Thursday, April 13, 2017

What To Do About Window-Washers



Yesterday, National MP Jami-Lee Ross's bill to fine car window washers passed its first reading in Parliament. This got me thinking. Intersection window-washers are an annoying - yet constant - feature of urban life here in Auckland [and, no doubt, in other parts of the country]. It's seemingly impossible to come to a major traffic-light interchange in some parts of the city at rush-hour without finding two or three of them, armed with their trusty pump-bottles and squeegee-wipers and hoping for a pittance of pennies or a cig.

Some regard them as a pest; and certainly, seemingly every friend-circle has an account of a window-washer getting quite intimidating in their errant pursuit of your precious portions of carefully hoarded spare change. But does this mean that fining them between $150 and $1000 is necessarily the right way to counteract this issue?

A reality check is plainly needed here.

The people engaging in window-washing are, for the most part, unemployed and to a certain extent possibly unemployable. They may be subsisting on a benefit [which, let's remember, even the Minister of Social Development herself implicitly stated one couldn't survive on without engaging in criminal behavior]; and one has to wonder - if prevented from attempting to earn a bit of extra cash window-washing, where else might they go in order to try and make ends meet.

If these people are literally only taking in two hundred dollars per week from official and legitimate income sources (assuming they're even able to get a benefit in the first place) out of which family, living costs and utilities must be paid, then what does imposing a fine that might be as much as five weeks' income do? It either forces them further into poverty [thus providing an additional impetus for other extra-legal conduct - potentially of a more harmful and anti-social nature], or WINZ takes pity on the level of hardship which such a crippling financial obligation would inflict and allows them to come up with a payment-plan of a few dollars a week, whilst putting up their benefits by an amount slightly less than that in order to pay for it. Either way, at best the problems involved are simply shifted around - and at worst, magnified in scope.

There is a stereotype of some long-term beneficiaries that they're lazy and would prefer to loaf around on a run-down couch rather than getting out into the world and attempting to scrape a living. I would respectfully contend that the ongoing existence of window-washers on our streets goes some ways to proving that this perception is definitely not always accurate. It's not exactly the most comfortable way to earn money - standing around an intersection all day in the hot sun or the driving rain, at the mercy of both the elements and the relative kindness (or occasional insults) of car-mobile strangers.

I do not say this to romanticize the window-washer or what he does; but instead to suggest that there must be SOME form of driving work-ethic in there somewhere if they're genuinely up for putting themselves through such a daily experience in pursuit of a few coins. At least street-busking is often a sit-down job.

And to those for whom the solution is inevitably and always "na-na why don't you get a job?" ... well, like I said above, a goodly number of these folks are quite possibly unemployable [we do, after all, live in an age wherein having a criminal record appears to make it very difficult to even find work as a supermarket trolley-boy]; and in any case, with the way our economy is fairly deliberately set up to maintain a constant level of unemployment high enough to keep a lid on inflation, there just simply aren't enough jobs (particularly *accessible* jobs) to go round.

I'd be very interested to know, if you asked them, how many of these window-washer folk would be pretty keen on actual employment if given the chance. Certainly, it's hard to imagine how putting in several hours of work a day in occasionally somewhat arduous conditions for literal pocket-change could be preferable to even a minimum-wage or part-time job.

But to return to our general analysis of the situation - what we can adduce from all of the above is that we have a group of people large enough to necessitate making a law about, living in poverty (or pretty close to it), possibly drawing a benefit, and who have the evident wherewithal to work in some capacity - yet who're obviously not participating in the labour-market for some reason.

Passing a law to penalize these people financially for getting out and about and attempting to be low-key entrepreneurial, then, doesn't actually solve any of the above list of problems. Indeed, as previously argued, it might well wind up making some of them worse. I'd also question whether our already wildly overstretched Police [for which you can, once again thank National] would actually be in a position to effectively enforce the law - what're they going to do, divert cops who could be (not-) responding to assaults on dairy owners or other crimes to stand vigilant watch at intersections every rush-hour? Even if that WAS the plan (and honestly, knowing this Government, I have a depressing feeling that's exactly as much thought as has gone into enforcement of this potential new law), window-washers would simply keep a lookout, observe patterns in policing deployment, and set up shop at non-covered intersections on a rotating basis. But I digress.

If we are serious about addressing the issue of intersection window-washers, whilst also improving our communities and helping out the people driven to window-washing in the first place ... this punitive non-solution is NOT what is needed. Not least because it's simplistic annoyance masquerading as serious policy, which won't even address the surface manifestation of the issue - let alone the root cause.

Instead, as soon as I thought about all of this, and properly construed the issue as more than just something for motorists to get annoyed about ... it became abundantly clear that a very different approach would be needed.

In specia, something like the "New Kiwi Deal" policy-set which New Zealand First announced back in 2015.

A more detailed write-up can be found in my earlier article linked above; but for the sake of ease, I'll run through the basics again here.

New Zealand has a serious problem with long-term, endemic unemployment. Obviously, this doesn't affect ALL beneficiaries - but for a substantial number, once they're out of work for awhile they tend to *stay* out of work for quite a lengthy period. There are a number of reasons for this, ranging from the difficulty of finding a job in some areas of New Zealand [and people not being in a position to uproot their lives and move to another part of the country in pursuit of work], through to the cumulative effect of long absences from the workforce causing an employer to be less likely to hire you, or the acquisition of a criminal record which functions as a serious barrier to employment.

However it happens, it's a reality for thousands if not tens of thousands of New Zealanders. And it represents a serious waste of New Zealand's human potential and labour force. Because at the moment, these long-term unemployed are effectively paid a pittance to jump through endless regimens of WINZ-provided quasi-bureaucratic hoops under the guise of nominally searching for often straight-up nonexistent (for them, anyway) work.

What New Zealand First's 'New Kiwi Deal' policy package proposes to do is seriously reduce this waste and improve our communities in the process, by instead employing these beneficiaries on a fair wage to engage in community works projects. This makes use of the surplus labour which these people represent, whilst also providing a sense of purpose to the workers thus employed far in excess of anything a WINZ seminar would be able to manage, and turns a swathe of our social welfare from its present situation of effectively subsidizing poverty and iniquity through to a new purpose of funding much-needed public works and community development.

There's even quite some precedent for such a scheme both in New Zealand - in the form of the Ministry of Works, and the Works Progress Administration of Franklin Delano Roosevelt's "New Deal" in America. (You can probably tell rightaway where Winston got the name from).

Now, the reason why I'm citing this in connection with our present postulated "plague" of window-washers is simple. These people are in poverty, have the wherewithal to engage in at least some form of labour (even if what they're doing at present is not especially socially beneficial nor productive), and are doing so in a form we *don't* like in order to supplement whatever (presumably welfare-based) income they DO have.

If we actually want to help these people and solve this situation - whilst generating a positive result for the taxpayer - then it seems patently obvious that instead of leaving them to languish at lamp-posts with squirt-bottles in pursuit of narry enough coinage to procure a loaf of bread ... we should be employing these folks for fair renumeration to actually do something *productive* with their time for all of us.

This idea will, sadly, never have occurred to Jami-Lee Ross, the National MP behind this present bill - because in his rich person's world, the problem of "poor people" [and, more especially, *visible* poor people] is one which can simply be swept back under the neoliberal rug through the imposition of ruinous fines upon them should they DARE disturb the car-owning class's daily commute to and from their labours.

But if we're interested in solving this issue - GENUINELY solving it rather than simply beating it back and covering it up - then something like what I'm proposing is probably the best way forward.

Anything else which you might happen to hear from the National Party on this issue ... is nought but simple Window Washing.


Sunday, April 9, 2017

WTF: Why Trump Fired - The Tomahawks Of April


Back in the first weeks after Trump was elected, some more ... alarmist minds insisted on comparing the period we're living in now to the early 1930s. In Germany. Saying things like "if you've ever sat bored in History class and wondered how it felt - wondered what you'd have done ... well, wonder no longer. What you do now is what you would have done then. How it feels now is how it felt back then." And other similar wild oversimplifications.

It's an interesting exercise in historical synthesis, to be sure; but for a number of folks, the comparison was to decidedly the wrong War With Germany warm-up period.

Instead, for some weeks now I've been watching some of the brighter minds of my sphere insist instead upon the idea that we're actually living in a historical re-rub of 1914. That rather than simply watching an autocratic individual begin an arc of ascent into the political supernal ... we're witnessing the squaring off of two Great Powers and their attendant allies in a complex, hypersensitive arrangement which might very well presage a serious and significant armed conflict - a shooting war - between these twinned armed camps. Provided, of course, that the right spark arrived with which to set the entire powderkeg ablaze. A "Proud Tower", if you will.

