Saturday, June 19, 2010

Brawling women probably state wives

I missed this story until I found time to rifle through the pages of the DomPost later in the day. It's basically a brawling story with little to recommend the victim either, although the reporting is somewhat ambiguous. 8 women set upon a single woman in retaliation for an earlier incident. The attack was vicious and happened late in the evening in Stokes Valley.

Acting Senior Sergeant Donna Rider said the attack was linked to an ongoing dispute but said the behaviour was "disgusting". "I'm horrified at the level of violence from these women. The other aspect to it is that two of them are pregnant and several others claim to be pregnant.

"One of them is eight months pregnant ... [you] can only guess at what kind of parents they'll make."

"Claiming" to be pregnant to avoid court-ordered consequences no doubt. Exploiting their babies even before they are born.

My heart, and maybe yours, goes out to the innocent babies that these women will bring into the world. But it won't be going out to them for long.

A few years down the track they will have grown into replicas of their mothers, in some form or fashion. And it is quite probable that they will all be raised on your money. Time to coin a new phrase. Add to state houses, state wives. Like many state houses they symbolise a seedy side of New Zealand that social policy makers seem unremittingly determined to sponsor.

Friday, June 18, 2010

An optimistic view on the future of freedom

The following is an excerpt from an interview with Gary Becker which appeared in the Wall St Journal (distributed today by the NZ Business Roundtable). Beautifully written by a former speech writer to Ronald Reagan, it's well worth 5 minutes of your time. And it's quite uplifting to boot.

"No, no. Not at all."

So says Gary Becker when asked if the financial collapse, the worst recession in a quarter of a century, and the rise of an administration intent on expanding the federal government have prompted him to reconsider his commitment to free markets.

Mr. Becker is a founder, along with his friend and teacher the late Milton Friedman, of the Chicago school of economics. More than four decades after winning the John Bates Clark Medal and almost two after winning the Nobel Prize, the 79-year-old occupies an unusual position for a man who has spent his entire professional life in the intensely competitive field of economics: He has nothing left to prove. Which makes it all the more impressive that he works as hard as an associate professor trying to earn tenure. He publishes regularly, carries a full-time teaching load at the University of Chicago (he's in his 32nd year), and engages in a running argument with his friend Judge Richard Posner on the "Becker-Posner Blog," one of the best-read Web sites on economics and the law....

....My last question involves a little story. Not long before Milton Friedman's death in 2006, I tell Mr. Becker, I had a conversation with Friedman. He had just reviewed the growth of spending that was then taking place under the Bush administration, and he was not happy. After a pause during the Reagan years, Friedman had explained, government spending had once again begun to rise. "The challenge for my generation," Friedman had told me, "was to provide an intellectual defense of liberty." Then Friedman had looked at me. "The challenge for your generation is to keep it."

Fewer abortions, but Pacific rate up

The abortion rate is down for 2 years running now. The tables show that the biggest drop is among young NZ European women with a 4.1 percent reduction in the number of abortions since 2007. For Maori the drop is 4 percent. For Asian, 1.9 percent. But the Pacific total is up 3 percent.

Of the 8 countries provided for 2008 NZ (19.7 per 1,000 women aged 15-44) ranks second behind Sweden (21.3)

The largest drop in abortion rate is among 15-19 year-olds, followed by 20-24 year-olds.

What does it all mean?

The only thing to be concluded for sure is that there are fewer abortions. Any other statement could be wrong. There are fewer unwanted pregnancies? Not necessarily. A pregnancy can be unwanted but the mother nevertheless decides against abortion.

Further, there isn't any evident strong correlation between the abortion rate and the birth rate for 15-19 year-olds (where the abortion rate has dropped the most).

Graphing the information shows that loosely speaking, more young women were having abortions and not giving birth until the lines converge and now more are giving birth and the same and most recently, fewer, are having abortions.

(There is improved ethnicity information over the past two years so the apparent rise in Pacific abortions could simply be that more are identifying their ethnicity.)

Thursday, June 17, 2010

New painting

During my last exhibition I noticed a young man taking notes about one of my paintings so approached him. He was very animated because he had made a connection with the painting. We got talking and he told me he was travelling the world and interested in the varying characteristics of the facial traits of different ethnicities. At his request I agreed to paint a version of any photo he wished to send me. He seemed keen to develop some sort of collaborative project. Being Spanish his English was fairly good. Much better than my Spanish anyway :-) He duly emailed me a photograph taken somewhere in South America and this is the result.

