March 27, 2017

Horse 2251 - My Tax Plan Would Never Pass Congress

With the Republicans unable to agree amongst themselves with regards repealing and replacing Obamacare, the American Health Care Act otherwise known as Trumpcare didn't even get a reading in the House Of Representatives much less a vote. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan resigned himself and the nation to the fact that Obamacare remains "the law of the land" and President Donald Trump appears to have moved on. The next thing that seems to be on the agenda for this administration looks like it shall be an equally thorny problem - taxation. This issue as far as Republicans are concerned wasn't helped by their failure to secure $880bn in savings over the forward estimates.
Speaking as a lowly accountant in an entirely different country, who knows next few nothing about the ins and outs of American taxation law, I feel that because I know virtually nothing that I am perfectly positioned to throw an ill-conceived and half-baked opinion into the debate. Yes, I know nothing about American taxation law but given the amount of experience of civics which are currently on display within the Trump cabinet, if anything that might make me overqualified.

The United States currently has one of the, if not the most, disunited sets of taxation laws in the world. If you want to take a survey of all of the exemptions and allowances within the American taxation code, then what is revealed are lists and lists of concessions and incentives which have come about because of decades of pandering to lobby groups? There are whole industries which live inside fiddles and some of the consequences which have been spawned as a result of the taxation code are ridiculous. The one that springs to mind for me (because it is relevant to my interests) is the "Chicken Tax" which allows goods to be landed in the United States provided that they have been elaborately transformed in the United States; this results in Ford Transit vans being imported into the United States as passenger vehicles, then having the seats removed and glass panels replaced, with the seats and the glass panels being shipped back across the Atlantic Ocean just to be put into another new Transit van, only to be removed again. I have no idea who this helps in practice, save for a few workers on the docks, who have a make work job just to comply with taxation law.

American taxation law is comprehensively systemically idiotic in so many ways. A lot of the reason for this stems from the fact that the US Constitution doesn't really know what to do with supremacy clauses. The fifty states which have "a republican form of government", whatever the heck that means, mostly impose their own income taxes in addition to the federal income tax. There are also state sales taxes, payroll taxes, land taxes, state royalties as well as a bunch of concessions and incentives within state taxation codes; clearly this is a stupid entangled mess.

If I was Grand Poohbah and Lord High Everything Else, the single biggest sweeping simplification of United States' taxation law that I'd introduce would be the wholesale removal of all state income tax, sales tax and company tax. It would be the bravest and most courageous policy to be introduced to the Congress and boy, there would be seven different kinds of brimstone raining down and hell to pay. You'd find bipartisan support to stop such a bill and that there explains one of the reasons why the American taxation system is so unbelievably mangled. Let’s look at just these three things.

A single set of income taxes would be identical across state lines, which would mean that business wouldn't have anywhere near the same amount of compliance costs to deal with them. It would also mean the end of having to fill out two tax returns. You'd get a single 1040 and that world be that. There would be no reporting state taxation to the federal government because there would be no state income tax.

A single set of sales taxes would be predictable across state lines and as far as the consumer is concerned, they'd never have to worry about finding weird amounts of money to pay the sales tax again. If there was a single headline rate of sales tax across the United States (say 15%) then the amount payable by the consumer could be easily calculable and prices could always be posted with sales tax inclusive. If something was listed on the shelf as $1.38, then the actual price would be $1.20 and the sales tax 18¢ but the transaction wouldn't come with a sting in the tail. A weekly shop of $84.67 would be rung up as $84.67 without having to find that extra annoying sales tax amount which nobody in the world likes.
Computers are already equipped to deal with this sort of thing and accountants up and down the country would all breathe a collective sigh of relief because their jobs would be made simpler.

A single set of company taxes payable to the federal government would be as welcome as income tax and sales tax. The rate should be also simplified to a single headline rate of tax as well. The whole invention of the corporation is a legal fiction, albeit a very useful one, and the fact is that the vast majority of companies are either holding companies who own assets and do not trade at all (and therefore have no tax liability) or they are small businesses where the company exists to provide legal protection for the owners and they will pay out either wages or dividends depending on what is the most advantageous.
If there was a single headline rate of  company tax across the country and that rate happened to synchronise with the most common rate of personal income tax and there was a proper system of imputation credits for company tax, then the majority of people would receive dividends with no net effect on their personal taxation and those people who get dividends as the bulk of their income (which is generally older people who have their retirement savings placed in the stock market) are going to receive refunds where the rate of company tax exceeds their marginal rates of personal income tax.

The thing is that I didn't come up with any of these three ideas. This is already the law of the land in Australia. The states voluntarily gave up their right to impose income tax in 1942, during the height of the Second World War. Company Tax in Australia happens to lie within the realm of the Income Tax Assessment Act and isn't some separate piece of legislation here. Sales tax, or rather the Goods and Services Tax (GST) is also a federal tax here and doesn't vary from state to state. Of course this all does mean that every year there is a great bunfight over who gets what in taxation revenues but at least that's happening in annual negotiations after the tax has been collected, instead of forcing the general public to wear the economic consequences of compliance. Having government do the job of government seems more efficient to me than making the public do their work for them.

Of course none of this is remotely likely because unless the so-called nuclear option is revoked, it takes 60 votes in the Senate just to order a sandwich and Kansas will opt-out and New Mexico will demand that they are exempt from paying for cheese. If Congress can’t even get the American Health Care Act of 2017 to pass, even though the Republicans control all of the levers of government, then getting the states to agree to what I’d propose would be impossible and Satan himself would be ice-skating to work before such a thing was passed.

March 25, 2017

Horse 2250 - This Is Crazy Stuff, Pauline

The news which has come from London with regards the "terrorist" attack outside the Houses Of Parliament is that the man who drove his CA through a bunch of people, killing 7 and injuring others, was a man who was living in Birmingham and had been born in Kent. This was a British citizen who has carried out an attack on British soil.

Naturally people are angry and dismayed but who should walk into the media spotlight in Australia than prize racist, Senator Pauline Hanson. True tom form, following from her opening remarks to this term of parliament that Australia was being "swamped by Muslims", the media have again handed her airspace, knowing full well that she can not leave well enough alone.

http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/pauline-hanson-says-islam-is-a-disease-australia-needs-to-vaccinate-20170324-gv5w7z.html
"Let me put it in this analogy - we have a disease, we vaccinate ourselves against it. Islam is a disease; we need to vaccinate ourselves against that."
- Pauline Hanson, as quoted in The Sydney Morning Herald, 24th Mar 2017.

Coming out of anyone else's mouth, this might be forgiven as a misstep, which was said in the heat of the moment. Coming out of the month of Senator Hanson though, this is just the latest dribble of acid to be spat from her tongue. If it wasn't Aboriginals, it was Asians; if it isn't Asians, it is Muslims; if it won't be Muslims in future, it will be the next group of people who she wants to cast as the designated enemy; never mind that Section 116 of the Constitution specifically prevents the Commonwealth from making laws with regards religion.
One of the benefits of living in a society where we do have freedom of religion and freedom of speech, is that we do get to speak both for and against what we do and don't like. I completely endorse Senator Hanson's right to speak her mind. Also as a consequence, we also have the right to judge what people have said. If we apply the Martin Luther King Jr test of not judging people on the colour of their skin but on the content of their character and character is outwardly manifest through what people say, then I'm dangerously close to making judgement here. This is bitter and vile.

It should go without saying that the actions of Khalid Masood in London were evil. Nobody needs to labour that point. It should not be incumbent upon people who are totally unconnected to this man, both in London, the UK, and especially people living on the other side of the world, to take or be held responsible for this. Neither should people who are quietly going about their business be made to feel fearful or somehow lesser in society because of this.

This also tripped something in my mind that really scared me. I can not remember where I read this, but the quote was easy enough to find.
There was a meeting between Adolf Hitler, Heinrich Himmler and a Danish SS Major (whose name I could not find) in which Hitler is quoted mas saying:
"The discovery of the Jewish virus is one of the greatest revolutions that has taken place in the world. The battle in which we are engaged today is of the same sort as the battle waged, during the last century, by Pasteur and Koch. How many diseases have their origin in the Jewish virus! We shall regain our health only by eliminating the Jew."
- Adolf Hitler, 22nd Feb 1942.

This sounds to me like the same sentiment but taken a few steps further. Now I realise that this is literally a reductio ad hitlerum argument but when you dehumanize people, you are no longer able to feel compassion for them. The actions of one mind gone wrong on the other side of the world to not and should not be cause for this sort of rhetoric. The fact that this is said by an elected official of this country sickens me.

