Midterm Myopia

The midterm elections is all anyone is talking about in American Politics. In NZ you may be missing it, which is a good thing I assure you. I consume a titanic amount of American political news and analysis, because, well, I need activity. And there is always a lot of noise coming out of ‘Murica, and it is like white noise, it helps me sleep.

The 2018 midterm election is on November 6, and on that day the entire House of Representatives gets elected, a third of the Senate, and hundreds of state and local officials. Big change is opportune, and for the Democrats the odds are in their favor. Unless they choke. And that is what most analysis is focused on. How big will the Democrat wave be, and will it flounder? I thought I would cut through the noise and give it to you in simple terms.

The stakes. These pointy things just get sharper by the minute and threaten to impale the world through its arse. Jair Bolonaro just got elected as President of Brazil, and he promised to further open up the Amazon rain-forest to big-business. So if Trump’s rancid environmental policies continue unchecked coupled with the end of the Amazon, we can kiss the blue sky away. And welcome yet more violent storms. That should be reason enough to send American’s to the polls, but unfortunately in some cases they are too lazy, and others they are inhibited by state restrictions. It is strange in NZ where it is illegal to not be enrolled to vote, or Australia where failure to cast a ballot incurs a fine, but in the USA state governments try to stop people from voting.

Donald Trump won’t be impeached whatever the result. Impeachments are incredibly difficult to win. Removal from office must be voted for by two thirds of the Senate, and if the Democrats take the Senate they will only win it by two or three seats. Impeachment is a non-starter, but obfuscation of Trump’s agenda is possible. That too means something. Tax cuts for the rich become impossible. Health Care cannot be removed. Social Security won’t be gutted. Hearings on anything from Russian meddling, to Trump’s business dealings can be held.

On the state level, this election is critical. State governments control the redistricting that determines the boundaries of Congressional districts after a census. The next census is scheduled for 2020. The last was 2010, and the Republican governors ensured that the districts were drawn in such a way as to favor republican incumbents. The practice is called gerrymandering. The Democrats might have a chance to undo the damage caused in 2010, damage that means you need far more votes to elect Democrats on a federal level than you do to elect Republicans. See the video below to find out more about gerrymandering.

The election also gives us the opportunity to be rid of Ted Cruz. He is neck and neck with Betto O’Rourke, a Democrat who hasn’t shied away from his left-wing positions in order to get elected. This is an election in Texas, so the fact that Cruz isn’t ten points up is remarkable.

Texas Democratic Convention, Fort Worth, USA - 22 Jun 2018
Betto O’Rourke

Let us prepare for the worse. Let us prepare for the bloated face of smug Donald Trump taking a victory lap. This isn’t 2016. There will be no post-election depression. Either there is victory, or we move on to the next contest. I will follow it all so you don’t have to.

Weapons Expo 2018

Today hundreds of peaceful protesters are facing down the blunt force of the state which is protecting a secretive meeting of defense contractors in Palmerston North.

We are holding the line for peace. We are holding the line for principle. War machinery is not needed in the South Pacific where there is no war to fight. Guns create instability. Having them increases the risk of them being fired. We stand with the United Nations which prioritizes world peace over the trade of arms.

No more Jack Sparrow!

The last blood has been repayed, and $4 billion has gone into the dead man’s chest, and Captain Jack Sparrow has been killed off. This happened about three movies too late, his death in the jaws of the Kraken in Dead Man’s Chest being the perfect end to the character.

Alas, Johnny Depp had private islands to buy and ex wives to pay off. Both requiring the mega paycheck wrought by a blockbuster franchise. Even with it’s waning popularity the series was still commercially successful on a tremendous scale, and Jack Sparrow remained a fun character. Depp’s well publicized visits to children’s hospitals in costume showed the power of that swagger. And it looked like he really did have a lot of fun playing the role. The final shoot in Australia may have been the exception, the controversy over Depp illegally bringing his dogs on a private jet and having them deported by unsympathetic authorities.

My objection to Jack Sparrow is based more on the awful writing of the later films than on Depp’s performance, which in the first two films was excellent. But woeful scripts subsequently meant that he had to carry the films at the expense of character development and the reliance on gimmicks. I will always see Jack Sparrow as the farsighted wit sailing into port atop the mast of his sinking cutter. And, as the smiling and slightly sodden figure at the end of The Curse of the Black Pearl at last at the helm of his ship looking into a bright horizon.

I hope, pray and beseech the producers of the series not to reboot Captain Jack in their new incarnation of Pirates. Maybe no new character will strike gold in quite the way he did, but it is worth trying. I for one have seen enough of origin stories with young actors playing knockoffs of classic characters. Captain Kirk, Han Solo, the endless Spider Men, the entire X-Men cast, and so on. Give new actors something fresh! Let them wow us or not entirely on their own.

But, as long as the writing sucks, the characters will suck too. There is no excuse for it, it’s not like the studio lacks the resources to fund a good writing team. Perhaps change the historic time to the Spanish-US war of the 19th century, which created the imperial dominance the US has had over the American hemisphere ever since. Just a thought. We could see the start of steam powered ships with iron plated hulls and contrast that with what we have seen before, instead of a romantic picture of a lawless time full of conquest, death, and slavery.

