Tuesday, December 30, 2014

If this were my son...

Toward the close of New Year's Eve Eve, this post from TV3's excellent man about various towns, David Farrier, happened to percolate across my newsfeed.

It's a photo of a temporary memorial called Arlington West that's erected every Sunday on California's Santa Monica beach by a group called Veterans For Peace. It's dedicated to US servicemen killed during the course of the Iraq War, with each of the thousands of crosses in the photo representing one of the fallen. (As an aside, the plaque next to it points out that while this monument to the American war-dead takes up an area some 141 feet wide by 310 feet long, if done at the same scale for the Iraqi dead ... it'd be some 141 feet wide by 12.8 *miles* in length)

However, it's not just *any* photo of a war memorial and contemplative space ... it's also one of Max Key's holiday snaps.

As the lad himself puts it, "Fun".

Now, when this came up for debate amidst my friendcircle, the point was made that as a general rule, the spawn of politicians we don't like shouldn't ordinarily be singled out for especial targeting merely by virtue of their parentage. We don't usually get to choose those who contribute our patronymics and chromosomes, as you may have noticed.

The same gentleman then followed this up by asking the rhetorical question "If this was your kid, would your reaction be different?"

And I have to say (leaving aside, for a moment, the fact that I've never really considered blogging about my unborn presumptive children/hypothetical-next-generation-of-naescent-Rolinsonian-political-supersoldiers before) ... yes, yes it would be a bit different. I'd be giving him a clip round the ear - something that, I can't help but note, you aren't *usually* allowed to legally do to somebody else's kids. (Particularly given my rather amusing previous run-in with Key's diplomatic protection squaddies...)

In any case, while 19 is getting a little old to run the excuse of youthful exuberance and indiscretion; the reason why Max Key editorializing a memorial to Western troops who've died in Iraq as "fun" is arguably comment-worthy, is the fact that at the same time Max is shooting photos amidst the sand ... his father has our own military gearing up for a deployment to a new shooting war *also* in Iraq.

I'm not always a believer that you can judge too terribly much about a given father based around his son's arguable misconduct (because otherwise there'd be some seriously, seriously unfortunate conclusions to be drawn about The Rev. Rolinson based the continual stream of *ahem* "eccentricity" I indulge in) ... but if Max Key is *this* blase about America's war-dead from Iraq, we can only wonder whether this has anything to do with John Key's potentially somewhat cavalier attitude to putting our men and women in harm's way in the same foreign country.

Let's hope Key the Elder possesses a little more perspicacity than his son does about the gravity of what it means to die in a far-off land in service to your (or, in this case, someone else's) nation.

[My thanks to Andrew Paul Wood for his assistance with this piece]

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Rather Than Sending Troops To Iraq ... Brownlee May Wish To Consider Better Force Recon!

There's something a little unsettling going on at the moment. Ok, many somethings.

Of particular concern is the fact that right now, New Zealand troops are training at Waiouru for deployment to Iraq - and, assumedly, the ongoing war against ISIS.

Brownlee, of course, denies this is happening. Although it would appear that his office didn't *quite* get the memo...

So where are we at? The New Zealand Defence Force is undertaking  training for a deployment to Iraq. "Contingency" training? Or preparation for joining our domineering TPPA partners in yet another illustrious attempt at Peace Through Superior Firepower.

Either way, it would appear that Defence Minister  Gerry Brownlee hasn't exactly been straight-up about what's going on here. Recent statements made in Parliament by this "honourable" member suggested rather strongly that *no* pre-deployment training for Iraq was being undertaken.

Fortunately, New Zealand First's sources have kept us abreast of developments straight form the get-go - and told us that a company-sized force of up to 150 Kiwi troops had been undergoing training for deployment to Iraq from as late as mid-November.

So either we have a situation wherein a newly-elected Opposition MP is considerably better informed as to the interior goings on and force goings-on of the New Zealand Defence Force than the Minister responsible is (possible - we're well connected); or, somewhat more likely, somebody's trying to pull that fine sheep-derived fiber-export we're so renowned for *directly* over the body politik's eyes about ensnaring New Zealand in what will become a deeply unpopular foreign war that we really have very little prima-facie reason to become directly involved in.

Brownlee's knowledge of all things NZ[D]F continued to be shown up in the House by Major Mark during the same exchange, when the aforementioned Illiterate Woodwork Teacher demonstrated a habitual National Party grasp of facts ... by trying to diminish Ron Mark's extensive and transcontinental military service and confusing him with fellow NZ First MP (and one of my favourites of the new intake - one to watch) Darroch Ball.

For the record: Ron Mark is, if you will, a bit of a Parliamentary bad-arse. He spent 15 years in the NZ Army, having joined up at age 16; and with a service record that includes much time with the Special Air Service and more than a year's worth of overseas deployments  with our Army to the Middle East. His CV also includes an additional half-decade stint in the military of the Sultanate of Oman - first in the Sultanate's Land Forces, and then in their Special Forces. 

So when it comes to discussing the relative merits of deploying Kiwi troops to Iraq, I *suspect* that I might *just* place *slightly* more credence in the contacts, information and analysis of a former New Zealand soldier with extensive deployment experience in the Middle East ... over the breathless assurances of a perniciously treasonous former financial trader, and a man whose greatest contribution to national security thus far was the $2000 fine to the Civil Aviation Authority he coughed up for breaching airport security at Christchurch Airport. 

Oh and, as you may have noticed ... nowhere on Mark's resume does there appear the title "storeman".

In fact, the closest thing we have to one of those in Caucus at the moment is first term NZ First MP Darroch Ball - who, in a previous life, was a commissioned officer with the 3rd Logistics Battalion, before discovering a serious and admirable passion for working with youth - first through the Army, and then in a subsequent career as a high-school teacher.. And even then ... "commissioned officer" =/= "storeman", any more than "Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Act" equated to "rule of law" ...

In any case, this is evidently how the Nats intend to prosecute their pre-War campaign. Through lies, deceptions, falsehoods, iniquities, and inaccuracies. How else to explain Brownlee hamfistedly attempting to erase from the Parliamentary and popular record the real nature of Ron Mark's actual military service when the latter presents evidence of the Minister's duplicity.  

We're rapidly reaching a point wherein every time I hear a Nat MP assure us that they haven't made a decision to send "boots on the ground" to Iraq, I think of this... 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Labour votes for Surveillance State. NZ First Opposes!

A few weeks before the election, the New Zealand Labour Party decided to cash in on simmering popular discontent with the state of the surveillance state that National's set up. Never mind their own previous and well-publicized brushes with egregious state-surveillance ... they wanted people to know that in 2015, under a Labour Government, there'd be a full-scale and sweeping inquiry into our intelligence services, as well as the guaranteed repeal of several key bits of surveillance legislation that are open to perceived misuse and abuse.

It's all right here in this image, posted four days before the Election.

I guess it's a bit of a pity that the Labour Party's just voted in favour of the National-led government's "foreign fighters" bill, then...

Fortunately, there were two Opposition parties prepared to front-up and represent the interests of ordinary New Zealanders by voting against this bill. Guess who :D #BlackGreen2017

And while Winston's Godwinning of Parliament yesterday became a *little* overblown by declaring the "dogs of Naziism" would be let loose into peoples' homes with the passage of this legislation ... considering the very prescient point made elsewhere about the last big foreign Cause Celebre conflict which volunteers from Western countries found themselves swept up in [the Spanish Civil War] - perhaps he's quite right to draw our attention to the fact that once upon a time, the guys going off to fight in international brigades weren't regarded *quite* so perniciously.

Anyway. Full praise to New Zealand First for doing the principled left-wing thing and voting AGAINST this legislation.

Unlike Andrew Little, who says things are "appalling" ... and then votes for them anyway.

Full credit to Art for bringing this to my attention.

Friday, November 28, 2014

The Lone Raged Dessert Crouton Scoop

It has recently come to my attention that Judith Collins is a self-purported honourary member of the Long-Range Desert Recon Group.

I genuinely have no idea how or why such an illustrious unit would induct somebody of the perfidious character of Collins; perhaps they found some vague common ground over Collins' admiration for legendary Afrika Korps commander Erwin Rommel?

In any case, while it's well within the rights of war-heroes to take selfies with whom they please; I must confess that I find it exceptionally distasteful that an MP so reviled - so dishonest - and so flatly self-serving ... is able to turn an exceptionally post-facto connection with the venerable living and the honoured dead of one of our most famous wartime units into an attempted political marketing exercise.

From where I'm sitting, about the only thing she's got in common with the men of the Long-Range Desert Recon Group at the moment is the fact that she's ranging far and wide over a (political) wilderness.

Take a look at the pix and see what you think for yourself.

