Monday, December 16, 2019

Is Winston's Sudden Enthusiasm For Foreign-Owned Media A Case Of Enlightened Self Interest?

What if the New Zealand First sudden out-of-the-blue announcement of support for journalism and 'traditional media' in general, as well as two significant media companies that're looking to merge in particular ...

... was because the man apparently responsible for hand-crafting the statement in question - Chief of Staff and former Victoria politics lecturer, Dr Jon Johansson (or, for that matter, another NZF strategic mind) - had a sudden attack of disquiet/insight following recent events, and realized that probably the easiest way to try and get NZ's political press somewhat close to "on-side" going into an Election Year ... was what happened Thursday.

Now to be sure, I'm not suggesting that this was the only motivation; nor that our conglomerated political-reporting press is so incredibly cheaply wooed as the above statement might otherwise seem to suggest.

But it is difficult to avoid the thought that rolling out the Deputy Prime Minister to put on a feel-good positive-vibes press-conference *about the media*, with sufficient thickness of enthusiasm (and surprise/shock-value) that said assembled media's rendered "speechless" by the speech; in concert with his stating support for a profitable progression to the long-stymied corporate maneuverings of two of New Zealand's largest newspaper and radio companies ... is hardly likely to do NZ First any harm.

Especially as the nature of NZF's offer of support to (some) media operating here is not exactly of the 'fire and forget' one-off nature - but rather points toward a longer-term commitment and engagement. And, if it turns out that the Government has to push through legislation to bypass the Commerce Commission's previous blockage of the merger, the drawn-out expenditure of political capital "going in to bat" for the companies in question.

It's not hard to see why NZF would be seriously keen on doing something unexpected, even unprecedented, to attempt to build a positive 'understanding' with media going into 2020.

Despite the Party's polling not being *too* hair-raising for this point in the electoral cycle [it's been fairly consistently in the low four percent range for the past six months], NZF's strategist(s) will  be acutely aware of just what sort of damage a year-long run of scandals, mini-scandals, Shane Jones in general, imbroglios, innuendo, and the appearance of impropriety [whether it's actually there or not] , can do.

After all, that's pretty much exactly what put paid to NZF's time in Parliament toward the conclusion of their previous period in Government in 2008. Something which has been repeatedly pointed out over the past few weeks following the ignition of a still-as-yet-unresolved donations controversy which seems eerily similar in some of its manifest particulars to that Albatross-styled necktie of more than a decade before.

With any net tonnage of potential unfavourable headlines waiting to explode out about the Provincial Growth Fund, this Donations/Trust situation, and various other areas besides, having an array of the nation's news outlets all of a sudden *not* keen to tear shreds off you when they're not utterly ignoring you, becomes understandably strongly desirable.

Whether that's the overt intent of NZF's sudden enthusiasm for protecting the jobs of journalists and supporting foreign-owned corporate bottom lines, or not. [And really, a simple compare/contrast wtih Winston's arguably vindictive stance on MediaWorks' impending doom a mere two months before, is all that it takes to see just how seismic the shift has seemingly been here]

Also, don't get me wrong - I can see some definite upsides to an array of what's been put forward. And was quite intrigued by one of the elements in Winston's statement that *didn't* get read out loud (yet remained in the print version) around a wariness about People's Republic of China propelled content.

Although balanced against this are a few points of prickly disquiet - including my wariness about the prizing of the two sets of  'traditional media' outlets in question over "Facebook and Google". Indeed, the overt, outright hostility directed toward these more modern vectors for information which seemed to come across in Winston's words.

Which doesn't mean he's entirely wrong there, either. They've certainly been prime platforms for 'fake news' and 'alternative facts' in recent years ... it's just that I am of the rather avowed opinion that various 'traditional media' outlets are no better. In fact, in some cases, appear to be somewhat *worse* due to the respectability of their ancient mastheads.

A cynic might suggest that those internet/new media platforms are far less needing of Governmental assistance, and therefore less amenable to influence here, anyway.

