Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Are Todd Barclay And National High-Ups Guilty Of Witness Tampering?



There's an old saying in politics - "It's not the crime that gets you, it's the coverup".

Any number of previous, well-trammelled scandals and imbroglios serve to prove this fundamental truth - with American political happenings such as Watergate and the Lewinski Affair probably being some of the best-known examples.

For various reasons, it's been a maxim often less applied here in New Zealand. There's just something about living in a small, insular 'everybody-knows-everybody' kinda place that makes attempts at pulling off a genuine "cover-up" something of a fool's errand.

Todd Barclay, apparently, is that fool.

Now, there are no doubt any mileage of column-inches about to be penned on the sorry saga by which a young lad managed to throw away a potentially life-long political career handed to him on a platter; but for my money [and it is taxpayer money we're talking about, after all] no explanation better encapsulates what's gone on than that ancient Greek maxim: "Those whom the Gods would destroy ... they first make arrogant".

For it is arrogance in the extreme which appears to have characterized Barclay's conduct right the way through what's gone on. Starting with getting off-side with long-serving electorate office staff over his boyish refusal to turn up for community engagements in his constituency. And continuing apace with his overt antagonism of at least one of these staffers to the point that an employment grievance wound up being filed, and compensation - justly - argued for.

Perhaps it is the brashness of young men [something I'm occasionally somewhat acquainted with]; and certainly, it is not at all out of keeping with the default de-rigeur characterization of the National Party that their incipient scion would have such a low opinion of the rights and protections accorded to the ordinary Kiwi worker [or, for that matter, those whom they are paid princely to represent].

But whilst the stereotypical National voter might not care too much about the well-treatment of employees [and, going off National's previous legislative record in this area, are pretty A-OK with the Government casually listening in on your private conversations] ... if there's one thing they DO care about, it's the outright waste and mis-expenditure of taxpayer money. [At least in concept - once again, National's actual record in this area has many, many millions mis-allocated to things like flag referendums, and Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment building redesigns etc.]

And while other commentators are right now asking whether it's an appropriate use of taxpayer coin to provide 'hush-money' to somebody who could potentially embarrass the Government ... I've got a rather different question.

Namely, whether Todd Barclay and co. have actually broken the law with the way they've attempted to keep the woman at the center of this all - one Glenys Dickson - from co-operating with the Police investigation into what's gone on.

So let's recap.

Section 216B of the Crimes Act makes it an offence [albeit a rather mild one, punishable by 'only' up to two years' imprisonment] to illicitly record the private communications of others. Unless, of course, you're Tim Groser having our intelligence services bug rivals for a plum job - in which case, it's absolutely fine, apparently. Gosh, no wonder Barclay thought he was in the right - he was simply aping the example of those further up the National Party greasy-pole than he is. [At the very least, you'd think the Nats would be better acquainted with the ambit of this legislation given its previous use by the Prime Minister of the day to tarr morally blameless cameraman Bradely Ambrose as part o the 'Teapot Tapes' scandal]

It is [rather strongly] alleged that the offence made out in s216B is exactly what Barclay did, using a listening device to record and potentially have a transcript made of Dickson's communications in some sort of bizarre bid to get a 'one-up' of sorts upon her in a brewing employment dispute.

Barclay has always denied that he did this (or at least, that he did so intentionally), and despite assuring his voters that he'd co-operate to the fullest extent with the police investigation into the 'alleged' bugging, he proceeded to dodge and frustrate police inquiries into the matter at every turn.

The ten-month police investigation into the alleged bugging was eventually brought to a fruitless close due to "insufficient evidence"; although it occurs that it is perhaps rather curious that no search-warrant was ever served on Barclay's place of residence [despite a previous Police interest in doing same] to recover the recording device and/or transcripts which would have proven the offence [or, to be fair, to have made out its actus reus element at the very least - errant legal expert Andrew Geddis has suggested that a lack of intent would vitiate the notion of a crime having been committed, even if Barclay later chose to keep the recordings].

All things considered, a sad end to what should have been a proud statement that here in New Zealand, even Government MPs are not above the law [albeit a conclusion one wonders whether the Police might be revisiting, in light of the evident surfeit of people all throughout the upper echelons of the National Party not only of the opinion that a recording WAS made, but apparently acquainted in detail with some of the contents thereof].

But the potential illegalities did not end there; and in light of this week's revelations about what's gone on, I would go so far as to suggest that it's only now that things have gotten 'really interesting'.

Everybody's focused thus far on the aforementioned section 216B of our Crimes Act.

But in fact, there is another - far older - segment of our criminal code that may be more directly relevant to what's gone on here.

In specia, section 117 - "Corrupting Juries And Witnesses" [and, for that matter, perhaps also its immediately above neighbour, s116 - "Conspiring To Defeat Justice"].

Walk with me, if you will, through s117.

Subsection (a) sets out that a person who "dissuades or attempts to dissuade a person, by threats, bribes, or other corrupt means, from giving evidence in any cause or matter (whether civil or criminal[)]" commits an offence punishable by up to seven years imprisonment. Subsection (e) furthers the ambit of this section by adding that a person who "willfully attempts in any other way to obstruct, prevent, pervert, or defeat the course of justice in New Zealand" is also guilty of the same offence.

Clear so far? Good.

Now take a look at a few of the quotes that have come out from the key National players in this scandal:

Bill English's statement that a "larger than normal settlement [...] part-paid from the Prime Minister's budget in order to avoid potential legal action" takes on a bit of a different light, now, doesn't it.

More to the point, presuming for the moment that the statement Dickson has given to Police about her interactions with various high-up National functionaries is accurate [and I see no reason, at this point to doubt it], what are we to make of her being told that going all the way to Court would make things "difficult" for her and her family? Or, for that matter, the very pointed emphasis that she'd be singlehandedly responsible for "[taking] down the National Party" if she persisted with her police complaint.

Do these incidences appear to look rather like the elements of the offence of witness-tampering as made out in s117 of the Crimes Act? Why, I think they do. At least enough to mount a serious and vigorous prosecution - even if the result is ultimately in the negative.

We have a prima-facie situation of the current Prime Minister stating that a cash payment was considered [which meets the definition of a 'bribe' as set out in the s99 Interpretation of the Crimes Act for 'Crimes Affecting The Administration Of Laws And Justice'] necessary to prevent "legal action" in this matter. Regardless of whether the legal proceedings in question are civil or criminal in nature, the charge laid out in s117 can still apply.

Further, the comments from the as-yet unnamed National Party high-up about how taking Barclay to Court would make things "difficult" for Dickson's family - whilst perhaps presentable as being the mere facts and reality of undergoing legislative proceedings in a high-profile case - certainly appears to have been presented to Dickson with the overt overtones of a "threat". And the attempt to exert 'moral pressure' of a sort upon Dickson to not besmirch the name of the National Party and its ability to pass legislation, is arguably yet another example [if we presume that 'threat' means "if you do X, then Y undesirable consequence for you not directly connected to X will happen"], particularly in light of the implicit statement that Dickson would become something of a pariah in National Party circles [which evidently include quite some of her close associates among them] for being a whistle-blower. At the very least, it would be enough for an exploratory probe under the earlier s116, concerning potential Conspiracy To Defeat The Course Of Justice.

Now will anything come of any of the above? I'm not sure. Certainly, in an ordinary and transparent political-legal system, there would be pretty reasonable grounds to get very, very annoyed indeed if none of this were looked into further by the proper authorities. Particularly in light of the already somewhat curious decision of the Police to drop the Barclay case despite very strong [albeit arguably circumstantial] evidence in their possession that an offence against s216b concerning the illicit recording HAD been committed.

