Thursday, May 30, 2019

National Projecting Photo-Op Politics Failures At Government Over Budget

So holdup ... the National Party is attempting to make a big deal out of the person whose photo's on the cover of 2019 Budget having moved to Australia at some point in the past few years, yeah?

Now, it's a minorly amusing hardly-a-gaffe, sure. Stock photos are stock photos, and you can't always be assured that the models used in them are going to be entirely ideal if anybody *seriously* looks into them.

Yet as soon as I heard about this, my insta-reaction was to recall another Kiwi who got turned into a 'face of a brighter future', that then turned out to be a 'brighter future' over in Australia.

Way back in 2007, John Key made a much-vaunted visit to a place by the name of McGehan Close. It was a less well off street in what was then Prime Minister Helen Clark's Mt Albert electorate. He picked a 12 year old girl from among the residents, and took her up to Waitangi with him as a sort of walking campaign prop for what he sought to present as the neglected, the forgotten, and the left behind of the last Labour Government.

Which would be one thing. Except flash forward a few years, and it then turned out that the girl in question - Aroha Ireland - had 'fled the country' in pursuit of her own much more tangible "brighter future" over in Australia.

Like I say: it's one thing to use a stock-photo for a cover-shot, and then find out post-facto that the subject of said photograph has moved. I'd hardly say it's substantive.

It's *quite another* to promise to deliver meaningful change for a community, attempt to turn a child (and, by extension, those around her) into political stunts in pursuit of electoral success ... and then seemingly forget all about them once the psephological dust settles, only for their ongoing trajectory through life to provide something of an amazing QED for the fundamentally fallacious and empty nature of National's campaign rhetoric in practice.

But, you know, let's forget all about that and just quite literally judge a book (or, in this case, a Budget hard-copy) by its cover.

Still, to be fair to National - when it comes to the purchase of 'stock elements' turning out to have hidden complications, they're the local reigning experts.

Who could forget their 2014 use of "Eminem-Esque" elevator-muzak [itself an apt metaphor in so many ways for their tenure in office - that is, a weak pastiche imitation of actual governance, in much the same way that 'muzak' is to music]; and the resultant legal fallout which stemmed from their apparent failure to do proper and appropriate due diligence upon the 'stock element' in question.

All in all, I get the sense that National is making so much noise around things going on 'on the fringes' of the Budget, precisely because they have so very little of any actual substance (that's worth listening to) to say about the contents of the Budget itself.

This sort of 'stunt-ed' approach to political discourse came to dominate the Key-era National Party. Bridges is no Key, yet in the absence of anything else to contribute, we're getting Key-Lite (which, I suppose, means it's Politics-Lite-Lite).

A playbook which I am choosing to judge via its cover ... as there's precious little else to actually engage with.

National's Ongoing Budget-Grade Shenanigans - When Is It Appropriate To Lose One's Head?

So here's a funny thing. Right now, the National Party is demanding the resignation of Finance Minister Grant Robertson, after Treasury may have inadvertently made partial summaries of some parts of today's Budget semi-available two days early.

Yet back in 2012, when the Ministry of Social Development made a whole swathe of highly sensitive information about its clients and operations (including case-notes, personal details of at-risk children, medical records, legal paperwork etc. etc etc.) available to literally anyone who walked off the street into a WINZ office and used a self-service kiosk ...

... I don't think I recalled Paula Bennett appearing behind the National Leader of the day to demand that the minister in question responsible resign forthwith?

Possibly because said Minister was, in point of fact, Paula Bennett.

Who had earlier turned the rather more directly targeted unethical disclosure of private information about beneficiaries into something of an art form - endeavouring to use it to silence two critics of hers when it came to the abolishment of a training allowance which Bennett had, herself, taken advantage of some years earlier while a beneficiary.

Now, thankfully, Bennett cannot be demanded to resign from a Ministerial role (whether presiding over MSD, or any other) ... as the results of the last Election mean she's no longer on the Treasury Benches. (She was shuffled out of MSD, to take over portfolios including as Minister of State Services - which curiously, was also the portfolio area that *another* "leak" of private and personal information for apparently psephological gain took place from, pertaining to one Winston Peters and his pension payments, in the run-up to the last Election. Not that I'm suggesting the pattern indicates *direct* intent here, you understand)

Yet it does seem a bit peculiar that National was prepared to tolerate not just repeated, but *outright and downright intentional* disclosures of private information never intended for the public sphere and which had clearly and manifestly detrimental impacts for the vulnerable parties involved ...

... but is now baying for blood and a Scalp over the inadvertent partial-summary release of information which was to become public knowledge *anyway* a mere three days later.

Perhaps the argument is that the Treasury head serang who insinuated, upon GCSB advising, that a "hack" was to blame for the release, is a man lacking in judgement and therefore that whomsoever appointed him is thusly likewise - and therefore should go? In which case, I can only point out that Maklouf was first appointed, and then re-appointed, under the previous National Government.