In any case, while I don't know that I'd go anywhere near as far as Winston's comment that local/regional news outlets are apparently as vital as a hospital or a school in a given area, I do think that there's a quite a reasonable case to be made for the state to support and assist domestic media so that they remain domestic media. Rather than mere resyndication websites for the splinters-under-fingernails scroungings of various American and UK tabloids in a futile bid for advertising revenue.

The way this has unfolded, and the precise nature of the NZME/Stuff merger proposal is not how I would have approached the problem, but then that almost goes without saying, doesn't it.

I'm not sure I'd go so far as to outright state that what we have here - a situation of, for the interim period, anyway, not The State offering to support struggling local media ... but rather, of a particular political party offering to support struggling corporate media which happens to employ some local people while owning some long-standing brand-name trade-marks ('product identities', I suppose you'd call them - and that presumably encompasses some of the more prominently known and highly profiled journalists, also) - is unacceptably "problematic".

In part because the simple nature of New Zealand, New Zealand politics and New Zealand media, has *always* meant that degrees of influence, propinquity, and cheek-to-jowl that'd be frankly abominable in other countries are de rigeur here. The main difference is that this gambit of Winston's is going on *above the table* rather than under it - and is also, not to put too fine a point upon the venerable old pinstripe-suited elephant in the room, a situation of it being NZ First standing to benefit from positive media relationships, rather than being the whipping-boy of both media companies and other political parties or politicians who more *usually* have such 'cozy' rapports going, as has almost invariably more usually been the case.

I also do not mean to unfairly impugn the credibility nor impartiality of an array of this country's political (and other) journalistic fraternity. Or even, perhaps, the *editorial* cabals which sit above them like gargoyles.

But reporting upon events has never been an entirely objective pursuit; whether it's limited by the simple realities of a human viewer's vantage-point or competencies to understand what it is that is unfolding in front of them, we *always* wind up bringing some form of subjectivity to the recounting and the dissecting (er .. vivisecting) of newsworthy happenings, trends, and trend-setters.

If somebody's done you a good turn, said he understands how hard your situation's been, and pledged to *actually do something about it* and to keep you in employment and mastheads for the next foreseeable future, it's only human nature to be rather more fair towards him than, say, another *almost exactly equivalent* figure who seems to spend an appreciable quotient of your literal *every encounter* with him coming up with ever more creative ways to call you stupid, is pretty jubilant about the mass redundancy of dozens of your co-workers elsewhere in the industry, and otherwise attempts to make your daily labours as challenging as possible. And note I said "fair" rather than "favourable".

Anyway, I think I've made my point (and then some).

I'm not saying NZ First deliberately engineered this whole thing exclusively due to rampant paranoia about a re-run of 2008's year-long barrage of negative media attention leading to their snatching defeat from the jaws of victory ... I just think that however genuine Winston's intentions were in supporting regional newspapers or opposing PRC puppeteering of some portion of our press or any of the rest of it ... there's no getting around the possibility that this *won't hurt* NZF amidst a scandal-sodden beaten track as we slouch towards the next Election.

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Labouring Under A False Narrative - On The UK's 2019 Election Outcome And What It Means For 'Left' Parties Elsewhere

In many ways, this should have been UK Labour's election to lose. Or, at least, do a helluvalot better on with the Cons on the back, flat, bear-trapped-and-mangled foot.

Despite key campaign issues of Brexit, out-of-touch if not downright unrepresentative political elites, and an incumbent government suffering dang near Italian levels of instability [seriously, how else to describe a situation of it being on its third leader and third election inside what would otherwise have been a single Parliamentary term, alongside a state of literal brother-against-brother civil war inside its main Caucus] ...

... Labour managed to lose while fielding one of the longest-running Euroskeptic MPs as its nominal Leader, and facing off against the literal second coming of Tory-Etonian born-to-rule privilege [the first coming being David Cameron ... inside a pig] spouting Ancient Greek.

Now, the 'received wisdom' going into the Campaign, was that while the British voting public might be 'sick' of ongoing Brexit shenaniganry ... this was in fact a soft-cover for much of the electorate actually being opposed to the whole thing going (any further) ahead.

And therefore, that by singular 'virtue' of not being a pro-Brexit party, UK Labour would stand to do well (particularly when buttressed with a whole lot of policy on just about everything else under the Sun).

