting and cringe-inducing, especially after the twentieth viewing. If they have to turn safety videos into childrens' fantasy tales in order to get people to watch them, what chance is there that anyone will have the maturity and presence of mind to actually follow the instructions during an emergency? It is all just part of the general infantilisation of Western culture that seems to be done to excess in this country.

Hmmm, I wonder how much that new jet costs?