Still, while I yesterday sought to argue that National's whipping up of a furore over this issue had all the inconsistency of rancid milk purporting to be cream, there is nevertheless at least *one* point on which I have to concede they've been stable in their relative stances:

That part around "baying for blood" over a "release of information which was to become public knowledge *anyway*" a mere few days later. It's exactly, as you may recall, what Simon Bridges sought to do after his rather high transport expenses were 'leaked' to the Media a few days prior to their official disclosure was scheduled to occur.

Of course, funny thing - he didn't seem *quite* so keen to defend the weaponized use of the [accurate, as it happened] information thusly obtained *that time*, did he.

Why The Americans Waited Nine Years To Bring Up Taking Our Eye Out Of The Five

Another article, published today, is doing the rounds about the prospect of NZ being booted out of the '5 Eyes' 'security' club, due to the alleged perforation of the heart of our politics by the People's Republic of China.

I've said it before and i'll say it again.

The problem the Americans have identified was *worse* under National. Yet for nine years the US did NOT seek to proffer this 'threat' at us.

The reason for this is quite simple.

They don't actually care nearly as much as they are pretending about the issue of Chinese 'infiltration'. They DO care, at least somewhat, if i) your governing party is "red" in its electoral material [regardless of its actual substance in practice], ii) it's not all that keen on supporting their general penchant for overseas military adventurism.

So therefore, National got a 'free pass' despite a Chinese intelligence agent in its Parliamentary Caucus, because it made the 'right noises' about wanting to have helped invade Iraq, etc. etc. and not rocking the boat with neoliberalism.

Meanwhile, the Labour/NZF/Greens Government can move to block Huawei from getting the contract for our 5G cellphone network upgrade, start rolling out a policy of attempting to *actively encourage* the US to engage in the Pacific to head off the PRC, and can even preside over the problem of PRC influence/infiltration actually being talked about even at a Parliamentary Select Committee inquiry ...

... and because it is 'convenient' to do so, because it lines up with other priorities, this smokescreen approach of "The Chinese are Puppeteering the Parliamentary Labour Party" gets rolled out.

Whether because the Americans are generally keen on 'disciplining' NZ for not being totally 100% in-line on various geopolitical fronts (and the prospect of trading with Russia may also be in mind here); or whether it is in a bid to surreptitiously 'influence' our domestic politics via the fostering of "Red Scare" style perceptions about the current incumbent Government so as to forment its subsequent replacement via more 'pliable' (by both Chinese *and* American foreign pressures, apparently) National-led administration.

National's Budget Pre-Game Is Double Standards All The Way Down

So let me get this straight:
1. the National Party somehow acquires Budget 2019 materials two days early;
2. Treasury reports it's been hacked and that they've referred the matter to the NZ Police's special cybercrime and security department.
3. National claims that it actually got the papers "lawfully"; Simon Bridges states that Grant Robertson should resign as Finance Minister because of National's receipt of them

Both stories can't be true. But what I found rather interesting was the quite drastic difference between how National's reacting to a potential hack of the Government (which has given them a temporary political advantage - it meant they had a big Distraction for their announcements of the outcomes of their internal review into bullying culture within National, and Alfred Ngaro's Tamaki-inspired backdown on setting up a sidecar support party with which to game MMP) ...

... and National's own screeching vituperation when it came to their *own* instances of themselves or their (Cetacean) subordinates/black-ops crew being hacked in years past. Then, it was quite a different tune - anybody even suspected of knowing who the hacker(s) might be finding themselves with sketchy police search sprees, bank service impairments "just in case", and the high hell-raising that some sort of massive attack upon the very political and social fabric of this country was immanently in progress. [by hackers exposing what National and its cronies had been up to, I mean - not, you see, by WhaleOil, the PM's office, et co, themselves. Funny how that works]

I know it's a truism to state, but it's almost like nobody actually cares about "the rules" over there, and that the only principle they hold dear to is the "Power Principle", the desire to "win" at all costs, and somehow make it look like their own leader isn't in a near constant state of Schrodinger's Resignation, via scalp-demanding from just about anyone and everyone else.

Meanwhile, I was also rather surprised to see the National Party attempting to attack the Government for an increase in Defence spending. I mean ... this is not what you'd expect from National - especially given their rather flagrant over-enthusiasm in years both past and present to deploy the NZDF in support of American military adventurism in the far-flung reaches of the world.

I thought the National Party were supposed to be at least somewhat keen on having a useable and fit-for-purpose Defence Force? But, then, I guess not. Looks like the only Defence they're really seriously interested in, is against the Government's incumbency, by any means necessary. Typical.

The overwhelming impression one gets when looking over the Nats' Budget pre-game, then, is very much the same as that which we've had by looking at them in Opposition these past eighteen months all up.

