Sunday, June 29, 2014

The anatomy of a headline…

Since John Key's book has come out along with high poll numbers and the National Party Conference, we have seen a series of adulated headlines about John Key. I guess if things are going so well, why should it be otherwise. 

But then this morning I came cross this headline: 

Election between far left and centre-right, says PM

Read the story below that headline. Could you imagine the headline if three retiring Labour MPs boycotted David Cunliffe? (Do you feel like you have no idea what I'm talking about? Read the story.) I also highly doubt anyone will ever see a headline that ever talks about the far right. ACT and Conservatives – what are they? Undoubtedly the false dichotomy created by the terms ‘left’ and ‘right’ works really well for politicians and for selling papers. But it’s never that easy.

As one keeps reading the story, one finds that it is entirely about National’s election strategy with one quote from Steven Joyce about how the question should be different if the answer is "Laila Harre, Hone Harawira, Pam Corkery, Kim Dotcom, Russel Norman, Metiria Turei, David Cunliffe, Matt McCarten and John Minto". Once again, neither Joyce nor Key has to justify why they can get away with running the “far left” vs. “centre right” dichotomy. They don’t have to because the Herald does not require a policy justification for the statements made by Joyce and Key. Whatever Key says is the truth. Just like when John Key said he had heard "rumours" about Liu donations to Labour – it was reported as if it was a fact. (Clearly the PM has never ever said anything misleading in the public sphere)

I myself worked in Labour for some time. There were many policies and many speeches I did not agree with. The broad left and the broad right have to find a party that they can live with voting for when they go to the polls. I myself have never had the same two ticks in all of the elections that I voted in (since 2005). National understands that this. They understand that this election is not about Labour and National. They understand the meaning of 61 seats under MMP. And when one looks at that, the conclusions are no longer simple and easy. The MMP landscape is hugely complicated but it is easier for our nation’s newspapers to run headlines like “National could govern alone” because that sounds better than “National will probably have to govern with ACT, United Future, Maori Party and maybe will still need the Conservatives to get them over the line.”

Yesterday I tweeted the cartoon below (by Chris Slane) that has been retweeted many times. I think it’s time we start asking what “far left” really is and how that translates in terms of policy. Because if the difference between  the centre right and far left is 18 weeks vs. 26 weeks of paid parental leave, maybe we should all sit down, have a cuppa and decide what this election really is about.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

The top 10 #nzpol tweets this week - June 26, 2014

The last week has been chock full of political events and so twitter was buzzing. Prime Minister John Key finished up his visit in Washington DC (*ahem* NSA),  Labour list was announced, we found out that the NZ Herald and John Key are far worse than gossiping girls from the Upper Eastside, a Labour MP used the phrase "boys will be boys" in response to a stabbing at a school, John Key's biography came out - also courtesy of a Herald journalist, and we found out more about the details of Shane Jones appointment, which looks even dodgier than the appointment of Susan Devoy (athlete) as Race Relations Commissioner, Dr. Jackie Blue (National MP) as EEO Commissioner, Dr. Wayne Mapp (National Minister) at the Law Commission, Ian Fletcher (John Key's mate) at the GCSB - to name a few.

But I managed to have great conversations on Twitter about hashtags - specifically related to the upcoming New Zealand election with folks from many sides of the 'aisle' and had a near twitter fight with National/Greens supporter Ben Rachinger on the last Labour govt. We ended on a good note though. A reminder that 140 character is up for all sorts of interpretation and political colours are often more than just red and blue. 

But enough chit-chat, here are the top tweets in #nzpol from this week! 

On Labour's list, which attempts to close the gap between men and women politicians. had an horrendously sexist headline and front page and used scare quotes to talk about Labour's talented list (because, women) but we got through it without invoking 'man ban' too many times.  

Speaker David Carter's #nzqt performance continues to be shockingly bad. He desperately needs remedial lessons with Lockwood. 

I thought we had put Colin Craig behind us after last week but then this photo emerged. TVNZ Journo Heather duPlessisAllan makes a very important point. Please make it stop. 

We are starting to see more photos being shared on Twitter as it has become more photo-friendly (recently also gif-friendly). @nintendoug continues to provide us with great book covers. He even has a Tumblr page. But this little graphic was gold! 