Fatherhood is the new 'privatisation'

This illustrates how welcome the advanced intervention of the state is in some quarters. Benefits introduced solely for single parents subsidised the rapid rise of (mainly female) single parenthood. Now that governments want to reduce or remove these benefits here's a feminist calling the process 'privatisation';

That public policy is what we call welfare-or what anti-welfare reformers of the mid-1990s named Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). At the time welfare reform policy was enacted, it was widely hailed for transforming single mothers into breadwinners by forcing them to take low wage jobs in the labor market. While compulsory labor market work is a feature of welfare reform, the reform equally emphasized the compulsory introduction of fathers into single mother families.

Indeed, the guiding principle of welfare policy is that the economic security of families requires mothers to have relationships with fathers. This is a privatizing move, tying the economic well-being of families to the presence of fathers' wages. It also is a patriarchal move, conferring economic security only to those mothers who conform to traditional father-mother norms.

Bo hoo Brown

Cactus blogs about the "weird" Mayor of Manukau, Len Brown, this morning. His histrionics of yesterday provoked a similar wave of amusement, distaste and finally, disdain in me. Len Brown is described as an emotional man. We are all emotional. Some learn how to control it. Maybe over-control it. Unfortunately the under-controllers are a growing force. Watching Fair Go last night I found myself cringing, God, he's no going to cry is he, about a man whose cladding had gone wrong. Increasingly we are subjected to dripping apologies. Never has Shane Jones appeared on the list of people I respect, but at least he had the fortitude to resist a sobbing self-flagellation. The it's-ok-for-a-man-cry movement can pat itself on the back. While it might want far more wet stuff yet the general direction males are going in is right on target. Well, it doesn't impress me. Browns performance was sodden with self-indulgence. But we should thank him for reminding us what self-indulgence looks like. So we can all try and avoid it.

Of course my daughter will remind me that I cried during Hotel For Dogs, at the movies no less! Well that's right. But at least I had the good grace to slink down in my seat and feel embarrassed about it.

Times-on-line - it won't work

Most days I check out the Times-on-line. Today I found a redesigned site. Looks better, I think, more traditional and less magaziny. But tai ho. I click on a headline that interests me and I get a message telling me to register for a 'free' trial. Bugger off. A/ I am interested but not that interested and B/ I don't have the time.

I don't know what the future of newspapers is, but it isn't through on-line subscription.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Last resort?

This is a statement to ponder over;

However, the vast majority treat welfare as a last resort.

First I ask myself, what constitutes a vast majority. Over 90 percent? A small majority would be between 50 and 60 perhaps. A large majority, say 70 odd. But vast is a lot, isn't it?

Something is clearly wrong when 324,814 working-age people – 12 per cent of the total – were on a main benefit on March 30 this year.

Indeed. But if my 'vast majority' prescription is applied, 292,332 people are using welfare as a last resort.

Give me a break. Recall Paula Rebstock's figures;

• In 2008, after a decade of economic growth and prior to the
recession, New Zealand had reached the point where roughly 1
in 10 working age New Zealanders were receiving a benefit.
• To put these numbers into context: in the mid-1960s about
30,000 people were receiving a benefit. That was only 2% of
the working age population.

Professor Bob Gregory made an observation about welfare reform at the WWG forum. That if eligibility is tightened some people will just disappear. Because they don't need to be there anyway.

After the US AFDC was replaced with TANF (open-ended entitlement transformed into temporary and conditional assistance) in 1996, the number of families relying on it dropped from 5 to 2 million (or thereabouts).

Some of the reasons were that people didn't believe they would meet the new criteria. Or they didn't want to comply with the work or activity requirements. Or people simply stopped going on to it. Possibly because they were saving up their 5 year allotment for when they really needed it. When it truly was a 'last resort'.

Stupidest comment

Can't get past this story about the pilot who crashed near a Sydney school. Nor can I listen to the final transmissions he made. He would have been desperately searching for green space, for his own sake and for the safety of those on the ground. He may have been heading for the school field. But he didn't have the height to make it. Worst of all he would have had full, or fairly full tanks being on the outward leg

Engine failures are rare. Most aerodromes are near built-up areas for public convenience. What on earth was this about?

Jodie Weir, 42, a resident of nearby Clifford Avenue, said: ''We regard it as an accident waiting to happen.''

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Benefit numbers rise but are 'below forecast'

If she can find something good to say about them, the Minister of Social Development releases monthly benefit numbers;

The number of New Zealanders receiving a benefit increased slightly over the month of May by 0.6 percent, but overall numbers remain below forecast.

