Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Day 1: First broken promise

It’s only the first working day for the current National-led Government and already they’ve broken a promise. Is Day One too early to say “I told you so”?

John Key’s government promised that the New Zealand public would have a say on any significant mines on conservation land, but they’ve decided to allow an open-cast coal mine on the Denniston Plateau without the promised public consultation. Not surprisingly, Forest & Bird, New Zealand's leading conservation group, is not impressed.

Forest & Bird Conservation Advocate Nicola Vallance said, “It is very cynical that [the government] waited until the first day back in office before telling the public they will be shut out of standing up for their natural heritage.” She’s right, of course, but it’s only the first of many such broken promises we’ll see over the next three years.

Vallance noted this move “will allow Australian-owned Bathurst Resources to dig up over 160 hectares of the Denniston Plateau without an opportunity for the public to have a say about conservation concerns. This would be the biggest open-cast coal mine on New Zealand’s conservation estate.” Let’s see: Mining on conservation land, enriching foreign corporations—yep, ticks two of National’s highest priorities, all while ignoring the people of New Zealand, as they prefer to do.

This will be a very long three years.

Canadian heritage

The above video isn’t particularly new, but I just saw it this morning. It commemorates a moment in Canadian history—July 20, 2005—when civil marriage for same-sex couples became legal in Canada. It was—and is—a very important moment that should be remembered.

Watching it, I wondered how many more years we’ll have to wait for the same fairness and equality in New Zealand? How long will the wait be in Australia? The United States? We’ve already waited far too long.

The message of the video I posted a couple days ago sums up my attitude: It’s time.

Tip o’ the Hat to Joe.My.God.

Monday, November 28, 2011

End ‘Occupy’

It’s time to pack up the tents and go home: “Occupy Auckland” has gone on long enough, with no hint that the protesters will ever leave. That may change soon, with or without their consent.

Today Auckland Council issued the “occupy” encampment with a trespass notice and they have gone to the Auckland District Court asking for a court order prohibiting further breaches of council bylaws, which includes their occupation of public space to the exclusion of all others, damage to council property and camping in a public space not set aside for that purpose, among other things.

The trespass notice is the first step toward forcibly removing the protestors. The New Zealand Police had earlier indicated a reluctance to remove the protestors, even with a trespass notice, due to the free speech and freedom of assembly issues raised. But if the Court issues an order, it will have to be enforced.

The known costs to council so far are around $180,000, not counting electricity or water used by occupiers, extra refuse collection, etc. In a worst case scenario—with damage to the waterproof membrane protecting the roof of the carpark underneath Aotea Square and the irrigation system under the encampment site, we’d be looking at a bill several times larger—all paid by the ratepayers of Auckland who can’t even use the space because of the illegal occupation. No wonder they’re pretty much fed up with this whole thing.

The “occupiers” knew this was coming. Just under two weeks ago, Auckland Council asked occupiers for the date of their departure. They didn’t provide that date, but scrawled defiant responses instead. The "occupiers" also claimed there’d be no eviction before the elections this past Saturday because they believed it would become a national issue.

At the end of last week, Council again asked them for the date of their departure before issuing the trespass notice today. Naturally, the “occupiers” aren’t pleased. One of them said he believes this action by Auckland Council as “wholly inappropriate”. Really? Inappropriate like their occupation and use of a public space in violation of several bylaws, and then expecting ratepayers to fork over hundreds of thousands of dollars for repairs? That kind of “wholly inappropriate”? Another called it “provocative”—does that mean “provocative” as in implying a never-ending occupation?

Now the “occupy” folks have issued “an emergency call to mobilise”, saying: “We have mandated at tonights [sic] emergency GA [“general assembly”] to Silently protest inside the hearing as well as out side [sic]”. Now, who was being provocative again?

I’ve read minutes of their “general assembly” gatherings and it’s become increasingly clear to me just how deluded they are. They really think they speak for “the 99%,” little realising that they themselves are another “the 1%”, but the one made up of the protesters and their supporters, not the one they’re supposedly protesting against.

I’ve also become convinced that they want a violent confrontation. Their occupation has no point and can’t accomplish anything, so the only thing that could give the whole thing any meaning is if they’re beaten. Trouble is, New Zealand Police aren’t stupid and won’t rise to the bait. And, in any case, the New Zealand news media has shown almost no interest in the whole thing. The “occupiers” call it a “media blackout,” but most New Zealanders would call it ignoring something that simply isn’t news—or even interesting.

If the “occupiers” had left a couple weeks after they arrived, they would have taken a lot of sympathy with them, and people would’ve been supportive of their message. As it is, the vast majority of Aucklanders can’t wait to see the back of them, and that includes me. Whatever natural sympathy I had for them is long gone.

It’s time for them to pack up their tents and go home.

Update 29/11/11: Auckland Council's request for an interim injunction requiring the protesters to leave Aotea Square was denied tonight on the grounds that the protesters supposedly didn't have enough time to prepare a defence. The hearing on the permanent injunction will be heard next week. It's true that justice must not just be done, it must also be seen to be done, so in that sense alone, it seems reasonable to side with the judge. But to be honest, the antics of the protesters in court showed disrespect for the entire legal process, so we'll see if they're better next week.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The way forward

I’ve had more than my share of election losses. In New Zealand, my side won the first three elections I could vote in, and it’s now lost two in a row. At the electorate level, it’s worse: My side won the first two times I could vote, then lost the next three.

Add to that my experience in the US, where I can count my victories on one hand and still have fingers left over for jewellery. Okay, slight exaggeration, but not by much.

The point is, I’ve known victory and defeat and, if I’m truly honest, the thrill of the first doesn’t ease the pain of the second. But it’s in defeat that I rediscover both my energy and my determination. That’s a common thing.

When the National Party went down to its biggest defeat ever in 2002, it returned to its roots and re-emerged stronger than ever in 2005. It went too far to the right and scared voters, but if it hadn’t veered so far right, it would’ve won that year.

I think Labour needs to return to its social democratic roots to fight again in 2014. We saw glimpses of that this year, but the public perception of Labour as too similar too National persisted. It needs to stand for something.

It’s not enough for folks to carp from the sidelines, either. Folks who care passionately about New Zealand and about Labour working for us all cannot sit on the sidelines and moan that the party isn’t one thing or another, or that it should do this or that. Instead, they must roll up their sleeves and get to work.

Toward that end, I’m going to try doing exactly that at the local level of the Labour Party. I have no idea whether I’ll be welcome, let alone whether my ideas will be embraced, but if I don’t try, who then can I blame?

This may be my last gasp with the Labour Party, or it could be the start of something else. In either case, I have to try.

I challenge every other disappointed centre-left voter to do the same, whatever their party. Together, we can win—literally, for a change.

Election this and that

One of my biggest sources of laughter—and some anger—has been the rightwing spin on the election results. I think that they actually do know what the truth is, but they’re in perpetual campaign mode and maybe can’t help themselves.

National Party pundits have claimed that the Conservative Party denied John Key an outright majority, but that’s old-fashioned First Past the Post thinking (maybe that’s all their pundits, being old timers, are capable of). National got less than 50% of the vote, so under MMP they should have less than 50% of the seats in Parliament. Colin Craig being there or not doesn’t change that in the least—particularly because there’s no reason to think all those votes would have gone to National. Not every conservative is a Tory, after all.

And, if you want to be technical about it—Tories love facts and figures, right?—roughly one third of eligible voters supported National. So, if only one third of eligible voters backed National, why is it again they should be able to govern alone? LOL, as they say.

Tories hate MMP—they can’t help it, it’s in their DNA. They can’t accept that people unlike themselves should have a voice, or that the majority should rule if it disagrees with them. They believe we’d all be better off if we just shut up and did as they say. So the fact that MMP did exactly as it was supposed to do makes me as happy as it makes Tories grumpy (which makes me happier still). MMP governments are always coalitions, so far, and the power of the largest party is checked by smaller parties. But, then, having read my posts on the electoral system, you already know the inherent superiority of MMP, right?

The bottom line is that I was ecstatic to see the New Zealand public support MMP, even as it handed power to its most strident enemies. There’s a justice in that.

However, since they won, the Nats weren’t my source of happiness this year. Instead, it was the teacup caper. Months ago, when the hapless has-been, Don Brash, took over the Act Party in a coup, he declared that the party would win 15 MPs. Never has schadenfreude been filled with more freude (joy) than this, seeing Don Brash crash in flames. He deserves it. One of the most reviled men in New Zealand politics is now gone—surely one of the best results of the night. Sadly, though, it could be three years until we’re rid of loopy John Banks, but by then not even a cup of tea will save him.