Having said all that, I must concede a possibility that there is yet more material yet to come out which casts the whole thing in a different light. But with what we know so far it is difficult in the extreme to avoid the severe impression of egregious impropriety with what's gone on.

Perhaps my next 'big question' should be why Barclay wasn't de-selected as the local National candidate many, many moons ago. Particularly as a successful conviction for any of the above [even, according to my reading of the law, the relatively more mild s216B recording device charge] would result in the responsible parties - if MPs - being booted out of Parliament with great haste under s55(d) of the Electoral Act.

In order to attempt to 'cauterize' the bleeding - and prevent even 'higher-profile' scalps from finding themselves mounted on some errant litigant's wall - I would fully expect Barclay to be "gone by lunchtime" [in the words of a previous somewhat scandal-mired National Party Leader]. Whether that's enough to prevent a full-scale probe into who's said what to whom is another matter. If National moves to block a proper Inquiry into how much and what sort of involvement senior figures including other MPs had in these events, then it certainly gives the compelling impression that they've something to hide.

In any case, looking at all of this it's pretty hard to feel confident that a party which runs itself in such an avowedly circus-like manner could possibly be fit to govern the rest of the nation.

"The Fish", as they also say in politics, "rots from the head" on down.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

A Point To Consider On s59 'Anti-Smacking' Debate

There's a point to be made on this whole 'Anti-Smacking'/s59 debate which New Zealand First has brought back to the limelight, that I don't think I've seen anyone else making.

The reason why it's passed 'below the radar' thus far [with the sole exception of an article penned by a certain errant renegade penman a few months back], is because it's actually a 'liberal' argument which just so happens to bolster a 'conservative' position. Therefore, neither 'side' have really sought to draw upon it.

And it's this: At the moment, the way s59 works is that what constitutes 'reasonable force' under subsection (1) of the law is subjective - and the decision on whether a parent gets prosecuted is pretty much entirely a matter for the discretion of Police [see subsection (4)]. Now, on the face of it, this might appear eminently reasonable. There are perhaps legitimate quibbles to be had with Police operational guidelines determining what's a crime rather than the black-letter law of Parliament - but that is another issue.

As it stands, there's another area of law wherein Police have an incredibly broad power of discretion about whether or not to prosecute somebody - and that's low-level cannabis possession. You might be forgiven for thinking, given my previous background, that this is something I'd be massively in favour of. And to a certain extent, I guess I am. It's in everybody's interests for folk who might happen to be snapped with a tinny or a fifty to not be clogging up our nation's court system after all. But a look at the actual statistics resulting from this low-key 'discretionary-de-facto-decriminalization' approach is illuminating; in that it adduces quite the disparity along racial lines in who gets let off with a pre-charge warning or other lack of serious legal consequence, versus who finds themselves in first The Cells, and then The Dock. Unfortunately, the New Zealand Police have not exactly been forthcoming in response to my own previous attempts to get data off them about how various cannabis offenders may or may not wind up with different outcomes on the basis of their socio-economic background, and other such factors. So it's difficult to truly substantiate how much of a wider problem this might be. Although we already know that it's not just cannabis-law enforcement where Maori often wind up having a rather different experience of the criminal justice system than other New Zealanders; with even the New Zealand Police themselves admitting they're often subject to "unconscious bias" when it comes to Maori. With that in mind, when it comes to the sorts of situations s59 was designed to cover, even a moment's cynical consideration serves to suggest that an articulate upper-class chap in a suit standing at the door of a flash home in a well-heeled suburb is probably going to have a better chance of convincing a policeman who turns up at his door that nothing's amiss, as compared to an ordinary working-class man living through no fault of his own in a glorified garage Out West. My point, then, is that there are very real reasons to be concerned about any law whose application hinges almost entirely upon the discretion of an individual person - and their own best judgement as to what words like "reasonable force" mean. Particularly given that the historic way we test these sorts of things is to err on the side of caution, bring somebody before a judge and jury, and ask the latter to decide on which side of the legal 'grey area' an alleged offender's conduct falls [c.f cases of force used in 'self defence']. And that's presumably the 'chilling effect' which NZ First MP Tracey Martin was talking about in her televised discussion [I hesitate to call it a 'debate'] with former Greens MP Sue Bradford on Q&A on Sunday. The concern some parents have that they'll somehow fall afoul of an overzealous policeman whilst doing something that's theoretically still allowed by law, and find themselves put to all the time, expense, and potential public-shaming of having to defend themselves against a perhaps unnecessary prosecution. It's perhaps easy to write that scenario as fear-mongering on the part of New Zealand First; but the legal analysis provided by flashy law-firm Chen-Palmer on whether parents were being criminalized for utilizing relatively light force for the purposes of correction ... does appear to suggest that some are. Although despite this, I am not entirely sure that I would call New Zealand First entirely vindicated over this issue. Tracey's comments on Q&A appear to suggest that NZ First wishes for greater clarity in the law, whilst still legally prohibiting parents from engaging in the sort of brutal conduct with horse-whips and the like which lead to the law's enactment in the first place. That's fair enough, and I would even go so far as to suggest it's difficult to argue against [unless you want smacking legally prohibited entirely - which is definitely NOT what the s59 bill was sold to us as doing]. But in that case, it would surely make greater sense for New Zealand First to put forward our own amendment bill to deliver this greater clarity - rather than potentially adding to the murkiness by calling for a Referendum which might result in the extant s59's repeal with no clear view as yet as to what may replace it. Either way, it seems curious to me in the extreme that the 'side' of politics which is usually so ardently suspicious [whether rightly or otherwise] of policemen and laws which can be 'flexibly applied' on the basis of race or class ... are instead pretty emphatically adamant that the law we've got is problem-free. Are they right to be enthusiastic about what we have at the moment? Depends what you prioritize. Certainly, the argument has been made from a number of quarters that child-abuse rates in New Zealand remain endemic regardless of s59's passage. [something which I personally view as being fairly directly tied with the ongoing deterioration of economic outcomes for many thousands of New Zealanders thanks to three decades of worsening Neoliberal misrule] Ordinarily, this is where I'd make my level-best attempt at penning a strong conclusion. But with the very real possibility that New Zealand First's increased salience on the political landscape this year will make for an actual re-referendum on the subject ... it's fair to say that any 'conclusion' reached on this issue is very much a tenuous one.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Only Thing "Rancid" About Butter Chicken Comment Is Shane Jones


There are a few things to be said in response to Shane Jones' recent declaration that New Zealand's immigration policy is as "rancid" as "butter chicken".

The first of these, is that this is rather rich criticism coming from Mr Jones. The last time he was in Parliament, he was part of a party that presided over immigration levels so high they've only recently been eclipsed by National.



More to the point, many of the issues with the dodgy provision of education to international students are not new. They've been known about for much of the last two decades; with the previous large-scale flare-up in this area coming from the language-school sector in 2003 - when Labour was entering into its second term in government (and, as it happens, equidistant between that Government's partnering of Trade New Zealand and Education New Zealand in 2000 -  and the Government's decision to start actively subsidizing the overseas promotion of 'export education' here in New Zealand in 2006). Did Jones raise any "culinary criticisms" back then?

Worse, when Jones talks of "rancid" circumstances in the Immigration portfolio, we can only presume that he is speaking from hard-won experience. As the Minister in charge of this area, he went against official advice to pressure for New Zealand citizenship to be granted to international criminal and money-launderer Bill Liu (who just so happened to be a personal friend of Jones). No comments about "as corrupt as chow-mein" then, I take it?