Clearly, this didn't happen.

The "new" 'received wisdom' is going to be to turn the whole thing into an anti-Corbyn finger-pointing jamboree . As in ... "it wasn't UK Labour taking a soft-Brexit-Skeptic stance which lost votes ... it was Corbyn muddying the waters by refusing to allow Labour to take an overt anti-Brexit stance that's to blame! That and him being actually left-wing!"

Except the size of the Conservative victory, and the somewhat unexpected places in which it was bourne out seat-by-seat ... show that this is a completely untenable interpretation of events. (It also completely glosses over Corbyn's actual electoral record as leader - the 40% of the popular vote Labour attained under him in 2017, for instance; and the fact that even the 32.1% of the popular vote Labour got this week, is somewhat larger than the 29% under Gordon Brown in 2010 or the 30.4% under Ed Miliband in 2015. If you are attempting to make Corbyn look like the problem, preferably in order to scream "I TOLD YOU SO" in favour of some return-to-business-as-usual neoliberal as having been the better option for leader, or the logical 'choice' to take over now that Corbyn's exited the position ... then it does not do too well to cogitate upon just how much better he performed as compared to his two overtly 'orthodox' predecessors. Would rather defeat the narrative, that.)

It shall be persisted with, however, precisely because the sorts of people pushing this line are reflexively incapable of self-criticism or conceding that they've gotten things wrong. It's their preferred metanarrative up against the world, and if there's some dissonance or disagreement between the two ... then it is clearly the world which is in error. Besides, nobody likes to wear the crown of blame, and it's much easier - more fun, too - to shift it elsewhere onto somebody who represents various sorts of antitheses to what you despise, anyway.

The real horror for those of us out here in the rest of the Anglosphere, is that a whole swathe of notionally-"left" parties which might have serious shots at gaining or maintaining power ... will take rather similar "lessons" from UK Labour's defeat. They'll brand it "Corbyn's Defeat". They'll shout that "SOCIALIST ECONOMICS CAN'T FLY!" They'll claim that allowing anybody even *somewhat* on the side of the people in a 'populist' issue liek Brexit *anywhere near power and leadership* is an automatic recipe for disaster.

I sometimes think that these sorts basically think the future both is and should be Liberal Democratic [ha] Technocracy Forever. And they're professionally engaged in the card-house-construction of ever less tenuous headcanonry 'explanations' for why this *doesn't* appear to actually resonate with much of anybody who isn't already either a LibDem or a Technocrat.

In short .. the *actual* lessons quite simply aren't going to be *allowed* to be learned. Because to do so doesn't just risk 'empowering' "the wrong ideas" and forces, it entails undermining core components of their incipient world view. And that kind of cog-dis is exceedingly painful for any has-be-would-been ideologue to have to endure.

Partially, this has probably been downright deliberate. In much the same manner as the Democratic Party in the USA moving to clamp down on its 'insurgents' lest they actually prove to be electable next year ... the idea is simply to 'wait out' both the incumbents in office/government, and the insurgents in their own party even though it's plainly an election-losing strategy.

Indeed, as the saying goes, that isn't a bug - it's deliberately designed that way.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

What To Make Of National MP Parmjeet Parmar's Gandhi Statue Proposition

Backbench Opposition MPs are occasionally curious creatures, as are social media advert-targeting algorithms. Due, no doubt, to an ongoing quirk of the latter, I found myself presented with a sponsored post from National's List MP based on Mt Roskill, Parmjeet Parmar, calling for the enshrinement of a Gandhi statue here in Auckland to coincide with the latter figure's 150th birthday and asking me to sign a petition in support of same.

Now, the comments left in response to this post were pretty interesting in and of themselves. If you were expecting some sort of groundswell-outpouring-of-support from the local Indian community as National presumably were when they authorized the effort [and more on that in a moment], then you would perhaps be left hanging.

