Why Labour are also fuck-ups

So, seeing I’ve been strongly critical of national on women’s rights, let’s do a retrospective of similar areas where Labour fucked up on identity politics, political freedom and non-discrimination. I have the feeling this is going to make me temporarily popular with certain other Greens who share with me a deep distrust of Labour, and of course I’m sure the National Partisans will laugh it up at both what I believe and the fact that I’m absolutely going to town on Labour. Don’t worry, you’re still in the targets, too. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  • Pay Equity (for women): They essentially started the investigation into pay equity in the public service to make the problem go away until next term. Except that was stupid: Labour ran a healthy surplus for most of its terms in government, an ideal time to implement the increase in public sector wages that would be the simplest way to address direct pay equity issues. Not only that, but they knew they had a pretty good chance at being ousted coming up to their third bid for re-election, so if pay equity is as important as they’re implying, they should have put it on their list to fast-track before the election. Overall their reluctance to act on an issue even the most anti-feminist of women would appreciate in some sense has been inexcusable, and it made their criticism on this issue pretty hollow.
  • Seabed and Foreshore: Confiscating these was a disaster. Even if you accept they needed to be nationalised in some form rather than being claimed in settlement, the government should have at least let Maori have their day in court first and compensated Maori with something else in settlements if they did have a good claim. And even if nationalisation of some sort did go ahead, the seabed and foreshore should have been placed into the public domain (where everybody effectively owns it and has usage rights) rather than vested to the crown. (where we all just have to trust no government decides to do something incredibly dumb with it) Overall a fuck-up of massive proportions even if you didn’t want any seabed and foreshore claims going ahead. Not only that, but reversing this thing is part of the reason National doesn’t have to rely on the Greens to pass anything that Act don’t want to- both in the sense of the existence of the Maori Party, and in the sense of their willingness to form a coalition with National.
  • Marriage is still straight-only: And labour defended it as straight-only. I don’t see why we didn’t go whole-hog on this, civil unions lead that way eventually, and giving space to idiots like Gordon Copeland and Brian Tamaki only encourages them. Make them steam it out.
  • The bill of rights is still only paid lip service: The most ridiculous of bills are found consistent with the bill of rights that even a budding civil rights activist could see are not. If we’re going to maintain the idea that the bill of rights should limit the power of Parliament, let’s actually have at it. For one, we should be having judicial overrulings of implied restrictions of straight marriages for transwomen and transmen, and gay marriage. For another, Three Strikes should be disallowed if it passes. Labour made no move to tighten up our constitution here, and they deserve some of the blame for not doing enough every time National and its most extreme coalition partner rub it in their face with legislation with terrible civil liberties connotations.
  • No checks on Parliament’s power: As the academic and social elite of New Zealand, (as opposed to the financial and social elite, who they sit opposite to) Labour seems to think that Parliament knows best, and even the biggest partisan reformists are reluctant to act quickly and decisively on any constitutional reform. The lack of any meaningful review of laws leads to low-quality legislation as there is no disincentive to sloppy drafting, and only select committees save us from elected dictatorships as it is. More oversight of Parliament is necessary, and I don’t just mean opening the books to OIA requests. Unfortunately, the phrase “constutional reform” sets off monarchists even if it’s unrelated to a Republic, and Labour didn’t have the guts.
  • The EFA: While unlike many from the Right and Centre I don’t think law touched free speech with a ten-foot pole, and I supported the general motivations behind it, there were three big problems with this law.
    • Was not radical or tough enough: If Parliament was going to get tough on electoral laws, they should have gone whole-hog. Instead we have anonymous donations below a thousand dollars in a world where donating anything to a political party is an extraordinary act of partisanship for most. Donations through filter trusts may still evade pubic scrutiny of their real sources, and the loopholes in the EFA are generally still big enough to run a train through.
    • Poor drafting and implementation: Before I get to the political part, this law should probably have set every-year all-year caps at a more sensible rate on both party and issue campaigning. Beyond that, Labour left notification laws a muddle, and the procedure for dealing with them a farce, with even the minister responsible for the law being caught out on her opinions of what did or did not breach it very frequently.
    • Parliament should not regulate politics: If Labour had wanted to do this the proper way, rather than leave the Greens to negotiate a Citizen’s Jury into elecoral finance, they should have put all the relevant laws in the hands of a truly independent body with a similar structure and lobbied like any other interest group. That approach would have probably been a publicity boost, and if it left them with less cash in hand, it would be likely that experts would attempt to be equally hard on National’s large donors to equalise the playing field.
  • Gay adoption and provisions for other non-heteronormative families: This merited visiting in at least some manner after civil unions were passed.
  • Their list: While claiming to be a left party and generally supporting freedoms and championing the underprivileged, Labour betrays the strains of elitism that run through its more powerful tiers by retaining strict central control of their party list. One of the big, and legitimate, criticisms of MMP is that list candidates can be chosen entirely by backroom meeting in most parties. Righting it is as simple as adopting a postal ballot for your list and using it to encourage members to join. Labour should have joined the Greens in this long ago.
  • Prisons: Not only is Labour a staunch supporter of incubating more criminals with a policy of systematic over-incarceration and a justice policy based on vengeance rather than restoration of our community, but this is about the most likely aspect of their policy to get dramatically worse under Phil Goff.
  • Cannot really be called centre-left: Centre-left would imply that there are significant aspects of leftism remaining within the caucus and among senior party members. Labour has been a centre party and a staunch supporter of the flawed attempt at free-market capitalism that trade liberals have unleashed on the world since before MMP, and is remaining one after it. Only their focus on reducing unemployment and their staunch social liberals make them a positive force in parliament. (although that’s a pretty big “only”)
  • Environmentally kleptocratic: Despite their big promises of cleaning up New Zealand and moving towards sustainability, Labour put much more effort towards economic development and paid bare lip service to minimising global warming with their softball ETS that was hardly worth supporting.

