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Tuesday, 12 June 2018

You don’t care about the Northcote by-election so let’s review these books instead

I spent my weekend NOT thinking about the Northcote by-election and instead caught up with friends for a birthday in Wellington along with some time for coffee (it is Wellington), poker and record shopping. I was definitely not trying to think about Northcote, the inhabitants of Northcote or any pending elections that Northcote might be having.

So instead of talking about the Northcote by-election lets instead review some books.

First up is The Road to Ruin: How Tony Abbot and Peta Credlin destroyed their own government by journalist Nikki Saava. It’s the kind of book which makes great reading if you like detail heavy, blow by blow accounts of semi scandalous political events; which is fortunate because I do.

Ever wondered how Tony Abbot helped keep up the current tradition of revolving door Ozzie Prime Ministers when in decades past Australian politics operated at the same level of stability as New Zealand?

Or how Abbot, as opposition leader, criticised the circus clown level of behaviour during the Rudd, Gillard, Rudd governments but then ended up to mangling it infinitely worse when he got into the hot seat?

So if you have ever looked across the Tasman at our Ozzie cousins and the shambolic mess politics in that country* has become then this book is for you.

Saava, a long term political correspondent in Australia, has all the dirt and details, puts names to faces and paints a vivid picture of a PM (Abbot) so dependent on his Chief of Staff (Credlin) that when he was unable to rein Credlin’s increasingly brutal and bullying behaviours inside his office it spilled over into the party and eventually Australian politics in general.

And as I read this woeful tale I did start to get the feeling that Saava was taking catty to a whole new level with her descriptions of Credlin, who she paints as an emotionally unhinged control freak, who was possibly having an affair with Abbot (which in the age of the Barnaby Joyce scandal does not sound so mind-blowing), that she overwhelmed Abbot and in the process ended up nearly running the country.

Meanwhile Abbot is depicted as a good guy with his heart in the right place who just seemed to melt under Credlin’s insane levels of dictatorial frenzy into a namby-pamby mummy’s boy who would meekly follow Credlin out of the office when she was having one of her numerous “emotional tantrums” with office staff to comfort her before coming back in and making staff apologise to her for their behaviour! Imagine Jacinda Ardern being bossed around by Labours top advisor Heather Simpson** like that.

That aside, what’s fascinating about all of this is that it played out right at the highest level of power in Australian politics and in such a manner that it completely destroyed Tony Abbot’s political career in the process.

Before he became PM Abbot was Leader of the Liberal Party, ex Rhodes Scholar and all round conservative top prospect but once in office he fumbled the ball on almost every occasion it was passed to him.

Also, much like Bill English, Abbot was blinded by his religious beliefs in regards to same sex marriage and women (as evidenced in his evisceration by Julia Gillard in 2012) which in the end doomed his office and made his party seem like a bunch of intolerant religious bigots even more than they had before.

But, as some people who have reviewed the book have also noted, by the end, the tale seems more than a little one sided and bordering on either partisan propaganda or some sort of political hit piece by a jilted lover (which I am sure Saava is not but that is how it reads in places) where both the main parties (Abbot and Credlin) have not been given any right of reply (either directly or via the more usual “sources” close to them) and the continual barrage of gossipy details just turns the book into something akin to entries in some teenagers diary about the trials and tribulations of high school rather than an in depth analysis of Abbot and Credlin’s relationship and how that dynamic so effected Australian politics.

Finally it’s worth noting that such a book would not even exist in Aotearoa as mainstream political journalism in NZ is far too sycophantic to write such a thing. The closest NZ has ever gotten to such a book is either The Spin (written in the 90s by an anonymous source) or The Hollow Men by Nicki Harger (by a political outsider) so while sometimes over the top and hysterical in tone and portrayal The Road to Ruin makes for a gripping read of what brought down the Abbot Government and helped make Australian politics into the mess it has become.

Rating: three out of five on the John Howard scale

Other reviews of the book herehere and here but not this one.

Meanwhile in the Northcote by-election both Labour and National have been trying to claim victory (of sorts). National simply by having its candidate, Dan Bidos, win the actual vote but with Labour saying that it reduced the majority that Jonathan Coleman had previously had.

The reality is that the turnout for the election was low (by then turnouts for by-elections are always low), neither candidate had anything to really give (hence why both main parties ran faceless unknowns) and if the electorate is a bellwether for the rest of NZ (something I think is a crock of s**t but what do I know) then the mood of the nation could be summed up as “meh” because only 37% of the electorate voted and that means that Nationals “mandate” hinges on  18.5% of the “people”. Meh indeed!

But you still don't care so on to the next review.

The other book on review today is The New Zealand Project by Max Harris.

From the start this was a book in which I entirely agreed with its opening premise, that being that something is wrong with this country, and found much in sync in his depiction of the issues facing NZ (the usual list of environment, social, health etc) but when it came to propose solutions Harris falls into the beginners trap, as noted by Dimitri Orlov in his book The Five Stages of Collapse, of saying things like “unless we” or “we must” but without providing any rational or coherent motive to do so other than vague appeals to doing what is right (as oppose to what is Right - geddit?).

To be fair, it’s clear that Mr Harris is a bit of rising star in the somewhat limited academic world of NZ (although he has a long way to go before he becomes the next Jane Kelsey or Nicky Hager) and his writing style and argument construction has that clean, logical flow that the best academic authors have.

But a book that spends it bulk carefully cataloging the problems gnawing away at NZ and then can’t even make the intellectual money shot in the final chapter because his ideas for a fix boil down to a list of vague liberal prescriptions which often have only tenuous connections to the problems he has spent the bulk of the book building up leaving the increasingly concerned and motivated reader saying "thats it?".