The plain fact of the matter is that Jones' Parliamentary career to date has been characterized by a series of actions at complete odds with the image he will no doubt shortly be seeking to project. Instead of criticizing a government's record on immigration - whether 'export-education' driven or otherwise - he was an active proponent and participant in some of the worst excesses of same.

I can only presume that Jones' sudden complete volte-face has something to do with his impending personal ambitions.

Finally, what really left a bad taste in my mouth was Jones' both scurrilous and utterly spurious full-frontal assault upon the taste and texture of butter chicken. As any who know me can well attest, I am quite fond of North Indian cuisine [butter chicken, contrary to popular speculation, apparently having been developed and popularized by a Hindu refugee who wound up having to flee what would become Pakistan during the dark days of Partition]; and whilst the humble butter chicken is far from my favourite preparation, a word does definitely need to be spoken in its defence.

There is nothing "rancid" about butter chicken. And it is truly tasteless to attempt to demarcate an ethnic group (as Jones has clearly attempted to do, given the attention upon the Indian component of New Zealand's 'export education market of late) via recourse to blithely insulting one of the more commonly consumed elements of their habitually associated cuisine. I wouldn't dream, for instance, of attempting to denigrate Jones in terms usually reserved for bad seafood. Although it does occur that the reasoning behind Biblical prohibitions upon eating same [well, Jones' preferred lobsters and molluscs anyway] had much to do with the fact that many of these creatures were the carrion of the sea, or whose filter-feeding lead to the direct coming into contact with of potentially hazardous waste.

Now I am not, strictly speaking, endeavouring to suggest that the risks of taking one such as Jones into one's own body-politik are akin to that of eating uncooked shellfish.

But it does occur that in politics - as with bad kai moana - that Jones is hardly likely to taste any better upon the second time around, coming up.

Monday, June 12, 2017

"Oh Snap" - Storming Into The New And Excellently Populist World Post-UK General Election


At the time of writing, we are perhaps a mere forty-eight hours after the results of the UK's General Election came in. And already, it seems like an entire Amazonian forest of trees, and a fairly literal Black Sea of ink have already been spilled in attempting to make sense of what has happened.

That's arguably fairly normal of course, in the scheme of things. An Election - even one which doesn't, ultimately *quite* manage to result in what we might term a clear-cult 'transfer of power' [the DUP excepted - the word after "clear" was not a typo] in one of the more populous and potent polities of the planet almost invariably attracts scrutiny, and post-facto analysis.

But what's arguably remarkable about this one, is the tone and tenor of many of the media-pieces and media-appearances on the subject. To wildly misquote Churchill ... never have so many been so wrong about so much, apparently. And this isn't even a "Dewey Beats Truman" style situation wherein the commentariat got the outcome *completely* wrong. Like it or not [and I don't], there is still a Conservative Government in-power in England. Theresa May is still the Prime Minister.

It might all go - as they say - Pete Tong very shortly, with Corbyn pledging to attempt to roll May on the occasion of the Queen's Speech later this year. This is significant, because rather than the empty bluster which a comparable 'Vote of No Confidence' in our own Parliament generally entails [wherein some Opposition Party moves the motion, and then it fails because the Government manages to whip all its MPs into line, partially by threatening to deselect them or have them booted off the List, and cajoles its support partners into doing likewise], given the fairly comprehensive disarray the Conservative Party has descended into since the Election, there's every chance that UK Labour will actually be able to - if not get rid of May, then at least force meaningful policy-concessions from the Government.

But why is this even a thing? Surely the Conservatives, as a broad analogue to our own domestic National Party, love power so much that they'd not easily be induced to do anything which might seemingly jeopardise their holding of it? [other than, of course, selecting an apparent shop's mannequin as their Prime Minister, who calls a Snap Election] Well, yes and no. As applies "yes" - those MPs who are still in Parliament may deign to go against the May Agenda in the hopes of *remaining in Parliament* in the prospectively very near future; whilst other Con MPs - folk with principle, perhaps surprisingly - are presently kicking up a fairly huge fuss about the presumptive inclusion of the Democratic Unionist Party from Northern Ireland as the essential support-partner which makes the Conservative Government still a viable thing.



It's um ... it's probably not a great sign for Government "Stability" if you're facing a back-bench revolt about the only thing still keeping you in Government. But I digress.

During the campaign, we were repeatedly warned by everyone from notional Tories to nominal Labour supporters [and even, ominously, MPs] that the very real risk of this Election would be that it delivered a Government of Extremists and Terrorist-Sympathisers.



Nobody thought to mention, of course, that it would be May leading the aforementioned Government; but a cursory examination of some of their representatives' utterances, as well as an illustrious history that includes close operating ties with everything from criminally accused paramilitaries to international arms smugglers ...  it's not at all hard to see why the Scottish Conservatives who're pretty much the only thing allowing the Conservative Party all up to pretend it's keeping its head above water right now wound up seeking an agreement with the party main that the DUP's influence upon the prospective MayDUP Government would be ring-fenced and limited. And were even reportedly considering breaking away from the Conservative Party itself in order to form their own independent electoral organization.

When May campaigned on a 'Hard Brexit' ... one presumes that this particular 'Dissolution of Union' wasn't exactly what she had in mind.

But then, there are currently quite a LOT of people out there - particularly well-known figures in the 'literati' spheres of politics, popular culture, and the (print) media, who haven't gotten anything like they (so dearly) seem to have expected out of this Election.

As cannot have escaped anybody's notice, things "weren't supposed" to play out this way. Go back and look what's been said over the past two years. Read any of JK Rowling's tweets on the subject. Or Bill Clinton's speech remarks on Labour's leader. Or Obama's. Or any of the bevvy of Labour Party front-benchers and big-men who queued up to pour scorn and vitriol upon their now incipient Messiah-in-tweed. Corbyn was "supposed" to lead Labour to an utter disaster in the low-mid 20% range. Not come within two and a half thousand votes of being able to govern the country!

Forget Rupert Murdoch storming out of a party upon hearing that he apparently no longer singlehandedly decides who lives and who dies in British politics on Election Night. Or our own home-grown pauper's penny-roll equivalent, Mike Hosking's jubilant pre-Election pro-May triumphalism.

What really interests me is all of those nominally [and here, I stress that term] 'left-wing' people who're so adamantly ardent that this whole thing is a fluke, can't be real, was a one-off ... or, somehow, that Labour should have inconceivably done BETTER [than this already almost-inconceivably-except-it-ACTUALLY-HAPPENED result], and that it's Corbyn's fault [you know, the man who somehow took them from polling low-twenties to polling in the forties, just behind the Conservatives] they aren't presently inexplicably in Government.

Please excuse my salt-shaker approach to parentheticals there. I tend to get a bit bracket-happy when I'm exceedingly bewildered.

The reason why people who SHOULD be overjoyed are, in fact, vituperatively annoyed as applies this result, is a glaringly simple one. Because it wasn't done "their" way. And, in point of fact, it makes it plainly apparent - egregiously so, in fact - that "their way" [also known as the "Third Way"] ... is one of those interminable Roads to Hell [and we all know what those are paved with - at least in the beginning], rather than a pathway to prosperity and psephological success.

We have been told now, for quite some time, that Elections are won and lost in the Centre. This is, from my perspective [and also, interestingly, that of the New Zealand Public] pretty inarguably true.