"With seasonal work winding up, we expected to see a slight increase in Unemployment Benefit figures, but it is much lower and has occurred later than it did last year," says Social Development Minister Paula Bennett.

All benefit types have increased by 1,887 in total.

An extra 729 people have gone onto a Sickness Benefit, 342 more people on the DPB and 391 more on an Unemployment Benefit.

Two things interest me. First a reason is offered for the rise in unemployment benefits but not for the rise in other benefits. So are we expected to assume that other benefits are a proxy for the dole? A net increase of 729 on the sickness benefit in one month is high. (The way this is depicted by the Minister is incorrect.)

Secondly, the best thing the government can say about the numbers is that they are below forecast. That amused me because at a Treasury session during the Welfare Working Group conference, which addressed the subject of benefits, projections and how to make provision for those projections, the presenter used the word "embarrassing" when he described how the projections are made. They are based on an assumption that the numbers are fixed proportions of age groups. Hence, the forecasts:

Of course, in the past the lines have been far from flat, and will be in the future.

Monday, June 14, 2010

What prison over-crowding really looks like

I had been looking at this photo from a Californian prison for a while before realising that the beds are bunks.

The accompanying article is about the prospect of the Supreme Court intervening in a 3 federal judge ruling that the state must release 40,000 prisoners to relieve over-crowding.

"I don't get out of that bed," said Fernandez, 47, gesturing to the top of a three-tiered bunk in the malodorous heart of a human warehouse. "In a cell, you only have your cellie to deal with. But here, you got 200 different attitudes. Some guy gets a bad letter from his wife and he's going to be a problem for everyone around him."

Mule Creek was designed to house 1,700 prisoners when it opened in 1987. Today it holds 3,900, with two to a cell and 500 crammed into what used to be common areas for recreation. That is typical of all the state's prisons, which hold twice the number of inmates for which they were designed.

It looks bad, very bad. But so does this. Have a look. 302 homicides this year in the LA county mapped. Look at the victims faces.

The violent crime rate is trending down in the US. Unlike NZ.

Borrow for bariatric bypass

Why isn't a loan an acceptable option for people who want a gastric bypass?

If the state can only afford to fund 5 to 7 in 500, it would be fairer to offer interest free loans.

The operations cost between $17,000 and $35,000. Students take out loans that size. People buy similarly priced cars on time payment; take out mortgages 10 times that amount. Assuming a morbidly obese person will have a much greater chance of earning an income if they can get back to a normal weight, why don't they make the investment in themselves?

Aided and abetted by MPs, why does the argument always revert to a demand that the state pay? It doesn't help or advance their cause.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Paula Rebstock's WWG speech

The following is Paula Rebstock's opening speech to the Welfare Working Group forum. Worth reading it all:

