Tuesday, June 30, 2015

A Short History Of German Debt Forgiveness ... By Other Nations. Why Not For Greece?

Right now, a sovereign debt crisis is engorging Europe. You've all probably read about it, so the precise details don't bear repeating here. But suffice to say Greece is left going "Join the Eurozone, they said. It'll be FUN, they said!" while the rest of Europe (particularly Germany) looks on in abject horror at the prospect of a Greek collapse taking a large swathe of one of the world's largest economies with it.

Into that miasmic malaise, as per usual, rode the horsemen IMF, ECB and E.U.. I believe they're still waiting on Death to turn up and join them.

Instead of bolstering a struggling economy by transferring funds as a form of charitable "development assistance", these institutions have made their loans to Greece conditional, for the most part, on the implementation of a far-right and fundamentally damaging economic agenda that is aptly known as "Austerity".

This hasn't exactly saved the Greek economy; and fed up with the tides of woebegotten misery inflicted upon them by their richer, more powerful neighbours ... the Greeks recently en-masse economically revolted by electing radical left-wing party SYRZA to lead their Government.

Now, SYRZA are a pretty ballsy bunch - and from this commentator's seat in the balmy neoliberal sub-tropics of the South Pacific, I've regularly found myself absolutely and abjectly CHEERING every time they swotted the nose of the Eurozone's masters. Everything from demanding reparations from Germany for the last time they wrecked the Greek economy through to insisting on seeking a popular mandate for their economic agenda was pretty resoundingly awesome in my (admittedly little and red) book.

But some of the solutions to Greece's sovereign debt crisis (and it's multi-headed hydra enough as a problem to call for *solutions* in the definitive plural) need not be NEARLY so novel nor controversial.

For you see, this isn't the first time Europe has dealt with a sovereign debt crisis in an economy starting with G.

Way back in the 1920s, during the time of much-mythologized hyperinflation and Cabaret-listening Weimar Democracy ... it happened to Germany.


It first happened in 1923. Due to the way World War One panned out (with history, as per usual, being decided by the victors), Germany had been required to pay the victorious Allies an enormous sum totalling 132 billion gold marks (the equivalent of hundreds of billions of NZ dollars today). This, obviously, wasn't entirely feasible for the cash-strapped and broadly ruined post-war German economy - and so they effectively defaulted on their reparations.

One thing lead to another, and Germany's then-industrial heartland of the Ruhr found itself being jointly occupied by France and Belgium (the latter of which was presumably quite enjoying being an aggressive military power somewhere outside of Africa, for a change).

Predictably, the German economy suffered further as a direct result of the military occupation and the conditions imposed on Germany during same - leading to additional impairment of Germany's ability to pay the much sought-after reparations.

The result of this ongoing farce was something called the Dawes Plan - a foreign fiscal intervention designed to put Germany back in a position to meet her reparations debt ... by loaning money to her and externally imposing conditions on government fiscal and monetary policy.

Is this starting to sound familiar, yet ...?

To be fair, softening the conditions of repayment down to a mere *billion* marks a year (and, y'know ... de-occupying a large and important swathe of German economic activity) had some positive short-term effects. Getting Germany's creditors off her back somewhat, and an influx of foreign money certainly staved off the very real prospect of fairly immediate and sharp continued economic decline.

And yet, it wasn't enough.

By 1929, Germany was once again in danger of defaulting on its international debt obligations, requiring another reduction in the level of repayments and yet another round of international credit financing.

This was called the Young Plan - and despite being agreed immediately before that other great economic event of 1929, the Wall Street Crash - it pretty much never found itself implemented.

Ensuing events from 1933 onward featuring the popular election of a socialist government of a *decidedly* different stripe in Germany seemed to put the matter somewhat to rest.

But that wasn't the end of it.

Recognizing that ruinously high levels of foreign debt would *not* be conducive to recovery, peace or stability in newly-re-democratized West Germany; in 1953 the victorious Western Allies once again forgave massive levels of German debt.

This resulted in a situation wherein Germany was able to steadily whittle down

The really interesting part of the 1953 Settlement was a clause which limited German debt repayments to a percentage of German trade surpluses. Or, in other words, a slice of what Germany's creditor nations were buying off her in terms of exports.

Needless to say, this spurred German economic recovery by steadfastly encouraging the rest of the world to buy off the Germans - while also limiting what Germany would have to pay to her foreign benefactors to a reasonable and sustainable figure.


It's just a pity there apparently isn't the political will to continue to do this sort of thing today.

An entire Nation of people should not be made to suffer simply for the mistakes of a generation of politicians.

It may have taken quite literally thirty years, but eventually Germany's creditor nations realized this themselves.

We can but hope that Germany eventually learns to look to the mistakes of her past and take heed of them when dealing with another nation in a similar position.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Life After Winston - On The Future Leadership of NZ First - Part One: Pretenders To The Throne

The New Zealand First Leadership Post Peters - Prospects & Pretenders


The recent débâcle over the Conservative leadership causes one to question the viability of any political party based around one individual. While Colin's Craig Conservative Party is stillborn, other personality based political movements have enjoyed considerable success, both here in New Zealand and around the world. 

Just ask Winston Peters – the man whose politics Craig tried and failed to emulate.

New Zealand First was once described as the “Peters Party”. For many years, it was the personal vehicle of its Leader. Arguably, it still is. Scores of NZ First MPs have come and gone over the last 22 years. But its Leader has remained unchanged. Nevertheless, the NZ First Party of 2015 is not the same party that won the Tauranga by-election in 1993. Over time the party has matured into something resembling a conventional mass political party. And yet, it is almost inconceivable to imagine an NZ First without Winston Peters.

So, that begs the question. What would happen if NZ First, for whatever reason, were suddenly to find itself in the same position the hapless Conservatives are in? Who among the existing caucus of NZ First MPs could carry the party post-Winston? Or would the saviour of NZ First have to come from elsewhere?

This article is the first piece in a multi-part series examining in detail and from a uniquely insider's point of view the various options on offer to succeed Winston.

Be warned. Some of the revelations contained herein will lay bare the sorts of back-room political maneuverings outsiders and those outside the highest echelons of politics rarely get to see. It may even help to redraw bits of the political map as you know it. 

Part 1: The outsiders

Back in August 2013, Martyn Bradbury wrote a piece on TDB entitled “The two words that ensure NZ First gain above 5% –John Tamihere”. Bradbury speculated that the disgraced former Labour MP might be considering a move to NZ First with a view to succeeding Peters. This idea was endorsed by JT's mate and (then) RadioLive co-host Willie Jackson.

To outside observers it might just have seemed media hype - but in fact, Tamihere himself was interested in the role. Following a chance encounter with Winston at the Green Parrot in August of 2012, Tamihere opened a back-channel with NZ First via the parliamentary office of Party whip Barbara Stewart. Tamihere revealed to NZF that he was considering a return to Parliament and discussed the possibility of doing this through joining NZ First.

In the end, Tamihere chose to stay with the Labour Party; and promptly covered himself in a substance not quite akin to glory. But a Peters/Tamihere alliance was never likely to begin with. For one, it would have required Winston to abandon his opposition to the “Whanau Ora” scheme; a programme that Tamihere is intimately involved with as chief executive of the Waipareira Trust. Such re-positioning is not unheard of in politics, but for a leader who has based a large part of his career on attacking race based privilege - and who seemed to spend much of 2012 campaigning against the so-called "Bro-ocracy" "Brown Elephant" Whanau Ora represented - it would have been a bridge too far. 

More to the point, Tamihere's own inflammatory and risk-prone personal style - as best demonstrated by his magnificently mangled attempt to re-join the Labour Party through media-coup and his abominable on-air handling of the RoastBusters issue a year later - would cause just about any political party to think twice at the very least about allowing him to represent them in public, much less in The House. Given Winston's personal nature as a fastidious avoider of risk (to the point that entire nation-wide election campaigns regularly seem to be run by him personally so as to avoid mistakes), the unpredictable and explosive element which Tamihere would add to a Caucus meant that he constituted a singularly non-viable addition to NZF's. Indeed, you could very well call him the "Anti-Winston". 