Holding the Strings

The Coalition Government is a year old and it’s combined support is greater than the former government ever had. 57% according to the latest One News poll. Oh I know, the nats want us to see only the comparison between them and Labour, which is narrower (43% to 45%), but it is not correct to do so. This ain’t no minority government, and its support must be taken as a whole.

So, as long as Winston Peters is around, NZ First holds the balance of power. But when will the septuagenarian quit? Not this term, and I think he is likely to stick around for the next one to. This is NZ, we have short three year terms, and Peters shows no signs of incapacity. Further, he has the charismatic Shane Jones behind him, who has the profile and ability to succeed as a future leader of NZ First.

I would dare to predict that this will be the final Government that Winston Peters is a part of. There is so much bad blood between him and National, and far more policy crossover with the Labour Party centrists. Populism holds this Government together. Jacinda and Winston are populists, as was John Key, and to an extent Helen Clark. She was a special hybrid. Simon Bridges is not a populist, nor was Bill English. Elections do tend to reward popularity. So keep Simon in his place to ensure that National gets comfortable in opposition.

Collins coming back. Again

Judith Collins seems to be ever on the rebound. Her leadership, rather like David Cunliffe five years ago, has become inevitable. In fact, there is no other credible reason for her to still be in Parliament. She was a senior minister in the last government, at various times holding the Justice, Police, Corrections, Ethnic Affairs and Revenue portfolios. Where else is there for her to go other than the top? Or, if that is out of the question, she has plenty of opportunities in the private sector. Law firms would love to have her as a senior partner, and she has numerous business interests to capitalize on.

How long will she wait? Well, since Simon Bridges has half a dozen nails in his coffin already, the political calculus is on her side. So what does that mean for the public?

Crime. Crusher Collins has a reputation for being demonic on empowering the police and shelving human rights. I would expect that she would build more prisons, lengthen sentences, streamline the courts, and make punishments for youth offenders more severe. She has a special interest in improving the family court, and presumably would do more there. Police may well be allowed to carry firearms and the resulting spike in gun violence would give her an excuse to get ever more draconian.

Economics. She follows National Party orthodoxy so we could expect more of the Key/English policies with larger tax cuts. So a tad more corruption.

On Health and Social Policy one can reasonably presume that the liberalization of trans healthcare in terms of access to affirmation surgery would be reversed. The usual National practice of putting an emphasis on elective surgery and under-funding of DHBs would figure too.

Not a happy picture, unless you are old, white, rich, cisgender, and straight. Judith Collins is all those things, and that her leadership would be self-serving that it seems too obvious to have to say. But the extent of media scrutiny on Collins is to describe her as polarizing. That doesn’t tell you very much. She may be a more effective version of Don Brash, but then again that is small comfort. He got very close to victory in 2005, only the Helen Clark effect held him off. Would the Jacinda effect be enough to beat Collins. The thought needs careful pondering.

No-one wanted the bed-sheets lifted

The last week has been entertaining. As an opponent of the former National-led Government, it has been cathartic to engage in a bit of schadenfreude, to see Simon Bridges brought so low after being so smug when Labour was tearing itself apart in opposition. But, as has become clear, Bridges is the sort of coward who goes for the genitals when he is on the floor.

Jamie-Lee Ross is experiencing a local #metoo backlash, but instead of it being for the sake of the women he has abused, it is a political hit to protect Simon Bridges. The opposition benches are a sewer, and for the personal lives of at least four (Bridges has suggested up to fifteen) women to be opened up to save his own skin is remarkably nauseating.

Going after the sex-lives of MPs is a risky strategy for the leader of a party with a disproportionate amount of debauchery under the sheets. It may cause his caucus to be united behind him through fear, which may plug the leaks in the short term, but is a risky strategy. Jim Bolger dealt with this with a large scotch and a clap on the back, John Key found an innocuous excuse to fire ministers and let them recover in private. Simon Bridges has shown that he is willing to deal with dissent with the scorching heat of the public spotlight. Jamie-Lee Ross is currently burning like a vampire in daylight.

Stupid op-eds hold that there needs to be greater standards in parliament. Some claim that term limits could be a help. But it is obvious to me that the private lives of people always diminish people when they are made public. That is why the tactic is so odious. Jamie-Lee Ross is now being counseled by Simon Lusk and Cameron Slater, the dealers in filth made famous by Dirty Politics by Nicky Hager. So he dirt flinging may be far from over.

Now independent MP Jamie-Lee Ross, who could get tens of thousands of dollars more if he decides to start his own party with himself as leader, will be a thorn in the side of Simon Bridges and the National Party until the next election. Ah, the schadenfreude is delicious.

Giving up and struggling on

For almost an entire semester I tried to study law. With one week to go I just walked away. Its a shame, but I made the right choice. If I was going to do law seriously I should have done so ten years ago.

