Green & Grazed: 18 Consecutive years outside of Government

This is one of a series of post election pieces i’m writing over the next fortnight, today I look at the Green Party and its near Chernobyl like post-Turei meltdown.*

Enough has already been written about the Metiria Turei debacle that I see no merit canvassing that matter further. It is however worthwhile noting that Turei’s own admission gave the party an initial surge in popularity, and with it a momentary vision of securing a record 18 MPs.

It could also be said that such a spike in popularity inadvertently precipitated Jacinda Ardern’s takeover of Labour and its subsequent cannibalisation of the Green Party vote.

Much of that saga is now history.

But since the beginning of August there were 3 other noticeable areas (outside of policy prescriptions) where the party simply lacked the nimble strategic positioning to capture what should have been closer to 10% of the vote.

1. They needed another co-leader.

James Shaw was just a bit too square to do it all on his own.

Shaw is the polite and easily consumable modern Green leader, marketing his party toward a well heeled and better educated strand of the electorate. His one chance to express a broader vision for the Green party was in the minor leaders’ debate, a stage where he was entirely outgunned by a more battle-ready Marama Fox & David Seymour.

That’s not to say either the party’s former co-leader or, potential new co-leader are any different or, that Shaw himself presents as an upper class snob. But when you lack an ‘attack dog’ of say a Steven Joyce or Trevor Mallard variety, the sorts of pit bulls that soak up media attention, you need a few different looking faces fronting the camera, appealing to as many of your potential supporters as possible.

The Greens lost some of their Maori voters and some of their female voters – having a white dude solely running a party championing diversity probably didn’t help the optics all that much.

It’s a situation that could have been avoided on both counts had the party quickly slotted a competent and respected operator such as Marama Davidson into the position of co-leader, at least until after the election had taken place and a more democratic process could have been pursued.

I know what the party hacks will say ‘but our constitution doesn’t allow for that’. Well if that’s the case then your constitution needs an amendment.

2. Golriz Ghahraman should have been 6 on the party list.

That is, at least ahead of Chloe Swarbrick and Gareth Hughes. Swarbrick will no doubt bring an exciting brand of energy-infused politics to parliament but she has nothing on the experience of a not-much-older Ghahraman, who has both ‘Oxford’ and ‘United Nations’ on the resume.

Ghahraman will probably get home on special votes but she should have been handed a guaranteed position in the next parliament.

The fairest assessment of Hughes I can conjure up is ‘Most improved player’, and at least, after 3 terms he can now capably address the media without the assistance from a PR minder.

But if you’ve been in parliament representing your party for 3 terms exclusively from the party list, then it’s probably fair to the party and its members that you opt to stand again outside the 5% threshold and prove you’ve actually added something in your time in parliament, something that makes voters want to ensure your return.

Not only would the marketing of Ghahraman bolstered the intellectual wing of the party, making it even more appealing to urban liberals, it could have also attracted some nervous 1st and 2nd generation kiwi voters who feel the major parties are too often pandering to the likes of Winston Peters and his dog whistling bullshit.

As an extension to this, Ghahraman encapsulates everything the party idealizes when they talk about increasing New Zealand’s refugee intake.

Having already been tested in her previous roles, it makes her a more likely candidate to lead the party in years to come.

3. How a TOP top-up could have played out, but didn’t.

It is of course something the party machine will brush off in light of aforementioned constitutional constraints, but it is again these participatory entanglements that ensured the Greens’ lost an important opportunity when both Clendon and Kennedy resigned.

It was August 7th and barely a week since Ardern had taken over the Labour party, the Greens were in strife as two of their sitting MPs had walked and probably taken with them some of that blue-green vote that is often talked of but equally difficult to quantify.

Running parallel to the Green meltdown was an apprehensive Gareth Morgan who could already see his fledgling party’s’ writing on the wall. TOP were simply not going to make the 5% threshold in the shadows of a newly refurbished Labour party and so in desperation Morgan made Ardern a rather brash offer: To ‘fold the tent’ and disband TOP provided her party adopted their policies.

Well, that was never going to happen.

Jacinda didn’t want to go to the ball with Gareth anyway, she was waiting for James to sort his shit out. But despite already having a date with Jacinda, James couldn’t help but notice how much he had in common with Gareth. So it was up to James to balance romance with bromance.

Upon the departure of Clendon and Kennedy, a more bold Green Party could have made an alliance with TOP offering them the respective places of each departing MP; Kennedy’s 8th place (to TOP’s Geoff Simmons) & Clendon’s 16th place (to TOP’s Teresa Moore).

In the end though, Shaw turned up at the school ball all on his own, Jacinda got there a little late and deflated while Morgan stayed home playing video games.

The cold reality for Green party faithful is that they have never actually been in Government even when they were called something else.

TL:DR Political campaigns require political parties with broad appeal and the ability to be nimble, the Greens were neither and were almost wiped out because of it. 

* Yes, I am aware it’s not ‘technically’ over but after listening to Peters last night it’ll be the Greens in the cold (again) if any deal is struck between NZ First & Labour. 

Winston’s last stand: Tailoring the Emperor’s New Clothes, again.

Leading into the 2014 election I recall Chris Trotter was feeling pretty optimistic, he even suggested National’s vote could slump to the low 40s and a Labour – Green bloc would therefore have a chance of clinching power.

He must have been polling in Mt Albert.