It's just that over the last thirty years or so, the 'Centre' has seriously - although obviously not 'irrevocably' - changed. Policies and positions [and, for that matter, politicians] who once upon a time would have been considered so far right that they'd be the exclusive demesne of the more relatively-sane bits of McWarlordville AnCapistan are now the new 'middle ground'. In fact, they're actually marketed fairly openly as being "centre left" [this is also, incidentally, why our own Muldoon is now 'far left' economically; whilst the NZ Labour Party has managed to move barely an iota since 1987 in terms of economics and has somehow wound up being occasionally described IN THE PRESENT DAY as 'socialistic'.]. It's madness. And we all KNOW it's madness. The only reason why it's been allowed to festeringly continue is because we've been continuously told - ad nauseum, ad infinatum, and at laboriously-ratcheted up fingernails-on-chalkboard volume - that There Is No Alternative.

Bullshit.

The people who turned out for Corbyn, in their millions, are living proof that not only IS there an Alternative [i.e. if you get enough people together, a party running a platform that's *reasonably to the left* - although, as ever, *reasonable* - of what's considered "electable" by our "benevolent" elites ... CAN actually bring together the numbers to make a serious political difference]; but that the broad mass of The People, out there across the Anglosphere and beyond, are waking up to this fact.

And they're pretty pissed at realizing they've been lied to for all this time.

This is, arguably, why all of the incredible fusilade of phantasmagorical firepower directed at Corbyn over the course of the campaign seems to have fizzled and fairly utterly failed to make a mark upon his prospects. Because all of a sudden, when you realize you've been chronically mislead by just about everybody in the media sphere about everything, the same talking heads attempting to fearmonger about Corbyn supposedly being pro-Hezbollah [one of the leading forces fighting ISIS, incidentally, unlike the Saudis whom May just helped out massively by suppressing a report showing they're *helping* dodgy extremist groups, while also selling them arms] become pretty much a non-event.

Maybe it's because people care less about vague claims of anti-semitism and links to Iran than they do about whether a politician looks like they're *actually going to help them* with a home, a job, and the protection of their right to healthcare. Perhaps it's the above-alluded-to "Cry Wolf" effect.

However it's happened, this represents a refreshing and exciting potential change away from the politics of New Labour [wherein 'Style' was most definitely in vogue over 'Substance' [with the possible exception of Pulp's excellent expository anthem, Cocaine Socialism]], through to a prioritization of reality over carefully massaged spin-doctoring. Some might call this "TrueLabour" as an obvious, rhyming contrast.

But the trouble with this, from the perspective of those aforementioned nasty elites, is that it risks 'opening the door' to putting People back in charge of politics - rather than shady, nefarious think-tanks and the occasional veneer of focus-grouping effectively presiding over The People.

How else to explain pieces like this from the LA Times, wherein Corbyn's surge is presented as a dire manifestation of "the perils of too much democracy". [this article is particularly ridiculous, as it attempts to argue that Britons having a say in their own affairs at previous instances such as Brexit drives down turnout for 'actually important' elections - a manifest untruth, given the turnout for last week's General was the highest it's been in a quarter century] Or figures with ties to the 'Blairite' wing of Labour like Lord Sugar attempting to pour scorn upon the people now voting for Labour in their droves as being 'out of touch'. [Gosh, it's a funny sort of world wherein it is parties and their apparatchiks attempting to argue that The People are out of touch with them, rather than parties being out of touch with their constituents. Reminds me of the famous Bertolt Brecht ditty about an Eastern European country's government losing confidence in its people - and asking the question as to whether it would be thusly desirable for the Government to dissolve its people and elect another]

Although the best illustration of the principle I'm trying to explain is probably to be found in the Bill Clinton speech I linked a few paragraphs above. In it, Clinton characterizes Corbyn as a "guy off the street", and therefore patently unsuitable for the leadership of a modern political party.

This is a funny thing, indeed, when we consider what the Labour Party was originally supposed to be: namely, an organization by 'guys off the street' [in specia, often from the union movement], *for* 'guys off the street'. Perhaps not quite an "ordinary person's party", but certainly not a party of the seemingly plenipotent and omnipresent insidious elites who believe it's their influence-given right to come in and rule us like latter-day [quasi-elected but often not really] kings.

In short, they're seriously afraid of 'Common People'. [this is probably an appropriate time for another Pulp song - this time, of the same title, but as covered by William Shatner]. Or, more specifically, 'common people' they can't control. The technical term for this, as I may have noted before, is "Ochlophobia" [although there's another school of thought which

This isn't really a 'new thing' in Western politics nor elite perceptions [consider the representation of 'the mob' in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar for a rather overt indication of what the Nobles of our society have always thought was the logical consequence of allowing people to have a say in their own destiny]. But it is absolutely peculiar - if not outright offensive - that in the view of these craven harpies, there is no place for the "Rule of the People" in their conception of "Democracy". Ironic, no? [although at the very least, I suppose it's better than what was done to Greece not so long ago thanks to a slightly different (yet overlapping) group of transnational malignant elites ...]

In a related sense, the reason so many media commentators and other such associated personalities remain both confused and annoyed about Corbyn's 'shock' not-victory is because they're used to setting up and controlling "the narrative". My learned associate [and fellow TDB columnist] Chris Trotter once told me of the "Three Dicks" who presided over political media here in New Zealand in the 1980s. Richards Harman, Long, and Griffin of TVNZ, The Dominion, and Radio New Zealand respectively. David Lange was reportedly of the opinion that without their co-operation and being 'in' on the strategy, putting forward a coherent message to voters would be strenuously difficult. The UK is a more 'sophisticated' [I hesitate to say 'advanced'] society than ours in many ways; and yet whereas our traditional sources of media [along with their coseted 'gatekeepers'] are of fading importance, theirs still have the temerity to believe themselves to still be seriously in control [a feeling no doubt deliberately fostered thanks to the famously close relationship between Blair's 'New Labour' and the big press barons]. It must certainly be an inordinate feeling of power to be able to not just arrange the news on a page - but to be able to [at least partially] choreograph the actual events and perceptions being reported upon.

But the thing about power - as with any other compulsive, dopaminergic drug ... is that its absence or curtailment begins to trigger some rather nasty withdrawals. Subjective symptoms can include confusion, aggression, erratic behavior, and the compulsive engagement in some rather wild delusions. All of which, I would contend, fairly describe quite an array [but importantly, not all] of those folk opposed to Corbyn in the media.

"The Narrative", as it were, is up in the air. It's been supplanted in many ways, by a different chain of events [which, if you look closely, make *far* more 'narrative sense' than the original 'script' ever seemed to]. So the people who feel it's 'their' prerogative to be penning it are deathly worried that it's events and the story-determined flow of causality - rather than just people - which they thusly can't control.

They're right.

The reason why we're constantly bombarded in the run-up to Polling Day [in whatever country] with maliciously false opinion-pieces and polling data about how certain things are "inevitable" or "can't possibly happen" - is in order to set up the sorts of 'self-fulfilling prophecies' which seriously condition YOUR choice going into the voting-booth. As we've seen time and time again, if people think that there's no point in voting because the result's already been determined ... then they won't. And thus, it happens. This is why pro-National sources push the idea of National riding so high in the polls and being set to govern alone so vigorously for the months before an Election - because it suppresses turnout from non-National voters [who appear to think - why bother voting if it's not going to change anything], thus guaranteeing a higher Nat share of the eventual [lowered] turnout.