Now, keep in mind that this is a very complete list in its strongest and most general form. Largely speaking, I think Labour is the third-best Party in Parliament and actually does more good than harm. I think that its policies for the middle class, its Keynesian streak, its financial (if not economic) management of the country, and its tax system are all very good “second bests”. Most of the MPs individually are good people who I have a lot of commonality with politically, they just have enough specifics wrong to drive me half-insane watching them failing so close to getting it right. Presumably even a pretty good government would generate a list at least have as long, and I think this last government has to be admitted as having managed okay on a fair amonut of issues by most of its critics.

But I have deep reservations on the current direction of the Labour Party, its priorities, its conduct, and its trustworthiness, and would not vote for it under any system where I had an ability to really choose another party. Labour has lost its hang of defending civil liberties, privacies, and its social liberals are mired beneath the free trade academics who think they can get a good deal for the country’s working class through imaginary infinite growth. It’s not gonna happen Labour, and you need to stop thinking that anything but a physically static economy can be branded with the word “sustainable”.mong

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There is no depression in New Zealand

We all know the refrain right? There is no such thing as mental illness. People just need to “harden up” and get through it, right? Pychs are just there to scam the weak-willed for money, like some sort of pokies for the headcases.

Bullshit. As someone who is finally starting to recover from long-term social anxiety, trying to “harden up” and tough your way through a recovery just causes you to panic and think you can’t do it at all, which quickly leads you into making your problem worse by trying to deal with it through avoiding it. Not just that, but there are real physical symptoms1 from mental illness that can be pretty mystifying if you try to treat them without addressing the mental problems behind them. (My sleeping has got much better, for instance, since I started re-learning how to relax my muscles) One way to battle a mental illness is that you challenge its premises by slowly putting yourrself into the situations that challenge you- not going all-out at once, but just building up slowly so you can function.