At first, I thought this was dismissable as the same sort of alarmist rhetoric which saw endless invocations of "TRUMP IS LITERALLY HITLER" [or, more superciliously, because some millennials apparently insist upon political comparison being phrased in terms of pop-cultural references ... "TRUMP IS LITERALLY VOLDEMORT"].

And then, at a little after 13:00 Friday, we received news that the Trump Administration had fired 59 Tomahawk missiles at an airbase in Syria. Or, in other words, that America had attacked a Russian ally, by bombarding a military installation which also harboured Russian personnel. About the only consolation thus far is that a pre-warning to the Russians means it's unlikely that any actual Russian casualties have been sustained. And, for that matter, that the choice of cruise missiles rather than bombers, meant a lack of overt American casualties. This latter point matters not so much due to any concern on my part for the lives of American servicemen - but more because had there been American deaths as part of this retaliatory operation, then further escalation on the US's part would have been made vastly more likely. An exceptionally scarier prospect indeed.

The world now waits and watches with amply baited breath to see what Putin and Russia will say or do in response. Not for the first time, the hopes for continued (broad) peace in our time rest upon burly Russian shoulders and pragmatic Slavic restraint.

To be sure, it is not the first time we've all - collectively - found ourselves in this situation. Probably the best example from the later 20th century is, obviously, the Cuban Missile Crisis.

But then, despite the speculation that his medicinal use of methamphetamine might have altered his judgement [leading to a vastly more confrontational outcome at the Vienna Summit in 1961], the West had a seriously perspicacious and competent leader - a statesman, even - in the form of President Kennedy. To echo Senator Lloyd Bentsen's ringing words to Dan Quayle in 1988 after the latter had compared himself to Kennedy ... of Trump, it is easily possible to say of him "You're no Jack Kennedy!"

Not least because when it came to Kennedy's parlous position in 1963 with the Missile Crisis, Kennedy at least had a clear and compelling sense of his place in history. In fact, he'd just read a book - The Guns of August - about the situation which lead to World War One; and was therefore very much acutely aware of how even small flash-points, when not treated with utmost calm and restraint, could easily boil over into giant and almighty continent (or even world) engulfing conflagrations.

The policy pursued towards Russia as the result of that particular WMD-related encounter, therefore, was one of avoiding rather inflaming conflict - lest the unthinkable happen. Phrased another way, I suspect I've just implicitly said that a man with a well-documented meth habit may actually have had better perspicacity and impulse-control than the present President of the United States.

And having said that, as bad as President Trump's subsonic outburst has been ... it could always have been worse. Hillary Clinton suggested in an interview conducted the same day as the missile striek that had SHE been Commander-in-Chief, that the United States would have gone further - MUCH further - in its bellicose actions against Syria. Instead of simply temporarily shutting down one airfield and damaging a few planes [for that's pretty much what this attack has done], she would have had the collective might of the US Military attempt to destroy pretty much the lot. And, given her comments about Russia aired in the same interview, one can only wonder how much more overtly aggressive towards the Russians she might have been in the process.

Although it is interesting to invoke the specter of "Clintonian" foreign policy in the context of what happened Friday. Not just because of the natural questions as to what the alternative to Trump would have done; but because there are several precedents drawn from her husband's tenure as President which are pretty overtly similar to what we've just witnessed.

The first and most obvious of these is the narrowly-averted *actual shooting engagement* between Russia and NATO which took place during the Serbian intervention in 1999. Then, as with today, Russian forces were again deployed at an airbase which the US and its allies wished rendered inoperable by adversarial hands. Troops from the UK were sent in - and were ordered straight-up by the American General acting as NATO Supreme Commander Europe to engage the Russians with force. Needless to say ... this would almost certainly have lead to a patently undesirable escalation of (literal) conflict between NATO and Russia, with the very real risk of World War Three ensuing as a result. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed (including a young, pre-stardom James Blunt - yes, *that* James Blunt), and the American order to British forces was countermanded by the UK's General Mike Jackson.

The second concerns the cruise missile strike which Bill Clinton ordered against a pharmaceutical factory located in Sudan, which was alleged to have been manufacturing a nerve gas that might have been put to use by Al Qaeda. Now, as it happens, the "evidence" which underpinned this decision was later thrown into some rather strong doubt by even the Americans themselves. And, in concert with the now demonstrably spurious assertions of Iraq allegedly possessing vast stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction (other than, presumably, the ones America sold them in the first place), just goes to show that the American track-record of alleging that Middle Eastern countries are in possession of nerve agents is not exactly one hundred per cent.

My point is that the comparable actions from recent American history to what occurred Friday do not necessarily suggest that Trump's course here is the particularly wise one. Hitting wrong targets on the basis of faulty intelligence; and engaging in a dangerous dance of death by 'prodding the Great Bear' ... are not what many would call fine examples of Presidential prudence. It is a dangerous form of international engagement indeed which only avoids serious escalation through the patience and valued restraint of the Russians.


But leaving aside the precedents and the potential Great Power entanglement ... what of the attack itself which prompted Trump's missile strike? Has it been proven that the Syrian Government ordered it and carried it out? I am not aware of actual evidence that this is the case. The best we have is conjecture, awaiting verification. (And assertions on the part of Turkey which some might view as rather sketchy and questionably motivated) Russia has stated - quite validly, might I add - that if the United States is in possession of evidence as "incontrovertible" as has been claimed of Syrian culpability, that this should be made public as promptly as possible. They have also floated a counter-narrative of Syrian warplanes hitting a chemical munitions depot controlled by rebels; whilst others have suggested the potential for some form of deliberate 'atrocity propaganda' by those opposed to Assad.

Certainly, there are a regrettably lengthy span of instances which prove either narrative may have validity. In the case of the former, the UN's Carla Del Ponte has already made the case for anti-Assad forces carrying out at least one chemical weapons attack in Syria alreadyWhilst others have scratched their heads asking what on earth Assad could POSSIBLY have to gain from carrying out this kind of attack mere days after the stunning reversal of US position on his government.

And in the case of the latter, it has become regrettably customary for Western military interventions to be prefaced with all manner of exaggerations and outright lies in order to create a moral imperative for NATO ordnance to begin raining down in earnest. Consider, for starters, the breathless allegations by a girl called Nayirah of Iraqi forces deliberately killing Kuwaiti infants which preceded the First Gulf War. At the time, nobody thought to mention that the person making the accusations was the daughter of the Kuwaiti Ambassador to the United States; and it was only after the intervention against Iraq had already taken place that it was shown just how willfully counterfactual her story had been.

Another instance is the much-maligned "people shredder" which Saddam Hussein was reputed to possess. Countries across the West were sold on the Iraq War (the Second one, I mean) on the basis that a man who allegedly fed his own people into a woodchipper as a form of torturous execution absolutely had to go. The claim about such an apparatus and its moral turgidity justifying invasion was continually repeated by MPs and even Prime Ministers in a number of polities. It turned up as the direct subject of any number of Jingoistic headlines and articles. And you know what the funny thing is? As far as we can tell, this plastic people eater never seems to have existed in the first place. A 'convenient fiction' which, in its own way, wound up giving garb-of-right to any number of subsequent civilian killings.

Or, more recently, we had the statements by US diplomats that Gaddafi was issuing his troops with massive quantities of Viagra for the purposes of facilitating atrocity-scale mass-rapes as part of his bid to shore up domestic control. By this point, it should probably come as absolutely no surprise that investigations by a number of organizations (including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Doctors Without Borders) have failed fairly comprehensively to find any actual evidence that this took place.

But, you know, what does it matter. The US got its NATO-backed Air War in Libya, 'officially justified' in no small measure by striking claims that Gaddafi was some sort of monstrously evil man regularly carrying out acts of CARTOONISH SUPERVILLAINY against his own people. (Rather than, you know, the tangible acts of every-day regular and more low-key despotism which the US habitually tolerates - or even outright encourages - from its allies and vassals).

So with all of the above in mind, it is certainly possible to view the "official narrative" being bandied about (without substantiation nor serious detail, might I add) by the Americans with a certain healthy degree of skepticism.

I am not saying that an exposure of a civilian population to a chemical warfare agent did not happen earlier this week. After all, unlike at least one of the other sources I've cited in this piece, I am no expert in this area. All I am doing is noting that there are so many unanswered questions - and previous instances of a dubious nature - that it is difficult to take the American justification for shooting first and waiting for actual verification of facts to come later as being the 'right' course of action.