Namely - it's double-standards, all the way down.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Bridges' Claim On Crime Rates A "Serious Harm" To Causality

Everybody knows the old adage that when it comes to lies, there are three kinds: "lies, damned lies, and statistics". Political press releases, particularly from the National Party, often combine at least two out of the three in some sort of high art form. Yet as is a truth known to only fewer, the best and most persuasive lies are those that actually contain at their core or at least in their sheathing ... a hard element of fact.

Which is pretty much exactly what we saw with yesterday's Herald piece quoting Simon Bridges, Mark Mitchell et co expressing their bewailing concern that there'd been a 25% increase in cases of "serious harm" before the courts - and therefore, that "crime [has been] increasing" since the change-over to the Labour/NZF/Greens Government in October of 2017.

Now watch the 'bait and switch'.

Yes, absolutely, there does appear to be an increase - even quite a notable one - in "serious harm" cases before the courts over the past year and a half.

But that doesn't mean that crime is actually increasing. Not by itself, anyway. I mean, it may very well be that it is. I'm not sure. These stats aren't on the rate of criminal offending experienced by ordinary New Zealanders. Instead, they're simply and exclusively on the raw amount of criminal offending in certain categories that winds up in front of a judge.

And how does an (alleged) criminal find themselves before the Courts?

Well, first they'd have to be apprehended, wouldn't they. For the most part, anyway - some do hand themselves in.

So what do we actually see reflected in these stats which National's publicized? Not evidence of more crime all up. Just evidence of more criminals being dealt with through the justice system.

Which would surely be a good thing?

Now there is, to be sure, some potential merit in something else Bridges said - that the increase in cases before the courts may also be a result of courts taking longer to deal with cases than has previously been the case. And that does deserve to be looked at. Both victims and (alleged) offenders (particularly where it turns out that they're actually innocent) have rights to the speedy dispensation of justice without undue delay. Although this does have to be balanced against the quality of deliberation available - and I'd certainly hope that most would agree with the sentiment that a well-thought-out proceeding which gets a better outcome is superior to a more slap-dash approach designed to have speed as its most significant priority.

But if the increase in numbers of cases is resultant from a slower moving progress through the Justice system, then this suggests that the increase is not - or at least, not entirely - due to changes in crime rates or criminal apprehension. It may be a situation of "both rather than either", and in fact it probably is; yet I can't help but feel that National is pontificating at cross-purposes with its own previously advanced reasoning here.

In any case, that comment around 'apprehension rates' is absolutely key here. As I suggested above, the main vector via which potential offenders wind up in front of a judge, is through hard work by the New Zealand Police. It therefore stands to reason that if the numbers are up for cases in court, that this will be at least somewhat to do with their efforts. And, as you may recall, both Labour and NZF promised significant increases in police numbers at the last Election. The jury's still out on just how well they're going in achieving that, but it does seem there's been som reasonable progress in this area - with the number of sworn officers apparently reaching a record high of 9,506 last month, as a start.

So if there's been a notable increase in the number of "serious harm" cases before the courts, maybe that's at least part of the reason why? The Coalition Government living up to some of its campaign promises, boosting police numbers; therefore leading to more crime being responded to, more (alleged) offenders apprehended, and hopefully, more matters of these types being resolved.

Now, it's difficult to actually verify this prospective claim in the absence of different data-sets - dealing with the actual numbers on crimes committed/experienced and crimes reported (which are not always, themselves, the same for a variety of reasons), incidents responded to, and presumptive offenders then dealt with. And I find it rather curious that National didn't choose to release something much more comprehensive, touchng upon all of those indicators if it were actually serious in its endeavour to convince us that we're 25% more unsafe than we were in mid-late 2017 when they last ruled.

But, then, maybe National doesn't trust those sorts of statistics to do the talking for them.

After all, it is a well-known fact that when National was last in power, and Judith Collins was Police Minister, policing statistics appeared to mysteriously be altered in ways that happened to make the then-incumbent Government look good. I'm sure it was entirely coincidental that Collins' own Papakura electorate seemed to be a particular beneficiary of this sudden and magical sans-crime wave, and that this had nothing whatsoever to do with her decision not to investigate the situation when informed of it as a Minister.

So I guess what I'm saying is - I can see why National might not be keen to use police stats for these matters, given their own previous flagrant mis-use and manipulation of them in the past. And regardless of the changes in stat collection and verification that have since been undertaken by the Police in response to that episode.

But attempting to 'sub in' the figures for cases before the courts in this manner as a substitute for crime-rates, is not exactly any more truthful - even though it doesn't directly entail any actual distortion of statistics for polemical, psephological gain. Just what they might happen to actually represent.

I shall be interested to see if and whether Andrew Little's [and/or Stuart Nash's] office responds by putting out further stats, in areas actually relevant to Bridges' core claim, that enable to assess whether National's contention has much in the way of merit.

Who knows. This may turn into yet another instance of Bridges providing a stirling opportunity for the Government to show that their approach is actually working.