Posts Tagged ‘National’

Kissing babies

datePosted on 10:59, May 15th, 2009 by Lew

… or in this case, trying to brainwash them. Ali Ikram’s Political Week in Review includes a clip of John Key at a rally against the Waterview decision telling a wee kid in a stylish National-Blue jersey with ACT-Yellow shoulder pads:

Your favourite colour is blue, ok? Not red. Those people, they’re cold and desperate.

Now, he’s clearly hamming it up for the camera crew and present adults, but this is nasty, divisive stuff. Leave the kids out of it, at least until they’re old enough to know that you can’t always believe what strange men tell you.

This isn’t quite as outrageous as those parents who took their hapless kids along to protest in favour of violence against children, but it’s more evidence against the moderate, inclusive Brand Key.

(Thanks to D for the tipoff.)

L

Symbolic bidding war?

datePosted on 10:47, May 8th, 2009 by Lew

I have long defended the māori party’s decision to enter government with National on two grounds;

  • The decision is theirs to make on behalf of those Māori who form their constituency, not the decision of well-meaning Pākehā, or Māori who vote for other parties. They made clear before the election that it might happen; there is no credible argument for bait-and-switch.
  • By emphasising that the relationship of Māori with Labour is at arm’s length, they send the signal that no party can afford to disregard Māori as Labour did with the Foreshore and Seabed Act. Furthermore, if they can make the relationship with National work (and admittedly that’s a pretty big if) then it puts the māori party in a strong strategic position to promote a bidding war for the Māori policy agenda come the 2011 election and beyond.

The Key government’s record on Māori policy so far has been patchy at best, with the decision to exclude mana whenua seats from Auckland governance, and a distinct lack of targeted recession relief for māori who are especially hard-hit by the recession, showing that there’s still a lot of work to do on that relationship.

So it was with some surprise and pleasure that I heard National Radio’s report this morning that Justice Minister Simon Power has announced that the refusal to sign the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples will be reviewed, thereby possibly withdrawing us from the other axis of evil of four countries who refused to do so. That can of worms wouldn’t have been re-opened unless there was a very good chance indeed of movement on the issue, since National would severely endanger its relationship with the māori party by ratifying Labour’s decision. So, this looks to me like the first symbolic shot in the bidding war for Māori favour. Or perhaps the second – with the first being Mita Ririnui’s private member’s bill to entrench the Māori seats.

The common objection from ideologues who opposed the māori party’s decision to work with National is that symbolic things are meaningless – a view taken directly from the subaltern Māori Affairs Minister Parekura Horomia, who oversaw the Foreshore and Seabed debacle. In defence of the then-government’s decision to join that other axis of evil, he said:

I’m actually more than a little surprised the Mâori Party is prepared to back something which effectively offers indigenous peoples no more than aspirational statements.

The trouble is, unless preceded by banners bearing symbolic aspirational statements declaring a society’s position in principle, progress marches slowly. The Labour government recognised this in its grounds for refusing to sign the UNDRIP, viz, that it was possibly incompatible with our current laws. That’s the point best illustrated by another non-binding UN declaration, on Human Rights, whose most significant principle was that rights were not dependent upon local legislation but were declared to be universal, with the consequence that local legislation must change to meet the declaration where a conflict exists. By and large, local legislation in many signatory states has duly changed to meet the declaration, in spite of its non-binding nature. That is because its symbolic value is more than its practical value. (Amartya Sen is among those who makes this point, for example here). So it is with the UNDRIP – it presents an aspirational position toward which NZ may strive, along with practically everyone else.

Now, Power’s statement is carefully hedged with the words “as long as New Zealand’s current framework for indigenous rights cannot be compromised” – so actual policy change is still a long way off. But symbolic matters like this are a necessary condition for real progress, and the decision to review indicates that the government intends to take Māori issues seriously.

L

A return to “our foreign policy is trade”?

datePosted on 23:57, May 1st, 2009 by Lew

Murray McCully hasn’t so much taken the razor to NZAid as taken the axe to its foundations, in one of the clearest indications so far of the new government’s ideological intentions:

Following a review process, the government has decided to change the mandate of NZAID, the government’s aid agency, to focus on sustainable economic growth.

Notice how he leaves out what the mandate was changed from. Good press release-writing. National Radio is more explicit, however:

The semi-autonomous body NZ Aid will be brought back under the control of the Foreign Affairs and Trade Ministry and its focus will change from poverty elimination to sustainable economic growth.

Now we see the dichotomy I theorised a while ago made plain: from from least harm to greatest good.

