1080 and Water Fluoridation: Opponents who drink from the same anti-science trough

I had a pretty gnarly rental in 2014. Situated in what one might euphemistically label as the ‘economically diverse’ melting pot of Hamilton East. It had an asbestos ceiling, rotting internal walls* and was nestled within an even less entrancing cinder block dump. Alas, it served its purpose, perfect for someone wishing to live cheap but not far from the local University, a place to myself (however terrible) where I could potter about with my postgraduate studies.

I was also a ‘paid troll’ of the pro-fluoride movement, or so it was claimed; which must have made my humble lodging all the more bemusing to anti-fluoride campaigners who used the societies register to stake out my whare. Surely I had the option of living somewhere much nicer by virtue of my shadowy, government funded campaign to poison New Zealand’s drinking water? After all, I had been making a very handsome sum of money fighting, keyboard in hand, the good people at Fluoride Free New Zealand. Yet despite someone burning down our neighbour’s garage one lazy weekend afternoon, or the upstairs occupants running a 24 hour Colombian-style drug cartel, I apparently chose to continue living in a shitty unit, in a shitty block, surrounded by (mostly, but not all) shitty neighbours.

The great academic / scientific / government / whatever conspiracy

Nonsensical accusations such as those directed at myself or other skeptics, serve an important function for people denying the scientific consensus on something. Whether it was Community Water Fluoridation (CWF) then or 1080 now, these opponents have a predisposition to believe, uncritically, accusations of corruption occurring among their adversaries. Such discourses mutate as they become more publicly widespread, ‘True Believers’ emerge, people whose opposition to a particular government initiative quickly morph into an impenetrable form of group-think. Such conspiracies then flourish without any attempt by their proponents to fact check the veracity of such ridiculous claims.

This brings us to the current climate of loud but hopefully evanescent anti – 1080 hysteria where we again see the presence of ludicrous conspiratorial conjecture. As Cody Knightley (a local anti – 1080 campaigner) laid out in a recent homemade video, the Department of Conservation (DoC) has become the Department of Corruption, the Department of Contamination, the Department of Conspiracies (sic) and so on. Such allegations resonate strongly with different sections of the public, specifically hunters like Knightley and a few hoodwinked urban dwellers.

But where is the evidence?

Contradictory positions

Another commonality is the desire to spread whatever information might help the cause, no matter how much it contradicts a previous line of advocacy. Anti -CWF campaigners repeatedly claim that fluoride is a deadly neurotoxin, but then inexplicably advocate it be used in higher doses in toothpaste and / or as part of school wide toothbrushing programs. The same people claiming 1080 does not work will also claim it’s cruel due to its indiscriminate nature (so, it works?!), while others claim the bush is not at risk from predators but then advocate increases in funding to trap supposedly non-existent predators.

Contrast that with conservation group Forest & Bird, who alongside Federated Farmers (the most unlikely of bedfellows) operate the ‘1080 Facts’ website. Forest & Bird readily admit that a small number of Kea appear to have died as a consequence of 1080 operations. They balance this against how pest control, overall, has allowed Kea populations to rebound across the South Island, along with every other native species. For lay people such as ourselves, this should signal the more credible position; one side contradicts itself with a scatter gun approach to any number of evidence-free claims, while the other is transparent in its approach noting that not every aspect of their stance is without its own risks.

Building the Strawman

A favourite jibe of anti-fluoride campaigners has been to misrepresent the CWF message for something it never was and our local 1080 protesters are no different. A typical provocateur might say “If it’s safe, why not put a teaspoon in a glass of water and let us know how you get on?” Such faulty reasoning attempts to play on the toxic nature of such chemicals in their most raw, undiluted forms. Consequently, its rejection is designed to place some doubt in the minds of those undecided; that is, the scientifically illiterate and anyone else unfamiliar with the rudimentary concepts found in a high school chemistry textbook.

Whether it is pellets of 1080 or a teaspoon of hexafluorosilicic acid (commonly used for CWF), the same general reasoning can be applied:

only a f**king idiot would add a 1080 pellet to a glass of water; and

only a f**king idiot would add HFA directly to a glass of water; furthermore

only a f**king idiot would add a teaspoon of chlorine to a glass of drinking water.