The NZ Herald's handling of the Donghua Liu "donations" has been shockingly bad. Or is it really that shocking? There was the 'statement vs. affidavit' mistake, the reporting of John Key's "rumours" as facts, the 'confirmation' of donation to a rowing club, the inability to distinguish between an office party and donation... the list goes on. Twitter people can be so funny. Like this: 

Wait what? I must know more about this: 

Ha ha ha.

This should not be surprising. Kiwiblog and David Farrar are not neutral observers. I don't know why people think that. 

And finally, John Key's book. This made me laugh so hard. (If you haven't read Harry Potter, I have judgmental feelings towards you.)

10 Rules of Top 10
1. Tweets must be funny or thoughtful or informative or display critical analysis 
2. What is funny or thoughtful or informative or display critical analysis is subjective and determined by me.
3. I may provide commentary on the tweet if it particularly strikes my fancy
4. They are not ranked from 1-10
5. Disclosure: I *am* particularly looking to highlight gender and racial minority voices
6. If you want to point me to the direction of a good tweet, please do it!
7. Using the #nzpol/#nzqt/#nzvotes is helpful but not required
8. I hope to get better about this as the weeks progress
9. I am a big fan of correct spelling and grammar (but I know mistakes happen too!)
10. Let's try to use social media for good and raise the level of debate! 

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

On Labour's tax policy...

Labour has proposed increasing the top tax rate from 33% to 36% on income over $150,000/year. We all know that the National Govt. increased the GST to spread the tax burden disproportionately on those on low incomes. This policy will put the tax burden on those who earn a wage, albeit a relatively high wage. However, we all know that the real wealth is held by those whose earnings don’t come in the form of a fortnightly paycheck. We do not have a Capital Gains Tax (CGT) in this country which means those in the top most tier of the top bracket probably pay a much lower “effective tax rate”. But this post is not about CGT.

Yesterday, I had a look at the US tax tables out of interest and their top tax rate is 39.6%, which is higher than what I had expected. However, as I was having this discussion with my fellow policy peers, we all admitted that that is not the effective tax rate for a lot of people and those who are in the highest brackets often end up paying much less in taxes than those who are on a lower bracket.

Ideologically, the neoliberal argument is that those on the top tax brackets are “hard working” and “job creators”. In reality, people who work in low wage jobs are some of the hardest working people in our society. That obviously goes without saying. They usually work in jobs that require more physical exertion, longer hours, irregular hours and on top of that get paid some of the lowest wages. Not everyone has the opportunity to get an education to enable them to get the kind of “cushy jobs” with the high pay and shorter hours. It also goes without saying that we will always need a stream of workers to do the kind of jobs that are low skilled and extremely physically demanding.

So what should the top tax rate be? There is no right answer to that. What I do know is that for it to be effective it has to be relative to the bottom tax rate. It has to be relative to all the other taxes and payments that are around. For example – ACC levies we pay, student loans that are being paid back, GST, CGT (if there was CGT) etc. Talking about the top tax rate or the corporate tax rate independently of everything else does not get us anywhere.

Should it be at $150,000? According to Treasury figures, 83% of income taxpayers in New Zealand earned $70,000 or less. Only 2% of income taxpayers in New Zealand earn more than $150,000. We are clearly not a high wage economy. My hourly wage as an intern right now works out to be far more than what I earned in New Zealand as a fulltime working professional with 3 tertiary degrees. But people don’t live in New Zealand for the money. I certainly have every plan to come back knowing that I would most likely take a pay cut if and when I do. But I will be cognizant of its healthcare system, of the ACC scheme, of the lifestyle, of the culture, of the politics and everything else that makes up the sum total of a good life. In order for me and other Kiwis to have that good life – the interest free student loan or student allowance to pursue higher education, the beautiful outdoors maintained by DoC, the culture that looks after the vulnerable: be it our elderly or our children or those who cannot work, the lifestyle that would allow me to take time off work if I had kids, the healthcare system that would allow me to get free hospital treatment if I got into a car crash - that lifestyle costs money. If that means, I have to pay a slightly higher amount of taxes, I think I would find that the benefits far exceed the amount of taxes I would pay.

On a final slightly unrelated note, if you are in fact a job creator and your business plan does not support the tax rate set by the government and an acceptable wage rate for your employees, you need to work on your business plan.

[Disclosure: I have taken advantage of every one of those things I have mentioned above. I have gone camping in the Abel Tasman National Park and to the pristine Northland Beaches, I have been on the unemployment benefit when I was out of work, I have been in a serious car crash and got free hospital treatment instead of being in healthcare debt, I have run long distance races and then injured myself and then gotten low cost physio treatment, I have had a great education that has enabled me to be where I am today because of the student loan/allowance scheme. I am a happy, healthy, productive Kiwi because of the services that the Government provided.]

