Friday, 22 July 2016

The 2017 Election will be fought over Housing

Housing - a subject that can only be avoided until you
lock yourself out at night drunk and 3 hours before work
Election years are like Christmas - we all have different ideas about when its time to start talking. Just as you might hear the odd murmur about Christmas Club or Secret Santa, there are basically two main things you begin to notice when it's time to start thinking about an election:

  1. You start seeing advertisements from political parties
  2. Both parties start arguing over a specific issue which will be central to swaying voters

And would you believe it - that has already happened! Both those boxes have been ticked in the form of this National Party advertisement promoted on Facebook:

Understand this: Every election has a theme. And I don't mean like a Christmas theme either - I mean a central issue which the parties are all expected to deal with. For our American counterparts and their election, it was Income Inequality and fighting the establishment. What else could give rise to prominent 'champions of the marginalised' like Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump?

We had a theme last election too - it was Dirty Politics. Whether you acknowledge it or not, that was the theme. The problem of course, is that National didn't acknowledge it. They refused to see Dirty Politics as an issue. And by pretending it wasn't an issue, they stopped it from ever being one.

I just love this dialogue so much I have to quote it:

Reporter: Why should we believe Cameron Slater over Nicky Hager?

John Key: Because Nicky Hager's got nothing to prove it.

Reporter: But Nicky Hager's got a bunch of e-mails.

John Key: Ah well. *mumbles*.

Nothing softens a serious issue like using the tone of two old friends idly discussing the weather in Hawkes Bay. A movie about John Key would actually be very boring. He needs an epic 'I am not a crook' or 'If the Prime Minister does it, it's not illegal' moment.

Anyway, back to housing. So yes. This time, the issue is Housing, but I don't think National can continue to deny it. Generally politicians only care about something if it's big enough to sway voters, and an issue will only sway voters, (or, at the least, encourage people to actually get out and vote) if it affects enough of us us on a personal level. As horrid as the Dirty Politics revelations were, they simply didn't personally affect us enough to really care.

But we do care about the housing crisis, and National is grudgingly coming to accept that. By sending 1 billion dollars to local governments to alleviate housing pains, and then going on to advertise it through social media, National are trying to set the stage for the next election a whole year in advance - talk about time to prepare! After years of ignoring an issue until it reaches a breaking point, they really have to buckle up and plan ahead now.

But they're also doing something more clever. Sending 1 billion dollars is probably the most effective way of catching up with an issue Labour has been campaigning about for years and National have been denying for years. It doesn't matter if the government has refused to even acknowledge a housing crisis. The fact is, money talks.

And it shows - people have already bought into it. A New Zealand Herald video article published on 6th of July asks New Zealanders for their thoughts on Labour, and one 28 year old former Labour voter has 'seen the homeless on the street' and believes National are the only party that can and will solve the housing crisis.

This is despite the fact that, along with John Key personally stating that 'homeless people don't want help.' National has persistently refused to even acknowledge a housing crisis. I pulled out just a few examples for fun:

I'm a bit idealistic. I grew up watching Dr Phil, I'm afraid to admit, and you don't get much more idealistic than that. One of his Texan proverbs I enjoyed was 'You can't change what you don't acknowledge'. And I'm sorry, I just find it really hard to think National will solve this issue given they've been dragged into it kicking and screaming.

So we get it, voters are dumb. But that interview says a lot - the 1 billion dollar proposal has worked according to plan.

Of course 1 billion isn't directly going to fix the issue, but it's a darn good way of telling people 'Hey, we're obviously trying to fix it.' Because how do you make up for years of a bad image? That's a good question, because it takes a long time to earn your reputation back.

But you can always buy it for, let's say, the approximate sum of 1 billion dollars. That's an expense National are willing to take.

So the National Party, frequent critics of Labour's 'chuck some money at it' policies, are now the ones doing the money-chucking. And if you think it's just because they're trying to solve the housing crisis from the good of their hearts, well, try to read between the lines. Remember, these are politicians we're dealing with here, not a bunch of Nuns.

National can now claim to have set the stage for the 2017 election - Housing, sweeping the rug from under Labour's feet by stealing a claim which should be rightfully theirs.

Thursday, 14 July 2016

Do We Need A Left-Wing Mayor?

Right (pictured Left) and Left (pictured Right)

Recently I did what virtually nobody else is doing – I had a conversation about the Mayoral election. We were sitting outside a cafe drinking coffee, and so we started talking about politics, which is what usually happened before smartphones were invented. So my friend asked me 'do we really want another left-wing Mayor?

Like most young people who type better than they talk, I never have the perfect response until much later. In hindsight, what I should/could/would have said is:
'I don't know, do we?'
Do we want a left-wing mayor? I don't know. Check the polls. Here's a more interesting question: do we need one? Because maybe it doesn't matter what we want. If this year has proven anything about politics, from the Brexit to the rise of Donald Trump, it's that what people think they want isn't necessarily what they actually need.

Instead I just said something about Len Brown not really being left-wing, well, not compared to my definition of left-wing, anyway. In the end we decided that Len was 'left-leaning' at the least. As you can tell it was a riveting conversation.

I literally transformed into this guy
But seriously, who isn't left-leaning? How can any self-respecting human of the 21st century not consider themselves at least partially left-wing? To me, every progressive advance the us humans and our wacky civilisation has made in the past 5,000 years could be interpreted as a form of left wing. Free the slaves? Left wing. Women's rights? Left wing. Marriage equality? Lefty left left baby. Republicanism? A left-wing concept. What's more Left than the idea of abandoning an absolute monarchy? Yet the conservative United States Republican Party has claimed the term for its own.

Speaking of the United States, that country was founded on a bunch of rebels who wanted more democracy; representation and freedom. At their core all left-wing concepts. That's my view of history. Sure, it's gone haywire here and there – you get the odd Marxist here or the odd Domineering Union there, but all in all, left-wing politics has a pretty good track record of constantly trying to make the world a better place.

On the other hand, when I think of distinctly right-wing things, I think of every regressive and backwards decision of the human race. Apartheid? Right-wing. Japanese Imperialism? Right-wing. Nazism? Okay, there's a lot to be said about Nazis. You can't really compare them to anything else, but you wouldn't be wrong for calling them 'far right' either.

