The Dim-Post

June 9, 2015

Escalation

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 7:25 pm

The executive summary of the Dirty Politics scandal goes something like ‘A cabal of some of the most awful people in the country engaged in unethical and borderline illegal activity for political and financial reasons, and the mainstream media helped them do it in exchange for exclusive content.’ There was some contrition from a few individuals in the media after it all came out, but no real soul-searching, and most of the activity just continued on, same as before.

Today it got a bit weirder, and more awful. Over the weekend TV3’s The Nation – which is produced by Mediaworks – screened a story containing yet more allegations of criminal activity by Cameron Slater. Slater promised Lisa Owen that there would be ‘consequences’, and today a sort of vassal blog site which I will not link to, run by a pair of Slater’s lickspittles published private photographs of a senior MediaWorks journalist.

Which was horrible but, frankly, wouldn’t have mattered that much because, as I’ve said before, no one reads any of this idiocy. But the New Zealand Herald ran a story about the publication of the photos amplifying the malice behind the original publication a hundred-thousand-fold.

The story has been on-and-off the site all afternoon, and right now its off, or at least not searchable. I hope there was some soul-searching at the Herald and a decision to take it down and keep it that way, because the judgement here seems suicidally dumb. Do media organisations not see how helping this little coven of seat-sniffers attack other journalists might work out really badly for them one day? Slater et al do hate, and want to destroy all journalists not totally loyal to their masters, so helping them do that and facilitate their ‘punishment’ of journalists for publishing stories they don’t approve of is not in your interest no matter how many clicks it buys you. Even now they’re probably calling up MediaWorks and offering them dirt so they can ‘get payback’. Maybe ethics are too much to ask for in this day and age, but can’t we get some basic survival instincts?

Update: The Herald has been in touch to advise that they didn’t publish any of the images in their story so I’ve changed the post to reflect that.

June 5, 2015

Quote of the day, how many times have we seen this? edition

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 2:05 pm

From the Guardian account of UK Labour’s election defeat:

Labour believed they could dominate two full days of the campaign with the non-dom proposal, but the Conservative campaign director, Lynton Crosby, countered with a trademark “dead cat” strategy – a tactic best summarised by Boris Johnson as follows: “There is one thing that is absolutely certain about throwing a dead cat on the dining room table – and I don’t mean that people will be outraged, alarmed, disgusted. That is true, but irrelevant. The key point, says my Australian friend, is that everyone will shout, ‘Jeez, mate, there’s a dead cat on the table!’ In other words, they will be talking about the dead cat – the thing you want them to talk about – and they will not be talking about the issue that has been causing you so much grief.”

This time, the dead cat was supplied by the defence secretary Michael Fallon. The day after Labour’s non-dom announcement, Fallon launched a deliberately excessive attack on Miliband, suggesting he would betray the country by surrendering the Trident nuclear deterrent in order to reach a deal with the Scottish National party: “Miliband stabbed his own brother in the back to become Labour leader. Now he is willing to stab the United Kingdom in the back to become prime minister.” Miliband’s team seethed at the tactic, though several confessed a lingering admiration for its effectiveness.

June 2, 2015

Public choice theory and mental health care

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 10:33 am

Via the Herald:

Private investors will soon be given the opportunity to invest in mental health services, Government confirmed this morning.

Finance Minister Bill English and Health Minister Jonathan Coleman have announced plans for New Zealand’s first social bond, which will focus on the mental health sector.

The Labour Party described the new policy as an untested experiment which used New Zealand’s most vulnerable people as “guinea pigs”.

Social bonds allow Government to contract out services and funding to non-government or private organisations, with agreed targets and timeframes.

If the targets are met, Government pays back the investors, and also pays a return on their investment. The return depended on the level of results, up to an agreed maximum.

“Where we succeed, there are opportunities to help people fulfil their potential, a chance to break inter-generational cycles of dependency and, in the long term, potential savings for taxpayers.

“So social bonds are a consistent fit with our wider social investment approach which aims to better understand both the drivers and risks of social dysfunction and where we can have the greatest impact in improving people’s lives.”

The thinking behind this policy comes from a branch of economics called public choice theory; it’s still influential on the right and the logic goes like this: What if all those social workers and doctors and carers and psychiatric nurses in the state-funded mental health sector are all rational, selfish individuals? They have no incentive to actually help their patients recover from their illnesses and re-enter the workforce, because their income is reliant on the mentally ill remaining ill and requiring ongoing care! If they cure all their patients then they’re out of a job! Why not then, turn to the limitless ingenuity of the market and instead of leaving the care of the mentally ill to a bunch of corrupt, fat-cat doctors and social workers, incentivise our wealth-creating business leaders and executives to simply cure severe schizophrenics and manic-depressives, somehow, so they can re-enter the workforce as happy productive citizens!