Particularly given the manifestly high-stakes nature of this situation. And, further, the fact that some of the loudest supporters and direct beneficiaries of America embarking on a campaign of destruction in Syria appear to be ISIS themselves.

Serious questions need to be asked, to my mind, whenever the most vocal supporters of your course of action are Republicans who seem to deliberately wish to provoke a war with Russia, Neocons of all stripes, and the very abhorrent black-clad militants whom pretty much all factions and actors involved in Syria's ongoing horror agree are the local apogee of evil.



Whatever the ins and outs of American domestic politics which gave rise to this rather stunning reversal of position on Trump's behalf - from consciously eschewing the prospect of US involvement in Syria on the campaign trail and repudiating America's previously held position of demanding Assad's ouster, through to what may very well turn into an escalating campaign of military action ... I think we have justifiable cause to be worried.

What makes this even worse is that many of the theories as to why Trump has suddenly changed position are not built around what you might call notions of Trump as a rational strategic actor. The lead narrative doing the rounds at present is that his daughter, Ivanka, had an emotional reaction to photographs of the aftermath of the chemical incident and thusly brought to bear influence on her father to engage in an aggressive response. It doesn't take more than a moment's consideration to see why that is fairly immediately concerning; although it is potentially an open question as to whether the First Daughter attempting to shape policy in reaction to photos shared on Twitter is more or less worrying than, say, Nancy Reagan doing much the same thing on the basis of consulting an astrologer.

Besides, even if we accept that a certain 'humanitarian' impulse lies behind Trump's decision to bombard an airbase with missiles, this does not necessarily improve the situation. Not least because we're still not entirely sure where somewhere more than half of the missiles used on Friday actually landed. They may even have erroneously hit civilian targets. "Humanitarian Interventions" rarely stop with a single action; and the evidence thus far from Syria is that US-led airpower is actually more lethal to civilians than ISIS. We should therefore be very cautious about this motivation - and its related impetii from "interventionist left" voices calling for a stepping up of Western bombing campaigns against Syria.

Another (not necessarily exclusive) narrative has the strike resulting from an increasingly fractious relationship between Trump and his formerly closest advisor Steve Bannon; in parallel with the rising influence of Ivanka's husband, Jared Kushner. Phrased in these terms, military action in Syria has come about due to the chief ideologue of 'America First' and noninterventionism being eclipsed by an entirely different sort of operator who's not nearly as concerned with maintaining the doctrinal purity - much less, promises to voters - of the Trump White House. This growing split between Trump and Bannon had been suggested earlier, when Bannon was removed from the National Security Council (although there are alternative explanations for that); but with media-pieces now appearing that seem to suggest Trump is considering getting rid of Bannon entirely, it certainly seems probable that this situation at the heart of American politics will be getting worse before it gets better.

A third set of explanations concern the ongoing struggle between what some have termed the US "Deep State" and the previously announced vision of the Trump Administration. This is the same strife-line arguably responsible for General Flynn's ouster as National Security Advisor (important, due to Flynn's advocacy for warmer - rather than more antagonistic - relations with Russia); and if true, it certainly wouldn't be the first time that the CIA et co have undertaken to duplicitously manipulate a President into doing their bidding against his better judgement.

It's also possible that Trump ordered this missile barrage out of a simple desire to be liked. Not just by his own daughter and son-in-law, or by the shadowy spooks who hang out in cigar-smoke-filled back rooms with videos of the Kennedy assassination shot from the Grassy Knoll. But by the American people at large. They've been saturated with images and evidence (whatever its provenance) that Assad's a bad guy; and recently, this has reached somewhat of a fever-pitch with the latest round of gassing allegations. Trump's occasionally somewhat paradoxical need for (popular) approval, therefore, may have lead him to choose to respond to the bellowing demands of a certain swathe of popular opinion ... whilst electing to disregard that segment of the body-politik whose votes he relied upon to get into office in the first place, and whom we might fairly describe as being broadly "anti-interventionist" as the result of their previous visceral experiences with the human consequences of ongoing Imperial OverReach.

Or, for that matter, whether appointing a guy with the nickname of "Mad Dog" to the lofty position of Secretary of Defence may have lead to a certain irascibility when it comes to the Administration's policy in Syria.

Oh, and it would be extraordinarily remiss of me to neglect to include the "explanation" proffered by those people for whom everything Trump does - up to and including attacking a Russian Ally, apparently - is the singular result of a Putin-authored conspiracy.

In any case, regardless of why Trump has done what he has done, we are now in rather perilous waters. A rational appraisal of the situation would suggest that Russia will be unlikely to retaliate - and that the US, having flexed its hugely expensive military muscles in a largely ineffective show of force, can go back to voicing vague distaste in diplomatic forae without doing anything substantive.

But for a number of reasons, it would now appear perhaps questionable that we are dealing with rational decision-makers operating within the constraints of rational assumptions about a rational environment.

And, as we know from decades of analysis on both game theory and brinksmanship in international relations ... it's the consciously /irrational/ actors who are the dangerous ones.

After all, as we saw in the immediate period before the outbreak of World War One - to a /rational/ actor, it would have been almost entirely inconceivable for a continent-spanning world war to break out given the nature of the international situation at the time - particularly over something as relatively small in scale as an intervention in a third-rate country which had long been something of a volatile hot-spot.

Yet the inexorable march of history oft-seems with alarming frequency to be hell-bent upon making avowed fools of the best-laid plans of mice and men.

Let us hope with avowed fervor that the continued course of the Trump Presidency does not give us cause to ponder Karl Marx's famous maxim upon the subject of Louis-Napoleon's seizure of power in France that events in history often occur twice - the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

On NZ First's Anti-Smacking Referendum


Another Election Year, another desperate bid from Family First to attempt to get s59 of the Crimes Act revoked. Indeed, if it weren't for their recent slew of agitation against the reform of abortion laws, and side-campaign to attempt to ban pornography, you could well be forgiven for thinking they're something of a 'one-issue' (or should that be 'one trick') entity.

What's sparked this latest attempt at going back in legislative time by ten years was a speech NZ First Leader Winston Peters gave last Friday about getting serious on the recent wave of youth-crime. Winston's mention of the potential desirability of dropping s59 in its current form was then seized upon by McCoskrie on Sunday as evidence that the latter's longed-for Day of Reckoning and Repeal was shortly to be at hand; followed in short order by some malicious gremlin deciding to flagrantly misrepresent the Party's stance on Wikipedia by attempting to proclaim that s59 repeal was now an NZ First non-negotiable coalition bottom line, and Sue Bradford going on the attack on this issue against Winston through the media yesterday morning. Oh, and somewhere along the way Winston clarified New Zealand First's position on this issue as actually being to support a referendum about repealing s59 rather than just getting rid of it straight away.

So far, this is pretty much about normal for an Election Year. Some conservative group brings up an old gripe from the Clark era, gets quietly annoyed that their supposed 'friends' in the National Party have no actual plans to do anything about the issue, and then finds common cause with another electoral vehicle as a result. But what makes things different this time around is that with New Zealand First looking increasingly likely to be in a position of strong influence on whomever the next Government will be, there is now a rather heightened chance that something might happen.

It therefore behooves me to take a brief look at the 'anti-smacking law' and the history around this issue - not least because, as far as I can see, a number of voices on both sides of the resurgent debate on s59 are being openly disingenous and are therefore (perhaps ironically) in need of correction.

The first point about s59 that ABSOLUTELY must be made (because it's generally where EVERYBODY - both Pro and Anti its retention - starts to get things wrong), is that section 59 does not, in point of fact, make it illegal to smack your child. Take a look at subsection (1). There, you'll find a list of circumstances - which are, to be honest, pretty broad-ranging in their scope - wherein a parent is "justified in using force" in relation to their child. These include "tasks that are incidental to good care and parenting" [an exemption to a legislative 'ban' on smacking so broad one could feasibly drive the proverbial truck through it], as well as specific allowances in law for using force to prevent your child from injuring themselves [for instance, by touching a hot stove, perhaps], injuring another, engaging in criminal activity, or being offensive or disruptive. In other words, it's a pretty broad list; and I feel pretty sure that most reasonable use of reasonable force in child-raising probably fits in somewhere in the above.

Now where it gets complex is when we read subsection (1) in concert with subsections (2) and (3). Because here we find odd language about "force for the purposes of correction" not being legally justified - which flatly contradicts (and deliberately so) the allowable use of force as applies our children outlined in ss(1).