Well, democracy and elections did teach me that you win if you get over 50%.

Now obviously I'm biased. It's me looking through history with left-leaning lenses. I'm sure if a staunch conservative historian would look at history as one big conflict between the wild loony left trying to 'shake things up' for their own greedy purposes vs. the humble right who knows it's best to keep things the way they are, and only welcome in change very slowly and skeptically so nothing goes out of hand.

But thats kinda the point. Maybe we both have equally valid arguments to make. Maybe there's something to learn from both ways of thinking. A bird can't fly with two wings on one side, right? The laws of aerodynamics dictate that in order for a bird to fly, it needs one wing on the left and one wing on the right.

Angry Birds: teaching Millennials
everything they need to know about politics
That's why we have parties safely comfortably in the centre, leaning in one particular direction, like the National government with its right-leaning. Even National could be considered to have some left-wing tendencies – wait, what are you talking about? National is centre right! Wikipedia says so! Yes, but centre-right means you're basically right-wing but veering to the left. You may be right wing, but you're still, in a way, left-leaning.

So it got me thinking about what it means to be left-wing, and more importantly, why left-wing politics just aren't as popular as they used to be.

My conclusion is quite simple: we don't really need them anymore.

Don't go away – this isn't a criticism of the left (of which I am proudly a member). In fact, if anything it's a praise of the utter importance of being left-wing, and why you must never shy away from proudly admitting it to yourself. How many people do you know would proudly admit to being left-wing? Okay, now compare that to how many people proudly admit to being right-wing? Who the hell would want to admit that?

No John, saying 'I'm Always Right' doesn't count.
Heck, that's not even a joke. According to the UK news website The Telegraph, 'Mr (John) Key nonetheless sees himself as more of a centrist'. Of course. Why would you want to call yourself right wing? Considering all the bad things associated with it?

Because frankly - and this my left-wing biased view of history again, we never really need right-wing ideas. They either come around when everything is perfectly fine (gotta keep the status quo) or when everything has gone to shit and the wrong person is getting blamed (Hitler blaming Jews, Trump blaming Mexicans, Reagan blaming Jimmy Carter).

Pictured above: Pure, unadulterated evil.
On the outside he looks like a nice guy,
but on the inside he's...well, a really nice guy.
Left Wing politics, on the other hand, has always arisen in times when people have actually needed it, precisely because they have needed it. Have you noticed how so many African and Latin American countries have a long history of, and still have, left-wing governments? It's not because they're too stupid to realise the folly of seductive left-wing populists, it's because, and this may surprise some people, they're poor as fuck, they have a starving population, and they need results. To them, at least, The Left is the only hope of this. What is The Right going to do? Tell the poor to be more responsible with their weekly bag of cornmeal and cassava root? When is the last time you heard of a third-world nation rise out of poverty as a result of a generous right-wing government?

Pinochet: 'I won't help ya but I'll make our neighbours
too shit scared to fuck with us. And the world will
fucking love to import our wine.'
Here's the trick: it doesn't happen. It goes against the whole nature of right-wing governments, which are inevitably heirarchal. Francis Moore-Lappe's famous food manifesto Diet For A Small Planet explores the effects free-market policies have on developing 'banana-republics' in South America and Southeast Asia. She explains how cheap-labour, long thought to 'bring people out of poverty', actually just creates dependency by subjecting a workforce to extremely long hours and low wages to produce tropical foodstuffs for export to the developed world. These people earn peanuts, and live in houses owned by the companies they work for. Us in the western world love our tropical goods which we spend more money on per week than these workers make per month – chocolate, coffee, bananas, all delicious, and even more delicious if you mix the three together. Frozen Monkey Smoothie, anyone?

Sorry. Back to talking about poor brown people. So we pay for all the goods but as you can guess, the money doesn't go back to the workers. Now, I like capitalism. I think it's great, but the one major problem with capitalism, if I'm picking just one, is the concept of the middle-man. The middle-man is the eternal thorn in the side of the free market. It's the annoying sea-lice biting your crotch when you're just trying to enjoy a swim at the beach. The problem with the middle-man is that he always gets the best deal. The workers earn little for breaking their backs producing something wonderful and the consumer pays more than the cost to make it. The middle-man is always there, laughing maniacally as he throws money into the air. The middle-man is the engine of capitalism, but also the eventual root of its destruction. Peasants are powerless, but they're not stupid. When they see a left-wing party, they see the hope of a better future. Even if they don't get it in the end, it's sure as hell better than the right-wing government, because all they see is that laughing middle-man lighting a fat cigar with a 100 dollar bill.

This explains John Key's three-way handshakes

And who can blame them for seeing it this way? For most of history, The Right has been the enemy of change. The enemy of progress. The enemy of improvement. Say what you want about The Left, but The Left gets shit done. What turned Cuba from an impoverished gambling hole into one of Latin America's healthiest and most educated nations? Left wing policy. What put an end to Apartheid in South Africa with a relatively peaceful transition into a democratic government? It certainly wasn't Reagan or Thatcher - it was decades of hard work from the left-wing African National Congress.

Pictured above: a 'communist terrorist' who would go on to become
one of the most beloved world leaders in history
Say what you want about Cuba and Fidel Castro, but his socialist regime came to power because, in some form, Cuba needed it. Sure, Fidel is a narcissistic dictator, and he went too far with the persecutions and censorship, but what you can't deny is that Cubans were being marginalised by a right-wing dictator for too long, and eventually they just got sick of it and drew arms. It's easy to criticise Cuba for being ruled by a dictator when you forget that that's all they've ever known. The CIA set the standard by supporting Fulgencio Batista.

Even the use of the term 'left wing' emerged from the French Revolution, when the downtrodden masses simply grew too tired of the reckless greed of the aristocracy. What a bunch of loony lefties! After India broke free from British rule, they elected a series of left-wing governments under the Indian National Congress because... how could they not? They needed that kind of idealogical backbone to emerge from a hundred years of British exploitation. Yet now, in the 21st century, they have elected the right-wing BJP, whose main goal seems to be religious persecution and Hindu nationalism. Thanks, Nahendra Modi. Because of you, India is no longer a developing nation. Now, you're a declining nation regressing back into the past. Damn it, we need back Akbar The Great! He knew what he was doing!