Tamihere was not the first political has-been rumoured to be plotting a comeback with NZ First, however. In 2010, there was speculation in the media that then-Wanganui mayor, ex-MP and former NZ First strategist Michael Laws was in talks with Peters to return as a candidate and possibly even Deputy Leader. In private, Peters would later dismiss Laws as having too much personal baggage; while the Party never forgave Laws for his tell-all book The Demon Profession. Meanwhile, every time a Laws return has been mentioned subsequent to this, a small mountain of negative correspondence from voters and members would inevitably be sent in to the Party's Board of Directors and Parliamentary offices.

Speaking of controversial figures from local body politics, in 2010 a third contender emerged out of the ashes of the 2010 Auckland Super-Mayoralty elections. At the time, this man was lesser known. Certainly not someone capable of commanding national headlines for a week as he is today. He was the owner of a property management company, a self-professed millionaire, and conservative Christian who played a pivotal role in organizing the so-called “March for Democracy”.

Yes. That man was failed Auckland mayoral candidate and future leader of the Conservative Party, Colin Craig. TDB can now reveal that in late 2010, Winston Peters derisively rejected a proposal from Craig that would have seen Craig elected deputy leader of NZ First in return for a substantial donation to the Party.

Ultimately, none of these men were good enough for Peters. Nor fit to lead any serious political party. At best, they would lead NZ First into electoral oblivion. At worst, they would tarnish the Peters legacy forever.

But then, another candidate has stepped out of the shadows (or, if you prefer, out of the Pacific) in recent times.

Shane Jones
Shane Geoffrey Jones shares many similarities with Winston Raymond Peters. They both grew up in rural Northland. They are Maori. They are known for their oratory. Indeed, Jones himself has consciously banked on this in the past, comparing himself in a 2008 interview with NZ Herald journalist Michele Hewiston to the NZ First leader, saying, “I seem to be about to occupy Winston's sort of shoes in the pantheon of personalities in Maori politics”. He may have been woefully premature in that proclamation; but as demonstrated by the demographic Jones semi-successfully reached out to during his abortive Labour leadership campaign, there does indeed appear to be some cross-over in ethos and appeal. He's certainly an innate populist, and it could even be argued he's something of an economic nationalist. The two are also close on a personal level.

The boy from Whananaki has a lot of time for the boy from Awanui. But could Jones ever lead NZ First?

Matthew Hooton certainly believes so. In March last year, Hooton wrote for the National Business Review: “Shane Jones has got to look to the future. He doesn't like the Labour Party, the Labour Party doesn't like him.But there's a fantastic opportunity for him to become a New Zealand First MPand barnstorm the nation with Winston Peters.” Jones dismissed the advice, but his resignation from Parliament a month later prompted further speculation about his political future.

Fellow Northland Maori politician Hone Harawira appeared to endorse the idea of Jones defecting to NZ First when he was inadvertently recorded discussing the possibility of Jones “[coming] back with Winston in 2017”. Now, after Peters' remarkable victory in the Northland by-election, there would appear to be a clear pathway back for Jones. Particularly if Winston does decide to be a nation-wide "list only" candidate in 2017 as he has done for the previous several elections; thus requiring someone to hold fort against the inevitable furious National revanchism in their former stronghold. 

The appearance of Shane Jones at Winston Peters' victory celebration in Russell on the night of the Northland by-election could be seen as coincidental. However, in politics such coincidences are rare enough to be remarkable in and of themselves. TDB can reveal that Jones' long-term partner Dorothy Pumipi was involved in the planning and organisation of Peters' 2015 Northland campaign. Furthermore, TDB can confirm that Jones was approached by a figure close to the upper echelons of the Party as early as 2012. A young Parliamentary Services staffer from the NZ First Leader's Office, Api Dawson, lobbied Jones to leave Labour and join NZ First during a visit to Rarotonga with the Parliamentary rugby team in September 2012.

This casts a new light on the Peters-Jones relationship. It suggests something more than a coincidence or casual linkage is perhaps behind their recent public proximity. Whether or not this is evidence of a succession plan, we cannot be sure. What we can be sure of is that Jones remains very much in contention for the leadership of NZ First.

But how viable is that contention, in reality?

I'd say questionable in the extreme, at best. 

First of all, his lack of history with the party is problematic. Commentators such as Hooton overlook the fact that NZ First has a membership in the thousands, with an elected board of directors and a caucus of 12 MPs. Each of these individuals has some stake in the running of the party. While its leader continues to wield disproportionate influence over the caucus and the board, this influence has diminished since 2008. Few decisions are made without deliberation. Where there is conflict, Peters usually yields to the collective judgement of those around him. When he does act unilaterally, he is challenged (a subject for another post).

Despite the fact that NZF's internal structure remains a labyrinthine network of patronage and personal loyalties all tied fairly directly to Winston, the days of Peters having absolute power are gone. That means any future leader would need to command the loyalty and support of the Party on a personal basis in a manner at least vaguely similar to the way Winston does. It is not enough to simply have Peters' endorsement, and expect the rank-and-file to automatically fall into line. 

Here, Jones lacks two essential qualities. He does not have the patience or the work ethic to build a network of supporters within the party. This was one of the flaws that hampered his bid for the Labour leadership. It is difficult to see Jones cultivating the necessary multitude of relationships with other MPs, board members, low-level party functionaries and volunteers – the people whom Peters has depended on for his political survival. Many long-time Party stalwarts are likely to view Jones with suspicion and contempt (no one likes to be upstaged by a late-comer). Peters, for all his flaws, knows how to make people feel valued. His warmth and empathy will not carry over to Jones.

Leaving aside the use of his ministerial credit to purchase pornography, Jones' overblown proclivity for colourful language and odd sexual innuendo - as detailed by Dr Brian Edwards in 2013 - further calls into question his suitability for leadership, particularly of New Zealand First. Despite my frequent protestations to the contrary (and the widespread support enjoyed by Ron Mark for his "shut the fuck up" comment) there remains a large and vocal swathe of NZ First voters who are fundamentally if not stereotypically conservative in such matters. Such braggadocio is the antithesis of Peters' own meticulous image - and for good reason. 

Another plain fact is that Jones is a perennial loser. He twice failed to win the seat of Northland for Labour, each time coming a distant second. In 2011, despite much media hype and the full strength of the Labour Party machine behind him, Jones failed to unseat Pita Sharples in the seat of Tāmaki Makaurau. As if three electoral failures in a row were not enough, Jones then took another beating in the Labour leadership contest of 2013. Despite his oratorical skills and intellectual prowess, it appears that Jones lacks any of Peters' electoral appeal.

Potential future developments in Wairarapa notwithstanding (rest assured: we'll cover him in a future article); assuming Peters holds Northland in 2017 and retires ahead of the 2020 election, the fate of NZ First could depend on Jones winning the seat. His relationship with the fisheries industry, as well as Iwi, will mean Jones can fill the party coffers in a way Peters never could. But as we learnt from ACT and the Conservatives, money doesn't win elections. Should Jones become the leader of NZ First it will likely end in calamity. Even if he won Northland, Jones would struggle to carry the Party with him - at best leaving him satrap of a dangerously marginal northern outpost amidst a collapsing internal administration ... and more likely, a one-term wonder with even less claim to legitimacy as a party than Peter Dunne presently enjoys. 


For many external commentators, predicting the imminent demise of New Zealand First as soon as Winston Peters steps back from the captain's chair has proven something of an irresistible predilection. Certainly, the fate of even relatively successful minor parties such as ACT or The Alliance once the personalities prominent at their founding recede from the scene might be taken as prescriptive.

And yet, it seems quite likely that there will be a future post-Winston for New Zealand First.

