Tuesday, March 28, 2017

On NZ First's Anti-Smacking Referendum

Another Election Year, another desperate bid from Family First to attempt to get s59 of the Crimes Act revoked. Indeed, if it weren't for their recent slew of agitation against the reform of abortion laws, and side-campaign to attempt to ban pornography, you could well be forgiven for thinking they're something of a 'one-issue' (or should that be 'one trick') entity.

What's sparked this latest attempt at going back in legislative time by ten years was a speech NZ First Leader Winston Peters gave last Friday about getting serious on the recent wave of youth-crime. Winston's mention of the potential desirability of dropping s59 in its current form was then seized upon by McCoskrie on Sunday as evidence that the latter's longed-for Day of Reckoning and Repeal was shortly to be at hand; followed in short order by some malicious gremlin deciding to flagrantly misrepresent the Party's stance on Wikipedia by attempting to proclaim that s59 repeal was now an NZ First non-negotiable coalition bottom line, and Sue Bradford going on the attack on this issue against Winston through the media yesterday morning. Oh, and somewhere along the way Winston clarified New Zealand First's position on this issue as actually being to support a referendum about repealing s59 rather than just getting rid of it straight away.

So far, this is pretty much about normal for an Election Year. Some conservative group brings up an old gripe from the Clark era, gets quietly annoyed that their supposed 'friends' in the National Party have no actual plans to do anything about the issue, and then finds common cause with another electoral vehicle as a result. But what makes things different this time around is that with New Zealand First looking increasingly likely to be in a position of strong influence on whomever the next Government will be, there is now a rather heightened chance that something might happen.

It therefore behooves me to take a brief look at the 'anti-smacking law' and the history around this issue - not least because, as far as I can see, a number of voices on both sides of the resurgent debate on s59 are being openly disingenous and are therefore (perhaps ironically) in need of correction.

The first point about s59 that ABSOLUTELY must be made (because it's generally where EVERYBODY - both Pro and Anti its retention - starts to get things wrong), is that section 59 does not, in point of fact, make it illegal to smack your child. Take a look at subsection (1). There, you'll find a list of circumstances - which are, to be honest, pretty broad-ranging in their scope - wherein a parent is "justified in using force" in relation to their child. These include "tasks that are incidental to good care and parenting" [an exemption to a legislative 'ban' on smacking so broad one could feasibly drive the proverbial truck through it], as well as specific allowances in law for using force to prevent your child from injuring themselves [for instance, by touching a hot stove, perhaps], injuring another, engaging in criminal activity, or being offensive or disruptive. In other words, it's a pretty broad list; and I feel pretty sure that most reasonable use of reasonable force in child-raising probably fits in somewhere in the above.

Now where it gets complex is when we read subsection (1) in concert with subsections (2) and (3). Because here we find odd language about "force for the purposes of correction" not being legally justified - which flatly contradicts (and deliberately so) the allowable use of force as applies our children outlined in ss(1).

It arguably gets even worse when we add in subsection (4); which attempts to reconcile all of the above by setting out that the police have the "discretion" not to prosecute parents who smack [or use other force on] their children if there'd be no "public interest" in doing so due to the force involved being "inconsequential".

Why is this a bad thing? Because our laws ought guarantee at least a modicum of certainty to those who are supposed to be bound by them; and through a combination of confusing language - and more especially, the relegation of what *actually* constitutes an offence against the act to the judgement of an individual policeman ... this law fairly patently does not do that.

Now as it happens, I do think there's a reasonably strong argument that the old s59 which Bradford's bill sought to replace WAS in need of some reform. Under the previous legislation, parents had access to what was known as a "reasonable force" defence when it came to hitting their children. This might sound well and good, but in practice it allowed somewhat extreme disciplinary measures like whipping a child, even in such a manner as to leave disfigurement, to be protected actions under the law. I'd like to think that even committed pro-smacking parents would agree that that's too far. Particularly when it later turned out that the "reasonable force" defence apparently meant certain parents thought they were justified in dealing to their errant offspring with an array of implements ranging from a jug-cord up to a full-on assault with a tent pole.

But if we look at how the 'new' s59 is worded, it seems an extraordinarily convoluted way of removing (or, if you like, redefining in a more tightly constrained way) a defence to a charge of assault or parental mistreatment. And this is before we even begin to consider the potential issues inherent in making the enforcement of this law a matter for individual police discretion (some of which we've already seen when it comes to the police discretionary power for low-level cannabis offences).