In any event, 1080 is aerially dropped at an increasingly lower rate; from 8kg of baits per hectare in the 1990s to less than 3kg of bait per hectare today and not directly into someone’s water tank. And with anything (absolutely everything), it is the dose that makes the poison. Too much or too little oxygen and you’re dead, too much water or too little water and you’re dead and so on. Our longevity does not rest with the complete removal of certain chemicals (afterall, fluoride is ubiquitous in our environment), but rather living within acceptable limits of exposure.

It is also demonstrably true that 1080 dilutes in running water and is biodegradable over a short period of time. It is water that lowers the toxicity of 1080, sufficiently so that there have been exactly zero deaths or hospitalisations attributed to aerial 1080 drops in New Zealand. Meanwhile, literally thousands more water samples taken following 1080 drops have confirmed that claims 1080 is unsafe are reliant on the most improbable of circumstances; such as a 50kg pregnant woman, continuously drinking 2l of water each day, directly from a source that supplies the water into a small and undiluted catchment where baits have been indiscriminately dropped.

Activism infused with Vested Interests  

If one was to pull the curtain back, there are some less genuine motives behind the activism. Anti – CWF group Fluoride Action Network has been soliciting private donations for over a decade while collecting $25,000 a year from Joseph Mercola, an internet entrepreneur who operates a controversial online store that sells yup, you guessed it, water filters!

1080 protesters appear to be a slightly more transparent bunch, Knightley made no attempt to hide the gun slung around his shoulder in his video, nor his frustration that DoC were effectively poisoning ‘decent’ venison meat. So beyond the anti 1080 hand flapping in some corners of suburbia, what emerges is a clearly identifiable reason why people in the bush hate 1080, it kills mammals such as deer en masse. Some studies suggest a by-kill rate among deer of up to 93%, now that sort of by-kill rate would suck for any hunter looking to fill their freezer.   

So, is it ethical?

Let’s start with what’s fair. Is it fair to take away a food source from people who have relied on it for multiple generations? That’s a tough call because even though mammals such as deer are introduced pests, it is also fair to say that hunting is now a 150 year old Kiwi pastime, well entrenched in the fabric of provincial New Zealand society. And in the current economic climate, we probably shouldn’t begrudge people like Knightley who view hunting as a means to circumvent paying extortion-level global market prices for meat at the supermarket.

Knightley also called DoC the Department of Cruelty, which raises another important question: Is it is ethical to use such a potent substance on the mammalian population? There is no doubt that 1080’s use is devastatingly effective. It makes my stomach churn just thinking about how the poison operates. But I also find it a less diminishing feeling than the guilt of standing idle and doing nothing. Evidence on the effectiveness of 1080 operations is as comprehensive as that of CWF programs, so casting such evidence side and abandoning  1080 operations would arguably be the less ethical approach.

It works, but does anyone care?

It should be glaringly obvious by now that efficacy is a moot point in public 1080 debates. As Department of Conservation’s Threatened Species Ambassador Nicola Toki eloquently explained, despite claims to the contrary, 1080 works remarkably well. There has also been detailed evaluations conducted on behalf of the New Zealand Government. Meanwhile, New Zealand-specific research covers everything from the regeneration of native flora and fauna associated with 1080 use, to the control of introduced pests through 1080 use and the safety of using 1080 in or near our freshwater systems.

There is simply no shortage of high quality academic literature supporting the ongoing use of 1080 operations. So until the wild claims of conspiracy are substantiated, are we going to risk the collapse of our ecosystem, and the extinction of our native wildlife, just for the sake of some wild venison?

Simply put, my challenge to Knightley et al. is this, show me bonafide evidence of corruption, contamination or conspiracies involving 1080 at the Department of Conservation and I will unequivocally reverse my position.

It’s the same challenge I issued to Fluoride Free New Zealand once upon a time, their response was to ban me from their Facebook page.

TL;DR:  1080 does the job you don’t, even if it sucks.

* A quick shout out to Quinovic for that little gem of a rental, your dereliction of duty when it came to the most basic maintenance meant you somehow outshone all the other epically shit slumlord agents operating across New Zealand. 