So, that’s done with. My best regards to the poor bastards still with their noses in dry books; eyes encircled with Shadow. I hope they maintain their scepticism and imagination. The path they have chosen is hard and they are vulnerable to being captured by the vast and rather conservative legal system.

However, this isn’t a rant on the law. I am turning back my website with fresh eyes and a little more purpose. Changes to the Status Quo cannot be advocated for in silence, or without ruffling a few feathers. There is a storm coming, and that is the attention of those who have not hitherto realised their voice.

The winter is done for, and the spring of agitation begins.

Solidarity forever.

Steven’s great fall

Atop the wall he sat until today when the former “fixit” man in the National Party caucus failed in his leadership jump and smashed on the floor of parliament. No-one can fix him, and no-one wants to. In bitterness the egg-head, dick-head of National is too hard boiled to endure opposition. Or is it soft-boiled? I don’t care.

The greatest moment of this fragile career, and Joyce’s undeniable legacy was taking a dildo in the face at Waitangi. I repost the gif for your pleasure.

All the best Steve, it’s hard to hate someone who takes a sex toy so well.

The end of Bill

He resigned. And retired. Such is the nature of MMP that as a list MP he will be replaced by the next person on the National Party List. No by-election to worry about.

It’s not like the writing wasn’t on the wall since October last year when he realized he’d lost the election by winning it. Of course, a plurality ain’t a majority, and 44 seats is not enough to govern.

Since then Bill English has had plenty of time to think, and so has his restful caucus. The media reported that it wasn’t a question of if he would go, but when. Journalist Jane Bowron wrote a piece recently saying that he would go, but not yet. He said, “hold my beer,” and quit today.

Not surprising that this was coming, and it looked imminent judging by the omens on his twitter feed:

Two dinosaurs, and a knife wielding Amy Adams to boot.


Road to nowhere. Directionless. Nowhere to run too.

So, the one time PM who has been in parliament for my entire lifetime has bowed out. It is not for me to eulogise him, I’ll leave that to the Hooton’s and Hosking’s. This is definitely the right time to go, opposition is no fun when you are up against a pregnant PM who can do no wrong. Besides, the Prime Ministerial pension plus whatever salary comes with the certain board position will be a nice distraction for the chap who once put spaghetti on a pizza.

Burden of Proof

In the United States, over 90% of all criminal cases are settled by plea bargain. That is, the defendant agrees to plea guilty to a lesser charge with possibly more favourable sentencing before the case goes to trial. This practice means that the evidence in the case is never tested. That the constitutional right to a trial by a jury of one’s peers is not exerted, and the presumption of innocence is perfunctory at best.

Plea bargaining in its widespread form is a perversion of justice. It implies that guilt or innocence is negotiable, and many minority defendants innocent of crimes nevertheless plead guilty because they see no chance of defending themselves against the leviathan of the state justice system.

In New Zealand

In NZ, there are no statistics collected of plea bargaining. However, there is evidence that the practice is even more widespread. In 2016, district courts concluded 135,003 cases, but only 2,407 were jury trials. 98.2% of the cases are not put to the test. Without statistics of plea bargains actually being collected I am hesitant to put complete faith in my simple calculation, but can confidently estimate that more than 90% of criminal cases are disposed of without jury trials.

Driving this trend is the harsh cuts to Crown prosecution budgets by the former National-led government. In the past Crown solicitors were paid per-day, and it was argued that this incentivised them to extend trials as long as possible. They are now bulk funded, and in 2012/2013 the overall budget was cut by 25%. Thus, cases are prosecuted as fast as possible, and full trials avoided if at all possible.

It is argued that a more efficient system is better because justice is dispensed more promptly. This is against a background of criticism that the system needs to be more victim focussed. I argue that the former is incorrect because of the purpose of the court system being to ascertain proof of guilt, and this precludes efficiency. Thoroughness is by definition time-consuming. The latter point about being more victim focussed is a logical fallacy. The crime is focussed on the victim. The court system is and should be focussed on the alleged perpetrator. Blurring this distinction harms both victims and perpetrators by denying both what they really need. The victim needs support, and the perpetrator needs their guilt proven.

Also, during the years of inappropriate reform there has been an exponential rise in the prison population, leading to overcrowding and poor management of inmates. The prison system is in a state in which it cannot transform into something more humane because it is under constant strain. Effort is instead put into expanding prisons. Corrections and Justice go hand in hand, so reforms to one effect the other.

What to do?

The prison population in NZ is disproportionately high by international standards, and therefore a constraint in the number of convictions, and more sentencing options not involving incarceration could be a start. It would certainly be within the ability of Parliament to affect such reforms through legislation. But that would not be enough. Nor would reversing the previous government reforms be enough.

A complete and seismic shift is necessary. If the public were of its own accord to form a body to design a better system without reference to the status quo, and then force the government to enact it, a revolutionary step would have been achieved without bloodshed or loss of order. A public body of this kind would be superior to parliament in democratic legitimacy, and would lay a framework for further constitutional reform. Anyway, this is the only way to achieve real change. It must come from the bottom, not the top.