Now, in the context of foreign policy I don’t have a categorical problem with this approach, because foreign policy is different to domestic policy where the government bears a direct and explicit responsibility for the wellbeing of the worst-off of its citizens. NZ doesn’t necessarily have that responsibility to the worst-off citizens of its donee nations. While it serves NZ to look after them, fundamentally all foreign policy actions are taken with the home nation’s interests at the fore, not with the foreign nation’s interests. So I’m not going to argue against this change of mandate on the basis that it’s cruel or unjust or unfair on the poor of the Pacific, plenty of people are doing that. I’m going to argue against it on the basis that it’s short-sighted and bad for NZ in the context of our relationships with our Pacific neighbours.

The problem, paradoxically, is that the realignment of NZAid with the trade agenda prioritises immediate NZ commercial interests to the exclusion of other, more strategic goals. Like democracy, sustainable economic development isn’t something you can create by throwing money about. NZ’s aid agenda to provide an economic floor in (parts of) the Pacific has generally had three broad purposes: 1. maintain peace and order; 2. deter the advances of more predatory regional powers*; 3. enable people to develop economic structures on their own terms. Largely the first two have succeeded; the third remains a work in progress. The three points are in ascending strategic order; that is, the longest-term goal is to enable the people of the Pacific to develop their own economies and their own market structures, structures which serve them, rather then serving the interests of foreign entrepreneurs first. The changed NZAid mandate, which to my mind roughly reverses the order of the three priorities on the reasoning that if people have the third then the first and second will follow, seems unwise because I don’t think they will follow. Markets which exploit people’s vulnerability, or which concentrate wealth and power among the usual sorts of tin-pot third-world elites will not result in stability, and will render the disgruntled Pacific vulnerable to the aforementioned depredations. This policy realignment (by McCully’s own admission) will divert aid money from those at the subsistence line into private enterprise, most of which is owned outside the Pacific. It will result in a subclass of client entrepreneurs both here and in the Pacific, those with the connections to sign on early and sew up a section of the nascent market for themselves, with full government favour. The Pacific needs trade strategies for mutual benefit, driven by Pacific people to meet their own needs, not created artificially from outside with a territorial gold rush in mind. If we profit to the detriment of our neighbours, our trade might be healthy, but the wider Pacific situation will not, and we will suffer in other ways.

In this situation, trade wins and everything else loses. This is what I mean by the title: McCully has tacitly declared that nothing other than trade really matters, a return to Muldoon’s famous position on the matter. Although the aid agenda is more closely targeted to the Pacific, the focus on trade signals the beginning of a more arm’s length relationship based on cash rather than regional allegiance. This in tandem with a more realist positioning from the defence review, in which the “benign strategic environment” doctrine of Clark’s government has been discarded with, I think, little evidence. Those changes will result in less development and support work and a more hard-power focused defence strategy, with its eye on a phantom threat, and a consequent cooling of the excellent operational relationship the NZDF has with the Pacific. Of course, such a realignment will be necessary if the aid=trade agenda results in the sort of destabilisation I’ve talked about.

L

* Clearly, in this context I’m talking about China. I don’t typically ascribe to the Sinophobia so rampant in the West, but in the Pacific case I think it’s justified.

Hope springs eternal

datePosted on 11:06, May 1st, 2009 by Lew

Over at The Standard the aptly-titled Mathemagician has been snapped trying to pull a rabbit out of a hat to prove that the government’s student loan carrot is in fact a stick.

This is fundamentally the problem with True Believers – they’re so committed to an ideological position (in this case, that National are trying to rip everyone off) that they’re credulous to the point of naïvete. Skeptic founder Michael Shermer lists this as one of the five core reasons Why People Believe Weird Things in his book of the same name: if it suits people’s worldview to believe something, they don’t bother to examine it too closely for fear they might prove themselves wrong.

The most cursory bit of critical thinking about this topic ought to have revealed it was all smoke and mirrors, but there wasn’t even that – in this sense it’s sort of like Schneier’s Law, viz:

Any person can invent a security system so clever that he or she can’t imagine a way of breaking it.

Since they’ve deleted the old table showing the original calculation, here’s a screenshot. Good work, Pat.

L

Protesting too much

datePosted on 23:09, April 28th, 2009 by Lew

I don’t mean to post on Kiwiblog so frequently, but oh well – there’s a lot to post on.