I like the remarks made by the Deputy Prime Minister, Barnaby Joyce. Sometimes Barnaby appears to be unencumbered by the thought process but if he keeps this up, there is a wee chance that he may end up scoring the top job.

Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce was quick to denounce the One Nation leader's latest comments as "bat poo crazy" and said people were not a disease.
- The Sydney Morning Herald, 24th Mar 2017.

It's a weird day when Barnaby Joyce appears as the sane one. His words speak for themselves; specifically he said:
The more I hear from One Nation, the more I think that other people are hearing the same stuff, it’s kind of crazy. First of all we’ve got no-vaxxers, then next thing Vladimir Putin’s a good bloke, then we’re sacking people because they’re too old. I’ve got good mates and not so good mates that are Islamic; I can’t walk up to someone and say I’m sorry, we’ve got a person who thinks you’re a disease. They’re going to say, no I’m a human being. This bat-poo crazy stuff does not help anybody. It was just stupid.

Indeed.

March 24, 2017

Horse 2249 - Why should... A-Z?

Following the success of What is... A-Z (Horse 1612), I thought I'd play again.

The rules are simple. I enter in the words "Why should" followed by the various letters of the alphabet into the Google search engine. It then auto-fills in the rest and I answer the question. Sounds simple? Off we go!

Why should Australia become a republic?
I personally don't think that we should for a multitude of reason but I suppose that people who advocate for it do so because they want a head of state who was born in Australia; which isn't unreasonable.

Why should Blue and green never be seen?
Presumably because this is a crime against fashion but to be honest I don't think that it makes much of a difference. Blue on blue rampage is far worse.

Why should Consumers go green?
This is "green" in the sense of being kind to the environment. We have to remember that the first objective of every organisation is the continued survival of the organisation. If the world is an organisation, why shouldn't we look after it, so that people who come after us have somewhere nice to live?

Why should Drugs be legal?
Invariably everyone who wants recreational drugs to be legalised, never has to bear the consequences. That seems highly selfish to me. The rest of us bear the costs through taxation, when A&E have to patch up people at night.

Why should Euthanasia be legal?
Again, I don't think that it should because that seems like a very convenient way for health insurance companies to get rid of unprofitable insurance risks. This is legalised murder by a different name.

Why should Food handlers wear gloves?
There was a little elf called Simon Ella who never washed his hands and gave everyone food poisoning - Elf and Safety.

Why should Go to school?
Learn grammar. Learn maths. Be good. Do good. Look like idiot will not.

Why should Homework be banned?
It shouldn't. Do you homework.

Why should I hire you?
If it isn't for my insane good looks or my vast intelligence, then it should be for my humility. When it comes to humility, I am the greatest.

Why should Jargon be used selectively?
When you have phase problems with your turboincabulator then you will start getting I/O interference across the two pivot terminals.

Why should Killer Whales be kept in captivity?
If they have been convicted under the Crimes Act 1900, we don't want them roaming the streets.

Why should Learn english?
Does neb yn deall Cymraeg. Mae'n iaith wirion.

Why should Melons be eaten alone?
Nobody wants to be around you when you eat melons. Nobody.

Why should NASA be funded?
Of itself science is not necessarily profitable but all of the incidental technology which comes from doing science almost always returns the investment many times over. NASA is no different.

Why should Odysseus be wary of the sirens?
They are dangerous bird-women who seduce sailors with their songs, in the hopes that the sailors' ships are wrecked on their rocky shores; so they can feast on the flesh of those sailors. 

Why should Pluto be a planet?
It shouldn't. A planet is a thing which clears all other objects from their orbit. Pluto hasn't done that. It's okay Pluto, I'm not a planet either.

Why should Quebec stay in Canada?
Quebec c'est magnifique!

Why should Refugees be welcomed in Australia?
If someone showed up at your doorstep and wanted to stay because their house had burned down, you wouldn't send them out into the cold night and tell them to keep warm unless you are a heartless monster. Refugees and Asylum Seekers have usually left awful circumstances, as a nation we have a moral obligation not to be heartless monsters.

Why should Students wear school uniform?
Community. To mitigate judgement of children due to economic circumstance. So the rest of the community can tell when they are skiving off?

Why should They be happy?
Yeah, why? They (whoever they are) ain't got nothing going for them nowhere.

Why should Ulysses S Grant be remembered?
Reconstruction. Expanding civil rights. For having the initials US. And for having a glorious beard (though not as glorious as Garfield's).

Why should Voting be compulsory?
Voting isn't a "right" but a civic duty. Anyone who claims to be part of the civic life of the nation should vote in the management of that nation.

Why should Water be alkaline?
People claim that alkaline water neutralises the acids which are found in the human body. This is complete tosh. You have acids in places like the stomach to break down food. 

Why should Xerxes not invade Greece?
Xerxes is a madman. He's mad. He's madder than Mad Jack McMad, the winner of last year's Mr Madman competition. Besides which, his empire is already big. It has 127 provinces in it.

Why should You drink water?
Water is a delicious drink which can be enjoyed by all; unlike petrol which is a nasty and not delicious drink, which can only be enjoyed by Robo-ScoMo... THE ROBOTS ARE COMING, RUN FOR THE HILLS!

Why should Zheng He not be celebrated?
After Zheng He's voyages China abandoned the Indian Ocean trade routes because of the Haijin edict and by doing so, cut itself off from Europe's technological explosion in the renaissance.

Why should þ?
There are no autocorrect words with þ. Uncle Google has let me down.

Why should Cookie Monster eat vegetables?
Yeah, why should he? He's the Cookie Monster, not the Veggie Monster or the Grass Monster.
Cookie Monster is the 28th and best letter of the alphabet.






March 23, 2017

Horse 2248 - This Is The Change We Need

I have already written before that I think that although the 5 cent coin is cute with its little echidna staring out at as, it really has worn out its welcome and outlived its purpose¹. New Zealand quite rightly has got rid of theirs and there is a decent argument to be made that the United States should get rid of pennies and nickels. All of these things pile up in your wallet like little bits of metal after you've thrown a timing belt, driving valves into the cylinder head and spewing shards through the engine. The five cent coin is so bad at fulfilling its only function, to facilitate the transaction of commerce, that it is debatable whether or not there is a net economic benefit to picking one off of the pavement - my charge out rate is $360/hr and if you were to divide that by 60 minutes and 60 seconds, you end up with 10 cents per second².
That aside, I have a similar idea which would promote economic activity by playing with people's psychology. Replace the 5 dollar note with a coin. 

There is a concept in economics called the "denomination effect" which basically says that people are more likely to spend smaller bits of currency than bigger ones. Admittedly this blurs quite a lot when you start moving into using plastic cards because all amounts tend to be more psychologically fungible but if you think about it, you're more likely to spend two twenties and a tenner than you are to break a twenty a fifty, aren't you?
Likewise, people are more likely to spend coins than they are to spend a note. If someone had a five dollar note and a five dollar coin, most people will spend the coin before they spend the spend the note, even though they are both worth five dollars. It's also worth noting that initially there was a little bit of push back when the new five dollar note was released and people were more likely to retain the new note than the old u but when that perceived newness had worn off, the spending rate was identical.

If people are more likely to spend coins rather than notes, then the people who benefit from this are the small businesses and retailers who sell smaller items. If people are more likely to spend money at smaller businesses then this keeps their tills ticking over and conversely, they are more likely to employ people. For some hitherto unknown reason, people have it in their head that by cutting penalty rates on Sundays that is  going to have a marked effect on employment but if people are generally spending more anyway, for the other six days of the week then this has a far larger effect. If the intent is to play the magic piano of capitalism³ then playing it faster is better than changing the sheet music.

If we assume an inflation rate of 4%, which is a good rate to use because that appears to work since about the beginning of the founding of the city of Rome, then the one dollar note which we first had in 1966, had the equivalent buying power that $7.14 does now. If that is true, there's probably an argument to be made that we should future proof the currency and change the ten dollar note for a coin too.
Not that I'm specifically advocating this but when Australia does become a republic, which I suspect will happen by 2030, then we'll need a new design for the fiver anyway. I can't imagine that in a future Scottmorric Republic Of Australia that we'd want Charlie Boy III on the banknotes anymore. The rest of the suite of banknotes need not change at all and although all of the obverses would have to change, the planchet and the reverse does not.
We have toyed with the idea of a five dollar coin in the past, firstly with a bimetallic coin commemorating the centenary of women's suffrage and then the centenary of the birth of Sir Donald Bradman but they didn't really inspire the public that much. I reckon that either of them could have been suitable for the circulating five dollar coin and I'd be perfectly happy it either of them actually was.