Fast Forward to 2017, and the ever adaptable Trotter had taken a more pragmatic approach, channeling Winston Peters as man of the hour, someone willing to call ‘time’ on the experiment we refer to as ‘neoliberalism’.

So, Peters the revolutionary? Oh, Please.

What is true about Peters is that for decades he has been part of an enigmatic group of politicians around the world who ply their trade casting suspicion over society’s elites. In 1992, he became fed up with his place in the National Government and buggered off to start his own political party, calling it ‘New Zealand First’.

Under the auspices of Mr Peters, New Zealand First have constructed a political platform that resembles a ‘giant jenga’ of bicultural nationalism and blue rinse conservatism.

In contrast to the liberal order that arose and its claim to ‘empower’ individuals, Peters spoke about the faceless elites within it who he claimed were in fact ‘disempowering’ the nation. It is a form of politics that has struck a chord with a significant cross section of the voting public.

But from the mid 90s, Peters had started tailoring the first of his invisible ensembles, something he could drape over a newly empowered and marauding constituency. He accomplished this by promising many things to many people.  He promised the workers that he would ‘stop the clock’ on economic liberalisation, the elderly were promised that he would safeguard their retirement and Maori were promised an end to the National Government. He would also sing a tune that would resonate with all 3 groups, an end to the record numbers of Asian immigrants arriving in the country.

In New Zealand’s first MMP election he garnered 13.4% of the vote and every single Maori constituency. This brought him 16 MPs and more crucially, the balance of power.

It was in the period between 1996 and 1999 that Peters suffered his first public calling out.  After tailoring the imaginary threads of National’s demise in the ‘96 election, he made an about face and joined with them in coalition. And instead of providing the elderly with the financial security he promised, he severed the area between his spine and lower back and fought for a referendum on compulsory superannuation – a proposal that was bitterly rejected by voters.

By now, the facade of fine tapestry became clearer and the popularity of Peter’s party begun to plunge, as did National’s.  Shortly thereafter, a plucky Jenny Shipley rolled Jim Bolger out of a job and Peters knew it was time to abandon ship. But a small group of New Zealand First MPs, led by Tau Henare, broke away and continued to support the now Shipley-led National government.

Peters’ plan to flush away the Shipley government and save himself had backfired spectacularly.  When the 1999 election finally came around just about everyone linked to New Zealand First were bundled out.  Peters himself only clung on to his seat by only a few dozen votes.

But Peters was by no means a spent force.

The old yarn of a child finally calling out the Emperor for ‘not wearing anything at all’ should also present an opportunity for us to reflect on why we have such difficulty calling out politicians who offer us such little substance.

It is as if the ‘system’, this ghastly form of neoliberalism, has taken on a form of personification that absolves those who have spent decades governing within it, from taking any responsibility for its existence, or any meaningful action to replace it.

By 2002 Peters had bounced back, scooping up votes from a National Party that had plummeted to its lowest share of the vote in electoral history.  He still rallied against immigration from the sidelines but the Clark Government didn’t require his services until 2005.

Just as the first tranche of baby boomers started heading into retirement, Peters reentered government and produced a ‘senior card’. But seniors would have about much use swiping a Flybuys card, because the price of everything had started increasing at a rate not seen before.

Ironically, despite decades of isolationist rhetoric Peters traded in domestic policy for a post as Foreign Minister. And throughout his tenure the bi lateral trade agreements continued, the numbers of cashed up immigrants accelerated and the gaps between rich and poor widened.

By 2008 the public started to howl that the fine tailored ensemble they had been sold (again) was in fact ‘nothing at all’.

This time Peters and his mob were voted out entirely, albeit for only 3 years.

Peters emerged from the ashes in 2011 to lay claim as a guardian of democracy. Just as he had done decades earlier, he convinced the public that he was the man who could be trusted to keep those faceless elites in line, especially those who frequent otherwise innocuous looking Auckland cafes.

By 2014 he was so emboldened by the response to his campaign that he took his immigration stump speech to the oldies a bit further than he usually would. “Two wongs don’t make a white” said Peters, who made the news that night for being a racist dick.

Peters has spent longer in the New Zealand parliament than the time neoliberalism has dominated its politics and he has been part of 3 governments (Bolger, Bolger / Shipley, Clark) that were proponents of it.  Meanwhile, his go-to election issues have remained practically unchanged for the past 25 years, the only notable exception is that his party sometimes oscillates between pro Maori positions and others which are clearly antagonistic.

New Zealand First policies are just ‘common sense’, Peters will say.  And it is the promise of ‘common sense’ that leads a disillusioned public toward measuring up for his triennially regurgitated and largely evidence-free vision for the country.

It is as if every 3 years the Emperor’s subjects become inflicted by one of those memory cleansing devices you would find in a ‘Men in Black’ movie.

Now to the 2017 campaign and the mood for populist quasi-conservatism articulated by Peters is perhaps stronger throughout the world than it has ever been. Some political pundits are even suggesting that Peters could go as high as 20% of the party vote, virtually all of it coming at Labour’s expense.

The blue rinse constituency will tell you that a vote for Peters is a return to the nostalgia of better times. A time when New Zealand was supposedly prosperous, egalitarian and grounded in its bi-cultural underpinnings.

It’s actually just a vote for the Emperor’s new clothes.

Chris, the facade is not neoliberalism – just those who pretend to be doing something about it.

TL;DR Peters ain’t your homeboy.

This column was originally published here by my good friend Josh Van Veen.