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The best thing that happened this week in #nzpol

Fairfax did a story on Colin Craig and posted this photo with the story.

This prompted twitter user @nintendo to proceed to make these book covers.

And then we had this conversation.
And then we got this.

And this.

And for the rest the week - THIS. A comprehensive compilation of what went down in New Zealand media re politics via @nintendo. Have a great weekend everyone. 

Top 10 #nzpol tweets this week - June 19, 2014

House was finally this week after a recess period so Twitter was slightly more active and of course there were some interesting news such as that infamous Cunliffe letter and John Key's trip to the United States.

Before we get started, my weekend TL completely overtaken by the Fairfax photo of Colin Craig which spurred Twitter user @nintendoug to do a whole bunch of Mills and Boon-esque book covers. You should check out his work on Twitter which has now expanded. I couldn't pick the best one. All of them are great. 

Ok on to the best Tweets this week: 

This is a good form of citizen engagement. I remember when the GCSB bills were going through, I think it was David Cunliffe who said we should CC John Key into all our emails because he is so hell-bent on invading our privacy. I liked that idea.

Ha ha ha. I think this is a good way to use social media. They know their audience and they are up with what the audience is up with.

  Yes I want to see that too!

I can't decide if this makes her totally badass or crazy! 

Lots of Twitter commentary on the near extinction of Maui's dolphins. Pretty sad...

As a millennial, who feels incredibly old, I feel like I am forever waiting for my chance to bring about positive change. I do feel often that young people like myself (if you can call me that) are waiting and then we get frustrated so we give up.   

10 Rules of Top 10
1. Tweets must be funny or thoughtful or informative or display critical analysis 
2. What is funny or thoughtful or informative or display critical analysis is subjective and determined by me.
3. I may provide commentary on the tweet if it particularly strikes my fancy
4. They are not ranked from 1-10
5. Disclosure: I *am* particularly looking to highlight gender and racial minority voices
6. If you want to point me to the direction of a good tweet, please do it!
7. Using the #nzpol/#nzqt/#nzvotes is helpful but not required
8. I hope to get better about this as the weeks progress
9. I am a big fan of correct spelling and grammar (but I know mistakes happen too!)
10. Let's try to use social media for good and raise the level of debate! 

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Recommended reading: A bloggish edition (June 18 2014)

This week I'd like to draw your attention to some blogposts. 
  1. The Green Party launched its abortion policy ahead of the election in New Zealand which made me wonder about what getting an abortion really is like in New Zealand. I have received a small number of correspondence and it's been eye opening even for a staunchly pro-choice person like myself. The Abortion Law Reform Association of New Zealand directed me to their post on the mandatory nature of ultrasounds which has a compilation of other articles on the topic of abortion in general. Well worth having a look. 
  2. And staying with the abortion topic, Public Address looks at Conservative Leader Colin Craig's position on abortion
  3. Commercial media's obsession with creating hype for profit. This is in the context of a developing New Zealand political scandal but the commentary is universal. 
  4. The Century Foundation - one of the oldest liberal thinktanks in America has a blog and this post looks at universal pre-K (what we in NZ would call ECE) as a way to disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline that is the American reality. Lots of really interesting facts. 
  5. And staying with the topic of children, over at Pundit, the Children's Commissioner's call to increase welfare with a focus on our children

Friday, June 13, 2014

Countdown to Election 2014 – What is real?

NZ Herald made some assessments of the political parties in the landscape in the lead up to the election this year. Hilariously ACT gets higher points than Internet-Mana Party. I realize that people have very strong feelings about the Internet-Mana deal and I’m not going to re-litigate those positions but I struggle to see how ACT deservers a 6 out of 10. Herald states their “flat tax” policy as if it could be real thing. It’s couldn’t be. Flat tax is not a real economic policy. Anyone who entertains such ridiculous notions needs to go back to school and learn how economics actually operates in real life. No, they need to go back and learn basic arithmetic. 

National is apparently riding high on polling over 50% and the left is fragmented. This is also not real. National has just as much of a “stitch up” government as would a center left one. Both of its support party Ministers have had to resign at various times with Banks having to resign from Parliament all together because of a criminal conviction! While I realize that there are no contentious bills that National is technically relying on, that doesn’t mean that it didn’t technically rely on Banks’ vote all this time. A person with a criminal conviction surely lacks integrity deserving of serving as a representation in the Parliament. Surely that is real. 