Pictured above: the current Prime Minister of India
Here's a trick, right-wingers. If you hate The Left so much, stop forcing The Left to exist. If I want someone to stop hating me, I try to find common ground or follow that Abe Lincoln quote about destroying my enemies by befriending them.

But that won't happen, and for obvious reasons. We like to hate each other, even though we're both important for the function of a civil society. It's just that... I happen to feel a lot happier to be on the side that is always aiming for better, fairer, kinder, more equal. To be honest, I don't care if The Right hates me. Hating seems to be one of the prime objective of being right-wing in the first place. They are inherently negative people.

So we sit with our chocolate-banana coffee in our developed western nations and vote for centre-right governments. The Tories in Britain, The Liberals in Australia. The Nats in New Zealand. The.. whatever the heck those guys are in Ireland. The parties that promise not to 'rock the boat', to keep things the way they are. After all, we have everything to lose and nothing to gain. Maybe if we go through a massive global economic meltdown, we'll ask The Left for help again. In the meantime, we'll stick with the status quo.

So do we need another left-leaning Mayor? I don't know, but for fucks' sake just vote for Phil Goff.

Vote Goff: Because Why Not

Thursday, 7 July 2016

Key To Announce New Name for Housing 'Crisis'

John Key and his cabinet to discuss the new name for the "housing crisis"

The Prime Minister has arranged an impromptu cabinet meeting to create an "official name" for New Zealand's housing crisis, which is also known as the "housing challenge" or the "housing boom".

The decision came from John Key's dissatisfaction with the label 'Housing Crisis', calling the name 'inaccurate - a crisis, you know, is generally something you experience when you reach your midlife. I see people in their midlife, myself included, we all seem to be doing okay,' the Prime Minister stated before closing the meeting room door to the media.

Two hours into the meeting, Junior Whip and Spokesman Tim MacIndoe emerged to address the media:

'Yeah look, we want a name that grabs people's attention, but also one that is uniquely New Zealand,' MacIndoe stated, 'We want something that will draw in keen eyes to say "look, we're open for business", but at the same time it has to be thoughtful and acknowledge the seriousness of the issue. So you've got those dual competing elements to find a great name and that's what we're look towards achieving.'

McIndoe also provided a complete list of the names being considered (in order of preference):

  • The Housing Challenge
  • The Housing Boom
  • The Housing Non-Issue
  • The Housing Overreaction
  • The Housing Dilemma
  • The Housing Question
  • The Housing Arousing
  • The Housing Debacle
  • The Housing Thing
  • Resident's Evil
  • The Haunting of Hill Housing
  • Te Whare Raruraru
  • Hao Zedong
  • The How Sing Cries Is
  • The Housing Crisis

'Yeah look,' continued MacIndoe, 'What we really want is to use this as an opportunity to promote the New Zealand brand. If there is an issue related to housing - which I'm not asserting or denying, we really want to make it look appealing as possible to the world. You know, we really think that if we stuck with "Housing Crisis" well, look, that just wouldn't look good for New Zealand on the world scale. We can't, you know, let this confusion detract from promoting continued foreign speculation. The last thing we need in the middle of this crisis is to lose out on the foreign investment central to our economy.'

MacIndoe later returned to formally retract his usage of the word "crisis".

Sunday, 26 June 2016

Psyche of the Con-truther

John Key doesn't just lie - he scrambles the truth
until barely recognisable 
We all like controversial topics. We like healthy debates too. What I don't like is anyone with the complete opposite opinions of me. How dare they? You see this all the time. Somebody thinks the sky is blue, then another comes along and argues that the sky is... whatever the opposite of blue is. Sometimes you get opinions that are such polar opposite of each other that you don't  even know who to believe. No wonder some people don't like to talk about politics. If you're an outsider it's like that guy first watching pro-wrestling at the age of 22, and wondering 'what the heck is this? How can anyone like this?'

Wrestling is a lot like politics - they're both centred in an arena with a moderator where a bunch of larger than life charismatic actors talk shit to each other. And to truly understand it, you really have to have grown up with it. Otherwise, nobody's gonna agree on anything. You get it in debates for something like religion. One side says his or her religion has made the world a better place! whilst the other guy says it has destroyed rational thinking and sent the human race back a thousand years. But in all honesty neither of them are right. As David Wong said, "the truth must be somewhere in between,"

But as we know, truth isn't interesting. Well, it is - if as you have an entertaining writer at the helm. For the rest of us, it's easier to exaggerate, because exaggerating is fun. Take Monsanto's roundup. I've known people who called it poison, carcinogenic to all life forms and pure, condensed evil. But my horticulture teacher insists that there is absolutely nothing wrong with it - you can very well dunk it in your chips and risk nothing to your health.

That's so annoying. For one, somebody isn't being honest. Whether it's my teacher; my friends; or the people feeding them information - someone is bullshitting here. Secondly, it's okay to be skeptical, but if you're gonna be skeptical about other skeptics, the appropriate response is not to act like there is nothing to be skeptical about in the first place. Skeptical people are different from the majority of the population, who respond to charm; charisma and anecdotal evidence (in other words, not real evidence):

 If you want to convince a skeptic, on the other hand, then at least try to respect their intelligence. It may not convince them, but if that won't,  nothing will. Certainly not by trying to convince them that they are not just wrong, but painfully wrong. Smart people don't like being told they're completely wrong - you have to ease them into accepting it.

But to tell someone that they're not just wrong, but painfully wrong, is not a way to convince them - it's a way to shout down an argument, and if you are the one who is lying, then it's what I call an "con-truth".

Worse than a lie or untruth, a con-truth is much more strategic: you take the polar opposite approach to your opponent,because when you do this you're confusing the situation so much that it makes it harder to be consistent with your approach, because that guy isn't just defending himself, he's accusing you of being the liar! It's a cheap debating tactic used by only the most sociopathic of people, especially politicians.