I'm therefore going to break ranks somewhat with many of the other voices on the liberal left and respectfully suggest that maybe Winston IS on to something here, and that there is, in fact, a case to be made for getting rid of the present section 59.

Although I almost certainly differ from most of the 'conservative' voices calling for the legislation's repeal in also wanting something better - which does much the same thing - erected in its place.

Because even if we agree that there's an argument to be made for the use of force as a regular part of parenting, there remains a troubling proclivity for some Kiwi parents to take this way too far - and wind up doing serious (even fatal) damage to those weakest among us entrusted to their care. The very real risk, if s59 is indeed replaced with either nothing or a much too loose piece of legislation, is that we will wind up giving a sanctified 'claim of right' carte-blanche to outright abusers and repugnant acts.

As noted above, even the comparatively straightforward precepts of the old, pre-Bradford section 59 already allowed if not encouraged parental uses of force that are difficult in good conscience to justify.

Which is, perhaps, why the previous Parliament who passed the bill in question into law did so so resoundingly. One hundred and thirteen MPs supported the bill (a majority of New Zealand First MPs among them, as it happens), because they knew that it would be a fundamental injustice to leave the law as it was. That doesn't necessarily mean that they got it right when it came to putting forward a replacement enactment, of course; but it does mean we should think very carefully about what shall fill the void left by an abolished s59 before actually attempting to get rid of it.

This puts one in the mind of the noted conservative writer G.K. Chesterton's famous maxim about never tearing down a fence before one has first understood why it was put up. I've often had pause to wonder whether some of the anti-anti-smacking people have actually bothered to consider this, instead of simply working themselves up into a feel-good lather about the dire depredations of much-maligned "PC GONE MAD", which seemed to saturate the latter years of the dying Clarke regime without any necessity of facts.

In any case, I'm not entirely convinced that the repeal of section 59 will actually have a measurable effect upon the present wave of highly publicized assaults and robberies being committed by young people, which is what Winston appeared to be suggesting on Friday. If anything, this proposition might be regarded as being of considerably less importance for this matter than another policy of New Zealand First's - the earlier announced coalition bottom line demand for an extra 1800 front-line police officers - that is almost certain to have vastly more impact.

It's probably not surprising that the so-called 'anti-smacking' law remains inestimably controversial in certain circles. It's a complex piece of legislation, beset with a number of obvious shortcomings. As a frequent democracy, we ought be able to have a mature discussion about whether the s59 that we've got is actually 'fit for purpose' - and whether there are better ideas out there with which to replace it.

I'm not necessarily wild about the way Winston has chosen to bring s59 back into the national political conversation this year; but it seems pretty clear that there are issues here deserving of consideration, and which provide obvious potential grounds for legal reform.

We can but hope that further dialogue in this area means we eventually get the law right; rather than continuing to live with a questionable compromise.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Reflections On Trump's Failure With 'Ryancare'

Late last week, the abysmal healthcare 'reform' proposal of Paul Ryan's which Trump had inexplicably chosen to support ... failed fairly unequivocally. How badly did it flounder? It didn't even make it to First Reading, on grounds that even other Republicans could not bring themselves to vote for it. 

A full explication of the 'hows' and the 'whys' behind Ryan's seven-year political project imploding in such spectacular fashion is beyond the scope of this piece; but looking at this whole - seemingly Fawltian - situation, a number of insights presented themselves.

The first, unquestionably, is that this was a singularly ridiculous political area for Trump to decided to get directly involved any attempt to replace Obamacare - let alone with 'Ryancare' - as flagship policy. It has been said in response to the old adage about "Mussolini made the trains in Italy run on time" that "Even God Himself could not make the trains in Italy run on time." Looking at the benighted state of just about EVERY serious healthcare reform proposal at the national level over the last few decades of American political history (Remember what Hillary USED to be famous for?) ... I feel pretty confident in stating that "Even God Himself could not make healthcare workable and affordable in America for all". It's just a complete and total quagmire - where political capital goes to valiantly die in thousand-page reports and insurance industry tacit backhanders.