Friday, November 21, 2014

The New Notes : They Ain't Mint

Yesterday, the Reserve Bank announced its new designs for our banknotes.

Now, I've historically been pretty sketch about this entire process; variously feeling affronted that the government could find eighty million dollars to fund a currency redesign yet comprehensively refused to do actually-useful things like finding $30,000 to fund Christchurch's rape crisis service ... and more than a little cynical that the entire exercise was just a frontspiece facade to conceal government engaging in an expansionary monetary policy by literally printing more money and hoping nobody would notice because they're also taking some physical money out of circulation at the same time.

I'm also something of a fan of the extant colours and arrangement of our present currency.

I genuinely quite *like* the soft-but-solid mostly-monocoloured famous-person-with-bird combinations that we've persisted with since 1999.

It doesn't look like Monopoly money; it's easily distinguishable from the banknotes of major trading partners; and, while i'm obviously going to be hugely biased about this (due to having grown up with the present designs) ... I just find our extant banknotes artfully put together. Compare the delicate etchings in the background of what we've got now with the vague fade-to-blueish backgrounds of the new ones, for instance; or have a gander at the Queen on the $20 in your back pocket right now versus the rather ... *ahem* well line-defined rendition on the new iteration.

So why are we changing them then.

Well, according to the Reserve Bank's own "Brighter Money" website (I must confess, the idea of a currency redesign being sufficiently complex to require its own website with email subscribe is something new to me), we're doing all this because "the technology for designing and printing banknotes [has] advanced considerably". Which appears to be technocratic code for "It's like an iPhone or a fashionable wardrobe ... if you've got one, it must be upgraded on a regular basis".

Personally, my initial suspicions as to the reasoning for the change included the idea that the um ... Colin-Craig-Electoral-Hoarding-Esque representations of our best and brightest was quite deliberate.

That is to say ... the Reserve Bank is *literally trying* to stimulate the economy by forcing us to spend more money through making the contents of our wallets look too horrible for us to hold on to.

Or, alternatively, they're attempting to do something about our ongoing huge rates of class A and B powdered drug use by rendering our banknotes too dang unclassy to be rolled up and used for insufflation.

Either way, I guess I'm just left eternally thankful that the Reserve Bank didn't find itself put in charge of redesigning our nation's flag ... and wondering if we perhaps ought to have a referendum on whether we *really* ought to adopt their new designs for our currency.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

What's Small, White, and Having Trouble Attracting New People?

If your answer was something intimately connected to the person of Peter Dunne ... then you'd be right.

Last night, P-Dunney decided to bring his comedy and/or hair stylings to the twitterverse; penning a potentially somewhat ill-advised tweet in which he compared my beloved New Zealand First to an American organization known as the KKK.

Anyone would think Dunne had forgotten that time he went into coalition with *this* man.

Now, this isn't the first time Dunne4's come out and tried to label NZF as a bunch of white supremacists... but the thing that really REALLY gets me about what he's said this time (i.e. the joke about suddenly opening up membership to non-straight and/or non-white folks) is how patently inapplicable it is to *our* Caucus; yet how easily and directly relevant it is to United Future's.

United Future's, after all, is easily the oldest and whitest Caucus in the House; counts among its former MPs a man who believes interracial relationships are a social evil on par with alcoholism (and consequently ought to be banned from being depicted in the media); and possesses a leader who once memorably described legal provision for civil unions as being dishonest and unnecessary.

New Zealand First, by contrast, is the least-white Party in Parliament other than the Maori Party.

More to the point, when asked to justify his remarks this morning, Dunne claimed "When you've got MPs like Prosser and O'Rourke who tow that line, I think they deserve the criticism".

Or, for those of you playing at home ... Peter Dunne is perfectly content to put up a tweet containing the manifestly and demonstrably false allegation and imputation that NZF doesn't accept gay people into our ranks - then attempt flailingly to justify said tweet by citing as evidence one of our MPs who happens to be gay.

Quality cognition indeed from the same man who thought synthetic cannabinoids should be legal ... yet once described restrictions on the advertising and sale of tobacco to nine year old children as "fascist".

Clearly, the man likes his F-words; and while it's possible to say in Dunne's defence that yes, Nazi Germany *was* pretty dang anti-smoking ... I must confess myself to be genuinely somewhat perplexed as to how and why efforts to keep tobacco out of the hands of schoolchildren - or, for that matter, a Party whose Caucus is pretty much 50% non-white - seem to merit such strongly connotated slurs of white supremacy from Dunne.

In any case, perhaps Peter should have checked in a bit more detail why those Klansmen were relaxing membership restrictions to welcome black, gay, and/or Jewish members.

Falling membership.

Now what's another organization by, lead by, and for- white males that's recently found itself subject to such an impressive decline in membership it found itself no longer officially recognized as an organization ...

Oh yes. That's right. United Future!

Guess that's *another* point of commonality between the God[winning]-Emperor of Dunne and those folksy white supremacist types.

With any luck, neither will be around for much longer.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

The #Reeferendum Train Has No Brakes.

Earlier this week, the US went to the polls for its Mid-Term electoral season.

As generally seems to be the case, something disappointing happened.

But it was not everywhere a tale of doom and gloom.

In three US polities - Washington DC, Oregon, and Alaska - cannabis legalization measures have passed the ballot (although a medical marijuana bill in Florida failed, despite a majority of voters in that state backing it). This is pretty significant, as it brings up to five the number of US states (yes, I know DC isn't a state) wherein a clear majority of voters have *democratically* amended their territory/state's cannabis legislation.

I shall repeat that once again for some of the slower stoners and anti-drug advocates in the audience: people *can* and *will* vote for sensible drug laws - even if their democratically elected representatives won't.

We've already seen this happen two years ago in each of Washington and Colorado - interestingly, given what occurred Tuesday, the same year that a previous stab at full legalization failed to pass the ballot in Oregon.

Now, to be fair - it's not especially helpful just to conclude that if you invest the people with the power then more progressive drug laws naturally and inevitably follow.

In each of these states, there was a complex historical legislative environment and consequent popular engagement or eschewment that helped to produce Tuesday's results.

Alaska, for instance, despite its reputation as a breeder of ... somewhat eccentric Vice Presidential hopefuls, and its two previous failed stabs at legalization (one in 2000, another in 2004) ... actually turns out to have quite an extensive history of progressive drug legislation. It's had medicinal marijuana since 1998; while weed was effectively ruled legal for personal use due to a slightly heterodox judicial interpretation of the state's constitutional right to privacy in a 1975 Alaskan Supreme Court decision. Amusingly, this created a situation wherein despite the 1991 voter-sponsored ballot measure to *recriminalize* marijuana, and successive Gubernatorial interventions along the same lines ... the state's constitution was *still* held to protect personal possession of under four ounces.

You will not hear me say this again ... but sometimes I quite like me *some* quasi-libertarian values.

There's a similar budding history of reform efforts in the state of Oregon, with the state passing a decriminalization law in 1973 (apparently as the direct result of the Nixon Administration ... I'm surprised, too), voters endorsing medicinal marijuana in 1998, and a previous stab at a referendum to deliver full legalization in 2012 - which was defeated. This was followed up in 2013 by the state legislature undertaking to ameliorate the criminal penalties applied to weed-smokers, as well as legalizing medicinal dispensaries.

Predictably, things then get a little crazy when we hit Washington D.C. (It's *literally* because of all the politicians)

Here, there's not one ... but *two* sets of elected-reps-in-suits that can potentially make things interesting for reform efforts (potentially because the DEA would look a little silly enforcing cannabis prohibition everywhere *else* in the Union ... while having to turn a blind eye to legalized weed being rolled within line-of-sight to the White House).

This has created a nonsensical situation wherein one set of elected officials (the D.C. Council) votes *for* reform measures (in the most recent case, decriminalization of weed and treating possession as a $25-a-pop misdemeanor charge akin to a traffic ticket) ... while a Republican-dominated Congress (which controls the funding for D.C.'s police force and what not) jumps up and down and threatens to deny funding to D.C.'s state services if they don't back down and keep weed illegal.

Amusingly, the last time this transpired, back in May of this year, those self-same Republicans nearly wound up accidentally de-facto legalizing weed in D.C.. What happened was shortly after the D.C. Council voted 10-1 to push ahead with decriminalization; House Republicans countered with a bill to de-fund the D.C. decriminalization measure.

This was a pretty breathtaking example of spiteful legislative stupidity from the Republicans, however, as the only bit of D.C.'s decriminalization law that *actually required funding* was the enforcement part. (Eliminating criminal penalties, you see, is as simple as the stroke of a pen, and doesn't cost a cent)

So by moving to block law reform efforts that would have resulted in decriminalization of weed, Republicans effectively sought to stop any D.C. policeman from *enforcing* the penalties that still existed even under a decriminalized setup - thus creating de facto legalization through lack of any actual penalty for possession or public use.