A five dollar coin would be more likely to be spent because of the denomination effect, is an investment in the future but I must admit that my real reason for wanting such a thing is because coins are more readily acceptable by vending machines in supermarkets and I find it a real annoyance when I'm standing trying to feed beat up banknotes into the note acceptors. Yeah, this whole blog post is one giant petty complaint because it took me too long to shove a fiver into an automatic checkout and I had a bunch of people staring at me.

PS: nobody is going to miss hundreds if we got rid of those either.

¹See Horse 2209 - http://rollo75.blogspot.com.au/2017/01/horse-2209-why-2017-should-be-year-of.html
²My wage is far lower than that. I always pick five cent coins off the pavement.
³"The Magic Plano Of Capitalism" is a 1877 piece by the well known composer, Ka Ching.

March 22, 2017

Horse 2247 - Australia Celebrates The International Day For The Elimination of Racism By Announcing The Wish To Protect Racism

Australia marked this March 21, Harmony Day; which is otherwise known as the International Day For The Elimination of Racism¹, with the announcement that the Cabinet has officially taken the position that it wants to replace the words "insult, humiliate or offend" in Section 18 C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 with the single vague and mostly unenforceable word "harass".
Can I just say here and now that I am deeply ashamed of the Federal Government because in doing this on this day, it exactly sends out the message to the world that despite 117 years of nationhood, we have progressed nowhere in terms of race relations. This is the same nation who took 91 years to recognise native title; this is the same nation which in the history of the world is the only nation to have enacted exact and complete genocide of a race, with Truganini being the last Tasmanian Aboriginal and dying in 1877 after government policy to exterminate all of them; this is the nation that actively sends refugees and asylum seekers to Pacific island nations because we want to be seen as tough in defending our borders.
Yesterday the Cabinet may as well have announced that as a nation, we are a bunch of cruel cruel knaves, who value the right to "insult, humiliate and offend" people more than we value whatever inherent dignity they might possess. We also saw how weak willed the Liberal Party is because they've just rolled over and had their policy dictated by News Corp and the IPA. Unless of course this does in fact accurately reflect the will of the people; in which case Australia truly is an awful country.

Australia had its founding as a nation with a vote and not a war; as such we are possibly one of only two countries to have arrived at their current form of government before the country came into existence. Admittedly we inherited the Westminster System of government and so that form was already established but the one thing that we didn't inherit but had to argue out was the constitution. One of the features of the Constitution Act 1900 that is remarkable is that it doesn't contain a bill of rights and the reason why it does not is because it was decided that such a thing would blinker the people against the rights not specifically enumerated within the act. As a result, rights in the legal framework of Australia are assumed to exist and are hedged in by law.
On that point, I personally think that this is brilliant. Rights should always be assumed to exist but be bounded by relevant laws. I also happen to believe that rights should in almost every case be hedged in by law because human nature is such that absolute rights invariably lead to bad outcomes.

The right to privacy should be tempered by the need to investigate crime. The right to bear arms should be tempered by the public's right to go about their business safely. The right to free speech should be tempered by the right of other people's rights to dignity and decency. Those words "offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate" draw the line at a point where someone's dignity and decency has been violated. I don't think that that's unreasonable and those who wish to remove this restraint in my opinion, only wish to do so because they wish to be free from the results of their actions.
Essentially this is principally about the exercise of power and if you seriously consider those who are calling for the removal of 18C, without exception they are in positions of relative power and don't want to be held to account for the abuse of that power and their abuse of people.

If you imagine a strong man who has powerful fists, he would probably argue that he has the right to swing those fists anywhere he likes. If we assume that this is correct, then presumably his right to swing his fists ends at the point of someone else's face. If it does not, then he has the right to punch people in the face; without consequence.
This is what section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 is akin to. Just like the laws of defamation which say that the right to free speech ends at the point where someone else's reputation is injured, 18C says that where something is going to " offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate" someone on the basis of race, then that is the point where free speech ends there. If you remove those words and replace them with the singular word "harass" which is both vague and as yet undefined within the Racial Discrimination Act, which is exactly what the Cabinet has suggested, then the point at which the right ends moves beyond the point of injury. Changing the Act in this way is like placing the right of the strong man to punch someone in the face within the bounds of what is allowed. That's fine if you happen to be the strong man but if you happen to be the one whose eye socket is cracked then you no longer have any ability to hold the abuse of power to account.

We aren't talking about hurt feelings here either. The High Court case of Creek v Cairns Post Pty Ltd (2001) defines those three words more accurately:

https://jade.io/article/104058
Pursuant to the section the nature or quality of the act in question is tested by the effect which it is reasonably likely to have on another person of the racial or other group referred to in par (b) of the subsection.  To “offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate” are profound and serious effects, not to be likened to mere slights. Having said that, the court would of course be conscious of the need to consider the reaction from that person or group’s perspective. If par (a) of the subsection is established, as it is here, it is necessary then to consider the additional requirement relating to the reason for the act.
- Creek v Cairns Post Pty Ltd (2001)

Notice that this specifically ruled that "mere slights" aren't grounds for prosecution under the Act. This case also applies a test of the so-called reasonable person. This test has a very long tradition at common law and "the man on the Clapham Omnibus" has almost passed into cliché because it is so often used in the legal profession.

What I find almost incredulous about this is that less than a fortnight after One Nation was roundly rejected at the polls in the Western Australian state election, where many of their members have espoused racist and religiously intolerant sentiments, the Federal Government picked it up and decided to make those things policy. This is basically telling the people of Australia that they have got it wrong, that the government knows better and that racism as defined by law and where it causes injury, is okay.

Unless I am in a minority and think that the current law is fine because racism is unacceptable, then the only logical conclusion that I can draw is that the country thinks that it is acceptable. If this is true, then please forgive me Australia when I look at you with contempt.
I see Truganini captured; I see the Australian flag in flames² and let it burn. If that causes you to be offended, insulted, humiliated or intimidated, then you had better turn the fault light back on yourself because you are the ones calling for racism to be acceptable at law.

¹http://www.un.org/en/events/racialdiscriminationday/
²https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LcxdbZ5chcc

March 21, 2017

Horse 2246 - The Need For Public Broadcasting

Last night on Q And A on ABC 1, Mark Day of The Australian inadvertently provided the best reason why the ABC should exist and perhaps even why it deserves more funding. Mr Day said that there needed to be media from both the left and the right to ensure that ideas are tested and put forward, in order to maintain a healthy and functional democracy. The reason why I say that he put this forward inadvertently is because in Australia we live in one of the most concentrated and myopic media markets in the world.
Broadly speaking there are three newspaper groups and in many places there is only one daily newspaper for the city, for two cities on the east coast there are two daily newspapers, and nowhere in the country are all three represented. There are five television networks and many regional areas lacking the basic functions of compiling their own local nightly news bulletin. There are four major players in the radio market but two of them are almost exclusively music boxes and only the ABC produces anything other than programs which are live sport or analysis, talkback or morning zoo style programs. To that end, only Radio National and News Radio bother to produce long form radio programs.
To that end, and the fact that the ABC is really the only major organisation in the county who trains people in radio and television production, the ABC is immensely important.

Yet for reasons not known to me, and maybe I'm being paranoid, the current CEO of the  ABC, Michelle Guthrie, doesn't seem to see the importance of the thing that she's been put in charge of. As a former employee of Murdoch's STAR satellite television networks in Asia, it looks like she's been parachuted into the job by the current Liberal Government for ideological reasons, rather than because of any genuine love for public broadcasting and that troubles me. Running a commercial organisation requires a different skill set and mindset to that of running a government service and the truly great people who are remembered, are remembered because they have displayed great vision and directed governments to create something far bigger than themselves which has outlived them. I for instance have no idea who the Premier of NSW was in 1923 but the real dynamo behind public works in the state, John C Bradfield, is not only remembered in this state but also Queensland.

Someone much wiser than me once said that where you put your treasure, there your heart will be also. Not only do I think that that is true for individuals but also companies and governments. A government budget is not only a list of expenditures and taxation revenues but a statement of what the state thinks is important. Granted that in fascist, communist or other totalitarian regimes that public broadcasting is often the top of propaganda, in a mixed economy democracy, public broadcasting often contributes to the life of the nation in ways that commercial media which is dictated by the desires of advertisers and shareholders, does not.
In some respects public broadcasting projects the voice of the nation. Often it acts as a counterbalance to commercial media which when left to its own devices runs into sensationalism and engages in its own propaganda, pushing the views of its owners. If something is unprofitable then it's not likely to be aired or published by commercial media and that by default says that the only voices which are heard are those with the most money. If you saturate a population with those voices and perpetual messages of apathy, cruelty and stupidity, which is often the case, then the nation often reflects what it's being told.