Opposition to "Obamacare" was, indeed, a Republican Party talking-point hot-button issue par-excellence for much of the last Presidency ... but it must have been patently obvious that both i) an improved healthcare affordability mechanism [within the idiotic insurance/market based paradigm which America for some reason continues to insist upon] was going to be incredibly difficult to deliver, let alone quickly; and ii) that the Paul Ryan MOAR MARKET LESS TAX approach was something vastly more amenable to the Republicans' elitist backers [well, some of them anyway] than it was to the millions of ordinary working class Americans who helped sweep Trump to Power.

In other words, the very decision to put all his Presidential weight and seemingly-mighty impetus behind RyanCare represents in the most tangible possible form evidence of a corruption and a co-option of what Trump's "I'll make the Republicans a Workers' Party" political project was supposed to be about.

Which leads me handily on to my SECOND point.

Namely, that there IS a better way of doing healthcare out there - one which a fairly vast swathe of the developed world [and, for that matter, the better parts of the developING world] have long been on board with, which tends to provide better care to more people for lower cost [to both individual, employer, and, at the rate things are going, in terms of actual service provision, it may even work out better for the taxpayer] - and that's the "Single Payer" model. Or, as we call it EVERYWHERE ELSE, the "Public Healthcare System". [the fact that Americans insist upon terming this "Single Payer" just shows how far-wedged and firmly wedded their conception of healthcare as a transactional service presumably bound up with some sort of profit-making private enterprise nonsense in the first place].

It would have taken some doing to get the American political system to actually look seriously at the proposal [and I note that Trump actually arguably started laying the groundwork for this by positively talking up 'Single Payer' in speeches and campaign appearances as much as seventeen years ago - during his previous Presidential run]; and it's frankly disheartening to see the number of people who self-identify as being on the 'left' of the American political spectrum that've been gearing up to apparently die in a ditch for a massive-scale Insurance Industry politically embedded profit-making rort [which is, effectively, what ObamaCare puts a delightful, smiling human face upon - of a reasonably popular, principled-seeming President, no less]. But given the fact that pretty much *everyone* other than a rather small slice of Republicans, and a broader swathe of Democrats [acting out of both party and ideological loyalty] seem to hate the Affordable Care Act ... surely it could have at least done with a shot? Trump had impressive political capital to pour into complete shakeups in other areas, why not with one of the areas he's passionately advocated for reform in for most of the time that I've been alive?

Of course, a cynic's answer to this is that it never would have worked. As we saw with the attempt to pass RyanCare, partisan folks would have come out of the woodwork [on both sides, for that matter] to try and torpedo what would no doubt have been derisively labelled "BernieCare". This is, again, partially due to the American political establishment's evient bewilderment that there can be any such thing as a public healthcare system which doesn't run through the insurance industry [seriously, this whole "unemployment insurance" thing they've got going even does social welfare that'd ordinarily be handled simply and directly by the state as an entitlement in an insurance-industry [if not always directly insurance firm] mold]; and also partially due to the fact, no doubt, that the absolutely HUGE insurance industry [truly, one of the last 'great' areas of economic activity within America not to have been completely hollowed out and downsized or shipped offshore] would have been lobbying so incredibly hard against any reform to their golden cash goose that the task of taking them OUT of the equation ought be described as less 'Sisyphean" [although given the way healthcare reform keeps rolling up and down the political slopes like the boulder from that story, perhaps it's not entirely inaccurate] and more 'Sommean'. As in, a huge expenditure of effort to achieve very little except pain for one's self


But out of all of this, there is perhaps one single bright lining. Namely, that there are escalating signs that the Trump era (and,in no small part the way his administration and allies do things) is beginning to Break the Republicans. After all, as we saw, RyanCare failed as a bill precisely because Republican hardliners couldn't agree on whether the proposal didn't go FAR ENOUGH on stripping away protections and cutting costs/taxes, or just right ... and, for that matter, the number of 'moderate' Republicans who saw the RyanCare legislation as being a worse option than today's Affordable Care Act.
There are, of course, other schism-points to be drawn out; and it's not hard to find areas - particularly in foreign policy - wherein the level of animosity internal to the leading lights of hte Republican Party is now even icier and more internecine than Clinton v Sanders was for the Democrats. But it is not so easy to think of an area of purely /domestic/ politics wherein the fault-lines of the GoP have been so readily on show, recently.