Take this scenario: Imagine the floor is open in parliament: The opposition party starts by saying "this government is corrupt". He brings to the table all sorts of statistics and testimonies to prove that the government is definitely, undeniably corrupt. In response, the spokesperson retorts that  "Yore wrong. This is the least corrupt government ever,. The only corruption was the previous Labour government".

Aaaand Stop.

Let that dialog sink in.

'Bitch you better believe I just said that.'
See how... sadistically brilliant it is? The government may indeed be blatantly corrupt, and anybody who knows anything about politics knows this. But by speaking an anti-truth - no matter how obvious it is, the game has been changed completely. The domain of the argument is shifted from "is the government corrupt" to "which government is most corrupt?"

This is why John Key frequently blames the previous labour government when facing tough parliamentary questions. He doesn't do it for the quality of the argument. It's a stupid argument. Nobody cares what the Fifth Labour Government did. They could have been the Third Reich for all we care, but it doesn't make a single bit of difference to whatever the hell parliament is talking about today.

Or  they could have been Vampires. Nazi Vampires.
No, because John Key knows exactly what he's doing. Whether you like him or not, he's Machiavellian like nobody's business. He spews out con-truths like a bulimic baby so he can effectively divert the argument away from him. He doesn't care where the argument goes, as long as it doesn't go to him. That's why he made that bizarre snapper response all those years ago, it's why he will retort with some unrelated joke no matter how flat it falls: John key understands his image will take flak from time to time - no politician can help that, but he weighs in the options of what is worse: look like an idiot with an insane response? Lose 5 points. Concede that the questioner made a good point? Lose 10 points.

And make no mistake: in politics it's all about points. It's like gambling. You win some, you lose some. Things that would embarrass us as normal humans have little effect on politicians, because it's all a part of the game. We frequently look at elections as picking the lesser of two evils - well, politicians every day face tough questions, and they have to choose the lesser of two evil responses.

John Key knows evil well, and is skilled at selecting the right one. He's made a career from doing whatever he has to do to succeed. Picked the good choice? Great. Forced to pick the bad choice? Accept it and move on, and think positive.

That's why success gurus won't shut up about the importance of positive thinking, and when you've based a career on it, you won't give it up easily, even if you're forced to convince yourself of not just a lie, but to directly oppose the truth. Liars are just sad people who run away from truth, Con-Men use con-truths to bend reality to their will.

Of course, when neither option looks good, you can always just respond that "most New Zealanders don't care about that". Nothing beats playing into good old fashioned apathy.

Because in a way, that's one of the few occasions he is telling the truth.

Thursday, 2 June 2016

Could New Zealand Elect A Trump?

Trump in Auckland, 1993
I have an American friend - he's nearly 80 years old, and he's happy to say why he loves New Zealand: it reminds him of how America used to be, back in the humble old Norman Rockwell days of cherry soda; fresh air and close community. That got me thinking: is New Zealand catching up on old history? Are we still in that idyllic, 1950's stage where everything is smooth sailing, with no trouble on the horizon? The whole campaign mantra of the National Party last election was 'everything is going alright. Don't rock the boat.' Heck, the television ads even featured a metaphorical racing shell which demonstrates that exact message:

'This piece of shit boat is sinking fast, everyone rowing in the right direction?'
But if this is all true, and everything is fine and dandy, where then will we be in 60 years time? Will we still be this perfect country, or will we be in the same place as the present day United States, in 2016? Neglected infrastructure; water crisis; unsustainable debt; mass shootings; heavy domestic surveillance; and an angry, frustrated population looking to a Sanders or a Trump presidency to save the day? Could we have our own Bernie Sanders? Could we have a Kiwi Donald Trump?

Whether you love or hate Donald Trump, his rise to prominence in American politics (after 30 years of failing at this task) will forever change the American two-party system, whether he wins or not. But if he does win, we'll probably see massive changes in the global community for generations to come. But we don't know all the details: Trump has spoken about how he'll deal with China, Japan and Mexico - the enemies, but he hasn't spoken much about his plans for America's closest allies - New Zealand being one of them. If he stuck to his word (which is not common with Trump) then we could potentially see a halt to the Trans Pacific Partnership, as well as a a loosening of military relations as Trump seeks to end America's status as diplomatic policemen of the world. But what about the implications of a Trump presidency for us in New Zealand? Instead of visits from Barack Obama, whom us Kiwis find immensely likeable, how would we treat visits from Trump? If Key loved Obama as much as he did, I'd like to see how Key reacts to a man who more than shares his opulence and egotism. Imagine Teflon John and The Teflon Don playing golf together.
"The Prime Minister could be photographed shooting little kittens in his garden with a shotgun and still be popular."
-Kim Dotcom on John Key, September, 2014
"I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn't lose voters,"
-Donald Trump, January 2016

Shooting kittens that look like you are a different matter.

With comparisons being made between Trump and the Philippine's newest leader, could somebody like Donald Trump come to power in New Zealand? This question has been asked about many English speaking countries, with comedian John Oliver hilariously suggesting that England already had their own Donald Trump in the form of many 'gold loving 18th century Kings' of German descent and funny hairstyles:

'Some Irish, I assume, are good people.'
We had another hilarious video by the brilliant local satire site The Civilian, but the question has never been largely explored by the media in a serious context. Most articles talking about it are just sensationalist in nature - the name Trump is rather good at getting people to click into things. But in some ways The Civilian is right - Bob Jones was like a Donald Trump: He was an extravagant, outspoken property tycoon who, despite being immensely unlikeable and divisive, was at least able to shake up a party-dominated system long in need of shaking up: Jones deserves credit for exposing the inherent flaw of the FPP voting system and encouraging people to rethink their democracy, whether that was his intention or not. Trump likewise deserves credit for exposing the corruption of the Republican party and causing people to rethink the two-party system. I like neither Jones nor Trump, but like Dan Carlin said, I don't have to like somebody in order to think they're good for the system.