It's hard for an organization built around one man to persist, let alone survive and thrive year in and year out. But across the decades to the present day, this is *exactly* what New Zealand First appears to have done. Despite a string of relatively serious internal controversies over the previous half-decade, the New Zealand First of today appears to be in rude and robust health. Not only did the Party successfully nearly double the size of its Parliamentary Caucus between 2011 and 2015 from 7 MPs to 12; its Parliamentarians have also, in many cases, carved out deserved reputations for competency and even independent initiative in the House and elsewhere.

On top of this, and arguably just as importantly for the Party's future, the Party's ranks of volunteers and future candidate prospects are swiftly growing. Thanks at least in part to the efforts of NZ First Youth, it's now not uncommon to see university students and under-30s at regular Party meetings. This combination of a ready supply of seasoned activists and burgeoning future potential is vital for any long-term political project; but as New Zealand First nears its Momentum Excitationis in the not-too-distant future, such resources are particularly important in ensuring our future viability.

And this why, ultimately, it's rather difficult to see how an external new-entrant like Jones or some other as-yet-unknown third party would make for a viable successor to Winston.

As previously mentioned, New Zealand First runs internally on a byzantine network of quasi-feudal personal power-dynamics and man-to-man connections. Almost every local chairman will have some measure of personal relationship with (and, needless to say, personal loyalty to) Winston. In that respect, it's sort of like the Mafia but without the insulating cell-structure.

This has been remarkably effective at keeping the vital core of the Party together and ideologically aligned through some incredibly tough and traumatic times that would have splintered less closely knit electoral organizations ... but it comes at a cost. 

Obviously, if your Party is organized around an interlocking filigree of personal loyalty to one man, replacing that man is going to cause something of a structural weakness at the center. The possibility that some outsider agent could therefore parachute in at the top and suddenly take over without some very, very serious initial preparatory work is, therefore, an exceedingly remote one.

More likely, what we shall see transpire as we head toward the Post-Winston Era is an internecine power struggle between two already-coagulating armed camps within the Party. Indeed, a cynic/realist might argue that this has already begun to happen; and that a series of curious instances such as star MP Ron Mark's inexplicably low placing on the 2014 List or the more recent attempt to have a relative of NZ First Deputy Leader Tracey Martin enter Parliament through the list instead of Ria Bond after Winston won Northland ... represent the early stages of such a game already being played in earnest.

But those are matters for a future article.

Be sure to join us next week for Part Two in our Life After Winston series: "Tracey Martin - Queen of Hearts".

This piece has been a joint effort between long-serving former New Zealand First Board of Directors member Curwen Ares Rolinson, and a mysterious Southern gentleman known only as "Eduardo". 

Thursday, June 25, 2015

When Does National Say Protesting At Parliament A "Serious Risk"?

Yesterday, a crew of GreenPeace affiliated activists scaled Parliament in order to install solar panels.

Predictably, this annoyed the hell outta the National Party - and not least because it made something of a laughing-stock of Parliamentary security.

Speaker of the House David Carter came out strongly against the action - calling it a "serious risk", referring to the action as an "attack", and inviting the Police onto the Parliamentary Precinct in order to deal with the protest.

This stands in marked contravention to the way National has responded to some previous protest actions at Parliament - with luminaries who will no doubt be baying for some book-throwing striking up quite a different tune when it came to their own peers.

Then-Deputy Leader Gerry Brownlee insisted that prosecuting National MP Shane Ardern for driving a tractor called Myrtle up the steps of Parliament constituted a "frivolous prosecution" and lamented the "extraordinary expense police [had] gone to". It didn't seem to matter that he directly defied Parliament's manager of security and operations attempting to stop him - and I can't help but note that in contrast to Carter's actions, then-Speaker of the House Jonathan Hunt deliberately refused to attempt to influence the Police in their decision as to whether or not to get involved.

Further, I don't seem to recall even a hint of disquiet from National MPs about future Speaker of the House Lockwood Smith's actions during the same protest. Not only did he brazenly lead a pair of cows up the steps of Parliament ... one even defecated on our national legislature.

National's protest action quite literally expressed both their contempt for and contribution to our democracy (so very, very much "Bovine Scatology" - as Winston would say) ... and nobody batted an eye.

But four peaceful protesters scale Parliament to provide it with free power ... and suddenly everyone loses their minds.

So in short: when does National reckon protesting at Parliament is a "serious risk"?

Answer: when it's not a National MP doing it. Preferably, for a cause that's anti-sustainability rather than pro-renewables.

[Thanks to Michael Bott for providing the inspiration for this article]

On The Brighter Future With Solar Panels On Parliament

Yesterday morning, I woke up to news that four GreenPeace protesters had scaled Parliament, and were presently engaged in installing solar panels on the pediment.

This is, needless to say, a highly risky and rather exciting means to protest and highlight our collective over-dependence on fossil energy. But I shall not get into the moralities or exigencies of that here. Suffice to say I hope we can all agree that this Government has not done enough to support renewable energy (instead choosing to reward damaging extractive industries by helping out foreign oil and coal concerns); and that there's strong potential for us to make greater use of renewables here in New Zealand.

Instead, what I want to share with you is a little anecdote that immediately popped into my head as soon as I read the headlines about this incident.

For you see, this isn't the first time somebody's installed solar panels on a high-profile government building. Not least as a publicity exercise.

Way back in 1979, President Jimmy Carter had solar panels installed on the roof of the White House. Then, as now, the Developed World found itself in the grips of an Energy Crisis. Except whereas today's woes are caused by a gradual and growing realization that our supplies of these resources are finite (and, to be fair, certain geopolitical happenings) ... the crisis back in his day was primarily driven by a series of oil embargoes and crises at the source. First, in 1973 Arab states initiated an embargo and price-hike designed to punish America and its allies for intervening in the recent Yom Kippur War against Israel. That was then followed by the chaos of the Iranian Revolution in 1979. This lead to the previously unheard-of situation in the US of long queues for petrol at service stations, and oil prices that would, within a year, reach a height unsurpassed again until 2008. Here in New Zealand, this gave us the phenomenon of Carless Days; a synthetic oil refinery at Motunui, and the #Muldoonist stab at providing renewable energy through hydroelectricity. (Gosh, reducing our use of pollution-causing private transport while increasing our use of renewable energy? Sounds almost Green :D )

In any case, rather than aggressive military intervention, Carter decided to pursue the 'smarter' course of action: moves toward energy independence, secured through renewables. As he pointed out at the time, you can't embargo the sun. (unless, of course, we're talking about the backstory to The Matrix)

Carter proudly proclaimed of his solar panels that "A generation from now, this solar heater can either be a curiosity, a museum piece, an example of a road not taken, or it can be a small part of one of the greatest and most exciting adventures ever undertaken by the American people".

And where is that solar panel now?

It's in a museum in China.

How appropriate.

Let's not be like America after Carter. Let's have a sane and sober conversation, as a Nation, about how we move forward into the sunlight of a less fossil-fuel dependent future.

After all - as Winston says, fossil fuels are a "sunset industry" with only a very limited future.

Let's not join them ;)

On Healthcare - National, Dunne And ACT Are Heartless, Brainless, Spineless.

During the 2014 Election campaign, New Zealand First announced a policy of giving Gold Card holders 3 free doctor's visits a year. We thought this was pretty sound policy, the merits of which would outright speak for themselves.

As I've blogged earlier this week, pensioners are on fixed and pretty limited incomes. Doctor's visits are expensive. There's therefore a huge disincentive for pensioners to go visit their local GP for a regular checkup - or even in cases wherein there's clearly something wrong.

That's bad. And not just for the pensioners in question. At the forefront of EVERY policymaker's political consciousness and conscience ought to be how the state can help alleviate the suffering and improve the lives of all our citizens - particularly vulnerable Kiwis like pensioners.

But there's also a cold, hard fiscal-financial reason for advocating such a policy, as well.

Early interventions don't just save lives. They save cash and hospital resources, too. If we can get to a problem at the GP-level - and treat it early - then that means the patient doesn't have to be referred on up the chain to a hospital because things have already gotten more serious.