In any case - and this perhaps says more about my own mindset than it does Trump's - I cannot help but wonder whether the principled thing to do in such a situation would be to recognize that Republicans would never be united in support of ANY proposal to meaningfully (or, for thta matter, less meaningfully - incoherently, even) 'reform' Healthcare ... and just throw hands up in the air about doing things "the Washington way", and just push and drive incredibly hard for the actual institution of "Single Payer" healthcare.

As mentioned above, it might take a decent swathe of selling to both the American people, and I'd be genuinely surprised if such a proposal picked up serious legislative support [for reasons that are jus straight-out malefic given the evidence for such a policy-set's efficacy] ... but if anyone's demonstrated an inimitable ability to take the politics of 'consensus' and throw them out on their ear ... it's Trump.

It would have been inordinately good if he could have, on this occasion at least, used this power for Good rather than for ... well ... deeply held Republican talking points in lieu of gleaming principle.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

On Recent Opinion Polling

Yesterday, two polls were released - the latest Roy Morgan and most recent Reid Research. They're both interesting, albeit for almost entirely different reasons.

The Roy Morgan data is probably what folks with an implicit left-wing bias will be most interested in; due to its showing a reduction in National support of 4.5%, and corresponding rise in Labour/Greens support of 5% - for totals of 43.5%, 29.5%, and 14.5% respectively.

The explanations for these rather radical shifts in numbers are immediately obvious. After a somewhat protracted 'honeymoon period', Bill English's tenure as Prime Minister has started to enter rocky territory. His comments on large-scale immigration being justified because Kiwi workers were allegedly unemployable due to drug use did not resonate as they might once have, leading to a backdown of sorts shortly afterward in which he conceded that changing immigration policy-settings might be possible. The recent (and ongoing) semi-literal quagmire over water - whether pollution of waterways, or the extraction of our resources for a pittance to be sold offshore as the latest example of Kiwi-victimizing Neo-Colonialism - has also followed a similar trend. Namely, inflammatory statements made to the media [although in this instance, by Environment Minister Nick Smith] based on either a misreading of public sentiment or just sheer bloody-mindedness, followed up in relatively short order by a signaled possible change in position.

On top of this, English's apparent determination to walk the fine line between death and destruction entailed in messing with superannuation will also have cost him. It was, after all, the same issue which effectively sealed the fate of Labour at the last Election, and which has caused serious problems for the National Party in previous contests (admittedly, mostly in the 1990s). Although if the controversy over the retirement age is actually a salient causation in National's shedding of votes in the Roy Morgan, then it is somewhat surprising indeed that New Zealand First [on 7.5% - a reduction of 0.5% on the previous poll] has not been a greater beneficiary.

Perhaps this indicates that there are indeed some stirrings of mood out there in the electorate for a fulsome change of government, rather than mere dissatisfaction with the present regime; meaning voters who'd otherwise gravitate towards NZF are exercising trepidation in doing so due to media speculation that we'd side with National.

To these factors we may also be able to add Labour's decision to elevate Jacinda Ardern to the Deputy Leadership. Regardless of whether one thinks she's made a truly substantive contribution to our nation's politics over the previous decade, it would appear indisputable that she is the highest-profile Deputy Leader of the party since the days of Michael Cullen. And, as we shall see when it comes to dissecting the Reid Research poll's Preferred Prime Minister results, her promotion alone has certainly made a bit of an impact. Certainly, it is difficult to imagine a situation in this Parliamentary Term wherein Winston Peters has found himself out-polled by a Labour Party MP for Preferred PM [indeed, according to this list from Wiki, it is an event without precedent going back to the last Election.]

In any case, whilst my affection for the Roy Morgan poll is well known, it is certainly not the only game in town. And the Reid Research material out the same day makes for some decidedly interesting comparison-work between the two analyses.

Particularly because in many respects they flat-out contradict one another.

In contrast to the Roy Morgan's falling National but rising Labour/Greens, Reid Research has National increasing by 2% to 47.1%, Labour falling by 1.9% to 30.8%, and the Greens dropping 0.3% to 11.2%. New Zealand First, meanwhile, has fallen 0.5% to 7.6%.

