My Endorsement for NZ 2017: Let’s Vote Green!

Advance voting is already open, but the main voting day is just 1 week away. For some reason opinion polling is still going on even though people are voting. On the left, the mood is tense: are we leading, or are we doomed for another defeat? While there is still strong left policy being released, Labour has made headlines for capitulating to corporate media demands that it announce specific tax details (presumably so that the corporate media can then denigrate the policy). The National Party is only too happy to stoke the scaremongering instead of putting the spotlight on their own policies.

Such a strategy is understandable when one considers how terrible National Party policies are. Recent policies include such economic illiteracy as giving away taxpayers’ money to house-buyers to make housing more “affordable”. This is akin to trying to put out a fire with gasoline, although I’m sure that talentless real estate agents (how tautological!), property speculators, and delusional first home buyers will like it. It shows that the National Party’s feigned concern for low-income earners paying taxes to support middle-class university students was nothing more than a sham. They are obviously happy to give low-income earners’ tax dollars to the comparatively wealthier first home buyers.

National has also put forward some pork-barrel privatisation in the form of selling Landcorp farms to young farmers. It smacks of tone-deafness in an election campaign where public sentiment is very much against to overseas ownership. Such damaging policies in conjunction with their terrible record in government demonstrate why it is imperative that the National Party is removed from office.

The parties best placed to offer a strong alternative government are the Labour Party and the Green Party. New Zealand First and The Opportunities Party are respectively too unreliable and too unpopular. I have decided to give my party  vote to the Green Party, for the following reasons:

  • Green Infrastructure Fund: In order to boost the uptake of renewable energy and sustainable technology, this policy involves a government kick-start to an investment fund that will lend money to those wishing to install green technologies. Private investment will be attracted by the initial government investment and the targeted 7% rate of return. I like these kinds of policies because they exploit the current economic paradigm, making a mockery of those who dismiss green tech as “financially infeasible”. Other policies such as the Kiwi climate fund (a carbon tax used to cut other taxes), tree planting, a commitment to 100% renewable electricity by 2030 and fossil fuel divestment also have my support.
  • Money for Students’ sake: A series of policies that involve a universal student allowance for postgraduate students (those who most deserve it) and free public transport for students. They have also indicated their support for Labour’s three free years of tertiary study. It is heartening to see the left move away from the user-pays model for education. User-pays is a good idea for pollution control and resource consumption, but it is not a good fit for education. It is unnecessary to force tuition fees on students when the public benefits from their skills and they will indirectly pay for their education in the form of higher income taxes.
  • Cash for Trash: Whenever I look on a Pump/h2go bottle, there is a little note to the effect of “10c refund at SA collection depot”. This note is because of South Australia’s container deposit scheme. If you collect discarded bottles, cans or cartons and return them to a collection depot, you are given a 10c refund from the purchase of the bottle. Thus there is an incentive to dispose of empty containers in a responsible fashion rather than allowing trash to accumulate in the ecosphere.
  • Public Transport in Christchurch: If there’s one thing that will improve my quality of life, it’s this policy. Living in the Waimakariri and Selwyn districts, workers face long commutes into Christchurch. I am fortunate that I am able to set my work hours to avoid the worst of the traffic, but there are much better ways I can spend an hour of my day instead of driving. On buses and trains, I could read, mark undergraduate work, or do work on a laptop computer. I would then have more free time since I could spend less time physically at my office for the same amount of work completed. There are also wider benefits: fewer cars on the road means reduced emissions and faster commutes for those who still need to travel by car.
  • That old devil called the 5% threshold: Ever since the disproportionate indignation towards Metiria Turei’s admission of welfare fraud and the rise of Jacindamania, the Green Party polling has not looked as healthy. If any party receives less than 5% of the vote and no constituency seats, then it gets no parliamentary representation. It is unlikely that Labour will be able to govern alone and if National leads Labour, then they benefit from a wasted sub-5% Green vote. Note that New Zealand First also has this problem; I would encourage voters to support NZF if one can tolerate their more retrograde social policies.

Presuming a Labour-Green government is the outcome of the election, I can’t expect all of these policies to be implemented. Deals will need to be struck and the negotiation strength of the Greens will be proportional to the seats that they win. Labour Party policies are also very good, so I have no issue, in fact an expectation that the Greens will enter into a coalition with them.