For 2014, I think that Green and Labour voters have to get over themselves and not be so friggin’ prissy about strategic voting. Together they could have rid New Zealand of both the useless “Act Party” (which is, honestly, dead) or the insufferably pompous Peter Dunne. But they were far too pure to be sullied in that way. Whatever, tossers: It’s you’re fault those has-beens are in Parliament.

Okay, those are my random thoughts for this year. We’ve had enough of this campaign—or, I have, anyway. Now it’s time to look forward.


The one thing that’s clear about this year’s election is that MMP was the victor: It worked as it’s designed to and delivered what it always does: Governments with shared power. This is all very good news, indeed.

But once again the five percent threshold came up for debate. In 2008, it was New Zealand First, which got more Party Votes than Act, but still didn't get any seats because it didn’t get 5% of the Party Vote and didn't win an electorate as Act did. This year, it was two other parties who were left out of Parliament. Again pundits are asking, should the threshold be eliminated so there are almost no “wasted” votes?

As things stand at the moment, subject to change when the special votes are counted, the NZ National Party only needs the two one-person rightwing parties (United Future and Act) to have a majority. If they lose a seat after the specials, they’ll need the Maori Party’s three seats more than they do now, but in the unlikely event they lose two seats, they’ll need the Maori Party to govern.

The “Act Party” is only in Parliament because John Banks won Epsom. Banks is not an Act Party person (he’s a dyed-in-the-wool Nat) and, like Peter Dunne, he isn't a party any more than Jim Anderton’s Progressive Party was in the last Parliament. Yet they all received seats in Parliament because they won electorates.

At Public Address, Graeme Edgeler has crunched the numbers and worked out what Parliament would look like if there was no threshold (apart, I’m guessing, from having enough support for one whole MP). Here are his results (keep in mind that all these numbers will almost certainly change once the special votes are counted):

National would have 57 seats (instead of the 60 they appear to have won), United Future and Act would both still have one seat and the Maori Party would still have 3 (because they all won electorates, but their Party Vote wasn't high enough for any more MPs), for a total of 62 seats for the government in a 121-seat Parliament. That’s a bare majority, but a majority.

The Opposition would be Labour 33 (down one), while the Greens would still have 13, New Zealand First would still have 8 (both won no electorate seats) and Mana would still have one (they did win an electorate seat, but had low Party Vote).

Those four seats taken off the two main parties would go to Colin “God Bless” Craig’s Conservative Party (3) and the Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party (or ALCP, 1).

Would we want that? On the one hand, if enough people vote for a party that their share of the Party Vote would entitle them to one MP, why shouldn’t they be in Parliament? MMP is about proportionality, ensuring that Parliament matches the support parties have. As things are, the 5% threshold—which is an entirely arbitrary number—means thousands of voters are effectively disenfranchised.

On the other hand, entertaining though it might be, clearly the vast majority of New Zealanders don’t want the ALCP in Parliament, so maybe it’s not so unfair to have a threshold. If MMP, and it’s encouragement of coalition government, works to put a brake on the party that forms government, should we not have a brake at the other end—stopping single-issue or activist parties?

I simply don’t know; in fact, I can see merit in both arguments. But the system the way it is not only disenfranchises those who vote for tiny-to-small parties, it also effectively suppresses their support because voters won’t want to waste their vote on a party they perceive as not being able to win a seat in Parliament (usually due to public opinion polling). Who’s to say that Act and United Future wouldn’t have had more Party Votes if those votes weren’t wasted? And National’s self-interested deals in Ohariu, Epsom, New Plymouth, and so on wouldn’t have been needed.

Also, much as I am totally opposed to Colin Craig’s fundamentalist Christian-aligned Conservative Party, if they can win so many votes, do they not deserve to be represented in “the people’s house”? Doesn’t the ALCP? Is democracy not better served by more democracy, more representation, not less? Or, is a “gatekeeper” function also important? Honestly, I’m not sure.

Assuming that MMP’s lead holds and it is retained, as seems likely, then the independent review that follows may help us work out what’s best. I can’t decide how I feel about the threshold; I hope the review helps us all clarify our thinking about it.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

It’s time

I’ve watched this video several times, and I’ve ended up with tears every time. It’s not just because it’s so well made—and it is, maybe even the best video like this yet made—but because the message is so powerful: It’s time to end marriage discrimination.

This video is intended to call Australians to action, and I hope it does. Marriage equality is bizarrely stalled in Australia (despite popular support) due to the weird, inexplicable—and did I say weird?—personal opposition of Prime Minister Julia Gillard. That must change.

But we’re only slightly better in New Zealand, with our similar-but-separate civil unions. Here, neither of the two main parties endorses marriage equality, and that’s just plain wrong. While this issue wasn’t a deal breaker for me in 2011, in 2014 it very well might be. In any case, I have no intention of letting up on any party that doesn’t openly and honestly embrace the full equality of all citizens, and that includes marriage equality. The reason is obvious: It’s time.

I first saw this video last night, but couldn’t post it because it was after midnight. Since then, the views have skyrocketed. It’s not hard to see why. I’m posting it now because after tonight, many of us can use something positive.

Not surprised

I’m not surprised by the election results—not really, anyway. The result was tighter than the polls indicated, as I said it would be. I hadn’t counted on such a low voter turnout, which will be maybe 68% at most, when all is said and done. Apparently it’s the lowest since the 1880s. That’s disgusting in its own right, but it’s probable that most of the voters who stayed home were Labour’s. Just like 2008.

In fact, the results overall are very similar to 2008: The split between the centre-left and the centre-right was pretty much the same, but the resurrection of Winston Peters and his New Zealand First Party, along with the surge of the Green Party, rearranged things.

The important thing is that National did not get enough seats to govern alone, and there’s a huge part of Parliament that opposes National’s plans to sell state-owned assets to foreigners. Whether the opposing parties can collectively stop National or not can’t be known right now, but it’s at least possible; if National had won enough seats to govern alone, there would have been no chance of stopping them.

Tomorrow, after a good night’s sleep, I’ll offer my full take on the results, along with a more in-depth discussion of what the results mean. I’ll also talk about what the centre-left, Labour in particular, needs to do over the next three years.

But tonight there are some sad people, some happy people and—apparently—a huge number of people who just don’t give a shit. That’s the nature of democracy.

Friday, November 25, 2011

To comply with the law

I have temporarily turned on comment moderation on this blog. You can still leave a comment, but it won’t be posted until after 7pm Saturday NZDT (1AM Saturday EST), after the polls have closed. I’m doing this to comply with New Zealand election law, which apparently mandates that I turn off comments (even though the law was enacted in 1993…). I’ll update this post after I’ve re-enabled un-moderated comments.

Also, I won't be posting anything here until after 7pm tomorrow. Apparently a new post might draw eyes to my previous election posts. Or something.

P.S. Two ticks Labour and vote to Keep MMP!! (I can say that because I’m posting this before midnight…)

Update 26/11/11: Now that polls have closed, comments are once again unmoderated, so they will post immediately. Thank you for your patience.

How I will vote

After months of thinking about the election, hours reading party policies and no small amount of agonising over my vote, I’ve reached my final decision for election day: I’ll be giving Two Ticks to Labour.

When I say I was agonising, I’m not kidding in the least. As I said yesterday, “I’ve been voting for 34 years, and I have never been this conflicted.” In the end, it all came down to one basic point: The purpose of the Party Vote is to vote for the party I want to form government, and that is and always has been, Labour.

I admire the Greens—a lot. I want them to be part of Government—a Labour Government. I considered giving them my Party Vote because of how well they ran their campaign, but that was only possible because they—from my point of view—have matured as a party, drafting policies that middle New Zealand can support. Their party list includes many capable and talented people who would be a credit to Parliament.

But my “home”, if you will, is Labour: I’ve voted “Two Ticks Labour” since 1999, the first New Zealand election in which I was eligible to vote. But my support, while probable, is never a certainty and Labour has to continue earning my vote. I’ll admit that there have been times over the past three years when they really pissed me off. At other times I’ve cheered them. Those times have been more frequent.

Labour has, on the whole, run a good campaign. If we’d seen the Phil Goff of the last few weeks during the past three years, I think the poll numbers would be very different. New Zealanders agree with me on that, too: Goff’s polling as preferred prime minister has been rising steadily in recent weeks.

