Friday, November 28, 2014

The Lone Raged Dessert Crouton Scoop

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 21, 2014

The New Notes : They Ain't Mint

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

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

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

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

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

So why are we changing them then.

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Falling membership.

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

Oh yes. That's right. United Future!

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

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

Thursday, November 6, 2014

The #Reeferendum Train Has No Brakes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

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

I really don't like Bob McCoskrie.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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