So what to make of this. Well, for starters, it's probably worth noting that Reid Research have just changed their polling methodology in a bid to reach out to different [and traditionally less-contactable] voters. It's possible that that has had an impact upon the results we're seeing here, although difficult to determine whether this axiomatically makes their conclusions more or less accurate than their previous and more exclusively landline-based efforts. Certainly, a cursory look at their record in the immediate run-up to the 2014 and 2011 General Elections would appear to suggest that Reid Research's old methodology had some noticeable flaws in it [consistently over-polling the Greens, and having National's result out by more than two percentage points - which in this day and age is the literal difference between Governments continuing or falling upon the ashheap of history].

The alternate interpretation, of course, is that Reid Research's new-and-sharper methodology is, in fact, on the money - and that the cautious optimism which was beginning to break out on the Left in recent weeks has found itself somewhat misplaced. Certainly, this would be in demonstrable keeping with the trends of previous Elections, wherein at every turn the 'hope' that the latest scandal of whatever flavour would be National's undoing has turned to ashes in our mouths as they've emerged in each successive poll or popular vote almost entirely unscathed. Indeed, almost seeming to 'feed' off the controversy!

Personally, if I were a Labour supporter - and, not for the first time, I must confess to feeling inordinately glad that I am not - I'd probably be attempting to look for a 'silver lining' [other than Winston] in the form of both polls discussed here having Labour at or about 30%. It's probably a sign of how dismal Labour's prospects have been for the last few years that this is somehow an achievement worthy of note - and yet, it is. Thirty percent is where a party can start to credibly claim to be one of the 'Big Two'; in rather marked contrast to its previous low-twenties polling, which had many commentators (myself included) wondering how long until Labour effectively wound up relegated to semi-official 'Minor Party' status. [The requisite number for that, if you are wondering, would probably be semi-consistently scoring below twenty percent; although as Bill English-era National so handily demonstrated fifteen years ago, there is no axiomatic rule of political gravity which definitively states that a result just above 20% is unrecoverable from]

Having said that, instead of taking either of the above polls as 'good news' [an understandable eschewment], many Labourites will presumably be instead attempting to cast doubt upon the veracity and utility of opinion polling all up. Perhaps they will even be once again quoting former National Party Prime Minister [and arguable, in some ways, proto-Bill English] and resorting to his famous political maxim: "Bugger the polls!"

But this would be a bit of a mistake. It's no secret that political polls can occasionally be substantially inaccurate. The results from the US Presidential Election and Brexit both serve to bear this out in an Anglosphere context. There, as is now well known, the inaccuracies in results lead to an indelible false sense of security on the part of the 'Establishment' sides of those contests. Which fed into overconfidence, and consequent defeat.

It would, perhaps, be too much to hope for a similar occurrence here in New Zealand. Namely, that the National Party buys into the myth of electoral invincibility off the back of a few polls which have them in the mid-high 40s, and starts making ever-more-significant errors. Although some are, of course, of the opinion that we are already starting to see this happen. [A phenomenon which we can also tie fairly directly to the much-dreaded 'Third-Term-Itis']

Instead, the reason why it would be arguable folly for Labour supporters to write off polls entirely is a simple one. They appear to be getting more accurate.

This means that while it might have once been true - most especially in both of 2005 and 2008, wherein many polls had Labour and National several percentage points off, and often in pretty much inverted positions in terms of their rough support, these errors diminished in 2011 [with the exception of auguries for the Green Party's result - who appear to remain prone to chronic over-estimation by as much as 4%], and by 2014 had been reduced to frequently less than a percent out from the actual final electoral result. Particularly where Labour is concerned.

It would be both cumbersome and somnolence-inducing to go through poll-by-poll and show this; but as a sort of evidentiary shorthand, we'll take a brief excursion through the  final Roy Morgan poll of the 2014 Campaign season.

This had National on 46.5%, Labour on 24%, The Greens on 13.5%, NZ First on 8%, the Maori Party on 1.5%, Internet MANA on 1%, the Conservatives on 3.5%, and each of ACT and United Future on 0.5% apiece [which is considerably better than the 0% they'd registered in some - admittedly perhaps rather optimistic - predictions].

How did this compare with the actual results of the 2014 General Election? Well, National 47.04%, Labour 25.13%, Greens 10.7%, NZ First 8.66%, Maori 1.32%, Internet MANA 1.42%, Conservatives 3.97%, ACT 0.69% and a whole 0.22% for United Future [which, as it happens, is less than half of the Aotearoa Legalize Cannabis Party's 0.46%, but I digress].

