Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: This. Is. Crazy.

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  • Ian Pattison, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    Attachment

    We got the tax cuts and everybody was all smiles.

    We didn't actually get tax cuts, we got tax increases. The proportion of growth in GDP that went to tax, under Labour, was 12%; while the proportion of growth in GDP that went to tax, under National, has been 18%.

    Interestingly, the compensation of employees dropped from 51% to 37% while business' operating surplus went up from 38% to 45%.

    Auckland • Since Aug 2014 • 24 posts Report Reply

  • Moz, in reply to Ian Dalziel,

    The Earthquake (recovery) idea would have worked better if...

    ... the government had wanted it to.

    I know of more than one investor who was willing to take low/deferred returns if they could pile into Christchurch and help with emergency accommodation or repairs. It could have been a bureaucratic nightmare to administer, but "luckily" the bureaucracy was instead focussed on making sure nothing like that was allowed to happen.

    It especially peeved me reading the (predictable) reports of people living in garages and caravans when the people I was involved with were prevented from supplying prefab insulated sheds. Our suggestion was that council overlook people setting them up without permits, or defer that until after the recovery (admittedly we never imagined that ten years in we'd still be waiting for "after the recovery"). ModPrefab in Wanaka sell a similar system but shed kits are common and you just need to supply insulation with them to make them comfortable to live in (and have them inspected to get a permit). Instead... investment idea abandoned. None of us wanted to spend the time battling PTB or running a public campaign.

    You could look at that as successfully preventing vulture capitalists taking advantage of vulnerable people. Or you could look at it as government preventing rich people helping poor ones.

    I still remember the Nelson City Council "cheap but liveable" public housing program that was explicitly all about building houses to a minimum standard in order to house the maximum people per dollar of council money spent. A lot of design work was done cheap or free to produce houses that were insulated, dry, and repairable while being cheap. It worked really well, but was politically unpopular (everyone say "shock, horror" now)

    Sydney, West Island • Since Nov 2006 • 1193 posts Report Reply

  • Lucy Telfar Barnard,

    On the meth contamination question, oye, I hardly know where to start. The testing business is unregulated, but if it were regulated it would be even more expensive. I think having a "cheap" test that's indicative but includes a relatively high chance of false positives is OK so long as it's not considered diagnostic.

    However, one of the more popular companies says that 40% of the properties it tests are positive for meth. Now it's true that people will generally only test if they think there's a risk, so it's not a random sample. But that still seems very high considering only 0.9% of the population admit to having used meth. Surely at some point you've got to start questioning the accuracy of the test rather than calling it "irrefutable evidence" of "how significant the risk is"?

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 580 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen, in reply to Lucy Telfar Barnard,

    I think having a “cheap” test that’s indicative but includes a relatively high chance of false positives is OK so long as it’s not considered diagnostic.

    Recently there was a change in the advice MDs got regarding testing for prostate cancer. The situation was that a simple (cheap) test was available for an antigen associated with prostate cancer. Like many antibody-based tests it was relatively easy to adjust the sensitivity of the test so that false negative tests were unlikely. The logic was if you had prostate cancer you didn't want to get a test that said you didn't have the cancer.

    But by adjusting the test to limit false negatives it meant there were more false positive results. The logic was that these didn't matter because any positive test could be confirmed or negated by subsequent more accurate tests.

    The problem was that the follow-up test was almost always surgery, which was risky and had a significant chance of harm and even death.

    Even worse it turned out that many of the instances of positive antigen tests resulted from prostate tumours that were not growing and the patient would die of other causes long before the tumour had any effect on health.

    So they stopped doing the test and went back to the much more reliable finger.

    All of which is a long winded way of saying tests have consequences. By testing for meth in a house there are consequences. If the consequences were trivial then having false positive tests would be OK. But the consequences are horrible, people being thrown out of housing and having debt imposed on them that can never be paid back.

    If this were a medical test the advice now would be to stop testing immediately because the harm being done is far greater than any benefit from the test.

    If this was a medical test we'd know exactly what the false positive rate was because lives would be at stake.

    But wait lives ARE at stake.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4449 posts Report Reply

  • Ana Simkiss, in reply to Deborah,

    It's very interesting. If MSD loans are not excluded, then the provisions of the CCCFA presumably apply & the loans could be oppressive, potentially void. I might go & do some research on this, I'm not sure if anyone else has.

    Freemans Bay • Since Nov 2006 • 141 posts Report Reply

  • Marc C,

    "Auckland Action Against Poverty cooordinator Alastair Russell explains in the report that there is a mandatory 12-month ban under Housing New Zealand’s meth policy.