It also leaves hospitals with more time and resources to deal with emergencies, and other patients with immediately urgent health concerns. And all thanks to a quick visit to the GP detecting the problem earlier - and starting management of it accordingly.

In other words, it's a totally common sense and widely popular policy.

And I should therefore be *entirely unsurprised* that National, Peter Dunne, and ACT have done everything in their power to prevent it from happening.

Winston Peters put forward a bill to make our policy a reality. Had it passed, it would have been a simple and effective way of looking after our old people while reducing hospital wait-times and healthcare costs to both consumers and taxpayers.

Unfortunately, despite each of the Labour Party, the Green Party and even the Maori Party coming together to support New Zealand First's bill ... it failed last night in the House. By ONE vote. A single conscience which ought to hang heavy for standing in the way of alleviating misery for tens of thousands of older New Zealanders.

And what justification did the right-wing knife-edge cossacks cite for denying the bill's passage? Cost.

Because apparently, having preventable illnesses dealt with in our hospitals costs less than having those same problems detected and treated at a far earlier stage thanks to a GP. Because the absolutely minuscule fiscal cost of giving Gold Card holders 3 free doctor's visits a year is an unjustifiable expense and the Government would MUCH rather count a mounting cost in human turmoil and misery from our elderly instead.

Because that's what Neoliberalism is all about. A stupid, short-sighted strangulation of an over-emphasis on short-term immediately apparent "costs" while ignoring utterly and completely the larger and long-term savings in both monetary and mortal (if not outright mortality) terms. And an absolute emphatic insistence upon "user pays" - even when the "users" in question might lack the funds or the fortitude to do something as simple as shelling out the cost of a doctor's visit.

Make no mistake. What we saw last night in The House was the true face of this government. One that doesn't care one iota about the actual wellbeing of some of its most vulnerable citizens when there's an imaginary "surplus" it can ride off in pursuit of.

Having said that, it wasn't just National, ACT and United Future prepared to sacrifice ease of access to medical care for the elderly to the surplus-slasher's knife come the last Election. Labour, too, announced a similar policy to NZF's (as per usual, we thank them for knowing a good idea when they see one) ... but then revoked it once again in quixotic pursuit of surplus.

In a spirit of fairness, I should therefore like to congratulate the Labour Party for recanting on their earlier policy commitments and choosing to put people before bottom lines in supporting New Zealand First on this issue.

In any case, given the Government was good enough to adopt *another* NZ First inspired policy in the form of free doctor's visits for under-13s as part of its most recent Budget ... it's plainly apparent that they already get the logic behind preventative medicine and early interdiction.

So I guess we're left asking: If they were prepared to do something to help their target support demographic of young families ... why are they not prepared to do something very similar to help *our* perceived main support demographic in the form of the elderly?

Is it because they're playing politics with the people's health?

Monday, June 22, 2015

Exclude Gareth Morgan From Political Process And End His War On The Elderly

One thing I really, really hate in this world ... is the certain sort of economist or business-person who blithely assumes that just because they've demonstrated an alleged competency in *one* field of human endeavour, that this means we are all axiomatically beholden to listen to them in their parsimonious if not pugnacious opinions on just about everything else.

Fresh from his resounding successes at abolishing housecatsincome taxunhealthy eating habits, and the economically progressive wing of the Green Party (otherwise known as "The Green Party"), Gareth Morgan's at it again.

This time, apparently declaring war on some of our most vulnerable citizens (and perhaps not coincidentally, the mainstay of the stereotypical NZ First voterbase), The Elderly.

Now let's get one thing straight. I'm biased. I *like* many of our older citizens - and not just because they're often appreciative of the work my Chief has done for them.

When it comes to my political values, I've often found myself absolutely bowled over and surprised by how much there is in common between people of my generation and our illustrious forebears. I still remember the first time I addressed an NZF meeting, I went on a bit of a rant about how we were going to Unmake Neoliberalism in New Zealand and restore some sort of Social Democratic Sanity to both our economy and our society. A "fair go" kind of ethos wherein we didn't just close our eyes and blindly trust in the market and hope that things would get better. Where The State was an active, interventionist and CARING one that stepped in both to curb the market's excesses - and, more importantly, to protect its citizens and boost up and bolster their prospects.

Now, this met with resounding applause. Not because I'm any great orator (at least, I wasn't, then) ... but because to these people I wasn't describing some mythical Camelot or City on a Hill.

I was describing exactly the sort of New Zealand they felt they'd grown up in - and then watched cruelly ripped asunder from them during the Rogernomics and Ruthanasia economic reforms of the 1980s and early 1990s.

So this is why many of that generation GO OUT AND VOTE at EVERY ELECTION. Not because of some high-minded idealist rhetoric about how they were also literally the same generation who not infrequently put life and limb on the line to fight for YOUR right to vote here and now in the future. They did that too - and to the veterans who've fought for this country, rest assured you have my eternal and enduring gratitude for what you have done for me and my people.

But instead, because they KNOW that a better society - a fairer society ... hell, one where you can even swim in the rivers like they used to do - is possible. And they're generally hella, hella pissed at the fact that a rogue generation of economists like Gareth Morgan have seen fit to fundamentally distort this in favour of "market equilibriums" and "the state should not interfere".

That rhetoric's evil. And these elderly voters ... they're not afraid to call it out for what it is.

Now into this fray rides our very own Man from La Mancha on a motorbike, Gareth Morgan.

Morgan has some very, very funny ideas. One of those is his cat-astrophic campaign to eliminate the main predator of rats and mice within New Zealand (you'll note those are devourers of Kiwi bird-life at a rate that outstrips cats), apparently heedless of the ecological consequences of same. Another is his ongoing quixotic crusade to destroy the Green Party by vainly shouting from the sidelines about how it ought to coalesce with National, and ditch most of its values in the process.

A third, is his continual effort to overhaul the pension system.

Now let's be clear about this. Contra to Morgan's assertions, the New Zealand state pension is not "Fat".

It is, in fact, between $295.41 and $431.10 a week. A minimum wage job, by contrast, is $590 a week. And we already, as a society, acknowledge that the latter figure is not exactly enough to live on.

So when Morgan breathlessly claims that our senior citizens don't "deserve" to be looked after in their old age because they're effectively, in his view, creaming a "fat" income off all of the rest of our common backs ... I find this absolutely repugnant.

Hard-working New Zealanders who've hit retirement in the last few years and decades have spent the best years of their lives paying taxes - in the case of income generated before Neoliberalism, often quite HIGH taxes - in order to provide the infrastructure, services and support systems which subsequent generations have been lucky enough to enjoy. They've also done this on the implicit - if not outright explicit in some cases - promise that we would ALSO look after THEM when the time came that they were no longer up to earning their own income in the work-force.

That's the social compact (or contract) in action, pure plain and simple.

Now to be fair, the state COULD have been a bit smarter about moving to provide for the needs of its citizens in their retirement - and Morgan is quite right when he points out the lamentable folly of Key's government suspending contributions to the Cullen Fund while also negligently divesting itself of an income-earning state-asset base which might have helped to pay for future state services and social spending.

But his dual, forked-tongue proposed alternative solutions are abominable.

Quite apart from placing the welfare and income-streams of our elderly under threat ... he wants to ensure a lack of opposition to his dastardly scheme by straight-up disenfranchising the elderly! I'm not going to stoop to the depths of rhetoric entailed by his luridly phrased metaphor about "financial genocide" - but it's not particularly hard to think of other instances wherein entire classes of people have been robbed of their democratic rights in order to mete out a discriminatory injustice against them.

The logic for this is, apparently, that only by removing the voices and the votes of our senior citizens from our democracy can the country prosper. This is in spite of the fact that the fiercest resistors of neoliberalism - and ultimately, the generations that gave us MMP in the first place - are still some of the most active and engaged contributors to the protection of same. I fully agree that more needs to be done to encourage and engage young potential-voters by giving them a stake in our democracy (it's one of the reasons why I'm in politics) ... but getting rid of the elderly so that young people have more of a relative say seems highly sketchy if not outright spurious reasoning at best. You might like to phrase it as "excluding one of the most politically active and experienced generations in order to engage the one that often can't be bothered voting".

