Loopy rules: another National Party circus act

The National Party sure love their theatrical productions.

Back in the days of Don Brash as the leader they announced with much fanfare that Wayne Mapp was to take up the mantle of Political Correctness Eradicator. They got great headlines and a few impassioned letters to the editor damning the feminist takeover of our society, and then the idea sank without a trace.

In 2009 as part of their coalition deal with ACT they launched, with much fanfare, the 2025 Taskforce, a high-powered team dedicated to the goal of closing the wage gap with Australia. Again, they got great headlines, and a couple of reports which recommended the same old Chicago School voodoo (cut taxes, cut spending, sell assets), and then the idea sank without a trace.

How’s that wage gap with Australia doing? In 2013, David Parker calculated that it was the equivalent of a full day’s pay for Kiwi workers. Oops.

Now we’ve got the “Loopy Rules” taskforce, created with much fanfare as a vehicle for Paula Bennett to stage her leadership bid get rid of unnecessary regulation. And despite a massive amount of panic-mongering in the initial stages – you have to fence paddling pools! Ranchsliders aren’t counted as windows! – what’s the first thing they come up with?

Allowing builders to certify their own work.

It makes perfect sense from a National Party perspective. All regulation is inherently bad and unnecessary when you believe the market will solve everything. But this proposal, and Bennett’s defence of it, is risky. She’s declared that “people have moved on” since the leaky buildings disaster which cost the country $22 billion and saw a heck of a lot of property developers retire to tropical islands. “Products have moved on.”

Well for a start, she’s wrong. This is from an article on interest.co.nz published March this year.

The leaky home and leaky building era is far from over.

As builders, local councils, property owners and building materials manufacturers continue to fob off responsibility for the crisis, new cases are still coming out of the woodwork.

Against this backdrop Home Owners and Buyers Association of New Zealand (HOBANZ) president, John Gray, says the youngest leaky home he’s aware of is still in construction.

“The thought of the leaky home problem being a distant memory, insofar as new builds are concerned, is just a fallacy”, he says.

It would be nice to think that we’ve all learned our lesson and evolved into a society where shoddy construction work just doesn’t happen. But it’s the same argument National uses for empowering employers to take away rest breaks. Most employers are good employers; most builders are good builders. Most employers won’t mistreat and overwork their staff for a buck; most builders won’t sign off a shoddy job for a buck.

These things are true. Except that we don’t have laws because most people are good. We have laws because some people are bad. And we regulate buildings, and have disinterested parties sign off on their construction, because buildings are large, and pretty much permanent. You can’t apply a free-market scenario like “I went to a different dairy this morning because they had a special on 2L milk.” It’s a block of apartments.

There’s undoubtedly some silly rules and bizarre loopholes in our regulations (just like our tax law) – though not any of the ones which people like Paula Bennett frequently use to incite outrage, like bans on lolly scrambles. There will be inconsistencies across different regional and territorial authorities.

This taskforce isn’t going to fix them. It’s a show pony for the government to push the idea that they hate rules and regulations just like all you dudes on talkback who think bike helmets are stupid. If they can help their property developer buddies make a bit of cash on the side, all the better; as per usual, it’ll be the next Labour-led government which has to deal with the consequences.

It’s all about the game

For weeks the flag referendum has been a debacle. Nobody understands why we’re not having a simple “do you want to change the flag” vote first, nobody understands how the hell two identical corporate logos got into the final four, nobody has a good explanation for why the government which re-introduced knighthoods suddenly got all aflutter about asserting our independence as a nation by scrapping the Union Jack.

Until Monday’s post-Cabinet press briefing, where John Key, half-Prime Minister half-circus contortionist, went from “Stop trying to make Red Peak happen, it’s not going to happen!”

“I love your enthusiasm, folks, but I’m SUPER SERIOUS about this! … Well, okay, technically we could.”

“In fact, we totally would, but they’re not playing ball.”