It arguably gets even worse when we add in subsection (4); which attempts to reconcile all of the above by setting out that the police have the "discretion" not to prosecute parents who smack [or use other force on] their children if there'd be no "public interest" in doing so due to the force involved being "inconsequential".

Why is this a bad thing? Because our laws ought guarantee at least a modicum of certainty to those who are supposed to be bound by them; and through a combination of confusing language - and more especially, the relegation of what *actually* constitutes an offence against the act to the judgement of an individual policeman ... this law fairly patently does not do that.

Now as it happens, I do think there's a reasonably strong argument that the old s59 which Bradford's bill sought to replace WAS in need of some reform. Under the previous legislation, parents had access to what was known as a "reasonable force" defence when it came to hitting their children. This might sound well and good, but in practice it allowed somewhat extreme disciplinary measures like whipping a child, even in such a manner as to leave disfigurement, to be protected actions under the law. I'd like to think that even committed pro-smacking parents would agree that that's too far. Particularly when it later turned out that the "reasonable force" defence apparently meant certain parents thought they were justified in dealing to their errant offspring with an array of implements ranging from a jug-cord up to a full-on assault with a tent pole.

But if we look at how the 'new' s59 is worded, it seems an extraordinarily convoluted way of removing (or, if you like, redefining in a more tightly constrained way) a defence to a charge of assault or parental mistreatment. And this is before we even begin to consider the potential issues inherent in making the enforcement of this law a matter for individual police discretion (some of which we've already seen when it comes to the police discretionary power for low-level cannabis offences).

I'm therefore going to break ranks somewhat with many of the other voices on the liberal left and respectfully suggest that maybe Winston IS on to something here, and that there is, in fact, a case to be made for getting rid of the present section 59.

Although I almost certainly differ from most of the 'conservative' voices calling for the legislation's repeal in also wanting something better - which does much the same thing - erected in its place.

Because even if we agree that there's an argument to be made for the use of force as a regular part of parenting, there remains a troubling proclivity for some Kiwi parents to take this way too far - and wind up doing serious (even fatal) damage to those weakest among us entrusted to their care. The very real risk, if s59 is indeed replaced with either nothing or a much too loose piece of legislation, is that we will wind up giving a sanctified 'claim of right' carte-blanche to outright abusers and repugnant acts.

As noted above, even the comparatively straightforward precepts of the old, pre-Bradford section 59 already allowed if not encouraged parental uses of force that are difficult in good conscience to justify.

Which is, perhaps, why the previous Parliament who passed the bill in question into law did so so resoundingly. One hundred and thirteen MPs supported the bill (a majority of New Zealand First MPs among them, as it happens), because they knew that it would be a fundamental injustice to leave the law as it was. That doesn't necessarily mean that they got it right when it came to putting forward a replacement enactment, of course; but it does mean we should think very carefully about what shall fill the void left by an abolished s59 before actually attempting to get rid of it.

This puts one in the mind of the noted conservative writer G.K. Chesterton's famous maxim about never tearing down a fence before one has first understood why it was put up. I've often had pause to wonder whether some of the anti-anti-smacking people have actually bothered to consider this, instead of simply working themselves up into a feel-good lather about the dire depredations of much-maligned "PC GONE MAD", which seemed to saturate the latter years of the dying Clarke regime without any necessity of facts.

In any case, I'm not entirely convinced that the repeal of section 59 will actually have a measurable effect upon the present wave of highly publicized assaults and robberies being committed by young people, which is what Winston appeared to be suggesting on Friday. If anything, this proposition might be regarded as being of considerably less importance for this matter than another policy of New Zealand First's - the earlier announced coalition bottom line demand for an extra 1800 front-line police officers - that is almost certain to have vastly more impact.

It's probably not surprising that the so-called 'anti-smacking' law remains inestimably controversial in certain circles. It's a complex piece of legislation, beset with a number of obvious shortcomings. As a frequent democracy, we ought be able to have a mature discussion about whether the s59 that we've got is actually 'fit for purpose' - and whether there are better ideas out there with which to replace it.

I'm not necessarily wild about the way Winston has chosen to bring s59 back into the national political conversation this year; but it seems pretty clear that there are issues here deserving of consideration, and which provide obvious potential grounds for legal reform.

We can but hope that further dialogue in this area means we eventually get the law right; rather than continuing to live with a questionable compromise.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Reflections On Trump's Failure With 'Ryancare'



Late last week, the abysmal healthcare 'reform' proposal of Paul Ryan's which Trump had inexplicably chosen to support ... failed fairly unequivocally. How badly did it flounder? It didn't even make it to First Reading, on grounds that even other Republicans could not bring themselves to vote for it. 

A full explication of the 'hows' and the 'whys' behind Ryan's seven-year political project imploding in such spectacular fashion is beyond the scope of this piece; but looking at this whole - seemingly Fawltian - situation, a number of insights presented themselves.

The first, unquestionably, is that this was a singularly ridiculous political area for Trump to decided to get directly involved any attempt to replace Obamacare - let alone with 'Ryancare' - as flagship policy. It has been said in response to the old adage about "Mussolini made the trains in Italy run on time" that "Even God Himself could not make the trains in Italy run on time." Looking at the benighted state of just about EVERY serious healthcare reform proposal at the national level over the last few decades of American political history (Remember what Hillary USED to be famous for?) ... I feel pretty confident in stating that "Even God Himself could not make healthcare workable and affordable in America for all". It's just a complete and total quagmire - where political capital goes to valiantly die in thousand-page reports and insurance industry tacit backhanders.

Opposition to "Obamacare" was, indeed, a Republican Party talking-point hot-button issue par-excellence for much of the last Presidency ... but it must have been patently obvious that both i) an improved healthcare affordability mechanism [within the idiotic insurance/market based paradigm which America for some reason continues to insist upon] was going to be incredibly difficult to deliver, let alone quickly; and ii) that the Paul Ryan MOAR MARKET LESS TAX approach was something vastly more amenable to the Republicans' elitist backers [well, some of them anyway] than it was to the millions of ordinary working class Americans who helped sweep Trump to Power.

In other words, the very decision to put all his Presidential weight and seemingly-mighty impetus behind RyanCare represents in the most tangible possible form evidence of a corruption and a co-option of what Trump's "I'll make the Republicans a Workers' Party" political project was supposed to be about.

Which leads me handily on to my SECOND point.

Namely, that there IS a better way of doing healthcare out there - one which a fairly vast swathe of the developed world [and, for that matter, the better parts of the developING world] have long been on board with, which tends to provide better care to more people for lower cost [to both individual, employer, and, at the rate things are going, in terms of actual service provision, it may even work out better for the taxpayer] - and that's the "Single Payer" model. Or, as we call it EVERYWHERE ELSE, the "Public Healthcare System". [the fact that Americans insist upon terming this "Single Payer" just shows how far-wedged and firmly wedded their conception of healthcare as a transactional service presumably bound up with some sort of profit-making private enterprise nonsense in the first place].

It would have taken some doing to get the American political system to actually look seriously at the proposal [and I note that Trump actually arguably started laying the groundwork for this by positively talking up 'Single Payer' in speeches and campaign appearances as much as seventeen years ago - during his previous Presidential run]; and it's frankly disheartening to see the number of people who self-identify as being on the 'left' of the American political spectrum that've been gearing up to apparently die in a ditch for a massive-scale Insurance Industry politically embedded profit-making rort [which is, effectively, what ObamaCare puts a delightful, smiling human face upon - of a reasonably popular, principled-seeming President, no less]. But given the fact that pretty much *everyone* other than a rather small slice of Republicans, and a broader swathe of Democrats [acting out of both party and ideological loyalty] seem to hate the Affordable Care Act ... surely it could have at least done with a shot? Trump had impressive political capital to pour into complete shakeups in other areas, why not with one of the areas he's passionately advocated for reform in for most of the time that I've been alive?