But I have more faith in the social conscience of young voters than Gareth Morgan himself seems to possess or appears to think we have. The obvious testament to this is the number of people my age I met who've said they were voting New Zealand First not just because of their nationalistic streak, or our kick-arse policies for youth ... but because they respected and admired the job we did of looking after their grand-parents, too.

We recognize that a stable, sane and fair society is not one in which - Logan's Run style - you wind up being excluded and marginalized just because of your age. But rather, one in which both the previous contributions and the present needs of our citizenry are acknowledged, respected, and engaged with appropriately.

Not least because, as in the case of our older New Zealanders, they've often lived through the mistakes of the past and come through them with the wisdom which we can learn from if we wish to repeat them.

Having said that, there's one older New Zealander who, through their ongoing fruitcake contributions to our public sphere (and I *don't* mean Alison Holst), has potentially demonstrated they're no longer worthy of a say.

I think it's high time we let Gareth Morgan take his own advice and disregard his self-appointed political role in our society.

Friday, June 19, 2015

The Likely Contenders For Conservative Party Leadership - Meet The New Con ... Same As The Old Con?

So yesterday, I marveled at the stupidity of the Conservative Party plotting to roll its own leader/founder/funder/best-shot-at-getting-into-Parliament.

At the time, this was in no small part due to the difficulty I figured they'd have in replacing Craig as leader of their party.

Well, Colin's done the potentially honourable (slash unthinkable) thing and stood down in advance of a Conservative board meeting that was tipped to roll him. They've moved the vote back in light of this to next Saturday according to Jordan Williams on twitter; and at this stage, it's anyone's guess as to who'll step into the ring to contend for the leadership.

So, without further adieu ... let's meet the likely challengers.

First up, there's Colin Craig. The No-Brainer option. Literally. For proof of this, see his political career for much of the last three years, featuring everything from suing our best-known and most-loved satirical website through to the Moonlandings/Chemtrails fiasco and various claims about the hereditary nature of sin expressed in the genes of short employees during compulsory prayer meetings at his company. There was also the time at Auckland University wherein, in a vain attempt to argue against equality of marriage, he quite literally got his balls out on stage. (a rugby ball, and a soccer ball, in a sack, for the record)

Quite literally a laughingstock. Arguably slightly insane. Insufferably earnest. Still probably both the most reasonable-for-the-rest-of-the-population and logical-for-the-party contender. Scary.

Next, the man I love to hate and whom the New Zealand judicial system can't seem to get enough of ... John Archibald Banks. On the face of it, a damn near PERFECT contender and candidate. Has a huge swathe of political experience at both the Parliamentary and local body levels - something Colin definitely lacks. Can preach just about any abjectly silly and spurious creed with an *absolutely straight face* (for example his continuous claims that he was innocent in the donations scandal - and more worryingly, protestations that he intended to stand for Parliament in the 2014 Election; or that ACT's arch-neoliberal creed contained the answers for child poverty). Has a demonstrable track-record and history as a conservative-bigot icon, memorably praying in Parliament against the passage of the Homosexuality Reform bill in 1986 ... and subsequently describing the act of shoving barbed wire up the arse of a gay man as a waste of barbed wire. Is presently short of a party. Would hopefully mean he wouldn't make yet another run at Auckland Mayoralty.

Unfortunately for his prospects in the Conservatives (and much to my pleasant surprise and admiration), he voted for equality of marriage.

Probably an outsider at this stage, but a semi-credible one at that.

Third, Christine Rankin. Otherwise known as the Conservative Party's Buddhist fig-leaf limply plastered on to the front of its massive great honking conservative Christian agenda. On the pro-side, she's easily the second most recognizable political "brand" associated with the Conservatives after Colin Craig. Allegedly smart. Handily counteracts misogyny claims by being .. well .. a woman. In a position of relative power and influence within the Conservatives. Who isn't Rachel MacGregor. Has a personal history and lifestyle that would certainly put the damper on allegations that the Conservative Party are all staid, arch-moralistic types. If Colin's isn't doing that already :P

Might potentially rile some of their more *ahem* conservative base with all of the above and the fact that she's a city-based former bureaucrat.

Probably the most realistic immediate non-Colin option.

Fourth. Maurice Williamson. Probably an outsider-so-far-outside-he's-in-the-outhouse contender due to his Big Gay Rainbow Over Pakuranga speech in Parliament when voting for Marriage Equality ... but then again, as his flirtation with ACT proves - he's looking for another party. Quite possibly ANY other party.

In much the same way as John Banks, brings with him a wealth of Parliamentary political experience - and if he runs for Cons leader, it'll safely keep him away from a stab at the Auckland Mayoralty. Has also recently started taking on the Government (of all people - you know, that thing he's nominally part of) in Parliament over Auckland transport issues. Is clearly cruising for a bruising and might feel he arguably has little to lose by switching horses. Williamson's seat of Pakuranga also represents a potentially strong base of Conservative Party support, with the local Conservative candidate racking up an impressive three and a half thousand votes on Polling Day last year.

If the Cons can look past his earlier and ardent support for equality of marriage, Williamson might make a surprisingly good fit. He'd certainly gel well with their more right-wing economic elements; and he looks set to be on the outer with his own present part for quite some time yet anyway. Would also bring with him something no other contender would be able to match: his own semi-portable electorate seat. It's not entirely inconceivable that Williamson's personal popularity would see him able to take his holding in Pakuranga with him over to the Boys in Lighter Blue - and thus grant them a phenomenally easy vehicle into Parliament via a by-election. This would also be a potentially shrewd move by National if they only put up a token resistance - they'd gain an extra support partner fundamentally well-disposed to their agenda and lead by a semi-pliant former stooge. All for the cost of ... well, nothing in particular, really - a somewhat renegade back-bencher.

A smart choice for both National and Conservative parties, but we'll see what eventuates.

Finally, there's Sensible Sentencing Trust head honcho Garth McVicar. Apparently seen by many ranking Cons as the natural successor to Colin, given they've now approached him as an alternate option AND pushed him in the media for same at every coup attempt they've made since the last Election. Managed a VERY credible 7603 votes in the Napier electorate back in 2014 - about half of winning candidate and provincial Labour man Stuart Nash, and only a little under four thousand behind the second placed National candidate. Brings with him an excellent and virtually tailor-made personal brand that would fill a natural hole in Kiwi politics that's been left somewhat unoccupied since ACT stopped being *quite* so silly about law-and-order-issues-that-apply-to-people-who-aren't-their-own-MPs.

Unfortunately, he appears to have ruled himself out of the running. Not just this time, either - but also the last time it was offered to him on a silver-spooned platter back in March of this year. Probably, therefore, not a goer. Doesn't want to damage the Sensible Sentencing Trust by leaving them in the lurch to take time off to do Parliamentary politics again, by the looks of things.

Then again, things might change between now and next Saturday.

All things considered, this is hardly likely to be a complete list. I would almost bet that I've missed more than a few semi-big names who'd either be interested in putting their hands up for a ready-made political party in the vainglorious hopes of being Mr (or Miss, potentially) Right and managing to finally succeed where Colin's failed in taking it to Parliament.

Will be interesting to see what comes out of the woodwork.

And get ready to laugh accordingly.

OK So It Turns Out The Gateway Drug Theory Was Right. Dunne Considering Legalized MDMA

Yesterday, I put out a piece on TDB stating that the Gateway Drug theory was something of a paranoid delusion.

Today, I'm having to eat my words somewhat. Because, you see, Peter Dunne has just demonstrated it in action.

I nearly dropped my biscuit this morning when I read this piece from 3News stating that Peter Dunne was reportedly "willing to discuss" a proposal to legalize MDMA.