That represents a difference of 0.54% for National between the Roy Morgan and the eventual result; 1.13% for Labour, 2.8% for the Greens [who, as noted, are almost invariably overpolled]; 0.66% for New Zealand First; 0.18% for the Maori Party; 0.42% for InternetMANA; 0.47% for the Conservative Party; 0.19% for ACT; and 0.28% [admittedly more than its entire vote, but bear in mind the Roy Morgan moves in 0.5% increments] for United Future.

That's pretty dang close.

So, given the Roy Morgan is the same poll which yesterday had Labour and the Greens swelling by a combined total of 5% to beat National ... perhaps there IS some hope for a non-National Government come 2018 after all.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Inter-Generation Collaboration, Not Age-Based Warfare Needed To Defeat Neoliberal Scourge

Earlier this week, several minorly amazing things happened. National decided to breach its nine-year commitment to leave the retirement age untampered with; Labour found itself with an MP in a leadership position whom the public actually seem to like; and I caught myself red-handed agreeing with David Seymour.

Having done a quick spot-check just to ensure that his (and my) home electorate of Epsom hadn't frozen over, I then moseyed my way over to social media to see what everybody else thought of the week's startling events - and in particular, the proposed increase to the pension age.

The reaction was sadly, somewhat predictable. And by this, I don't mean that a clear majority of the people I interact with were opposed to the age going up (because that vocal disapproval is anything BUT sad!).

Instead, I refer to this regrettable new trend of boldly declaring that any policy-set perceived to favour the older ('Boomer' and 'Greatest') generations in our society is somehow a manifestation of "Intergenerational Warfare". Forget "Class Struggle" ... this is now the apparent Dialectic Du Jour of the modern, trendy lefty.

Now this is not to say that English's recently announced pension policy is fair or equitable. By allowing the (presumably more National-voting) older generations of today to retire at 65, yet ripping the rug out from under the Gen-Xers, Ys, and Millenials who'll be looking to retire at or after the decade in which the policy actually comes into effect, National is cynically stating that they're quite prepared to engage in some SERIOUSLY unrighteous policy-making. Particularly given they effectively intend on making us pay for the costs of a 65 retirement age which we younger folk will never, most likely, benefit from. [That's the part I agree with David Seymour on, in case you were wondering]

But is this "Intergenerational Warfare", as some have suggested? I think not. That would imply that there is a broad mass of 'Boomer' and 'Greatest Generation' members out there enthusiastically cheering on the idea that they're somehow "winning" by continually impoverishing and short-changing their children and grandchildren.

Instead, what's happened is the neoliberal ideologues who actually run our economy are making bad decisions. Bad decisions, to be sure, which fairly deliberately mainly negatively effect those whom they perceive as least likely to be able to effectively fight back against them.

And yes, it's certainly true that a goodly number of the National Party Caucus who are presently pushing this change are, themselves, Baby Boomers. Just as was a fairly large proportion of the 2014 Labour Caucus who did likewise at the last Election. But this is tempered by the number of out-and-out Quisling young people (predominantly Young Nats), who seem to be looking forward with licking lips to being amongst the first New Zealanders to have to compulsorily work into their late-60s. It simply doesn't seem to be adequate to state that all those in favour of this present policy are older New Zealanders - still less, that all those opposed are young people. Indeed, with New Zealand First leading the charge against the policy, to attempt to assert so would be blatantly counterfactual.

Let's be clear about this. There IS a fault-line within New Zealand Politics that is presently screwing over young people. But it's NOT a consciously Older-Versus-Younger one. After all, the trends I'm talking about seriously deleterious affect older New Zealanders, too! If they're not already well up the property ladder, pensioners on fixed incomes do only marginally better than beneficiaries and probably worse than minimum-wage earning young people when it comes to navigating our new, dilapidated extra-neoliberal public services; and they're much less employable, in some respects, than either of these other demographics.

Instead, the 'fault-line' is between those in a position to effect policy, and those locked outside of the system. Between those who're able to benefit from the way our economy is structured, and those whose ongoing prosperity or survival seems continually undermined by same.

And that suggests that this calculated insistence upon casting X governmental policy decision as yet another battle in a war of Old against Young is classic "Divide And Rule" tactics from those in power. Because if we're really busy exerting all of our energy into blaming each other (on EITHER side of the age-divide), then we far more easily lose sight of the REAL forces and factions ACTUALLY to blame.