Continuing with the neoliberal status-quo is not the safe and dependable option that National has made it out to be. Change is necessary to respond to looming challenges such as climate change, the reappearance of fascism and an economy transformed by technology. Labour and the Greens offer change for the better, with policies that seek to improve the quality of life in New Zealand. That is a change worth voting for on September 23.

This endorsement is only for the party vote, I’ll cover the candidate vote for the Waimakariri electorate later next week (hint: I’ll be endorsing the Labour Party candidate).

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New Zealand Election 2017: Fake News Makes an Appearance

The current state of play in New Zealand’s general election is radically different from two months ago. Then Labour Party leader Andrew Little valiantly stepped aside in favour of the charming and articulate Jacinda Ardern who has done well to communicate a raft of popular policies. The public has responded in turn, Labour has now led the National Party for two successive One News/Colmar Brunton opinion polls.

Where there’s strong Labour polling, desperate National party dirty tricks follow. This week, finance minister Steven Joyce claimed that Labour had failed to account for $11.7 billion of announced spending. This claim has widely been regarded as false, even by right-wing economists. Much of the spending will in fact be paid for from operating expenses. Humourously, it has also been revealed that Joyce failed 8 economics papers at university (which he attended for free). The events of this week have demonstrated that he is unfit to serve as finance minister.

Even though swathes of analysts have dismissed Joyce’s claim, the fact that the media reported it in the first place has the potential to cause unwarranted damage to Labour’s electoral fortune. The only person who has piped up in agreement with Joyce was Prime Minister Bill English. As a Catholic, it comes as no surprise that he doesn’t have a problem accepting falsehoods.

So let’s tentatively say the fake news budget hole backfired on the Tories. More fake news was ready to take its place. This time it’s from the obscure Down syndrome advocacy group Saving Downs who have taken issue with Ardern’s pledge to decriminalise abortion. Saving Downs doesn’t like this stance and decided to extract sympathy for their position by fabricating an image to make it look like Labour’s policy was more extreme and would allow abortions up until birth.

By plying fake news about Labour Party policy, Saving Downs has played into the hands of anti-choice interests. The anti-choice viewpoint is generally dishonest and morally inconsistent (try it for yourself). We should respect the bodily autonomy of pregnant people who should be able to choose to terminate their pregnancy for any reason at any time. Those reasons include results from (optional) medical tests that suggest the quality of life of the resulting person may be compromised.

The Labour Party is to be commended for putting forward a strong economic vision that rightfully makes wealthy property owners, resource extractors and polluters pay more tax. At the same time, Labour is committing to spending on initiatives that will provide more opportunities for the public. Similarly, Jacinda Ardern should be commended for front-footing New Zealand’s shameful criminalisation of abortion by advocating for the rights of pregnant people. Conversely, fake news purveyors such as Steven Joyce and Saving Downs must be condemned by the mainstream media in the strongest terms possible. Our democracy must be protected from the manipulation of the populace that fake news seeks to achieve. I can only hope that future polling (and the election result) shows that Kiwi voters see straight through these deplorable tactics.

New Zealand Election 2017: A Tale of Two Political Spectra

I have largely been isolated from the election campaign being away in the Northern Hemisphere. When I left New Zealand, the media hysteria over Green Party leader Metiria Turei’s resignation was coming to an end and Jacindamania was in full swing. While I’ve been away, low quality broadcaster Mike Hosking revealed himself to be a racist and a dumbarse, Peter Dunne gave up and Gareth Morgan was able to gain some attention by being Trump-like.

In our heavily metricised society, even political opinions can be quantified. This usually takes the form of a two axis economic-social map. You are asked a series of relevant questions, your answers dictate the position of your personal co-ordinate on the map. The benchmark for this is the Political Compass. I’ve also had a look at TVNZ’s  Vote Compass, a NZ specific political spectrum calculator.

Since I only have one personality, my position on both charts is very similar. Here’s my Political compass result relative to their assessment of the NZ political parties:

NZ_polCompass_wMe

and my VoteCompass result:

NZ_voteCompass

The big difference between the two charts is the position of the Labour Party. The Political Compass denotes Labour as centre-right economically and slightly socially authoritarian. Like every other Western social democratic party, it’s had an identity crisis during this neoliberal error era. Meanwhile, TVNZ’s Vote Compass marks Labour as extreme economic left and socially progressive.