Something that's bothered me recently is the way in which Michelle Guthrie has made claims about cutting managerial staff from the ABC in the latest set of economy drives but somehow those people in management end up being people like camera operators, VT editors,  sound and lighting engineers and other people such as set designers. All the while, organisations like News Corp through Sky News and The Australian in particular are able to yell ever more loudly into the media space in Australia. If the ABC speaks truth to power it is accused of leftist bias but if it doesn't then it hasn't done its job of holding the government of the day to account.

Say what you will about the ABC, because it operates several national radio and television networks as well as its online news service, it is really the only truly national media network that by virtue of having a presence everywhere in the country, is able to offer consistently reliable reportage about the country. Fairfax doesn't have a daily newspaper in Qld, SA, NT or WA; News Corp doesn't have one in WA; the television networks have affiliates but don't truly operate out of the regions; and of the various radio networks, only the ABC has a proper national news gathering service. That in itself is valuable and if the current CEO doesn't appreciate the seriousness of that, then shouldn't really be there.

The job of the Chief Executive Officer of any organisation is first and foremost to ensure the continuing viability of the entity. The CEO of the ABC in particular needs to stand up to the government of the day, to maintain the independence of the corporation and to fight for the budget of the corporation. It is important for the CEO of the ABC to remember that it should outlive the current term of government, their own stewardship of the corporation and possibly even their lifetime. Just because there are calls from wingnuts and enemies to shut it down, they don't accurately reflect the will of the people or what is best for them.

Largely because public broadcasting isn't swayed by the demands of the profit motive, it can afford to tell stories and run ideas that aren't otherwise commercially viable. In an era where news gathering, collection and analysis is suffering from falling advertising revenues, really it's only public broadcasters who are prepared to take the necessary time to scrutinize what's being said by governments and the powerful. That function to some degree isn't being carried out by commercial media and nor will they do so because there's no money in it.

March 20, 2017

Horse 2245 - Out Of Deodorant? I've Found A New Manly Smell

Some time late last week I ran out of deodorant and started using a new can. Much to my disappointment it started coming out as a chemical salty mist and was more like christmas tree flocking than anything else. By about lunchtime, so much of the salty residue had rolled down the inside of my sleeves and onto my desk at work that I had to buy another brand entirely. This new one smells like two tanker trucks of acetone and paint stripper had a head on accident on the motorway and the contents of both tanks have spilled out all over the place.

If I was Grand Poobah and Lord High Everything Else, then I'd start up an industrial research company to find the manliest gruntiest rip-your-head off smell, that was acceptable and put that in a can. Such a manly man spray would have to have the following ingredients:

1. Artline 19 Marker
The No.19 industrial marker from Artline comes with the warnings: use in ventilated conditions, keep away from children, harmful, and contains xylene. As far as I'm aware, the No.19 chisel point and No.17 bullet point markers are meant for drawing on the side of glowing boilers. Xylene (apart from being worth 16 points in Scrabble) is considered by the EEC in its Dangerous Substances Directive to be "harmful".
I realise that as I use it at work, the aromatic hydrocarbons are probably doing serious damage to my brain; though I don't see that as an issue because I have two cats and probably also have a case of toxoplasmosis going on. I just think that it smells glorious.

2. Kiwi Boot Polish
The last pair of shoes that I bought in America have failed in away that I have never seen shoes fail before. The top layer of plastic lacquer has come away from the leather and now the toes of the shoes look awful. When I could polish them though, getting out a tin of Kiwi brough along a smell which has been roughly the same since 1914.

3. Castrol TTS
I know that other two stroke additives are available but Castrol TTS 2-Stroke is in my opinion the definitive additive for motorbikes, chainsaws, lawn mowers and line trimmers. This is the default smell for mowing the lawn, of motor bike racing and of chainsawing things.

4. Bacon
"We have too much bacon" is a phrase in which I understand every single word but not in that order and not in that context. One of the greatest ironies in history is that God's chosen people, weren't allowed to eat it, and even now, vegetarians with their smug piety, their lentil clogged hearts are saying "ba-con, ba-con, ba-con" with every beat. Everybody's heart beats for bacon.

All of this was a pipe dream though. You can't take the smell of Artline 19 Marker, Kiwi Boot Polish, Castrol TTS and Bacon and fuse them all together in a deodorant. It's not that this isn't possible, because I'm guessing that some chemist somewhere with a decent knowledge of esters should be able to produce such a thing but the reason that it won't be done is because the amount of grunty rip-your-head off manliness that would be unleashed would be like if those two tanker trucks of acetone and paint stripper were driven by Martin Skrtel and Mr T - the universe would implode.

Actually there is a manly man spray which already exists; it already comes in a can and it already smells glorious:

WD-40

Want to lubricate machinery? WD-40. Want to loosen up a sticking lock? WD-40. Want to clean up gardening gear? WD-40. Want to stop your saw blades from rusting? WD-40. Want to stop that horrible red clay that you find in the garden from sticking to the shovel? WD-40. Want to cool drill bits? WD-40. Plus, it comes with a doohickey thingamy whatsit for getting into cracks and crevices; so that's a bonus.
This stuff is so manly that it was first used to stop balloon tanks of the Atlas missile from rust and corrosion; later it was used on the Apollo missions for exactly the same fuction. Quite literally, this smell went to the moon.

WD-40 is the James K Polk of smells because WD-40 already is the universal smell for getting stuff done. Sure, the side of the can might carry a warning that it may cause irritation to the skin but surely you should expect that from the manliest gruntiest rip-your-head off smell in the world.
It also smells wonderful.

March 17, 2017

Horse 2244 - Trump And Twitter Is Nothing New Under The Sun

I think that it's fair to say that both the campaign and presidency of Donald Trump are unlike anything that we have ever seen before. Quite apart from the fact that he is the first person in the Oval Office to have never held any other public office before (if you don't include Dwight Eisenhower¹), he's come to the job with seemingly no intention of trying to bind the wounds of the country nor does he seem that interested in talking across the aisle. What we have is someone marching to the beat of a drum which is so different from anything and anyone ever gone before that people are still having a hard time at comprehending what in blue blazes is going on.

There are several things which aren't new at all though. This era of pure vitriol could have easily sat within the time period of Adams and Jefferson, or Hamilton and Burr, or Andrew Jackson and everyone else in the world. In the grand scheme of history Trump's presidency is not immensely different from others; you might even say that conflict is almost a default setting of the US government system. Trump's use of Twitter isn't that remarkable either. This just happens to be the communication vehicle of the day.

Going backwards in time, Ronald Reagan was the first to properly master the use of television and a means of saying what he wanted to the people. Having previously been an actor and a television host before becoming President, he knew the value of cultivating an image and using the medium to speak directly to the public.

Going back even further, Franklin D Roosevelt used the then current technology of radio to speak right into people's living rooms. His "fireside chats" were state of the art at the time. It's also kind of amusing to note that he made use of his voice as an instrument for the medium and unlike presidents before him, he didn't need to resort to shouting in an effort to make himself heard.

Immediately before him, Herbert Hoover appeared in what would now be disparagingly called propaganda films but given that the world hadn't really seen moving pictures before the turn of the century, to suddenly seeing pictures with sound and vision² by the end of the 1920s, then the use of cinema as a medium is very much embracing the future.

Before vision and sound could be recorded, the only way that anyone found out about what the President had said was via print media or listening in person. For the latter of the two and indeed for most of history, immediately after someone said something, it was lost into the ether forever. For the former, because we tend to absorb printed media so much more slowly than anything else, it tends to have a greater impact. This is obvious when most people say that they enjoyed the book more than the movie in almost every case³. When you think about the most famous speech in American political history, Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, probably only a few select people actually heard it because it was recorded that he had a notoriously squeaky voice and that it was only 272 words long: the power of that speech lies in the fact that it had been released to the press and appeared in newspapers.
Going back to the founding of the United States and we see that Adams and Jefferson conducted a feud via print media which ironically in today's age of shamelessness would have been seen as scandalous and probably would have landed them both in court on cross-counter defamation charges.