It probably feels good for the disenfranchised of all ages to lob insults and sketch stereotypes of people a few decades apart from them chronologically. To blame parts of the housing crisis on smashed avocado toast or gerontocratic greed, for instance. This does not make it accurate. It also doesn't actually help us to solve the problems being talked about.

What is needed is co-operation rather than conflict between generations with a view to stopping this monstrous neoliberal ideology once and for all. This does not mean ignoring the fact that particular manifestations of pernicious policy such as the proposed pension package are more unequal for some age-groups than others. But it does involve setting aside some differences of opinion - and the inevitable associated recriminations - in favour of pursuing shared advocacy for genuine solutions.

Once upon a time, as a much younger man at university, I was introduced to the idea of "cross-class co-operation" in a Marxist context. The idea there was that the challenges inherent in attempting to overthrow (or, at the very least, reform) the excesses of capitalism were of such magnitude that the working class by itself was unlikely to be able to achieve this. Which would thus necessitate the strategic co-operation with other classes in society in order to attempt to bring about meaningful change.

I am not making the case for some sort of Marxian insurrection here in New Zealand by drawing upon that point of theory.

But it does seem, when so much energy is taken up by young activists objectifying our older forebears into The Enemy, that there is something productive to be had in remembering that working WITH our parents and grandparents may, in fact, be the superior way to go about making our situation better.

For all of us.

Certainly, if we wish to be cynical about this, the National Government have already resoundingly demonstrated that they have precious little interest in actually engaging with the perspectives or the votes of younger New Zealanders. Yet they're evidently potently paranoid about the possibility of losing support from the Older Generations (hence, presumably, their decision to defer raising the Age of Entitlement until persons thinking about retirement today are already WELL on their way to dotage).

Part of the answer to our present circumstance, therefore, does obviously lie with attempting to turn younger New Zealanders into the sort of high-turnout voting demographic which can make or break elections. But this is longer term thinking. In the short and medium term, the way to start the beat-back upon Neoliberalism is to foster inter-generational co-operation against it. Rather than, as some are wont to do, give in to the temptation to blame our forebears for policy-sets and governments which they may very well have played very little role in empowering. (It's worthwhile to remember that our parents' generation are also the ones responsible for the MMP system which we enjoy today, delivered as the fairly direct result of their cohort's attempted fightback against the disempowering and ultimately unrepresentative FPP system which gave us first Rogernomics, and then Ruthanasia)

In any case, as noted above - much of the present Parliamentary-Political opposition to this raise in the retirement age for younger people is being driven by older New Zealanders (supplemented and assisted by many of the younger Parliamentarians). This represents a great example of the interests and advocacy of the two generational groups coming together in order to oppose Neoliberalism.

Long may it continue.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

In Defence Of Ron Mark's Record

It has been said that strong arguments attack concepts; weak arguments attack people; and spurious diatribes careen off into the side of a barn by attempting to hit the wrong targets entirely.

This latter description is pretty much how I'd surmise the attack-piece which appeared on The Daily Blog on Tuesday, aimed (at least nominally) at none other than New Zealand First Deputy Leader Ron Mark.

Why do I say this? Well, for starters, its premise - that Ron was allegedly "a mercenary" - is factually incorrect. Mercenaries, it may interest you to know, fight as the militaristic equivalent of contractors. They aren't actually a part of a given standing army, and instead are paid to supplement a force whilst remaining independent actors.

As a commissioned officer in the Sultanate's forces, this is not what Ron did in the state of Oman - in fact, quite the opposite. Rather than being a 'soldier of fortune' who'd fight for the highest bidder, he made a commitment to a sovereign nation with longstanding ties to both Commonwealth and Anglosphere, joined up as an actual part of their military and saw it through.

Oh, and while we're on the subject of alleged "mercenaryism", it's frankly inexplicable that Peterson seems to allege that Ron's service with the United Nations in a peacekeeping capacity counts as "evidence" of mercenary conduct. Unless you're some New World Order-touting conspiracy theorist, the UN is not generally seen as being a dodgy cartel-like employer of mercenaries. Given, you know, it generally holds them to be illegal.