Not that I’m complaining, I’m thrilled that Labour is a liberal-left party that is closely in line with my thinking. Although I can’t help but wonder if this placement can be used by disingenuous commentators and hacks to attack Labour as “far-left” in an attempt to dissuade their increasingly large support base? Maybe TVNZ has exaggerated the difference so that the politically uniformed don’t falsely declare: “they’re all the same”?

Perhaps the Political Compass is a bit pessimistic, I’ve been impressed with Labour’s policy releases so far. These include: some free tertiary education, making water users cover the cost of their damaging activities and strong public transport investment are all ideas I am on-board with. Where I diverge from Labour is in my radicalism. Relevant to the examples above, I think that three years of free tertiary education is not enough and more should be done to limit the use of ICE-powered vehicles.

But the choice is clear: I can either get some of what I want, or I can get lots of things I don’t want; such as more privatisations, illusory GDP growth and more user pays (unless you’re a dairy farmer). Far-left, or centre-right, labels shouldn’t really matter. Policy should. Exactly which party I’ll vote for is still to be determined, but given the policies it will clearly be for a Labour-led government.

Why does the Maxim Institute Hate Democracy?

Earlier this month, the Maxim Institute, a far-right think tank based in Auckland published an article about the urban/rural divide in New Zealand.The institute has done some “research” that indicates that there are differences in lifestyles and attitudes between regions in New Zealand. They forecast that a greater proportion of the population will live in urban centres (70% in 30 years time). Strangely the institute chooses to frame this as a problem:

That’s a lot of urban voters, and it’s going to be very tempting for politicians to focus more and more on urban interests in order to win those votes, possibly at the expense of the rest of the country.

It could also make it easier for urban voters to ignore or mock the interests of voters living in very different communities.

I don’t see the problem. If the vast majority of the population lives in urban areas, then it is only right that politicians focus on urban interests. That’s democracy in action. It’s also assuming that policy development is a zero-sum game. This is not strictly true, a policy designed to help urban dwellers does not necessarily harm rural dwellers.

Let’s also keep in mind that the opposite situation exists at present. Politicians already prioritise property owners and corporations at the expense of ordinary people. Policies such as irrigation schemes and the dilution of water quality standards are designed to benefit rural voters while harming the interests of the wider public. Why doesn’t the Maxim Institute write about these issues instead of this one that they made up?

It’s worth mentioning that the urban-rural divide is a cornerstone of political analysis in USA, where it plays a massive factor in elections. Donald Trump can credit the urban/rural divide with handing him the presidency that he didn’t deserve. The electorate is divided into a series of winner-take-all states where the number of electors is not proportional to the state populations. Narrow victories in swing states and the over-representation of small rural states turned a 2.7 million vote deficit into a 77 vote surplus in the electoral college. By preserving and accentuating a bias in favour of rural areas, the American right-wing have been able to engineer electoral victories in the face of popular defeats.

When we keep this in mind, the motives behind the Maxim Institute’s article become much more sinister. They don’t say it, but it is implicit that they think that the electoral system should be redesigned. I imagine they would want something less proportional, like FPP that favours rural constituencies. Never mind that FPP has been rejected by the public twice during the past two and a half decades.  While they may cry crocodile tears about their contrived decline in rural areas, this is all about securing right-wing power over New Zealand for years to come.

As things stand NZ has a very proportional voting system. There is no reason for this to ever change. If the increase in the numbers of urban voters is a problem for the political right, the problem is with them, not with the voters and not with the electoral system. If this is typical of the standard of work that the Maxim Institute is producing, urbanisation should be the least of their worries.

Blasphemy in New Zealand: Scrap the Law Now!

Like many the world over, I have enjoyed the wit of Stephen Fry in great shows such as Blackadder and QI to name just two. Moreover, I enjoy much of Fry’s socio-political commentary, such as his famous interview with RTÈ in 2015. Here, he raised a concept that many atheists have considered: the idea that if God were real, then he/she/they are irredeemably cruel for either enabling or failing to prevent the misery experienced by people throughout space and time (see problem of evil). Christian apologetics such as “blessings in disguise” , “free will”, “original sin”, or “punishment for things” are unconvincing and churlish.