In short no clear policy prescription (ala Kelsey) or coherent rational for change based on the events (Hager) which then leaves the book little more than disaster porn for angst ridden liberals.

Want to read chapter after chapter of the degradation of NZ in all its forms but with little payoff for all the buildup; then The New Zealand Project has you covered.

As the Spinoff’s review of the book clearly notes “Now that we have it all set down in one place, maybe the Left can stop talking about What Must Be Done and start thinking about How To Actually Do It” which was pretty much the same feeling I had by the time I had finished the book. 

Harris clearly has his heart in the right place and I more than agree with many of his assessments of the issue but (as other reviews of the book have noted) the issues have been well known for a long time and repeatedly pointing them out comes down to just another angry gob of spit in a river of discontent.

Where this book starts to muck things up is that after a great opening chapter which mostly manages to avoid sliding too far into ideological propaganda the rest of the book (like many economic tracts) assumes its audience is down with the programme and just goes hell for leather into preaching to the quior but instead of economic pseudo-science masquerading as cold hard real politic we get liberal pseudo-science masquerading as warm fuzzy feel good politics.

It’s not that there are no facts to back Harris’s arguments up, there are plenty, but in places it’s clear that there has been some selective picking of data or simply pulling on one thread of what is often a many threaded argument.

Max Harris is young and the idealistic tone of the book is unmistakable and very catchy (specially for older jaded idealists like myself) and Harris might mature with time, and some actual real life experience, to write a work that is little more than a Masters level series of essays on the issues at hand.

Thus when you are going to title your work The New Zealand Project and then cast it in a clearly liberal vein and without any practical meat on its conceptual bones then the book is just another title in a long line of books which serve more as intellectual safety blankets for distressed liberals than serious attempts at fixing the issues at hand.

However, this is a book which is worth reading because while its liberal tone might jar some more conservative readers it has the strength to discuss its topics honestly and in a way that allows for discussion*** so that people can use this book as a jumping off point for any particular issue that might interest them.

Also few books out there have ever clearly cataloged the issues that do face NZ in one place (something that the more focused Kelsey and others usually avoid because of the depth of argument each topic can convey) so for that alone it’s worth reading to be able to get a feel for the scope of the issues facing Godzone.

But, in the end, the killer problem for me was that while the book clearly identifies the economic reforms of the past 30 years as a major driver for the problems New Zealand faces today, and has a wide enough scope to explore the effects of these problems (and their interrelationships) in the bigger picture it fails (as noted at the start) to come up with any real solutions and can’t even bring itself to clearly put names to faces when assigning blame so that Harris is like a detective at the scene of a crime where he has carefully cataloged the victim and the murder weapon, noted the possible motives but has no real suspects on which to pin the crime on.

I liked the New Zealand Project and I will definitely be keen to see what Max Harris will do next but there is nothing new in sounding the alarm and as such this book is just one of many dealing with issues facing NZ.

Rating: Two out of five Jane Kelseys

Other reviews of the book here and here.

*-ironically while Ozzie politics is now operating at the level of Italy, or worse, the level of political coverage and reporting is much better than NZ with regular and in depth articles in the media and a level of political consciousness in the public that NZ could only dream of. Perhaps it has something to do with the more diverse media space that the Land Down Under has when compared with NZs big two (and soon to be one if Fairfax and NZME get their way) mainstream media outlets.
**-Then again this is the woman credited with being the power behind Helen Clark and her nine years as PM, Hmmmmmmm ... I wonder?
***- supposedly the main focus of the book rather than proposing any actual solutions but I suspect that is more the panicked reaction of the books editor upon discovering that the manuscript was not delivering the goods and so sought to try and turn that weakness into a deliberate play. Nice try but not really covering up the gaps that Harris has left behind in his writing.

Thursday, 7 June 2018

Jacinda or Judas: If Labour bows to pressure from businesses then this government is sunk!

All dogs might go to heaven but politicians always go to hell!

For me the honeymoon period with the Coalition government ended suddenly this week in the jarring screech of brakes as my political expectations slid off the road and crashed into the ditch of political reality.

My doubts had started with the recent budget, which was nothing more than Grant Robertson using the cancelled tax cuts to fund up big on various areas which needed it and in reality turned out to be little more than National-lite budget in a bright red wrapper. 

Then there has been the breaking of so many of Labours pre and post-election promises, so as not to spook the ever fragile business community, that has made the scales fall from my eyes.

Watered down immigration reforms, check; A housing policy which does not set aside housing for those who most need them but leaves it open to the market, check; Tax "reform" but no actual taxation increases on those who should be paying more (read corporate and the wealthy), Czech; One hundred million dollars for a rich man’s sport (the Americas Cup) but still dithering about how to fix the mess in Christchurch, cheque; an endless stream of money spent on pork barrel jobs for Labour cronies in all the new committees, Chek; employment law reforms on the odious “90 day trial period” law scaled back and now appointing Jim Bolger (the man who ushered the Employment Contracts Act into law) to the review committee (the political equivalent of asking the rapist to judge their own trial); and check, checky, McCheck, checkmate!

Add to this industries like Nurses and Teachers still underpaid and being offered pittance for work which is essential to the health and well being of our society and Jacinda’s bizarre protestations of ignorance when it’s clear that New Zealand’s relationship with the Five Eyes is under threat due to Chinese infiltration and interference* and I have decided that Jacinda and Labour are on the verge of selling out the hopes and expectations of most of the people that voted for her.