Going back to President Trump, probably a great reason why he was elected in the first place was because he was able to bypass the gatekeepers of traditional television and print media and speak directly to the public. People might say that Obama was the first social media President but Trump's use of Twitter in particular is just part of a grand tradition of presidents using whatever the latest mode of media happened to be. The fact that you now have media companies hanging off every single tweet is indicative of both the 24 hour news cycle and the impatience of the general public. His use of Twitter though isn't exactly remarkable though.

¹Ike didn't even want the job. That made Ike the kind of fellow they like. I like Ike.
² People were just waiting for the gift of sound and vision.
³There are exceptions. I for instance preferred The Lord Of The Rings as movies because I find the prose of Tolkien to be hideously tedious.

March 15, 2017

Horse 2243 - Trump's Tax Returns And A Possible Violation Of The Ninth Amendment

By the time you have read this, MSNBC will have already published one or possibly a bunch of Donald Trump's tax returns. That thing which the media made a hullabaloo about for so long and which he'd promised to release back in November of last year, has finally happened, and you know what? I don't care.
Say what you like about everything that he's said and done, about the tone of the administration and about whether or not by not releasing them he has lied to the public: I just don't think that having access to his tax returns makes a lick of difference one way or the other.

One of the things that I don't like about having a list of rights, such as the Amendments to the US Constitution or the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, is that while they do a good job at listing what rights people are laying claim to, they also have the effect of limiting people's vision to only those rights. In that respect. the Ninth Amendment to the United States Constitution is the most important of all; which states that the enumeration of certain right, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people, yet seemingly almost nobody is all that much aware of its existence.
What of those rights not specifically enumerated? Things like the right to be left alone, the right to privacy or the right to quiet enjoyment of one's property, tend to get trampled in the rush of people demanding to know things. Does the public have a right to know what I earn, for instance? If they do not with regards me, then why is it different for very rich people? If previous candidates did voluntarily release their tax returns then what of it? If there was something hideous or criminal going on then the relevant authorities should have the right to investigate but I still don't see why the public needs to pry into something that they usually wouldn't care about anyway.

Let me temper the following remarks by saying that I work in an accountancy firm. As a result I have seen several tax returns which have seven and eight figure income salaries in them. As someone in a position handling confidential information, I do not have the right to publish details from people's tax returns; no matter what sort of nefarious means that they might draw their income from. Irrespective of what you feel about Donald Trump's right to privacy, the mere fact that someone at MSNBC is in possession of any of his tax returns, apparently without his permission, is a breach of confidentiality if nothing else. MSNBC might like to keep the identity of their informants a secret and I would argue that that is necessary for the proper functioning of a free press but unless Mr Trump has done something specifically criminal, then it isn't right to steal his personal information without his permission.

I don't believe that the American public do have a right to know what is contained within a future presidential candidate's tax returns. Even if there was absolutely nefarious and dastardly things contained within them, then the task of investigation should be charged with the relevant authorities such as the FBI; the task of prosecuting said evidence should lie with the courts, and neither should be the domain of the general public.

I don't for a second deny MSNBC's right to publish whatever it likes under its First Amendment right to free speech but the only reason that they even got a hold of Mr Trump's 2005 tax return is outright theft. I don't live in the United States but far across the seas in the Commonwealth of Australia and in the state of New South Wales, being unlawfully in possession of property is a crime as defined by the Crimes Act 1900.
Title 18, Part I, Chapter 113, § 2315 of the US Code does deal with the possession of stolen goods but only after the event that it has been sold. Being in unlawfully in possession of property is not enough and the value of the receipt has to exceed $5000.
Nevertheless, if we take the view that there hasn't been a leak from Mr Trump, then the only conclusion is that as some point there has been thievery going on. MSNBC can hide behind the ruling from Bartniki v Whopper (2001) that if a media outlet of itself does nothing illegal to obtain information then it is not liable even if a third party violated the law but there still is an unnamed thief somewhere.
All the while, the right to privacy and  the right to be left alone have been trampled into the dust under the boots of public impatience.

March 14, 2017

Horse 2242 - Australia's "Never Were" Prime Ministers - No 1 - Frank Tudor

People who have followed this blog for a while will recall that I have written many posts about the Prime Ministers of Australia. The interesting thing about this is that if you look closely at the Constitution Of Australia Act 1900, the post of Prime Minister isn't named at all. Something called a Federal Executive Council must report to the Governor General but there is no indication that that needs to be the same person every time nor that the Federal Executive Council needs a permanent head.
Convention dictates that there is a Premier of the Cabinet but again, the Cabinet and the Federal Executive Council need not necessarily be synonymous with each other. Conceivably it is entirely possible for a cabinet of equals to send all the various ministers in turn to see the Governor General but I digress.

The fact is that a Prime Minister does exist and has been firmly established by convention, even if governments aren't imaginative enough to conceive of  some other model.

It follows then that in factional and party politics, that if there is a leader on one side of the chamber that there is also a leader on the other side of the chamber. The Leader of the Opposition is a phenomenon which historically occurred later than the Prime Minister but is still something which we recognise in adversarial politics.
These blog posts aren't about each and every Opposition Leader; just the unsuccessful ones.

The political aim of the Opposition Leader is to lead their party to government and many Opposition Leaders have done precisely that. I have already written about Australia's Prime Ministers and so I don't really need to cover that ground again. These blog posts are about those Opposition Leaders who never became Prime Minister; in the world of politics, they have failed in their aim to some degree. This is a list of "never was" and is a list of mostly forgotten people. If success has many parents and failure is always an orphan,  then these are the orphans of Australian political history.

As weird as this sounds, you have to wait until the 11th term as Leader of the Opposition and the 6th person to hold the job, before you find the first Leader of the Opposition who never went on to become Prime Minister.


I - Frank Tudor

The first of these political orphans is Francis Gwynne "Frank" Tudor, who was born in 1866 in Williamstown, Victoria. He first worked in a sawmill and then a boot factory before being employed as a hatter in Victoria, before moving to England where he would become vice-president of the local Felt Hatters' Union and then moving back to Victoria.

Upon coming back to Australia, he moved into labour politics and then found himself on the Victorian Trades Hall Council and became its President in 1900. He was elected to the seat of Yarra in the first General Election in 1901 and would continue to be its Member of Parliament until his death in 1922.

Tudor became the party whip and the secretary of the Labor Party and then was Minister for Trade and Customs during the three non-consecutive Fisher cabinets in 1908-09, 1910-13 and 1914-15. He continued as Minister under PM Billy Hughes but resigned that post in 1916 when it became obvious that Hughes wanted conscription at all costs.

Billy Hughes would split both the Labor Party when he took 24 MPs with him to form the National Labor Party in 1916, which he merged with the Commonwealth Liberal Party to form the Nationalist Party. Tudor on the other hand, remained with the Labor Party and was elected as its leader after Hughes had left.

Hughes took the country to two referenda on the issue of conscription and the work of Tudor who spoke at several anti-conscription rallies across the country, helped to defeat the issue at the October 1916 referendum. Despite his success on this issue Tudor would see the number of ALP seats be devastated from 42 to just 22 in the 1917 election. Tudor had to fight against Hughes on the same issue and yet again, his work also saw the December 1917 referendum also defeated and this closed the issue of conscription for good.
Having seen off two conscription referenda, Tudor expected to do better at the 1919 election but Labor would only gain 4 more seats and was still 12 short of the number required to change the government.

Naturally as you'd expect, the party wanted to replace him before the 1922 election and Thomas Joseph Ryan who was the ex-Premier of Queensland and had served as his Deputy was touted for the roles but he died of pneumonia in August 1921; a fate which Tudor would suffer on 10th January 1922. The task of leading Labor fell to Member for Hunter, Matthew Charlton.

Frank Tudor was the both first leader of the Labor Party to die in office and the first Opposition Leader never to become Prime Minister. Unfortunately, he was in opposition to an ex-Labor Prime Minister in Hughes, who was also broadly socialist and rather popular.

March 13, 2017

Horse 2241 - Recruitment In Mosman: Oh Dear

I was eating lunch last week, underneath an awning near Mosman Library when the heavens were threatening to chuck down seven different kinds of rain at once, when I overheard something that made my blood boil.

In a café nearby, there were two business men who had about a dozen manila folders, with what was presumably resumes from people who had applied for a job. I didn't work out what kind of firm they were working for and nor did I find out the name of the firm but I was able to determine that it was somewhere in the city; I assume that they were holding this meeting on this side of the harbour, to keep away from any prying eyes who might see what they were doing.