Of course, a cynic's answer to this is that it never would have worked. As we saw with the attempt to pass RyanCare, partisan folks would have come out of the woodwork [on both sides, for that matter] to try and torpedo what would no doubt have been derisively labelled "BernieCare". This is, again, partially due to the American political establishment's evient bewilderment that there can be any such thing as a public healthcare system which doesn't run through the insurance industry [seriously, this whole "unemployment insurance" thing they've got going even does social welfare that'd ordinarily be handled simply and directly by the state as an entitlement in an insurance-industry [if not always directly insurance firm] mold]; and also partially due to the fact, no doubt, that the absolutely HUGE insurance industry [truly, one of the last 'great' areas of economic activity within America not to have been completely hollowed out and downsized or shipped offshore] would have been lobbying so incredibly hard against any reform to their golden cash goose that the task of taking them OUT of the equation ought be described as less 'Sisyphean" [although given the way healthcare reform keeps rolling up and down the political slopes like the boulder from that story, perhaps it's not entirely inaccurate] and more 'Sommean'. As in, a huge expenditure of effort to achieve very little except pain for one's self

:/

But out of all of this, there is perhaps one single bright lining. Namely, that there are escalating signs that the Trump era (and,in no small part the way his administration and allies do things) is beginning to Break the Republicans. After all, as we saw, RyanCare failed as a bill precisely because Republican hardliners couldn't agree on whether the proposal didn't go FAR ENOUGH on stripping away protections and cutting costs/taxes, or just right ... and, for that matter, the number of 'moderate' Republicans who saw the RyanCare legislation as being a worse option than today's Affordable Care Act.
There are, of course, other schism-points to be drawn out; and it's not hard to find areas - particularly in foreign policy - wherein the level of animosity internal to the leading lights of hte Republican Party is now even icier and more internecine than Clinton v Sanders was for the Democrats. But it is not so easy to think of an area of purely /domestic/ politics wherein the fault-lines of the GoP have been so readily on show, recently.

In any case - and this perhaps says more about my own mindset than it does Trump's - I cannot help but wonder whether the principled thing to do in such a situation would be to recognize that Republicans would never be united in support of ANY proposal to meaningfully (or, for thta matter, less meaningfully - incoherently, even) 'reform' Healthcare ... and just throw hands up in the air about doing things "the Washington way", and just push and drive incredibly hard for the actual institution of "Single Payer" healthcare.

As mentioned above, it might take a decent swathe of selling to both the American people, and I'd be genuinely surprised if such a proposal picked up serious legislative support [for reasons that are jus straight-out malefic given the evidence for such a policy-set's efficacy] ... but if anyone's demonstrated an inimitable ability to take the politics of 'consensus' and throw them out on their ear ... it's Trump.

It would have been inordinately good if he could have, on this occasion at least, used this power for Good rather than for ... well ... deeply held Republican talking points in lieu of gleaming principle.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

On Recent Opinion Polling

Yesterday, two polls were released - the latest Roy Morgan and most recent Reid Research. They're both interesting, albeit for almost entirely different reasons.

The Roy Morgan data is probably what folks with an implicit left-wing bias will be most interested in; due to its showing a reduction in National support of 4.5%, and corresponding rise in Labour/Greens support of 5% - for totals of 43.5%, 29.5%, and 14.5% respectively.

The explanations for these rather radical shifts in numbers are immediately obvious. After a somewhat protracted 'honeymoon period', Bill English's tenure as Prime Minister has started to enter rocky territory. His comments on large-scale immigration being justified because Kiwi workers were allegedly unemployable due to drug use did not resonate as they might once have, leading to a backdown of sorts shortly afterward in which he conceded that changing immigration policy-settings might be possible. The recent (and ongoing) semi-literal quagmire over water - whether pollution of waterways, or the extraction of our resources for a pittance to be sold offshore as the latest example of Kiwi-victimizing Neo-Colonialism - has also followed a similar trend. Namely, inflammatory statements made to the media [although in this instance, by Environment Minister Nick Smith] based on either a misreading of public sentiment or just sheer bloody-mindedness, followed up in relatively short order by a signaled possible change in position.

On top of this, English's apparent determination to walk the fine line between death and destruction entailed in messing with superannuation will also have cost him. It was, after all, the same issue which effectively sealed the fate of Labour at the last Election, and which has caused serious problems for the National Party in previous contests (admittedly, mostly in the 1990s). Although if the controversy over the retirement age is actually a salient causation in National's shedding of votes in the Roy Morgan, then it is somewhat surprising indeed that New Zealand First [on 7.5% - a reduction of 0.5% on the previous poll] has not been a greater beneficiary.

Perhaps this indicates that there are indeed some stirrings of mood out there in the electorate for a fulsome change of government, rather than mere dissatisfaction with the present regime; meaning voters who'd otherwise gravitate towards NZF are exercising trepidation in doing so due to media speculation that we'd side with National.

To these factors we may also be able to add Labour's decision to elevate Jacinda Ardern to the Deputy Leadership. Regardless of whether one thinks she's made a truly substantive contribution to our nation's politics over the previous decade, it would appear indisputable that she is the highest-profile Deputy Leader of the party since the days of Michael Cullen. And, as we shall see when it comes to dissecting the Reid Research poll's Preferred Prime Minister results, her promotion alone has certainly made a bit of an impact. Certainly, it is difficult to imagine a situation in this Parliamentary Term wherein Winston Peters has found himself out-polled by a Labour Party MP for Preferred PM [indeed, according to this list from Wiki, it is an event without precedent going back to the last Election.]

In any case, whilst my affection for the Roy Morgan poll is well known, it is certainly not the only game in town. And the Reid Research material out the same day makes for some decidedly interesting comparison-work between the two analyses.

Particularly because in many respects they flat-out contradict one another.

In contrast to the Roy Morgan's falling National but rising Labour/Greens, Reid Research has National increasing by 2% to 47.1%, Labour falling by 1.9% to 30.8%, and the Greens dropping 0.3% to 11.2%. New Zealand First, meanwhile, has fallen 0.5% to 7.6%.

So what to make of this. Well, for starters, it's probably worth noting that Reid Research have just changed their polling methodology in a bid to reach out to different [and traditionally less-contactable] voters. It's possible that that has had an impact upon the results we're seeing here, although difficult to determine whether this axiomatically makes their conclusions more or less accurate than their previous and more exclusively landline-based efforts. Certainly, a cursory look at their record in the immediate run-up to the 2014 and 2011 General Elections would appear to suggest that Reid Research's old methodology had some noticeable flaws in it [consistently over-polling the Greens, and having National's result out by more than two percentage points - which in this day and age is the literal difference between Governments continuing or falling upon the ashheap of history].

The alternate interpretation, of course, is that Reid Research's new-and-sharper methodology is, in fact, on the money - and that the cautious optimism which was beginning to break out on the Left in recent weeks has found itself somewhat misplaced. Certainly, this would be in demonstrable keeping with the trends of previous Elections, wherein at every turn the 'hope' that the latest scandal of whatever flavour would be National's undoing has turned to ashes in our mouths as they've emerged in each successive poll or popular vote almost entirely unscathed. Indeed, almost seeming to 'feed' off the controversy!

Personally, if I were a Labour supporter - and, not for the first time, I must confess to feeling inordinately glad that I am not - I'd probably be attempting to look for a 'silver lining' [other than Winston] in the form of both polls discussed here having Labour at or about 30%. It's probably a sign of how dismal Labour's prospects have been for the last few years that this is somehow an achievement worthy of note - and yet, it is. Thirty percent is where a party can start to credibly claim to be one of the 'Big Two'; in rather marked contrast to its previous low-twenties polling, which had many commentators (myself included) wondering how long until Labour effectively wound up relegated to semi-official 'Minor Party' status. [The requisite number for that, if you are wondering, would probably be semi-consistently scoring below twenty percent; although as Bill English-era National so handily demonstrated fifteen years ago, there is no axiomatic rule of political gravity which definitively states that a result just above 20% is unrecoverable from]

Having said that, instead of taking either of the above polls as 'good news' [an understandable eschewment], many Labourites will presumably be instead attempting to cast doubt upon the veracity and utility of opinion polling all up. Perhaps they will even be once again quoting former National Party Prime Minister [and arguable, in some ways, proto-Bill English] and resorting to his famous political maxim: "Bugger the polls!"

But this would be a bit of a mistake. It's no secret that political polls can occasionally be substantially inaccurate. The results from the US Presidential Election and Brexit both serve to bear this out in an Anglosphere context. There, as is now well known, the inaccuracies in results lead to an indelible false sense of security on the part of the 'Establishment' sides of those contests. Which fed into overconfidence, and consequent defeat.

It would, perhaps, be too much to hope for a similar occurrence here in New Zealand. Namely, that the National Party buys into the myth of electoral invincibility off the back of a few polls which have them in the mid-high 40s, and starts making ever-more-significant errors. Although some are, of course, of the opinion that we are already starting to see this happen. [A phenomenon which we can also tie fairly directly to the much-dreaded 'Third-Term-Itis']

Instead, the reason why it would be arguable folly for Labour supporters to write off polls entirely is a simple one. They appear to be getting more accurate.

