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.

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.

Dear Paul Moon, Free Speech at University is Doing Fine

The world seems to be in hysterics these days about universities being left-wing hiveminds that suppress the “free speech” of individuals or groups who hold viewpoints seen as “politically incorrect”. Much of this stems from the ignorance of the general public, who aren’t exactly familiar with universities and have no idea what they are talking about when they say “political correctness”. This hysteria is largely pushed by the political Right, who are upset that they rejected reality and are now underrepresented in academic faculty.

For some reason, some Very Serious New Zealanders are worried about free speech being under threat in NZ universities following the closure of a quasi-fascist club at the University of Auckland such that they signed a letter, led by AUT Professor of History Paul Moon. The European Students Association started out with some alarming Nazi imagery on their social media page and the claim to “promote European culture on campus” which is typical vague weasel language used by white supremacist groups. If they were genuinely interested in European cultures, they would have created multiple groups i.e. Italian Students Association, French, German etc in order to cover the vast range of cultural practices covered in Europe. Similar distinctions exist already with other international student clubs. If you actually wanted to celebrate things like French architecture or Swiss chocolate, then you would just say so. You wouldn’t hide it behind a Nazi slogan.

While we will never know what their true future intentions were because they gave up soon after, I suspect they were taking a softly-softly approach to get their foot in the door and then gradually acclimatize the student body as they ratcheted up the racist rhetoric. Of course, they used their failure as an opportunity to cry fascist oppression, gaining the attention of those who signed the open letter. It’s ironic that they don’t see the opposition to the club as being an exercise in free speech itself. Freedom of speech is not a guarantee of a platform, nor does it mean freedom from criticism. Nothing is wrong with free speech at NZ universities. For example, past incidents at the University of Canterbury demonstrate that students are free to do dumb stuff and they are free to suffer the consequences of said dumb stuff.

The signatories are claiming that there is a problem where there is none and by doing so are unwittingly playing into the hands of fascists. Fascist groups want to become more prominent without facing any opposition because they fail when they are opposed. They are trying to use claims of free speech to silence their critics (oh the irony)! Fortunately, many students, staff and the general public will continue to be rightly horrified by the attempts to normalise such an abhorrent ideology and will use their voices to discredit them.

It’s Rigged Don, but Not As You Know It

The world is aghast as Donald Trump, the bigoted incompetent fraudster who ran as the Republican presidential nominee managed to win the US presidential election. One of his many bizarre actions was to claim that the election was rigged against him, presumably by some shadowy conspiracy orchestrated by special interests *wink wink*. Of course he has piped down about it since he actually won the damn thing, as one would expect from someone who has a childish obsession with not accepting defeat. However, I contest that he was right, the election was rigged; but not in the way that Trump left everyone to infer. Let’s cover the ways in which I felt the election was rigged in favour of Trump and the Republican Party:

  1. FBI dirty tricks: FBI director Comey staged an unconventional intervention less than 2 weeks away from polling day, suggesting that Democratic presidential nominee Clinton emails were still a problem. (I’ve forgotten what the accusation from her opponents was again, all they seem to do is scream “E-MAILS!!!1!11!!!!!!1”) Right before polling day, he then announced that there was nothing new. Why did Comey need to bring this to our attention? Why couldn’t they have investigated it in silence, like they did for Trump’s Russian connections? Oh that’s right, Comey’s a Republican and the FBI is Trumpland. They’ve put their self interest before due process and it worked: Clinton’s polling fell. This was a political hit-job of the highest order, something that the NZ Herald would be proud of.
  2. Gerrymandering: This doesn’t benefit Trump directly, but will no doubt help him as he tears the US to shreds. Very few congressional seats were up for play, in part because of the obscene amount of gerrymandering that took place. Gerrymandering is when electoral boundaries are redrawn considering local voting trends in order to maximise the number of districts that a party wins. It comes as no surprise to me that the Republican Party benefits from gerrymandering to the detriment of the Democratic Party. This could be solved in part by nonpartisan boundary allocation; however introducing proportional representation will be a more effective solution.
  3. Voter Suppression: What do you do if people don’t like you? Just make it harder for them to vote! Republican controlled states have been relentless in passing measures which make it more difficult for those who are likely to vote for their opponents to do so. Some of these measures include: purging of voting rolls, mandating ID, or under-resourcing polling facilities in “certain” areas. North Carolina received particular scrutiny for this, a state whose electors were grabbed by Trump.
  4. Electoral College: What a fucked up way to elect a president. Divide electors into groups along an arbitrary basis (by state) and then make (almost) every state winner-take-all. The effect: Clinton gets more votes, Trump gets more electors, Trump wins. Whatever happened to the idea of “majority rules”? Do the Trump supporters who see their win as a triumph of democracy care that their triumph isn’t actually that democratic?

The answer is that the Republicans don’t care about the inconsistencies in the US electoral system. As far as they’re concerned, it has done the job of helping them win. If Americans want to correct these injustices, then they are going to have to demand it, for their representatives won’t fix the system voluntarily. It can be done. New Zealand had two elections where the National Party gained fewer votes than the Labour Party, but was able to form a government because the FPP system resulted in them winning more seats. In the end, the political parties had no option but to give the public a say on electoral reform given the strong demand for it. As for voting, it takes me longer to walk to the local school to vote than it does to go in, get ticked off, vote and put the ballot in the box. I don’t even need to show ID! Take note America, that’s how it should be done.

Trump’s claims of a rigged election were not only false, they were the exact opposite of reality. His supporters are in fact not a silent majority, they are a hateful coward minority. The Republicans have won with a minority of the vote thanks to passive and active measures which are patently undemocratic.

Now the conman gets to face what should be his worst fear: having to deliver on his promises.