    “So she’ll clock up this debt for another six months and then go back to Housing New Zealand seeking assistance with a debt of probably in excess of $100,000.”"

    Firstly, I read that John Key spoke of HIS experience with WINZ, well, was he ever on WINZ support, or what was he talking about?

    Secondly, as I quoted above, I suppose the new hard-line approach by Housing NZ to evict people who seriously breach their tenancy agreements and rules, for instance for suspected drug cooking or use, apparently supported by Ms Bennett some time ago, is the new “social” policy and another “wrap around” approach they use?!

    http://www.stuff.co.nz/the-press/news/73809593/p-contamination-rampant-and-growing-in-new-zealand-state-homes

    "Social Housing Minister Paula Bennett said every house that needed decontaminating was a place vulnerable people could have been using.

    “We will not tolerate meth use in our social housing. We are not going to risk houses suspected of being drug dens today, becoming potentially toxic playgrounds for innocent children in the future.”

    Housing NZ was working with police to focus more on eliminating P use in homes “as opposed to previously only targeting home-based drug manufacturing in the homes”, she said."

    I wonder whether evicting is the solution, and why other agencies should not first be involved to address any issues, and use perhaps other sanctions, before going that far?

    Here is an interesting article on housing and homelessness in the New Zealand Geographic:
    https://www.nzgeo.com/stories/no-place-like-home/

    But we can always follow other nations and their housing policy, Rio de Janeiro comes to mind, with nice, lush green hills surrounding much of the Metropolis, with settlements in idyllic surroudings:
    http://www.theguardian.com/travel/gallery/2013/nov/04/favelas-rio-de-janeiro-in-pictures

    Homeless Aucklanders could perhaps start using the lower slopes of the Waitakere Ranges Hills to build and establish their own new affordable “social housing” for those evicted even from our state or “social housing” providers? At least they would show initiative, much promoted by this government.

    Akl • Since Oct 2012 • 437 posts Report Reply

  • linger, in reply to Ian Pattison,

    We didn’t actually get tax cuts, we got tax increases.

    GDP is a very misleading measure of individual income, so you’re just playing with numbers there. Even so, the interpretation of the table cited is still open to question. The table shows GDP fell in absolute terms (while the population increased, so per capita GDP fell even faster). The fall in productivity is largely because the proportion of unemployed went up. Furthermore there was a decile differential in the impact of job loss (more unstable work, more unemployment, nett income loss in the bottom deciles; less unemployment, and nett income increases in the top decile only). Decreases in low income don’t affect the overall tax rate as a percentage, but increases in high income do, hence the overall increase in percentage of GDP going to tax. (Note that even there the absolute figure is roughly constant: in fact, it corresponds to a per capita fall once you adjust for population increase.)

    This is a textbook example of Simpson’s paradox (where aggregate percentages tell the opposite story from what’s happening in most or all subsets of the data, because you haven’t controlled for subset categories subject to different effects).

    Tokyo • Since Apr 2007 • 1885 posts Report Reply

  • Lucy Telfar Barnard,

    It’s an interesting analogy, Bart (I am well acquainted with the prostate testing question; it’s used to teach medical students about the risks of screening). And I’m also well up with sensitivity and specificity. My original post was going to include a long-winded explanation, using coeliac as an example. The short version of that was, if you test 1000 people, you’ll get maybe one false negative, about 11 true positives, about 30 false positives, and the rest are true negatives. So if you test negative you’re probably not coeliac, but if you test positive there’s still a 74% chance you’re not coeliac either. The true diagnostic test is a small bowel biopsy.

    Thinking about it, I think a better analogy would be somewhere in between prostate screening and coeliac tests. A false coeliac diagnosis is worrying, but not terrifying. It doesn’t have the ‘C’ word in it. It can be life shortening, and increase the risk of ‘C’ words, but it’s not as immediately scary. A false positive for meth contamination, is not potentially terminal, but it would be pretty scary for a tenant who knew they were at risk of losing their affordable home, and potentially becoming homeless, because of it.

    And that was my point about a basic meth test not being diagnostic. If no action is taken on the basis of the first test – if it’s just saying “more investigation necessary” or “no more investigation necessary”, and if everyone knows it’s not proof of anything much more than that, then perhaps it’s OK.

    Because the difference between prostate screening and meth screening is that the alternative to prostate screening is the finger, whereas the alternative to meth screening is putting another tenant in with children who get sick from the lab/heavy use residue. There is no other back-up test.

    But I see your point about the harm being done being greater than the benefit, and would also be very unimpressed if the false positive rate is unknown.