Their process for determining who would get the job was unlike any other I'd ever seen before and it horrified me. They read through the names on the front of the manila folders and immediately threw several on the floor, purely on the basis of how the name sounded. One name sounded "too woggy" and so that was pitched on the floor. Another was "too Asian" and so that also went on the floor. A third had "too many letters in the name" and so that also went on the floor.
They also eliminated people on the basis of where they lived. Fairfield? Floor. Collaroy? Stay. Newtown? Floor. Potts Point? Definitely stay.
Opening up the folders, they threw out one because he looked like a nerd. They joked about how they would like to do inappropriate things to a blonde girl who had applied but ultimately threw that on the floor as soon and one of them was noticeably annoyed that one applicant had worked for a charity and that was thrown on the floor because they didn't want a "social justice ****" working for them.

I don't have skill when it comes to navigating the ins and outs of discrimination law and I guess that it would be more or less impossible for someone to prove that they didn't get a job because they were discriminated against but this is exactly what these two suited white men were doing. Some will argue that they have the right to decide who works for them and or with them, but from what I saw and heard, I'm not sure that I'd particularly want to work for them. This was unashamed discrimination on the basis of race, sex and socio-economic background and what was my response to all of this? Sitting quietly and eating a sandwich, that's what. If I'd said anything, I would have felt like a right idiot and I didn't want to take a picture of them in a public place like this because I'm a great big wuss.

On the upside, the person in Fairfield, the person in Newtown, the Asian person, the person with the long name, the nerdy looking one, the blonde girl and the former charity worker have all been spared at least several months of abject misery in my not very well paid opinion because working for these two is likely to be awful. If we apply the Martin Luther King Jr test of not judging people on the basis of the colour of their skin but on the content of their character, then these two men's characters were on display front and centre and oh yes, I was judging.

The immediate question that springs to my mind is "what right do I have to judge these people?" They are business people who make decisions for their business, whether they own it or not, and I suppose that they are doing what they think is best for the continuation of that business. I'm sure that it you pried open the details of most people's lives, including my own, that you'd find a lovely ball of selfishness but I hope that in my case you'd find something more virtuous. The decision made by these two gentlemen has affected someone else's life in a small way and if you multiply that by several thousand times, you start to end up with a truly horrible society.

The truth is that given what I know about Mosman, having worked here for a considerable amount of time, is that outright nastiness and rudeness is part of the landscape. Only the middle classes and aspirational people who are desperately trying to climb up the social ladder, actually care about manners. There must be some point up the ladder when people realise that the number of people above them is so very small and that the number of faces below them that they can stamp their boots into is many, where common courtesy is done away with. I'm guessing that at this point of the recruitment process, to these besuited gentlemen, any humanity which could have otherwise been attached with these names, has been thrown on the floor along with the manilla folders and their resumes: that is if they attached any humanity to these people at all. I know that I probably shouldn't wish this but my hope is that the white kid who eventually gets the job (because you and I and everyone knows that this is precisely what will happen), becomes really disillusioned really quickly and quits. If he doesn't, he faces the very real and present danger of turning into one of these two gentlemen in the future if he hasn't already done so.

March 10, 2017

Horse 2240 - The Idiotic Tale Of American Health Care

I think that few would argue against the evidence that says that the United States, which spends more per capita on health care and yet manages to still have about 35 million people not covered by any sort of health cover at all, and say that it is a good system. If you are of that opinion that the United States gets good value when it comes to health care, as compared with other countries, then you might as well go away now because this post is of no use to you at all.
I think that it is as obvious as the day is long, that the health care system in the United States is too expensive and not good value for money. The trail that I have been following for the past few days, is trying to work out why the land of the free and the home of the brave could end up where it has as the land of the idiotic and the home of the medically bankrupt.

At the turn of the twentieth century, in the era known as "the great binge", medicine was almost unregulated and people could become surgeons and doctors with practically no training whatsoever. Remember, this was the age in which heroin could be bought over the counter and tonic drinks like Coca-Cola actually still contained small amounts of cocaine.
The United States government brought an end to the madness with the formation of the Food And Drug Administration and the American Medical Association started looking at regulations with regards who was allowed to practice medicine. Naturally this saw medical costs rise but at least all of the charlatans were driven out of the market.

From what I can gather, in the United States and in nowhere else in the world, hospitals started charging fees for service; the first of which was Baylor University Hospital in Dallas, Texas. Suddenly, with a profit model in place, hospitals in the United States were seen as businesses rather than just a public service and this is really where the tone of the American health care system was set.
Because the cost of health care began to rise, as did the quality of said health care, hospitals came up with the idea of charging a monthly fee which would cover you in case the need to go to the hospital arose. In 1928, Baylor University Hospital sold prepaid health care to the teachers at the various schools in the region for 50 cents per month ($6 per year) and it is from this network of hospitals selling prepaid health care that the Blue Cross network grew out of. And then... Dun dun DUN, the Depression hit after the stock market crash of 1929.

Depending on which side of the political divide that you sit on, and which series of filters you choose to distort your view of reality, Franklin D Roosevelt was either an angel or a devil. Herbert Hoover came to power in 1929 and within the year had to deal with the worst economic disaster that they world had ever seen. By the time that FDR took over in 1933, the Depression had come into full bloom and wasn't really solved until a massive increase in aggregate demand, which most people have the cheek to call World War Two. It was during the war, when it was finally realised that government could act to effect in the economy, that FDR came up with the idea of a Second Bill Of Rights, which also happened to include the right to health care.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3EZ5bx9AyI4
Among these are:
- The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation;
- The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;
- The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;
- The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;
- The right of every family to a decent home;
- The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;
- The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;
- The right to a good education.
- Franklin D Roosevelt, State Of The Union, 11th Jan 1944

Across the Atlantic, it was the leader of the Conservative Party no less, who came to his senses and realised that the country was more productive and better off if the health of its citizens was taken care of. Winston Churchill announced the idea of the National Health Service in 1944 and it was finally enacted by the Bevan Labour Government in 1948 which followed after the war and followed through on, when Churchill led the Conservatives back to government in 1952. In America though, FDR had died before the end of the war and as such, the Second Bill Of Rights was never introduced to Congress. Furthermore, when Eleanor Roosevelt saw a fuller expression of those principles with the Universal Declaration Of Human Rights in 1948 at the United Nations, the United States took the opinion that this was an affront to the US Constitution and to this day, almost seven decades later, it still hasn't been ratified and shows absolutely no sign of ever being ratified either.
Britain after seeing the horrors of war concluded that people's health was valuable and after winning the war, thought about how to win the peace. America after seeing the horrors of war and after seeing what had happened in Nazi Germany and what was happening in the Soviet Union concluded that human rights were not valuable to enshrine in law. People's right to bear arms and hold the instruments of death was more  valuable than whatever other rights that they could have had, including health care.

At roughly the same time, when output needed to be increased to help the war effort and employers wanted to attract the best workers, the US Department Of Labor decided to implement maximum wage caps, to keep costs down. Employers found that if they wanted to attract better workers, they had to offer other incentives and hospitals were willing to negotiate contracts with employer groups. Fringe benefits such as health care didn't fall under the wage cap and so organisations such as Blue Cross and other similar employer based insurance schemes really began to take off. This was further incentivised through taxation exemptions and extra write off which became part of the Federal Taxation Code in 1943 and then the 1950s.

Harry Truman attempted to introduce a single payer government health care scheme during his second term in my office but the American Chamber Of Commerce, the hospitals themselves and the American Medical Association reacted so violently against it that it never survived a single reading in the House Of Representatives and was dropped as policy. Various Labour Unions fought bitterly against the Congress until 1953 when Eisenhower became President and they then came to the opinion that they had to accept the mess and work with that.

It seems to me as an outsider that it was mostly because of these series of historical accidents rather than by design, why the US health care system is so incredibly expletive deleted. It wasn't because the system was better because it most certainly is not but the further that time went on, the harder it was too undo. In 1965, President Johnson was able to kind of use a bit of a band-aid solution with Medicare and Medicaid but that still only covered people over the age of 65 and those who were so stuck in poverty so abject that's its disgusting.
As an aside, the acts which brought Medicare and Medicaid into being were signed in the Truman Presidential Library and Medicare card numbers 1 & 2 went to Harry Truman and Bess Truman.