Clearly, in this situation the stoners weren't the ones with their rationality and senses impaired; and a few months later sanity prevailed with voters themselves endorsing a move to full legalization at the ballot.

Hopefully we don't see a repeat of what happened the last time a clear majority of D.C. voters (nearly 69%) backed a marijuana law reform measure in a referendum, though. Because in that instance, Congress successfully managed to block the implementation of D.C.'s medicinal marijuana dispensary laws for an incredible *TWELVE YEARS* before finally relenting and giving in to democracy.

Bringing it back to our home context, the lessons for New Zealand marijuana law reform advocates from all of this should be clear:

In most of these US jurisdictions, there's been a long history of efforts at reform. Oregon, for instance, took somewhere in the area of 40 years to make the transition from decriminalization through to its present legalization status. There's also often a litany of failed and flawed attempts at reform along the way - as demonstrated by Oregon's 2012 referendum failure, various happenings in Washington D.C., as well as Alaska's democratically successful 1991 ballot measure to recriminalize. This shows that law reform and the swaying and mobilization of popular opinion necessary for same to occur only take place as the result of a considerable considerable investment of time, energy, effort and patience on the part of concerned citizens and activists.

But it does take place - and as a result, despite big, big money, scaremongering, and the involvement of some of the largest and most powerful arms of state that the US Federal government can bring to bear (ok, well Congress, at any rate) ... full-blown legalization reform efforts have now triumphed in nearly one tenth of the states of the Union.

With deference to the D.C. experience, they've *even* been able to triumph over the top of some pretty fierce and vindictive opposition from federal-level elected decision makers. This, to me, speaks to the power inherent in direct-democratic efforts at changing laws - even and particularly in situations wherein there appears to be a palpable gap between the sentiments of the polis and the actions and ideas of our elected policy-elite.

It really does put one in the mind of that famous Gandhi quote - "First they ignore you; then they laugh at you; then they fight you; then you win."

In any case ... if you're a New Zealander casting about for a political party that's down with the #Reeferendum vibe to consider entrusting your vote to come 2017 ... look no further than New Zealand First.

Because on this matter - as with so many others - we believe in listening to the people.

Even if they *are* communicating with smoke-signals.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Bob McCoskrie & The Burning Bush Of Fact-Free Portuguese Hypomania

I really don't like Bob McCoskrie.

I'm not sure why, exactly ... it might be his followers; it may be my distaste for what he stands for ... or it could just be the way he simply starts outright lying to try and sway people once he runs out of facts.

I mean, seriously. McCoskrie's organization - Family First - *actually found itself de-registered as a charity* in no small part because McCoskrie lies and spins through his teeth. This is set out in the Charities Commission report on Family First's de-registration, which specifically sets out the Commission's belief that what the Trust does "[does not] advance an educational position and [does] constitute propaganda". [I have literally no idea why Bob McCoskrie has handily published the Charities Commission report on his own website, considering the official declarations it contains about his modus operandi ... but I guess there's genuinely no explaining the erratic conduct of  right-wing evangelical types sometimes.]

So you could say I was a bit hazy when I read McCoskrie's latest offering ... a blog piece setting out his apparent belief that, flying flat in the face of just about every other article out on the subject, Portugal's bold move of decriminalizing drugs has actually lead to a massive *increase* in teenage (and under-13) drug use.

Oh, and quelle surprise ... there's a Daily Mail piece involved which appears to be where he sourced all his stats from.

What's apparently happened here, for those of you playing at home, is the UK's Liberal Democrat party have commissioned a government report in the UK that says things like "It is clear that there has not been a lasting and significant increase in drug use in Portugal since 2001", "One of the clearest changes in Portugal since 2001 has been a considerable improvement in the indicators of health outcomes for drug users" ... and, of course, "Conversely, the evaluation of the criminalization of drug possession in the Czech Republic observed that adverse health outcomes for users increased following criminalization".

Or, translated: Portugal pursues what's known as a harm-reduction policy with its drug laws that didn't simply declare open slather by decriminalizing everything ... but rather sought to shift the way its state dealt with drug and addiction issues from being a criminal matter to a healthcare one.

Nobody whatsoever should be surprised that the health outcomes for those on drugs (and according to a swathe of other evidence, it's a shrinking proportion of the Portuguese population who are) have improved as a direct and attributable result of making help more available - and, importantly, removing the fear that you'll literally be treated like a criminal if you seek assistance.

This is why I rather like harm-minimization approaches to everything from drug-use to gambling to prostitution. Because it's intelligent policy-making that *recognizes* we aren't going to be able to stamp out drugs or vice; yet which also realizes that the most important function of state is to improve the lives of its people ... and you don't do that by pretending you can make an entire class of people with issues basically just eventually disappear. [which is, effectively, how a McCoskrie-ite prohibitionist argument works - crack down hard enough and eventually your drug problem ceases to perpetuate slash exist]

However, it's also really, vitally important to review the evidence when it comes to policy-making - particularly when we're dealing with an area as fraught and vitally important as child and teenage health.

What McCoskrie's jumping up and down about are figures from the Mail piece that purport to show an increase in the number of Portuguese teens trying cannabis - and, in consequence, a greater number of Portuguese teens trying drugs all up.

However, it's also interesting to note evidence from the US state of Colorado (which put New Zealand First cannabis policy into practice by holding a #Reeferendum on this issue and letting the people decide) which saw a two percent *reduction* in the number of teens reporting they'd smoked weed in the previous month compared to the situation pre-legalization in 2011.

In concert with other figures showing reductions in the prevalence of drug-use among younger Portuguese teens from 14.1% to 10.6% and a reduction in the use of a harder drugs like heroin from 2.5% to 1.8% amidst older teens in the initial half-decade since decriminalization ... it becomes clear that there's more to the story than the McCoskrie-ite morality play of "start treating drug addicts like human beings and ... y'know ... treating them - then watch your society as your society descends into an epidemic of teen drug use".

An article on the Portuguese reform published in the British Journal of Criminology suggests that any increases in reported drug use which accompany decriminalization or legalization may simply be just that - increases in /reported/ drug use without any actual increase in drug use, due to a reduction in stigma leading to a larger number of users being prepared to be open about their use or actually ask for help.

The same article also suggests that at the time of publishing, drug use (including cannabis) among Portuguese teens had, if anything, been on the *decrease* since 2003; following a brief, initial spike. More interestingly, the decreases in non-cannabis drug use were more pronounced in Portugal than they were in the aggregate European Union. Alongside this, specific and marked reductions in "problematic drug use" and intravenous drug use have also occurred in the same period; leading to the British Journal of Criminology article's authors concluding that Portugal's approach to drug legislation really *has* lead to reductions in harmful and adolescent drug use. It even appears to be positively correlated with greater future employment prospects for former users and dependents (i.e. greater capacity to put-lives-back-together).

Who'd have thought that offering to *help* problematic drug users rather than *harm* them through ongoing criminalization would actually help problematic drug users.

So really, I guess the question for guys like Mr McCoskrie is asking them what's *actually* better for teenagers with a drug problem. Shoving the issue to the fringes of our society and criminalizing their conduct in the hopes that hiding and penalizing the issue will eventually solve it?

Or actually looking at the evidence, coming to some sane conclusions, and deciding "maybe we should help these people" through treating problematic drug users as people with health issues rather than auto-crims.

I know which one's been proven to deliver fewer teens on drugs!

Friday, October 31, 2014

Things That Make You Go Hmmmmmmm

Every so often in politics, a public figure comes out with something so absurd and so outlandish ... that it really does just make you go "Hmmmmmmmmmm".

We're accustomed to this from certain quarters - by mid point through the last Campaign, for instance, virtually nobody in the country was going to bat an eyelid if Colin Craig declared he's suddenly sighted Elvis; while making a habit of believing in six impossible things before breakfast is almost a requirement for membership of the ACT Party. (Although this usually restricts itself to mad economic sentiment like "Privatize EVERYTHING!" rather than curious philosophical defences of legalized incest) There's also Richard Prosser.

But the one that really, seriously took the cake for me this past twenty four hours (other than certain MANA supporters) was Green MP Steffan Browning's bizarre series of comments in relation to homeopathy as part of the possible response to Ebola. I appreciate that signing an online petition is hardly tantamount to a declaration of lunacy; but it's his response to journalists outside the House this afternoon which really caught my eye.

When asked whether he thought that the World Health Organization should be looking into homeopathy as part of its response to Ebola, he asked "Why not?" before going on to assert that "while I am not an expert" - clearly - "I assume they will look at [homeopathy] as much as a number of other options." 