For Judas it was 30 pieces of silver while for Jacinda it is a half million dollars a year salary as PM plus all the money she gets to make selling photos of her and her baby to Womans Day.

And why am I suddenly so negative you ask?

The answer is simple. In the years leading up to the 2017 election there was strong stream of discussion on the many political blogs that I frequented (many left but some right), where the discussion often found itself coming round to the topic of “The Great Betrayal” of 1984 by the then Labour Government of David Lange and how any future Labour Government would have to do serious penance for this betrayal or suffer the consequences of a backlash from an electorate which was expecting Labour to start fixing the damage it helped usher in 30 years before and had now grown so acute (think housing, the environment, water, poverty and immigration) that these issues had metastasized into cancerous and toxic sores on the land that could no longer be ignored.

Not everyone agreed with the whole view but the mainstream perspectives were clear that the Great Betrayal had occurred at Labours bloody hands and on its watch and the damage was a generation of Neo-Liberal politics and economics which had gutted Aotearoa to the benefit of a wealthy few in the business community and any attendant political parasites (Richard Prebble always springs to mind when the topic of the Great Betrayal and the term “parasite” springs to mind) that had helped oversee the selling of New Zealand and the creation of Nu Ziland for their financial masters.

Thus if a future Labour government was to make good on atoning for this heinous act then the healing could only begin with rolling back most, if not all of the reforms it had helped bring in, but if it did not then the dark project that had been started by it in 1984 would be complete and Nu Ziland would prevail over New Zealand into our grim dark future.

Now fast forward a few years to early 2017; Labour is sunk in the polls and stuck with Andrew Little as leader while National under Bill English looked set to sweep into power for a fourth term, destroy any remaining vestiges of pre 1984 new Zealand in the process and bring about Nu Ziland at large. It was a doom struck time and the mood of any not on the National party train to “prosperity” was gloomy to say the least (see this post from me from that time for an idea).

Then a miracle occurred, Little bowed out of the leadership and relative political noob Jacinda Ardern stepped in and Labour started climbing in the polls on the strength of mostly the expectant mood of change her ascension had created.

Then, in a further political miracle, Labour was able to form a coalition government out of the election results and the National party inspired nightmare of pedophiles running the day-care was aborted in a frenzy of a post-election announcements about fixing the damage to NZ, from things like the housing hernia and child poverty, and giving capitalism a friendly face.


No the above sentence is not a typo but the sound of the needle of reality scratching its way off the political record as the warm, soft and fuzzy tune (you can substitute the music for We are the World here for effect if you wish)of the post-election “we are going to fix things” Labour Coalition Government was hijacked by the grubby reality of a Labour government “talking loud and saying nothing” while playing much the same game as National did for nine years.

Put in simple terms, the fact is that in the age of FukYoo politix Labour has only one mandate from the public and that is to atone for the damage it helped cause from the Great Betrayal and if it cannot deliver on that then this will be a one (or maybe two if its lucky) term government which will backslide on any meaningful promises for change so long as it can remain in power but in the end will become mired in the toxic filth of its own defunct legacy.

And it’s become clear that Labour, as it is in 2018, is clearing thinking that the politics of the Third Way, as it was under Helen Clark in 1999 (or even 2008: when Labour had blown its mandate to rule by 2005 and had to cook up a deal with Winston Peters to maintain its political program) is still a viable option in the minds of the Labour brain trust.

This kind of thinking is 19 years and a bitter generation too late for the harsh realities of politics in a time of populist parties and political instability.

Ardern and Labour have clearly been watering down their plans and actions to accommodate the business community (the same community that was the direct beneficiary (pun intended) of the way the current labour and tax laws are structured) because Jacinda & Co would rather pander to this vested interest rather than take an honest attempt to cleanse the poison that has made this country so sick.

So while Judas Ardern and Labour are banking on a strategy of doing just enough to keep public opinion on side with some photos ops for Jacinda and baby to distract from the skulduggery going on behind the scenes they will be counting the blood money for their dirty deeds both past, present and future.

And this growing mood is not just me, there are rumbles in the public and the upcoming Northcote by-election may be an interesting (if somewhat distorted) barometer of the public feelings about how things are going, as if the current round of teacher and nurse pay disputes/strikes are anything to go by then Labour has not done enough to meet the expectations of those who voted for them (because not a single nurse or teacher I know or have met (bar one) has ever voted for National) in 2017.

The breakdown of public trust in Labour as government is not an impossible scenario. It’s not the one that National and Mike Hosking keep salivating over (because no one on the Left is really keen to let National back into power just yet) but keep in mind that a year ago Labour was 24% in the polls, with half its supporters defected to the Greens and stuck with an unpopular leader and the only noticeable shift on the Left side of the line since then was the rise of Jacinda Ardern and the deals which stitched up the coalition government so the ground under Jacinda's feet is less political bedrock and more shifting sand.

So if Jacinda can’t keep her end of the bargain with the public then don’t expect people to keep on supporting Labour as one of the salient features of FukYoo politics is the willingness of voters to punish parties they feel have betrayed them as well as indulge in self destructive political behaviors (ie voting for extremist parties in what I refer to as Joker politics) far more than staying loyal to any particular politician or political brand.

And while I am not planning to vote National just yet because I am disappointed in Labour reverting to their Champagne  Socialist habits so quickly (because I did not vote Labour in 2017) I won’t be giving Labour any more free passes on this blog so readers can expect me to turn the focus onto the current government just as much as I did on the previous.

Labours talk of a friendly face for Capitalism is now looking more like giving Capitalism a friendly face-lift; simply hiding the wrinkles, crow’s feet and that god ugly nose with a few nips and tucks with liberal injections of political botox to smooth everything out.