The flaw, as usual, is the assumption that everyone thinks like economists and that people become mental health workers for the enormous profits, rather than motives of, say, compassion or humanity. And again, as usual, there’s magical thinking around the role of the market and our business class. Sure, businesses that win tenders for these services could work hard and find a way to cure all their clients, but what they’re more likely to do is hire lobbyists and lawyers, find a way to game the system and make a lot of money while inflicting misery on a bunch of very vulnerable people.

May 31, 2015

First thoughts on the Green co-leadership race

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 8:17 am
  • Yay!
  • James Shaw won. I think/hope he’ll be very good. Although, being a political leader is an odd, demanding job. It changes people. You never know how new leaders will do until they’ve done it for a while.
  • But beating Kevin Hague is a promising sign. Hague was a very tough, smart, well organised, experienced opponent. We didn’t realise just how formidable he was until the three-month long campaign was well under-way. James was seen as a risky newcomer, and the only way he stood a chance against Hague was to take some risks but never make a mistake. And it’s very easy for candidates to make mistakes when they’re giving daily speeches, engaging on social media and trying to get their name out in the mainstream media. James did everything right. I really hope he keeps doing that.
  • There was also an element of luck. Part of Kevin Hague’s pitch was that he had parliamentary experience but James didn’t. Kevin was ‘ready to go on day one’. Then, in the crucial final weeks the Saudi sheep story broke. It was James’s portfolio. He was ‘strong in the House’ and got good media coverage so the key attack line against him disintegrated.
  • Although, the ability to identify opportunities and seize them is also a useful quality in a leader. So, again, promising.
  • I’m also happy to see that one of the key platforms of James’s campaign – that he performed well in the general election and got loads of people to vote for his party – was successful. I think one of the reasons that the left is struggling, both here and in other anglo-countries is that there isn’t enough emphasis on campaign skills and public popularity. Power within left-wing political parties is too often won by appealing to factions or affiliates – like unions – instead of the ability to connect with the public. A lot of senior Labour and Green MPs do very poorly in electoral terms but continue to rise through the ranks. So I’m very happy that – in the Green Party at least – the members have sent a signal that if they ever want to be leader, MPs need to go out and win votes.
  • I’ll try not to write about Green Party issues too much from now on. I don’t want to be re-posting their press releases, or become one of those guys who helps write a speech and then jumps on their blog to lavish praise on it.

May 27, 2015

The Secret Agrihub in the middle of the Arabian Desert

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 3:35 pm

This is a weird little story slowly evolving into a major scandal. It’s complicated, but worth it. Most of the reporting has come from Heather du Plessis-Allan and Matthew Hooton:

  • Back in 2003 New Zealand stopping exporting live sheep to Saudi Arabia
  • According to Hooton (his stories are paywalled at the NBR), a very wealthy and influential Saudi businessman named Hmood Al Khalaf, who had a business importing sheep contacted National when they were in opposition, and John Key and David Carter privately assured him that exports would resume when National came to power.
  • When National won the election in 2008, Al Khalaf supposedly invested tens of millions of dollars in New Zealand farmland and a ship that could transport sheep to Saudi Arabia. But National didn’t change the law.
  • So Al Khalaf hired Mai Chen to prepare a lawsuit against the government, claiming for ‘between $20 million and $30 million. He also, allegedly, used his influence in Saudi Arabia to block a free trade deal between New Zealand and the Gulf States.
  • Here’s where it gets good.
  • McCully has just admitted that he didn’t take any legal advice on the strength of Al Khalaf’s claim. Instead he arranged for MFAT and New Zealand Trade and Enterprise to ‘invest’ $11.5 million dollars in a ‘bold and courageous’ Agrihub in the middle of the Arabian desert on property owned by Al Khalaf. You can view recent satellite photos of the ‘Agrihub’ on google maps, here.
  • We also bought a number of Suffolk Ewes – bred for cold conditions – off a company part owned by Al Khalaf and flew them to Saudi Arabia in an air-conditioned Singapore Air plane. They now allegedly reside at the Agrihub, where daytime temperatures average 50 degrees Celsius.
  • The Agrihub is (a) designed to be a regional showcase for New Zealand farming techniques and technologies and (b) is not accessible because it is on private property in the middle of the desert.
  • It sounds a lot like we just gave this guy $11 million dollars, doesn’t it?

May 26, 2015

Valence bitches

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 8:39 am

Here’s the non-bias corrected aggregate of the polls:

nzpolls20150526

Here’s what National were talking about this time eight years ago, when they were in opposition:

The state of Lake Hawea reported in weekend media shows the country is still facing a serious hydro-power shortage this winter, says National Party Energy spokesman Gerry Brownlee.