    And regardless of any of that, evicting is in no way the solution.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 580 posts Report Reply

  • Ian Pattison, in reply to linger,

    Don't want to go too far down the rabbit hole here because it is off-topic but

    The table shows GDP fell in absolute terms (while the population increased, so per capita GDP fell even faster). The fall in productivity is largely because the proportion of unemployed went up. Furthermore...

    The table shows GDP increased in absolute terms. The first period covers nine years while the second covers six. Per annum increase in the first period was 8,487 while the pa increase in the second is 8,549.

    Auckland • Since Aug 2014 • 24 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    If this was a medical test we’d know exactly what the false positive rate was because lives would be at stake.

    Yes, if it was done properly, we’d be able to see the entire ROC curve, and judge for ourselves how worthless it was. The sensitivity/specificity trade off occurs in all binary tests, and just adjusting where you are on the curve to massage results is the oldest trick in the classification book.

    But wait lives ARE at stake.

    Very much so. This is drug war paranoia fallout, and it’s literally destroying lives.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10629 posts Report Reply

  • Marc C, in reply to Paul Campbell,

    Yes, special needs grants from WINZ for home appliances, for repairs and so forth are mostly recoverable. Food is usually the exception, but after two applications for food support in a year, I think, people on benefits asking for such are sent to a budget advisor, to get advice how they can live “within their means”, off the benefit they get and are entitled to. Often that is an insult, with high rents on the private market, and with a Temporary Additional Support benefit top up capped at about 30 percent of the main benefit. So there comes a threshold where people simply cannot keep up with living costs.

    Even dental costs are recoverable, above $ 300 per annum. Any person needing more than one large filling a year is stuck with debts for crowns, bridges that may be needed. Some will not bother and rather go toothless.

    And the debt is recovered from rates that are already calculated to only cover the very bare minimum for food, clothing, personal care items, for the balance of rent not covered by the Accommodation Supplement, which has been capped for very many years, and not been inflation adjusted. Only the base or main benefit gets annual inflation adjustments, NONE of the other needed top-ups.

    Those, particularly long term sick and disabled, also sole parents, who have no ability to work and earn extra, they will be worst hit, as they will be forced to pay back debt from money that should be used for food and clothing or else (rent, utility costs).

    Hence the large increase in food parcels given out by food banks, to fill the gaps for food at least.

    That will drive some into illegal activities, if they cannot find work, and that may include drug making, drug dealing and so forth, which though would only involve a minority, I guess.

    Read also the new Rewrite Bill they have before the House, and you get a grasp of the endless rules and conditions that already exist, and are now put into a more compact, cleaned up rewritten statute (which though contains further, some hidden, policy changes).

    http://www.legislation.govt.nz/bill/government/2016/0122/latest/DLM6783115.html

    Akl • Since Oct 2012 • 437 posts Report Reply

  • linger, in reply to Ian Pattison,

    Also, and even more basically, I hadn’t immediately noticed this was a table of GDP growth – so the figures are already massively biassed towards subsets that had increased income (which then paid a higher overall tax rate as a direct result). These are figures that ignore most individual New Zealanders.

    Tokyo • Since Apr 2007 • 1885 posts Report Reply

  • Brent Jackson,

    Surely the Meth test is not a binary Yes/No ? Trace amounts should be ignored. It should be blatantly obvious if it was used as a lab.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 614 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Brent Jackson,

    The decision to do something about it is a binary. Presumably set off a threshold of the amount. But the setting of the threshold simply positions you along the ROC curve somewhere. It’s certainly not handed down by a meth-a-magic god. Make the threshold too low and you get too many false positives. Make it too high and you get too many false negatives. But how many is too many? It all depends on the cost of a false negative or a false positive (and these 2 costs are not usually the same). In fact, a false negative on whether meth had simply once been vaporized by a user in the house has almost no cost, whereas a false positive could be the turfing out of a human onto the street, a very high cost. So I would think the end of the curve we’d want to be at is to get a very low false negative rate.

    Which is what Bart said, just longer. And you knew all this anyway :-)

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10629 posts Report Reply

  • Matthew Poole, in reply to Brent Jackson,

    Surely the Meth test is not a binary Yes/No ? Trace amounts should be ignored. It should be blatantly obvious if it was used as a lab.

    If it's anything like the Narcotics Identification Kit tests used by border services all over the world, it's exposing a sample to a combination of reagents and looking for a specific colour change. Those tests are cheap and easy, but really binary. Slightly more advanced is an ion scanner, but even those are pretty binary and can also give false positives. Truly sensitive and accurate testing of contamination levels would mean a gas chromatograph and/or mass spectrometer, and those are expensive.