It's taken him quite literally only a matter of weeks to proceed from a one-off usage of medicinal marijuana through to contemplating the use of harder drugs like ecstasy - a clear example of the slippery slope you start down once rational, evidence-based drug policy comes into play :P

And I say - good on him.

The initial claim by emergency department toxicologist Paul Quigley that actual-MDMA is safer than alcohol is not controversial. MDMA is one of the more studied recreational substances in (relatively) common use, and study after study has confirmed it to be generally less harmful than alcohol. Here's two graphics drawn from leading medical journal The Lancet to illustrate my point.* You'll also note the position of LSD (Acid), Psilocybin (Mushrooms), and Cannabis (Great Mighty Wrecker of Civilizations) relative to each. Perhaps Dunne might like to try those next.

But back to the comparison between MDMA and alcohol.

Apart from noting that they're both used by people to limber up socially and/or improve their dance-skills (or, more likely, improve your subjective perception of your own ability to cut a rug, regardless of what anyone else thinks) ... they're not really very similar drugs.

That's why I'm enormously leery of anybody who suggests "X [pardon the pun] harmful drug is legal and regulated - therefore Y less-harmful drug ought to be legal and regulated as well". It really gets up my nose when people do this, because that's not particularly sensible drug policy. Conceding we already have one moderate-to-major social ill [again, pardon the pun] out on the marketplace does NOT mean we ought to add to our problems by legalizing-and-sanctifying another one.

However, that's not why I (and apparently, the Health Minister) think the idea might have merit.

First up, on its own terms and responsibly used, actual-MDMA presents a *relatively* low risk to both consumers and society. That's not to say it's absolutely harmless - indeed, far from it. But frequently, deaths and injury chalked up to the drug are, in fact, the result of other complications associated with use rather than a direct result of the drug itself. Acute dehydration (possibly associated with extended dancing), serious hyperthermia (again, often associated with extended physical exertion while dancing), and over-hydration (generally as a result of people over-compensating for what they've heard about MDMA's dehydration effects) are not so much intrinsic characteristics of the drug as they are the natural results of unsafe use and inadequate education about how to more safely consume it.

Now, the pharma-skeptics among you are presumably tutting and wondering if what I'm saying is true, why reports of physiological and psychiatric dire consequences from taking ecstasy are so common.


Most ecstasy sold in New Zealand is not actually MDMA.

This is the case for a variety of reasons, ranging from the war in Afghanistan disrupting saffron cultivation (and hence, the supply of a necessary precursor for MDMA synthesis called safrole) and leading to a global shortage of MDMA; through to the increasing prevalence of illicitly imported "research chemicals" synthesized in China and more easily found on our shores thanks to the Free Trade Deal with same that Labour signed us up to in the mid 2000s.

Both of these factors combined mean that for the average Kiwi pill dealer (whether at importation, wholesale, or retail level) ... it's hella, hella easier and less expensive to track down and move a variety of substances which very definitely aren't MDMA.

Some of these substances, like Methylone, aren't so bad. They're reasonable analogs of MDMA - and importantly, unlikely to be highly harmful in human consumption.

Others, however, like PMA and PMMA, are regularly lethal.

The trouble is, the average end-user (unless they have a reasonable knowledge of chemistry and the materials to carry out reagent tests) has very little idea what it is they're ingesting. Complicating matters further is the fact that many New Zealand pills aren't just comprised of one substance - but instead, two or more stimulants in combination.

It's one thing if your pill has been cut with baking soda (or, for gel caps, bulked out with glucose) ... it's quite another if your designer phenethylamine has been adulterated with caffeine, ephedrine, or even flat-out methamphetamine.

This is particularly the case as ingesting several different drugs simultaneously - each with a different response profile and toxicity limits - doesn't simply "stack" the effects one on top of another. Instead, in many cases the result is a combination of the original drug's effects "squared" and then multiplied by the others rather than a simple addition of one set of outcomes to another. And needless to say - that's dangerous in the extreme.

The increasing availability of field testing kits from stores like Cosmic Corner is a huge step forward in some regards, as it now means that users can fairly quickly determine *before* taking them some of the chemicals that are likely to be in their pill.

But they're not perfect, purely because there are so many different potential substances that can wind up in our pills - and due to the fact that a single reagent test is unlikely to show up *everything* psychoactive that's in a single hit. Or, for that matter, advise on potential contraindications.

Given all of this, it's tempting to ask the easy, obvious question: why do people bother trifling with such potentially dangerous drugs.

And the simple answer is ... I don't know. I can't speak for anyone else (without betraying a few confidences, at least) any more than I can answer comprehensively why eighty percent of New Zealanders chose to indulge in a more socially acceptable drug called alcohol which kills up to 800 of us per year.

I don't drink, personally; and I've made that choice as a direct and attributable result of the health impacts which it has on me. There may also have been an incident which resulted in snapchats of me clad in nothing but a teacup deep in the bowels of ACT on Campus's Epsom Command Bunker being sent around the world, the last time I actually got drunk. Between this, and the fact it knocks my bipolar around something fierce, it seemed plausible to conclude that Alcohol and I were *not* likely to have a productive relationship.

But the no-risk-rather-than-low-risk absolute teetotal approach is not for everyone. For many people, they see something so desirable in drinking that even despite the hangovers, possibility of waking up with Denis from Accounts, or fact that almost twenty percent of guys my age die thanks to alcohol use (a figure that's one in ten for women) ... that they'll keep on drinking, regardless.

Heck, we can even make the stuff illegal (just like most of the other substances mentioned thus far in this piece - hmmm) and it STILL won't dissuade many drinkers from giving up their drug of choice.

Part of that's human nature - and part of that's due to the fact that alcohol is chemically addictive and will alter your brain with long-term large-scale exposure so that it has trouble functioning as it used to without it.

Of course, what happened with Prohibition in the States during the early 20th century is a direct analog for the ecstasy-market here in New Zealand today. People didn't stop consuming alcohol just because it was made illegal, any more than Kiwis today refrain from consuming cannabis due to the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975.

Instead, black-market entrepreneurs moved in and started brewing their own moonshine when they were unable or unwilling to attempt to smuggle properly distilled alcohol across international borders. This resulted in many thousands of Americans ingesting a product which could lead to blindness, lead poisoning, or even an untimely death. Due to the lack of regulation and standardization which illegality enforced, you just simply didn't know what it was going to do to you until it was already too late.

Rather like today's modern ecstasy tablets.

So if we're serious about having a rational, evidence-based drug policy in this country (and to my interminable surprise, it looks like Peter Dunne might almost even be considering a change of tack to same) ... then the idea of moving to regulate MDMA is at least worthy of being debated.

The all-important and overarching principle of Harm Reduction which ought to guide ALL public-health decision making would appear to suggest that the legalization of MDMA might very well be a step forward in protecting the health of our young people.

Having said that, there are legitimate concerns to be raised that the legitimization of any drug through legalization might bring with it an increased prevalence of use, rather than simply making use safer for those who would do it anyway. But I'm not so sure. The evidence from Portugal's drug decriminalization experiment certainly seemed to suggest fewer young people were indulging in ecstasy as a result of law reform efforts there.

Oh, and just before we all get too carried away lining up to praise Dunne as our new Party Messiah ... he has clarified that the Government would most likely be "hesitant" to legalize ecstasy - so it's therefore entirely likely that the notion of meaningful law reform on MDMA under this government will find itself first shelved, and then sneakily dropped.

But still, the fact it's even being openly considered by Dunne thanks to the Psychoactive Substances Act (much less plugged in public) stands in marked contravention of his previous stance of outright opposition to even allowing debate on the legalization of natural cannabis.

I can't help but wonder if if he's going to be pinged for this by Miss "Marijuana Leads To Meth" over in the Justice Ministry.