 

Negative gearing: More distortion than a shitty dub step track

Have you heard the latest joke? The housing market is cooling off and it’ll be affordable again sometime soon!

Heh, that old chestnut. Conveniently popping up in our news feeds every time politicians feel the pressure to address self-made distortions in the Australasian housing market. 

I cannot just help but wonder why that is.

With only a few days until the next New Zealand General Election such objective sources as ‘Barfoot & Thompson Realty’ are on hand to spin us another yarn about increasing housing affordability. So, millennials, break out that 180k you’ve got laying around, the average Auckland sale price might fall to $900,000 over the next two years and you too can take advantage of blah blah, etc, etc.

Last night ‘The Block NZ’ managed to climb its way into the national conversation, its contestants wore turgid expressions as the auction process confirmed they would not be rich, that after spending the entirety of winter putting up with Mark Richardson.

In what has been an incredible assumption of egg before chicken, the comparatively lower auction prices this years’ season finale are being used to claim that the Auckland housing market is now in a state of decline.

Not perhaps that there is an election looming and that housing policy is in fact one of the few areas of substantive difference between the major parties and their allies.

No, of course not, lets just gloss over that little nugget of context. 

Kiwis and Aussies could be forgiven for thinking that the pillow fighting among our respective governments is a sign of a cultural chasm that has opened up so deep that it threatens to rip apart that oft talked about, all-conquering ANZAC spirit that we share.

But the presence of that same 91 year old beneficiary of the state stamped onto our respective banknotes suggests that we still have plenty in common with one another. It is in fact a shared culture exemplified by many things; an affection for oval shaped ball sports, a pair of ugly looking steel bridges and a f**kin’ stupid housing policy.

Make no mistake the housing situation is a mess on both sides of the Tasman, and it is impacting just about every metropolitan area with more than two supermarkets in its city limits.

The housing market is so f**ked in Auckland, it is making Hamilton a more appealing place to live.

Because of that, housing in my beloved hometown is now pretty well f**ked too.  

Bank of New Zealand Chief Economist (whom I affectionately consider as the curly haired face of fascism in this country) played a straight bat for the ears of home owning baby boomers recently, berating those desperate to get onto the housing market by suggesting they were either whiny, wasteful or expecting too much.  

He was of course merely engaging in a bit of low-brow millennial bashing, using the sort of language that would have appealed to his investor buddies, whose explosive growth in their property portfolios no doubt gives them better erections than the more conventional diamond-shaped blue pill they’re typically prescribed.

It was also a lazy argument that bordered on plagiarism, which in context made his seriously shit remarks that little bit more ironic.  

Housing is a complex issue, beyond the musings of economists there is an idea being touted by some politicians that it can be addressed by transforming everyone’s favourite “f**k off we’re full” slogan into a nationwide immigration policy.

While immigrants usually take a couple of generations before they’re discussing stock options down at the country club, they are already good for some things; in this case, taking the blame that might otherwise fall on the type of people who donate to political parties.

It’s also important to remember that it is immigrants doing the jobs we can’t be f**ked doing ourselves – such as shift work in hospitals, working in one of our genuine growth industries (prisons) or even wiping the asses of our parents as they begin to populate retirement villages.

Those new migrants will all need somewhere to live too. So, we need to build more homes to at least keep pace with their arrival.

But, there is something else driving demand at such a breathtaking pace; it’s the unseen incentives we give people to park capital in the real estate market.

This obscene policy is called ‘negative gearing’. It’s a process only allowed to operate so liberally in our two fine countries. While it’s banned entirely throughout most of Europe and the United States.

It is practically undisputed among top economists, people such as Philip Lowe, the Reserve Bank Governor of Australia, that negative gearing is a contributor to the considerably over-inflated housing market we’re all chained to.

Negative gearing is defined rather succinctly here.

“It is when the cost of an investment is greater than the income earned from it. For rental properties, costs can include interest payments on a loan or mortgage (but not the principal payments), and expenses such as maintenance, rates, water, insurance, depreciation, accountants and agent fees.

If a property owner has a loss on their investment, they can claim a tax deduction and offset that loss against income earned elsewhere.”

Housing investors are almost always borrowing money to fund their new purchases, and with any mortgage, the amount of interest paid in each installment is more at the beginning of the loan. Therefore, in the first decade at least they can write off such losses against their personal income taxes because their interests costs are high.

This makes property a compelling option for investors, because while they may not be earning the passive income you’d typically hope for from a rental property, they’re able to limit their tax burden while watching the equity in their investment home skyrocket.

After a few years the investor can reach a cost equilibrium but also a substantive capital gain. Provided enough equity has been realised, those same investors can buy another home.

And another one

And another one

And another one

And another one

And another one

And another one

The result is that more people are competing to buy the same number of homes, which pushes prices even higher. When the investor finally secures that shitty old run down ex-state house for 700k, they then need to rent it out for a weekly amount that at least keeps within range of their monthly mortgage repayment.

The end result of this madness is that housing in Australasia has become a multi trillion dollar ponzi scheme that would make Bernie Madoff gush from his federal prison cell.

Even old mate Tony conceded that by ending the practice it will have some impact on the housing market – he must have wanted to shower after admitting that.

It’s also around this moment you start to realise why New Zealand has over 41,000 people (about 1% of the population) either sleeping rough or in woefully inadequate forms of housing (read: cars, garages and boarding houses) throughout the country.  