More to the point, the broad thrust of Peterson's nail-clipper job (like a hatchet job, but of minuscule effect) appears to be an attempt to use Ron's military record in the Middle East as part of a bid to cast doubt upon his political judgement here at home. Yet if we recall, it was precisely this hard-won experience in Arabia which made Ron such a tumultuously effective opponent of the recent National Party decision to deploy Kiwi troops to Iraq. Who better to point out that NZDF 'boots on the ground' weren't going to solve the issues they were nominally there for, than someone with a first-hand knowledge of both the region, and the realities of soldiering therein.

And indeed, the superior moral heft and informational base which Ron derived from his previous service in uniform allowed him to deliver the greatest anti-war rhetoric Parliament has seen in recent memory.

In case you've forgotten, it went like this:

"Do not make light of this. See, the thing I know about people in Parliament—and I used to say this to Keith Locke—is that most often the people who have the loudest voices when it comes to deploying people into theatres of war are those who have never worn a uniform and never want to. And very, very often, sadly, you find that they do not allow their sons or daughters to go either. So button it, Mr Goldsmith—button it. You have no place commenting on this because, quite frankly, you do not know what you are sending troops to."

Certainly has prominent echoes of General Eisenhower's quote about "[hating] war as only a soldier can".

I've also written previously about how I believe Ron's military background has become a strong asset for New Zealand First internally, on an organizational level. Officers tend to know how to build structures and turn groups of enthusiastic volunteers into effective units for campaign. It's right there in the job description. This is, obviously, something that's been most useful for us in recent years, and which is truly going to come into its own in a few months' time. As New Zealand First looks forward to the future, these organizational skills and competencies are going to become more vital than ever.

But the thing which irritated me most about Peterson's piece wasn't his woeful misapplication of the word "mercenary". It wasn't even the complete overlooking of how Ron's prior service has helped him to be an effective representative and Parliamentarian today.

Instead, it was this line from the first paragraph describing some of the alleged characteristics of mercenaries: "They aren't driven by a set of principles, and are not fighting for a just cause or to defend their country".

That part really got under my skin, because while it might be a fair description of Executive Outcomes or Blackwater ... it's also the absolute antithesis of who and what Ron Mark is.

In all of my dealings with Ron over the last few years, and from my ongoing observation of the 'second phase' of his Parliamentary career, if I could pick but two phrases to sum him up they would unquestionably be "man of principle", and "fighting for a just cause, to defend our country".

This is a man, let's remember, who could have quite happily stayed ensconced in Carterton winning election after election for the local Mayoralty, and presumably setting himself up as something of the Lower North Island equivalent to Tim Shadbolt.

But he didn't. Because in 2014 he was called back into service with the express and explicit purpose of "fighting for a just cause" in Parliament. Namely, the defence of our country against the ongoing frontal assault on the very concept of good governance which we see emanating daily from the Nat-occupied Treasury benches. A role in which may observers would agree that Ron has excelled - being one of the foremost voices in the House when it comes to challenging our extant Neoliberal overlords.

Still, success habitually arouses envy - and, as the old saying goes, "the monkeys only shake the tree with the best mangoes". I believe that this is what has motivated Peterson's piece. A feeling on the part of some parts of the further-left of the NZ political spectrum that New Zealand First has 'unfairly' come to dominate 'their' self-appointed territory. That the strong support which we enjoy from ordinary working class New Zealanders - and the demonstrable lead which NZ First has taken in the long-term fight against neoliberalism are things which some of our apparent adversaries wrongfully believe they ought to enjoy a monopoly upon.

They see a Nationalist movement that is large and working well - and instead of asking how best they can work WITH us against our common foe ... they'd rather pen scurrilous innuendo that flagrantly misrepresents a leading Opposition Member's pre-Parliamentary career; because they're worried about, in the long term, New Zealand First eclipsing others and becoming THE leading party of the Opposition.

And they know that we carry the torch and banner of working class Kiwis in a way they'll never be able to match.

In any case, the surface-veneer of Peterson's piece was an attempted hit-job on Ron's character, judgement and political principles. I've already countered some of the factual inaccuracies and blindspots of interpretation in it, and hopefully conveyed a sense of why I continue to back this man.

But if you want a true measure of why Ron's a valuable contributor to the destiny of this nation, then don't just take my word for it. Turn on Parliament TV, follow him on facebook, or turn up in person to one of his speaking engagements in a town near you.

You won't be disappointed.