National never had a chance of getting my vote. There is a fundamental divide between us that I just can’t see being bridged (I don’t say “never”, but the phrase “highly unlikely” springs to mind). I don’t like John Key and I can’t understand why anybody else does (apart from Tories). On this blog, I’ve highlighted many of the things I vehemently disagree with Key about (my opposition to his idiotic plan to sell off state owned assets to foreigners is probably the most widely shared), but the one thing I can’t get past is him telling GLBT voters that National is “pro-gay” because they didn’t take away any of our rights in their first term. Gee, thanks, John.

GLBT issues are not my sole criteria, or even my main ones, but I certainly take then very seriously. I’m keenly aware that nearly all of the legal progress for GLBT New Zealanders has happened during Labour governments. Labour brought many GLBT people into their Parliamentary caucus. Labour Leader Phill Goff—unlike Key—is a clear supporter of fairness and justice. While both Labour and the Greens support adoption reform, only the Greens clearly support marriage equality. As I said a long time ago, this is not a deal-breaker for me, and I will continue to urge Labour to take a clear, unequivocal stand in favour of marriage equality. They eventually will, and we all know it.

So why did I consider the Greens? It wasn’t just an effective campaign or good party leaders and candidates. Part of it was that I wanted a strong Green caucus to pull Labour back leftward after years of the party crossing the centre line to the rightwing side too often. In recent weeks, with the poll numbers looking so abysmal, I looked to the Greens as the best shot at stopping National’s insane plans to sell off state owned assets. But this only works if National has trouble getting the numbers to form government. Also, it means, ultimately, supporting a National-led government, and I do not want that at all.

A quick aside on polls: The final election results are unlikely to mirror the polls. I’ve never seen an election campaign where poll numbers haven’t moved: The breathless, incompetent reporting of the newsmedia aside, support levels have all been pretty much within the margin of error all along, meaning little or no movement. Either something is wrong with the polls this year, or this is something I’ve never seen before. I’m betting on the former.

My electorate vote for the Labour candidate was decided a long time ago, not coincidentally because it’s also my only vote that doesn’t matter: National will win this electorate easily, probably with a large majority. If we could vote for our electorate MP using Preferential Voting, as I think we should do, it might be different. But, for now, this is a very Tory electorate.

I’m not going to rehash all the things I oppose about National, or the things that I support in Labour, though many of both are highlighted in the Labour videos I’ve posted on this blog. We had a whole campaign season to talk about those issues.

In the end, it all came down to the same thing I started out with: I want to change the government and I want a Labour-led Government. That’s what matters to me, and that’s why I’m going to Party Vote Labour.

Happy Thanksgiving

I’d like to wish a Happy Thanksgiving to all my friends and family in the US. It was always one of my favourite holidays. Here in New Zealand, it’s mostly a curiosity: People are curious about the traditions and about the food, and ogten want to experience it.

I often make a smaller version of Thanksgiving Dinner, mostly because today is just another Friday in New Zealand (apart from this being the day before Election Day this year), and because it’s almost summer, so it tends to be warm (some years even hot), so a massive cook-a-thon is a bit much.

So, from this more or less ordinary Friday, I wish a Happy Thanksgiving to everyone in my homeland!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Still an undecided voter

Above is the closing broadcast for the New Zealand Labour Party, and below is the closing broadcast for the Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand. Both of these, along with the closing broadcasts of other parties, will be shown on television tomorrow night.

These are the only two parties that could get my Party Vote. Both have run strong campaigns. Which one should I choose?

During the course of this election campaign I’ve swung back and forth between the two parties, sometimes sure I’d party vote one, other times certain it would be for the other. This is why I haven’t posted anything about how I’m voting in the general election: I simply can’t make up my mind.

I’ve been voting for 34 years, and I have never been this conflicted before. Nevertheless, time’s running out and I need to decide—somehow—how to cast the most important of my two votes in the general election.

And so I remain stuck: These are the only two parties that could get my Party Vote. Which one should I choose?

Final thoughts on the referendum

Just over a month ago, I wrote that I was going to vote to keep MMP. I said:
“Of all the decisions I’ve had to make about voting in the election this year, one was never in doubt: I’ll be voting to keep MMP. Naturally, I hope all other New Zealanders will, too.”
Since then, my desire to see MMP retained has only strengthened aided, if I’m honest, by more in depth study of the proposed alternatives. I basically knew how they all operated, but after looking into them more deeply, I became not just committed to keeping MMP, but an ardent advocate. I know I convinced at least one other person to change their position and support MMP.

All the NZ elections I’ve personally seen have been under MMP. The last one under the old First Past the Post system was in 1993—18 years ago. MMP was selected because of the huge unfairness of FPP, that it delivered minority governments, like the autocratic rule of Robert Muldoon, which was replaced by the only alternative, Labour, which itself had been taken over by neoconservatives because they couldn’t take over National under Muldoon.

Meanwhile, third parties got nowhere, and ordinary New Zealand voters were unrepresented, frustrated and often disenfranchised. MMP was the antidote.

MMP is the most fair and democratic voting system I’ve seen. Its proportionality ensures that the make-up of Parliament mirrors the will of the people. It has encouraged the growth of many smaller parties, increasing the representativeness of Parliament. That’s been strengthened even more by the huge increase in diversity: More woman, more Maori, Pacific Islanders and other ethnic minorities, more GLBT representation—in short, it’s created a Parliament that looks much more like New Zealand than anything FPP would ever have delivered.

No system is perfect, of course, and if MMP is retained, an independent review will look at ways of improving it. So, if we vote to keep MMP, we can make it even better.

I wrote a lot about the alternative voting systems because I think it’s important to explain fully why I support MMP and reject the alternatives (also, I did spend a lot of time studying them…). Here’s a reminder of what I think about the alternatives, along with links to the complete posts:

First Past the Post – it’s unfair, undemocratic and unrepresentative. It’s a total non-starter. MMP is vastly superior.

Supplementary Member – It’s just FPP in fancy-dress: It has all the problems of FPP, with none of the benefits of MMP, the truly proportional system.

Preferential Voting – This is a good alternative to FPP, but only for electorate votes. Because it’s not proportional, it’s not any more representative than FPP. When it comes to deciding the make-up of Parliament, it pales in comparison to MMP.

Single Transferable Vote – While it’s somewhat proportional, it’s far less so than MMP, and it tends to concentrate power in the hands of the main parties. So, STV is far less representative than MMP. It’s also really complicated. MMP beats it easily.

There is a discussion among some of my leftie friends about how to vote in Part B of the referendum: “If New Zealand were to change to another voting system, which voting system would you choose?” Some lefties are saying we should vote for FPP because MMP already beat it and would easily do so again. I’m not convinced. After 18 years, do people remember how undemocratic FPP is? I’d guess not, because it’s polling highest among the alternatives; maybe voters just don’t know what the other systems are.

The government has produced some brilliant resources for explaining the alternatives, but most voters have no idea they’re there, because the public awareness part of the campaign hasn’t been big enough. So, maybe people choose an alternative they already know.

If voters vote to keep MMP, the alternative chosen won’t matter, of course. And even if MMP loses, there may not be a second referendum, anyway. Still, I’m not sure that it’s a good idea to take the chance that a non-proportional system might win.

For me, as I’ve said all along, STV is my very distant second choice. I will probably select it in Part B, unless between now and Saturday I see a really convincing argument to do otherwise. That doesn’t seem likely.

The bottom line is, as I said in my post about STV, “For me, the best system is one that’s democratic, proportional, representative, fair and easy to use and understand. MMP ticks all those boxes.”

Indeed it does. I hope we all vote to Keep MMP and make it even better.

For official information on the referendum, go to www.referendum.org.nz
For information from the campaign to Keep MMP, go to www.keepmmp.org.nz

STV is a distant second choice

The final MMP alternative Kiwi voters will be offered on Saturday is Single Transferable Vote, or STV (the official video is above). It’s the only one of the alternatives that’s a proportional system, but it’s vastly inferior to MMP. It’s also inarguably the most complicated of all the systems, and difficult for most voters to fully understand.

Like Preferential Voting (PV), STV has voters rank candidates, but there are a lot more to contend with than in any of the other systems. Rather than having many single-member electorates, STV has fewer electorates, each of which would have between 3 and 7 MPs.

Voters would rank individual candidates in their order of preference, like in PV, and could choose them from among many parties. Or, they could vote for the ranking chosen (and published in advance) by their party. In Australian Senate elections, they call this voting “above-the-line”.

To be elected, a candidate needs to win a certain minimum number of votes, but unlike PV, this won’t be a majority. The threshold is called the “Drood quota” and is determined by taking the number of voters in the electorate and dividing that by the number of seats plus one. One is then added to the result and that number is the quota.