Many comments therefrom appeared to be in one (or both) of two camps - those who were suggesting that while such a statue might be appropriate for/in India, it didn't necessarily follow that it'd be a good idea to have one *here* ... and those who were pretty anti Gandhi for various reasons. There were also a few other sorts of response, including an array of potential alternatives if we really were in need of an additional effigy [I put in my two cents in favour of one of NetaJI, on grounds of ... another story for another time], and at least one pointing out that there's already a Gandhi statue located in Wellington by the central railway station. Virtually all of these comments (as in, all but a literal handful out of the more than one hundred responses in that thread) were from members of the Indian community.

Now that matters, not so much because of what it tells us about the perceptions and the psychology of said community's membership - which is pretty interesting in and of itself - but rather because of just *why* the National Party apparently thought this idea would be a good issue to start campaigning on immediately on the cusp of an Election Year.

And that's quite simple.

The Indian community has generally been one of the more diverse in New Zealand when it comes to electoral behavior. Many vote for Labour. Many also vote for National. Up until relatively recently, many also supported New Zealand First. Even ACT managed to find itself an Indian candidate in its top four at the last Election.

So the Indian portions of the electorate - and I should not perhaps monolithicize it by saying it is a 'community' singular - is a battleground, as multifaceted and militantly fought over as any bellweather physical seat. And, with more than two hundred and twenty thousand Indians living here (a figure which will, admittedly, likely include quite a few who are unable to vote in the next year's upcoming General Election), a potentially rather lucrative source of political support in what's likely to be an incredibly tight contest in 2020. 

But while in previous years, the outcomes from the "Indian vote" here have been broadly consistent - Labour doing reasonably out of it, National slowly improving its vote-share, and New Zealand First also being in there as well - various events of the past year and a quarter have thrown much of that up in the air, disrupting those comfortable certainties.

That's created both a 'risk' factor for National, in terms of the potential diminishing of its own vote coming from this general quarter; as well as an 'opportunity', derived from going after the votes that've been lost by the Coalition.

The former - the problem - resulted from the Jami-Lee Ross's airing of a conversation with the current leader of the National Party in which the party's stance toward Indian New Zealanders appeared to be that they were a) cash-cows and seat-warmers when National sought to consider them at all ... and b) that they were worth perhaps only half a Chinese person even on *that* lowly score.

It doesn't take Crosby-Textor to tell you how and why *that* will have burned some bridges.

The latter, and much more recent event - the opportunity - was crafted via Shane Jones' attention-grab before last. It's an open question as to whether Jones' rhetorical enfilading of the Coalition's Indian constituency will lose them more votes than NZF might shore up or gain from other quarters for such displays; but while it might be tempting to regard the whole thing as an "NZF Problem", even despite Iain Lees-Galloway (the actual relevant Minister in the situation) expressing his opposition to Jones' comments, the fact that Jones is a Coalition Minister, whose antics are - broadly speaking - tolerated by his Coalition Partner, suggests that the fallout from that episode is unlikely to be exclusively NZF's to bear.

So, like I say - it's a situation of 'risk' and 'opportunity' for National going into 2020's tight contest as applies potentially tens upon tens of thousands of votes.

It's therefore understandable that they'd be rather keen to attempt a re-run of the 'Ethnic Strategy' which was a fairly prominent portion of both their national- and local-level electoral outreach efforts from about 2014-2016. I won't go into any great detail about it here, not least because it's probably not that interesting to most ... but suffice to say it featured National attempting to take votes off Labour by putting forward 'ethnic' candidates and occasionally downright peculiar stabs at "appealing" to their relevant communities/constituencies. And, perhaps not at all coincidentally, had its arguable not-all-that-high-water-mark just over three years ago *also* in Parmar's electorate, during her ill-starred contest against Labour's Michael Wood for Mt Roskill in the 2016 By-Election.

Here's the writeup I produced at the time, which also runs through some of them aformentioned prior examples/manifestations/missteps.

Anyway, to bring all of this back to both the present and the immediate subject at hand ... it seems pretty straightforward why various minds at National apparently thought it'd be a great idea to approve Parmjeet Parmar MP putting out a release calling for "Auckland Council to provide a statue to honour Mahatma Gandhi in one of Auckland’s public spaces [...] such as Aotea Square or the Auckland Domain".