 

Lauren who? Mr Howard, we’re detaining you on character grounds

Ask any New Zealander this past week who the racist, anti feminist and immigrant-loathing individuals are bound for our shores and they would probably respond with ‘Lauren Southern’ or ‘Stefen Something’. Such was the chorus of hand flapping, cynically whipped up by our news media that these two Canadian nobodies were suddenly propelled into our national news cycle. Even more surprisingly then was that the visit of former Australian Prime Minister John Howard, a vastly more accomplished racist, anti feminist and immigrant-loathing old fart, passed by this weekend without much fanfare at all.

Unlike Stefan Molyneux and Lauren Southern, both of whom lacked the profile here 3 weeks ago to mobilise any more than a hundred odd angry sods, it was the Howard Government that successfully pioneered dog whistle politics to millions of Australian voters. It was also the Howard Government who savaged the ideals of an inclusive Australia, showing just how effective outright lying can be. Howard’s masterful populism (much of which he co-opted from Pauline Hanson), was undoubtedly politicised during his 4 consecutive terms, at the expense of a more harmonious Australia.

So unapologetically divisive was Howard, it must be asked why no attempt was made to block his entry into New Zealand in the first place? Or at the very least, what happened to that loud mob of protesters primed to shout down a couple of B grade internet celebrities? Seemingly unimpeded by our Minister for Immigration Iain Lees-Galloway, Howard was instead headline act at the annual National Party conference. During his endearing rant, intended to rabble rouse the party’s conservative base, Howard opined that our electoral system was flawed and that the opposition National Party had been robbed of a 4th term in government.

That sounds a lot like incitement, sedition perhaps? Maybe Howard should have been thrown into detention until his character could be properly assessed.  

Semi-joking aside, his speech, to be followed next week by Molyneux and Southern should provoke some thought as to why we so readily accept the ‘mainstreaming’ of rancid populism by our politicians, but not by others who are remarkably less significant. His visit also comes at a critical time in New Zealand politics with National Party faithful still licking their wounds following a not-so-poor result on election night. For that reason the choice by National to bring Howard over should be analysed through the recent political history of our trans Tasman neighbour.

Firstly, National voters are still angry (and the party knows it). While MMP produced a government that fitted closely enough with how the public expected it might, many National faithful felt aggrieved that much of Winston’s retirement-home constituency probably lean blue, suggesting that a majority of the voting public would have preferred a National / NZ First government. This all played out in an eerily similar way to the 2010 Australian Federal Election where a hung parliament gave 4 independent MPs the chance to decide the next government. Despite 3 of the 4 Independents hailing from traditionally conservative seats, 3 of the 4 decided to throw their support behind Labour and return the Gillard government to power. Maintaining widespread incredulity for the next 3 years was a useful way for the Liberal Party to keep it supporters active until the next election.

Secondly, tax cuts are easy while ‘doing stuff’ is hard; the Rudd government (2007 – 2010) tried doing both. Through raising the threshold on middle income brackets and instigating a series of poorly managed infrastructure programs, federal Labour pissed away wads of money faster than a full house of yobs at the MCG.  The outcome was (cue the surprise) bloody terrible mate; ballooning fiscal deficits and shoddy workmanship all of which were rightfully eviscerated by the Australian media.

Enter 2018 and New Zealand Labour’s marquee housing policy: Kiwibuild. To be an unmitigated success, Labour must nurse Kiwibuild along parallel tightropes of ‘on time’ and ‘on budget’ while also meeting the public’s expectation of ‘affordable’ all while hoping that the existing property market (read: artificially inflated ponzi scheme) does not collapse. The Australian experience suggests that any (perceived) failure with Kiwibuild could be enough to propel Mr Bridges (or insert opposition MP here) into the role of Prime Minister at the next election. And if it were Mr Bridges to ride a wave of righteous vindication back into government, one might fairly characterise him as sufficiently close ideologically speaking to that of Tony Abbott, the man mentored by Howard who led the Australian Liberal Party to a landslide victory in 2013.

That’s what makes Howard so iconic to conservatives across Australasia and an attractive keynote speaker for National as they look to hustle their way back into power. Not only did Howard spend more than a decade freezing out a socially liberal reform agenda, he established a political culture of ‘traditional’ Australian values that aided his party’s return to office less than 6 years later. The consequence of National springing back in to government under Bridges would also be equally comparable to that of Abbot, as reforms earmarked by progressives (in areas such as criminal justice) are either unwound or kicked to touch.