So, for example, take an imaginary electorate with 100 votes and three candidates. It would be 100 divided by 3+1 (four), which is 25. Add one to that, and the quota is 26—the number of votes a candidate must win to be elected. Eyes glazed over yet? Any candidate who had 26 votes as first preference would be elected. If not, or if there are more candidates to elect, they eliminate the lowest polling candidate and that candidate’s votes are redistributed to the candidate ranked second by each voter of the removed candidate. This continues until all the available seats are filled by candidates who reach the quota.

I did say it was complicated!

In places where STV is used, the number of seats a party ultimately wins in Parliament are usually similar to their share of first preference votes, that is, the people who rank them number one, which is why this is a proportional system. However, this is not guaranteed, and it tends to encourage dominance by the larger parties, which is also a weakness of PV. Also, it’s not necessary for any candidate to have majority support, or even for them to be anywhere near majority support.

In its favour, the multi-member electorates means specific geographic regions have several advocates, which can be good for regional representation. However, under our version of MMP, parties usually try and balance their party lists not just geographically, but also including many other factors. So, MMP party caucuses end up more representative of the country as a whole, and in far more ways than by geography alone. People who value regional representation more highly than representativeness overall would prefer STV. Those who want a Parliament that looks like the people who elected it would prefer MMP.

I truly believe that the greatest drawback to STV is its complexity. I have a bachelor’s degree in political science and I only now understand how it works, after studying it intensely as I considered my vote in the referendum. Because of my educational background, I’m probably more inclined to want to study the system and to have the patience to learn how it works. If after 15 years many Kiwi voters still claim that they still don’t know how the much simpler MMP works, how likely is it that they’ll understand STV?

For me, the best system is one that’s democratic, proportional, representative, fair and easy to use and understand. MMP ticks all those boxes, STV only a few. So if, under pain of death, I was forced to choose an alternative to MMP, it would be STV, but it such a distant second choice as to not really be a choice at all.

I’m voting to Keep MMP.

For official information on the referendum, go to www.referendum.org.nz
For information from the campaign to Keep MMP, go to www.keepmmp.org.nz

PV has some merit

Yesterday I talked about the two worst alternatives to MMP in Saturday’s referendum: First Past the Post (FPP) and FPP’s fancy-dress cousin, Supplementary Member (SM). Today, in separate posts, I’ll talk about the two alternatives that have some merit. First up, Preferential Voting (PV).

The video above is the official explanatory video for the Preferential Voting system, also known as “Alternative Voting” and “Instant Run-Off Voting.” The video at bottom is CGPGrey’s explanation.

Preferential Voting is a vast improvement on FPP, but unlike SM, there’s no proportionality at all. The two main ways PV improves on FPP are that winners have majority support and it removes the spoiler effect. However, it’s only somewhat more likely to elect small party or independent candidates than is FPP.

It’s important to remember that PV is not intended to be proportional, but merely a fairer way of electing representatives. As such, it is a good replacement for FPP in places where proportional representation can’t be implemented, like the United States. If the US were to switch to PV, it’s probable that over time small party candidates could be elected, and it’s also likely that even candidates of the two main parties would be more representative and would pander less to their party base (this is especially true for Republicans).

By eliminating the spoiler effect, voters in PV can vote for the candidate they really want in their first preference without worrying that doing so might accidentally elect the candidate they least want. In PV, no vote is truly “wasted”, which is again different from FPP in which votes for minor party candidate are usually wasted votes.

Here in New Zealand, PV is no substitute for MMP—but they’re apples and oranges. In my perfect world, we would elect our electorate MPs using PV, while Parliament as a whole would be elected under MMP. To me, that would play to the strengths of both systems: The improvements PV makes to FPP are significant, and when combined with the proportionality of MMP, it would be a hugely fair, representative and democratic system.

But that’s not the question before us, and, dealing only with the one that is, I would not choose PV to replace MMP, which is a vastly superior system because of its proportionality. That leaves only one other possible alternative, and that’s in my next post on voting systems.

But, still, I’m voting to Keep MMP.

For official information on the referendum, go to www.referendum.org.nz
For information from the campaign to Keep MMP, go to www.keepmmp.org.nz

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Election bites

There are always things that I want to comment on that don’t warrant a full blog post. Elections have such things in abundance. Here are a few.

Journos should go back to school

I know I harp on this a lot, but that’s because it annoys me so much: Journalists should not report on poll results unless they understand elementary statistics. Here’s an example from today: Tracy Watkins, reporting a new poll from Fairfax Media, opened her story with: “National has soared over the teapot tape saga and strengthened its grip on the election in the final days of the campaign.” Only trouble with that is that it’s utter bullshit.

National’s polling went up 1.5 percentage points, which is well within the margin of error. Put another way, National is still polling in the same range as it was in the last poll. National didn’t “strengthen its grip” and they certainly didn’t “soar”—in fact, it could be said that not only did they not go up, they may very well actually have gone down.

I’m not saying that Tracy Watkins deliberately misled readers in a way that would benefit National (because of the bandwagon effect, among or things)—even though that’s what she did. Instead, I’m saying that she doesn’t have even the most basic understanding of statistics and so isn’t qualified to report on opinion polls. She needs to go back to school, or at least start with Marcus Wilson’s post on poll statistics. Or, she could always cover garden tours or other less challenging topics.

Another debate: New Zealanders lost

TVNZ’s One News held their last leaders’ debate tonight. Smug Mr. Key showed up again. He looked irritated that he was even there. His answers were more slogan than anything else, but part of the blame for that lies with the open-ended questions that didn’t challenge either party leader.

The two most shocking bits were John Key being forced to admit that if re-elected, National would put a freeze on police recruiting—something they hadn’t planned on telling New Zealanders until after the election. John also expressed support for Supplementary Member voting system. As I said earlier today, it’s the system Tories think they could get (they won’t), so this wasn’t a surprise. But he outrageously claimed that SM would lead to more women and minorities!! How, exactly, would that even be possible in a system designed to stifle proportionate representation and so, diversity?

The losers were New Zealanders who had to endure the hapless and hopeless moderating of Guyon Espiner and frequent long commercial breaks (including the extended one for the Lotto draw!). We need a public service broadcaster, but we’ll never get that while National is in power.

Put out the Feelers

This is totally unimportant, but it’s something that baffles me. A segment of the active left seems to absolutely loathe The Feelers, the band whose song “Stand Up” National uses in their campaign ads, and the use of the song stiffens their dislike for the Tories. The thing is, I have no idea why people seem to hate the group so much. Okay, their song “Venus” is pretty vile (you’d be forgiven for thinking the refrain is “cum my little penis”), but most of their music is just bland and largely forgettable, so why the hatred?

Supplementary Member is FPP dressed up

Another voting system proposed as an alternative to MMP is Supplementary Member, or SM (official explanatory video above). It’s nothing more than First Past the Post (FPP) dressed up to look like a proportional system. It isn’t.

Under SM, the two main parties, Labour and National would dominate Parliament, almost always governing alone, just like FPP. Unlike FPP, small parties would have some representation in Parliament, but it would be a tiny fraction of their level of support among voters.

SM’s party vote would go to determine a party’s share of the 30 seats in Parliament (one quarter of all seats) set aside for that—regardless of how many electorate seats they’d won. So, if a party won 10% of the party vote, but no electorate seats, they’d get only three seats. That’s only 2.5% of the seats in Parliament, despite having 10% support of the voters. That’s just nuts.

Under MMP, the proportion of seats in Parliament is determined by the party vote. If a party has 10% of the party vote, it has 10% of the seats, and any electorate seats won are included in that total.

So, SM is slightly more democratic than FPP, but it is a pale, pale imitation of the real proportionality of MMP.

Pragmatic rightwingers like National Party leader John Key favour SM because it would give them one-party rule, which they want, while keeping a thin veneer of proportionality so as to sneak it by ordinary voters. The rightwing hopes that ordinary voters won’t notice that the Parliaments SM would deliver would be about as unrepresentative as the ones under FPP were. Basically, Key and the other conservatives know that the public doesn’t want FPP, so hope they’ll go for the FPP-lite that is SM.

So, just like FPP, I completely reject SM as an option. That leaves two other options, both of which have some merit, but I’ll discuss them in another post. Regardless, I’m voting to Keep MMP.