And then thought they'd double down by bringing the whole thing back two months after it was first announced [which was in early October, to coincide with the anniversary of Gandhi's birth] through a fresh influxion of advertising cash. (Which has, incidentally, given it a far higher response-rate and interactivity, if we compare the few dozen reacts etc. each of her postings about it on the 2nd and 6th of October got to the nearly three hundred on the 9th of December one that's been 'sponsored')

Part of it's the same reason just about any party or politically inclined organization does these sorts of 'petitions' in the first place. It's a contact-info gathering exercise that'll in theory enable the Nats to more easily connect with various portions of the electorate. By self-identifying as interested in one of their pushes, and giving them your name, email, and potentially mobile phone number (especially with the "Send me text message updates" box still auto-ticked), you're saving them the trouble of having to ferret you out or chance across you on the hustings or door-knocking, and giving them many more months to attempt to forge/build upon a connection with you through periodic emailed/txtd bluster. It's not "spam", because you asked for it. It's not "junk mail", because it's not in a post-box. It's not nearly as advanced nor useful as some of the much more data-driven analytic and outreach tools being deployed in the US these days ... but, then, we've always been [often thankfully] a few years or even decades behind them when it comes to campaigning.

And anyway, that candidate/party to individual person contact-harvesting effort is only a secondary purpose compared to what this Gandhi statue push is *actually* for. Which is a much more 'general' sense of connectivity.

As I said some paragraphs ago, the National Party likely feel they are in a situation of both 'risk' and 'opportunity' as applies the Indian swathe of the electorate. On the one hand, they are painfully aware that they have to fend against a perception that they basically see the Indian communities of this country as little more than cash-cows and window-dressing pseudo-"diversity" ... pursuits in which said party would apparently really much rather be dealing with the Chinese, thanks, anyway. That's the 'risk'.

But on the *other* hand, they're also cognizant of the fact that they're up against a Coalition which much more recently had one of its allegedly senior Ministers go on what seemed to be a sustained foray against various Indian customs, culture, community organizations, and Voice and Viewpoint(s) generally.

So therefore, what National's chosen to do is attempt to put forward something designed to show their targets that they're ... pretty much the opposite of all of that - both of their own prior 'shortcomings', and of their opponents' more contemporary tin-eared conflagrationism. A 'symbol', if you will.

What of? That National values the community in question, its cultural touchstones, its heritage, and its voice [as illustrated by having one of its Indian MPs use *her* voice to put the proposal forward]; and is 'in touch', listening to and engaging with all of the above; prepared to offer literal pride of place ... or, as the press release puts it, "prime public spaces", to same.

Except here's the problem with that. Gandhi's actually, to put it mildly, a rather divisive figure in India and the broader diaspora. I won't go into why here, but suffice to say there's *quite a number of potential reasons* from just about all possible viewpoints upon the matter. He *is* resoundingly popular with a certain sort of Anglosphere liberal, however, because of his reputation *external* to India ... and if the reaction on Parmar's recent post was anything to go by when last I'd checked it,  there's probably rather more support in *that* demographic for a Gandhi statue out there in Aotea Square than there is in much of the local Indian community.

So straightaway, it doesn't look so much like "listening" to Indian New Zealanders, as an attempt to appeal to what National thinks they *should* like (both in terms of Gandhi, and in terms of a statue of Gandhi *here*), based on some rather lazy [lack of] thinking.

There's also a bit of an irony in the actual form and capabilities of this 'Symbol', as well. For it is a rather curious maneuver, if you are facing an embedded perception that your attitude to the Indian community is that they are there to be seen and not heard except when being deployed for political/vote-garnering purposes ...

... to then attempt to solve the problem by installing as a political stunt a statue nobody seems to have asked for in a highly public place - where it, by definition, can *only* be seen and not heard.

Statues, rather like some Opposition Backbench MPs, with the occasional exception of 'Res Ipsa Loquitur', are only rarely able to speak for themselves.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Why Elon Musk's "Victory" In Recent Defamation Suit Was A Joke

I am pretty appalled at the outcome of the recent defamation suit launched against Elon Musk in retaliation to his statements that the plaintiff, Vernon Unsworth, was a "pedo".