A similar thing has evidently been tried in the UK last week, as well as with the previous Brexit referendum which lead to this whole glorious imbroglio. Except on both occasions, ordinary Britons decided to 'buck the narrative' - buck it right up, in fact - and made the effort to actually vote in numbers and in ways that hadn't been anticipated. Like I said above - Friday represented the highest turnout since Labour's historic high-water mark in 1997.

The core message from the 2017 UK General Election, then, is that regardless of what any number of commentators, pop-cultural figures, and has-been politicians might tell you ... if you put in the effort to support something, it actually CAN make a difference. The greatest force in politics - the stuff of which revolutions are truly made - is, in fact, people. People coming together to believe in things. Together.

It was said by all of the above vested-interest talking heads that Labour's policies and presumptive Prime Minister In Waiting made the whole edifice unelectable. That the 'only' "path to victory" would have been to go back Neoliberal in a futile bid to repeat the Blair successes of the late 90s and early 2000s. No less a personage [for could there truly be any lesser] than Tony Blair HIMSELF bleated to any who would listen that this was the inexorable way to go to avoid oblivion. And yet, if we go back and look at the results from the last five General Elections, it's quite abundantly clear that - if anything - the converse is arguably true. In 2001, Labour scored 40.7%. 2005, 35.2%. 2010: 29% [and a loss of Government to the Conservatives]. 2015: 30.4%. And 2017? 40.0%



It is surely no coincidence that the declining limb of the above dataset represent the neoliberal twosome of Blair and Brown; with the rather small bump of the Miliband campaign showing the Labour Party had not seriously moved to distance itself from this disastrous Blairite legacy. It's only under Corbyn - 'plain old' actually-a-socialist Corbyn - that they've cracked back up to the 40s. Scoring, not coincidentally, well above what Blair and Blairism were capable of delivering once the 'shiny' had worn off.

Gosh. It's almot like giving the people what they actually want [as opposed to what elites think they should *ought* to want] is a pretty good recipe for electoral success or something. Who'd have thought?

In any case, it might seem somewhat peculiar to be so avowedly celebrating a "losing" result. And certainly, there are even now Conservative-supporting spinners attempting to construe such conduct as utterly illogical if not outright psychotic-hallucinatory. These latter sorts are apparently unaware of the concept of a 'Pyrrhic Victory' [so named for King Pyrrhus of Epirus - who famously opined following the Battle of Asculum words to the effect of "one more win like that and we're stuffed"].

But what Friday's outcome represents - to me, anyway - is a serious and perhaps even decisive blow struck in the ongoing war for your mind. An overt, and undeniable signifer that we don't just have to do what the TV tells us; and that the supposed "experts" who apparently get to de-legitimate or pooh-pooh well-thought out and well-costed policy on the basis of personal preference [masquerading as highly technically 'competent' and long-won 'expertise'] CAN be proven wrong. Even if only from time to time, by large and impressive events such as these.

It has been said [most popularly in V for Vendetta] that Governments should be afraid of their people.

I don't know that I'd go quite that far.

Although ringing in my ears as I type this are the sage words of Winston Churchill. And not the one that goes "'as the deluge subsides and the waters fall short, we see the dreary steeples of Fermanagh and Tyrone emerging once again" - however relevant that might be, given the new saliency of the DUP and Irish issues in British politics as of this week. [My thanks to my former Politics lecturer, Patrick Hine, for drawing my attention to that one]

Instead, it is the rather more famous aphorism from a speech he made in 1937:

"Dictators ride to and fro upon tigers from which they dare not dismount. And the tigers are getting hungry."

Those who oppose us are not, in the conventional sense of the term, "dictators". That would require rather more overt presentation and exercise of control than they are comfortable wielding.

Instead, they are Oligarchs. Oligarchs, Technocrats, and other Elites both Uncountable and Unaccountable.

The 'Tiger' which they ride upon, they had thought an old, geriatric, de-fanged and de-clawed beast more fit for living out its remaining days behind the glass at the local zoo. Less of a threat, even, than the proverbial 'paper tiger' - and infinitely more bendable [to their will].

It must have come as an awe-ful [in the older sense .. as in, inspiring quite some awe - in me, at least] surprise for them to come to forcibly realize that it yet maintains a most considerable vitality!

I suspect that things are only poised to get more *ahem* 'excitingly stripey' from here!

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

"And Not A Reason To Be Missed - If You're On Their Little List" : Thoughts on the Green Party's 2017 List

One of the things which seemingly sets the Green Party apart from other large-scale electoral vehicles in this country, is the way they do their list ranking process. Most political parties will delegate this incredibly important responsibility to a single committee, or other tightly controlled schema; with a view to ensuring the "right" outcomes, amenable to the Party Leadership, are resultingly delivered.

Occasionally, there'll be some brief outbreak of flirtatious indulgence with democracy [and, indeed, Labour's shift in how it selects its Leader is arguably an instance of this]; but in the main, a certain degree of abject terror about what 'the masses' of the Party Faithful might do if they ACTUALLY got a serious say in the list-ranking process keeps many of our multi-coloured electoral tribes from going TOO terribly far down this particular road.

But not so The Greens. Say what you like about the eventual results of their listing process .. it's hard to disagree that the mechanisms by which these are produced are pretty much the most democratic in the land [subject to occasional 'correction' from on-high, as we have previously seen with a view to ensuring a more optimal balance of North Island and South Island representation].

Although just because it's broadly democratic, doesn't necessarily mean it's optimal. And given the huge variety of perceptions people have about what the makeup of Parliament 'should' be [recall, for instance, the old debate about a 'House of Representatives', wherein we place emphasis upon selecting those with aptitudes that will strengthen the legislative/political process; versus the 'Representative House', which strives to have a Parliament that mirrors New Zealand more or less exactly in terms of race, gender, sexuality etc. etc. etc.], it's entirely unsurprising that reasonable people can seriously, strenuously disagree as to whether a given Party's List is a great one.

The 2017 Green Party List looks set to be no exception.

The 'draft' iteration released some weeks ago has already inspired considerable debate [and/or jeering]; and it is interesting to note that the finalized version put out yesterday appears to 'double down' on some of the things which rendered the previous List such a lightning-rod for commentariat controversy.

Namely, the way youthful - and more especially youthful female - candidates appear to have been elevated at the direct expense of several other axes of diversity.

There are a number of potential reasons for this. The three candidates I'm thinking of in particular are rather high-profile [Ghahraman, Swarbrick, and Holt], with two arguably qualifying for a sort of minor quasi-celebrity status [Swarbrick & Holt], whilst the third [Ghahraman] has an impressive resume and record of service of exactly the sort one would expect from a quality Member of Parliament.

When it comes to the votes of ordinary Green Party members, therefore [which is what plays a strong role in determining the shape of the second-phase list], it's presumably to be somewhat expected that democracy will wind up prioritizing those who are well known over more quiet achievers. Particularly, as in the case of Holt [who's gained an impressive 12 places in the second set of rankings], where there's been much murmurings of surprise as to a perceived 'too-low' placing.

But given the strong concern many Green Party membership-folk seem to have for concepts like "diversity", I believe something else has also been at play here.

Namely, something which I call the 'diversity olympics'. This is the notion that as the processes of Parliamentary List rankings represent the competition between various perspectives as to what's 'important' to have in a candidate, a Caucus, and so on and so forth ... and as all 'diversities' can't be equally represented unless the Greens somehow manage to poll well enough to effectively become a 'one party state', list-ranking in the minds of a goodly number of Greens members able to vote on the eventual list [and also the Executive when it chooses to intervene in same] is therefore about establishing a hierarchy of which 'diversities' they MOST want to see in Parliament.