“Contact says it is very likely that Lake Hawea will have to be drawn down to its lowest level in 26 years just to maintain power supplies.

“The Electricity Commission – which has the say in determining if the lake can be drawn down below its 338m minimum operating level – now has to state if that is in fact its determination.

“If so, that would be confirmation that New Zealand is currently in a crisis situation.

“Overall, New Zealand’s hydro-lake levels are at just 56% of capacity. The Labour Government’s attitude seems to be that with the recent rains the risk of blackouts this winter has receded.

And:

Figures obtained by the National Party show the number of times hospitals are being forced into ‘Code Red’ because they can’t cope with patient demand is on the increase.

“Despite the billions of extra funding and the thousands of extra bureaucrats – our health services continue to lurch from one crisis to the next. Now the public is discovering that our hospitals are having troubling coping even before the winter flu season starts,” says National’s Health spokesman, Tony Ryall.

National has received information under the Official Information Act which shows that Capital and Coast Health in Wellington has had more ‘Code Reds’ more frequently this year than last.

“And that’s before the winter crop of illness strikes.”

The figures show there were 10 ‘Code Reds’ at Wellington Hospital in February this year and six in March. Last year, numbers peaked at six in the months of September and November.

And:

The Labour Government’s admission that it is losing the war against methamphetamine can in a large part be sheeted home to the fact that Labour has failed to do anything substantial to tackle gangs, says National’s Justice & Corrections spokesman, Simon Power.

Police Minister Annette King admitted today that strategies to combat the billion-dollar trade in ‘P’ are not working.

“This should come as no surprise to anyone, considering their failure to act on gangs for the past nine years. And even now they are still backing off a number of proposals to tackle gangs.”

Labour’s recent press releases are here. The difference is stark. National attacked the competency of the government to govern. Overflowing hospitals! Gangs running the streets! Power crisis! While Labour constantly attacks the morality and character of the government. Broken promises! Key is blaming his new tax on a fruit-fly! National is kicking hard-working whanau!

Voters get that the opposition parties don’t like the government. But they also don’t give a shit because as far as they can tell the government are governing things pretty well. Why would they change?

May 22, 2015

Thoughts on budget 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 5:12 am
  • There’s a Herald summary here.
  • I’ve been saying for a while that ‘neoliberalism’ – ie a belief in the efficacy of free markets, the distortionary evil of taxes and benefits and the minimalisation of the state – is dead. There are still a few adherents drifting around the fringes of politics that truly believe, but this budget seems like a good time to mark that in National the doctrine is obsolete. National believes in massive intervention in the economy, mostly in favor of their political donors but also in response to signals from their polling and market research, and English has raised or introduced so many taxes I’ve lost count. I don’t know what we’re supposed to call this mode of government, exactly, but it ain’t ‘neoliberal’.
  • So, on one hand the opposition can put this budget down as a victory. They’ve made a big deal about the housing crisis and child poverty, and the government’s main policy changes have been the introduction of a capital gains tax and an increase in benefits to beneficiaries with families. Forcing your enemies to adopt your rhetoric and policies is a huge win.
  • On the other hand, the opposition looked like clueless losers yesterday. What kind of left-wing politician opposes the gutting of the KiwiSaver kickstarter – pretty much the definition of middle-class welfare – to tackle child poverty?
  • And I hate that Labour’s bought into National’s rhetoric about the cosmic importance of getting back to surplus. I get that they see it as a chance to damage Key and English on their economic credibility – but it totally buys into National’s framing of government as a small business where the critical thing is to balance the books. We just saw an election in the UK in which Labour became deficit hawks, because they thought the public would like it, and they still got utterly slaughtered.
  • And Little’s speech was just awful. ‘Gene Simmons’? ‘Fiscal gender reassignment’? Why did he think it was a good idea to reference a source of internal division within his own party? What a mess.
  • The kids on the social media like to use the phrase ‘hot take’ to describe commentary that is hysterical and uninformed, and that’s what we got from the opposition parties yesterday, gouging their own eyes out with horror at a budget filled with ideas they’ve been demanding for years. Ridiculous.

May 18, 2015

Progress

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 8:40 am

Louis XIVths Finance Minister once said, ‘the art of taxation consists in so plucking the goose as to obtain the largest possible amount of feathers with the smallest possible amount of hissing.’

What strikes me about the government’s new tax – which is totally not a capital gains tax – is that (a) it will probably not deliver any feathers, because property speculators can just defer their sales to avoid the tax, but (b) there is now a ‘brightline’ tax on capital gains instead of a huge nebulous loophole, and this is a big deal on a psychological and political level. It means that subsequent governments – or maybe even this one – can incrementally increase the two year limit out to five years, ten years, then no limit, and New Zealand will have a realised capital gains tax on secondary property.