Annette King (or the minions who write her press releases) appear to have jumped the shark, intimating that a Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy is behind David Farrar’s release of two of David Shearer’s old papers advocating the use of mercenaries. Ok, we know that this sort of thing happens – that some right-wing blogs are used to fly kites for politicians or parties who can’t afford to fly them themselves, and undoubtedly the same happens on the other side. But honestly, DPF does background research like this consistently and well, there’s no secret there, and when you allege this sort of thing in relation to a discrete event then you can expect to get taken to the cleaners if you don’t have the necessary documentary evidence. And, frankly, the real story here is the contents of the papers, not the circumstances of their discovery. So King looks like a weeny whinger unless she can put up, and perhaps even then.

On the other hand, it’s a bit rich for DPF to take such exception to the fine distinction between the parliamentary National party and its wider community apparatus. DPF and the KBR are highly important to National’s political strategy, and the lines between traditional media and citizen media, between internal (orthodox) and external (unorthodox) channels of political advice and communication are getting more blurred by the day. King’s press release makes the mistake of being too specific and trying to pin the issue on the official National apparatus, rather than simply being vague about it and probably having the same effect. Because ultimately, it’s no different whether National’s proxies David Farrar and Cameron Slater do the work or whether someone on the inside does it.

L

Abortion – another right National will erode

datePosted on 22:14, March 22nd, 2009 by Anita

In 2007 14 members of the current National cabinet[1] voted to support an amendment by Gordon Copeland which would have put an anti-abortion doctor onto the Abortion Supervisory Committee in an attempt to restrict access to abortion. Since early this decade National has been building its relationships with conservative and evangelical churches, trading policies and promises for votes even bring a minister from a conservative evangelical church into caucus.

At the same time the anti-anti-smacking lobby is regrouping around an anti-abortion campaign – a lobby National owes a significant debt of gratitude. (Try about half way down this, search for “Andy Moore” if it’s quicker than scrolling)

Restricting our right to abortion is on the agenda for National’s first term.

 

[1] 14 of the 19 who were able to vote at the time.

Memo to SOEs:

datePosted on 10:53, March 19th, 2009 by Lew

Out-perform the private sector or join it.

This is the ultimatum I’m reading into Simon Power’s letter to SOE chairs.

I think it’s entirely right for the government to expect the most responsible and diligent business practice from SOEs – but I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect them to outperform the private sector which is unconstrained by the same responsibilities borne by a state-owned business. The private sector is responsible only to the profit motive of its shareholders, without the constraints of the triple bottom line and exemplary standards of conduct, transparency and long-term commitment.* Inasmuch as these constraints represent economic profitability traded off against other types of value, they require a SOE to operate at a disadvantage compared to private concerns when performance is measured purely in terms of the raw numbers.

If the ultimatum is delivered (as I expect it will be) in more certain terms during the 9 April meeting, it will mean two things: first, it should drive substantial changes in culture and efficiency, which is a good thing, and is the stated purpose. Second, if the different constraints under which SOEs operate are not taken into consideration and the performance evaluation is undertaken on strict terms of profit (and given the Prime Minister’s decree that electricity prices won’t rise) then they will be set a task at which they cannot possibly succeed, and their expected failure to outperform the market will prepare the groundwork for them to be sold during a second term.

L

* You might think that these constraints are a load of old bollocks, but that’s a different argument, since the government’s stated position is that they’re just fine.

The mythical “centrist” John Key government

datePosted on 07:33, March 17th, 2009 by Anita

When you look at the current government’s first four-and-a-bit months you see a right wing government implementing a swing to the right at high speed. Fair enough, they won the election, they reckon they’ve got the mandate. Even Key has stopped describing himself as “centrist” and now says “centre-right”.

Yet when you read the mainstream media the word “centrist” is still firmly attached to Key’s government. Well the New Zealand media anyhow, overseas they recognise a good old fashioned right wing market economics agenda.

So, what will it take for the media to stop believing it’s own commentary on last year’s election (carefully prepared for it by the National campaign team) and recognise that we elected, and now have, a right wing government? They’re making right wing choices: tax cuts for the rich instead of tax cuts for the poor; business own profits over staff wages and jobs; and an authoritarian state over human rights. We can argue about whether they’re the correct choices but they are the choices of the right.

We have a right wing government, that’s all.

Greatest good versus least harm, and the money proxy

datePosted on 23:12, March 11th, 2009 by Lew

It seems to me that the main difference in principle between Labour and National-based governments in NZ is an old question of utilitarianism – whether one should work toward achieving the greatest good or toward ensuring the least harm. The two philosophical positions are sketched out reasonably well in the wikipedia article on utilitarianism.