Or, in other words, he's worked out signing the petition wasn't a good look (probably after a fun conversation with his Leader) ... but he somehow missed the bit where telling the country he's perplexed as to why you *wouldn't* consider homeopathy for inclusion in the response to Ebola ... really doesn't help ditch the spacey vibe.

The Greens' leadership team will be rather annoyed by this for exactly the same reason I tend to get rather annoyed every time Winston makes a risque joke. Just as NZF grapples with a legacy of being perceived as holding extreme and unpopular views on immigration (thanks in no small part to incidents like former Deputy Leader and immigrant to our fine shores from the UK Peter Brown stating in his plummy English accent various things about other migrant groups), the Greens are struggling to ditch the appearance of being a party of, by and for weed-smoking organic-fabric-wearing vegan-cooking Age-of-Aquarius-singing alternative lifestylers called Galadriel.

This involves shifting public perceptions and the stereotype of what Green people believe in from things like the anti-vaccination movement, anti-fluoridation or a zero growth economic agenda to more mainstream palatable concepts like broad population and public health, and some sort of "smart" green sustainable capitalism. (although I note their health policy still maintains the line about supporting an independent study into fluoridation's effects, support for an opt-out from fluoridation option, and absolutely no mention of the word "vaccine".)

Having an MP publicly running around stating as much tacit and tantamount support for alternative medicine (which, as I believe Tim Minchin originally put it, would be simply called "medicine" if it worked as explained) as he's now allowed to ... does not help the Greens to do this. On the other hand, as proven by Peter Dunne over the years, there is potentially an electoral payoff to being able to connect with small but passionate groups like homeopathy-adherents or the anti-fluoridation lobby.

Still, Browning's gaffe is mostly harmless. He's not really in a substantive position to influence the actual fight against Ebola; and for this, the planet should possibly be grateful. However, there are obvious population and public health implications inherent in a Parliamentarian - or, for that matter, I suppose *any* sufficiently positioned public figure - choosing to endorse such an *ahem* placebo-dependent form of "medicine"; potentially, in the minds of constituents, at the expense or in alternative to more conventional remedies and responses.

Of potentially greater concern, however, is when people who actually *can* influence outcomes do this sort of thing.

My generation, of course, grew up with our teenage years backdropped by the phenomenon of the Bushism; and the idea that somewhere in Texas a village was missing its idiot ... who'd then somehow made it into the White House ... certainly made for an eloquent - if overly simplistic - explanation for the geopolitics of the day.

This pales, of course, in comparison to Bush Snr's Vice President, Dan Quayle ... but apart from mentioning he reputedly made H.W Bush "impeachment-proof" by, inter alia, insistently correcting a student spelling of the word "potato" to "potatoe" while judging a primary school spelling bee, postulating a breathable atmosphere for humans on Mars thanks to the "canals" he believed existed thereon, declaring the US to be part of Europe, and displaying a surprising degree of candor in describing American success in the First Gulf War as "a stirring victory for the forces of aggression" ... we'll just gloss over him by noting he was no Jack Kennedy.

To bring it back to the New Zealand context, and remind why it's occasionally quite scary when our MPs and decision-makers start giving us tangible evident of how daft they can be ... look no further than Energy Minister Simon Bridges describing environmental preserve regulations and protections as "emotional clap-trap". Then opening up the protected space to mining.

Another (now former) MP who's served as a Minister in Key's government with a history of problematic statements in an area of policy they may be able to influence is Tariana Turia. Here she is in 2004 describing high Maori teen pregnancy rates as something that's entirely non-problematic and preferable to "an excessive focus on controlling our fertility", while also suggesting that a woman's fertility is "not meant to be the responsibility of one person, alone". She's then subsequently tried to influence the exercise of the nation's laws in an overtly pro-life direction by attempting to have a rigidly anti-abortion doctor appointed to the Abortion Supervisory Committee.

See how MPs with curious beliefs can produce sketch outcomes?

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Publishing Journalists' Home Addresses Is A Tactic Of The Right, Not The Left.

I think I'm starting to get rather annoyed with the conduct of some pro-MANA people over this ongoing Parliamentary Services crew complement issue.

Yes, we get that there are legitimate issues to be raised with how some political reporters in this country operate. InternetMANA Press Secretary and Caller-Out of "Puffed Up Little Shits" Pam Corkery eloquently and factually spelled out some of these in her excellent piece a few weeks back.

*THAT'S* how you raise issue with these sorts of things. In an appropriate context, and buttressed with appropriate content. As their own issue, rather than as an attempted deflection from the gravity and seriousness of the episode presently engulfing MANA.

You *don't* decide to give the errant press a taste of its own medicine by taking it upon yourself to publish the address of the reporter in question online. 

What the hell kinda person does that.

Now I will note that there's a certain sadistic glee to be had whenever a politico manages to "turn the tables" on the media and put *them* under the hard glare. This is, assumedly, why we enjoy watching Winston rip into and counter-interrogate a particularly obstinate journalist every now and again.

But has the MANA supporter behind the address posting thought about the likely results of this? If this actually turns out to be Tova O'Brien's *actual* place of residence, then I imagine there'll be more than just one fake camera crew turning up on her doorstep to demand an "interview".

The way some Hone-fans are whipping themselves up into a frenzy, I'd half expect a whole baying mob!

Now if it *isn't* Tova O'Brien's actual address ... then I imagine that some poor confused Wellington residents are about to be inundated with unwanted and unwarranted knocks at the door - and I don't mean from Jehovah's Witnesses.

Either way, this is profoundly uncool conduct from what I hope's just a few excessively-irate MANA supporters.

I appreciate that emotions are running high right now in some camps, but casually putting up what you're claiming is somebody's home address and telling people to make sure "she'll get the message" ... isn't an example of "[playing] her at her own game" ... it's an example of you sinking to the level of Cameron Slater or Cactus Kate.

Now let's all take a deep breath ... quit trying to make this about ethics in political-game journalism ... and hurry up and wait for Hone to front on this issue.

Oh, and I'm assuming that, for various reasons, the alleged O'Brien household won't be handing out candy to strangers who come a'knocking at their door this Halloween. Particularly if they come dressed as camera crews or political reporters.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

"...But *actually* this is about ethics in political-game journalism"

Yesterday, a piece of mine on the recent revelations about Hone Harawira employing several gentlemen either accused or convicted of sex offences was published on The Daily Blog. Predictably, given the fierce loyalty which Hone inspires in his party faithful and supporters, this has been somewhat controversial (as demonstrated by the comments section). Some of this response, due to being blog-length and thus more easily disseminable, deserves engagement; although I'm rather disappointed that the general feeling I get from reading a number of pro-MANA perspectives on this issue which go something along the lines of "never mind the criminal charges or the victims ...  this is *actually* about ethics in political-game journalism".

If that phrase sounds familiar to you, given what's happening in some of the nerdier corners of the internet right about now ... there's a reason for its invocation here. Spoiler Alert: it's because despite quite vociferous protests to the contrary, this issue *isn't* about ethics in political journalism.

Enter local MANA Movement Chairman Joe Trinder.

Now I'll start by stating I fully acknowledge Mr Joe Trinder's efforts in penning the blog I'm here responding to. It's not always easy to commit pen to paper or finger to keyboard, particularly when you're writing under a time pressure and in defence of something you hold dear which you feel is under assault. I also genuinely believe that the more our polis actively engages with what our commentariat is saying - which definitely includes writing responses calling errant bloggers to account for perceived inaccuracies - the better it is for our politisphere.

Mr Trinder therefore deserves full marks for stumping up with a contribution and response; and good on him for having a go.

However, I *do* nonetheless feel that Mr Trinder has gotten somewhat the wrong end of the stick when it comes to both my piece and the broader context of this sad imbroglio.

Let's take a sample:

Trinder: "You have asked that Hone Harawira deserves to explain what happened, how would he explain when his next door neighbour is an alleged sex offender. What explanation can Hone offer he wasn’t involved, Hone had no idea this offending was taking place. Why should Hone offer explanations for another man’s crime."

It appears that Mr Trinder is suggesting that I was demanding Hone Harawira explain the alleged historic offending of Mr Awaru. This is not the case. Explanations for *that* belong in a court-room, not the court of public opinion. I'm *instead* suggesting it would be a relatively good idea for Hone to clear up some factual gaps in this narrative by fronting up to his party faithful and/or the public who paid this man's wages and explaining when he became aware of the charges against Mr Awaru and why, if he was aware of said charges, Mr Awaru was allowed to represent the MANA Party on Election Night.

That's all.