This means that while it might have once been true - most especially in both of 2005 and 2008, wherein many polls had Labour and National several percentage points off, and often in pretty much inverted positions in terms of their rough support, these errors diminished in 2011 [with the exception of auguries for the Green Party's result - who appear to remain prone to chronic over-estimation by as much as 4%], and by 2014 had been reduced to frequently less than a percent out from the actual final electoral result. Particularly where Labour is concerned.

It would be both cumbersome and somnolence-inducing to go through poll-by-poll and show this; but as a sort of evidentiary shorthand, we'll take a brief excursion through the  final Roy Morgan poll of the 2014 Campaign season.

This had National on 46.5%, Labour on 24%, The Greens on 13.5%, NZ First on 8%, the Maori Party on 1.5%, Internet MANA on 1%, the Conservatives on 3.5%, and each of ACT and United Future on 0.5% apiece [which is considerably better than the 0% they'd registered in some - admittedly perhaps rather optimistic - predictions].

How did this compare with the actual results of the 2014 General Election? Well, National 47.04%, Labour 25.13%, Greens 10.7%, NZ First 8.66%, Maori 1.32%, Internet MANA 1.42%, Conservatives 3.97%, ACT 0.69% and a whole 0.22% for United Future [which, as it happens, is less than half of the Aotearoa Legalize Cannabis Party's 0.46%, but I digress].

That represents a difference of 0.54% for National between the Roy Morgan and the eventual result; 1.13% for Labour, 2.8% for the Greens [who, as noted, are almost invariably overpolled]; 0.66% for New Zealand First; 0.18% for the Maori Party; 0.42% for InternetMANA; 0.47% for the Conservative Party; 0.19% for ACT; and 0.28% [admittedly more than its entire vote, but bear in mind the Roy Morgan moves in 0.5% increments] for United Future.

That's pretty dang close.

So, given the Roy Morgan is the same poll which yesterday had Labour and the Greens swelling by a combined total of 5% to beat National ... perhaps there IS some hope for a non-National Government come 2018 after all.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Inter-Generation Collaboration, Not Age-Based Warfare Needed To Defeat Neoliberal Scourge

Earlier this week, several minorly amazing things happened. National decided to breach its nine-year commitment to leave the retirement age untampered with; Labour found itself with an MP in a leadership position whom the public actually seem to like; and I caught myself red-handed agreeing with David Seymour.

Having done a quick spot-check just to ensure that his (and my) home electorate of Epsom hadn't frozen over, I then moseyed my way over to social media to see what everybody else thought of the week's startling events - and in particular, the proposed increase to the pension age.

The reaction was sadly, somewhat predictable. And by this, I don't mean that a clear majority of the people I interact with were opposed to the age going up (because that vocal disapproval is anything BUT sad!).

Instead, I refer to this regrettable new trend of boldly declaring that any policy-set perceived to favour the older ('Boomer' and 'Greatest') generations in our society is somehow a manifestation of "Intergenerational Warfare". Forget "Class Struggle" ... this is now the apparent Dialectic Du Jour of the modern, trendy lefty.

Now this is not to say that English's recently announced pension policy is fair or equitable. By allowing the (presumably more National-voting) older generations of today to retire at 65, yet ripping the rug out from under the Gen-Xers, Ys, and Millenials who'll be looking to retire at or after the decade in which the policy actually comes into effect, National is cynically stating that they're quite prepared to engage in some SERIOUSLY unrighteous policy-making. Particularly given they effectively intend on making us pay for the costs of a 65 retirement age which we younger folk will never, most likely, benefit from. [That's the part I agree with David Seymour on, in case you were wondering]

But is this "Intergenerational Warfare", as some have suggested? I think not. That would imply that there is a broad mass of 'Boomer' and 'Greatest Generation' members out there enthusiastically cheering on the idea that they're somehow "winning" by continually impoverishing and short-changing their children and grandchildren.

Instead, what's happened is the neoliberal ideologues who actually run our economy are making bad decisions. Bad decisions, to be sure, which fairly deliberately mainly negatively effect those whom they perceive as least likely to be able to effectively fight back against them.

And yes, it's certainly true that a goodly number of the National Party Caucus who are presently pushing this change are, themselves, Baby Boomers. Just as was a fairly large proportion of the 2014 Labour Caucus who did likewise at the last Election. But this is tempered by the number of out-and-out Quisling young people (predominantly Young Nats), who seem to be looking forward with licking lips to being amongst the first New Zealanders to have to compulsorily work into their late-60s. It simply doesn't seem to be adequate to state that all those in favour of this present policy are older New Zealanders - still less, that all those opposed are young people. Indeed, with New Zealand First leading the charge against the policy, to attempt to assert so would be blatantly counterfactual.

Let's be clear about this. There IS a fault-line within New Zealand Politics that is presently screwing over young people. But it's NOT a consciously Older-Versus-Younger one. After all, the trends I'm talking about seriously deleterious affect older New Zealanders, too! If they're not already well up the property ladder, pensioners on fixed incomes do only marginally better than beneficiaries and probably worse than minimum-wage earning young people when it comes to navigating our new, dilapidated extra-neoliberal public services; and they're much less employable, in some respects, than either of these other demographics.

Instead, the 'fault-line' is between those in a position to effect policy, and those locked outside of the system. Between those who're able to benefit from the way our economy is structured, and those whose ongoing prosperity or survival seems continually undermined by same.

And that suggests that this calculated insistence upon casting X governmental policy decision as yet another battle in a war of Old against Young is classic "Divide And Rule" tactics from those in power. Because if we're really busy exerting all of our energy into blaming each other (on EITHER side of the age-divide), then we far more easily lose sight of the REAL forces and factions ACTUALLY to blame.

It probably feels good for the disenfranchised of all ages to lob insults and sketch stereotypes of people a few decades apart from them chronologically. To blame parts of the housing crisis on smashed avocado toast or gerontocratic greed, for instance. This does not make it accurate. It also doesn't actually help us to solve the problems being talked about.

What is needed is co-operation rather than conflict between generations with a view to stopping this monstrous neoliberal ideology once and for all. This does not mean ignoring the fact that particular manifestations of pernicious policy such as the proposed pension package are more unequal for some age-groups than others. But it does involve setting aside some differences of opinion - and the inevitable associated recriminations - in favour of pursuing shared advocacy for genuine solutions.

Once upon a time, as a much younger man at university, I was introduced to the idea of "cross-class co-operation" in a Marxist context. The idea there was that the challenges inherent in attempting to overthrow (or, at the very least, reform) the excesses of capitalism were of such magnitude that the working class by itself was unlikely to be able to achieve this. Which would thus necessitate the strategic co-operation with other classes in society in order to attempt to bring about meaningful change.

I am not making the case for some sort of Marxian insurrection here in New Zealand by drawing upon that point of theory.

But it does seem, when so much energy is taken up by young activists objectifying our older forebears into The Enemy, that there is something productive to be had in remembering that working WITH our parents and grandparents may, in fact, be the superior way to go about making our situation better.

For all of us.

Certainly, if we wish to be cynical about this, the National Government have already resoundingly demonstrated that they have precious little interest in actually engaging with the perspectives or the votes of younger New Zealanders. Yet they're evidently potently paranoid about the possibility of losing support from the Older Generations (hence, presumably, their decision to defer raising the Age of Entitlement until persons thinking about retirement today are already WELL on their way to dotage).

Part of the answer to our present circumstance, therefore, does obviously lie with attempting to turn younger New Zealanders into the sort of high-turnout voting demographic which can make or break elections. But this is longer term thinking. In the short and medium term, the way to start the beat-back upon Neoliberalism is to foster inter-generational co-operation against it. Rather than, as some are wont to do, give in to the temptation to blame our forebears for policy-sets and governments which they may very well have played very little role in empowering. (It's worthwhile to remember that our parents' generation are also the ones responsible for the MMP system which we enjoy today, delivered as the fairly direct result of their cohort's attempted fightback against the disempowering and ultimately unrepresentative FPP system which gave us first Rogernomics, and then Ruthanasia)

In any case, as noted above - much of the present Parliamentary-Political opposition to this raise in the retirement age for younger people is being driven by older New Zealanders (supplemented and assisted by many of the younger Parliamentarians). This represents a great example of the interests and advocacy of the two generational groups coming together in order to oppose Neoliberalism.

Long may it continue.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

In Defence Of Ron Mark's Record



It has been said that strong arguments attack concepts; weak arguments attack people; and spurious diatribes careen off into the side of a barn by attempting to hit the wrong targets entirely.

This latter description is pretty much how I'd surmise the attack-piece which appeared on The Daily Blog on Tuesday, aimed (at least nominally) at none other than New Zealand First Deputy Leader Ron Mark.