Census data from way back in 2011 puts the Australian number at over 100,000.  I would bet the value of a week’s’ rent for my tiny studio apartment that the figure is higher now.

How else could we fix this mess?

Clearly, you could do nothing and hope for the best – it’s certainly what the Property Council of Australia and New Zealand Property Investors’ Federation would like you to do.

OMG DID YOU SEE THE BLOCK LAST NIGHT??!! 

Or, you could drastically cut immigration as suggested, boot a whole lot of people out and then transform the country into some form of agrarian utopia by pushing people from the cities and into farms (google ‘Khmer Rouge’ for further information).

The first part of which is kind of what happened in Perth, except it wasn’t Government-directed; the decline in the resources sector caused a mass exodus of the formerly employed; many of them Kiwis now returning home to greener pastures.

That’s another reason negative gearing sucks; if growth flatlines and the economy tanks (in the way it has done in West Australia) the housing market will collapse in an even more dramatic fashion, leaving a lot of people in negative equity (where their mortgages are higher than what they could sell the home for).

So, negative gearing must go or be significantly curtailed, because even if the market stutters for a few months in times of uncertainty (as it is currently doing) it will simply rebound at some point if nothing is done to fix the structural issues created by artificial demand.

In the long run, negative gearing is a ‘no one wins’ type scenario for just about everybody – except the boomers who have cashed out already, and of course the banks, politicians, and lobbyists who awarded themselves the liberty in the first place.

TL;DR?  The housing crisis is an issue of both supply and demand. In times of uncertainty, demand will taper off. However, unless you change the underlying structural issues in the market, demand-driven distortions will inevitably return.

 

Triclosan: Just another chemical (get the f*** over it)

Rachel Southee

You’ve probably already heard the one about New Zealand Member of Parliament Jacqui Dean asking a Government Minister to ban Dihydrogen Oxide. It wasn’t her finest hour, but she’s not the only MP around the world to fall victim to a hoax illuminating their lack of scientific literacy.

Meanwhile, acetic acid (vinegar), sodium chloride (salt), ethanol (alcohol), and sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) are just a few of the other ‘scary’ sounding chemicals that are probably safely stored away in your kitchen cupboard.

Which is hopefully a timely reminder to all and sundry: Everything is a f****** chemical.

Last week that pinnacle of highbrow journalism Fairfax media, published an article with the bombastic headline “Chemical in Colgate Total possible hormone disrupter and carcinogenic”. A similarly titled piece “Ingredient in Colgate Total should not be sold over the counter, says chemistry expert” then appeared in that other almost – nearly Pulitzer Prize winning rag nzherald.co.nz. In brief, both pieces suggested the public be weary of a toothpaste branded ‘Colgate Total’, this had come amid fears that the presence of a chemical called triclosan was s o m e t h i n g something and banned by the FDA.

Commercial media outlets seem to take great pride exhibiting willful ignorance in matters of high school level chemistry, all the while skipping through the opinions of those persons suitably qualified to temper down such alarmist rhetoric. At least by quoting Dr Michelle Dickinson, the Herald had made a half assed attempt at moderating their click bait headline with a little critical perspective.

But if I am not already appalled enough by the quality of such online content, I just need to scroll to the bottom of a story and read the comments made by a hysterical public. For it is now that I can fully appreciate how gullible our society has become. The knowledge gaps in science communication are only exacerbated by the likes of Dr Libby and Dr Oz whose assumed authority as medical experts can and should be viewed with a fair degree of skepticism.

Our collective scientific literacy has become so god damn awful I expect a sideways look just asking my neighbour how much sucrose she’d like in her tea.

So, for the sake of balance.

Triclosan, is an antibacterial ingredient that has been used in countless products, and has been for some two decades. Now, time alone does not automatically make something safe, but it does lend to the possibility that a product has been thoroughly tested. And as it turns out, Colgate Total is one of the most thoroughly researched toothpastes in the world.

The Cochrane Systematic Review of Triclosan in toothpaste, which can be found here, said the following regarding its efficacy:

“The evidence produced shows benefits in using a triclosan/copolymer fluoride toothpaste when compared with a fluoride toothpaste (without triclosan/copolymer). There was a 22% reduction in plaque, a 22% reduction in gingivitis, a 48% reduction in bleeding gums…”  

For the unwashed, Cochrane systematic reviews are the gold standard. They are ‘meta’ or let’s say ‘mega’ reviews, in this case the Cochrane researchers independently pooled 30 peer reviewed papers.  They also assessed the evidence pertaining to harmfulness, and this was their conclusion:

“There was no evidence of any harmful effects associated with the use of triclosan/copolymer toothpastes in studies up to three years in length.”  

Still want to ‘do your own research?’, you could seek out the Material Safety Data Sheet. This is where you can find the relationship between a chemical and its toxicity. Like many chemicals, Triclosan in HIGH concentrations can be very harmful, and there is still ongoing research into whether or not there is a link between its use in smaller concentrations of Triclosan and hormone disruption in children.

The worthwhile takeaway point in all this is that the amount of Triclosan in Colgate toothpaste is 0.3%, sufficiently low for the FDA to not ban it on the basis of the best research available.