Which again begs the question, who should the activists have been more animated about these past few weeks? Two uneducated Canadian Youtubers or a former Australian statesman?

Save University Challenge! An Open Letter to the Hon. Clare Curran

Dear Clare,

A starter for 10:  How much public funding would it take to produce the next season of University Challenge?

Is it:   100k,

           50k, or

           20k?

And the answer is: 20k!

Some will inevitably claim that any such allocation of funds is entirely undeserved, that television programs should always turn a profit or, that we should let the market decide.

Indeed, the market has decided…

The market decided that we wanted to see David Seymour and Marama Fox ‘dancing’. The market decided Mark Richardson and Duncan Garner get free reign to pontificate on matters ranging from housing to immigration. The market decided we needed Mike Hosking to suggest we all buy Maserati’s instead of building public transport infrastructure. And forthcoming on TVNZ, the market  decided that we would all benefit from a season of ‘Heartbreak Island’.

I call that Market Failure.

Heartbreak Island is perhaps the clearest example yet of how the executives at our state-owned broadcaster have mastered the Aristotelian principle of a ‘Golden Mean’, a happy middle ground; the virtue found in that midpoint between ‘The Bachelor’ and Pornhub.

Yay, more bullshit on TV!

Claire, I suspect you probably get quite a few of these letters. The requests for money, the heartfelt story or the unashamedly brash request for a ‘hand out’.

So, i’ll keep our pitch brief:

As this Government has committed to encouraging tertiary education through their comprehensive free fee schemes, what better way to promote the sector than a competitive public display of each of our Universities? A measly 20k is the difference between a season of University Challenge – The Podcast and another intellectually stimulating program being consigned to the dustbin. 

Tom Conroy bought University Challenge back to New Zealand shores in 2014 and since then the game show has showcased some of the sharpest minds across the country*. Not only does UC attract a cult viewership, it boasts the accolade of being the only onscreen production bringing together all of our country’s eight accredited Universities.

Season 1, 2 and 3 had NZ on Air funding and despite Season 2 (2015) being one of Prime’s best performing programs, they chucked Season 3 into a 6pm Saturday time slot.

Auckland’s triumphant 2015 team. 

Cue the surprise, it didn’t end well. The show was cancelled and some improvisation was required.

Improvise we did, a gang of 4 ex-contestants ran the competition on a shoestring, reaching into our own pockets. We even filmed the finals, live from the University of Waikato. But we can’t afford to do that again that, we need a bit of moolah to make the whole thing work better.

For the 2018 edition, Tom has managed to rationalise the costs down to a paltry amount while finding a new broadcast partner in Radio New Zealand. 

But NZ on Air still won’t throw us any crumbs. Clare, you might not be able to direct NZ on Air’s funding but will you help us save University Challenge?

TL;DR  Drop Clare Curran a message to show your support for University Challenge NZ.

* and a few seat warmers like myself.

Claire Curran is New Zealand’s Broadcasting Minister in the Labour – NZ First Coalition Government.

Telling Madison Recruitment to go f*** themselves: Census 2018

Trudging off to University on a mid December weekend doesn’t come with all that many highlights. ‘Think of the future’ I muttered to myself as I paced toward Symonds St having missed the bus. Sweaty, tired and a bit jaded was a pretty fair assessment of myself and the other three PhD students that had sacrificed the beach (ok, probably Netflix) to keep toiling away on their thesis. As midday neared, a morsel of excitement started to build for our one prearranged activity of the day: heading off to the food court for some authentic (I think) South East Asian cuisine.

In between mouthfuls of mee goreng, another high pressure topic cropped up – we’re all broke and don’t have any summer work. I’m totally f**ked, said one of my friends, an exceptionally bright student trying to survive in Auckland on a budget of $300 a week. I think we’re all f**ked, says another. Back in the office I made a few calls to try grease the wheels of anyone who could hook us up with some work. ‘Nothing much’ was the general response, unless I wanted to ditch the PhD and take a permanent gig in the public service. But I did get a tip off, there would be some work leading into the upcoming census.