As for the next bit ... "
You have decided that these accusations are justified by the media and they aren’t Maori bashing or a smear campaign, then please explain why Tova Obrien a very good friend of MP Judith Collins broke the story and then attempted to link Hone to this crime."

Yes, Mr Trinder ... that's because I went away and googled each of the three staff in question. Being from NZF, I'm *fully cognisant* that the media can play dirty tricks. Having spent a brief period existing at the center of a mini-scandal which saw me damn near demand somebody's Press Council accreditation for inaccuracies and improprieties in their reporting, trust me when I say I'm sympathetic - even empathetic - in cases wherein this happens to other people or parties.

So the FIRST thing I did when I became aware of this situation, is I plugged the names and aliases of all three men into google to see what came up. I checked my facts, in other words. To avoid speculation.

I found multiple sources for the nature of the charges or sentence each man was facing, and pretty much all from sources other than TV3, thus confirming their (broad) accuracy. It's therefore rather weird that Mr Trinder is entertaining the idea that this entire scenario may be an instance of "Maori-bashing or a smear campaign". Or, as he and other MANA affiliates have labelled this, "speculation". The legal processes each man has had to undergo, or are presently undergoing are factual [and, because I *just know* I'm going to be called up on this ... yes, Mr Awaru is presumed innocent until proven guilty, so no, no I'm *not* stating that the allegations against him are factual (that's a job for the court) - merely that the allegations factually *exist*]. The only bits in question or which are at issue relate to their employment by MANA/Hone, the conditions associated with same, and when said employment terms ceased.

So can I just point out that the *only* way we'd be able to find out if this was, in fact, some sort of anti-Hone media smear campaign that's totally inflated and trumped up ... is if Hone actually comes out and sets the facts straight about when these guys were employed and when he became aware of the charges facing the gentleman MANA is now apparently referring to as "his neighbour".

Oh, and I'm not *entirely* sure that a single tweet from Judith Collins is *really* enough to establish there's a close and personal BFF thing going on Key-Slater style between Judith Collins and Tova O'Brien ... but since we're all apparently in the business of hacking at the messenger rather than seriously debating the message, I guess I shouldn't be surprised this is the strength of evidence being deployed?

It goes on: "
MANA members are correct that they are the target of dirty politics the only reason why your precious Winston doesn’t get attacked is because Judith Collins and Cam Slater admire him."

Yes, Mr Trinder, #DirtyPolitics was a pretty abominable affair for all parties on the Left - and MANA (or, rather, InternetMANA) definitely found itself targeted. Nobody on the Left (and particularly not my good self) is quibbling with this.

However, it's wildly inaccurate to state that MANA was attacked during #DirtyPolitics but somehow Winston and NZF weren't. If Mr Trinder had actually *read* Dirty Politics, then he'd see we were in Slater/National's sights the whole time - and probably, if anything, more than MANA (rather than DotCom) was. I note that Dirty Politics' index lists 7 entries for "Peters, Winston" in contrast to two for "Harawira, Hone"; while just from memory we found ourselves subject to Slater offering a bounty for particular materials associated with Andrew Williams, Brendan Horan, and Winston ... senior NZF figures including yours truly found themselves under apparent state surveillance because we looked like we might represent a threat to National's security ... Slater started blatantly *making up* the allegations that NZF was having our campaign funded by Kim DotCom because he knew that looked damaging (kinda ironic given who funded InternetMANA's) ... the really really turgid series of allegations about our people which Slater ran in his Truth newspaper ... and a *literal litany* of further dirty tricks emanating in our direction from the far-right blue-blood set of New Zealand Politics.

If Mr Joe Trinder *genuinely* believes that Cameron Slater and Judith Collins "admire" Winston, then I would respectfully suggest that Mr Joe Trinder needs to read more FailOil (I can genuinely state I never thought I'd suggest someone needed to read *more* FailOil ... but if he's going to engage in low-brow politicized slander, then I suppose he may wish to learn from the industry leader) . Considering Winston is pretty much Public Enemy #1 for Slater; while Collins' career basically ended when Winston outed her coup intentions as applied John Key ... I really do have to ask why Trinder is trying to make it look like there's some sort of strategic accord between some of the people who appear to hate NZF the most and Winston. Is it because breathless "reporting" and falsified allegations are evidently so effective a tool for the Right Wing that the MANA Movement feels it's justified in
 busting them out to attack other parties on the Left as a sort of smokescreen? 

Could this possibly explain Mr Trinder's frankly bizarre "criticism" that I'm at issue in what I've written because I didn't devote space in my piece on MANA's present woes to demanding John Key explain #DirtyPolitics? For the record, I hold Hone in *considerably* higher respect, esteem and regard than I do John Key. That's why I'm prepared to actually hear him out if he's got a decent explanation for what's gone on here. Having said that, I'm not *quite* sure how Hone intends to exonerate himself in this affair - but that's why I'm asking the question for him to answer rather than attempting to put words in anybody's mouth. 

As applies John Key, however ... in him, I have *zero* trust, faith or confidence. I'm therefore not saying things like "Let's give John a chance to explain what's happened" as I am Hone, because there's frankly no point. I expect lies, slander and evasion from Key's quarter. I'm *hopeful* for a rational, straightforward, and truthful answer from Hone's. 

This is, incidentally, why New Zealand First was initially demanding a full-blown Royal Commission of Inquiry into the #DirtyPolitics revelations. Because we don't trust Key or his cronies to tell the truth about #DirtyPolitics, therefore when they're spinning madly like a Sufi anyway ... why not come straight to the crux of the matter and deploy the highest investigative tool of state to try and get to the bottom of the affair. I feel that NZF demanding a proper investigation and inquiry into #DirtyPolitics rather suborns and supersedes both in efficacy and appropriateness any personal call I could have made for an explanation from the Prime Minister during the course of a blog article on another subject entirely. I also feel that I've placed various combinations of words to the effect of "Let's have a Royal Commission of Inquiry into #DirtyPolitics" in a sufficiently expansive quantity of my previous blogging to feel I've done my duty on that score, to boot.  

As for the charge that I've somehow "put the boot into Hone Harawira in [my] article" ... if Mr Trinder genuinely feels that a piece whose core themes included the idea that "As-is, and acutely conscious of the necessity of balancing both the needs and the deservedly protected status of the survivors with what appears to be the desire of about a third of the political spectrum to make this look as bad as possible for Harawira and MANA … Hone deserves the chance to explain what, exactly, has happened" counts as "Maori-bashing" or "putting the boot in" ... then I would respectfully contend it says an *awful* lot more about him and his mindset than it does me and mine.

When it comes to the bit about Winston endorsing Kelvin Davis for Te Tai Tokerau (seriously ... *how* is this relevant to anything I've written about Harawira over the past three days?) I've always found it rather perplexing in the extreme that people in MANA and on the Left generally find it more rhetorically convenient to "blame" Winston for securing Kelvin Davis' electoral victory than they do, say, Kelvin Davis for campaigning hard and winning the seat. There's also the small matter of querying which of Kim DotCom or Winston did more to dissuade TTT voters from re-electing MANA.

In any case, I'm not my Chief (although I'll take any comparisons to him on apparent ability to kick up a ruckus and drop rhetorical bombs, as being high compliments indeed) ... and as it happens, I've stated in a variety of forae my personal qualms with his strategic decision to back Kelvin Davis in that seat at InternetMANA's expense. I believe I phrased it in terms of being highly annoyed that NZF had put more effort into ending InternetMANA than we did ACT at the last election. I also stated my sadness that the party I'd known as the one behind Feed The Kids, and the only other party in Parliament to back NZF's call for full #Renationalization of power companies was now no longer with us.

I do, however, find the concluding paragraphs of Mr Trinder's piece quite telling. "Why would a Maori MP want to push another Maori MP out of Parliament?" is one of the questions I've been called upon by Trinder to answer.

Answer's quite simple, really: over here in New Zealand First, we don't see people's ethnicity first and foremost ... we see their contribution. The idea that Mr Trinder is advancing of Maori MPs refusing on point of ethnonationalist principle to attack other Maori MPs is highly, highly problematic - and not just from a civic nationalist perspective, but also from a left-wing one. Would Mr Trinder have us in NZF hold our fire whenever Paula Bennett or Hekia Parata screws up purely on the basis of their ethnicity? Hell, would he be dismayed and demanding blood-spattered electoral vengeance if NZF had somehow managed to unseat Bennett or some other equally arbitrary National Party affiliated Maori MP - or even if Annette Sykes had been successful in unseating Te Ururoa Flavell in Waiariki and destroying the Maori Party?