Understood in these terms, then, it becomes rather interesting indeed that the Greens' latest List appears to have such a pronounced pattern of demoting [or otherwise placing in perilously low positions] its Maori MPs and candidates [with, to be fair, the notable exception of Marama Davidson - who was placed deservedly highly in the initial list, and gained on this by one spot in the re-work].

[In specia, for those of you playing at home ... it's somewhat sad to see long-time Green activist and principled chap Jack McDonald lose four placings, winding up in the mid-teens; presently-sitting MP Denise Roche also find herself wending downwards toward number 15; fellow presently-sitting MP David Clendon relegated to number 16; and Teanau Tuiono also dropping to number 19]

And further, the demotion of sitting MP Mojo Mathers (by three places) and candidate John Hart (to number 14) would appear to suggest, at best, that a reasonable swathe of the Greens' membership effectively prioritizes the shininess of some of its newfound youth/female candidates over the 'diversity' represented by Disability [Mathers is, as far as I am aware, our nation's only present MP who has the visceral personal experience of living day-to-day with a serious and seriously intrusive disability, in the form of deafness]; and by, I suppose, some combination of not being an 'urban-liberal' [like much of the rest of the Greens' top-twenty listings], and being able to reach out to farmers by virtue of being one.

Also rather disappointing to see new MP Barry Coates drop two placings, but I guess his strong record of NGO service isn't quite the sort of diversity they're looking for.

Now, to be fair to The Greens, Golriz Ghahraman's impressive jump to top-ten status [an increase of five placings on her previous, perhaps undeservedly relatively low standing] does serve to counterbalance this trend somewhat. Mention has already been made of Ghahraman's legal competency [something of undeniable importance for a legislator], record of and proclivity for helping others and serving nation [the sine qua non requirement for an MP, in my view]; but it's probably worth noting that her personal background also provides an important aspect of diversity to the Greens' final list - namely, that of being able to convincingly represent the non-white/anglosphere migrant communities demographic which the Greens have historically struggled quite significantly to reach [as a point of interest, in 2011 and possibly again in 2014, the NZ First Party's list - for all the commentary about "xenophobia" in said organization - actually worked out being more diverse in these regards than the Green Party's].

But in terms of the 'other' high-profile youth/female candidate to be a 'winner' on the recently updated list, Chloe Swarbrick, leaving aside the aforementioned qualities of her youth and the level of 'hype' that has grown up around her in the last few months, I am genuinely unsure quite what she adds to the Greens' List and prospective Caucus to justify such a prominently high List ranking.

Obviously, I am not party to much of what goes on inside the Green Party, and it's eminently possible that there is a side of Swarbrick that I am not seeing. But based on her performance at an election year debate held earlier in the week at Auckland University, and on the opinions of some folk who've come into contact with her in a political capacity this year, it seems difficult to truly see what all the fuss is about.

Persons amenable to her keep saying things like "she's highly articulate and really good on policy". It's possible that she just had a bad night when I happened to catch her 'in action' earlier this week; but I didn't exactly see either trait in evidence. There's also a persistent parroting of the notion that she "really changed the conversation around the mayoralty/public transport/youth representation in politics".

My flat look of askance every time somebody says this is accompanied by asking *how*, and what we can actually point to which more strongly evinces that she's managed those things. Thus far, nobody's managed to provide me with a coherent answer which didn't basically boil down to that old Ralph-Wiggum-I'm-Helping trope of "Raising Awareness'.

Now, to be fair to Swarbrick, she's obviously got /something/ to her - after all, she's managed to go from complete relative unknown to about to become an MP inside the space of six to eight months. There is a certain level of respect as a political operator which that almost automatically requests.

But looking at the ongoing disconnect between how hugely Swarbrick the political Enfant Titanical has been built up in the minds of many, and the somewhat underwhelming experience of observing her actually campaign, I can only conclude that various agents of narrative construction [in the media and elsewhere] have consciously chosen to imbue Swarbrick with both overweaning hype and 'zeitgeistyness'; talking up her positive attributes, in a way that's now had a tangible effect upon the nation's political process.

And, might I add, in a way that coming third in a local body election with about as much of the vote as Penny Bright plus perennial ACT no-hoper Stephen Berry, amidst a Mayoral field which featured a split right-wing [two National candidates], and a 'foregone-conclusion-so-get-out-yer-protest-votes' nominal 'left-wing' easy-favourite candidate ... just simply didn't.

Perhaps I have become inordinately cynical and curmudgeonly in my [relative] old age; but the only feasible explanation I can see for Swarbrick's high placing is that Greens have decided that the large quotient of "SHINY" presently invested in Swarbrick might just rub off on their Party at large in the event that she's handed a shining path to becoming an MP.

Certainly, other than hype-value, it is a little difficult to see what she adds from a strategic point of view. I do not doubt that Swarbrick can resonate with a reasonable proportion of the stereotypical Green voter or party member. But given her primary audience appears to be found amidst the young [liberal] folk who do bother to vote, those older or middle aged and middle-income voters who get all giddy about the notion of supporting 'young people' because 'they're the future, and parts of the post-materialist values crowd all up ... as these people are most likely ALREADY voting Green, it is somewhat implausible that she'll help the Greens bring in *new* voters, rather than assisting most markedly in 'doubling down' on what they already have.

The very real risk, given the allocations of list rankings to other candidates and their 'diversity factors' this time around, is that she won't be "balanced" in this regard by further figures who WOULD be more able to bring more [and different] people to the Green Party's electoral tent.

There's also a subsidiary cautionary tale to be told about the perils of political parties putting substantial eggs in a 'celebrity candidate's basket, and then finding out much too late to do anything about it [usually post-Election once they hit the House] that they haven't just bought a lemon ... but a limonov [a sort of Soviet hand-grenade, fruitily named for its shape]. The best example for this [and probably the Ur-Example of modern times] is New Zealand First's 1996 Caucus - a reasonable chunk of whom wound up either defecting or simply being outright defective; perhaps as a result of their being chosen for their 'star power' and whom it was imagined they might be able to bring in due to their prominence elsewhere, rather than more traditionally appropriate considerations like quality and length of involvement in the Party, more-than-notional loyalty to its policy, members, and principles, and that sort of thing.

Now, I'm not saying that Swarbrick is going to do as former NZ First MP [and current Green Party Chief of Staff] Deborah Morris-Travers did [she was also a bright young thing at the time - being pretty much our youngest-ever Cabinet Minister in her mid-20s] and defect from her own party to wind up propping up a deeply unpopular and unprincipled last-term National Government ... but it will be decidedly interesting nonetheless to see what sort of fruit or dividends the Green Party's latter-day Listing strategy actually achieves.

In any case, lest I be misunderstood .. there are, indeed, a number of seriously impressive people on The Greens' 2017 List. Some of them are even [in my view, at least] well-placed relative to their merits.

But it is hard to look at reasonable swathes of the rest of their List without getting the distinct feeling that Fad and Fancy has beaten out Fastidious Factotumry as their governing rubric for promoting their prospective post-polling MPs.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

This Is Your [Former] Police Minister On Drugs


Earlier this week, somebody asked Judith Collins what she thought of Gareth Morgan. Ever the diplomat, her curt response was that if she wound up having to deal with him ... she'd "probably take up drugs". No word, as yet, on whether she'd also find this necessary working with Winston.