This opinion often cloaks itself behind other objections: “We try to cure everything with antidepressants” being a notable one. Firstly, I should point out that any half-decent GP will realise that antidepressants are there to help break you out of feedback loops, not to make you feel better about the hole you’re in. ๐Ÿ˜‰ You can’t make yourself feel better by getting a job or doing well at study if you’re too depressed to even show up, for instance. This is what real medical professionals use anti-depressants for, and why a GP will generally try to get someone they prescribe this sort of treatment to into therapy of some sort. The reason that the use of antidepressants for medicating mental disorders is so common is that practically every mental disorder is based upon a feedback loop. Violent people cause others to threaten them by being prepared for that threat in the first place. Shy or nervous people isolate themselves because they’re too afraid to socialise. Depressive people lose engagement and motivation and can’t face the things they need to do to get them back, because those very actions require a degree of motivation and engagement. Starting off on an anti-depressant during some sort of therapy gives people the boost they need to break the cycle- no good doctor just hands someone pills and hopes they go away.

What’s even worse is that this reinforces social problems in our society. Because violent people think they’re naturally violent rather than that they’ve lost control of their own subconscious, a lot of preventable domestic violence happens precisely because of the attitude that mental illness doesn’t exist. Rape victims have what they need for recovery questioned and are treated like attention-seekers because they can’t just “harden up” their way out of post-traumatic stress. All sorts of people from the GLBTQI rainbow can suffer social exclusion syndrome that makes them think they’re a lot more different than they actually are due to the pressure put on them to conform to straight norms. I won’t claim to familiar with the sorts of mental disorders that can arise from racism, but as poverty tends to make it harder to access effective treatment and discourage wanting to further, racial poverty among New Zealand minorities is surely a factor here.

Hopefully recent public education has dented this one a bit, but it still surprises me just how many of these harmful beliefs my subconscious had swallowed despite totally contradicting what I believed. Fortunately, when you live in a world where mental illness is real, you can understand that sometimes the conscious and subconscious work at odds with each other.

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Shorter Karl Du Fresne

So, I made the mistake after returning from town today of opening the newspaper, and was within minutes of getting to the B section of the Dominion Post assaulted with the misogyny and rape-apology of a piece from Karl Du Fresne, which fortunately for those of you who haven’t read it, is not online.

Here’s the “Shorter Karl Du Fresne”, or for those unfamiliar with internet memes, a one sentence summary of his article: “ACC is a welfare agency because it offers counselling to rape survivors.”

Firstly, I am going to assume that Karl is neither a rape survivor himself, nor has he consulted any in the construction of his article, given that he shows all the sensitivity of a rampaging rhinoceros. I was going to stay off the ACC “controversy” on G.Blog (and definitely here) because it’s being covered enough by pan-left blogs, but this forces my hand right here, political hot potato or not. (As this blog is intentionally non-partisan I promise not to touch the wider political issues of whether ACC is viable as-is ๐Ÿ™‚ )

Firstly and foremost: Rape victims are victims by accident. Nobody asks to be raped1, nobody entices someone to rape them, and nobody deserves to be raped because their rapist or someone trying to excuse their rape thinks the victim2 is a tease. There is a definite theme in Karl’s piece that people (he specifies women- although we should keep in mind that it’s possible for men, especially very young men, to be raped) who don’t press charges are not really victims or survivors of rape, and that nobody is to blame for what might have happened to them because they aren’t willing to have the matter brought to court. There is a very good reason why most rape cases are never even reported, and those that are rarely result in convictions: People like Karl try to shift the blame from (alleged) rapists to rape victims, and wield the word “alleged” like a proclamation of innocence. I have some news for the Karl and anyone out there who think that rape is not a real workplace injury unless a trial has taken place: Innocent until proven guilty is a system we use to prevent the state holding a kangaroo court, not a denial that victims can ever exist without laying charges.

Furthermore, even if, as Karl implies, there are women out there who are trying to dupe the system… well, firstly, they would need that counselling anyway, and secondly, any decent counsellor is pretty good at identifying attention-seeking behaviour and differentiating it from other psychological problems. If someone really is using rape as an excuse, then they have a personality problem that needs to be dealt with before they can be taken seriously by their employer.