    Auckland • Since Mar 2007 • 4097 posts Report Reply

  • linger, in reply to BenWilson,

    The threshold level for eviction should presumably be commensurate with the level of contamination posing a measurable health risk.
    Whereas, as Matthew notes above, the threshold level for cheap field tests is set much more sensitively.
    So we need a less sensitive field test for this purpose, and/or we need to use the field tests only as an initial screen for doing more detailed analysis, before people face life-changing consequences.

    How hard would it be to have a multiple-sensitivity field test (consisting of, say, three separate test strips with different concentrations of reagents), so converting the binary response of each strip into something more graded?

    Also, doing field tests should be routine BEFORE new tenants move in, so that there is an initial baseline.

    Tokyo • Since Apr 2007 • 1885 posts Report Reply

  • Ian Pattison, in reply to Brent Jackson,

    Surely the Meth test is not a binary Yes/No ? Trace amounts should be ignored. It should be blatantly obvious if it was used as a lab.

    You'd think so but this isn't about protecting kids from meth-contaminated houses. As Russell said in the post, it's about targeting lifestyle and masking it as an environmental health and safety issue.

    What I'd like to know is: how many of the private testing contractors also provide clean-up services?

    Auckland • Since Aug 2014 • 24 posts Report Reply

  • Moz, in reply to Ian Pattison,

    What I'd like to know is: how many of the private testing contractors also provide clean-up services?

    Much better question: do any of the cleanup companies only get paid when the house tests negative?

    For that matter, can a former tenant pay for their own test and what are the consequences when it's positive?* Can a prospective tenant insist on a test, and remediation until the tests are negative?

    Also, what auditing is in place? I assume there are more expensive, more accurate tests available that could be used to check. And how specific is the test? In the worst case, imagine a particular household mould or cleaning product triggered false positives... or a common contaminant in cheap imported cleaning products.

    * any test, no matter how reliable, can produce a false positive. Multiple tests at multiple locations within a home would be required regardless, but if the test is over-sensitive (see also: PCR errors) you'd want serious over-testing and retesting.

    Sydney, West Island • Since Nov 2006 • 1193 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen, in reply to BenWilson,

    Which is what Bart said, just longer.

    I think you'll find I was considerably longer winded :).

    Without knowing the details of the testing method it's hard to guess at thresholds.

    Even more worrying, we know nothing about the methods used by the testing companies, sampling regimes, cleaning of equipment between houses, calibration protocols etc. All of which might take a reliable test into the realms of garbage data.

    And as Ian pointed out - if a testing company is also a cleaning company you have the possibility of corruption as well.

    And all with the intent of throwing socially disadvantaged people out of their homes!

    Again - where is our humanity? Is this what we want our government to be doing?

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4449 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Ian Pattison,

    You’d think so but this isn’t about protecting kids from meth-contaminated houses. As Russell said in the post, it’s about targeting lifestyle and masking it as an environmental health and safety issue.

    Exactly.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22743 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    I was also told this morning – informed source, etc – that Housing NZ has been ramping up the meth-house panic in pursuit of more money in the Budget.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22743 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    Even more worrying, we know nothing about the methods used by the testing companies, sampling regimes, cleaning of equipment between houses, calibration protocols etc. All of which might take a reliable test into the realms of garbage data.

    Many of these companies are using consumer reagent testing kits.

    And as Ian pointed out – if a testing company is also a cleaning company you have the possibility of corruption as well.

    Yeah, there seems to be a good business in “further testing” too. Some companies are better than others, but they all have an interest in rarking up the alarm – and they’re generally reported in the press as experts rather than businesses with a direct commercial interest in a particular perception of the issue. This is where the “it’s the next leaky homes crisis” headlines come from.

    There is a small but significant issue with chemical contamination from clan labs, which often move around (hotels and motels are popular). But it’s been twisted and used for advantage in deeply misleading ways.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22743 posts Report Reply

  • Moz, in reply to Russell Brown,

    But it’s been twisted and used for advantage in deeply misleading ways.

    Specifically, what should be an indication that extra help is required is being used to dump people on the streets with no help at all.

    Sydney, West Island • Since Nov 2006 • 1193 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    The Drug Foundation has an OIA request in on this stuff, but I don't know the details.

    It would be handy if it showed which companies Housing NZ is using.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22743 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Moz,

    Specifically, what should be an indication that extra help is required is being used to dump people on the streets with no help at all.

    It basically runs counter to everything our National Drug Policy says.

    That would be an interesting line of inquiry with the responsible ministers.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22743 posts Report Reply

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