The fight didn't end there though and Ted Kennedy tried to have a go at introducing yet another attempt at the single  payer system but he ended up coming against the Presidency of Richard Nixon. Despite his protestations, Richard Nixon absolutely was a crook and his meetings with Edgar Kaiser of Kaiser Permanente would result in the Health Maintenance Organization Act of 1973, which enshrined the utter stupidity of the American health care system to the current day.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RmHTte8jRLk
Ehrlichman: Edgar Kaiser is running his Permanente deal for profit. And the reason that he can … the reason he can do it … I had Edgar Kaiser come in … talk to me about this and I went into it in some depth. All the incentives are toward less medical care, because...
… the less care they give them, the more money they make.
President Nixon: “Fine.” [Unclear.]
Ehrlichman: [Unclear] “… and the incentives run the right way.”
- Taped conversatrion between John Ehrlichman, White House Domestic Affairs Advisor and Richard Nixon, 17th Feb 1971.

Bill Clinton made a half hearted attempt to implement a single payer health care system but again never found the numbers in the Congress and President Obama did manage to make changes to health care with the Affordable Care Act in 2010, which forced health care companies to cover people with pre-existing conditions and it also introduced a mandate for people to buy health insurance but that's also seen push back and as I write this, the first portions of legislation to repeal it are being put to the Congress but still there isn't really a replacement plan; not is there hope of what should have been done under Truman 70 years ago and introduce universal health care.

The four basic economic questions are what to produce, how to produce, for whom to produce, and who owns and controls the factors of production. In answering all of these questions, we have to assume that the what, how, for whom, and who owns, are all controlled by people who would rather line their own pockets than what the basic question of health care is in a state run system - how do we heal the sick? As long as the people who control health care in America continue to decide that profit is better than that question, health care will also continue to be too expensive and not good value for money.

March 07, 2017

Horse 2239 - And The Horse You Rode In On

Regular readers will know about my ongoing war with the overuse of the word "awesome"; especially when the thing that they are describing doesn't fill them with awe. I think that when you cheapen the word, it leaves you with no room to go when a thing which actually fills you with awe. This week however, I read something in the newspaper (that foldy dead tree thing with printed words in, which prints news, opinions and editorialising dressed up as news) which if it didn't fill me with awe, made me cheer at the very least.

http://www.npr.org/2017/03/02/518152247/new-interior-secretary-rides-a-horse-to-first-day-on-the-job
Newly minted Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke knows how to make an entrance: He arrived at his first day of work in Washington on the back of a horse named Tonto.
Zinke rode the horse — a bay roan gelding just over 17 hands tall — less than a mile, from the National Park Service's stables on the National Mall to the Department of the Interior.
- NPR, 2nd Mar 2017.

From The Daily Mail:

Let me just reiterate that. Ryan Zinke, the new Secretary Of The Interior of the United States, rode to work on a horse. Many times in this train wreck of the Trump administration, I have thought that the appointments have either been totally out of their depth or completely unqualified for the positions to which they have been installed (despite whatever experience that they may have had in business) and whilst it is true that I have no idea how qualified Ryan Zinke is for the job he's found himself in, if nothing the fact that he's ridden to work on a horse, says that he's understood both the gravitas and the spirit of the job.

He might "accidentally the whole thing" in this job but not since the days of Teddy Roosevelt have we seen the likes of alligators and snakes in Washington DC. Roosevelt though was something of a maniac, who used to ride regularly through the nation's capital, jumping over things like ditches and walls; he even cancelled a Cabinet meeting once, just so he could be photographed on his horse, jumping a fence.


If everyone truly wanted to look the part, the Secretary Of Defense would always be in uniform, the Secretary Of The Treasury would wear a bowler hat and have a cigar, the Secretary Of Transportation would have a striped railway engineer's hat, and of course the Secretary Of The Interior would ride to work on a horse. How could they not? The only thing that would be more 'Murican would be Abraham Lincoln riding a bear, fighting space Nazis with a machine gun; holding the US Constitution, on the moon.

I don't care if Ryan Zinke is terrible at the job and gets fired within a fortnight. As Secretary Of The Interior, he's ridden to work on a horse and that's genuinely awesome. Yeah!

March 06, 2017

Horse 2238 - Get The Ball Rolling

Make America Great Again

Change We Can Believe In - Yes We Can

Kevin 07

It's Time

I Like Ike

Right of the top of my head, these are the slogans for political campaigns which immediately spring to mind. The secret to a good political campaign is identical to that of a good advertising campaign in that if it is to be successful, it should live long in the memory. Both are about selling something to the general public and the only difference is that the currency of one is dollarpounds and the other is votes. If you can !make the public part with enough of either, then you've sold whatever it is that you're trying to sell, irrespective of whether or not the thing is good or rubbish.

I want you to imagine a time before the internet before television, before radio and before mass literacy. How do you sell something like a political candidacy to illiterate people, so they they will part with their prescious votes? In exactly the same way as you do in the age of the internet, with spectacle and viral marketing.

In 1840, William Harry Harrison was running on the Whig ticket with John Tyler against the incumbent and increasingly unpopular President, Martin Van Buren. Van Buren was a President who was absolutely a policy wonk who had done all right in the White House as far as legislative goes but was in charge when the financial panic of 1837 happened and the subsequent derepression which followed, and so the Whigs decided to put up someone who had a great deal of name recognition with the general public because he had been an officer in the war against the Native Americans in 1811. Harrison had done so well that he became "Mister Tippecanoe" after the battle which he had won, and would go on to continued fame in the War Of 1812.

The Democrats on the other hand, wanted to portray Harrison as a back water hick, who was born in a log cabin and liked hard cider; both of these accusations had an element of truth about them. The Whigs though, decided to turn this to their advantage and came up with a marketing plan to install their man in the White House. Quite possibly this is the first instance of this in a modern sense but what the Whig political marketing machine came up with, was a jingle and a giant prop.


This is a photograph of another giant rolling ball which was used in the campaign of 1888 for the election of William Harry Harrison's grandson Benjamin but it illustrates perfectly what this commotion was all about; a giant ball made from iron and canvas was made with a bunch of slogans on and was rolled from town to town by hand, accompanied by the campaign song. If you see a twelve foot ball being rolled down the street, with a theme song to go with it, you aren't going to forget that in a hurry. The song itself is self referential as well and speaks of "the ball rolling on" for Tippecanoe and Tyler too. Almost certainly this is where we get idioms like "getting the ball rolling", as the campaign rolled an actual ball from town to town.

Oh who has heard the great commotion, motion motion
All the country through?
It is the ball a-rolling on
For Tippecanoe and Tyler too
And with him we'll beat Little Van, Van
Van is a used up man
And with him we'll beat Little Van

Sure, let 'em talk about hard cider (cider cider)
And log cabins too
't'will only help to speed the ball
For Tippecanoe and Tyler too
And with him we'll beat Little Van, Van
Van is a used up man
And with him we'll beat Little Van

Like the rush of mighty waters (waters waters)
Onward it will go
And of course we'll bring you through
For Tippecanoe and Tyler too
And with him we'll beat Little Van, Van
Van is a used up man
And with him we'll beat Little Van
- Tippecanoe and Tyler Too (Tip and Ty), G. E. Blake, 1840

They Might Be Giants recoreded a version of this song on their 2004 album "Future Soundtrack for America"


Right here I think is the beginning of the modern political campaign. By spinning the accusations of the opposition around, Tippecanoe and Tyler too, rolled the ball right through the front door of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. "Old Kinderhook", which was the nickname of Martin Van Buren (after his birthplace of Kinderhook, New York), wasn't particularly O.K. with the results of the election either because the campaign of song and spectacle worked; Harrison was elected as President.

Harrison didn't last long as President. At the time it was suggested that he died of pneumonia caused by exposure from standing around in the cold Washington winter during the inauguration but the theory which is more commonly held now is that he probably died of some water borne disease which was carried in the water of the White House. Possibly as many as seven people died as a result of the White House's contaminated drinking water over the years. What the people of the United States got after that was the Presidency of "Tyler too", and be became the first President to assume the role after the former one had died in office.

As a president Harrison was singularly unsuccessful. Part of a good presidency is living long enough to do something and he didn't. Harrison is only famous for dying and a campaign song; which has mostly lived longer in the memory than he did.

March 03, 2017

Horse 2237 - I ♥ Regulations

I love regulations.

There, I've said it. You might think that I'm some sort of crazy person but I'll say it again. I love regulations.

If there's one thing that I have learnt about the world in my not quite four decades upon this planet, it is that people, companies and governments aren't necessarily openly evil but they do have a great predilection for inertia. People, companies and government inadvertently follow the second law of thermodynamics which sounds all sciencey but really it's simple and also has to do with inertia. The law is so simple that a child can explain it - things are lazy; they like to keep on doing what they're already doing until they're mad to do something else or stop. Parents of children (teenagers especially) can see this in action when they try to get them out of bed in the morning: if you leave them in bed, they'll keep on sleeping until ten thirty.