In the 2015 RTÈ interview, Fry described God as “capricious, mean-minded and stupid” and “a maniac, an utter maniac, totally selfish”. Well put. It turns out that Fry was reported to the police for blasphemy and an investigation is to be conducted. Much outrage has ensued, including in the Guardian comment section, where my alter ego earned 299 upvotes (a new record, beating my last record where I called for a coup d’etat in Turkey). In an era where free-speech whingers are becoming louder and louder, such an uproar was to be expected. Blasphemy is an absurd concept. It assumes that there is a universal standard for what is acceptable speech and that deviation from this standard warrants punishment. Neither of those things are true. Blasphemy laws serve no purpose other than to suppress the opponents of state power and the leaders of the majority religion, entrenching the privileges that the rich and powerful enjoy.

The constitution of the Irish Republic (1937) mandates that blasphemy must be a criminal offence (pg 160 of the convenient online PDF version). The Defamation Act of 2009 gave a statutory definition for blasphemy. In order to strike the law from the constitution, a referendum must be held. You may remember that a successful referendum to amend constitution was held in May 2015 to introduce same-sex marriage. The same needs to be done to remove the blasphemy law.

While many are still worried about faux-populist retrogrades derailing the removal of blasphemy (e.g. like voting for Brexit or Trump), a law which allows the religious to claim offence on the basis of hurt feelings should be even less controversial than same-sex marriage. Luckily the Fine Gael minority government has plans to introduce such a referendum. I’m confident the Irish voters will get this one right too.

Meanwhile in New Zealand: The corporate media and some ignorant politicians were shocked to discover that NZ has its own blasphemy law. All they had to do was look it up on Wikipedia! It originated from English common law (thanks British colonialism!) and was then added to the Crimes Act of 1961, where only the Attorney General may push for a prosecution. Only one prosecution has ever taken place, which failed. Since free speech is protected in the Bill of Rights Act 1990, Attorneys General decline to engage in blasphemy prosecutions.

One might wonder what’s the harm? That’s not good enough. We should not assume that Attorneys General will always act with decency and pragmatism. The BORA would be one of the first targets that a hypothetical far-right government would seek to remove (my guess would be that the BORA would be framed as “PC gone mad”). Then there is scope to tie opposing voices up in blasphemy cases, allowing for the government to cement it’s grip on power. In the same way that we do not leave matches lying around for children and arsonists to set things in fire, we should not leave bad laws around for those with ill intent to terrorise us.

To his credit, Prime Minister Bill English (the Valtteri Bottas of NZ politics*) does not think we should have a blasphemy law. That’s pretty good coming from someone who is generally addled by Catholic doctrine. The Herald ran an article where English was disappointingly lax about the repeal, saying it would be part of an omnibus bill getting rid of lots of nonsense laws in one go. The perpetual contrarian Winston Peters played the “I’ll focus on things that matter” card. Labour leader Andrew Little called himself a “free speech extremist” (rather understandably). Libertarian welfare recipient David Seymour did his best to get a repeal ASAP. The end of the article was interesting, suggesting that the Harmful Digital Communications Act 2015 could be misused as a blasphemy law. It’s already been used to harass left wing blogs, so I guess we’ll have to watch this space.

Blasphemy has no place in a secular, civilised society (sorry about the tautology). Even having a currently toothless law puts us at risk should a band of fanatical zealots ever take office. Now is the time to strike while public attention is at its peak. Remove the law so that we may continue without fear to expose conservative religion for the dangerous, hateful fraud that it is.

*Following on from my John Key/Nico Rosberg analogy. I wish to extend my apologies to Bottas for comparing him with English. We know that Bottas can win, while English hasn’t.

Children at Protest Marches? No Problem

This weekend saw people all over the world participate in the March for Science. The march was originally created in response to the alarming anti-science attitudes of US President, Donald Trump and his cabinet of billionaire brigands. In an act of solidarity with scientists in the USA, marches have been organised in many places, including main centres in NZ. There are supplementary issues specific to NZ such as the dismissal of scientific evidence, or the backlash that scientists experience when they speak out in an area that is perceived to be too politicial (see Mike Joy for an example).