Of course the typical response from a Labour Acolyte (because there are still of few of them Left – geddit?) would be that expectations need to be managed and that all stakeholders need to be consulted.

However this is a load of super frosty bullock droppings as the entire theme of the Great Betrayal has been to accommodate business at the expense of the all other interests and stakeholders and the last nine years of National was such an extreme of pandering to the vested interests of the market that Labour playing anything less than the revolutionary march right through the Center and back to the Left is not going to fit the mood of the public.

And if that’s not enough Jacinda should take heed of the case of Ed Miliband, the young dashing and photogenic, middle ground, leader (sound like anyone we know) of Labour UK who found himself deposed by a faster moving and more in touch Jeremy Corbyn because Miliband's brand of same old third-way Labour did not match the mood of the party or its supporters, or even the public.

In such circumstances Jacinda is less than six months away from becoming Judas and if that occurs Labour is going to find out in a rather stinging way that not only will National look better and better to the public (and keep in mind they already poll higher than Labour at this point) as 2020 approaches but that the potential of coalition partners being peeled off (as in the case of NZ First) or neutralized (as in the case of the Greens) will be much more of a possibility than if it’s was actually doing something constructive and not just letting Jacinda flap her considerable gums and smile for photo ops.

Worse still (for her, not us) is the potential for a Labour NZ’s radical faction to find the Right (geddit?) candidate for the job and run Jacinda right off the throne, and don’t say it can’t happen because that’s what got Andrew Little elected (and deposed) as leader, and then genuinely tap into that revolutionary mood of the nation** to make the changes needed.

Then there is the case of places like Australia or Italy with their revolving door politics, parties and leadership changes and while Kiwis like to think that “it can’t happen here” they would be wrong as there is nothing, not even NZ’s legendary political apathy, to offset a groundswell of righteous (or riotous) public anger when the issues which have been simmering away for the last 30 years start to boil over in seething entrails of discontent.

So Labour is now on the verge of the post-election slump and while National won’t be making hay just yet, the dynamics of this Coalition government rely on keeping the coalition partners happy (something for a later post) and to prevent Jacinda from being seen by her supporters as just another traitorous, untrustworthy, scumbag politician who is out for herself (or far far worse hideously delusional and in thrall to business interests) as the only two thing that got Labour elected were a desire for genuine change (ie anyone but National) and the X-factor that Jacinda brought to the game.

Our pregnant PM has not yet left her mark on NZ politics and the specter of Norman Kirk and David Lange loom large over her as both men were willing to take steps, as radical as they were, to fix what they saw were problems with this country and Jacinda Ardern's statements about climate change remain nothing more than gentle farts of smug self congratulation until backed up by serious action.

However Jacinda Ardern has yet to do that*3 and even if she wishes to emulate one such as Helen Clark she is going to have to do more than get knocked up and wear fashionable clothes to parties.

Labour exists as government today on the fact that its not National far more than anything inherent in its own makeup, policies or personnel excepting the star factor that Jacinda has harnessed.

And while Labour is sure to be playing the longer game and planning to drop all sorts of lollies round about May 2020 that maybe too little too late if those lollies are little more than some crappy placebos for the crippling ills of this Nation.

So if I thrashed National for its corruption while it was in power I can sure as heck beat Labour for failing to make good for the Great Betrayal now it is in government.

Labour can’t micro manage away the cancers it helped create and the time for radical surgery is at hand. The prognosis is grim but the outcome really depends if the doctor’s name is Jacinda or Judas.

*-Although to be fair it was National that set the ball rolling with Judith Collins and Jin Yang but if Labour was genuine about addressing this threat it would be doing more but instead its doing pretty much what National did and that makes them as bad, if not worse than National.
**-I admit that with her current popularity its unlikely but in the age of Trump never say never.
*3-And Saying no to further offshore drilling does not count BUT some action over fuel prices might!

Tuesday, 29 May 2018

Repeat after me – “It’s just a poll, it’s just a poll, and it’s just a poll!”

Ah political polling, the barometer, if you will, of our national mood; the dipstick measuring the public's tolerance for politicians and parties; the rectal thermometer slid, ever so gently, into the backside of New Zealand to see what its political temperature is.

Thus while no poll is exact they can provide a generalised snapshot of the situation and are often a harbinger of changes to come in the political ecosystem.

Poll results can determine the life and death (politically at least) of a politician or party leader, cause a policy shift and, when enacted in the form of an election, change governments.

So building of the back of yesterday’s post about Judith Collins lets dig a little deeper into some of the other results which have come out of the latest round of polling and see what we can find.

And for those who want to know a little more about the polling environment in New Zealand then I refer readers to a post I wrote back on KP entitled Let’s get Statistical! which looked at the political polling situation two years ago and broke down the dynamics of political polling in NZ including who does the polling, the rules for polling and why the margin of error is important.

Also for those who want to see how polling can effect change when the political situation is ripe for it check out my post from early last year when Andrew little was still heading Labour.

Greens and NZ First: circling the drain?

At first glance the polling from the latest One News/Colmar Brunton poll does not look very good for Labours collation partners (with the Greens down 1 to 5% and NZ First down 1 to 4%) and there has been various rumblings about a “one term government” in the comments below the article just to spice up the proceedings.

However since there is nothing riding on those poll results (like an election or a leadership challenge) they are better off as indicators of the public mood at this time, like waves coming up the beach, and not to be taken too seriously. 

The hyperbolic tone of the articles title could just be the editors attempt to spice up what is otherwise a rather dull piece but I think its just a fraction more on the side of media trying to stir things up where there is very little to stir.