'I don't have to like myself to know that I made a difference.'
And this has not been better demonstrated than a short, but powerful video by Youtuber Nerdwriter1. In it, he explains how Donald Trump 'exists at the nexus' of a hate triangle comprised of the public, media and politicians. The public distrust the media; the public distrust politicians. The politicians lie to the public and the media. The media does whatever it needs to do to catch attention, whether its good jounalism or not. Trump has risen naturally from the cesspool of selfish politicians; sensationalist media and the disengaged public; and all three are responsible for his rise to power, but they can also kill him just as quickly as they created him. Anyway, that doesn't do it justice - just watch the video yourself:

From this perspective, I don't think New Zealand could have a Trump. Well, not any time soon, at least. Here's my rationale: first, we have MMP, an undeniably superior system to FPP, and our votes are managed by the impartial Electoral Commission - not the parties themselves, like in the U.S.A. No matter what we think of our politicans, we have much more variety and choice than Americans do, and we have much less reason to think that the system is gaming us. I don't like the National government, but I can at least say that New Zealand chose this government - it wasn't forced on us (does that make me sleep better or worse at night?)

We created this
Anyway, we don't feel like we're picking the lesser of two evils, and we don't feel like the system is preventing independents and outsiders from gaining foothold. But Americans do believe this stuff about their system. No matter where they are on the left-right spectrum, Americans are deeply cynical of their politicians, and the political system that controls them, whether they believe the problem is caused by Wall Street; the Washington Elite or Reptilian Illuminati Aliens. Go to America and ask people just how much they trust their elected officials. But it's not just about disillusionment - it's about anger. America is a deeply angry nation. No matter which of the 50 states you live in, there is always something to be angry about, from crumbling infrastructure; to heavy job loss; a water crisis or the terrible impending crisis destroying our great civilisation that is political correctness.

Here in New Zealand, we don't have a sizeable angry population - sure, we have a few outraged citizens, but as Mike Hosking is proud to point out, they're a very small minority. Overall, New Zealanders are very happy people. We live in one of the best countries in the world. We have all the luxuries of the globe at our feet; our air is still relatively fresh; we dominate statistics in all ranges of positive categories from happiness to equality. If the continuing popularity of the National Party indicates one thing, it's that the majority of the voting population are happy with the way things are. Sure, there is anger in this country, there is alienation; frustration and disillusionment. But there simply isn't enough to necessitate the rise of a radical; game-changing figure who promises to solve all our problems. New Zealand is still great, but one day, it won't be, and mark my words: we'll have some guy come along with promises to make New Zealand into the cutting edge, popular nation that it once was.
Pre-Order now for 2066!

Sunday, 3 April 2016

Labour: A Party of the 'Future'?

Andrew Little; Blazed Intern; Phil Goff.
As I worked on my previous article about zero-hour contracts, there was a great hurdle I was trying to overcome. I didn't want to look so pro-Labour, so I tried hard to balance it out with a bit more of an 'outsiders perspective', because if you don't know by now, I am not a Labour person, and it's important that I stress that for this article, because once again, I will be talking about the 'worker's party'. So anyway, I am not a Labour person for two main reasons. First, I've never been fond of the top two, red vs. blue party system of centre-left vs. centre-right that has hijacked many countries - or in the case of the United States, has taken over their whole political system. A similar thing happening here is one of my biggest fears. No, there must be good alternatives to produce real political innovation, which is why I love the MMP system. It allows innovation in the same way trade deals allow trade. But Labour is just far too establishment, too centrist for me. Aren't I such a hipster? Now that I think about it, I chose the single most hipster name for this blog possible.

Secondly I'm not a Labour person because, in the least offensive terms, they are a dated party. They're the oldest surviving political party, celebrating their 100th this July. Now, this shouldn't be an issue itself, and it shouldn't be ammunition for New Zealand's Right who have been saying the same thing for decades. I don't want to hear from you. You're worse, and you suck. Labour may be stuck in turn-of-the-century worker's values, but the Nats are still in the Industrial age. I'm a progressive, I think about economic systems that don't even exist yet, and nothing makes me shake my head more than the irrelevant values of a Tory. But anyway, that's what this article is all about, because for so long, Labour have looked kinda old-fashioned in their policies and plans, or, as Stuff commenters have put it, 'want to 'take us back to the 1950's'.

'Timmy, one day you'll grow up and leave this shitty decade.
You'll be glad you did and never look back.
But Labour have recently deviated from this stereotype - and in a huge, huge way. They're actually trying to become relevant again, the sorry bastards! How dare they? But here's the shocking part: they might actually succeed. Now, I don't consider myself a Labour person, but under Andrew Little's caucus - and this is going to sound cheesy as fuck, but they have been further looking like the party of the future. And no, by future, I don't mean a chrome-coated landscape where everything comes in pill form. I'm talking in regards to the serious implications of the near future and how it relates to something both parties have fought over since the beginning of democracy – the working class. I'm talking about a future with mass-unemployment – a future which many economists, futurists and other speculators tell us will come one day, no matter which party is in charge. This meme makes me laugh:

Or cry, I don't know. Anyway, we're talking about the future of work, and in one sense, Labour are actually quite revolutionary in the fact that they are even discussing this issue. It has long been the domain of intellectuals, economists, futurists and think-tanks, but rarely in the realm of politicians. I assume one reason is that, as we all know, politicians don't tend to look at the not-to-distant future. As far as a political party is concerned, the future ends with their mandate. It's a boring subject. It's not sexy, but most of all, it makes a wild, radical suggestion: that we are entering a jobless future. This is something people obviously don't like to think about, and politicians don't like to talk about. It's like an executive appearing before a board of shareholders to make a presentation on 'how to prepare for a future without insane profits'. He might be 100% correct in all of his assertions and ideas, but that boardroom won't be any happier.