Armed with Google I did some hunting and found that Statistics New Zealand were outsourcing census work to Madison Recruitment. Sure enough, Madison’s website had a link to the job listing for the role of ‘Temporary Field Officer’ (read: door knocker / survey collector). I applied and got a phone call shortly thereafter; hooray!

Seven weeks on, this is why I’ll never apply for a job at Madison Recruitment again:

Reason 1: Hiring as if they’re choosing the next CEO of Fonterra

The Madison recruitment process for becoming a ‘Temporary Field Officer’ was as follows:

  1. Send resume & cover letter.
  2. Provide references.
  3. Agree to police check.
  4. Complete phone interview.
  5. Complete online literacy test.
  6. Complete online numeracy test.
  7. Attend an in-person group role playing game (yup, that shitty one they’ve all used for 20+ years where your plane crashes in the Amazon and have to choose which items to take).
  8. Attend an in-person individual role play game (two scenarios).

Reason 2: Less flexibility than a rugby player at their first yoga session

Every applicant needed to provide evidence that they have a drivers licence – which was a little odd because Madison weren’t providing temporary field officers with company vehicles. Instead, Madison expected that you’d not only have a licence, but that you would use your own vehicle and be willing to have it insured for commercial purposes. I guess I’ll just have to stomach any premium increases if it means I’m gonna score some work.

“But what about one of my friends? She lives nearby, doesn’t drive but we could work in the same area no problem” I said. “Sorry, we’re screening out anyone without a driver’s licence” replies the consultant. “What if I pick her up and drop her off in my own time?”. “Sorry, you must have a driver’s licence”, clearly unmoved by my offering up of tangible solutions to their unnecessarily restrictive hiring practices.

Reason 3: They’re cheap assholes that mold workplace training into the recruitment process.

I really should have submitted a timesheet for the hour already worked. After all, Madison get you to sign their generic and virtually obligation-free temporary employment agreement before you even come in for the role play assessment, that is, a month before they even made me a job offer. And before you even begin the role play assessments you’re watching youtube videos regarding the ‘Madison way’, trying on uniforms for size and having it reinforced to you in person that Madison is your employer – unless they wish to dispense with you, in which case, don’t let the door hit your ass on the way out, peasant.

Reason 4: Treating relationships with your employees like they’re the sucker from Offspring’s  “Self Esteem”

Four weeks after applying, three weeks after the phone interview and reference check and one week after the role play assessments, I get contacted by a consultant in Wellington asking if I would be interested in starting a week earlier than originally discussed. She said that Madison Recruitment felt that “I was someone who showed resilience in the interview process’ and that perhaps I would be useful working with some of the more difficult to reach members of the public.

It sounded good to me, an extra week of work. So I checked a few things and then sent confirmation via email, I also asked if that meant I could be confident I had secured employment, to which I was advised that they would be in touch be the end of the month. On January 31st, seven weeks after applying, five weeks after the phone interview and reference check and three weeks after the role play assessments I get a phone call advising that I am no longer required until after census day and that I would instead be placed on a part paid stand-by role until then. As a requirement of this new role I would need to keep my schedule clear provided they needed my services the following day.

“Now I know I’m being used

That’s okay because I like the abuse

I know she’s playing with me

That’s okay ’cause I’ve got no self-esteem”

All this BS for a temporary role paying the princely sum of $20.20 per hour – that the employer can terminate at any time without penalty to themselves.

Now while I can appreciate that a young consultant, probably still shaking off an #awesome #laneway isn’t exactly au fait with what constitutes ethical hiring practices, surely there’s at least one employment lawyer at Madison Recruitment who knows better. It also begs the question that if a straight white dude with a car, licence, computer, references and a f**kin Masters degree is having difficulty scoring a temp job at New Zealand’s largest recruitment company, what chance have most other people got? That is, what chance has anyone on the dole got scoring a job that requires ringing doorbells and handing out forms?  

TL;DR? No, Madison Recruitment; go f*** yourselves. I won’t be sitting idly and on standby while you mete out corporate fascism on behalf of a government department.

Teenage Parties? Leave it to the Woodstock generation, and their obvious infallibility

An edited version of this story was republished by The Spinoff on November 8th, 2017.