For official information on the referendum, go to www.referendum.org.nz
For information from the campaign to Keep MMP, go to www.keepmmp.org.nz

What’s wrong with FPP

Like all Illinoisans of my generation, I had to pass an exam on the US Constitution before I could graduate from high school, and again at university. The classes leading up to it were all based on the implicit assumption of the superiority of the US system of governance. Over time, I came to realise it’s all built on a lie, because the US election system is not democratic.

At nearly every level, the US uses a system called “First Past the Post” (FPP) to elect people to office. Basically, whoever gets the most votes, wins, which I grew up thinking was perfectly fair and reasonable—until I learned better.

At the top of this post is the official video explaining FPP, the system in place in New Zealand before MMP was adopted, and the system that conservatives most want to return to. The video actually highlights why: Dominance by one party and the improbability that small parties or new parties can win seats in Parliament.

New Zealand’s conservatives and business elites want FPP because any party that wins government will govern alone, without coalitions, and it’s almost certain there will be no small parties (unless a sitting MP quits one of the two main parties). This makes a right-leaning National Party government highly probable and a centrist Labour Party government unlikely most of the time. That’s the way conservatives and the business elites want it.

There are more problems with FPP, as are outlined in the video below by CGPGrey. First, FPP almost always elects a candidate with minority support. Since small parties and independents can’t win, their supporters will vote for the party they dislike the least, but not who they want. In New Zealand under FPP, there were years in which parties won substantial percentages of the popular vote, but no electorate seats. Not only were those people totally unrepresented in Parliament, the “winner” of a seat often had a small minority of votes. FPP encourages this.

CGPGrey also points out what I think is FPP’s biggest flaw: It leads to an “inevitable, unavoidable two-party system “ because, as he says, “it’s math.” This is at the core of the political problems in the US: No one but a Republican or Democrat can be elected in most places, so there’s never an opportunity for any real change, nor any incentive for the two major parties to respond voters’ demands. This is why hardly anything in Washington, DC ever changes—the system makes sure it can’t.

In New Zealand, FPP would mean rule by Labour or National. Small parties almost certainly could not win seats, and so, couldn’t force change. The two main parties would “stay the course” and nothing much would change and problems would go unsolved. Just like the US.

CGPGrey also talks about the “spoiler effect”, which almost always causes the most similar major candidate to lose, as most famously happened in the 2000 US presidential election in which Ralph Nader’s spoiler candidacy helped make George W. Bush president (although Republican vote fraud and a corrupt US Supreme Court ultimately sealed the deal, Nader made it possible for that to happen). Fear of this is one of the reasons small parties get nowhere in FPP elections—nowhere except helping to defeat the most ideologically similar candidates.

So, FPP is not truly representative because winning candidates usually have only minority support, and because FPP suppresses full representation by inevitably favouring a two-party system. In so doing, it disenfranchises many—often the vast majority—of voters. In short, it’s the most undemocratic system a country can have while still being at least nominally a democracy.

All of this is why I oppose FPP and favour other systems in its place. More on that in another post. But in addition to the huge advantages of MMP, all these problems with FPP are why I’m voting to Keep MMP.

For official information on the referendum, go to www.referendum.org.nz
For information from the campaign to Keep MMP, go to www.keepmmp.org.nz

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The deception of Key and National

It turns out that John Key and the National Party deceived New Zealanders when they declared that the assets they're going to sell off would remain in NZ hands. I’m shocked, I tell you, shocked!!

A report from TVNZ’s One News shows that while Key and National have always claimed that as much as 90% of the state-owned assets National will sell off would remain in Kiwi ownership, they pulled the numbers out of their collective arses. As most people at least suspected.

So, John Key and National plan to take assets—things the people of New Zealand already own—and sell them off to foreigners. This isn’t just Tory lunacy, it’s also a massive fraud. And if John Key and National have been deceiving New Zealanders about these assets sales, what else are they being dishonest about?

In last night’s leaders’ debate, Key claimed that Kiwibank will not be sold while he’s prime minister. Putting aside the fact he could be rolled or quit next term, before the last election he also promised not to raise GST, but he did it, anyway. We know they’ve looked into selling-off Kiwibank, so can Key really be trusted on anything he says about asset sales?

On Saturday, I’m voting to change the government.

About MMP

As I’ve previously said, I’m voting to keep MMP (Mixed Member Proportional) as the electoral system for New Zealand. The official video above explains how the system works. I’ve also posted CGPGrey’s video on MMP below, which I think is really good. I’ll be doing this same thing with other systems in other posts this week. Between these two videos, most people should get how MMP works.

The most important point is that MMP is proportional, something that none of the other systems can claim. That makes it the most representative system and, in my view, by far the fairest and most democratic.

The electorate seats are elected in a first past the post (FPP) system, and I think that should change to Preferential Voting (more about that in another post). It’s not relevant for this referendum. The size of Parliament is also irrelevant because that’s not at issue in this referendum, contrary to the distortions of the rightwing Vote for Change group.

If MMP is retained, it will trigger a review to look at possible changes. If it loses, however, it may face another referendum against the most popular alternative—however, contrary to popular belief, this second referendum is NOT automatic, and Parliament must still approve it.

In future posts over the next couple days, I’ll talk about the alternatives to MMP and why they’re all inferior. In the meantime, I say as I have all along:

Let’s keep MMP and make it even better.

For official information on the referendum, go to www.referendum.org.nz
For information from the campaign to Keep MMP, go to www.keepmmp.org.nz

Monday, November 21, 2011

Labour ad - Facts about National's record

I saw this Labour Party ad for the first time tonight while we were watching the TV 3 Leaders’ Debate (which I thought Labour’s Phil Goff clearly won). John Key was, yet again, economical with the truth and deceptive. What surprised me, though, was how distracted he seemed. Overall, it was a far different performance—for both—than in other debates.

A brickbat: What the hell was 3News thinking with that post-debate panel?! At one point I was going to put things under the end of my TV because it was leaning so far to the right. I hope the election night coverage is more balanced that that was!

Final week

We’re now in the final week of New Zealand’s 2011 election campaign, with the big day on Saturday. We have a family event to go that day, but we’ll have plenty of time to vote before we go, and we’ll be back in plenty of time to watch the results come in. Both are very important to me, actually.

Over the course of this week, I’m going to go into some detail about how I’m voting and why, but all of that will be done by Friday to ensure that I don’t run afoul of NZ election law. The Electoral Commission has issued a series of rules—well, reminders about rules—for handling the election in the online world. One part was especially relevant to bloggers:
"News stories posted on websites before election day can remain, as long as the website is not advertised on election day. Comment functions should be disabled on all websites, including social media sites, until after 7pm on election day to avoid readers posting statements that could influence voters."
I asked Lew of KiwiPolitico what he was going to do, and he suggested enabling comment moderation, and I thought that was brilliant: Folks can still make comments, but the comments won’t show up until we approve them, after 7pm Saturday. Turning off the comment function completely would mean people would have to come back to comment, and how many people will do that? So, by midnight on Friday, I’ll enable comment moderation on this blog and turn it off again after the polls close on election day (though in my case it’s mostly symbolic, since I’m unlikely to get many comments on election day).

But the bit about social media is just daft. I can avoid posting anything to Facebook, Google+ and Twitter, but I have NO control what others do. There’s no way to disable comments/re-posts on those services short of deleting my accounts. Since we’ll be away, I won’t have a chance to post anything that day, anyway, but I’m also not going to worry if someone comments something partisan. It’s possible the Commission means things like news organisations’ forums, but they didn’t say that, so I have to assume they simply don’t understand how social media works.

I’m going to be extra cautious and probably won’t post anything about the campaign on Friday, and I won’t post anything at all on Saturday until after the voting ends (I can’t do anything to draw eyes to my blog on election day, and a new post of any kind, no matter how unrelated it was, might possibly do that). Again. I won’t really have a chance to post anything, so this isn’t a burden.

But I hope that this is all better thought-out for 2014.

Update 22/11: Russell Brown over at Public Address is taking a different approach.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Weekend Diversion: Coffee – The Greatest Addiction Ever

In this video, CGPGrey, one of my favourite—what’s the word?—explainers on YouTube talks about coffee, which he calls the greatest addiction ever. I agree. One of things I like about his work is that his blog goes into more detail about the subject of his video, as he did with this one. It’s more detail than many YouTubers go into, and as a stickler for accuracy and transparency, I appreciate it.

I posted another of his videos as a Weekend Diversion back in February. He’s also produced some really good videos on voting systems, at least one of which I’ll post later this week (I wish his video on STV was done already!).