If he wouldn't be, then his confusion and annoyance about "a Maori MP [pushing] another Maori MP out of Parliament" is cosmetic at best and the actions of a charlatan otherwise. If he *would* be dismayed at the thought of Bennett, Parata and Bridges losing their Ministries due to ejection from the House purely because these MPs happen to be Maori ... then Mr Trinder's political weltanshauung is even *more* superficial and problematic than it already appears.

One facet of Winston's reasoning for coming down on Davis' side in Te Tai Tokerau was his opposition to the idea that the Maori Seats should be used to elect and empower a Pakeha party. I've already stated here and elsewhere that my own hatred for the National-led government means I didn't entirely share Winston's scruples in this regard. But any way you care to slice it, between this and the charge of "Maori-bashing" earlier in Mr Trinder's piece, it's reasonably self-evident that some within MANA have little interest in engaging with the actual issues on the table; and would *much* rather play the race card or attempt to make this about ethics in political journalism in pursuit of a potentially false victimhood instead.

I'll say that again: the continual efforts on social media and elsewhere of some within MANA to try and make this primarily an issue of ethics in political journalism, rather than allow for a focus on questions of fact about what Hone knew, when he knew it, and what he did about it ... is pretty much the equivalent of all the "It's actually about ethics in video-game journalism" claptrap presently emanating from #GamerGate and affiliates.

Also, for the record ... "speculation" might mean something different to Mr Trinder than it does to myself or much of the rest of the English-speaking world ... but when we look back at the three pieces I've written on this affair over the past few days, I think you'll be hard-pressed to find me "speculating". As earlier stated, the fact that Arthur Harawira was facing a number of charges including indecent assault and was subsequently incarcerated is not speculation. It's right there in the media from 5 years ago. The fact that Daniel Taylor has been imprisoned since 2013 for half a decade's child grooming (with the period of offending apparently overlapping with his employment with MANA, which started in 2010) is, again, right there all through the media from a year back. The fact that Mangu Awaru is facing charges presently is not in dispute by anyone, it would appear. I doubt that the fact of his being out on bail while representing the party on election night is disagreed with, either.

So if *none of these things* are "speculation", and all of them are facts ... then I must confess myself a little confused at how, exactly, Mr Trinder is alleging impropriety on my behalf.

In any case, if Mr Trinder wishes to make an issue out of the recent conduct, agenda-driven distortion, or fact-free spinfotainment of commentators on political events ... he would do well to start with a critical examination of his own blog output these past 24 hours.

Monday, October 27, 2014

That Hella-Weird Feeling When You Defend Tova O'Brien

Oh dear. Yesterday morning I blogged that Hone deserved a chance to explain what exactly had happened as applies his office's Parliamentary Services crew complement - and, importantly, that we deserve to be able to judge him on the strength of his (non-) response. I wrote that, because I genuinely believe both the public and MANA's party members deserve a proper accounting of what's been going on; while the gravity and seriousness of this matter renders it too important to just leave to the media to probe. We need *actual* facts, and if there is another side to this story that even somewhat exonerates Hone, then this needs to come out sooner rather than later.

Unfortunately, instead of Hone Harawira fronting and setting out the facts (such as when a period of employment ended relative to the law becoming involved for one staffer; and why another one wasn't stood down but instead was allowed to speak on behalf of the party on election night while out on bail before a pending court date), we have Hilda Halkyard-Harawira laying an inaccuracy-laden official complaint with TV3 about the manner, nature and conduct of Tova O'Brien. (I must confess that I was singularly unaware up until reading this complaint that Tova's "wages are paid by taxpayer money". When did we #Nationalize TV3?)

All I can say about this is, while I and New Zealand First have had issues with Tova in the past (we are roundly renowned for enjoying a relationship with the media that's less "rocky" than it is "an extensive combination of sedimentary formation and igneous basolithic intrusion"), this approach from MANA's hierarchy of attempting to fudge the issue by attacking the messenger and trying to claim victim status, rather than responding to the grave nature of the allegations slash facts (because seriously - despite what Hilda Harawira's complaint states to the contrary, some of these things are *facts* rather than allegations) ... is *really* not cool. It's also strategically ill-advised from a political perspective - it can look bad to try and claim victim status, and getting into a *direct* scrap with the media by attempting to trade punches will most likely only serve to inflame and prolong the issue further.  

I fully get some of MANA's frustration here. Tova has an approach to political journalism that frequently appears to be less about digging up dark truths than it is aiming a camera at somebody and waiting for them to muck up. Pam Corkery wrote an excellent piece a few weeks back about how it is dealing with some of New Zealand's political reporters (and Tova in particular) that really highlights the frustrations many of us over here on *this* side of the political trenches (i.e. party-hacks and operatives rather than whambulance-chasers and fourth estaters) feel when dealing with the media. My own personal first encounter with Tova (which basically consisted of us playing a very grown-up game of Hide N Seek around a convention center at the height of my mini-scandal in late 2013 due to Tova not *quite* getting that "No Means No", particularly when it's an order from somebody further up the totem-pole than I am) certainly sprang instantly to mind when I cast my eye over the part of Hilda Harawira's complaint that deals with Tova's conduct in pursuit of Hone Harawira through Kaitaia Airport some weeks prior to the last election.

Then I stopped, rubbed my eyes, and took stock of the fact that one of the things in the complaint letter about TV3's coverage of the "employs sex offenders" story is actually a questionably relevant incident that took place many, many weeks before last week's expose.

As it happens, I don't agree with politicians being pursued through airports so that breathless reporters can play "gotcha" with their hurried responses. (Hell, due to the way the press occasionally abuses the close confines and ubiquity of use associated with terminals and flying , I'm almost tempted to push for airports and other mass transit services being declared camera-crew free Politician Reservations.)

But check out the way in which that episode is deployed in Hilda Harawira's complaint to TV3. It's used as a sort of propensity evidence to try and sketch out a pattern of previous conduct to substantiate a "fixation" on the part of Tova in the direction of Hone. The idea is plainly to cast MANA in general and Hone in specia as the victims in this narrative - a passive prey-thing, hounded, persecuted and savaged at at every turn; rather than a serious political party capable of giving serious answers to serious questions.

Again, I get that some in the upper echelons of MANA will be feeling like their man's been singled out by Tova for an unfair, malicious and vindictive degree of additional scrutiny ... but given Tova's probably spent more time chasing me around Addington Raceway than she did pursuing Hone through an airport, unless we're going to start claiming that one of the country's leading political reporters has a "fixation" with a certain dashingly charismatic 24 year old black-and-silver-clad political enfant terrible, this idea that Tova has a "fixation" with Hone and is therefore somehow unfairly 'victimizing' MANA by reporting that Hone Harawira is failing to answer questions on a matter of pressing public interest is a really, really weird one. This is *actually* how she operates with *every* political party; and given the nature of this situation, it's pretty easy to argue that there's a strong degree of public interest and deserved public scrutiny that she's channeling by covering this story. Further, as I've said elsewhere, the gravity and nature of this situation - and its pernicious unknowns - *demands* answers itself. It's not enough to just keep hanging up on the media.

To be fair though, Tova being on to something and fulfilling a public watchdog role with this story in no way shape or form detracts from the fact that we can pretty much *all* agree that there are some clear and manifest issues with how we do political reporting here in New Zealand. While these go at least right the way back to Sir Bob Jones having to resort to the gentlemanly art of fisticuffs to dissuade an errant and overly ardent reporter who was disrupting his post-election fly-fishing in 1985, Hilda Harawira's complaint letter definitely points out some problematic areas in the conduct of our 4th Estaters which, if this weren't arguably a somewhat inopportune place, time, and manner to raise same for fear of looking like a deflection, do deserve some examination and reflection by our press.

I do however also note that there is some considerable irony inherent in Hilda Harawira suggesting Tova is "obliged to present the facts" and is more accountable for her actions and editorial slant because "her wages are paid by taxpayer's money" [apparently - I'll bet this comes as news to TV3] ... while defending Hone Harawira's thus-far refusal to meet his own *moral* obligation to present the facts pertaining to his *own* taxpayer-funded employees. But let us not dwell on that.

I like taking an optimistic view of political circumstance (half a decade's enlistment with New Zealand First will do that to you), and was therefore quite hopeful at the suggestion toward the end of Harawira's letter which pledges that "Hone will front. It may not be what you want to hear, but he will front up."

On the contrary. This is EXACTLY what I want to hear - my only question is why I'm reading that promise in somebody else's complaint letter, rather than in Hone's own words and preferably accompanied by exactly the facts that we've been waiting the best part of a week to take in.