But this got me thinking. What on earth WOULD our errant former Police Minister be like, as it were, on drugs? Some might say that the stiff-upper-foreheaded [eyebrow permanently, quizzically raised in an implicit expression of barely-contained lower-middle-class rage] terror of boy-racers and certain members of the Press Gallery alike would make for an exceedingly unlikely partaker of recreational pharmacology.

Perhaps.

But in an age wherein David Cameron's previous drug-use turns out to be some of the *least* surprising of his antics, is it really so inconceivable?

More to the point, thinking about it, if Judith Collins WERE to suddenly take up that exceedingly broad ontological category "drugs" ... would anybody actually notice?

Consider the evidence.

Ecstasy, as we all know, is frequently prone to producing spontaneous smiles [even in the dowdiest of faces], and eruptions of an overwhelming compulsion to dance. To Move. To exercise this huge feeling that you're the center of the room and attention. And even, perhaps, to bring on a rare state of psychosis in which you start seeing things.

Does this sound like an adequate description of a beaming senior political figure rushing the stage at a concert for the purpose of dancing with reckless abandon before a captive audience, and even sighting Elvis?



Meth, meanwhile, can induce some rather potent feelings of dominance. Of power. A certain level of mania which can vastly inflate one's self-perceptions of strength, physical prowess or ability to exert control over others, Indeed, it can even lead to one feeling literally bulletproof; albeit often at the cost of any shred of empathy.



Now, I'm not necessarily saying that an overweaning obsession with crushing cars [presumably not with one's bare hands - but you never know with Collins] is the result of a clandestine pattern of crystal use. But it's pretty undeniable that a fairly broad swathe of Collins' political career has been indubitably characterized by an (eventually) unfounded self-perception of dang near invulnerability (as demonstrated, for instance, by her conduct during the Oravida Affair - which we'll touch on shortly); and the apparent air of feeling up to cleaning up the nation's streets singlehandedly.



Although speaking of stimulants, there's a certain sort of person who's commonly reputed as attempting to exercise undue influence upon border-control officials in order to get their seriously valuable white powder into a potentially lucrative market.

These people are known as cocaine smugglers.

Or, with a sliiiiiiightly different substance [and a very different set of consequences ... featuring, ironically, coming into contact with Police *less* thanks to losing the relevant portfolio], Judith Collins circa late 2013 doing exactly that in order to help out the Oravida company with its milk-powder exports.

Collins' subsequent presentations on this front went some ways towards evincing many of the other characteristic effects of long-term drug abuse - such as memory impairment, pronounced vindictiveness/venomosity of personal interaction, and seriously negative impacts upon one's career. But I digress.

One of the overwhelming impressions I came away with from watching how Collins handled the fiery tailspin of the Oravida scandal was just how much overt resemblance it bore to dealing with a harder-core opiate or heroin addict. Now, many of us have thankfully been spared the *particular* displeasures of such an experience, but in my past life as a rather more colourful individual I had the regrettable fortune to come into contact with a number of such individuals. Their behavior, succinctly summated, tended towards the hugely overtly self-entitled, seeming to think that the world at large owed them a living; always adamantly convinced that nothing was ever their fault; whiny, wheedly, and needling; and very much not above utilizing all manner of threats and cajolery of a decidedly underhanded nature [whether emotional or literal blackmail, or even more duplicitous techniques of either persuasion or vengeance].

A cursory examination of the timeline of Collins' conduct certainly seems rather overtly coterminous with much of the above. Particularly the whole 'threaten the Press Gallery with illicit disclosure of "all sorts of things"' episode. Everything was always somebody else's fault [whether Opposition politicians for uncovering her actions, and later bringing matters to a head; or Press Gallery folks for reporting on the goings-on of the day]; 'memory' was a mutable field to be manipulated rather than acknowledged; and so on and so forth.

So after all of this, I respectfully submit that it's not actually all that hard to imagine Your [Former] Police Minister On Drugs.

After all, simply looking at the way she's behaved for much of her time in office is pretty much the next best thing. And, as we can see from the above, incorporates the typologies of behavior for a pretty broad array of the pharmacological spectrum.

No mushrooms, though. For that, you'll just have to get a rough idea from this clip of a somewhat similar personality...

Also, no cannabis. Which is perhaps a shame - as if anybody could potentially use a little more "chill" in the present Government, it'd probably be Collins. Or possibly Alfred Ngaro - although in his case, he seems to be far enough away from reality /as-is/ without requiring any *further* impairment.

DISCLAIMER: I'm in no way actually endorsing anybody taking drugs. Whilst I would have thought that presenting them in the same context as the words "Judith Collins" and "Uses" would have enough provided admirable disincentive for anyone, ever, to wish to take up a recreational drug habit ... this is perhaps somewhat wishful thinking on my part. So just uh ... be careful out there - and avoid substance abuse lest you wind up with the crippling imperilment of personal circumstances represented by breaking out in handcuffs.

FURTHER DISCLAIMER: I'm not actually stating Judith Collins *is* on drugs. Instead, I'm simply observing that there appears to be quite an ongoing pattern of her previous political conduct which appears to accord rather strongly with the sort of pernicious parsimony of perspective, empathy, or principle which one would feasibly expect from a habitual hard-drug [problematic] user.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

A Radically Reasonable Proposal For Cigarettes And Dairy Owners


The ongoing travails of our nation's convenience store and dairy operators have grown to such a scale that even those perennial champions of Ostrich Economics in our Government are unable to ignore them.

It's only taken two or perhaps even three years of constant attacks upon the law-abiding proprietors of the country's small-business and petty bourgeoise, the foundation of an entire political party dedicated to combating the issue, and approximately five months' worth of highly focused commentary on the subject [including any number of pieces from yours truly] for the National Party to work out that there's a bit of a problem out there in the community when it comes to shopkeepers being stood-over, beaten up, and potentially left destitute as a DIRECT result of the black market created by the most recent round of excise tax increases on cigarettes.

I predicted this would happen (the crime-wave, that is - not the Government having to feign some modicum of concern for same. That remains steadfastly *unpredictable*). Any number of other writers, journalists, and even Government officials said likewise.

So it's not like the National Party have been caught flat-footed on this issue. They've had quite some months - years, even [considering how long ago the Maori Party's set of measures on this issue was passed into law] to prepare their response.

And what was that response? Why, it was one of their Ministers - Nicky Wagner, to be precise - claiming that if Dairy-owners were sick of being assaulted in their own places of business, their premises ransacked, that they should stop selling cigarettes.

Whatever you feel about the prospective ills of smoking, this is a absolutely amazingly abhorrent proposition. Cigarettes are, for the moment, a legal product to buy and sell. There are reasonably strong arguments that fewer cigarettes being bought and sold is better for our society overall ... but it's extraordinarily hard to comprehend how the Government genuinely seems to think that "it's your own fault for being in business, then" is a logical - still much less, ethical - response to dairies and other such smaller stores being raided in this manner.

Why, it's arguably tantamount to a family calling up the police upon coming home to find they've been burglarized ... only to be told that it's their own fault for owning [or renting] a home, rather than slumming it in Chateau d'Automobile along with a depressingly high proportion of the rest of this nation's underclass.

In fact, it is often said of our Government  that they have a 'Mafia' style way of operating. That you do what they say, or threats are made of things getting 'unpleasant'. A fellow National Party Associate Minister, Alfred Ngaro is the latter-day standard bearer for that sort of conduct, after all - getting all sorts of presumably unwelcome attention for threatening to pull funding from community organizations or service providers who dared to not back the Government 100% in this year's upcoming Election Campaign.

But when we look at Wagner's comments, it becomes plainly apparent that the National Party has precious little in common with Mafioso style 'organized crime'.