'Now keep those scales balanced while you stand there for two hours
and think about what you've done.'
So this all began with the 'Future of Work' conferences, which Labour leader Andrew Little and right-hand man Grant Robertson began not too long after the election in late-2014. This involved a wide-range of discussions, such as 'what it means to be a worker'. This was obviously the subject of mockery by the Government, with John Key chortling at the beginning of the 2015 Parliamentary year:
"He's going to hold a workshop about what a job is. That is a novel concept for a Labour MP, I'm prepared to admit that."
Despite Key's jokes, it stuck in my mind. It may look funny at first, but 'what is a job' is actually turning out to be a very serious question. Sometime afterwards I listened to an amazing podcast on the subject, and as it turns out, this 'future of work' thing isn't just a desperate attempt for Labour to look like they're thinking about something to do. No, it's something serious. Google it and you'll have no shortage of sources discussing the future of work, and how work is set to change as the decades fly by.

But moving back to Labour, one of their initiatives under this 'future of work' mentality is their controversial talks of a 'Universal Basic Income'. Basically, this is a guaranteed source of income to all New Zealanders, but there are many deviations from the formula. Imagine if everyone you knew got 200 bucks a week from the government. What would you do with it? What would your friends do with it? Before we get into further detail, let's just say there's no shortage of criticism. Those who accuse Labour of wanting a 'nanny-state' are howling at the party's proposal of giving everyone free money. Bill English said it 'would be very expensive and likely discourage work' whilst John Key has more subtly called it 'barking mad'. 

Except they're forgetting one thing: this idea is popular. Take a random example: a Radiolive poll had 80% of people voting in favour of a UBI for New Zealand. But I know what you're thinking, and no, this idea isn't just popular amongst the economically illiterate, entitled masses who want something for nothing. Labour's ideas are actually based on the schemes of prominent economist Gareth Morgan, and many parts of Europe are either adopting forms of UBI, or seriously discussing it. Now, I don't want to spend valuable typing time amassing references from different sources all around the world, because there are so many different voices and opinions broadcasted about it. I don't make this blog to report news - I'm not a journalist. But Google 'Universal Basic Income' and you'll see there's plenty of discussion to be had.

'Now, Mr Assange has some
shocking revelations about
Kim & Kanye...'
Now I must confess: I don't even know that much about Universal Basic Income - I'm not an economist, and I don't want to be. I would much rather jump onto a pike and bleed to death. But here's the thing: I love it when new ideas are put on the table - especially if they're ideas brought in from foreign intellectual people who probably have better things to do, but have decided to pay our isolated little country a visit. That's why I loved Kim Dotcom's 'Moment of Truth' display. No matter what you think of Dotcom and the surveillance subject, it was freaking awesome to have two famed whistleblowers and an award-winning journalist discussing intelligent subjects with the public. We should be honoured to have that kind of opportunity. And now we have been paid a visit by Guy Standing, an intellectual-as-fuck economist with a British accent so academic he could hold his own in a gangsta-rap battle with Richard Dawkins.

Guy Standing, seen here sitting
Now, I can't exactly say I support their proposal or not. After all, they've admitted time and time again that they're only in 'speculative stages, but I bloody well appreciate that they're floating these ideas around. And I'm optimistic. I think Labour could pull this off. Not this proposal exactly, but these kinds of ideas. I think they could take this into 2017 and look more relevant, modern and forward thinking than any of the previous post-Clark leaders could accomplish. Andrew Little and his party have a long time to go before the election, and they have a lot more time to paint a pretty political picture that they can sell to the country, and it might just pay off. This has the potential to completely revitalise the party's brand, with the word 'Labour' garnering a whole new meaning for the job-deprived century ahead. I'll say one final time, that I am not a Labour person - but I wish them well, nonetheless.

I wish them all the best.

Sunday, 27 March 2016

Working Class Zero

Protesters outside McDonalds (in Auckland, probably).
An era of this nations' labour laws have come to one end, as New Zealand parliament has now passed legislation ending zero-hour contracts. For those who don't know, this means that employers are now required to specify that an employee is guaranteed a certain number of working hours. Obviously any left-leaning legislation passed gets a lot of bitterness from this nation's conservative backbone. 'Bleeding heart libs like you must be so happy about this! Another incentive killer has been passed thanks to you latte-sipping left-wing scumbags!'

Well, I am happy, but not for the reason you might suspect. I'm not ecstatic about this because the workers are no longer being held hostage by uncertain schedules while their bosses whip them to a bloody pulp with a steel cat o' nine tails screaming 'work harder, you worthless scum! Who cares if your sisters' funeral is today!' Rather, I'm happy because it's disproven something that the cynical public have long since come to believe: that the two main parties, or 'The Reds and the Blues' aren't able to work together and come to an agreement on an issue. It may have been a long, bloody Pyrrhic victory, with the government calling it nothing more than a 'compromise', but all that matters is that it got passed. Bipartisanship is a possibility. Yay for democracy, right?

But that sounds awfully boring, doesn't it? Politics is not entertaining when people agree – it's entertaining when people stubbornly and violently disagree. Yes, but that's also what makes politics so frustrating, especially when you're somebody who enjoys studying the topic. When you do, you come to appreciate that it's not always angels on one side of the house and devils on the other. It's much more complicated than that, and when we've spent the last 7 years with a government that stubbornly dismisses almost everything the opposition does, and often vise versa, seeing them finally agree on something is damn refreshing.

Well, okay, a fistfight in our parliament would be refreshing too, especially a brawl of Labour's Senior Whip Chris Hipkins vs National's Junior Whip Jami-Lee Ross, who is competing with Stephen Harper for the coveted 'Most Punchable Face in Politics' award, currently held by Ted Cruz.

'Whip me, Tim McIndoe, Whip me Good.'
Oh come on, let me have some fun - this is my blog. No one reads it anyway. Besides, I'm not a violent man. I'm not a party man, either. I don't consider myself a 'liberal', or even 'left wing'. To tell the truth, I party voted Green last election, mainly because it's the faction I agree with the most. That already puts me at odds with the two-party red vs. blue system prevalent around the world, especially in a party which is mainly divided over the question 'should we be more left-wing or more tory-friendly?'

This dilemma is nowhere more apparent than in the Greens. In September 2014 party co-leader Russell Norman declared they could work with National if they won the election. There was an outcry, of course, but it was shut down soon later, when John Key decisively ruled out working with the Greens.

All this happened a week after a conservative friend complained to me that Greens should be more willing to work with the government, and in an epic event of poetic justice, it was proven that it was not the Green party being stubborn, but the government itself.