Now if you've just joined us down here in the peanut-gallery of this *particular* Musk-incepted three ring circus, a little background material is probably going to be helpful.

As you may remember, mid-way through 2018, a soccer team of Thai youths and their coach went missing amidst rising waters in a labyrinthine cave-complex, sparking a massive international rescue effort that raced against the clock to try to get them out alive. Unsworth was one of the key figures in this campaign, having significant local knowledge (including of the cave-system, which he'd been working to map) as well as diving experience. Indeed, so salient was his importance to the successful outcome of the operation, that he's been personally honoured by both the Thai and English monarchs for it (the latter with an MBE).

In the aftermath of the rescue, he made a statement in the course of an interview about a submarine which Elon Musk had sent to the site in order to assist, noting that it was rather ill-fit for purpose and seemed to be more of a "PR stunt" than a serious effort to help. And also suggesting a perhaps superior location for it to have its maiden spelunking voyage.

Musk, it seems, did not respond well to such criticism - and took to Twitter to call Unsworth a "pedo guy" and "sus[picous]".

Now, this is a pretty grave thing to say, I think many would agree. It did not take the arrest of Jeffrey Epstein a little over a year later to make people a lot more sensitive to the possibility that accusations of paedophilia made by the famous might just have something to them. The behavior in question (the sexual crime, I mean, not twitter-flapping insults) is quite rightly regarded as one of the more heinous possible crimes; and regardless of a lack of evidence, the mud thus flung almost invariably appears to stick. It is therefore entirely and eminently understandable that Unsworth felt Musk's public assertion toward him meant he'd been"effectively given a life sentence without parole.”

So you'd think, therefore, that the resultant defamation action would be one of the more simple open-and-shut cases of reputational protection, most anywhere in the world. But, of course, this being America, you'd be wrong.

One of the defences to a defamation action, in most circumstances, is Truth. It's not a total defence, but it's probably one of the best possible ones to have access to. [The most amusing, for my money, is "No Good Name To Blacken", when it comes to the plaintiff, but despite Musk's ongoing antics, I digress] The insinuation if one *does not* choose to sue for defamation when such a lurid allegation is made against you, is that it's because the accuser has just such a defence handy. Or, in other words, as Unsworth's lawyer put it - “The challenge that was thrown down by Elon Musk was that if you don’t sue it’s true,”

But the Americans really do rather like their free speech. And as I have often observed, free speech over there seems to almost inexorably carry with it the freedom to be downright obnoxious with it. Musk therefore launched a defence built around the idea that he wasn't actually seriously accusing Unsworth of being a paedophile, he just meant to seriously insult the guy - and that therefore, rather than being defamatory, his tweet was in fact constitutionally *protected* verbiage.

Now, you may or may not think that this is, on the face of it, absolute balderdash. I certainly find it difficult to agree that prohibitions upon the state restricting freedom of speech (which are not, and never have been absolute - even in EagleLand ... "shouting fire in a crowded theater" being a canonical US Supreme Court example of *non-protected* speech, for instance) should mean that it's all of a sudden complete and total open slather to say or to print the most abhorrent of apparently-not-slander about another private citizen. It seems to mean, per this recent decision 'vindicating' Musk, that there is and can be no actual restitution and no real shield against blatantly false accusations being made as any malefic malcontent may damn well please - provided that it's meant as an insult, rather than as a supported statement of supposed fact.

But on the provisio that it was an "insult", instead of an "accusation", and apparently somewhat regardless of how just about anybody else might have potentially taken the remark (either as indicating something about Unsworth, or as indicating something about what Musk *believed he knew* about Unsworth) ... it's protected speech, and that's that. It really is a most curious phenomenon, saying something you *know* to be false, declaring that that's why you said it, and having that be the defence against the charge of having made a false and injurious statement. But this is, perhaps, why I only have half a law degree, rather than a fool one.