The time is now for MANA and Hone to *front* the issue, rather than persist with cap-handed attempts to *front-foot* said issue. (or, less optimistically, foot-in-mouth it) It may seem to the Harawiras like they're being hounded for answers here ... but given the lack of answers thus far as well as the demonstrable public interest in this situation both senses of the term, it would almost be irresponsible for reporters *not* to keep probing the issue. The fact reporters are still asking the questions therefore arguably may be ascribed in greater measure to the paucity of answers on show from Hone; rather than a more overtly malicious agenda than usual on the part of the media.

Still, as an associate of mine pointed out this afternoon, "Tova O'Brien shouldn't NEED to be hounding Hone [over this issue]. That she stands accused of doing so alone demonstrates that Hone has been actively evading answering these questions."

Man's got a point.

Only question is, how long's a reasonable length of time to prepare a statement.

The Questions Have Been Asked - They Deserve An Answer

A few days ago, allegations that had been percolating for some time about Hone Harawira employing three either accused or convicted sex offenders on his Parliamentary pay-roll came to light. (one imprisoned before working for MANA; one who found himself convicted and imprisoned after being hired to work for MANA; and one who was charged just before the last Election).

Understandably, there have been some very, very pronounced reactions to this news. We take a dim view of sex-crimes in our society - particularly when they involve minors or children - so I can well understand the baying for blood that is presently emanating in ululating fashion from some quarters and commentators.

I can also very vaguely see why (but disagree utterly with the sentiment) some pro-MANA people are doggedly insisting that this is a beat-up by an aggressive media playing "Gotcha" with breathless reporting. It isn't, but given that allegations InternetMANA was being funded by meth-money thanks to some of DotCom's connections seemed to pretty much be the order of the day for right-wing shadow campaigning a few weeks prior to the election, and especially considering what we've now had confirmed for us in #DirtyPolitics about right-wing commentators literally *making things up* to try and smear opponents, this misguided mindset on the part of some war-weary MANAites is not totally inexplicable. There's also assumedly a whole helluvalot of cognitive dissonance for some of the good people who joined up and campaigned for MANA on the assumption that it was the party of child poverty ... only to find out that child pederasty is what's potentially been lurking on the payroll thereof.

That's actually one of the things that renders this situation so tragic. Given that the offending (alleged or otherwise) of two of the staff involved was carried out against children (Mr Awaru is charged with raping a girl younger than twelve, while Mr Taylor was imprisoned for sexually grooming young boys), the fact that so very much of MANA's appeal and key policy is child-based makes this situation all the graver. The duality between a party whose kaupapa is so driven toward caring for our younger and more vulnerable citizens yet whose Parliamentary Services crew-complement features individuals who either have preyed upon, or are alleged to be in the business of preying upon, exactly those same kids definitely makes this all the more wrenching.

My heart really does go out to the hundreds of MANA members around the country who've had to suffer a string of body-blows over the last month or so. First there was the election loss, then the recount added votes for Davis, and now allegations of the tacit non-condemnation of sex offenders are being added to the tally. It's certainly getting more difficult to see how MANA will be able to recover from all of this and seek successful re-election in three years' time considering all that has happened - and, importantly, the fact that we're stilll yet to get the full picture about what's occurred.

Through my years advancing in these political trenches ever closer to the Front Lines down in Wellington, I've become increasingly enamoured of the idea that political parties' Parliamentary operations (i.e. their Bowen House offices and use of Parliamentary Services resources) should not always enjoy the rigorous protection from OIA that they presently do. I say this not only because I've occasionally found myself reduced to having to call up reception and ask to be put through to such-and-such in order to divine  whether a particular of my political enemies is still acting as a waste of taxpayer money by being employed by a political party ... but also because with the way things are set up at the moment, it's *very* possible for the leaders of parties to use their operational budgets to do some pretty *ahem* interesting things without a skerrick of scrutiny for how they're spending *our* money. I won't go into detail, but the difficulty concerned citizens are going to have working out what's transpired here thanks to these protections ought to be evidence enough that perverse outcomes can ensue from this cone of silence.

Further, despite the legal protections afforded to MANA and other parties when it comes to revealing to us down here in the cheap seats how they're using our coin, I would respectfully contend Harawira has something of a moral duty to front up and explain - not just to us taxpayers, but to his own long-suffering party members - exactly what's been going on here with his staffing allocations.

Until then, we're left asking "what didn't he know, and when didn't he know it?" of Harawira, and I'd also be inclined to ask why Awarau was not stood down as soon as Harawira and MANA became aware of the charges laid against him.

As-is, and acutely conscious of the necessity of balancing both the needs and the deservedly protected status of the survivors with what appears to be the desire of about a third of the political spectrum to make this look as bad as possible for Harawira and MANA ... Hone deserves the chance to explain what, exactly, has happened.

As his staffers' paymasters and the people whom he helped to govern and represent for the best part of a decade ... we deserve to be able to judge him on the strength of that (non-)explanation.

Friday, October 24, 2014

An Un-Civil War in Labour, eh? Wait till you see how WE fight from the shadows.

Earlier today, my attention was directed to an entry that's just recently appeared on the Slightly Left of Centre blog.

It purports to contain the 'inside word' from a highly placed NZF source - which is funny, because I'm pretty sure the person in question found themselves wheeled out of our Parliamentary Office many months ago after a kerfuffle featuring a decidedly non-Lenninist style of "Vanguard" party that put his lone star into freefall.

The same individual has been observed madly flitting about the politisphere for much of the previous two years, attempting to play some thrice-interminable game of god-chess with New Zealand First's future prospects for his own ends, and the ends of those connected to him.

I'd previously witnessed the gent in question attempt to breathlessly convince an array of commentators and players that Shane Jones as Winston's designated successor was an iron-clad stroke of genius sure to shortly transpire. Then, through catspaws, they attempted to propel John Tamihere for NZF into the minds of many. Bomber even reported on it, and I believe one of our more recent social media spats was driven by exactly that issue.

The common theme here should be obvious to the more than casual observer: ex-Labour kiddie attempts to muscle in on the future of NZF by deploying his connections in a mad-cap bid to seize command of the still-being-written chapters of NZF's future narrative. Then bolt yourself surgically to the coat-tail once it takes off, and try to steer/capitalize upon the presumptive self-fulfilling prophecy for the sake of your own career and to support your new chosen champion as he angles for our top job. Our friend's evidently run out of Labour contacts now, after an embarrassing series of events that started with a job offer from David Cunliffe ... so it would appear he's changed tac when it comes to the idea of an ex-Labourite takeover of NZF accordingly, and is now trying to pour cold water on the idea.

I guess I'm also laughing because he's evidently retreated a little in stature from talking to the NBR to "word in your ear"'ing a relatively more minor beltway blogger. Perhaps it's because the mainstream media and Parliamentary Press Gallery no longer takes his breathless allegations seriously after that incident with the backfiring allegations about Brendan Horan's CV.

Anyway. It's not my job, and considerably above my pay-grade, to try and sketch out in any sort of detail the factional intricacies of life behind the curtain in NZ First. Besides, the whole damn thing's such a sargasso shoal sea that it's near-constantly shifting in orientation and connectivity to the point that even *I'm* never quite sure who my friends are going to be and who's going to be screaming at me down a phone-line from one week to the next.

But as cannot have escaped the notice of just about *anyone* who even pays *vague* attention to the Beltway and its contrivances ... there is a bit of a moment of strategic potentiality going on inside NZF at present - a gap in the momentum wherein a new rhythm has a chance to develop.

I am, of course, referring to the growing whispers about some sort of "leadership transition" in our camp that began to get seriously out of hand pretty much the moment we got back into Parliament in late 2011.

Back then, the narrative for exterior purposes went that Winston would be around for the forseeable future; but had a vision for an NZF post-him that manifested as Winston being able to sit down to watch the 6 pm news and see the next Leader of NZF giving a speech. Behind the scenes, however, a few back-room boys with buggerall empathy or depth of feeling for the Party (because they're from the Parliamentary side of things rather than the Party, and view this all as a meal-ticket and an opportunity for personal advancement rather than something to pour your passion and the fabric of your very being into, I'm guessing) were pressing for a different trajectory: Winston not putting any effort in to developing an organic and in-house succession plan, and instead pouring his energy into securing a Ministerial bauble off the National-led government so as to execute one last hurrah before being ferried by a Crown limousine off into the sunset and leaving our Party to die.

Needless to say, this is not the Winston I know; and to be frank, there's assumedly something interesting in the fact that the chief proponent of this "strategy" (such as it was) has since left us for purple-er and more pixellated pastures while heeding an altogether different Call of Duty. On the Internet.

Developments in the narrative subsequent to this basically manifested as Tracey Martin and Andrew Williams going head to head for the Deputy Leadership. There's some very interesting stories circulating about how the vote for Deputy Leader went down, but suffice to say Tracey won; and less than a year later Andrew Williams found himself unceremoniously dumped down the list to a nigh unwinnable position. Meanwhile, a mysterious source conveniently made a number of list rankings (including that of new leadership rival Ron Mark) appear in the media many days before the final list was actually announced, with the apparent goal of provoking a journalistic feeding frenzy that would finish one or both of Mark and Williams.