And in a moment in which apparently none of the Press Gallery’s heads exploded (they’ve clearly all maxed their Fortitude):

So in less than half an hour, as I sat checking Twitter on an early bus home, the flag story turned. From a $26 million ego trip, with Julie Christie, the woman who didn’t see value in having John Campbell on the telly, entrusted with the identity and ~brand~ of the nation, a PM who used every weasel word in the book to avoid spelling out that yes, he wants a fern on the flag, “public meetings” with an absolutely dismal turnout and a popular, grassroots campaign for a better option …

Suddenly, this is a problem of Labour’s doing.

It’s nonsensical. Wasn’t it just a week ago that John Key was dismissing the idea of changing the shortlist, because he’d have to change the law, which is obviously impossible for a government to do?

Brook Sabin found his own explanation:

Now, if you’re on the left, you just don’t believe that. Labour could have immediately said “hell yes, let’s do this thing!” and we just know, deep in our guts, where we’re still bitter about frankly made-up stories about Donghua Liu paying $100,000 for a bottle of wine, the line would be “Key, the great gameplayer, has masterfully turned the Opposition’s own arguments against them and come to a compromise which all New Zealanders will agree is decent and common-sense.”

The house always wins. John Key wins. Because we’ve come to accept that politics is a game, and political commentary is like sports commentary: more about how things occurred and whether the players are competent than what actually happened.

So we don’t get a lot of people with mainstream platforms pointing out that the need for a law change is a red herring, the waste of parliamentary time is a red herring, the demand for cross-party support in a red herring.

clue communism red herring

What gets reported is that Key played it really, really well.

And we’re all part of it. I’ve seen more lefties than journos saying “wow, that was masterful”, “dammit Labour, play the game better.” This entire post is about the political meta, not the facts!

This all leads people to say that John Key has magical political powers. And if you look at the results he gets, at the speed with which he turned a weeks-long tale of his own political machinations and frivolous spending of public money on a vanity project into a nationwide debate about whether or not it’s playing politics to point out he’s playing politics … it seems pretty magical.

But it makes me sad. Politics should be more than a game, and we should judge our leaders on what they achieve, not how brilliantly they cover up the fact they’re achieving nothing at all.

Makes for a catchy song though.

The decontextualisation of ANZAC Day

Everyone else is giving their reckons on the treatment of ANZAC Day this year, as we commemorate the centenary of the first year of World War I. So here are mine.

Growing up, my main impressions about World War I, and specifically the Gallipoli campaign, were formed by two narratives. The first was the 1981 film about it, starring a baby-faced Mel Gibson. We watched it a few times at school, and every time my impression, and the impression of my classmates, was that young Kiwi and Aussie men charged pointlessly into machine-gun fire while plummy-voiced English generals sat far behind the front lines drinking tea.

The other was the tale of Chunuk Bair. So the legend goes, this strategic point on the map was heroically captured by ANZAC troops and promptly lost by the Brits. It’s not completely accurate – no war story shared on the primary school playground is going to be – but what these two narratives left me with was the firm conviction that Our Boys essentially died for nothing, because Britain told us to.

And that was always the undertone for ANZAC commemorations. We honoured the dead, and the sacrifice they made, but especially because it was futile. Because it represented our reflexive support of our British masters, which we had grown out of like a proper independent nation. We sent young men overseas to die for no damn good reason, to serve in a war built on one assassination and centuries’ worth of interlocking European alliances.

Unlike, say, the American habit of conflating wars with the soldiers who fight in them, who treat every action as heroic and every failure as an insult to the whole nation, demanding vengeance, the ANZAC Days I remember properly recognised the tragedy inherent in any soldiers’ death, without implying that those deaths made the war they happened in righteous. Without making their deaths glorious.

Maybe that was all in my head. But this year, that undertone is definitely gone. In the wall-to-wall coverage of every ceremony and visit and exhibition, I’ve yet to see a single person acknowledge the archaic imperial motives of WWI, that the Gallipoli campaign was a pointless slaughter, or the simple fact that at Gallipoli, we were the invaders and we lost

Hell, I haven’t seen anyone even indicate where Gallipoli is on a map.

So I’m sad as ANZAC Day approaches. We don’t honour the men and women who died in that utterly pointless war, and the especially pointless Gallipoli campaign, by erasing the pointlessness of it all. We shouldn’t remember them because dying in combat (or from sickness or accident in the vicinity of combat) is inherently a glorious thing. We shouldn’t remember them for utterly false propaganda like “they died defending our freedoms” or “for our flag”. Because that’s a well-trodden path that leads to justifying any number of terrible things.