I spent an hour chatting with the woman dubbed ‘Momma Doof’, who defied conventional parenting ‘best-practice’ by somehow remembering what it’s like to actually be a teenager.

As we draw toward the end of 2017, the thick nub of New Zealand’s self righteous nanny state has re-emerged from its winter slumber, casting shame on those acting haphazardly at that explicably reasoned age of 16, or thereabouts. In both Hamilton & Rotorua, a few dozen students are now facing sanctions for liberating themselves of clothing in the annual silliness that comes with ending 13 years of formal schooling. Meanwhile, students at Rangitoto College were advised that ‘adulting’ would be banned via the prohibition of makeup, and further south, police have shown their willingness to break up innocuous gatherings of teenagers – with full riot gear.

“It had barely started” says Teresa Soper, still incredulous that more than a dozen mostly boyish looking police officers arrived at her property unannounced, despite what she says had been a cordial relationship with law enforcement up till that point. Soper rattles off her various meetings with police leading her to believe she’d be legally compliant provided a few ‘slight adjustments’ were made. So, what cuts her the deepest? “Well, we missed the chance to make some charities a bit of money”, laments Soper who had been consulting local kaumatua about the best use of any excess funds she’d collected through the sale of tickets.

Last week, police charged Soper with providing a space where minors consumed alcohol. Affectionately known as ‘Momma Doof’, for the past couple of years she had been organising parties for teenagers to congregate, under the watchful eye of adult supervision. Her motivation was simple; she was petrified about her daughter sneaking out the bedroom window at night and acquiring the wrong sort of company. Soper tells me that after a bit of ‘trial and error’ her crew managed to formulate some fairly common sense rules; including no hard liquor, no weapons (both enforced through bag checks), no fighting and to leave when asked.

“We charged a small admission fee to cover the costs of security” advises Soper, referring to what she called her ‘Guardians of the Doof’. These guardians were a dozen adults dressed in fluoro identifiers, enforcing the rules and ensuring the safety of patrons. She’d also included a ‘time out’ space for teenagers that had had too much to drink, a ‘safe space’ for female teens, and a makeshift urinal for the lads. It wasn’t just a good ole’ fashioned ‘kiwi-as’ piss ups either, Soper had a hospitable, funky barn space kitted out with a BBQ area and its own raised DJ booth, aiming to keep teenagers of all walks sufficiently entertained.

Soper accomplished this in a setting nestled far enough away from the suburbs that the music could be blasted without it inconveniencing any of those more ‘civilised’ types, you know, the teenagers’ parents. And she isn’t shy to rattle off the professions of a few rather distinguished persons whose private school kids were often being dropped at the party’s front gate by their (probably grateful) parents.

“The parties were also used to raise awareness about the consequences of alcohol abuse and Class A drugs.” explains Soper, keen to point out that the purpose of these events is much deeper than whose kids it was that were in attendance. She doesn’t supply any of the liquor herself and confirmed that teenagers found to be possession of drugs were asked to leave. Soper also relayed a few heart-wrenching stories while we chatted on the phone, personal events in the life of her daughter that gave some context to her decision to pursue a more engaging approach. Soper claims she’s happy to leave the deconstruction of New Zealand’s teen drinking culture to the experts; what matters to her most is how she can manage their drinking in a safer way.

That’s not a bad effort from a mum that just wanted to ensure her daughter was keeping good company. Without Soper, it is fair to say a few hundred Christchurch teenagers each weekend have been left muddling through the weekend largely of their own accord.

That didn’t stop a ferocious mob from the concerned mothers league joining the pile on though. Fairfax contributor Mary-Ann Scott opined that Soper wouldn’t be the ‘cool mum’ for long and asked if she had considered the prospect of 1 of the 400 attendees brandishing a knife. Perhaps Scott believes that knives are confined to bush doofs, perhaps handed out in goody bags at the entrance? She hasn’t quite explained why it would be better for the hypothetical knife-wielder to be among the same kids, only with no adult supervision or first aid available.