This particular video is fun as much as it is interesting. Oddly, I really wanted a coffee after watching it…

Making Aunt Betty feel awkward

Sometimes, it’s the simplest ideas that are the best. GLAAD (the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) is promoting a simple campaign for the US’ Thanksgiving holiday this Thursday, one I think could be adopted anywhere.

“I'm Letting Aunt Betty Feel Awkward This Thanksgiving” is designed to encourage GLBT people who feel safe to do so to talk about their lives openly at the Thanksgiving family meal:
“We've all had those Thanksgiving dinners where Aunt Betty decides this is the perfect time to discuss a year's worth of ailments and medical treatments. Well, you know what? If she can talk about her polyp, you can talk about your partner.

“The fact is, while you're scarfing down mashed potatoes and staying silent while everyone else at the table is freely speaking their minds, you're missing a golden opportunity to make real, honest progress by talking about your life, and the things you care about. It's okay if Aunt Betty feels a little awkward at first, it's important for her to know that someone she loves cares deeply about LGBT equality. And the more we all talk about what's important to us, the less awkward those conversations will become.”
The point of all this is that familiarity breeds support: Poll after poll after poll has shown that those who actually know GLBT people, especially people they like, love or merely respect, the far more likely they are to support GLBT equality or—equally important—oppose those who would deny us our equality under the law.

In fact, GLAAD itself did a study of people who said their opinions on GLBT issues had become more favorable. Of those who had become more supportive of GLBT equality, 80 percent said that personally knowing a lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender person was a primary reason for their shift in attitude.

Polls have also demonstrated that younger people have far less difficulty accepting GLBT people and supporting GLBT equality than do older people. If people in our own families don’t know the realities of our lives, how can we expect strangers to view us as anything other than cartoons or caricatures?

Thanksgiving in the US is the perfect opportunity for GLBT American’s to bring their extended families into their lives. Christmas is another such opportunity, and it’s one I hope my fellow GLBT antipodeans will take advantage of. We, too, have unfinished work.

Having said all that, to me this isn’t really about a political agenda at all. Instead, it’s about ending the silence, opening up families to their full potential. Not every GLBT person will feel safe to be open in their own families. But as those who do feel safe embrace themselves and their families openly, the day in which all GLBT can be open will arrive more quickly.

That would be something to be very thankful for, indeed.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Correcting Obama

I know we Americans are geographically challenged, but really, couldn't the President of the United States have a fact-checker on staff? In a speech to the Australian Parliament, President Obama said:
"…women in this country demanded that their voices be heard, making Australia the first nation to let women vote and run for parliament and, one day, become prime minister."
Except, that wasn't Australia—it was New Zealand.

In 1893, New Zealand became the first nation in the world to grant women the right to vote, an effort that had been underway under various premiers since 1878. The right to vote granted to women included Maori women.

While South Australia gave women the right to vote in local elections in 1894 (having given women with property the right to vote in local elections in 1861), all the women of Australia didn’t win the vote in national elections until 1902, the year after federation (which created the nation of Australia). However, indigenous women in Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory didn’t win the right to vote until 1962.

By comparison, women in Canada won the right to vote nationally in 1919 (though Quebec didn’t grant it until 1940), women in the United States won the right to vote in 1920 and in the United Kingdom, while women got some voting rights in 1918, they didn’t win full voting rights until 1928—35 years after New Zealand women.

Australia was technically ahead of New Zealand when it comes to running for parliament, so that part of Obama’s speech was sort of true: The same Act of the Australian Parliament that gave (white) women the right to vote in Parliamentary elections also allowed them to run for Parliament, and that was 17 years earlier than in New Zealand. Women didn’t get the right to serve in New Zealand’s now-abolished upper house, the Legislative Council, until 1941 (it was abolished in 1951).

However, in both New Zealand and Australia, having the right to run for parliament came well before a woman was actually elected but, again, New Zealand was first: The first Australian women elected to their House of Representatives and their Senate were both elected in 1943. The first woman elected to the NZ House of Representatives was in 1933. In 1946, Labour appointed the first woman to the Legislative Council, which was unelected.

New Zealand also had a female prime minister well before Australia. New Zealand got its first female Deputy Prime Minister—Helen Clark—in 1989. She became our first female Leader of the Opposition in 1993. We got our first female Prime Minister—Jenny Shipley—in 1997. We then elected Helen Clark Prime Minster in 1999. By contrast, Julia Gillard became Australia's first Prime Minister only in 2010.

Again for comparison, the United Kingdom got its first female Leader of the Opposition, Margaret Thatcher, in 1975. She went on to become the country’s first female prime minister in 1979. Kim Campbell was Canada’s first female prime minister, but she never sat in Parliament as prime minister, so it’s a bit of a technicality. Similarly, Deborah Cleland Grey became Canada’s first female leader of the opposition, serving for some six months in an acting capacity until the permanent leader was chosen. The current Leader of the Opposition, Nycole Turmel, is officially the second woman to hold that post, but the first to actually be the leader.

The United States is not directly comparable to the Westminster-style parliamentary systems of these other countries, but it has never had a female president or vice president. Still, from 2007-2011 it had a female Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, a job that’s actually comparable to prime minister in the NZ system, except for executive power. She’s currently Minority Leader, which is kind of like Leader of the Opposition in the NZ system. Pelosi became the first female Minority Leader in 2003.

That’s the full story that President Obama’s speech muddled up, but he’s not the first president to mess up history that relates to New Zealand: Bill Clinton said the US was the country that split the atom, when that’s credited to New Zealander Lord Ernest Rutherford, who was working in Britain. There was irony, too, that Obama should mess up a discussion of Australian and New Zealand history in a speech lauding the ties of the ANZUS alliance, a defence pact New Zealand was effectively expelled from when it went nuclear free (we’re the NZ in the treaty name, for goodness sake!!). Out of sight, out of mind, I guess.

This isn’t exactly an international incident, and Kiwis are used to this sort of thing. But it would be nice if the White House—under any president—employed someone who knows something about history, or at least someone who knows how to find things out. We really don’t need presidents of any party reinforcing the common belief that Americans are geographically challenged and lacking an understanding of history. We have the Internet, after all: Looking stuff up is easy.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Sydney Mardi Gras

The video above is about the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, which has been going through a bit of reorganisation. I think it’s a good introduction for folks who don’t know much about it, so that’s one reason I’m posting this. The mean reason, however, is the last spoken line: “Because, fuck it! We’re all fabulous!”

Olbermann on Bloomberg

In this “Special Comment” on New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Keith Olbermann basically rips Bloomberg a new one. He deserves it. The billionaire Bloomberg—who is not part of the 1%, but rather the .01%—ordered the police to clear away “Occupy Wall Street” protestors, and has no doubt unleashed a huge number of unintended consequences.

Olbermann compares Bloomberg to George Wallace and Joe McCarthy, among others, who acted to suppress democracy. While to me that seemed a bit over the top at first, I think Keith is on to something.

The “Occupy” movement was by all reports running out of gas and was becoming an occupation for the sake of itself, and not a movement. By clearing the protestors and dumping everything—including over 5,000 books—into the rubbish, Bloomberg has inadvertently breathed new life into the “Occupy” movement. Oops.

Keith’s comparison of Bloomberg to anti-democratic demagogues is even more apt considering that the newsmedia was deliberately prevented from covering the police action and police actually arrested several journalists (including a cameraman working for TVNZ’s “One News”) to prevent them from doing their jobs. That’s not the action of someone who respects democracy, liberty or the rule of law—it is the action of a despot eager to suppress all three.

The brutality of the repression of the “Occupy” movement in some places has been breathtaking, but the fact that the corporate elites are doing it is not surprising: The last thing the corporate elites or their minions in government are willing to tolerate is any sort of real challenge to their oligarchy. Bloomberg simply acted as he was always going to do: Repression.

The US Supreme Court has given a lot of room for free speech, and it has frequently reaffirmed the right to symbolic speech, even when it’s not popular (like flag burning, for example). Bloomberg is on very shaky legal ground in ordering the park cleared. I’m sure he knew that, and I’m also sure he wouldn’t have cared: Sin in haste, repent at leisure, and all that.

I hope we don’t see anything similar here in New Zealand when the “Occupy Auckland” even is brought to an end, but we very well may. While the issues of class, income distribution and the influence of corporations are very different in New Zealand than in the US, and the “Occupy Wall Street” movement isn’t really relevant here, we nevertheless may see a similar end.