In principle, the difference boils down to a strategy of positive ambition versus negative mitigation. The former sees achievement as the highest goal, and failure as a necessary collateral effect of attempted achievement. They grade a society by its upper bound, by how much success its leading members achieve. In this regard, the ideology emphasises ambition, celebrating that qualities as the most beneficial to society while disregarding the worst consequences of its failure – destitution, disease, starvation, etc. The caricature of an ambitionist, if I may coin the term, sees the world as humanity’s oyster, and humanity in positive terms – as potentially successful and satisfied and healthy and secure, and considers that anyone who does not achieve these things has simply not tried hard enough, or for long enough, or lacks the innate characteristics needed to achieve those things and is therefore not entitled to them. Entitlement accrues to a person on the grounds of their success. In symbolic terms, the way to appeal to these people is in terms of opportunity, advantage, individuality, and the idea of just desserts for effort rendered.

On the other hand, the caricatured mitigationist (to coin the opposite term) grades society on its lower bound, by the extent to which the least successful members of the society are allowed to suffer by the more successful. They see the world as a dangerous, inhospitable place in which the default state is abject meanness, and humanity in negative terms of limiting those inhospitable forces, keeping out the cold and the hunger and the disease, while anything else is a bonus. Entitlement accrues to a person on the grounds of their humanity alone. The way to appeal to these people symbolically is in terms of compassion, brotherhood, sacrifice, cooperative achievement and that principle that none should suffer needlessly.

Although it may sometimes seem so, the world is not made up of caricatures, and this is my round of defence against complaints of false dichotomy. Both of these two broad positions hold some resonance for each of us, and it seems plausible that the balance of that resonance has a strong determinant effect on our political preferences. The problem, as always, comes with implementation, and the primary problem of implementation in the society we have is that money is used as the main measure of success and therefore as a proxy for a person’s innate value. This is perfectly acceptable to the ambitionists, whose ideological basis enables them to embrace money just as easily as they might embrace any other measure of human importance, but it’s not so attractive to mitigationists, who argue that entitlements accrue to a person on the grounds of their innate status as human beings and members of society, regardless of their achievements.

Push comes to shove at times like this, when things (in terms of that prevailing measure of success, money) are tight. When many people are deprived them, the human necessities of health, comfort and dignity can more readily be achieved by an idea of the common good than by the burning desire of ambition. However, when things get good again, it’s a terribly hard ideological position to peel back, and inasmuch as the common good can constrain the urgency of effort required for success it can be counter-productive, entrenching mediocrity. Indeed, without the incentive of individual reward for ambition, it could be argued that society would never pull out of any trough. But contrary to what the Randroids say, this isn’t an absolute constraint. In good times it’s easy to emphasise the greater good because a reasonable minimum standard can be expected to exist or be trivially provided for the few who need it. None need suffer except by a relative standard. In hard times, however, when raw success is less achievable, mitigating harm at the temporary expense of ambition becomes more valuable by its easy achievement.

The case in point is the Key government’s recession strategy, which gives a great deal of consideration to maintaining ambition but little to mitigating harm. It’s a tacit acceptance of a certain amount of harm in service of a longer-term good. If not from the policy itself, you can tell this from the terms used to talk about it. That’s a complicated philosophical and utilitarian question for a supposedly non-ideological government to be tackling.

L

National & the tobacco industry

datePosted on 08:46, March 4th, 2009 by Anita

Tony Ryall has, once again, taken the moral low road and is refusing to ban cigarette displays in shops despite evidence that cigarette displays increase teenage smoking. This in a week that a similar ban was announced in Northern Ireland, joining bans in Ireland, Canada, England, Wales, much of Australia… oh shall I just call it “most of the developed world”?

Why does this matter? (Other than caring about the lives and health of New Zealanders)

  1. National is, once again, picking the tobacco industry over people’s lives and health
  2. National is, once again, choosing the moral wrong for the employers and owners’ benefit
  3. National is, once again, showing the signs of a party financially entangled with the tobacco industry.

In case you don’t have a copy of The Hollow Men to hand, I offer you some highlights:

  • Matthew Hooton, long time National mouthpiece, ex-National staffer and National lobbyist has done private pro-tobacco PR work and lobbying. His work was used by Rodney Hide to attempt to stall anti-tobacco legislation.
  • British American Tobacco’s chief lobbyist is a significant National Party donor and has been invited to caucus parties.
  • Key’s political advisors, Crosby|Textor, name British American Tobacco as a client of Mark Textor.

Sweet eh, politicians and industry working hand-in-hand – that must be the “pragmatism” John Key talks about.

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