Why do I say this? Well, for starters, its premise - that Ron was allegedly "a mercenary" - is factually incorrect. Mercenaries, it may interest you to know, fight as the militaristic equivalent of contractors. They aren't actually a part of a given standing army, and instead are paid to supplement a force whilst remaining independent actors.

As a commissioned officer in the Sultanate's forces, this is not what Ron did in the state of Oman - in fact, quite the opposite. Rather than being a 'soldier of fortune' who'd fight for the highest bidder, he made a commitment to a sovereign nation with longstanding ties to both Commonwealth and Anglosphere, joined up as an actual part of their military and saw it through.

Oh, and while we're on the subject of alleged "mercenaryism", it's frankly inexplicable that Peterson seems to allege that Ron's service with the United Nations in a peacekeeping capacity counts as "evidence" of mercenary conduct. Unless you're some New World Order-touting conspiracy theorist, the UN is not generally seen as being a dodgy cartel-like employer of mercenaries. Given, you know, it generally holds them to be illegal.

More to the point, the broad thrust of Peterson's nail-clipper job (like a hatchet job, but of minuscule effect) appears to be an attempt to use Ron's military record in the Middle East as part of a bid to cast doubt upon his political judgement here at home. Yet if we recall, it was precisely this hard-won experience in Arabia which made Ron such a tumultuously effective opponent of the recent National Party decision to deploy Kiwi troops to Iraq. Who better to point out that NZDF 'boots on the ground' weren't going to solve the issues they were nominally there for, than someone with a first-hand knowledge of both the region, and the realities of soldiering therein.

And indeed, the superior moral heft and informational base which Ron derived from his previous service in uniform allowed him to deliver the greatest anti-war rhetoric Parliament has seen in recent memory.

In case you've forgotten, it went like this:

"Do not make light of this. See, the thing I know about people in Parliament—and I used to say this to Keith Locke—is that most often the people who have the loudest voices when it comes to deploying people into theatres of war are those who have never worn a uniform and never want to. And very, very often, sadly, you find that they do not allow their sons or daughters to go either. So button it, Mr Goldsmith—button it. You have no place commenting on this because, quite frankly, you do not know what you are sending troops to."

Certainly has prominent echoes of General Eisenhower's quote about "[hating] war as only a soldier can".

I've also written previously about how I believe Ron's military background has become a strong asset for New Zealand First internally, on an organizational level. Officers tend to know how to build structures and turn groups of enthusiastic volunteers into effective units for campaign. It's right there in the job description. This is, obviously, something that's been most useful for us in recent years, and which is truly going to come into its own in a few months' time. As New Zealand First looks forward to the future, these organizational skills and competencies are going to become more vital than ever.

But the thing which irritated me most about Peterson's piece wasn't his woeful misapplication of the word "mercenary". It wasn't even the complete overlooking of how Ron's prior service has helped him to be an effective representative and Parliamentarian today.

Instead, it was this line from the first paragraph describing some of the alleged characteristics of mercenaries: "They aren't driven by a set of principles, and are not fighting for a just cause or to defend their country".

That part really got under my skin, because while it might be a fair description of Executive Outcomes or Blackwater ... it's also the absolute antithesis of who and what Ron Mark is.

In all of my dealings with Ron over the last few years, and from my ongoing observation of the 'second phase' of his Parliamentary career, if I could pick but two phrases to sum him up they would unquestionably be "man of principle", and "fighting for a just cause, to defend our country".

This is a man, let's remember, who could have quite happily stayed ensconced in Carterton winning election after election for the local Mayoralty, and presumably setting himself up as something of the Lower North Island equivalent to Tim Shadbolt.

But he didn't. Because in 2014 he was called back into service with the express and explicit purpose of "fighting for a just cause" in Parliament. Namely, the defence of our country against the ongoing frontal assault on the very concept of good governance which we see emanating daily from the Nat-occupied Treasury benches. A role in which may observers would agree that Ron has excelled - being one of the foremost voices in the House when it comes to challenging our extant Neoliberal overlords.

Still, success habitually arouses envy - and, as the old saying goes, "the monkeys only shake the tree with the best mangoes". I believe that this is what has motivated Peterson's piece. A feeling on the part of some parts of the further-left of the NZ political spectrum that New Zealand First has 'unfairly' come to dominate 'their' self-appointed territory. That the strong support which we enjoy from ordinary working class New Zealanders - and the demonstrable lead which NZ First has taken in the long-term fight against neoliberalism are things which some of our apparent adversaries wrongfully believe they ought to enjoy a monopoly upon.

They see a Nationalist movement that is large and working well - and instead of asking how best they can work WITH us against our common foe ... they'd rather pen scurrilous innuendo that flagrantly misrepresents a leading Opposition Member's pre-Parliamentary career; because they're worried about, in the long term, New Zealand First eclipsing others and becoming THE leading party of the Opposition.

And they know that we carry the torch and banner of working class Kiwis in a way they'll never be able to match.

In any case, the surface-veneer of Peterson's piece was an attempted hit-job on Ron's character, judgement and political principles. I've already countered some of the factual inaccuracies and blindspots of interpretation in it, and hopefully conveyed a sense of why I continue to back this man.

But if you want a true measure of why Ron's a valuable contributor to the destiny of this nation, then don't just take my word for it. Turn on Parliament TV, follow him on facebook, or turn up in person to one of his speaking engagements in a town near you.

You won't be disappointed.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

You'd Have To Be High To Believe That Record Migration Is Due To Drug-Use



It's become a depressing pattern. Every time news of record migration numbers come out in the media, the National Party leap into action with another excuse for why they're justified.

The most recent "alternative facts" laden argument for adding tens of thousands of people to the New Zealand labour market ... is that apparently the workers already here can't pass drug tests.

Now, the notion that people are unemployed because they're on drugs is not a new concept to the national political lexicon. We've heard it before, quite a number of times. In fact, it even became such a serious concern that then-Social Development Minister Paula Bennett instituted mandatory drug-testing for beneficiaries thought to be out of work for this reason.

How did this go?

Well, in 2015 there were more than thirty thousand beneficiaries referred to jobs which required them to be drug free ... and only fifty five failures of the requisite pre-work drug tests. (Gosh, what a wonderful use of taxpayer money) This is a rate of failure of 0.173%; which would rather strongly suggest that drugs are not a significant barrier to participation in the workforce for tens of thousands of beneficiaries.

So clearly, something else is going on here.

In order to find out what, we need to ask ourselves two questions.

First up, why do some employers seem to have a preference for immigrant labour; and second, why the Government is continually content to airbrush reality and attempt to present the ongoing importation of tens of thousands of people a year as something of an economic necessity.

The answer to the first question is, regrettably, quite simple. Less scrupulous employers want to take on migrant labour rather than employ Kiwis, in the main, because the former are far more readily exploitable than the latter.

Now obviously, this will not be the case in all instances. The Skilled Migrant category of immigration exists precisely because we've long recognized that on occasion it is more desirable to bring in somebody with a needed skill, rather than waiting the potential months or years for a Kiwi to either upskill or otherwise become available for the position.

But it has become painfully apparent of late that under this Government, the immigration system is not being used just to plug vital gaps in our workforce - but instead, as part of a calculated and cynical effort to keep pay and conditions down in a number of workplaces and industries.

How else to interpret, for instance, then-Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse making the nonsensical statement that "supermarket checkout operator" apparently count as an "Essential Skill" in the eyes of Immigration New Zealand, as justification for dozens of entry-visas being issued.

Are we really to be expected to believe that amongst the tens of thousands of New Zealanders unemployed and looking for work on any given day ... that there weren't a few dozen people already here who could have performed the enormously complex task of operating a supermarket checkout?

I think not.

So what makes a migrant worker on a (temporary) visa more valuable to an employer than an equivalent Kiwi?

Simple. The New Zealander doesn't have the threat of fairly immediate deportation hanging over them if they should happen to do anything to incur their employer's displeasure. So if you're after a workforce you can pay less, feasibly expect to be less likely to unionize, and who won't get 'uppity' about little things like unpaid over-time or being denied their breaks ... why WOULDN'T you hire from offshore.

We hear a lot about migrant-worker exploitation in the hospitality and restauranting sectors, but it would be fallacious to attempt to pretend that similar things don't also take place in other industries. The Christchurch Rebuild, in particular, appears to have been carried out in large part upon the backs of unfairly treated foreign labour. A situation actively contributed to by, among other personages, the then-Philippines Ambassador to New Zealand - who scurrilously urged her countrymen not to join unions or otherwise involve them in workplace disputes.