After all, the 'classical' model for the 'protection money' scenario goes like this: the organized crime practitioners create the problem [e.g. "there are some ruffians in this neighbourhood who're going around vandalizing respectable business premises [who just so happen to be us] ... it'd be a *shame* if that happened here"], but then *also* provide the 'solution' to said problem [often with the added benefits of protection against other gangs running the same scam] in exchange for a certain rather-more-than-nominal fee. [another reading of this circumstance would perhaps regard it more positively as the 'Feudal Example' - and that certainly seems to be the way more long-term or compassionate 'relationships' of this nature work in practice, but I digress]

Yet when we look at National's conduct in this area .. what they've effectively done is created the 'problem' [i.e. the spiraling black market in cigarettes due to the massively ramped up excise tax upon them], whilst actually-outright-refusing to do anything about it. They don't bother to PROVIDE the 'protection' that's supposed to come as the natural consequence of the 'protection money'. Because they'd much rather pour resources into tax cuts for the wealthy, or roads, or not bothering to chase up Apple's tax-bill, or TPPA negotiations, or just about anything other than properly resourcing our overworked Police to deal with all of this escalating 'petty' crime.

In other words, the National Party's extant approach to date appears to bear much more in common with the marauding cliques of street-hoodlums who appear responsible for a vast swathe of the attacks on dairy owners of late, rather than anything substantively resembling 'proper' organized crime.

Now it's not to say that EVERY party to Governance is running in this particular manner. My own electorate's perennial answer to the question nobody earning under about 60k a year asked [unless it's "why can't we have nice things"], David Seymour, has proposed using the supermassive revenues collected from the tax on selling cigarettes ... and giving this money back to proprietors so that they may use it to fund security improvements for their own ships.

He's uh ... he's half right. At best.

Because whilst there is much merit to using the excise tax money to pay for better security [as I'll discuss in a moment], it's patently ridiculous to put it into some of the measures he's suggesting. 'One-at-a-time' dispenser vending machines for cigarettes are still going to be ram-raidable out of a shop, for instance. And I'm yet to hear anything else even vaguely sensible from him on this score.

BUT ... consider this.

At the moment, the tax raised on cigarettes is perhaps as much as $1.7 BILLION dollars a year, with the most recent round of tax-hikes raising $425 million by themselves.

People think that this goes into compensating for the additional costs to the healthcare sector imposed by people getting sick thanks to smoking. Except THAT figure - for the extra costs for additional health services etc. - are $350 million a year.

Now, my maths is not exactly the best in the world [there's a funny story about my .. unenviable results to a 5th form exam in this area which I'll go into at some future time should I ever wish to REALLY scare a Reserve Bank Governor], but that would appear to be a difference of $1.35 billion dollars.

So where's that additional $1.35 billion going at the moment?

Well, the present groaning state of our healthcare services in any number of areas [but most especially mental health - almost coincidentally underfunded by $1.7 billion itself] would appear to suggest it's unlikely that it's all being spent on hospitals and doctors.

To bring it back to smoking and security (and, in a roundabout way, a far more sensible proposal than Seymour's), there are two reasons why our nation's shopkeepers are presently living in fear.

One, obviously, is the much-aforementioned black market in cigarettes motivating crime against vendors. That's bad enough, and ought to be addressed by any future Government who even PRETENDS to care about Law & Order issues for its constituents.

But the other is the ongoing underresourcing of our nation's police. Winston Peters pointed out last year that in per capita terms the number of police here has gone severely backwards since National got into power; and further added as one of his first 'coalition bottom-lines' for this year's Election season that NZ First would be reversing this forthwith. [as a point of additional context, those numbers received their largest increase in quite some time thanks to NZ First securing an extra thousand front-line police plus three hundred support staff the last time NZF was 'proximate to' Government with Labour from 2005-2008]


[source on the above graph

I'm not aware if NZ First has released detailed costings for the proposal to increase policing numbers by an additional 1800 [plus support staff]; although looking at Labour's similar [and subsequent] proposal to increase policing numbers over time by a full ten thousand, the costing for that august figure appears to be an additional $180 million per year. Which is less than half the amount of additional excise taxes raised by this year's cigarette tax hike. And a little more than a tenth of the overall tax-take per year from smoking.

As further context, the entire policing budget last year was about $1.64 billion.

So phrased another way, the shopkeepers of New Zealand are ALREADY paying the 'protection money' for their ongoing security in their places of work. And then some. In fact, with the amount of revenue we raise annually from these people, we are LITERALLY able to finance the extant level of 'law and order' [which, admittedly, is not necessarily something to be proud about considering how many more crimes go unresolved these days] for every man, woman and child in this country.

This is why I'm so incredibly furious with what Nicky Wagner said on behalf of the National Government earlier this month about shopkeepers not having a right to expect law and order if they sell a perfectly legal commodity.

Because it's the sale of that self-same perfectly legal commodity which funds not just all of the (additional healthcare) costs associated with said commodity ... but which appears able to entirely adequately provide literally THOUSANDS of police to keep those cigarette vendors - and the rest of the community at large - safe as we go about our daily (and lawful) business.

Which means that National is QUITE HAPPY to take the extra cash raised by the above, without providing anything additional in return.

We have a word for those who take money for a service without providing anything in return. In fact, it's the same word we have for those who take goods [like cigarettes, as it happens] without paying for them.

"Criminals". "Thieves". "Reprobates".

"Neoliberals".

I have this dark suspicion deep in the depths of my mind that the National Party has quite deliberately engineered this particular woeful situation. That they're more than happy to use smokers and dairies as escalating cash-cows to fund whatever discretionary spending they please [without raising taxes on the wealthy to do so], and use the resultant 'crime-wave' situation to keep us ordinary people 'living in fear' that we'll encounter a cigarette-bandit gang of hooligans whilst nipping down to the local dairy for a pint of milk.

Whilst it's true that the Opposition parties have been able to make SOME headway on the Government by pointing to almost-nightly footage of dairy owners recovering in hospital or elsewise severely affected by these standovers, and using these as tangible evidence that National has a weakspot on 'law and order' ... the plain fact of the matter is that ordinary voters overwhemingly associate 'law and order' with the National Party [perhaps it's the subconscious symbolism of the colour blue....; or maybe it's the unresolved cognitive dissonance of thinking of Judith Collins as the "crusher" rather than the "crushed by Oravida and caught out pressuring the police to manipulate crime statistics"].

So in a situation wherein there's clearly a pretty negative lack-of-prevalence for 'law and order' up and down the country, perhaps they're more likely to keep supporting National rather than 'taking a chance' on the Opposition.

This is, of course, an unsubstantiated 4 a.m theory. But it's difficult to conjure any other even broadly feasible rational explanation for why National just doesn't seem to care. Other than the plainly obvious emotive reality that they appear to be a bunch of heartless bastards in the extreme.

In any case, the purpose of this piece was to lay out a 'radically reasonable proposal' for helping to sort this woefully egregious situation.

Namely, that instead of pretending that escalating crime is somehow 'not their problem', the Government actually put its [in reality 'our'] money where its mouth is [thankfully, not the 'fat lip' of a recently assaulted shopkeeper], and actually PROVIDE the public services like proper policing for which these shopkeepers are, after all, helping the Government to raise in revenue - and for which they've already paid anyway via their income taxes etc..

Anything else - any other shirking, or cancerious sleight-of-hand in rhetoric - is just outright Criminal Conduct on the National Party's behalf.

It's that simple.