Thanks to Michael Bloomberg, the “occupy” movement, including that in New Zealand, has been reinvigorated. No wonder so many people think he’s an idiot.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A scrawled reply

I posted an uncropped version of this photo yesterday on Twitter and Google+, but after a jury service day, I was too tired to post it here last night. Here’s what I said on Google+:
Yesterday, Auckland Council took the first steps toward removing the "occupy Auckland" folks: They asked what date the folks planned to leave. The "protestors" apparently answered via chalk. The photo (above) shows the message in front of both entrances to Council's Civic Administration bldg. this morning. The building is right by the "camp", the photo is of the doors facing Aotea Square. I think forcible removal may now be inevitable.
I snapped the photo at 8:15am yesterday morning. When I went past today, there was nothing; it had been raining a lot, so I don’t know if it was cleaned off or just washed away in the rain.

With the occupation at the original site in New York City cleared, it’s hard to imagine that Auckland’s will last much longer. As I see it, this is now just a question of whether it’ll happen before or after the election.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Occupation ending soon?

The photo above is of Occupy Auckland at 8:15am this morning. As it happens, Auckland Council today took the first steps toward removing the protestors, apparently by preparing the groundwork for court action. The New Zealand Police have said they won’t enforce trespass notices issued by councils because of what they call “serious Bill of Rights implications”. They would be obligated to enforce a court order.

I think that the sympathy some people originally had for the protestors is all but gone. This has been going on since middle of last month, and the majority of people are frankly sick of it. The new grass area where their tents are has been ruined, and it will take tens of thousands of dollars to replace. That’s on top of the tens of thousands of dollars spent on extra security during their occupation.

At first they seemed an inchoate movement, or potential movement, made up of individuals with wildly different agendas. But over time, that lack of focus has left them seeming like mere malcontents, not genuine protestors. After all, most of the issues that protestors in the US are taking on simply aren’t relevant for New Zealand. I know I don’t endorse all the agendas evident among the occupiers, and I’m not at all unique.

I still want to see a peaceful resolution, but a resolution all the same. It’s time for this occupation to end.

Jury service

This week I have jury service for a trial that’s expected to be completed by Wednesday, at which point I should be released for two years minimum. I can’t comment on the specific case, even after it’s finished, but I’ll certainly have some general comments about the experience once it’s all over.

In the meantime, I may not be posting much the next day or two.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Media mayhem

Every day there’s something in the newsmedia that makes me shake my head or my fist, and every once in awhile, something makes me smile. This weekend, I’ve had all three.

The image above is a Tweet from TVNZ’s One News reporter Garth Bray, who was attending the campaign launch of the neoconservative Act Party. It’s the kind of detail that wouldn’t normally get reported, but it provides a picture of what goes on before the cameras start rolling.

Of course, Act isn’t unique in trying to present itself in a flattering, TV-friendly way—all political parties do this. But Act perhaps needs to do this more than other parties, given that it’s dominated by, er, um, “late middle-aged” white guys. Bray also Tweeted that they had brand-new slick brochures with a photo of John Key and John Banks having their cup of tea, and that Act also handed out teabags. Hm, not even a bevy of pretty girls can save those “late middle-aged” white guys from their most naff instincts.

My shaking fist is waved at the New Zealand Herald for betraying the voting public in order to advance the interests of the National Party in the upcoming election. The facts—as reported by the Herald itself—are that during the publicity stunt “cup of tea” between John Key and John Banks, Key’s security entourage wouldn’t allow a cameraman to retrieve a device he inadvertently left on the table, and that device transmitted audio of the conversation to the cameraman’s equipment, which recorded it.

The Herald obtained legal advice that it could publish the recording, but John Key inexplicably refused permission citing “privacy” and the Herald gladly went along with that. This is bullshit. The event was not in any way “private”: Not only was it held in a public place where someone might reasonably be expected to overhear, it was a staged media event! If they truly wanted a private conversation, that was the wrong place, the wrong time and the wrong circumstances for it, and John Key and the Herald damn well know that.

The public absolutely has a right to know what the potential next prime minister and a man who may hold the balance of power after the election were talking about IN PUBLIC and at A PUBLICITY EVENT ATTENDED BY THE NEWSMEDIA.

The Herald said the publicly-held “private” conversation included talk of “Act's future and its leadership, New Zealand First's electoral chances and the percentage of the vote the National Party would secure.” What is John Key afraid of? Is he really THAT much of a coward?

I’m disgusted that the New Zealand Herald, obviously biased toward the National Party, would be willing to betray all journalistic ethics—as well as the New Zealand public—in order to promote the election chances of the National Party. I’m disgusted, but not really surprised.

My shaking head goes toward The Age, which headlined a story “Stabbed 300 times by room-mates in sex-fuelled satanic ritual: police” (and who wouldn't check out a story with such a headline?). The story, however, never makes that "satanic" claim at all. In fact, it’s based on one of the accused allegedly claiming that a co-accused was "possibly involved in satanic or occult activities." On that flimsy basis, The Age, possibly re-publishing the original AP headline, has gone beneath the level of gutter tabloids, fabricating a story out of nothing more than one weird girl’s claim. Also, it was actually cutting, not stabbing, as that word is normally understood.

The issue really is that by publishing this sensationalised outright falsehood, The Age/AP are perpetuating the myth of rampant “satanic rituals” as the cause of much crime, when it’s simply not true. They should be ashamed of themselves—and maybe they should go back to first-year journalism classes for a refresher.

Actually, in their own ways, each incident made me smile; the last two were accompanied by rolling eyes, though.

Saturday, November 12, 2011


11/11/11: This is the penultimate listing of date numbers like this for the 21st century. I like these particular alignments because they work regardless of whether the date is month or day first: 11/11/11 is the same wherever it is.

This is in contrast to sequential dates, such as, 09/10/11. That date was September 10, 2011 in places like the US, but October 9, 2011 here. Not quite the global thrill, really.

I’m not superstitious or into numerology, but I find numeric sequences oddly pleasant (odd for whom, or from whose perspective, I’m not sure…). Maybe I just like a little order in an otherwise chaotic world.

I spent my 11/11/11 at a family wedding in Thames where I had truly rotten Vodafone coverage—often none at all. This meant no access to the Internet, either, and I’d planned to post a photo from Thames on that day. Oh well, as I write this it’s still 11/11/11 in Hawaii.

So, one more date like this to come, a year and a month from today. I’ll just have to look for patterns elsewhere.

Here are posts from previous years:




My post for August 8, 2008 was pre-empted by family events.

Epsom’s bitter cup of tea

The New Zealand news media was all-abuzz when National Party leader John Key sat down and had a cup of tea with ex-Auckland Mayor John Banks, who is now the neoconservative Act Party’s candidate in Epsom. This was, the media declared, an indication of a tacit endorsement of National Party voters giving their electorate vote to Banks in order to keep Act in Parliament.

That’s nonsense—nothing but Act Party spin, and some media pundits’ wet dreams.

Key, who lives in the Epsom electorate (even though he’s the MP for the Helensville electorate…), said that he would not personally vote for Banks because, as leader of the party, he’d vote for the National candidate, Paul Goldsmith. He also said that he wouldn’t tell New Zealand voters how to vote—even though, as a candidate for political office, that’s precisely what he does every single day.

This is the best of both worlds for Key. If John Banks wins, it will be seen and reported as being only because Key and National gave Banks, defeated ex-National Party leader, and now leader of the Act Party, Don Brash, as well as their current political vehicle, the Act Party, a lifeline. If Banks loses, Key can claim he never really tried to help Act, anyway, so his prestige won’t be on the line. It’s a pretty sweet deal, really.

Well, sweet for Key, bitter for Epsom’s National Party voters, who have to decide whether to vote for the man twice dumped as Mayor of Auckland, a man known for being racist, homophobic and sexist, and in so doing, putting the truly vile Don Brash in a position of power, or should they should stick with their own principles and vote for the National's Paul Goldsmith? Even John Key described Brash as an extremist—and yet he's angling to get him into Parliament?

For Labour and Green voters, it’s a clear no-brainer: They would be absolutely insane to vote for anyone other than National’s Paul Goldsmith. If John Banks loses Epsom, Act is gone from Parliament—a worthy goal in itself. But if Banks and Brash are critical for National to form government, then National’s “partial” asset sales will be gone: Together, John Key and Don Brash, National and Act, will sell off the lot. Neither Labour nor the Greens want assets sold and one of the best ways to ensure that doesn’t happen is to make sure Act loses Epsom. So, if I lived in Epsom, I’d vote for the National candidate, Paul Goldsmith. It’s the only rational choice for any centre/left voter.