Knives (and liquor for that matter) are ubiquitous in New Zealand and at least Soper made some arrangements to deal with such anti social behaviors. Not to mention that our Government has listed “reducing the social destruction caused by alcohol” as one of their four national priorities to reduce crime. If evidence-based policy wasn’t so much less appealing than knee jerk responses, we might be asking Soper’s advice instead of charging her; as it stands, her record of 0 violent incidents in 2 years of events makes an interesting contrast to outcomes elsewhere across New Zealand.

Not to be outdone, Kidspot Managing Director Heidi Boulger then seized the opportunity to offer up her own wisdom to Chris Lynch on Newstalk ZB. It appears “motherhood” and “online entrepreneur” are now clearly sufficient qualifications to meet Newstalk’s stringent editorial standards for “credible public health expert”. Boulger offered up pearls such as “‘it’s illegal” and “they’re underage teens”, leaving no doubt she is capable of summarising most of the relevant facts; missing only the legal nuance of whether the barn constitutes public or private property, which appears to be a one of the determining factors in whether Soper was within the law. “I don’t think it’s a good idea” Boulger then states, after being presented nothing short of generous wind direction by Mr Lynch.

Notably, neither member of the peanut gallery managed to support their opinions with evidence or actual research, opting instead for a drive-by slight at a mother who had the temerity to take a more progressive stance toward teenage social deviance. Scott or Boulger probably don’t even care about Soper’s parties, they’re just enjoying the publicity that a bit of virtue signalling in the media has delivered for them.

Among the hand flapping of a few high school principals, pushed into the public sphere by a media that has long realised the cost advantages of sensationalism over journalism, it has almost been forgotten that the teenagers of today are literally the grandchildren of the original Woodstock generation (err, the music festival not the shitty bourbon) whose lives seemed to pan out alright after a few years of questionable behavior. And through a heavy dose of moral panic offered up by our 4th estate, the condemnation has widened beyond those too young to remember where they were when commercial aeroplanes slammed into New York office buildings and onto people like Soper, who have dared provide an element of pragmatism when marshalling such unenlightened beings as today’s youth.

So, shouldn’t Teresa Soper, despite any faults, be in the running for New Zealander of the Year? Instead, she’ll be facing court for choosing evidence-based harm minimisation instead of our country’s hypocritical, draconian and entirely futile attitudes toward liquor consumption. It’s a culture that’s not only inextricably linked to the plaid shirt, rugby mad, hyper masculine characterisation of New Zealand men but also the dearth of stringent regulations and social programs to ensure Kiwi teens are not socialised into a life of alcoholism in the first place.

Perhaps it’s Soper’s own daughter that sums it up best when she took issue with the criticisms levelled at her mother; “I’ve never needed to sneak out of home to be with my friends and I’ve never been in a car with a drunk driver” states Libby. “I don’t need to – I’ve got a cool mum.”

TL;DR  Progressive thinking in New Zealand can lead to you being charged for not falling within the parameters of established social norms, because you know, there’s surely only one way to raise children.

P.S  If you’re passionate about this topic and would like to make a donation toward Teresa Soper’s legal defense than no amount is too small.

Teresa Soper

ANZ

01 0635 0235145 00

Put ‘lovedoof’ in the particulars.

 

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 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 at 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; like, 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 places like Auckland, it is making Hamilton a more appealing place to live. And 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 can 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.

 

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

Have you ever made what you thought was 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 which you know little of beyond newspapers and television. Maybe you have already picked a ‘side’ to the debate thinking there were only two options; a false dilemma presented via these 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 more toxic round of bigoted assholes to represent them. Fearing a shrinking support base, representatives of bigoted assholes took a ‘fresh’ approach. Looking outward, bigoted assholes after no longer rallied against the new found rights of the indigenous persons in settler countries, they instead sought to demonize newly arrived minorities.

In 1996, bigoted assholes voted Pauline Hanson into the Australian Parliament. In New Zealand, Winston Peters evolved into a bigoted asshole. Then the bigoted assholes in France gave Jean-Marie Le Pen a shot at becoming 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 [even more of] 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 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?  

Instead of scoffing at the proposition, are liberals really sure that we can’t identify a small but crucial set of universal values? Long before the cultural relativism bus rolled into town most philosophers agreed that a universal understanding of what is fundamentally good (or bad) is innate in every human.  

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.