I wasn’t able to make it to the march since the nearest one was a few dozen kilometers away and car travel would expose me to criticisms of hypocrisy given the closeness of the march to climate change issues. While reading the Stuff.co.nz report of the march, I was annoyed by some of the commenters who expressed outrage at parents taking their children to the march. Apparently, it’s disgusting to politicise children like that.

Let’s consider a different issue: parents letting children attend religious education in schools. The common line opponents to religion in schools make is: “keep it out of schools. If parents want to raise their children into a religion, then they can do it at home”. One way or another, it is a widely held view that parents are free to raise their children into their religion*, one that I suspect that the commenters would hold.

Given that one accepts that viewpoint, then it is only logically consistent then that parents should also be free to take their children along to participate in a protest march as well. If anything, a protest march is better since it is a one-off event that the children will likely forget about when they are older, while religious indoctrination is persistent.

So ignorant Stuff.co.nz  commenters, do you take you children to church? Or have you not removed them from RE in school? If you have said yes to either of those questions, then according to your own reasoning, you are just as bad, if not worse than the protest marchers that you were so quick to criticise. Good on the people who attended the March for Science, future generations will appreciate that you gave a damn about their future.

*I don’t actually agree that parents are free to raise children into a religion, but that’s for another blog post.

My Opinion on the Andrew Little Defamation Trial

On Monday, news broke that the Leader of the Opposition, Andrew Little has been partially cleared of defaming the owners of a hotel chain. This verdict makes writing the post easier as I know that some of Little’s statements were not defamatory and can report on them with less fear of negative consequences. Having read up on online defamation, I should be OK if I stick to verifiable facts and genuine statements of opinion. Of course that’s no guarantee. As Little has found out, you can be sued for defamation even when what you said wasn’t defamatory. The comments about the case on social media and other blogs were probably more defamatory than anything Little ever said. But I guess suing an internet random doesn’t have the same gravitas does it?

How did this all begin? The founder of the Scenic Hotel Group hotel chain donated $101,000 to the governing National Party prior to the last election. One month later, Scenic Hotel Group was awarded a government contract to run the Matavai Resort in Niue. That these two events occurred is beyond doubt, the issue is a matter of optics as to whether there is any connection between the events.

I think the timing could be described as “interesting”, or “unfortunate” as a cynical mind can’t help but wander, especially since there is history with National Party donors and unfortunately timed government contracts such as Beemer-gate. In that case, the dealer saw sense and didn’t sue anyone. With the hotel incident, Little made some comments where he alleged corruption. The Hagamans sued him for defamation prior to an investigation by the Auditor-General. Once the Auditor-General got involved and gave the process the all-clear,  Little apologised to the Hagamans.

From the reports of proceedings in the trial, Lani Hagaman said that she wanted a suitable public apology. I think that the statement on the Labour Party website was sufficient. They should not have expected an apology before the AG investigation when they sued him, why should Little apologise when the facts are yet to be determined? I found that Little was being sued for $2.3 million inconsistent with the claim that Hagaman just wanted an apology. I am unconvinced by the excuse that it is to restore Earl Hagaman’s reputation. Ironically, my opinion of Hagaman is diminished by the fact that Lani Hagaman thinks that his reputation can be restored by an amount of money that would bankrupt Little. If they didn’t want me to think poorly of them, then they shouldn’t have donated money to the National Party in the first place.

I am also concerned about the political motivations that could have been involved. National Party donors and presumably supporters suing a Labour Party politician unsettles me. Will suing for defamation under unconvincing circumstances become a tactic for the wealthy and powerful to censor dissenting voices? The integrity of our democracy is more important than the feelings of greedy multi-millionaires whose own actions do more to harm their reputation than anything Andrew Little could say. Fortunately, one of the findings of this case was that Little has qualified privilege as Leader of the Opposition to draw attention to potentially murky dealings. As noted by Antony Robins, this is good for democracy.

Unfortunately, it may not be over yet. Lani Hagaman looks to be seeking a retrial over the inability of the jury to decide whether Little had defamed Earl Hagaman. She also does not believe that Little is not protected by qualified privilege. Little has washed his hands of the issue as has the corporate media, who have moved on to other things.  By donating to the National party, companies are making a statement that they view their customers and New Zealand with contempt. However, contempt goes both ways so I will not be purchasing goods and services from Scenic Hotel Group in the forseeable future.