Except here's the thing: I'm not convinced that Musk's proffered explanation, that it was just some sort of off-the-cuff rejoinder, and that he just meant "creepy old man" [as the word apparently means colloquially in South Africa, or so Musk claimed], not "paedophile", actually holds up to any sort of scrutiny at all. Other than a jury, apparently, and they really can be rather difficult-to-predict agglomerations.

You see, Musk didn't just put out a tweet stating Unsworth to be a "sus[picious]" "pedo". His response when queried about his allegation - again, on twitter - was to "Bet ya a signed dollar it's true."

He then doubled, and then some, down upon his accusation - hiring a private investigator to produce the evidence to support his claim [which never did actually appear - Musk asserts that this was in part due to the investigator he hired being a "professional conman" ... which rather means I cannot interject "takes one to know one" at this point, as Musk apparently didn't] ; and informing a reporter that Unsworth was a "child rapist", who had relocated to  Thailand in pursuit of "a child bride who was about 12 years old at the time."

He also declared to the same reporter his rather ardent wish that Unsworth "sues me" over the remark; which would to most people surely suggest a supreme confidence in the *truth* of what one had said, rather than some kind of deep and abiding desire to put to the test just how far the US's legal principles protecting freedom of fact-free speech were prepared to extend.

All in all, it seems pretty darn difficult to genuinely believe that Musk did not mean what everybody else *heard* he meant via his application of the word "pedo". Either in terms of "pedo" apparently not meaning "paedophile", or that this was just some kind of clearly non-factual insult just casually bandied about between regular men and not at all intended to be taken seriously by anybody except as a rough barometer of how annoyed Musk was about having his ego pricked.

Musk's subsequent conduct suggests rather strongly that by "pedo", he did in fact mean "child rapist" [that's his words], and that he certainly intended for it to be taken as more than a minor and insubstantial barb. You don't hire private investigators ['conman' or otherwise] to make insubstantial barbs with - you do so to further substantiate them. You also generally don't invite legal challenge immediately after having rather directly and repeatedly made statements of some increasing level of detail which repeat the allegation ... if you are just talking out of the place wherein the submarine was suggested to be lodged.

Or maybe you do. If you're as rich as Musk is, what's a little back-of-the-couch millions to put into batting away a defamation suit (or, as it happens, paying off the US Securities and Exchange Commission, in the aftermath of *another* demonstrably false Musk tweet that actually *was* ruled to have been illegal - money and investment, it seems, gets a far more generous shake of the sauce-bottle of justice than does 'people' under the US system).

It is to Musk's (limited) credit that he has apologized for the tweet. Although I am not entirely sure how seriously one can take an apology that comes couched in a rider of it being his absolute right to have said what, and as he did. That smacks of a certain lack of sincerity - after all, *genuine* remorse often tends to mean at least an implicit commitment to make right the harm done, and to at least attempt to avoid doing the same malefic action again.

But even despite this, and even despite the legal grounds upon which Musk won his case effectively heavily inferring that there is no truth whatsoever to his claim that Unsworth was a "pedo" ... there is little doubt in my mind that the stench of the spurious allegation's smeary label shall follow Unsworth about like a noose for the rest of his life. This is not just because such accusations tend to have an enhanced adhesion even over and above other such vicious rumours and gossipmongery ; but because if you google Unsworth's name, even in connection with the Thai rescue-effort he so heroically contributed to, the first ... dozens of hits are almost uniformly but simple headlines stating that Musk won against him in the defamation suit over his being called a paedophile. It is not hard to see how *that* can be easily misread as a vindication of the *claim*, not of its baselessness in the first instance!

Musk's effective defence was that he could do no (legal) wrong here, as nobody could take him seriously. Unfortunately, even outside this matter, many did and presumably still do.

As this sad, sorry court-verdict shows - just because it's difficult to take something seriously, does *not* mean it lacks for tangible and detrimental impact.

I feel genuinely sympathetic for Unsworth.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Simon Bridges' Cannabis Comments A Smokescreen For What National REALLY Believes

Simon Bridges' statement that legalized cannabis opens the door to "effectively incentivising cannabis over other legal drugs at the moment - like tobacco and drink" dependent upon the excise tax levied ... is a bit of an odd objection to make.