'Why the fuck are you holding me up?
You're the one with the cash... Oh wait - I just got it.'

So why am I saying this? Well, I'm not loyal to the Greens, and I don't care if they shatter their reputation or alienate their voting base if they face the opportunity to pass progressive legislation. This happened with the Maori party, didn't it? Many have argued they've lost their integrity, they're not the same party, they're a bunch of sell-outs, but I don't think you could suggest that they've done nothing good for Maori since joining the Nats. But remember, I can't predict the future. Can you sell out a bit of your independence, without losing your values? Can you still have an immensely positive effect? I think some sort of progress can arise from slowly changing the playing field. In the United States, independent senator Bernie Sanders was forced to embrace the two-party system in joining the Democrats, because he wouldn't be able to participate in presidential debates otherwise. He's had to compromise, but I don't believe he's sacrificed his integrity as a result, has he?. I don't believe he has to, and I don't believe the Greens would have to. Likewise Labour, which is a centrist party, did not have to make any major sacrifices to pass this bill which everyone can be happy about. Andrew Little even sent Douglas an email in celebration!

I wanted to make sure you were one of the first to know: we’ve put an end to zero hour contracts!
After over 56,500 Kiwis took action — by signing petitions, writing to Parliamentary Committees and emailing the Minister responsible — we did it. Together with the unions campaigning to end zero hours we’ve managed to change the law.
And it’s all down to people like you. Without you, we wouldn’t have been able to put huge pressure on National, forcing them to come to the negotiating table at the last minute. Because of our campaign, National were compelled to make the change that all of us demanded: banning zero hour contracts.

'Well that's all 50,000 emails personally written and sent out. Chris told me I could've just
typed it out once and sent it to multiple recipients, but fuck you, I'm doing it
the Labour way.'
But this all has kinda defeated Key's 'Dr. Dolittle' claim that Little isn't really accomplishing anything. And it will be good and bad for Little, won't it? In 2017, when Little and Key are on the debate stage (if John hasn't OD'd by then), Little won't be able to say 'Key has done nothing about zero-hour contracts – I will', because the deed is done and dusted. He won't get any glory from that, because the glory has already been slowly siphoned out through the bureaucracy of the boring, old fashioned way - presenting a bill to the House.

But at the end of the day, it doesn't matter, because this isn't about politics, it's about ensuring that workers have that extra security. I'm going to create a quote right now – it's probably been said plenty of times before in different ways, but I'll take it through Squatter's Rights alone. It's 'there's bigger things to politics than politicians.' Which I think is true for all governments, whether in democratic parliaments or narcissistic dictatorships. Unless, of course, you're one of those gargantuan, radioactive 30 foot tall politicians, in which case, you are probably the biggest thing about politics.

'Stop, Big Little, think about all the bad that will happen
if you destroy the fair city!'
What this means is that it's so easy to take a piece of legislation or a bill, and turn it into the centrepiece of the 'red vs. blue, angels vs. devils' situation we discussed earlier. That's the problem with political parties – they factionalise politics. A chamber of representatives, whether it be our House of Representatives, the U.K's House of Commons the United State's Congress or the Planet of the Apes' Ape National Assembly, or the Galaxy's Galactic Senate, they all have one thing in common: they all suffer from the same party-dictated tribalism, instead of what they should be – a gathering of representatives from across the country, stuck in a big room, hashing out the big issues of the day. I'm not saying we should abolish all parties, or by which means we should replace them, but I am saying we need to remember what the purpose of these houses are. The way I see it, this triumph against zero-hour contracts is not a victory for marginalised workers, but it's a victory for democracy as a whole.

Because that's what frustrates me the most – 'scarcity of democracy', as Frances Moore LappĂ© described it. That's what drove me crazy about the asset-sales, the TPPA and the Iraq deployment, all of which National decided the public did not need to vote on. John Key takes great relish in criticising Labour's divided attitude towards the TPPA, but all that really shows is that Labour is more or less comprised of actual human beings with their own individual thoughts, as opposed to a unified, mobilised squad of mentally-insulated robots. You can argue realpolitik – you can argue that trade deals are always done in secret blah blah blah, but you can't argue that a bunch of people are disillusioned and feel that just tiny little bit more alienated from their elected officials. And we can all agree, no matter where on spectrum you are, that alienation sucks. We should have the right to trust our politicians just as much as we do our teachers, our policemen and our doctors, and the robots who will one day serve us at restaurants to not get our orders mixed up.

I think if we elected these guys to the House of Representatives
not much would change but they probably wouldn't binge on
as many tax dollars.
But Joe, you're talking about this from such an alien perspective, why not discuss the way this has helped working-class people? Well, yeah, it has helped. Only stupid people will deny that, but I'm trying to look at the big picture, and then my my view of the big picture (I don't always succeed) but I think the big picture is worth discussing, because, as someone who has become so cynical over the political process, it is refreshing to see a bipartisan victory. But I'll talk about the bill anyway, because I do have views on it.

First of all, congratulations Mr. Little on helping this bill come forward. You've been outspoken over this for a long time, so you can now say you've seen an end to it under your time as opposition leader, and let's be honest: the amount of zero-hour contracts would most certainly have skyrocketed under this National government. That's why we always hear about the government bringing in jobs, but we never hear about good jobs, and secure jobs, and well-paying jobs, because that's what really matters. During the 2014 Northland by-election, National candidate Mark Osbourne refused over and over again to go into detail about the 7,000 regional jobscreated under the government. Having spent some time in Northland recently and getting to know the scene, I'm assuming almost all of these jobs would be seasonal harvesting (WWOOFers from Germany, I'm watching you) as well as hospitality roles, many of them with zero hour contracts. I'm assuming here, but it's a fair assumption to make.