So actions taken by the FDA regarding Triclosan can be summarised as follows:

  • There was a negligible ‘benefit to risk’ ratio for Triclosan present in hand soap, but a strong ‘benefit to risk’ ratio in toothpaste.
  • As there was little proven consequential benefit in hand soap, with some degree of harm to the environment – the FDA withdrew its approval of Triclosan and other antibacterial compounds from their use in hand soap.
  • As there was measurable benefits to humans and still no evidence of harm, the FDA approved the ongoing use of toothpaste such as Colgate Total.

Having now disposed of the premise that led to much of the nonsense regarding Triclosan, there is one aspect of the original story which had some real merit; aquatic life will likely respond differently to particular concentrations than what the human body does. And if our wastewater treatment plants do not process out the Triclosan prior to discharge, then such minute concentrations could still be harmful to aquatic life.

Unfortunately, wastewater treatment plants are not designed to entirely remove such trace elements – but this is not an issue that is unique to Triclosan, it is just that the media generally ignore the already well established waste issues that are responsible for destroying our freshwater ecosystems *cough* intensive farming practices *cough*.

Science is subject to change, that’s how it works.  The evidence for or against Triclosan could one day shift, but it is important that proactive choices by scientists to investigate something further (as is what’s happening with Triclosan) are not confused with a presumption of harm.

The kerfuffle regarding Triclosan only strengthens my view that we need more funding for science communication (as well as more funding for actual research). And maybe some of those funds could be used to ensure that journalists get a crash course in year 11 chemistry.

But that’s probably just a pipe dream.

Perhaps i’ll just email Jacqui Dean, she ended up making it into Government and is now Minister for Consumer Affairs.

TL;DR?  Not eating toothpaste has always been a good idea, along with consulting your dentist for the oral heath advice that is best suited to your personal requirements.

Rachel Southee has a BEng (1st Class Honors) from the University of Waikato. 

Super Polarise Me:  Why can’t we have a sensible conversation about immigration?

Have you ever made a reasonable point about immigration, only to be immediately derided as some sort of ‘bigoted asshole’ or ‘deluded liberal’?

You could be exactly one of those things. Or, you could be neither.

It could be you are just trying to make sense of a world most of which you only know through newspapers or television. Maybe you have already picked a ‘side’ thinking there were only two options; a false dilemma presented via limited media offerings.

Deluded liberals have been ‘telling off’ bigoted assholes for a while now, and as such many bigoted assholes have learned to STFU and wait to express themselves at the ballot box – a place they can make a whole heap of collective noise without fear of public shaming.

It started about 20 years ago when the children of bigoted assholes voted in a new round of bigoted assholes to represent them. Fearing a shrinking support base, representatives of bigoted assholes took a new approach; looking outward, they no longer rallied against the new found rights of the indigenous persons, but instead sought to demonize newly arrived minorities.

In 1996, bigoted assholes voted Pauline Hanson into the Australian Parliament. In New Zealand, Winston Peters morphed into a bigoted asshole. Then the bigoted assholes gave Jean-Marie Le Pen a shot at becoming French President. A decade or so later, the biggest bigoted asshole of them all was elected President of the United States.

There is no shortage of academic literature, often written by deluded liberals, explaining how the politicians representing bigoted assholes have come to be so powerful. But very little of it critiques how they themselves, those within the intelligentsia, have failed to usefully reason with bigoted assholes.   

On the campaign trail, deluded liberals want anything from dramatic increases in immigrants to literally open borders. They will point to the hopelessness that pervades developing countries and the misery of war torn nations, they demand that we agree to take more refugees than ever before and ask fewer questions on their arrival. Quite often, deluded liberals don’t believe in God, but they are willing to import thousands of immigrants that do.

Anyone that dares question the moral superiority of deluded liberals will immediately be labelled a bigot, or in fact, a bigoted asshole.

Rather disingenuously, bigoted assholes will often suggest that before accepting foreigners, we should do a better job ‘looking after our own’. The bigoted asshole will point to inequality at home, despite regularly voting for parties that offer virtually no respite for those in need.  More often than not, the bigoted asshole will have a disproportionate fear of terrorism and will link that to immigrants.

At best, bigoted assholes seem oblivious to the fact that if it were not for immigrants working in our hospitals, IT departments, aged care and correctional facilities, our core public services would be in a perpetual state of crisis.  

Bigoted assholes and deluded liberals have one thing in common though, they are tribal in their beliefs.

The polemic nature of immigration debates (all over the Western world) results in the ‘shout down’ of some fairly reasonable quantitative measures, while populists dog whistle to the lowest common denominators of their base and ensure that any meaningful discussions will quickly devolve into a spectacle where race and culture are conflated and confused.

The brinkmanship of absolute collective denial that these two groups exhibit then crowds out the public debate in every possible way.  

The plague of polarization extends throughout the Anglosphere and acts to stifle any constructive discussion about how we best integrate new migrants into our respective democracies. The media then feeds this chasm of political cooperation by frequently reporting the immigration politics in other parts of the West, through practically useless 60 second sound bites that provide virtually no critical perspective.

Politically, the bigoted assholes are winning. But they are aided by deluded liberals who have long since abandoned ‘real politics’ for deeper and more abstract philosophical discourse.

So why is it we can’t we have a sensible conversation about immigration?  

Is it entirely unworkable that we expect migrants to uphold [insert name of liberal democracy here] values?

Instead of scoffing at the proposition, are liberals really sure that we can’t identify a small but crucial set of values that potential immigrants will need to share if they are to flourish in their adopted country?  

Is it fair to say that these values that form a part of our liberal democracy, are not always the construct of dark hegemonic forces – and that to dismiss them in such a manner is, frankly, absurd?