Inertia is also the thing which defines a lot of what goes on in companies and government. Government has a tendency to do nothing for extended periods of time until outside forces like lobby groups and organised protests make them finally act. Likewise, companies have a tendency to keep on doing the cheapest thing unless they are told otherwise. This is the main reason why most regulations come about at all. Government would mostly prefer not to do anything if it could get away with it and companies would prefer to adopt the cheapest practices if they can get away with it. Regulations for the most part are government using the power surrendered to it by the people, to get companies and individuals not to cause harm to anyone else.

When someone complains about regulations, what they are almost always complaining about is compliance costs. Companies want to do what they always do and reduce costs. Regulations though, impose costs upon companies and they don't want to pay them. I find it most singular that President Donald Trump, who is otherwise a businessman, made a point of it during his address to the joint session of Congress that for every new regulation created, two old ones must be eliminated and that a deregulation taskforce would be set up with oversight of every government department. What could a businessman possibly want when it comes to regulations? Could it be a reduction in compliance cost to business? This reads suspiciously like a will or a crime novel. If you want to know what is going on, simply follow the trail of money and see where it leads.

The reason that good law exists, is for the regulation, standardisation and protection of society. Bad law exists for only one purpose; the control of power. When you talk about regulations as things, the critical question to ask is why they exist. What was the motivation for bringing them into existence? Once that has been established it is usually only a short path of logic that needs to be followed in order to find out the fitness and goodness of the regulations in question.
Because I especially love the mundane things of life, I'm going to look at just one set of rather boring regulations. Sometimes when the grand scheme of things is myriad and confusing, one needs to zoom in to see the details; there is often beauty in the minutiae of details.

Take something simple like a power plug. It's something which on the face of it shouldn't have that many regulations but for just the thing itself, the number of specific regulations are many and comprehensive. These are just a few of the highlights of those regulations as contained in
AS/NZS 3112:2000.

AS/NZS 3112:2000
- two flat pins forming an inverted V-shape 
- the two flat pins measure 6.35mm x 1.6mm and measure 17.35mm long
- the two flat pins are set 30° to vertical
- active on left, neutral on right
- the earth pin measures 6.35mm x 1.6mm and 20.0mm long
- live pins must be insulated to 7mm
- nominal voltage is 230V RMS
- nominal amperage is 10A or 15A


- This is seriously exciting stuff.

The actual standard costs about $93 but this preview gives you an idea of how complex it is:
https://www.saiglobal.com/pdftemp/previews/osh/as/as3000/3100/3112.pdf

A document which contains 60 pages of technical information doesn't exactly sound like the breeziest of reads to me. Although people might like to think of me as a nerd, not even I'm going to sit down and read this for fun. At the moment I'm reading Volume 1 of Luo Guanzhong's "Romance of the Three Kingdoms" (c.1323) and that book is full of intrigue, betrayal and people being run through with the sword. In other words, there's a lot of swash being buckled in there. In contrast, AS/NZS 3112:2000, "Australian/New Zealand Standard™ Approval and test specification—Plugs
and socket-outlets" sounds to me like a tremendously boring boring boring book, and yet I'm absolutely 100% grateful for it. If the set of regulations weren't there surrounding just this one aspect of electrical appliance design, then there would be a very real and  present danger of fire and or electrocution. If you can find someone who thinks that this set of regulations is arduous and should be done away with, then I will show you a mad person.

If that's just one specific set of regulations which deals with one small thing, then it makes sense that a highly complex world with myriad things has a myriad of regulations. When you talk about regulations to do with land transfer, the ultimate aim is to ensure that the real estate changes hands without a future legal challenge taking place. Regulations surrounding banking and financial instruments are designed with the intent that people don't suffer loss due to direct fraud and outright larceny. Labour laws and conditions are in place because as a society we have expectations that people are paid reasonably and fairly for the work that they do (though recent developments with the Fair Work Commission lead me to believe that entities like the Business Council Of Australia think otherwise) and that the conditions that they work in are safe. In fact, when you consider regulations as opposed to legislation, the vast majority of them are to to with standards and or procedures to try and ensure the physical safety of people's person. If you hear someone talking about there being too many regulations, it is worth asking serious questions about whether or not they will wear the costs of the regulations removal. Remember, in the past we have slavery and people being locked inside burning buildings by unscrupulous business owners, the only reason that that sort of thing doesn't happen any more is because people cried out and often paid with their lives to make substantive changes.

I get extremely suspicious of people who want fewer regulations because it's almost always not them who end up suffering because of their removal. Of itself, government doesn't pass legislation to bring in regulations and to say that it does is a misdirection and a sleight of hand. They want to get away with something.

March 02, 2017

Horse 2236 - Donald Trump's First Address To Congress: Or How Not To Say Anything New

Many many words will have already been written about Donald Trump's joint address to Congress and although I can't really offer anything other than yet another opinion on the great pile, these are more words to go upon the pile.

The thing that was constantly being said throughout the election campaign was that at some point Trump would need to pivot on tone but he never did. He subscribed to the theory that any publicity is good publicity and it was a tactic of his to double down on any and all controversies, to suck all of the oxygen out of the room. Hillary Clinton was absolutely more qualified for the position of the Presidency but Trump was able to keep the scoreboard of insanity ticking over just enough to win the job.
Even after he'd won the job, he kept right on that same tactic and kept any news about the lame duck period of Obama's tenure out of the spotlight, his inauguration address was given pretty much like yet another stump speech and a that now famous press conference where he singled out a CNN reporter as "fake news" was still keeping right on that same line. So when it came to the address to Congress, did we get anything other than what we'd already seen before? Absolutely not.

I reckon that this address to Congress could have been written by taking transcripts of stump speeches from 2016, cutting each sentence out into separate strips, throwing them all into the and them in whatever order they happened to land in, is what you got. If 90% of what he'd said in the address to Congress hadn't been said before and in some cases verbatim, then I'd be surprised. If the contents of the speech were virtually identical, save for a piece at the end calling for unity which sounded like someone else had written it (the Ivanka Trump section as opposed to the majority Steve Bannon section), then that isn't to say that what we got was this same as before because in one very obvious aspect, this speech was immensely different: delivery.

Unlike a campaign rally, the 538 members of the House and Senate know the rules of decorum within the chamber. Republicans applauded at appropriate moments while Democrats remained mostly silent. Unlike the first address to the joint sitting by Obama, there weren't any outright rude interjections and unlike Reagan's first address, there wasn't any obvious chanting in the room.
He made all of the usual calls to people in the gallery that most Presidents do in these types of speeches, outlined policy hopes which he'd repeated throughout the campaign and in doing so managed to sound "Presidential" according to the commentators in the media afterwards, which is a term which sounds utterly meaningless to me.

The problem with this speech (and indeed most President's first addresses to Congress) is that this sits in the calendar where the State Of The Union address is supposed to go; but with 39 days passing into the role, there can't ever be a lot of substance to this address. Trump in particular, who has come to power on a wave of sentiment rather than some grand vision, doesn't really have specific policies or outlines on how to achieve them yet. It also doesn’t help that he seems to be selecting a cabinet that also doesn't really have specific policies and certainly not experience in how to achieve them. In a language of management speak which would be familiar to Mr Trump; he doesn't have either a vision statement or any KPIs to indicate if he got there.

I also found it really weird that he kept on looking forward to the 250th anniversary of the founding of the United States. Even if Mr Trump is re-elected in 2020, his term of office ends on January 20, 2025; so there is no way that he will be President then unless he loses the 2020 election and then wins the 2024 election, in the same way that Grover Cleveland served non consecutive terms.

There was a broad wish to fix "crumbling infrastructure" but no idea of what needs to be done. There was a broad wish for paid family leave but how he's going to push that past the members of his own party is totally beyond me. There was a broad wish to spend more on the military and that will definitely find support with Republicans but that's like a magical hole into which money can be thrown forever. There was a broad wish to do something about supporting veterans better and of course there was that oft repeated series of lines about inner city crime, securing the borders and building that wall between America and Mexico.
It was like listening to the wish list of a nine year old and about as unencumbered by the thought process. This speech yet again provides proof to the thought that the Trump Presidency is like a mule with a spinning wheel¹.

We didn't learn anything new from this speech, we still have no idea how he's going to do any of the things that he's wished for and apart from the reverence for the position of office and the chamber itself, he still hasn't pivoted either. Donald Trump is Donald Trump² and evermore shall be so.

¹no-one knows how he got it and danged if he knows how to use it.
²Brexit means Brexit. Donald Trump means Donald Trump.