We should remember exactly why Gallipoli was a tragedy, because that’s the only way we can avoid doing it all over again.

Some insist that ANZAC Day shouldn’t be politicised. The thing is, ANZAC Day is inherently political. War is inherently political. The question of following bigger nations into conflicts is inherently political.

Politicians are explicitly using ANZAC Day to support the latest international military action.

In that context the most political thing of all is pretending ANZAC Day isn’t.

Snowden, surveillance, dick pics

I’m late to the party on this most excellent Last Week Tonight segment on surveillance, Edward Snowden, and whether, right now, a US government employee is looking at your dick pics.

The whole segment is well worth watching, but for anyone interested in a really powerful example of effective political communication watch from the point I’ve cued up below.

 

The difficulty with massive world-shattering revelations about complex technical programmes is that most people, like John Oliver says, simply don’t care. And even I, a politics nerd with serious concerns about government surveillance and privacy in the internet age, didn’t really have much of a grasp on the kinds of specifics Snowden and others are talking about.

Until John Oliver created – or rather, uncovered – the Dick Pic Programme.

People have incredibly busy lives and a huge number of demands on their attention. They need a reason to engage with serious, complex political issues. One of the things the anti-TPPA movement has been really good at is giving those reasons: it’s about Pharmac, and the cost of medicine. It’s about our government being sued for raising the minimum wage.

We on the left have a tendency to get a bit jargon-y. The right understand how this works. That’s why we’ve still got leftwingers talking up the importance of quantitative easing to anyone who’ll listen while John Key sits back and sneers “well you can’t just print money.”

On surveillance, on the economy, on any important issue of our time: we can’t keep repeating our very-clever thoroughly-detailed proposals which put everyone else to sleep.

We have to find the dick pic that makes people pay attention. So to speak.

Mils Muliaina, rape culture, and sharpening my pitchfork

The news that a former All Black had been arrested in connection with a sexual assault case did not surprise me in the slightest.

It cannot surprise anyone who pays the slightest bit of attention to professional sports. Whether it’s rugby, league, soccer, the NFL, it’s seems there’s never a week without a player, a group of players, or an entire team being accused, and sometimes convicted, of assault or rape.

There are almost no details of the charges against Muliaina so far. But that hasn’t stopped people rushing to pre-judge the case.

And no, I don’t mean me and my merry band of evil Twitter feminists.

This is the thing with high-profile rape and assault cases: you don’t actually see people saying “oh he definitely did it” (unless, you know, he admits to doing stuff which is quite clearly rape). But you might see people pointing out that this kind of thing happens a lot. And you might see people like me pointing out that the rate of false reports is very low. Or that the public response is usually antagonistic towards victims. And that this antagonism makes it incredibly difficult for other victims to step forward.

We’ll probably say those two words which are a red rag to a misogynist bull, “rape culture” – which is really nothing more than a way of summing up all the above.

We don’t say a thing about Mils Muliaina, whether he’s guilty or innocent.

But we’re obviously the people doing the pre-judging of the case.

Not the people who say the accused is “a gentleman and a family man” but the complainant is “probably a gold-digger”. Not the journalist in the story linked above who talks about what a “great job” Muliaina has done. Not the people who accuse feminists of “getting out their pitchforks”.

Before we even know the slightest detail, the framing has already begun. He’s a hero. No one could possibly believe he’d do it. He’s a great man. Everyone likes him. Pillar of the community. Role model for young men. There’s got to be an explanation for this, and the only credibly one involves him being completely innocent. There are clearly two sides to every story (and we will only discuss his one!)

And the unnamed, unknown complainant is at best written off, and at worst already being castigated as a villain intent on bringing Our Man Mils down.

Maybe this is mistaken identity. Maybe this is a mix-up. Maybe Mils Muliaina is as pure as the driven snow, and maybe this is the incredibly rare case of a malicious false complaint.

It’s far too early, and we know far too little, to say yet.

So why are so many people – people on his side – already jumping to conclusions?