Apparently the National-Conservative deal is not real. However, remember, John Key waited pretty late in the game to have his little tea party with Banks during the 2011 election. I wouldn’t be ruling anything out – Joyce must be furiously doing the numbers and Fairfax's Hamish Rutherford paints a scenario of how that would work. I honestly don’t see the appeal of Colin Craig though, even trying to look at it from a conservative point of view – I don’t see what he has to offer. Family values? His views are so incredibly outdated and archaic that even those who agree with him must see which way the tide is turning. I just can't believe that he is real. 

The Greens score a very high score in the eyes of the Herald. No doubt they relish pitting them against Labour knowing that in a Labour-Greens coalition, Labour will have far more governing power. However, to give credit where credit is due, the Greens have not made any knee-jerk comments on immigration and their willingness to tackle climate change with a tax policy makes them a party of integrity because climate change is real. A real threat. 

Labour have so far made some fairly strong policy announcements but they are also competing heavily with Greens and other smaller parties for "attention". And apart from Greens, the attention isn't necessarily policy focused. Where National can get away with a few well positioned photos of John Key, Labour needs much more than "good policy ideas" in a media landscape where Parliamentarians are being convicted of electoral fraud and small parties are banding together to make optimum use of 'holes' in the electoral law. That is political reality. And on that note, my final thought is if a political party were to be a product and constituents the consumers, what would be Labour's brand? Those who fall broadly in the left and those who do not necessarily want to vote for National have no choice but to rely on Labour for leadership. That is real.  

Top 10 #nzpol Tweets of June so far

During the Fall and Spring semester of the US academic school year I did a project with a group of people from my program on the use of social media by congressional committees. Last weekend we presented our findings at the Library of Congress in Washington DC to Congressional Research Service, who commissioned the research. Perhaps that will be another post but that's the reason why I haven't blogged for a while. So as I was catching up on NZPOL, I noticed a lot of tweets on John Banks and some of them were pretty hilarious but I don't want all of the tweets to be taken over by Banks. So here are the top 10 #nzpol tweets in the month of June so far

One thing about the whole ACT Party/John Banks saga is the fact that there "zero tolerance" policy on crime does not seem to apply to them. I love this tweet because it sums up the hypocrisy beautifully. 

And, John Key has managed to once again come back unscathed from this debacle despite the fact that this is largely on him. That time when he refused to read the Police report can be best described as irresponsible. 


Another big story was the Civilian Party broadcasting funding. Perhaps I will do a whole blog on it because there is much to say on that... 

Colin Craig as part of the New Zealand political landscape actually makes zero sense to me. I'm not ruling out a National deal with him yet but why on earth they would do something like that is beyond me. 

Given what has happened in the last 10 or so days in NZPOL, one could be forgiven for not knowing what the actual issues really are. The above two tweets sums it up nicely. There are things in our lives that are impeding our ability to lead full lives and the Government does have the power and ability to address them. 

Some things to note about this tweet:
1. The Nats continue to do a good job on capitalizing on John Key's popularity with the public. 
2. However, most of us won't get to vote for John, unless we live in Helensville. Most of us will have to vote for the National Party or the candidate for the party in our electorate. 
3. The Nats are also making good use of that photographer they hired to take official John Key photos like the White House photographer does for Barack Obama. See the last tweet as a good example.

10 Rules of Top 10
1. Tweets must be funny or thoughtful or informative or display critical analysis 
2. What is funny or thoughtful or informative or display critical analysis is subjective and determined by me.
3. I may provide commentary on the tweet if it particularly strikes my fancy
4. They are not ranked from 1-10
5. Disclosure: I *am* particularly looking to highlight gender and racial minority voices
6. If you want to point me to the direction of a good tweet, please do it!
7. Using the #nzpol/#nzqt/#nzvotes is helpful but not required
8. I hope to get better about this as the weeks progress
9. I am a big fan of correct spelling and grammar (but I know mistakes happen too!)
10. Let's try to use social media for good and raise the level of debate!  