That said some context is always good and we know from previous experience that NZ First can sag in the polls only to bounce back up just before an election when Winston takes his mojo medicine show on the road so a post-election poll showing NZ-First at 4% has a lot less impact when Winston is deputy PM (and acting PM while Jacinda is on maternity leave) and NZ First has ensured that for the next two and half years they have their people an policies in government via the coalition agreement.

NZ First has had higher poll numbers to be sure but those are always linked the mercurial Peters so it’s never a good plan to write the party off based on the polls alone. When Winston steps down and Shane Jones (now his successor in all but name despite more than a few in party not comfortable with him) steps up we will have a different ball game (as Jones polling mojo is mostly untested) but we will cross that bridge when we come to it.

Meanwhile the 5% the Greens got this time round (down 1% from the previous poll in April) is not that big a shift from their 6.3% they got in the election but when you look out across previous elections we see that the electoral decline in vote share over subsequent elections (10.70% in 2014 and 11.6% in 2011) is a come down from the time when Labour was in disarray and ticked off Labourites were swelling the Greens, but looking out over the longer history of the Greens we see that this is the range that the party has normally sat in when being polled.

It’s true that James Shaw’s disastrous handling of the party in the run up to the 2017 election and the rise of Jacinda Ardern hurt the Greens badly by gutting ranks of the Green vote but the reality is that 5% is about where the Greens usually sit on the longer timeline and if Shaw can keep his trap shut and avoid doing anything stupid the party should be able to keep the Green brand above the 5% cut-off come the next election.

National and Labour: Neck and Neck or the Tail Wagging the Dog?

From the same article as provided the stats for NZ First and the Greens there are also the numbers for Labour (no change at 43%) and National (up 1 to 45%) which are really minor shifts in polling but still the articles plays it like things could go anyway with potential coalation partners.

And at the start of the year there was a certain vibe in certain sections of the media (not naming names) that National had won the popular vote and was therefore the rightful party to form a government while Labour, The Greens and NZ First had done some sort of dodgy deal to steal the election (just like people thought Trump had done) by combining votes in some dirty, “disgusting”* and unfair trick to twist things in their favor.

Of course anyone who was subscribing to that theory was ignorant of how MMP politics works, eating too many dogbiscuts and as medical professionals describe it “an idiot!”

I addressed much of this in a post from last year and it was clear that while previous elections had showed Labour wallowing in the 20s and 30s as polling goes that was more of a short term reflection (think the post Helen Clark era comedown from her political neutering of potential challenges to her leadership) rather than some sort of historical norm.

Also Nationals strong polling in 2017 was as much as a product of politics in the John Key era (meaning that the first post Key election for National would probably be able to coast in on the momentum of the massive boost Key gave the party) as well as the fact that with National now the only party of the Right and the partisan dynamics of the NZ political landscape (ie that NZ is more conservative than many believe) there were definite limits to how many would cross the political line.

So the defining factor of NZ politics as we know it under MMP is not the monolithic vote blocks that the two main opposition parties have but the smaller, but crucial, vote shares that parties like NZ First and the Greens can bring to any potential coalition and it’s the ability of those bigger parties to woo those smaller parties to their side that makes the difference.

Thus we have a Labour, NZ First and Green coalition government not because of any inherent skulduggery on the coalitions part any more than the fact that National screwed the pooch (although one of those factors did count to some degree) in the election by driving Winston away via their personal attacks on him and instead the mechanism of MMP did what it was supposed to do and provide a fairer more balanced result than the yes/no/either/or result FPP used to force upon voters.

And with those thoughts in mid we can dismiss the idea that this is some sort of neck and neck situation (even if we discount that an election is still two years away) as it’s the coalition dynamics that count as neither NZ First or the Greens are likely to swing to National any time soon (see my posts on The Temptation of James Shaw and We are all Socialists now Comrade for further details why not).

Also the dog still wags the tail it’s just less of a pure breed mutt and more a MMP flavored “mixed breed”**.

So what can the current polls tell us?

The barometer analogy (along with the other two) I used at the start of this post works best as we don’t look at our barometer to see what’s going to happen next month or next year. We look at our barometer to see what’s going on now or in 12 to 24 hours from now and while political polls do have slightly longer time frames but the effect is essentially the same: a short term forecast which is generally accurate but subject to local factors and conditions.

Current political polling is probably most noticeable for what has been described as a lack of “budget bounce”*** and Simon Bridges leadership remaining open to contest, which is how most commentators have described it but other than that it will only be when we add the data from multiple polls up or when the afore mentioned election, leadership challenge or policy furor is pending can a particular poll be the hinge on which politics turns.

Why the budget did not “bounce” and Bridges job as leader remains up for challenge are the subjects of my other recent posts but in short one poll result is just one poll result so take a breath and repeat after me “it’s just a poll” as the slightly hyperbolic/hysterical tone of the original articles headline is not quite on par with these beauties.

*-As one national party higher up I spoke to around that time described it
**-for those who can’t bring themselves to say mongrel
***- ie not polling increase for the government after it releases its budget rather than this Budget Bounce (a purveyor of bouncy castles etc)

Monday, 28 May 2018

Here comes Judith!

Of all the antics which came out of parliament last week it seems that the winner on the Opposition side of things is Judith “I stab from the front” Collins.

It was not retarded antics of Paula Bennet, Gerry Brownlee, Trevor Mallard, Phil Twyford or Clarke Gayford which seems to have made hay but loveable and cuddly Judith.