Now, alongside this, the whispers from various subtle sources *before* the election were stating a potential plan of Winston resigning from Leadership of the Party about 18 months into this term, then allowing a putative future leader (whom everyone had been assuming would be Tracey) to take over while Winston stayed on as a Singaporean style "Minister Mentor" (or, if you prefer, Queen Mother).

A number of things have since happened that appear to make this plan rather less likely than it already was to be implemented. I won't go into what these are (although some of them are amusing); but suffice to say Winston now appears to be giving very, very real consideration to staying on through 2017, and possibly even beyond.

Which, of course, presents a bit of a problem if you're somebody who has tethered their wagon to a leadership contender who's not Tracey ... but who doesn't stand to gain very much, either, if Winston continues in the top job.

This explains what was said to Slightly Left Of Centre these past 24 hours. The gentleman (to use a term loosely) providing the "exclusive" (hope any quotes were provided pre-transcriped to two-ply for re-use as nature intended) is trying to *further drive* the same line of thought that we squashed internally a year ago: that i) Winston IS the Party; and ii) that neither prospect this person deems threatening (a Tracey-lead NZF or a disaffected Labourite takeover) for an *actual* post-Winston future for NZF is in reality viable.

Now personally, I don't hugely rate the chances of a band of errant Labour MPs upping sticks and walking on over to New Zealand First at some point in the next year and a half as being especially likely. We'd be viewed as far too fraught a prospect for Labour list MPs desirous of a less up-in-the-air seat-ticket; while any successful Labour electorate MP would be more likely to try and extract substantial concessions from Labour rather than attempting to bring their seat and majority with them to pastures blacker.

But that ain't the point. What IS, is the fact that there's some shadowy self-appointed operative running around Wellington trying to hobble NZF's future by making it look like we lack one. Whether they're doing this because they want to clear the decks for their own chosen champion to have a free run at the Leadership of NZF; or because they're still acting on orders from inside Labour to try and bring us down from within (funny story, that) ... it's kinda telling that this particular person's favourite saying was, reportedly, "You've got to be close to the King to stab him".

I would respectfully contend that this is *exactly* what's been attempted here.

I'm rather more fond of a different quotation, however ... it's from The Wire, and it goes along the lines of "You come at the King - you best not miss".

To the "anonymous" guttersnipe attempted saboteur of our future: You've missed ... and YOU won't be ;)

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Leadership Transitions In Other Parties: A Short Guide

As cannot have escaped anyone's attention by now, the country is presently in the grips of an election and campaign that will help determine the fate of the nation for years to come.

It's gripping stuff - with clear divides on policy and personality; as well as an active and engaged set of voters, and the rare glimmerings of conscience and vision amidst senior MPs. The right wingers might even lose this one!

Too bad I'm talking about Labour's leadership contest rather than the general election some three weeks before it :P

With all the excitement over Labour (a sentence-fragment I am unlikely to re-type for much of the next three years), it's easy to forget that other parties occasionally have their *own* leadership transitions ... some of which can be even more entertaining/infuriating than the one we're all presently transfixed and/or annoyed by.

I mean, while Labour's is relatively simple - check out some of the others.

The Maori Party: Convene with two co-leaders. Find yourself with a Caucus composed of two co-leaders and a third wheel. Have a protracted months-long internal debate convened through the media about how to get *three* co-leaders and ignore snarks about numbers of chiefs relative to number of Indians; before finally having your reform proposal squashed by John Key, who points out he's only got two ministerial spots in government for the Maori Party - so that's how many leaders they'll have.

Realize eventually and once it's far, far too late to change course that you've replaced two co-leaders with one leader ... of the National Party.

ACT: Everyone knows that monopolies are bad! (Except when it comes to Epsom electorate representation, apparently) Implement efficiencies derived from the free market value of competition right here in your own party by constantly changing the leader! Declare the last guy to lead ACT to an election result of more than a single MP to be an unelectable failure and bring in hired guns like Simon Lusk to roll him in a National Party backed coup that's so cap-handed Rodney Hide winds up having to co-ordinate some of it himself. Install the man who lost "the unloseable election" for National back in 2005 while claiming this is somehow an improvement. Reconvene as a slightly more extreme franchise of the National Party. Watch in horror as Brash does the most anyone's ever likely to do to make ACT electable by pushing for cannabis decriminalization ... only for John Banks to angrily claim such a move will be happening "over my dead body". Banks' political corpse turns up later (with what turns out to be many a self-inflicted wound), giving way to an extremist libertarian philosophy professor so in touch with the electorate that he didn't initially realize the campaign trail isn't the best place to preach an academic argument in favour of legalized incest. Shrug halfheartedly as David Seymour becomes surely the youngest leader ever of a Parliamentary party slash tinpot National Party satrapy.

Survive on government handouts for the rest of your days. Nobody really cares that in reality you replaced your leader with the National Party one a long time ago...

The Greens: Constantly and emphatically insist that your hippy values mean you and your party comrades are above the "petty", "vindictive", "internecine", and "fratricidal" "squabbles" that other parties are prone to. When David Hay comes up, suggest he doesn't count. When other examples are cited of leadership aspirants who've swiftly found themselves out of Parliament after contesting leadership elections, claim this isn't a pattern and that functioning on a consensus-basis doesn't have to axiomatically equate to groupthink. Somehow wind up providing stable, unified, and well-regarded leadership that miraculously manages to hit the demographic tickboxes while also being demonstrably competent.

Continue to be thought of as radical, weed-whacking eccentrics by large swathes of Middle New Zealand regardless.

The MANA Party: Attempt to play in the Maori Party's leadership contest. Fail. Set up own party. Fight perception you've lost control of that to alleged Pirate King and spend rest of campaign angrily correcting journalists about another party's cannabis stance while watching elements of your support base go rogue and/or up in smoke.

Consider a comeback as a solo-act.

Peter Dunne: Bewilderingly manage to maintain enough theoretical relevance and respectability to remain electable in Ohariu. Once upon a time this also entailed keeping an occasionally somewhat fractious caucus and party together through ongoing agglomeration ... but these days, not so much. Another party whose leader can genuinely say he enjoys the full support of his parliamentary caucus (thanks largely to being the last man standing while various more extreme MPs and factions have sloughed off only to wind up in the Conservative Party); however, it is rumoured that the United Future constitution contains provisions for a peacock-like duel by plumage in the unlikely event that Peter Dunne turns on Peter Dunne for the leadership. Continually reinvent yourself in an ongoing quest for relevance/salience/enough new members to keep the Electoral Commission from once again designating you're no longer a party/leader of one.

The Conservative Party: Attempt to join just about every other political party that's going. (Yes, Colin even apparently sounded out The Greens). Hit up Winston and offer to be his Deputy Leader. Wonder why nobody's taking you seriously. Set up own political party. Fail to enter Parliament twice, at a cost of somewhere in the region of four and a half million dollars. Rewrite Conservative Party constitution to make it clear you're just seat-warming for the eventual return of the Messiah at some point after the star Wormwood falls into the sea (or, as applies the bits about leading a parliamentary caucus ... once Hell requires an emissions trading scheme).

The National Party: Head-hunt some guy with an impressive-sounding resume from the private sector, corporate-style. Carefully shepherd his pathway to power by, among other things, arranging for the comprehensive leaking of his predecessor's most embarrassing email correspondence - thus forcing the old guy to step down. Watch in frank, and abject amazement as the new guy succeeds beyond anyone's wildest dreams at delivering the goods - power and power companies - that National and its supporters crave. Start to get a bit edgy about the plausibility of the options to succeed him. Hope the *real* leaders of the National Party - Sky City - don't mind taking a bit of a gamble...

Labour: Choose a guy named David. Roll him. We're not quite sure what comes next.

NZF: Bring forth the ancient black and silver scrolls from the sacred Winebox; light a few Dunhill Blues for incense; and sprinkle some Powdered Ministerial Scalp for flavouring. Tan the rhinoceros hide, heat to a molten temperature the steel for his spine; and mix in the pituitary gland of the Tarrasque. Dryclean and press the pinstripe suit. Let the populist discontent smoulder; and bring his outrage to the boil. Finally, complete the ritual by uttering the phrase "Muldoon volvitur in Sepulchro. They're selling the assets off again. Time to Keep the Bastards Honest!" into the construct's ear.

And that's how, just after every election, we ensure Lich-Lord Peters stays animated and casting bolts of dark energy about the House for the next three years.