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.

Improve your lexicon: fat politicians

I’m on a never-ending quest to improve my vocabulary – both by expanding it, and by getting rid of some of the more objectionable, oppressive language which we all use without thinking.

But change can be difficult. The best solution I’ve found is to brainstorm alternative words in advance and think good and hard about them. Hence, these weekly posts – as much a tool for me as for anyone else!

I’m not perfect. Sometimes we can easily see why one word is objectionable, but the alternatives which immediately spring to mind may also have bad connotations which we’re not aware of. I may screw up during this process, but I’ll do my best to fix it when I do. All any of us can do is keep trying and keep learning.

ETA: Swear to god, I had this post scheduled before I saw the article which inspired this morning’s post! The Lord moves in mysterious ways.

Anyone who’s known me for any length of time knows how much it irks me when people attack rightwing politicians like Gerry Brownlee or Paula Bennett by going straight for the fat jokes.

I have so many objections to this kind of thing. Fat stigma is a real thing which causes serious harm to people. And politicians like Brownlee and Bennett are so easy to criticise for things which actually are bad, instead of their body size!

The thing is, it’s not just their body size. In our society, which takes a faaaaaairly negative view of fat people, fatness is a code for all kinds of terrible character traits – as Cynara Geissler puts it, “visual shorthand for lazy, undisciplined, incapable and out of control”.

And because many of those traits – laziness, greediness, out of control – align with what we assume about fat people, it becomes far too easy to see, say, Gerry Brownlee’s size as proof of his arrogance, bullishness, pushy-ness, and power-grabbing.

Yet they’re also attributes we might associate with, say, the Prime Minister – except he’s not fat. But fortunately our culture also associates many of those traits with being of Jewish descent, which at best makes it a little cringe-inducing the way many cartoonists whack a great big hooked nose on him in their caricatures.

That’s not a coincidence. After all, only 100 years ago diabetes – which we now associate very firmly with fat people who make “poor lifestyle choices” – was considered “a Jewish disease”.

This examining-our-unconscious-linguistic-biases thing is quite the rollercoaster ride, isn’t it?

And if none of those reasons convince you, I offer this: calling people “fatty” is so primary school, isn’t it? Let’s call people proper grown-up names, if we must.

So, alternatives to “fat” (or whatever other clever word you were going to use which means “fat”) which are perfect for rightwing politicians who oppress the vulnerable:

arrogant, vindictive, bigoted, anti-democratic, bullying,
dogwhistling, boorish, ungallant, uncaring, despotic
oppressive, individualistic, exploitative, sneering, self-serving

If you’ve got any suggestions of words to cover, pop them in a comment or tweet me!

On poverty, parenting, and Paula

Of course it would be Paula Bennett, the government’s most infamous ladder-retracting Minister, getting headlines about irresponsible parenting being the real cause of children going to school with no lunches.

“[Voting down the “Feed the Kids” Bill] is absolutely is the right thing to do. We provide breakfast into any school that wants it and this is being taken up which is great, but we believe in parental responsibility and I stand by the decision we made,” Bennett says.

This despite OECD figures showing that 17% of respondents report that they do not have money to buy sufficient food.

The average household income in 2014 was $42,600. And remember the statisticians’ (or rather, politicians’) trick: that’s a mean average. It gets dragged up by all those comfortable MP pay raises and CEOs on millions of dollars per year.

The average income for the bottom 10% of households? $13,200. There’s no hiding from reality: for many people, there simply isn’t enough money to cover expenses.

But the National Party has always hid behind a faux moral outrage on child poverty: “Parental responsibility!” they cry. “Make better choices!” they plead. “Stop breeding for a business!” they sneer. As though even Paula Bennett – or John Key, whose state house upbringing is so often used to lend him “just like normal people!” cred – have any understanding of what it’s like struggling to make ends meet in a post-GFC world.

To the bulk of people – comfortably well-off people who like to consider themselves to be the real battlers, but don’t really appreciate how little some people are “getting by” on – those seem like fair comments. After all, they think (and I could think too, given a completely different set of values) I’m not that wealthy; I have to make budgeting decisions sometimes; I could certainly afford to spend less on luxuries. Therefore, all those people who are complaining must just be choosing the wrong things!

Yet, the average income for the bottom 10% of households is $13,200. Even the mean household income – that one dragged upwards by the cushy pay rises of senior managers – is only $42,600. That’s not a lot to pay the rent, and the bills, and cover transport, and put food on the table.

It’s often very difficult to see just how much our own lives aren’t really “normal” or representative of the lives of others.

I don’t know what the answer is to getting people to understand that. So for now I’ll settle for calling out Paula Bennett and her government’s rhetoric as heartless bullshit, designed to dehumanize and vilify poor people so no one asks questions about why we’re pursuing nasty and ultimately-disastrous policies to benefit the people at the top and grind the people at the bottom into the dirt.