Collins appears to have made sweet filthy lucre off her time in the house while the rest ended up looking like a bunch of spoiled kids squabbling over the toys.

Not that Judith is the most adult of the MPs in parliament but at least she had the decency to avoid the histrionics of Bennet and stay on target while the many others in National found themselves reverting to their default setting of rumour-mongering, cat calls and the slimy shift from “holding the government to account” to Dirty politics Part II as they continue struggling to adjust to life in opposition and cant seem to land a decent blow on a government which is slowly starting to come down off its silver lined cloud and deal with the reality of actually fixing whats wrong in NZ.

“So what”, I hear you say “Jacinda reigns supreme as our beloved Warrior Queen at 40% so who cares?”

I know one person who will be caring about those poll results: Simon Bridges.

Bridges remains at 9% and has struggled to get traction as Opposition leader since he took over what is commonly known as the most difficult job in politics. This is not entirely his fault given the antics of his minions BUT his bold face and claims to be playing fair have not done much damage to the Government so it’s not hard to assume that the National Brain Trust (specially the more conservative elements*) will be looking round and counting the days on Bridges expiry date.

In some ways it’s a shame really because Bridges (and his play fair approach) remains the best bet to hold the Coalition government to account as it begins to falter on the big issues and in the wake of its lackluster budget. 

Collins has picked up some polling on Bridges weak leadership and because Labour is beginning to appear to have won the war but lost the peace as it looks like it does not really have the political will to do what needs to be done and instead will do just enough to keep the dissent from boiling up in the populace (which is typical Labour).

Still this could be the beginning of National playing the game that Labour previously played – that being the Leadership Shuffle.

Collins of Course remains poker faced about this and stating in the media she is "very happy doing what I'm doing and I'm very supportive of our leader Simon Bridges" but Bridges would do well to get some of the same type of stab-proof clothing that Bill English started wearing when he took over from John Key.

At least with Judith, Simon will see her coming.

*-Ah who am I kidding, that's all of them.

Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Am I suffering the post budget blues?

What’s this feeling that’s been afflicting me in the week since the budget was announced? A strange unease tinged with nervousness and just a hint of apprehension.

Maybe it’s just me as the general tone form the media has been themed around the message of “Boring but good” noting that Grant Robertson cancelled the previous National governments proposed tax cuts and used the savings to pump up education and health (both areas that were needing it).

And the ongoing response of the Coalition government to its budget and it policy prescriptions overall still hinges on the valid argument that National had nine years to fix these problems but did not and in fact made them worse by focusing on the mantra of “surplus” at the cost of everything else.

Simon Bridges and Co can moan all they want but that inescapable fact has now been exposed and areas of NZ which have desperately needed more and better funding are finally getting it under the Coalition and its first budget. In a budget with no really obvious poke points National has had to suck it up and look for minor points to score while a bit more sand slips out from the foundation under Bridges and the free-market zealots start muttering Judith Collins name like they are summoning some demonic spirit*

Of course it’s not all been rainbows, sunshine and lollipops the budget has had its detractors outside of an opposition still smarting from the shock of being in opposition with teachers not happy at having to wait several years for funds the feel they need now and things like 100 million for the Americas cup and NZ Firsts extremely dubious tax breaks for horse racing but these are really minor quibbles and while I don’t like them they are neither individually or collectively enough to give me that feeling in my guts that something is not right.

It’s not even the fact that things like the government reneging on its promise to make doctors visits cheaper by 10 dollars or making Kiwibuild homes open to anyone (ie not having a means test for what is in effect state housing) while the housing hernia simmers sinister like in the background like a cancerous growth ripe to explode.

Perhaps the unease is that after nine years in the political wilderness and campaigning on being an alternative to National and starting out with comments about capitalism being a “blatant failure” this budget has been little more than another National budget with Robertson using the extra funds from the tax cuts to fuel the increased spending rather than presenting a budget which actually wants to address the issues facing NZ.

And if we dig deeper its Labour shackling itself with those bloody Budget Responsibility Rules which seems to be a big part of the unease I am feeling.

But I hear you say, if they don’t then they will just be another tax and spend government or simply blowing all those surpluses that National worked so hard to achieve (even if it was at the cost of most of this countries well being – but hey the balance sheet looked good didn’t it?) and you’d be right Skippy, you would be right.

It’s not that BRR are intrinsically wrong but the context of Labour (and lets not even start to say that either the Greens of NZ First know anything about how to run a budget) but that in sticking to those rules Labour is in effect playing Nationals game albeit in a lite form.

And when needed changes to tax reform in NZ (my personal opinion is for the increasing corporate tax rate or taxing the rich into oblivion in a time of acute inequality or even just making a genuine attempt to ween Kiwis off housing speculation by bringing down the housing market to realistic levels) are being poo pooed in advance by Labour in favor of some tinkering to the tax code it’s clear that this budget was not real about economics or money it was about politics.

This budget was in part a means of keeping the coalition on an even keel (an understandable necessity in a fully-fledged MMP govt) but also about keeping the “market” and the “business community” on side because if anyone will be planning and funding the counter revolution against a government which wanted capitalism to have a “friendly face” it will be them who will have the whip in their hands and National at their beck and call.

There have been claims that Robertson is holding back some funds for the 2020 election and that may be true but then it’s just another lolly scramble and just Labour playing the political game rather than rewriting the rules to fix what is wrong with NZ.

I still can’t place my finger on it but I think something happened with this budget and without knowing it we (or more correctly this government) turned a corner and many of the signs ahead show a government paying lip service to fixing the disease that afflicts NZ while secretly keeping it alive.