John Key seems to be preparing for the great John Key/Don Brash fire sale of New Zealand assets or, at least, it sure looks that way: I’ve counted at least three different things on which John Key has promised to spend the money he’d get for selling off New Zealand’s assets.

And as for Banks, well, a leopard seldom changes its spots. I saw one rightwing apologist claiming that since Banks supposedly had a gay chief of staff, that therefore meant he wasn’t homophobic. It doesn’t work like that and, in fact, sounds like the “some of my best friends are…” defence: Empty and self-serving. His racism is still current, as can be seen in the clip above. The man should never be allowed back in Parliament.

It’s disgusting that John Key would even consider a deal to get the gruesome twosome of John Banks and Don Brash into Parliament, but the right is calling that a “strategic vote”. Fine, then if it’s good enough for the right, it has to be good enough for the centre and left, too: Paul Goldsmith must be elected MP for Epsom.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Numbers and reality

One thing I’ve been consistent about when talking on this blog about polling is that to be believable, pollsters must report all their data, not just the headline result. This means not just their margin of error, but also their confidence level. They also must release their polling questions, methodology and sample size. If any of these details are withheld, we cannot be sure whether the poll is accurate or reliable.

This is true for all polls, whether on issues, attitudes or elections. While we can evaluate a polling organisation’s reliability by looking at their track record, full disclosure removes doubt—especially because past performance is not necessarily an indicator of future accuracy.

All of this is especially relevant here in New Zealand. Political polling has consistently shown that the ruling conservative National Party has around 50-53% popular support, the Opposition, the Labour Party, has around 30-35%, the Greens around 10-12% and the other parties dividing the rest.

Will it hold—is the election over? Of course not.

History is relevant here. First, polls always tighten up when the election happens. Part of the reason for that is that most New Zealand polls exclude undecideds, even if they’re strongly leaning toward a party. In 2008, the final result was reasonably close to the average of polls, but there was also low turn out, particularly among Labour voters.

And that’s the danger in this election: With the newsmedia constantly saying that National is polling highly enough that it can govern alone, Labour voters may stay home, or vote for the Greens. This is why the reliability of the polls is so important—if the polls are wrong, they may nevertheless become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

There’s also no way to be sure that something won’t happen in the final two weeks that could change what the polls seem to indicate. In 2005, the polls were showing that National was on track to defeat Labour, but their campaign collapsed in the final stretch when their collusion with a secretive far-right “Christian” cult was revealed. So, reversals of polling fortune telling do happen.

But with the newsmedia pretty much uniformly declaring the election all but over, and many of them clearly favouring and all but openly promoting John Key (the New Zealand Herald and Fairfax being the worst of the lot), Labour has a tough job ahead of it—certainly not impossible, but difficult.

The New Zealand newsmedia have made a switch from reporting the news to leading it (not creating it, which is different), and that’s a serious threat to democracy. I don’t know that anything can be done to impose ethics and balance on the newsmedia, but one thing the newsmedia can and must do is to be completely transparent about their polling. Until and unless that happens, we have no alternative but to assume there is a wide gulf between their numbers and reality.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

The company they keep

The anti-gay industry is made up of charlatans who lie, distort and defame with reckless, giddy abandon. Everybody knows that. It’s all too easy to provide evidence of their lies, distortions and defamation, because they constantly provide new examples. But the fact that their power continues unabated means that exposing them for what they are continues to be important.

Today, it’s an example of their rank hypocrisy.

The SPLC-certified anti-gay hate group, the “Family” Research [sic] Council has given a “True Blue” award to a teabagger US Representative from Illinois, Republican (of course) Joe Walsh. The designation comes because of what “F”RC calls Walsh’s “unwavering support of the family”.

Oh, really?

Walsh is a deadbeat dad who owes more than $117,000 in child support he refuses to pay. A judge rebuked Walsh for not showing up in court personally for further legal proceedings on this matter. Walsh's lawyer suggested Walsh deserved special treatment because he’s a congressman, but the judge didn't see it that way.

But to the “F”RC, even deadbeat dads can be “True Blue” heroes—as long as they vote the way “F”RC wants, their personal anti-family history is okay.

And what, exactly is involved in being a “True Blue” defender of “faith, family and freedom”? They have to “have voted to repeal Obamacare [sic], de-fund Planned Parenthood, end government funding for abortion within the health care law [even though it was never funded in the first place], uphold the Defense of Marriage Act, and continue support for school choice [which is rightwing code for taxpayer support for private religious schools].”

In accepting his hero of the family designation, Walsh said: “Defending American values have always been one of my top priorities, and this reward reaffirms my dedication to that fight.” Too bad looking after his own kids isn’t a priority, top or otherwise, for this “True Blue” supporter of the “family”. But he's typical of the sort of person that Tony and the “F”RC love: People who are lousy humans but who vote in lockstep with religious extremists’ demands.

In the reality-based world, there’s no connection between Tony and “F”RC’s far-right agenda and real family issues—they just call their agenda “pro-family” because it sounds so much nicer than “fascist”.

Tony and his “F”RC matter because of the power they wield in the Republican Party and the influence they have in the mainstream US newsmedia. As long as that continues, it’s important that they’re held accountable for their lies, wilful distortions and defamation of GLBT people. Standing up for families makes someone pro-family, not fighting against them. I know which company I’d rather keep, and Tony and his ilk are not them.

Tip o’ the Hat to Joe.My.God.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Weekend Diversion: ‘Hoarders - Untold sTori’

This video is a spoof of “Hoarders”, a programme I actually watch. This particular one spoofs the episodes featuring people who hoard, say, cats. I think it’s funny, and a good spoof. And, it’s perfect for a day on which I don’t have time for a real blog post.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Many times the commitment

Below (with minor changes) is something I posted this morning to Google+ and then to Facebook. Although I’ve mentioned aspects of this in previous blog posts, I decided to share it here, too:
Yesterday, I worked out that after 16 years, Nigel and I have been together more than 81 times longer than Kim Kardashian’s marriage. We’ve also been together more than 2,550 times longer than Britney Spears’ 55-hour marriage. And yet we CANNOT marry, either in New Zealand or my native Illinois.

What’s more, our New Zealand Civil Union isn’t recognised by the United States Government for any purpose whatsoever, including immigration. So, unlike my relatives with foreign-born spouses, I can’t sponsor mine to live with me in the USA. So, we don’t. Actually, even if we were married in New Zealand or Illinois, the US Government wouldn't even recognise THAT.

Every time we hear of yet another “celebrity” having a spectacular failure at marriage, we should think about the thousands of same-sex couples who never get the chance to even start a marriage—no matter how long they’ve been together. Until all same sex couples have the right to marry, with all due respect, shallow newsmedia, don’t expect me to give a damn about the latest spectacular marriage failure by spoiled morons who don’t have a clue what marriage really means.

Today BuzzFeed posted a list of 20 more couples who have been together more than 72 days but still cannot marry.

This isn’t the last time I’ll be talking about this subject, nor is this the last time I’ll point out the blatant hypocrisy of treating these “celebrities” who marry and divorce like they’re choosing new party outfits as if they deserve more respect than committed, but forbidden-to-marry, gay and lesbian couples. Count this as yet another way in which I have many times the commitment they do.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Sweet sixteen

Sixteen years: Where has the time gone? Mind you, I might say that no matter where I’d ended up living, but my moving to the other side of the world 16 years ago kind of adds an exclamation point.

There were people who told me, “you’ll be back.” I can understand their scepticism: A year or two earlier and I might’ve said something similar to someone about to do what I did. Experiences change expectations and add understanding. Well, we hope they do.

Last year (all my previous years’ posts are linked below) I wrote: “I am what I am precisely because of where I am. This place has made me what I am now.” It’s one of the truest things I’ve ever written, and in so many ways. Any other place would have changed me, but would those changes have been as profound? I don’t know.

Part of that is, of course, Nigel: He is my rock, my centre, and—even sixteen years later—I’d move to the other side of the planet to be with him. Today is our sixteenth anniversary, too, because on this date our life together really began.

This morning Nigel and I were joking about how, at 5844 days, our union has lasted more than 81 times longer than Kim Kardashian’s legal marriage. We’ve also lasted more than 2,550 times longer than Britney Spears legal marriage.

So here I am, in the second half of my second decade in New Zealand, and I’m still completely happy. Like I said last year, “That’s what can happen when you follow your heart”.

So, Happy Expataversary to me, Happy Anniversary to us. Again.

Previous posts:
Lucky 13: Expataversary and more
Twelfth Anniversary
Eleven Years an Expat

Ex, but not ex-