Hive News Friday: Smith scrambles to defend swimmable targets; Infometrics sees 12% fall in house prices

Swimming at Kaitoke regional park. Copyright Lynn Grieveson / Hive News

Nick Smith struggled last night to regain the initiative in the debate over water quality after his new swimmable water standards were accused of shifting the goalposts to say a swimmable river is one where a swimmer has up to a 5% chance of getting sick.

The day began with Smith and Bill English announcing the new policy on a riverbank near Auckland. The headline was that the Government had issued a National Policy Statement that targeted 90% of New Zealand's lakes and rivers being deemed swimmable by 2040. They said it would cost farmers and councils an estimated NZ$2 billion to achieve that over the next 23 years.

However, critics focused on the details showing swimmable was judged to be water that 80% of the time had up to 540 parts of e. coli per 100 mls, which would mean swimmers got sick up to 5% of the time they swam in the river. The previous standard suggested to Councils by the Ministry of Health was that a river had to have less than 260 parts of e. coli per 100 mls to be deemed swimmable.

"All they've done is shifted the threshold and they've done that by shifting the baseline," said Massey University water scientist Mike Joy, adding that a restaurant that created a 5% risk of its diners getting sick wouldn't pass a health inspection.

"Imagine going into a restaurant with 20 mates and knowing one of them would get sick," he told Charlie Mitchell in this piece.

Smith responded after 10 pm with a statement arguing claims of lower water standards that allowed a higher chance of infection were wrong. He referred to confusion between guidelines set in 2003 by the Ministry of Health and a 2014 National Policy Statement over the issue of wadeability vs swimmability, and that the guidelines had been deliberately precautionary.

12% house price fall forecast

Infometrics forecast house prices would fall 12% by 2020 in its latest set of three-year-ahead economic forecasts.

“Mortgage holders in Auckland look particularly vulnerable to even modest interest rate rises that are likely to occur in the next 2-3 years,” Infometrics Chief Forecaster Gareth Kiernan said in releasing the forecasts.

“Debt-servicing costs in the city now take up a greater proportion of income than in 2007, when mortgage rates reached 8.7%. A future rise of 1.5-2.0 percentage points in mortgage rates would clearly stretch many borrowers in Auckland and squeeze potential buyers out of the market," he said.

“Net migration and population growth will be easing at the same time as interest rates start to rise, and this cocktail could be the catalyst for a housing market correction.”

Elsewhere, Infometrics forecast 3% GDP growth on average over the next three years, with wage pressures growing in a tighter labour market and the Reserve Bank hiking the Official Cash Rate by mid-2018.

Tweets of the day:

Simon Wong:

Swimmable is just alternative wading

Mark Crysell:

Shocked, surprised and disappointed that no one has yet said "minister I can smell the E. coli on your breath"

Have a great weekend and look out for some weekend reads below.



24 February 2017

Weekend Reads

Weekend Reads

For the profit and pleasure of subscribers, here's a few longer reads on economic, political and social matters for the weekend.

The meteoric rise and very sharp fall this week of right wing provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos was yet another bizarre outcrop in the Trump story. Here's the Vox explainer on him, which explains in part how the attention economy works these days.

This Axios piece on how Facebook and Google's algorithms and business models weaponised partisan and fake news outlooks is an eye-opener. Yiannopoulos was an editor at Breitbart and rode this trend to infamy.

"Facebook, in particular, algorithmically favors content that appeals to user bias and interest. According to comScore Vice President Andrew Lipsman, to elicit high engagement and repeat visitation, "sites must usually speak to a very specific audience." Although this limits the appeal to a broader readership, it creates a sustained and engaged audience that appeals to advertisers," Sara Fischer and Shannon Vavra write.

The less-than-civil landscape in social media and the world of technology was also to the fore this week in the debate over the sexist culture of some tech firms.

It all kicked off when a just-departed Uber executive wrote a tell-all post about how she had been sexually harassed by a boss and then her official complaints were ignored. Uber immediately launched an investigation, but the post prompted a whole new round of Uber deleting.

This post by the founder of Ruby on Rails, (the coding language that the Hive News website is built with) David Heinemeier Hansson, is an essential read on the issue, and on the worryingly sociopathic culture endemic in parts of Silicon Valley. He weaves Peter Thiel and Donald Trump into the narrative.

"I don’t think it’s a coincidence that both Peter Thiel and Uber CEO Travis Kalanick have been chummy and beyond with Trump. There’s an unmistakable ideological kinship between the three. A ruthless disregard for the law and any institutions that stand between them and more billions or settled scores. A pattern of vindictive power moves against the press and others," Hansson wrote.

Speaking of Trump supporters with radical views, this NY Times piece on conspiracy theorist and fellow provocateur Alex Jones reflects the increasing power of extreme views in a world of filter bubbles and confirmation bias.

The culture of trolling is a big part of the Trump circle. Here's Dale Beran revealing that 4Chan was the skeleton key to explain the rise of Trump.

There's more on the fake news industry from Wired, which took a trip to Macedonia.

Elsewhere on the Trump beat, Bloomberg takes a look at Trump's views on the 'flood' of illegal and criminal migrants, and finds it's a myth.

Trump also likes to blame China for the death of US manufacturing jobs. He's mostly wrong about that because automation has been the biggest job killer. But he and we ain't seen nuthin' yet because automated trucks are set to destroy millions of truck driving jobs, as the Guardian points out. Trump's supporters are in for a tough time.

Sadly though, facts don't seem to change our minds, as the New Yorker explains.

I tried to avoid Trump, but it's impossible. New York Times tech columnist Farhad Manjoo tried it too, and also failed.