Welfare Working Group – June Forum
Paula Rebstock, Chair
Wednesday 9 June 2010

• Minister Bennett, speakers and delegates, I would like to
welcome you all to this Forum, hosted by the Welfare Working
• The Working Group has been set up to look at long-term
welfare dependence and the growing number of people on
benefits in New Zealand.
• Our terms of reference are clear and require us to address
some big issues, including how work outcomes for sole parents
can be improved; how disabled people and those suffering from
ill health who have some work capacity can be supported into
work and independence; and to learn from the experience of
ACC and the insurance industry.
• Since we started just over a month ago, we have been listening
to a wide range of views. We’ve held a series of workshops
around the country involving people with personal experience of
the benefit system, as well as the providers and agencies who
work in the social services sector.
• This Forum builds on these workshops and brings together a
range of perspectives. We want to broaden the public debate
and provide wider context for what is happening in New
Zealand and internationally.
• By the end of the next two days, the Welfare Working Group
wants to have identified the range of issues that will enable us
to drive real change in the benefit system.
• We need your help to do this.
• So, why is this important?
• Put simply, the New Zealand benefit system affects all of us.
• As of March 2010, nearly 325,000 people or roughly 1 in 8
working age New Zealanders were receiving a main benefit.
• Current expenditure on the benefit system (and excluding the
tax credits) accounts for 11.5% of core government expenditure.
• The large numbers of people currently on benefits reflects longterm
underlying trends, rather than just the recent recession.
• In 2008, after a decade of economic growth and prior to the
recession, New Zealand had reached the point where roughly 1
in 10 working age New Zealanders were receiving a benefit.
• To put these numbers into context: in the mid-1960s about
30,000 people were receiving a benefit. That was only 2% of
the working age population.
• Two central questions the Welfare Working Group therefore
faces are: why does New Zealand have so many people on a
benefit? And why are some people on a benefit for so long?
• We are not alone in looking at these issues. They are being
debated around the world. And the good news is that we can
learn from the evidence and experience of other countries.
• As we begin to define our way forward here in New Zealand, I
want to start by acknowledging the reason we have a welfare
system. At some point in their lives many New Zealanders need
some form of support because they experience a period of
unemployment, or they get sick or lose a partner.
• Importantly, most people who need this support and use the
benefit system in these circumstances, do so for only a short
• But when we look more closely at the statistics about people on
benefits, and discuss these issues openly in our communities,
we see there are also a large number of people who are using
the benefit system more or less permanently. For them the
safety net has become a trap.
• Of the nearly 325,000 people on a benefit in March this year,
roughly 30% have been on a benefit continuously for four or
more years. Nearly 12% have been on benefit continuously for
over a decade.
• And even these depressing statistics mask the true story
around those receiving benefits for long periods of time.
• If we consider the fact that many people have multiple periods
of benefit receipt, the true extent of long-term benefit
dependence becomes even clearer.
• Of the people on a benefit in June 2009, 177,500 of them had
spent seven or more years on a benefit since 1993.
• That’s the equivalent of the entire population of the cities of
Dunedin and Invercargill who have spent more than seven
years on a benefit.
• That we have such numbers of people on benefits for such long
periods of time should be deeply concerning to everyone.
• We know that being on a benefit long-term is a corrosive
experience, and many of the people who are on a benefit more
or less continuously are actually able and willing to work.
• New Zealand has the third lowest measured rate of
employment of sole parents in the OECD, and we have to ask
whether the structure of our benefit system is contributing to
this result.
• For some people with disabilities or illness, we need to ask
whether the benefit system focuses too heavily on what they
can’t do, instead of what they can do.
• According to the evidence, the wellbeing of people who are
disabled or unwell and on benefits could be improved by getting
back into work sooner. But they need the right support from the
community and employers.
• The current system, established in a previous century and
tinkered with by successive Governments, is not effectively
responding to the demographic, economic and social realities of
New Zealand in 2010 and beyond.
• For many individuals and their families we need a fundamental
rethink of the support we are offering to people in need of
income support.
• The old approach emphasised the ‘security’ of a modest benefit.
• But I don’t think the old approach provides real security. It
simply locks many people into life on a benefit and robs them of
their potential.
• For most people, real security is provided by the earnings,
confidence, the social contact, better health and the future
prospects that participation in the workforce offers.
• For those who have no capacity to work, we have a
responsibility to meet the real cost of their support. We also
have a responsibility to ensure they are able to participate
effectively in their community.
• For those whom work is possible, we must refocus our efforts
and resources.
• Children growing up with a parent or parents long-term on
benefit don’t get security. They get limited aspirations and
• The human cost this represents is surely a concern to every
New Zealander.
• The financial costs are also a concern. Right now we are
spending around $7.5 billion of core government expenditure
on benefits.
• We need to consider whether the investment we are making in
the current system is actually delivering the results we expect
or want.
• A recent study estimated that the future fiscal liability of people
currently on benefit in 2009 was in the order of between 24%
and 31% of GDP. This is a very large figure, and we need to
ask whether we are investing enough, and investing in the right
areas, in order to reduce these future costs.
• Our task is not easy. The challenge over the next two days is
for every person in this room is to debate the issues and
contribute to the process in a constructive way.
• We need to confront some complex and difficult questions.
Here are some to kick-start the debate:
• What can be done to reduce the cycle of benefit receipt
between parents and children? We know from research that the
family environment is vital in nurturing hope and aspirations.
One in five children currently lives in a family that is receiving a
benefit. Is this an outcome we want ?
• Why are so many young people leaving school without the skills
they need to support themselves, ending up on a benefit and
staying there far too long? What are the hard questions we
should be asking of our education system?
• And, what do we need to do to improve the prospects for those
who have been receiving sickness or invalid’s benefits for long
periods? What are the supports and attitudinal changes that
need to be put in place?
• We might not all agree on the answers, but these questions
need to be asked. We need to engage in a clear dialogue, as
we cannot keep doing what we have been doing and failing to
address the problem of long-term welfare in New Zealand.
• We need solutions that are innovative, we need the best
possible evidence, and we need to be ambitious for what we
can achieve.
• We have a lot to learn, share and consider over the next two
days. Every one of you here has an important role to play.
• To be successful we need to respect the differences of opinion
and be open to testing the boundaries.
• We have a unique opportunity to challenge some old myths and
engage in a dialogue about one of New Zealand’s most
pressing issues.