*Footnote: (As an aside, one thing you may notice about both relative drug harm graphs is that in addition to alcohol, each lists something already prescribed as a common, long-term medication within New Zealand - and in both cases, they're indicated as more harmful and dependency-inducing than MDMA. For those of you playing at home, that's methylphenidate, in the case of the latter - which you'll probably know as Ritalin; and amphetamine in the case of the former - the right handed isomer of which is presently used as an enhanced treatment for more intractable ADHD and co-occurring Bipolar.)

The Conservative Party Are Lunatics

I'd previously thought that they couldn't get any wackier than that whole moonlanding-chemtrail fiasco.

But, as ever, the Conservative Party looks mad keen to prove me wrong and shove splinters 'neath their fingernails as they attempt to plumb the bottom of the barrel for political sanity.

For you see, it would appear they're attempting to roll their leader again.

Again? Yes, again. This isn't the first time Colin Craig has found his woolly-mittened grip on the paler-shade-of-blue kingdom under threat.

Way back in March, a similar debacle seemed imminent with "murmurings" about an attempted leadership coup then in circulation. It looks on the face of it like somebody approached Conservative Party candidate and Sensible Sentencing Trust honcho Garth McVicar to take over the leadership, had him pegged to turn up to a board meeting ... and then watched in abject horror as McVicar chickened out at the last minute.

I suspect that the reasoning for this abjectly inexplicable decision (and the subsequent attempt to desperately breathe life into the coup attempt by leaking news of it out into the media) probably had something to do with the rumours then swirling about some decidedly un-conservative conduct by Mr Craig which had induced his long-suffering press secretary - one Rachel MacGregor - to resign highly publicly two days before the last Election.

Due to Craig's well-known penchant for defamation suits, and the fact that I am an impecunious quasi-journalist ... I have no desire to tempt fate nor finances by committing to print the precise nature of the rumours in question.

But the cynical reader is welcome to draw their own conclusions about why she referred to her erstwhile employer as a "manipulative man"; what caused her to take such umbrage against him as to stage her resignation so publicly and timed in such a way to do maximum electoral damage to his campaign; and why Craig subsequently refused to release her statement of resignation to clarify matters. It was a sorry affair, indeed.

Now even given Mr Craig's tarnished reputation amidst the desertion of one of his key staff and the resignation of two of his star candidates from the Party, a moment's consideration would appear to suggest that rolling your Most-Recognizable-Face-Cum-Main-Source-Of-Financing is *not* perhaps the greatest stroke of political genius since #DirtyPolitics.

But, then, nobody ever said one of the prime requisites for Conservative Party membership was brainpower or a keen sense of wisdom and political nous.

I was therefore rather less surprised than I perhaps should have been at last night's news that the Conservative Party's board was, once again, apparently considering rolling their leader in favour of someone Garth McVicar.

The lifeblood of any party outside of Parliament is media-oxygen, and on the face of it Craig's agreeing to be interviewed by TV3's David Farrier in a somewhat attention-grabbing context represented exactly that.

It's slightly quirky, yes - and I doubt that you could ever really call anything Craig does "dignified" ... but it's vitally needed attention and public salience which - along with Craig's millions - is the only thing seriously keeping the party alive.

I therefore find it slightly odd that he's being pilloried for it.

Unless, of course, what's actually happening here is the Conservative Party's more *ahem* "conservative" members are really just freaking out about their "core values" being undermined thanks to their leader sharing a sauna with a man whose sexual preferences include other men.......

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Discretion Is Part Of Natural Policing, On Licenses And Elsewhere - Ron Mark

Once again, Ron Mark perfectly encapsulates my views. ANYONE on the roads who's unlicensed or driving outside the conditions of their restricted is a potential hazard. Helping to ensure they get their license can be a positive step - but if this policy of non-ticketing unlicensed Maori drivers in South Auckland is a good one, then its benefits ought not be restricted on the basis of race.
Not least because, as some have pointed out, an officer might have a hard time working
 out who is and who isn't Maori for the purposes of the scheme. As Ron Mark - NZ First MP notes, there are a not insignificant number of blonde haired and blue eyed Maori these days. And surely if the argument behind the policy is that it's geared toward reducing offending and criminalization of an underclass, then Pasifika New Zealanders and hell, any Kiwi from a lower socio-economic background ought to qualify too.
Also, the way the Police Minister has handled this - by simply turning on those officers under his management and making out like it's their fault exclusively rather than fronting up and taking responsibility for the conduct and policy of the Ministry he's nominally in charge of - is just not on.

We saw the same thing with the dangerous "Zero Tolerance" speeding policy over Summer. When the heat went on, the Minister washed his hands rather than do his job.

Finally, and arguably most importantly, Ron raises the very sensible point that the terms being discussed - "Police Discretion" and "Diversion" used to be far more common hallmarks of "natural policing" than they are today.

There was nothing abnormal in the 1970s about a policeman using his discretion to frog-march a young (minor) offender back to their parents rather than insisting on charging him or her and putting them through the wringer of the official (even criminal) justice system to emerge with a black mark against their name.

As the host points out - not a few of our politicians would, today, be living lives *very* different to the ones they've got had they been in receipt of a conviction rather than a somewhat kindly disposed and understanding police officer. And our Nation would be all the poorer for it.

The use of discretion in community policing is sensible, and can do a power of good. But only if it's available to be applied across the board rather than exclusively on the basis of race; and further, as a matter of individual circumstance rather than top-down ham-fisted imposition.

Speaking of top-down ham-fisted impositions, it's a shame the Parliamentary boys in blue are so quick to throw the *real* boys in blue who protect our streets under the bus with such alarming regularity.

Mark my words - if this keeps up, there will be many a policeman voting NZF come Election Day 2017.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Dirty Politics: Coming To A TV Station Near You

Oh dear. Not content with caving in to Prime Ministerial pressure in getting rid of John Campbell, MediaWorks has now managed to go from really bad to almost inconceivably worse by headhunting former Herald gossip columnist Rachel Glucina.

You know, the woman outed in Dirty Politics as an active agent of Cameron Slater.

The one who got called in by the Nats to run snowjob interference over #PonyTailGate in the most dodgy piece of "reporting" this year.

The alleged "journalist" who wasn't above tricking a victim of workplace harassment into an interview using the most deplorable of false pretenses.

Yes. THAT one.

Well, she's announced that she's quit the NZ Herald after being "head-hunted" by MediaWorks.

Truly, as Sophocles wrote in Philoctetes: "Nothing evil ever perishes; the gods somehow give them most excellent care - they take their pleasure in turning back from the gates of the Underworld, the villains and the tricksters."

Between this and Paul Henry (him of the abysmally low ratings and former National Party candidacy for Parliament) ... it isn't hard to view TV3 as descending into perhaps the lowest pits of iniquity possible for a serious mainstream broadcaster.

This is pretty bad. And from a cursory examination of the comments offered by MediaWorks chief executive Mark Wheldon, it looks like the idea is to use Glucina's talents for sensationalism and muckraking to produce viral videos lambasting the right wing's preferred choice of targets.

"Snackable, shareable content", eh?

Well dine out on this.

Unless TV3 and Mediaworks put some serious investment - not just money, but actual credibility - into resurrecting their brand and its scruples, it is going to continue to nose-dive into the volcano of public sentiment.

Replacing quality investigative journalism (a la Campbell) with tawdry gossip-rag rumourmongering is NOT what the people want!

No matter HOW useful it might be to National and Glucina's shadowy paymasters.

That Burning Sound You Hear Is The Gateway Drug Argument Going Up In Smoke

Well this is interesting, isn't it. A "massive new study" from the US has clarified that the legalization of marijuana for medical purposes DOES NOT lead to increased cannabis usage amongst teenagers.

Given the new climate of debate around medicinal marijuana here in New Zealand, this is an important revelation.

Back in January, the National Party's Justice Minister was still speaking against medicinal marijuana by citing the gateway drug argument. She even appeared to claim that legalization of medicinal marijuana would lead to methamphetamine use.