Ardern and Robertson are playing a dangerous game here as once the idealism of the election cools and more and more promises get broken or this government holds too close to the last governments economic line then we may actually get the dreaded post-election slump kicking in.

For now that has not happened, yet, but making the argument that the solution to the radical strides to the right made in the 1980s can only be fixed by cautious baby steps back to the middle is simply saying capitalism has failed NZ but that the market can’t be tamed and the government using the cancelled tax cuts as a political smoke screen for an agenda which is less about fixing the future and more about political preservation (specifically Labours) because if those tax cuts had not been there to cancel it’s hard to image what good news this year’s budget would have delivered and even still I wonder if this year’s budget is really enough to offset 30 years of neglect.

And speaking of babies, am I just suffering the political equivalent of post-natal depression? Will it pass in time or will the depression and doubt linger?

*-Perhaps they are.

Monday, 14 May 2018

Waiting for the Punchline: Donald Trump as the world’s greatest performance artist

This post comes out of the regular email chain between me and some friends which mostly revolve around US politics and Donald Trump*.

I recently figured out why I have been enjoying the Donald Trump presidency so much.

It is, in part the random unpredictability of the man himself BUT on a larger level it is because Trump is now operating at the level only a few avant-garde performance artists have managed to reach.

Just as avant-garde art pushes the boundaries of what we consider normal or acceptable so too does it often cross over the invisible lines that societies try to place around “art” to keep it from distorting, disturbing or just plain offending the cultural sensibilities that it is critiquing.

In fact avant-garde art and its artists often consciously seek to challenge norms and limits and do so with any and all tools at their disposal and it’s not unusual for the artist to not only be or become the art but for the “art” itself to also be not recognized as art.

The artist own excrement canned and sold to the public as “100% pure artist’s shit”: its art with a capital “A” baby!

Being crucified to the back of a VW beetle: Art, arT, Aert!

Attempting a coup of Japan and killing yourself when it fails: Screw you and your bourgeois values its art!

And in this light it’s easy to see Donald Trumps avant-garde sensibilities at work in his great performance art project that he has called “Donald Trump: President of the United States”.

Don’t believe me? I’m not alone in this conclusion and it’s a damn sight easier to classify Trump and his art as commentary on the US politics, society and its economy than desperately attempting to apply standard political, sociological or even economic logic to the man and his actions when he can change his mind and views in a single tweet or lurch off in some random direction in his behavior.

Just as grade B actor and “artist” Shia LeBouf can try** to comment on President Trump with his “art pieces” so too can Trump turn his whole presidency into a spectacular piece of art which is bigger, better and larger than ever before.

You want to challenge the unfair system of the US economy; Trump has you covered. Vapid US celebrities as bastions of wisdom and possible candidates for political office; he has you there as well. Worried about the sickly and anemic US democracy; the answer is… wait for it… Donald Trump.

No matter where you turn Trump and his amazing art has shone the light on many of the ills in our society, you might not like it, you might even hate it but that’s not the point of the cutting edge of the avant-garde my little moppet.

If you want something safe, clean and neat, go subscribe to Netflix, watch Mike Hosking read from his cue cards or even (dare I say it?*3) check out the Spinoff*4.

In this light it’s easy to see why an artist such as Kanye West loves Trump because its takes one to know one and West is definitely one.

The Donald Trump presidency is the political equivalent of having unprotected sex with a stranger you just met. Its the ultimate frisson; that mix of pleasure and danger, just rolling around, all caught up in the passion of the moment, knowing you should play safe but doing it bareback anyway.

Its the lower lizard brain running its long wet tongue down the cheek of the higher consciousness and the convulsive shudder that it engenders in both parties.

So where will this immense artist and his stupendous performance art end up?

That’s the joke, we just don’t know and neither does he.

Trump has invited us to be part of his Art but so far we have timidly watched from the side lines or been too shocked or “offended” to respond which in some ways is understandable as Trump has harnessed the powers of the Theatre of the Absurd to such a degree that most people are unable to comprehend what it is he is doing.

And if we won’t join him in his art we are then just along for the ride, whether we like it or not, hoping, waiting and wondering when this end and what will come of it. Strapped to the hood of the Trumpmobile (like Zoe Bell in Deathproof), screaming wildly as the speed sucks the air out of our lungs and we flail in terror as the madman behind the wheel does his thing.

But if you want an idea of what Trumps plan is you need only look at the fate of another golden haired person oblivious to the danger of dancing on the edge; The Fool from the Tarot.

And that is the punchline, that is the final, possibly killing, joke that we have played on ourselves as we desperately try to rationalize what we are seeing as our higher brain screams "what is he doing?" in near incoherence while the primordial mind beneath, unfazed by our desperate attempts to impose rationality on the irrational, simply waits for punchline.


*-with only occasional twists into other topics or flame wars
**-and fail spectacularly with both his he will not divide us and Flag Project piece
*3-inner voice says “dare, dare!”
*4-just kidding guys, love your stuff. Specially as you are now taking over mainstream political news coverage in NZ

Saturday, 12 May 2018

What is the threat to New Zealand so secret that the Squirrels don't want you to know about it? The answer may shock you!

File this under REDACTED

I originally wrote this in early 2018 but placed it in the dead end file when other things came up and it did not seem like enough for a post BUT after speaking to a certain third party on the matter last week (thank you D) I have decided to “reactive” it.

Don’t you just hate reading through a document released under the OIA (official Information Act) when sections of it have been removed?

For example how about the recent report from REDACTED which talks about the REDACTED REDACTED to New Zealand but won’t tell what one of those REDACTED is.