Meanwhile, can the bigoted assholes accept how useless ‘citizenship tests’ are, particularly when they themselves would be unlikely to pass such a test?

Could they ponder for a moment the ridiculousness of having a test that evaluates someone’s adherence to white anglo norms in a land where their ancestors invaded and displaced those that once had their own set of norms?

Can we not critically evaluate issues that are linked to immigration without such discussions immediately devolving into an ideological shit fight?

It doesn’t seem that way.

I have some ideas, but I don’t want to labelled a deluded liberal or a bigoted asshole.

TL;DR?  Bigoted assholes want more assurances, deluded liberals want a more caring approach to migrants – these two things are needn’t be mutually exclusive of one another.

Peek-a-Boo! Aren’t you a cute widdle taxpayer…

Tax cuts bring voters to the yard the same way babies are enchanted by a game of peek-a-boo, and a good game of peek-a-boo never gets old. The theory surrounding peek-a-boo’s longevity is ‘object permanence’. In other words, babies find the game fun because there is an element of predictability about the outcome.

Last week New Zealand’s Prime Minister Bill English traded questionable pizza toppings for adulthood by popping up on TV to ‘surprise’ the country’s voters. English stated that if the trajectory toward surpluses continues, taxes in one form or another will continue to fall. The excitement among middle class New Zealand was palpable, and it is perhaps one of the many reasons National has been coasting toward a 4th term in Government.

Not everyone is happy though. Some New Zealanders are contending, or dare I say lecturing, the rest of the country in what they believe is being overlooked; government expenditure will need to be increased in real terms if core public services are to be maintained at the rate which they are currently.

So in times of ‘excess’ milk & honey, Governments can either hand money back (in the way Mr English has prescribed), pump it into public services or put some of it aside for a rainy day. In essence, that is the crossroads New Zealand is at right now, we are hauling in about 2% more than we are spending which leads to a question of what we should do with the leftovers.

To inform that discussion we should perhaps be looking across the ditch.

In Australia, the opposite is taking place. With an economy no longer buoyant from activity in the resources sector, growth has been stalling while budget deficits have become the norm. Meanwhile, the public have enjoyed tax cuts in the past decade furthered by both major political parties.

To reverse such deficits the Australian government has 3 options at its disposal:

1. Further rein in costs; or
2. Issue debt; or
3. Grow revenue.

In other words, once all that possible ‘efficiency’ in the public service has been realised (option 1) the government can either fund excess spending through loans (option 2) or increased taxation (option 3).

And that is where Australian politicians are trapped; however you look at it, tax increases are political suicide. If you’re a millennial voter in Australia, the effective personal tax rate paid by your parents has only ever fallen throughout your lifetime. So, good luck telling millennials that their taxes need to increase at the same time they’re trying to save 80k for the deposit on a house. Equally, you will get short shrift telling boomers they will need to open their wallet at the exact time they are making a final dash toward retirement. That only leaves deficits, and a government that campaigned on ending them.

The conditioning of voters to accept tax increases under no circumstances is a concern that has frustrated both economists and academics alike, “Why do Joe Public continually demand tax cuts and still expect the central government to provide a high quality of services?”. In a recent Political Science Association Conference I recall similar sentiments; academic staff were musing as to whether the public understand how the ‘social contract’ extends to taxation. “Have these ghastly neoliberal oligarchs brainwashed the populace into believing that lower personal taxes will lead to unfettered, year on year prosperity for all and sundry?” cried one, into his empty champagne flute.

Irrespective of the cause, rhyme or reason, increasing taxes to cover shrinking revenue, after years of reducing them in various ways, is a bit like changing up a game of peek-a-boo. Suggesting that taxes be increased to pay for stuff may sound plausible, but it creates uncertainty, which makes the game less fun. In effect, it would be akin to disappearing mid peek-a-boo and then having another adult continue the game.

So, if Mr English does indeed win in September he’ll need to decide how long he wishes to keep up the game with taxpayers before the political establishment becomes locked into a cycle of deficits. Because if it gets to that point, the toys really will go out of the cot.

TL;DR? Taxes are more offensive than spaghetti pineapple pizza, but if we keep cutting them, so help your God if we never need to raise them.

America – Making yachting great (again).

I don’t know if yachting was ever ‘great’. Maybe it was for the Aussies when they won in 1983, or for our boys in 1995 and again in 1999. But every four years, I am obliged by my duty as a Kiwi to check in and support the latest iteration of Emirates-Toyota-Nespresso-Omega-Steinlager Team New Zealand. Whether this fulfills some sort of benign nationalistic sentiment, or just the nostalgia of hearing Peter Montgomery’s voice again, I’m not really sure.

I loathe the experience much less now than what I once did. Nowadays the boats are actually fast, they literally fly above the water and the lead can frequently change hands. This means I don’t need to expend much energy exhibiting faux support for a sport I don’t really understand. And after 20 odd minutes, I can absorb the result and start considering which Maccas breakfast bagel I’d like to start the day with.  After All, the golden arches of a supposedly ‘culture-less’ America are a pretty satisfying way to celebrate our successes over Uncle Sam.

Back when I was a teenager, the America’s Cup was different. There were two boats that would move to opposite ends of a playing circuit. They would awkwardly eyeball each other, moving closer and then further away again.  The process would repeat for a few painful hours as they sailed up and down the same space a few times. Eventually a gun would go off signalling an end to proceedings and the facade of a ‘good day’s racing’ would be over. For that reason watching the America’s Cup in the 1990’s was eerily similar to the church sanctioned dances I was allowed to attend around that time – lots of jibing and not a lot of action.