So what's the big deal with a zero-hour contract anyway? Well, I know plenty of people with zero-hour contracts – and they are far more common than we think, but we don't discuss it. Most people don't even call them 'zero-hour' contracts. After all, it's not something that's printed blatantly on your contract or job listing.  Simply put, you're told this is a 'casual contract' and you go from there. The first zero-hour contract worker was my brother, who would easily top 60 hour weeks in labouring work without being guaranteed any of them. He would take every opportunity given, out of concern that any day now, the work might dry up. Uncertainty does play a significant role in zero-hour workers, and it's on of the biggest and fairest arguments against them. Simply put, people like to know when they are needed, and when they aren't needed for work, because then they can freely plan the rest of their lives. It's not just an issue of convenience. It's the foundation of a good, balanced lifestyle, and a decent pay check.

Pro-zero hour contract subliminal messages are everywhere in our music! Once you hear it, you can't un-hear it.
So what if you aren't looking for a good, balanced suburban lifestyle with 700 bucks a week? What if you're a ramen-munching student living on support and you just want your foot in the door? Well, this is the argument that the pro-zero group will pitch, and it's a good argument, I'll admit, because it works. My last job was a full-time technical I.T support role, and many of my co-workers were students of Computer Science at UoA, AUT or MIT. Most of them were living off student allowance, family support or some other form of support (as every student is these days) and the zero-hour contracts being handed out liberally, definitely helped them. It was fair. Nobody seemed left out – they were all given plenty of shifts, and they were all happy with the amount of work they were getting. Eventually, the company changed their policy from zero-hour casual to part time contracts, where each employee was now guaranteed at least a few hours. Most of the students worked as many hours as they could muster, so the conversion to part-time contracts made no difference. The only change was a reinforced sense of security, but being students with ever-changing schedules, that extra security didn't really matter.

It's a good argument, but this example isn't representative of most people on zero-hour contracts, and it's important I point that out, because that lifestyle may be fine if you're a caffeine strung student juggling your calendar commitments between studying for a technical career (like I.T) and a well-paying job that relates to your field of study (technical support). The playing field changes a lot if:

1. You're no longer studying and looking to settle down
2. Your job is a low-paying, dead-end contract that doesn't support your career.

Because both of those are equally important. So, Mr. CompSci Office Worker, things may be good now, but what happens if you graduate, and you aren't getting enough hours? Likely they would have given you a better deal by then, especially if you're a good worker (assuming all these people are good workers, right?) but what if you aren't so fortunate to be working in a job that relates to your study? What if you can't find one? What if you have no choice but to flip burgers at McDonalds?

'I flip patties, not burgers, dumbass. I know what I'm doing.'
I 'll bring up a few anecdotes and hopefully try to sound as un-racist as possible, so here we go: I remember the first time I travelled across the country, astonished that in the Midlands, in Waikato and Manawatu, that none of the petrol-station and fast-food workers were Indian. Of course, Auckland is one of the best cities for students, and it attracts plenty of foreign students. Foreign students don't have the support that citizens do, so they have a greater motivation to find any work, anywhere. I'm not saying foreigners work harder than locals (some of the worst customer service I've ever received has been from foreign petrol station workers) But most of the foreigners that work in these jobs are students. So what if you're in their position, and you're studying law, or economics or commerce or whatever, and you simply… can't find a relevant job? You're still working at that petrol station, but you're not getting decent hours, your support from abroad or your allowance is drying up, and you simply can't find more opportunities? But this is when things delve into the government interference vs. personal responsibility debate. One side will say 'work harder and your boss will give you more hours', and 'search harder and you'll find the relevant job'.

I seriously need this button on my keyboard.
Well first of all, since when was it a requirement that you work so much harder than is expected of you? Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying people shouldn't try to do their best – I love the 'above and beyond' philosophy, and I've applied it to every job I've had. But I regard it as what it is: a motivational philosophy, not a rule by which we must follow and risk our hides for. If someone gets fired, you can say 'you didn't do your job properly'. Yes, you were supposed to put the patient to sleep before slicing him open and removing his kidney, not afterwards. You're fired. Fair enough, but you can't say 'we fired you because you gave 100% instead of 110%.'
'Sorry, it's not you, it's just - well, yes it is. We don't like white people.'

Well, you can in America, but not here. I don't think.

The second idea is that you need to search harder to find a job. Well, likewise, we are taking this attitude and putting it in the wrong context. Yes, you should be a vigilant, optimistic job seeker. Think positive, think confident blah blah blah. I think it's important that we teach these qualities. But the problem is when we mistakenly treat that like a rule of nature, instead of what it really is: just another motivational philosophy. Positive thinking has power, but it won't move mountains. The Titanic was built under the very positive tagline that it would be 'unsinkable' before quickly proving to be anything but. The designers of the Titanic could have done with a bit more pessimism. The 'she'll be right' attitude can get you the approval of your mates, but it might not work with the safety inspector.

'Sorry to interrupt, folks but I'm here to teach you
the power of positive thinking, which I'm sure
you could do with right now.'
Labour, in this case, is the safety inspector. Because this is what we must realise: abolishing zero-hour contracts is not a big ask of the business world. It's not like automatically putting the minimum wage to 20 bucks/hour. Like my example with my co-workers, changing from zero-hour to part-time made very little difference in their lives, they still worked the same amount of hours, except they were now required to show up for 5 hours on Sundays. But this isn't about them. When we talk about the benefits of students getting their foot in the door through zero-hour contracts, we're proving there is a good side. Sure. But what we're not doing is proving anything to dispel the bad side of these contracts, which is if you're that commerce graduate working weird hours at a petrol station, where the only commerce you're learning about is consumer choices in bubblegum, you may not have enough to get by, and you're so shackled by the uncertainty of whether you're needed or not that you can't pursue better things in your life than standing in a petrol station.

'You've gotta be fucking me. I have to sell Vegan pies now?'
Some people are raised with a gushing fountain of positive thinking, and some with an erupting volcano of negative thought. The latter seems to be the point of blame for everything that's wrong with this world, from 'lazy, employable millennials' to 'ant-business naysayers' but guess what, there's a reason we evolved to (or God made us) think negatively, because it's damn handy. It would've been handy in the case of the Titanic, and it's handy in the year 2016 because it's helped our parliament to realise: just because your daughter is doing well with a zero-hour contract, doesn't mean everybody is.

Sometimes it's good to 'Think Little'.