I am not aware of any evidence to suggest that tobacco and/or alcohol are *less* harmful to the consumer, or to society than cannabis. I am aware of a rather considerable *mountain* of evidence that cigarettes and alcohol are much *more* harmful to both country and citizenry than cannabis ...

... so if, in addition to raising excise taxation revenue, the legalization of cannabis leads to a relative disincentivization of the consumption of tobacco and alcohol, what's the problem?

Other than for the alcohol and tobacco industries which have long been closely linked to the National Party.

You know, it is curious how timings work out. Yesterday was four years since the funeral of a good man from NZF. Barry. He was of the vintage where temperance and teetotalism for an individual of quiet Christian faith was a virtue, not a vice. Something I'm not sure the modern National Party would be altogether too keen on.
But I recall him at this late hour, because he would from time to time bring up at NZF electorate meetings out in Pakuranga something he had noticed - that in 1998 or thereabouts, he'd read a headline reading something like "Beer Baron Weeps Into His Beer" , about hte declining profits of Lion Nathan. And then, not long after that, National suddenly announcing its push for the reform of the drinking age down to eighteen .. which, of course, notably improved and underscored the alcohol industry's profit margins and facilitated the ensnaring of the *next* generations in our worrying drinking culture.
Personally, I am not actually too bothered about the alcohol age of purchase being 18. But Barry's words have stuck with me.
And when we see this kind of display from the Nats here in 2019, I cannot help but recall them with greater wistfulness; for the man who had departed us those years ago, I mean. And for an older generation of voters who were ... not so easily fooled as some are today by the conduct of our political classes when it comes to 'moneyed interests' demanding a return upon their 'investment'.

Something else which struck me about Simon Bridges' recent statements against the cannabis legalization referendum ... is that by suggesting "this has the risk of being New Zealand's Brexit", he is not actually suggesting that it's going to lead to a protracted period of political intransigence and the potential derailment of governing and governments for a three year period.

I mean, he allegedly *is*, but I really really really don't think it's in any way shape or form plausible that setting an excise tax level upon legally bought and sold cannabis is anything like as complex as unraveling a half a century's worth of legal, constitutional, and foreign policy entanglement with a continent and a market of almost half a billion people.

So if that's not what he's saying ... then what is he *really* getting at by comparing the cannabis legalization #reeferendum to #Brexit?

Well, it's quite simple, really. He's telling you that he, and an array of other Technocrat style pseudo-political "leaders", the managerialists of our epoch, who've tried time and time again to stymie the "uncouth" Will Of The People, from Ruthanasia onwards ... that these sorts, who think that "democracy" means carefully stage-managing a back-room negotiation process's pre-determined outcomes being brought into the light as a faux-inevitability - they're *opposed* to Legalization winning.

And - more than that, much more - they're *worried*, they're *frightened* even, that they might actually *lose* this vote.

Which is where the Brexit analogy comes into its own. The reason why Brexit hasn't been indefinitely shelved thus far, is in large measure because even though the majority of the UK's political class don't want it - they know darn well that to just put a *stop* to it , would be to downright *show* the ordinary people of Britain *just how little regard* they actually have for what voters think and feel and believe.

And so they're paralyzed and forced into attempting to at least *look like* they're going through wit hit ... little by little and inch by inch, pending somebody producing enough polling showing that a vast majority of Biritons may have turned against actually going through with it. Or something. I'm not sure even *they* know anymore.

The point is - the Nats *know* that they would be hard-pressed to try something similar here. So they're making out like the cannabis legalization proposal - rather than the whole Democracy Thing - is what's fiddly, unworkable, and likely to all end in tears should they be forced to go through with it.

A bit odd, also, that they'd choose Brexit as a point of comparison, considering that a reasonable swathe of National's traditional voter-base are probably in favour of it - from a distance, admittedly; and also that New Zealand stands to benefit significantly from Brexit in economic terms.

The latter of which, at least, is something which rather *directly* maps on to the results of cannabis legalization here.

Now I don't mean to imply that anything which terrifies Simon Bridgs and his ilk is axiomatically a Good Idea ... but it certainly doesn't automatically mean it's a bad one.