Now, from where I'm sitting, this is manifestly ridiculous. Some cancer-patient using cannabis to ameliorate their suffering is hardly likely to conclude that the next logical step in their treatment is to seek out the local crack-den and load up on crystal. Equally, a child being treated with a cannabis oil extract in order to control debilitating seizures is hardly likely to grow up and conclude that this makes sticking themselves on the end of a chuff-pipe a good idea. In fact, I'd contend that psychostimulants we ALREADY treat our young people with including ritalin and dexamphetamine (which, let's remember, is only a single chain of atoms away from methamphetamine anyway) are FAR more likely to lead onto subsequent stronger stimulant abuse in adulthood. And yet nowhere do I see Ministers making the same vitriolic claims about "gateway drug" potential for these medicines as they do for cannabis.

Having said that, I'm sure that some people DO start their drug-journey with marijuana and wind up on meth. But then, I'm also quite definitely sure that others started with alcohol - or even prescription medications - and wound up in exactly the same place. I've met them.

There is some currency to the idea that people who take mind altering substances may eventually take other mind altering substances. But that isn't necessarily to say it's a direct result of the nature of the substances themselves - which often seems to be the nature of what Gateway Drug crusaders are claiming.

What actually seems to happen is something I call "Gateway Context"; wherein people in the market for one drug (such as cannabis) wind up in contact with other drugs (such as ecstasy, mushrooms, or even the dreaded methamphetamine) thanks to the nature of the black market. People don't tend to make sudden leaps from purchasing a tinny every now and again to scoring point-bags. You wind up introduced to other substances slowly, and perniciously, over time. Perhaps your dealer's out of whatever it is you're after for a protracted period (such as the recent cannabis drought over summer this year), and he winds up attempting to hawk you something else instead.

However it happens, it's the context in which you're engaging to procure your drugs that leads most people on to harder substances. Not the nature of the drugs themselves.

So a clear solution to this problem would be to remove the alleged and widely consumed "entry-level" drug from the potentially pernicious context it's these days often found in; thus removing the slippery slope before anyone has to risk sliding down it. But that is a conversation and an argument far beyond the scope of a piece in defence of the strictly medicinal provision of cannabis and/or its derivatives.

As an aside, I'm also happy to report that there seems to be a strong and flourishing anti-crackie culture amongst many recreational stoners these days - precisely because they've often seen up close and all too personal what meth can do to people and communities. It therefore additionally occurs that any teleological imperative between meth and marijuana is, if anything, hopefully weakening through the admittedly highly imperfect mechanism of community self-regulation.

In any case, the political tide on medicinal marijuana appears to slowly be shifting. Just last week, for instance, we were treated to the spectacle of that political bell(end)-weather-par-excellence, Peter Dunne, eating his proverbial hat and approving a one-off treatment here in New Zealand using a cannabis-derivative.

Happily, this appears to have had some positive impact for the stricken lad in question.

Now let's be clear about this. In the wrong hands, cannabis can be a damaging and debilitating drug. While the media and Ministers often like to hype these sorts of things up for scare value, it's definitely true to say that some people - their families, lives, and communities - suffer as a result of its abuse and over-indulgence.

But then, it also appears to be the case that marijuana - and drugs which are derived from same - do have legitimate therapeutic and medical uses.

Even without considering the broader societal questions around decriminalization and legalization (and I note we've advanced to a point wherein Winston feels perfectly comfortable talking about same on the campaign trail), the revelation that making medicinal marijuana a reality doesn't increase teenage consumption rates is an important one.

I know I'll never convince certain people that marijuana is anything other than a short and very slippery slope down to meth ... but either way, I'm hopeful that this kernel of evidence will be useful in helping to secure a rational, useful - and above all, helpful - approach to the medicinal use of cannabis by our state.

Because as with the TPPA and PHARMAC - the health of our citizens is far better served by evidence-based policy than it is by right-wing political scaremongering.

Friday, June 12, 2015

"Nothing to hide? Nothing to fear." Unless you're the Prime Minister

Well this is interesting. Apparently the Prime Minister disposes of his cellphone every three months because he's concerned about people snooping through his text messages.

The irony of this is palpable, given his government has previously passed legislation which allows our own security services to wiretap just about any text-message they please ... while those wonderful American "allies" and friends of his have apparently been doing exactly that to the vast majority of txts sent in New Zealand anyway.

So it's little wonder the Prime Minister's feeling a bit concerned about his own privacy. He knows EXACTLY how violated the privacy of our digital communications is for the rest of us.

Because he's the one that allowed it to happen.

Now I've been in this position before, myself. And I can tell you that there are few things more terrifying than having a detective from the counter-terrorism division of the Special Investigations Group of the NZ Police, accompanied by a spook from the state's intelligence services (who insists on wearing sunglasses and a hoodie even while *inside* your house) ... sitting directly across from you in your living room and telling you that you've been under wiretap surveillance for the previous 18 months.

You suddenly realize that your *entire* life has been laid bare to the state.

Every fight with your parents down a phone-line; every flirtatious text you've sent your then-girlfriend; and every dodgy joke or emotional crisis you've flicked through facebook to a mate.

They've read it all. Archived it, and logged it.

And then it hits home. You've been targeted by that security and surveillance apparatus - not because you're a bad person, or some evil ISIS recruiter ... but because your politics and your personal beliefs were seen as a "Threat to National['s] Security".

The very edifice of state which we've built to keep us safe - to protect us, and to look after us - has turned into some gigantic glowing Eye of Sauron capable of peering into the deepest, darkest and most intimate corners of your private life.

And it's aimed itself at you.

So I'm glad that Key gets a small taste of that. And I'm especially glad it's been big enough to ensure he has to take countermeasures to protect himself from the possibility it's happening to him, too.

Because he's made it so that all the rest of us have to deal with that paranoia every day and with every text message, ourselves

Serves him right.

I can't help but wonder if there's anything more interesting than a string of texts to Cameron Slater that'd turn up if you were to bug his phone...

Thursday, June 11, 2015

You'd Have To Be High To Think Our Drugs Are Safe Under TPPA

On Wednesday, the fine folks at Wikileaks published the draft sections of the TPPA dealing with Healthcare.

It makes for pretty grim reading.

Basically, regardless of the Prime Minister's breathless assurances that PHARMAC will be protected ... the TPPA will grant pharmaceutical companies unprecedented rights of access and challenge to PHARMAC's decision-making process.

Company representatives - who've already been granted *far* more information about the text of the treaty than you or I or even our MPs - will be able to sit in on PHARMAC's meetings. Not only that, under the Investor-State Dispute mechanisms in the TPPA ... if they don't like a particular decision, they'll be free to sue OUR state in order to get their way.

So as far as I'm concerned, when John Key says PHARMAC will be protected by his government - he is simply lying. Just like he did when he promised his government would not raise GST.

New Zealand First's Fletcher Tabuteau MP puts it bluntly: "We’ve already had the Saudi debacle in which the government paid a bribe to two businessmen. At the same time the Prime Minister claims we can’t stop Koreans buying land here because of the free trade agreement. That’s why New Zealand First is determined to stop any future governments signing agreements that allow corporations to sue us, which is what our Bill, Fighting Foreign Corporate Control, is all about."

He's absolutely right. Time and time again, this government has used international agreements and the lure of filthy lucre as "justification" to renege on its commitment to our citizens in favour of rolling out the red carpet for foreign capital.

That's not good enough. And I, for one, am infinitely glad that New Zealand First has taken the lead in defending our sovereignty on this one.

If you're interested, you can check out the text of Fletcher's awesome Fighting Foreign Corporate Control bill here.

Meanwhile, you can help the struggle by writing to your local MP and making it plain how you feel about this issue. Better still, write to a Government MP - and get your friends, family and co-workers to do the same.

I know that when it comes to consultation, this government seems to have the tinniest ear of any in living memory - but as we saw with the backdown over mining in the Coromandel, when they feel they may be facing swathes of electoral oblivion ... they CAN be forced to be reasonable!

Over to you.