Yes for those people who took the time to visit the NZSIS website after the change of government last year would have found a copy of the Briefing to the Incoming Minister (BIM) for the NZSIS and GCSB on file for their perusal.

And if you have ever read a BIM you will know that each government department will use its BIM to paint itself and its situation in the best possible light while minimising any issues that may have arose in the last 12 months.

BIMs highlight the who and what of each department and promote the various areas and programs that are being undertaken and its common for every Tom, Dick and Harriet department head to try and cram in as much “good news” as possible into their allotted word limit that a reader could be forgiven for thinking that it’s was all plain sailing for the public service with nary a cloud on the horizon.

Of course that would be wrong.

BIMs can be useful documents for new ministers to read as they try to get their heads around whatever portfolio (or portfolios) they now handle and a good BIM will contain just enough information for the minister to understand the situation and feel like they know what’s going on but not enough so that they know everything or don’t need to rely on their various advisors, secretaries or departmental heads for advice and instruction (such is the bureaucratic arts) as they go about their duties as minister.

Of course a good BIM will also be tailored to the ministers intellectual capabilities and I have heard of more than one (and read a few as well) BIMs that had been “simplified” due to the minister “not reading so good” or because in one instance because the minister was REDACTED REDACTED REDACTED.

However the BIM for the incoming Minister for the GCSB and NZSIS (Andrew Little) is not a case of Little “not reading so good” and more a case of REDACTED.

So as I browsed my way through the document, noting the odd redaction of information here and there, and knowing that once we got to the juicy details later on I could expect whole pages of blank spaces, I was somewhat surprised when there on page 8 in the introductory section called New Zealand’s Threatscape* there was a strange redaction in the second sentence which read as follows:

It outlines four core national security threat areas (cyber, violent extremism, REDACTED and espionage) which together provide an overview of New Zealand’s threatscape.

Thus, according to our intelligence services there are four core threats to New Zealand but the public are only allowed to know three of them.

The three known areas (cyber, violent extremism and espionage) are pretty common in security documentation and I have been seen at least two of them (violent extremism and espionage) cropping up in the reports to parliament's Intelligence and Security Committee over the years while the third (cyber which relates to cyber weapons and cyber-espionage etc) has been a known and growing concern for some time now with the creation of CERT NZ (New Zealand’s Computer Emergency Response Team) and the GCSBs own CORTEX program being formed to deal with this area of risk in the digital age.

But that still leaves the fourth area, what could it be? What kind of threat to NZ would need to be REDACTED from a BIM so that the public does not know?

So I scoured the rest of the BIM and all the other documentation on the NZSIS and GSCBs websites but to no avail**.

I did however find the following:

·         The 2017 BIM to the minister did list a section called “regional stability in the South Pacific” in the same areas as the other three areas were outlined but this area was completely REDACTED except for the title.
·         The 2017 Annual report for the GCSB which came out after the election notes three areas in its section titled “strategic operating environment” on page 15 which are “Cyber Security, Foreign Interference and Violent Extremism”.
·         The 2017 Annual report for the NZSIS which also came out after the election notes two areas in its section titled the same as above and those are “Violent Extremism and Espionage and Foreign Interference Activity”

This means that the 2017 BIM to Andrew Little listed four threat areas as part of the threatscape to NZ BUT both the end of year GCSB and NZSIS reports (both public documents) list only three and two threat areas respectively.

This leaves us with a few questions:

·         Is regional stability in the South Pacific the missing fourth area of threat to NZ?
·         If it is why is the title redacted in the text of the BIM but the actual title itself remains in the BIM with just the content REDACTED? (just an error?)
·         If regional stability in the South Pacific is the fourth threat why would this need to be kept secret? (as it does not show up in their public end of year reports)
·         If it’s not the fourth threat then why was it included in the threatscape section AND what is the fourth threat?

Thus we are left with a few more questions which boil down to one of the following:

·         Stability in the south pacific is one of the threat areas important to New Zealand’s security services (possible but seems unlikely in and of itself).
·         There was an error in the redactions on page 8 of the original BIM (I’m not believing that just yet).
·         There is another threat to New Zealand which the government does not want the public to know about (this is where my money is because - hey its ME!).

So what is the secret fourth threat to New Zealand? A threat so terrifying that it had to be REDACTED out of a report to the Minister before it could be released to the public.

It could be that regional stability in the South pacific is the fourth area but I am guessing that with all the REDACTED its more than just a case of our Pacific neighbors being a threat, could it have something to do with the recent surge of Chinese soft power in the region?

But because its REDACTED we are free to speculate on what it actually is because at this point if China is the big secret threat to NZ its probably not wise to advertise this publicly when the secret threat is also our major trading partner***. Perhaps its time to diversify.

So in lieu of actually knowing what it is lets take a few wild guesses.

In no particular order the possible secret threats to New Zealand that I can come up with are: Aliens walking among us (see the movie They Live), a (not so) secret Chinese conspiracy to take over New Zealand (no, it can’t be that because the Chinese infiltration of the National party is already well known), a secret cabal of bankers working together to steal all our money, an  super intelligent AI takeover, invasion by the mole people, a penguin army invading from Antarctica or even Great Cuthulu finally awakening from his slumber?

However after some time and consideration I managed to figure out the answer to this mysterious fourth threat to New Zealand and its clearly REDACTED  REDACTED REDACTED.

Readers can add their own theories in the comments.

*-this seems to be one of the new buzz words in intel circles these days
**-although it is possible that I did miss something
***-Given how China has been behaving as of late its might be time to start thinking about the value of doing bulk business with a non democratic, human rights abusing police state - #justsaying.