So, we should thank Oracle – because they have made a yachting competition mildly interesting. But we won’t because it’s Oracle. Ellison, Coutts, and Spithill may as well be the incarnation of Hades’ underworld. It is a characterisation all too willingly portrayed by our media; a ‘rich’ American, a ‘sellout’ Kiwi and an ‘arrogant’ Australian. Alas, the classic Kiwi pastime – loosely categorising our not-even-bro adversaries on the basis of some overly generalised personality trait. Tell me, why is it is that the Aussie and American yachting professionals that joined our team are not subject to the same vitriol from the New Zealand media? Hurr Durr, New Zealand *waves flag*. It seems that wherever possible, Americans especially should be condemned.

For what though? It appears through talking to my fellow countrymen that the current gripe is that these pesky Americans are coming to our shores and spending shitloads of money. Oh, how dare they!  Frankly, it is this boneheaded logic that continues to dominate the talking points of middle class New Zealand, a small town-style insecurity. Once upon time it was not that they were ‘rich’ but that they were ‘dumb’, remember that? Apparently, most Americans couldn’t even locate where New Zealand was on a map – we were outraged. Then the LOTR series came along, as well as Google and Lorde, and all of a sudden we got cool.

Sorry, I meant – they got cool.

See, Americans learned where to find New Zealand – while we stood, hands on hips. Which I find odd because the average Kiwi still cannot point to Georgia on a map. You know, that state which is twice our size. The place that has hosted a modern Olympics and was the birthplace of Julia Roberts, Jimmy Carter and Martin Luther King? Yeah, that place.

We also offer scant acknowledgement of the millions of dollars Oracle and other syndicates have spent building yachts in New Zealand.  Or that they have hired New Zealanders to customise, test, race and repair them. Instead, many Kiwis will continue to bemoan the entire event, wherever it takes place. “How could one extol such a waste of taxpayers’ money?” they ask. Never mind that our mere participation in such events is an enviable marketing platform for our booming tourism sector. Heck, that’s not even counting if we actually win the damn thing.

Don’t get me wrong, I do hope we win next week. I hope we kick Oracle’s ass. Watching Spithill eat his own smug face would make for great TV, heck I might even watch it. But if we lose I’m not going to throw a tantrum, I am not going to whinge that the other side bent the rules to suit them. Because, like much of the angst Kiwis have towards everything that is American, it could be deemed to be just a little bit too hypocritical.

TL;DR?  Popularity is best served with a side of humility.  Lets support our yachting team and everyone else that supports our country.

 

Explaining privilege – without getting a latte to the face.

Sitting in an undergraduate class a few years back I remember the lecturer, a white woman, asking each of the straight white men (SWM) to explain what they thought of SWM privilege. I yawned, and most guys in the room slumped in their seats. We were either unamused at the prospect of being labelled ‘privileged’ or unimpressed by a woman suggesting it, or both. She was one of those rusted on liberals that would use each of her lectures to make what I felt were crude and not so coded political arguments (and other ‘trendy shit’). As had become a pattern during the semester, I had already registered my ambivalence by consuming a substantial quantity of whisky the night before. Some of the SWM disagreed entirely with the notion of privilege and used the pulpit to exhibit their confidence as an SWM confronting a female lecturer.   

I never saw myself in a position of privilege to start with. As such, it was pointless giving the notion any further thought. I’m privileged? Lol, wot? What about height privilege! I am 5 ft 7 (does she not know how much harder it is to ‘pick up’, than say 5 ft 11?), my hair was falling out too and I had a 60k student loan and a train wreck of false career starts.

At that time I felt there was really only one sensible response to a woman suggesting to me that I was privileged: Fuck you.

The Eureka moment arrived only a few months later; through a friend I met two young and economically disadvantaged women of colour. Their grades prior to leaving high school had been pretty good, and thus I suggested they attend a foundation studies course at the local University. As I was providing the link between the University, their home and social services I figured they would do alright.  

In the week preceding their studies I took one of the young women to a social services office so she could switch her income support to a tertiary funding arrangement. Her case manager offered these words in support: ‘You do realise there’s a stand down period if you need to reapply for dole, don’t you.  What are you going to do when you drop out?’ My mouth opened and closed like a goldfish.  

Despite their initial enthusiasm, both started missing classes after the first 2 weeks and within the space of 8 weeks both had left, even though one of them was still comfortably passing. I asked what happened, and they both said the same things, ‘they didn’t feel like it was a place for them’ and that ‘none of their other friends went to uni’. The whole experience led to some fairly painful introspection; I had blindly assumed that by bringing these young women to a new environment, a place with ‘limitless opportunities’, I had magically altered the trajectory of their lives for the better.  

Privilege can loosely be categorised as one of three things: acquiring an otherwise hidden knowledge of how to go about something, having an assumed competence or proficiency in something or having a more illuminated pathway toward something that is less accessible by others.  I had all of these things on my first day at University: family members that had attended University, some even at the same institution; strong references from high school teachers; and an abundance of people wandering around campus who looked like me and talked like me.  As McIntosh points out, privilege is an invisible system conferring dominance to a particular group in society. It is a virtue of certain individual characteristics not of your own making (such as your sexuality, skin colour or gender).  