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Coat-tailing brings out List-MP resentments

There has been a lot written about the morality of the IP-Mana deal in the mainstream media and in the blogosphere. Generally speaking, I do not have the same reaction to ‘coat-tailing’ like Patrick Gower and here’s why. Because I do not like the 5% threshold. It is unrepresentative and while I understand why larger parties do not want Parliament to be overcrowded by a large number of 1 man parties, I still think that it limits our voting choices to 3 or 4 parties. But Parliament seems to have a hierarchy of MPs where electorate MPs have a higher status than list MPs and ‘coat-tailing’ reinforces that unfair view. Labour has reiterated their commitment to abolishing the coat-tailing provisions. IP-Mana deal seems to also have brought out the ‘list MP’ resentment and people’s tendency to revert to a nostalgic view of the FPP system.

One may argue that electorate MPs have more constituent work, which is a valid argument but I think list MPs represent constituents who are not confined to a geographic area that is often ignored. I have needed help in the past and I went to a list MP rather than my electorate MP because they represented my issue. I also find the superiority complex of electorate MPs slightly off-putting. Representing someone because they happen to be in a confined geographical area is somewhat ridiculous in a country like New Zealand. Local issues are far more likely to be represented and also better represented by local government. I feel that the whole time I have voted, I have been personally better served by MPs who are not my local MP. I would rather vote for a party that embodies my values, a party that can then be in a governing position to enact policies that reflect my values than an MP whose hands are generally tied by the party anyway.

I do not think the vote for the electorate MP is a purer vote than my party vote. It is the party vote that determines how many MPs parties have in Parliament anyway. As a person who has voted “strategically” in the past by not giving two ticks to the same party, I would like political parties to be “strategic” too. I would like parties to understand that coalition leads to better ideas, more compromise and better representation. Electorate seats are still won by winning the most votes in a given electorate. Not the majority of the votes, the most amount of votes. In reality, there’s only a handful of hotly contested seats in New Zealand so a win from a geographic area hardly constitutes an extraordinary feat for most electorate MPs.

I always tell myself, there is no person or party that can represent yourself as well as you can. But if we must choose someone or some party to represent us, it has to be as close to us as possible. And in no way is a party or an electorate MP ever going to be that (and rightly so because every voting person is different). When I vote for a party or person, I’m cognizant that they will do things that I do not agree with. Political parties also have to learn to make those compromises.

I was once told that 70% of legislation in the NZ Parliament pass with the support of National and Labour (don’t quote me on that statistic). Over the time I worked there, it certainly seemed to be the case. Many Government bills were supported by the Labour Party. Does anyone really think that Labour just decided to support bills without conversation with their Ministerial counterparts? There may not be formal agreements but agreements generally are sought often, options are discussed, compromises (changes) are made in select committee and behind the scenes, and then bills become law. However, where major parties disagree on substantive issues, minor parties have the ability to have a much greater influence. They almost act as a check on the two major parties. Minor parties are constitutionally significance under MMP in a way that I believe ensures more robust policy making in this country.

The reality of the current situation is that following the MMP review, the National Government made the choice to not make changes to the system. It could be argued that it was for their own self-interest. Maybe. The IP-Mana deal is not “grubby”; political parties have two choices - ensuring representation through electorate MPs or through the 5% threshold. IP-Mana have made a choice. They did so well before the election. They made their intentions extremely clear down to the length of time the deal is valid for. What did the National Party do? They organized a faux tea party and ran weak candidates to try to game the system.

No doubt the Te Tai Tokerau election will be a hotly contested election. Kelvin Davis has promised to fight it as is his prerogative. I’m a huge fan of his priorities especially his commitment to Te Reo. I also have a lot of respect for Hone Harawira for the way he stood up to the Māori Party and the way he stands up for Māori. An argument could be made that he is doing the same thing the Māori Party did. I’m going to wait to see what policy compromises he makes (should he back in Parliament) before I make that judgment.

The Left and particularly Labour needs to be mindful of MMP. In 2011, Kevin Hague, the Green Party candidate for West Coast Tasman, voted for Damien O’Connor. Tactical voting like that could have potentially knocked out Peter Dunne whose 1 vote got us the GCSB legislation and the asset sales legislation. Is that gaming the system? Is that on par with Gerrymandering in America? If we were to make a judgment call as to the impact on democracy, what is worse? I don’t have the answers to these question but if I were a centre right or centre left voter I would be more worried about the overall direction of the country and the long term effects of policies. I would be worried that we will never be able to reverse certain destructive policies of both major parties because they have such a huge monopoly on the electoral system. List MPs make our system more democratic, so I am less worried about the fact that the IP-Mana deal could actually make sure more people’s votes count in the next election instead of being wasted because of the 5% threshold.