Yes, the way it came about is absurd. Labour campaigned on a Capital Gains Tax. National opposed it. More than opposed – they tore Labour apart over it. So Labour abandoned it and now National’s introduced a dummy one. Someone else will give it teeth. But it will, eventually, mean our tax system is a little bit fairer.

May 11, 2015

Elections in the anglo-sphere

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 11:24 am
Tags:

There’s loads of analysis about on the outcome of the election in the UK; most of it is focused on Labour. What went wrong? Did they choose the wrong Miliband brother? Should they return to Blairism? And so on.

Seems to me that one of Labour’s biggest problems – both here and in the UK – is that they’re faced with an opponent that is (a) better resourced than them and (b) uses those resources to make themselves far, far better at politics than their left-wing opponents.

Just after his election victory David Cameron announced that the UK was ‘on the brink of something special’. Key has been promising New Zealand we’re on ‘The cusp of something special’. The messaging is consistently similar. The Conservative Party’s strategy in the UK election was pretty much the same as National’s strategy last year. It’s because they have the same strategic advisers of course – the infamous Crosby/Textor, who are also very active in Australian Federal and state elections.

Which gives their clients a huge advantage. Not only can they deliver data and market-research driven advice, they can trial-run lines and strategies across multiple separate-but-similar electorates, hone the techniques and sell successful ideas on to their other clients – who are all right-wing parties that want to see each other succeed.

Often when something goes wrong for John Key and the media goes ballistic, Key will often ‘talk past’ the media and deliver lines directly to the voters. And it always works. He gets to do that because of a huge wealth of empirical data about how voters react to different issues, gleaned from years of study across these multiple electorates.

Labour and the other opposition parties in these other electorates can’t do that. And it shows. They’re forced to experiment, releasing policies or taking positions on issues on a trial basis. Will the public like it? Do they respond? And if the media reaction is critical then they reverse position. They’re playing a complex game in which they know the desired outcome, but not the actual rules, against opponents who know the rulebook back-to-front as well as all the loopholes.

There are other structural factors at work, of course. But the triumph of empirically based political strategy and messaging is a very big deal that’s getting missed alongside all the chatter about Labour ‘moving to the left, or the center’ etc.

May 3, 2015

Bobbleheads

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 7:03 am

Fran O’Sullivan writes:

Bill English is a no-nonsense and well-grounded politician. He has built a strong reputation for prudent fiscal management since he became Finance Minister

I don’t think English’s failure to reach surplus means much, because the goal was always just a meaningless PR gimmick. But imagine what O’Sullivan would say about a Labour Finance Minister who borrowed $100 billion dollars, ran seven deficits in a row and failed to achieve their primary economic ambition after running an election campaign around it. She’d be on the streets throwing molotov cocktails at riot police, trying to save the nation from the lunatic wrecking the economy, not openly fantasising about them becoming Prime Minister.

Meanwhile, Matthew Hooton, David Farrar, and whatever National Party spin-doctor wrote Rodney Hide’s HoS column this week have convinced themselves – or, at least, are trying to convince everyone else – that National’s humiliating defeat in the Northland by-election was a disaster for . . . the Labour Party. The logic here is that the two polls subsequent to the election have Labour down, slightly, and Winston Peters is just below Andrew Little as preferred Prime Minister. Northland was a tactical victory, Farrar explains, but a strategic failure.

I still think the big tactical and strategic failure here is the National government giving up its parliamentary majority only a few months into its term by losing one of the safest seats in the country. Spectacular failure, in the face of which Labour’s dip in the polls two-and-a-half years out from an election is as meaningless as, well, English’s budget surplus. We saw this stuff from Hooton, Farrar et al during the Goff and Shearer leaderships. Next it’ll be ‘Trading on iPredict shows a coup is underway in Labour!’

I don’t think Labour minds Peters’ current ascendancy. Their thinking is (I think) that Labour needs to win votes off National, but that those swing voters are very wary of the Greens without whom Labour can’t form a government. So a robust New Zealand First as a potential coalition partner might be good for Labour.

Update: Matthew Hooton is bewildered by my scepticism. Isn’t Little’s blunder really obvious? Wouldn’t it have been smarter of him to tour Northland in a big red bus getting great exposure talking about poverty and economic development?

The answer is no. If Little spent the Northland by-election campaigning in an electorate he wasn’t standing in and split the vote handing the seat back to National, every commentator in the country – including Hooton and David Farrar – would have called him a moron. And if the polls dipped afterwards, for whatever reason – economic data, statistical noise – then there would be very loud questions about his leadership in the aftermath of such a catrastrophic blunder, instead of a bunch of National Party activists making trouble.

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