The evidence is pretty clear. It isn't just a matter of employers hiring migrant workers rather than Kiwis - the Damoclean sword of being able to insta-deport large chunks of your workforce is also being used by some businesses to mercilessly drive down pay and conditions in some sectors of our economy.

Which leads us on to the next question. Why is the Government seemingly OK with this?

First part of the answer's easy. Lower wages help to keep a lid on inflation; and National has not for some decades been anything like a friend to Unions or the average worker. Some big corporates being able to rake in higher profits thanks to their lower-cost workforces certainly won't hurt, either - particularly if they later 'return the favour' by making donations to the National Party's coffers.

But I also think there's more going on here than initially meets the eye. It's no secret that New Zealand's economic growth rates have been comparatively sluggish. Despite all of the hype and spin about National being "the party of business", and the occasional high-profile success story; for the most part, the only seriously growing sector of the New Zealand economy is the property market. A market which, incidentally, can only benefit by rapidly adding more people whilst only veeerrrryyyy sloooooowwwwllllyyyy increasing the number of houses to domicile them in. Which is certainly good for upper-middle-class National voters who are on the property-ladder already (and thus able to borrow ever more against the increased value of their portfolios in order to fund a lavish lifestyle, or net incredible returns by rapidly flipping property for huge capital gains), and never mind about anyone else.

And there's also the matter of the cash which several classes of migrant are required to bring in with them representing a paper gain for the New Zealand economy.

So why is the Government really allowing unprecedented numbers of foreign-born workers to come to New Zealand? It seems to be because doing so serves their long-term economic objectives. An easy form of delusory "growth" (which never seems to take into account the additional costs of a rapidly expanding population requiring greater service expenditure), and a few favours to their corporate mates.

But this doesn't exactly sound great in a press conference. So instead of being truthful about their priorities, our Government instead insists upon laying down a fulminating barrage of falsehood designed to appeal to the prejudices of the middle classes. After all, who's an easier and more "legitimate" target for moral outrage than drug users. How better to make the moral fault for being unemployed that of the beneficiary rather than that of the economic system and its neoliberal presiding overlords. And how else to effectively silence the qualms of Middle New Zealanders worried about the potential futures of our young people ... than by blatantly projecting into the public political consciousness the idea that drug addiction, rather than migratory flows and other policy-settings are why our kids can't get jobs in a supermarket.

I don't blame nor begrudge foreign folk wanting to come here, make their contribution and in exchange receive the benefits of a better life here in New Zealand. But it seems hard to overlook the fact that some employers - seemingly actively supported in this by the Government - are obviously intent upon using them in a way that's detrimental to both foreign and domestic-sourced labour.

It cannot be allowed to continue. And while it's certainly an interesting change of pace for "drug addiction" rather than "racism"to be the officially designated Nat red-herring on this issue, about the only positive from this shift is that at least the recent claim is more easily statistically refutable.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Why I'd Be Voting For Joe Carolan In The Mt Albert By-Election



Disclaimer: I can't actually vote for Joe on Saturday, because I don't live in the relevant electorate.

But if I did, I'd have pretty much no hesitation in casting my ballot in his direction, rather than for one of the more 'major' parties presently showboating for your attention in that there seat.

The reasoning is simple.

I want Labour to run 'to the left' of where they were in 2014 - both because I'm sick of quasi-center-right warmed-over neoliberalism masquerading as progressive economic policy ... but also because I genuinely believe that moving to the left will help Labour's prospects later this year in September.

This might seem somewhat counterintuitive. After all, a pretty strong swathe of New Zealanders - and, for that matter, much of Labour's own support-base - self-identify as being "centrist". The 'received wisdom' thus suggests that in order to win elections, parties must basically push themselves as "National-lite", and eschew anything which might possibly look like a proper progressive economic agenda.

Except this doesn't work. Partially because it's really surprisingly difficult to 'out-National' National (not least because National is literally the most popular party the MMP era has ever seen), but also because attempts to hedge in on 'their' territory almost inevitably seem to wind up alienating those same crucial 'swing' voters in the self-described political 'center'.

We saw this at the last Election. For some inexplicable reason, Labour's headline policies were things like raising the retirement age in the name of fiscal sustainability, and slapping on the Capital Gains Tax which Bill English earlier wanted to do. All in some sort of quixotic pursuit of surplus - an enthusiasm so overweaning that the party wound up ditching other policies like its eminently sensible (because it was NZF-inspired) free doctor's visits for over-65s in order to bring said Surplus forward by a few months.

The Young Nats were cheering! And not just because they had front-row seats to Labour's electoral collapse. Instead, it was at least partially because they were FINALLY getting to see a major party advance the more extreme elements of their neoliberal agenda.

What was the net effect of all of this?

24.9%, if I recall.

Worst Labour electoral result in a century, thanks to working class voters deserting the party for the far more overtly left-wing (economically) New Zealand First, and activists and middle-class voters heading away in the direction of the Greens.

So having identified the problem ... how do we get them to change course?

Simple. Convince them there's actual votes in it.

One way by which we can do this is by putting our support behind more left-wing candidates, causes and political parties.

Jacinda Ardern or Julie-Anne Genter winning strong shares of the Mt Albert vote won't send a message. The electorate's been regarded as a 'safe' Labour seat for something like 70 years (i.e. since its inception in 1946), so Labour doing well there in this by-election doesn't change a thing. The Greens, meanwhile, came only a little more than two thousand votes behind Labour for Party Vote at the last Election - so as I said, a Greens result of strongness would also be expected - and thus not make much impact upon Labour's strategic decision-making.

But one thing that WOULD dent their confidence on the 'centrist' course, would be if an appreciable percentage of turnout in this week's by-election were for a demonstrably 'left of center' candidate.

The further left, the better.

Enter Joe Carolan.

Now, it's no secret that in some of his previous incarnations, Joe's been about as far left as it's possible to be within our political spectrum before you start building barricades and re-enacting select scenes from Les Miserables. (And, in fact, that's pretty much where I first met him about a decade ago when we were both vaguely connected to the ill-fated NZ iteration of the Socialist Worker Party)

But many of the core policies he's running on in Mt Albert aren't particularly extreme. Instead, they're "we can see it from here" extensions of directions that parties like NZ First and The Greens - and yes, even Labour - have already begun moving down. More importantly, they've got core kernels of a vital political commodity I like to call "Common Sense".

There is nothing controversial about advocating for a Living Wage; or a substantial State Housing building program. Who could argue against ending the ongoing rort of so-called "Council Controlled Organizations", opposing the TPPA - or making rents, public transport and tertiary education more affordable. I'm also fairly certain that just about everyone agrees that our present unemployment regime isn't working, and that far more could be productively done to make use of - and give a leg up to - workers presently out of a job. [As it happens, this was flagship NZF policy announced two years ago]

Indeed, the only thing remarkable about some of these policies (apart from the extent to which Joe's willing to push both them and the [Overton] envelope) is the way in which some parties still steadfastly refuse to see the light and do something about them.

A strong showing for Carolan in Mt Albert would certainly help to encourage Labour to become more strident about serious solutions to these - and other - issues that might help to connect them with the winnable voters they so desperately need if they are to form Government after the next Election.

So that's pretty much the 'strategic' case for voting for Joe.

But there are also some pretty good, strong and entirely free-standing reasons to consider giving him your support.

If you've been following the reprehensible saga of the suffering Indian students whom New Zealand so cruelly wants to deport ... well ... you might have noted the bearded chap who's been at pretty much every one of that campaign's events. Indeed, who's done a helluvalot of organizing to try and help out these people in need. Because that's what Joe does. He isn't some sort of "online armchair revolutionaries" we've heard so much about of late. In both his day-job as a committed Union organizer, and his personal and political lives outside of that, he puts his principles into practice and does his best to help others.

You could certainly do far worse than entrusting Joe with your vote if you wanted to take the 'principled' rather than merely 'strategic' route of reasoning.

Yet in this by-election, given the near-certainty of Labour sleepwalking to victory anyway ... there doesn't have to be a dissonance between "principle" and "pragmatism". You're free to both vote how you want, and in a way that will hopefully have a positive effect on the overarching strategy and positioning of the later General Election.

Now obviously, I don't necessarily agree with everything which Joe's advocating. But I've seen enough of both him and what he's advocating to know that his candidacy is an ideal place to make a stand on principle.

And perhaps, just maybe, forcibly reinject some actual POLITICS (and, for that matter, proper principle) into this otherwise boring (and arguably technocratic) "by-election" process.