So where do SWM fit into this discussion? Well, let us transpose for a moment two persons with the same basket of circumstances. They are both 5 ft 7 and are ageing faster than they would like, they are both deep in student debt and have gone in circles trying to establish a career only to return to University years later. Now assume that you could choose to be one of these people + a SWM or a Gay Brown Female (GBF), and that your goal in life is upward mobility.  Who stands a better shot at making it through University, applying for a job, being promoted and secure a housing lease in a ‘desirable’ area? Considering all the structural disadvantages at play for females, homosexuals and ethnic minorities, you would surely respond with SWM. And that is what SWM privilege is, a relative term. Your life could still be pretty shit, even as an SWM. It could even be more shit than every GBF you know (but chances are you wouldn’t know many GBFs anyway).  

So is there someone else to blame for not explaining that SWM privilege is a relative thing or have SWM, like myself, never really been interested in hearing about it in the first place? I don’t know the answer to that question. But the implications are important for election campaigns taking place in liberal democracies all over the world.

Just ask Jeremy Corbyn, whose own UK Labour Party is desperately trying to win back the support of working class voters who are now more likely to vote for the Conservative Party. Wait, what? So working class people are now more likely to vote for tax cuts and a reduction in the outlay of social services?  How the fuck did that happen? 

Is it because they fled Labour after being confronted with their privilege, or am I now the one making crude and not so coded political arguments?  

TL;DR?  SWM privilege is a thing, in relative terms.  I started wearing hats in 2010.

Why they can’t impeach him, yet.

Conduct a quick Google search of US President ‘Donald Trump’ right now and you’ll no doubt find someone of political purpose suggesting the real estate mogul and TV star is heading down the road toward impeachment – a congressional ‘you’re fired’ of sorts.  The catalyst for such murmurings was itself the sensational firing of FBI director James Comey a few days ago. Political correspondents were quick to compare Trump’s actions with President Nixon’s attempt to shut down investigations into what was then his own alleged wrongdoing. (Spoiler alert: Nixon did end up being a crook and was eulogized in such a way by his decades long adversary, the writer Hunter S. Thompson).

Be that as it may, impeachment can’t happen – not yet and not for a while – and not just for the reasons already stated.  It has already been pointed out that Nixon’s demise was not an overnight affair, removing a sitting president is a more convoluted process than the ‘slash and burn’ nature of the New York businessman’s previous experiences in the corporate world.  But institutional factors and constitutional due process are only part of the puzzle, there is a more thorny reason that only the most audacious congressperson would ignore before supporting the impeachment of President Trump: His 45 million or so red blooded, rusted on supporters.  Yes, his popular vote was some 63 million, but with every President there’s a core constituency and a soft vote. Trump’s hard-to-dissuade core is probably somewhere around this 45 million mark and they are going to take longer to change their minds.   

Such is the political culture of US election cycles, the executive branch (those who require the support of Congress and the Senate to advance their legislative agenda) are in a perpetual cycle of campaigning.  Trump has so far avoided questions of conflicting interests by having his business empire bill his 2020 re-election campaign for services ranging from hotel accommodation to golf clubs.  But 2020 is a long way away, what matters is the 2018 midterms and that is a campaign already in full swing. All 435 seats in congress are up for the taking, or more to the point, 435 Republican congressional primaries for some 200 odd Republicans who will likely be seeking re-election.  Add to that a handful of Republicans up for re-election in the senate, in the deep red states of Alabama, Tennessee, Missouri and Texas.

Democrats, many of whom still speak with a level of incredulity about the presence of Trump in the White House, have dedicated the past 4 months to picking apart each of his orange glazed gaffes and hypocritical backflips.  Meanwhile, the same commentators point to a decline in Trump’s popularity, some 10% since his inauguration according to RealClearPolitics.  They hope that as a potential indictment becomes closer to materialising it can be married to a swift impeachment process with the blessing of a voting constituency outraged by a man they once trusted to be their commander and chief.

Delusion is indeed a powerful drug, for every rant featuring in liberal leaning publications that seek to debase a man they claim has already filed for moral bankruptcy; there is one simple factor that overrides the mood of Conservative voters:  Neil Gorsuch.  Long will it be forgotten that it was the establishment Republicans who stalled the nomination of a Supreme Court nominee until after the 2016 election.  It was Trump that promised to crush the Clintons and install a conservative Chief Justice – and that is exactly what he did.  Whether Trump had some help from outside influences is virtually a red herring in the minds of those still smarting at the idea that gay couples can order a cake from their shop (and eat it).    

So the political reality for Republican lawmakers is that Trump’s support is still strong among the very people who will decide the fate of such lawmakers in the aforementioned primaries.  The religious fervour of his supporters can be mobilised in numbers substantively higher than what has been accomplished by the Tea Party in recent congressional elections.  And like the Tea Party, he could quite easily direct his faithful to stand against the incumbents wavering from the platform of populist conjecture he rode into the White house.  While the Tea Party arguably peaked as a movement in 2014, and with only limited actual successes, it showed that incumbency is neither sacrosanct nor guaranteed.  This is now the blueprint for an embattled President, with all the powers that the apparatus of the executive branch of Government brings.

Unlikely you say?  About as unlikely as Trump Presidency, one would have thought.

TL;DR?  Getting your man nominated to the Supreme Court > Everything else. Impeachment won’t happen till 2019, if at all.