Between this and the issue that rape trauma can be debilitating and seriously turn around lives for the worse, ACC’s no-fault system is actually a great way to fund recovery and return to regular life and work for victims who want to become survivors and learn how to deal with the work environment again, and is well within its mandate of insurance for high-impact incidents, whether in our working lives or private lives. Karl’s note at the end of his tirade against this much-needed help is that:

Interestingly enough, an Auckland survey of women being counselled for sexual abuse found that 30 per cent had undergone 100 or more ACC-funded sessions of therapy. Despite that, many expressed disappointment that they were not getting enough.

Instead of perhaps taking from this that rape can induce real and sometimes debilitating long-term trauma, with many survivors having their memories of the event “triggered” by even tangential reminders let alone direct discussion of rape in general, Karl seems to want to imply that this is a waste of money that the state should not be paying for.

I disagree: when the state is an active participant in combating rape and rape-apology, and men raping women becomes as rare as women raping men, then maybe- maybe we can start labelling the cost of supporting rape survivors as “welfare”, at least in the sense of improving the welfare of our society. But when we as a society stand by and let this sort of thing happen, obstruct bringing the perpetrators to justice, glorify objectification and the suggestion of rape in our culture, and don’t even know that partner rape is a bigger threat than street rape, then we are certainly dealing with the occupational cost for women and other rape victims of working or even just living in our rape-friendly society, where women are still viewed by some as property that should not be taken from its proper place.

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Disempowering the victim

Rosemary McLeod has a largely wonderful article about chequebook justice. It’s nice to see her say within this article that she is willing to accept that a woman would not want to go up against international rugby players during a rape trial, and is the closest thing I’ve seen to reason on this whole debate thus far.

But her qualified objection that she thinks it’s unfair to deny the rugby players their chance to a fair trial is ludicrous and soured the rest of the article for me. The important thing to remember is that no trial on this matter would be fair. Despite being big fans of huge drinkups, controlling their tempers incredibly poorly, and being celebrities in an enormous position of power over their fans, can anyone name me one rugby player that has been successfully convicted of rape in New Zealand? Especially a rugby player at international level who has the support of their teammates and sports organisations? I’ll be interested to hear if so.

The fact of the matter is that sports are about the only area in New Zealand where the male gender card trumps all. In such an environment, a teenager accusing a wealthy individual with the support of wealthy organisations to a trial heavily effected by the price of your lawyer and the view that sportsmen can do no harm is most definitely not a fair trial. No trial at all is much better than that, especially given some of the tactics that have pervaded the media: such as anonymous “witnesses”, slut-shaming, and the equally ludicrous claim that this was some sort of sabotage cooked up by NZ rugby to discredit the english team.

The Herald continues the disempowerment of victims with another mixed-bag story. While I am really, really pleased to see that not even a news source with such a blatant conservative bias as the Herald can no longer ignore or excuse domestic violence after our heated ยง59 debate, this article is still noticeably a Herald story with all of the implicit sexism and insensitivity to the victim this implies. Like most of the stories I’ve seen about the abuse of Kristin Dunne-Powell, the story focuses far too much on what’s going to happen to Veitch, and only spares a paragraph for what his victim suffered. It focuses on how the police could lay charges, despite the fact that the victim seems to have no desire for her day in court. It does get credit for coming out relatively strongly against him though, and for stating that hush-money is not uncommon in these cases. Why is it that the Herald can sometimes manage to come so close to balanced coverage only to fall juuust short?

The Subtle Erosion of Mount St. Helens

So, if you follow politics like I do, you probably know all about this whole Crosby Textor thing. (Original on stuff)

While I’m sure I could go on at length about the damage this sort of campaigning does to the political dialogue, (which is oh-so-precious) what I really want to talk about here is the subtle erosion of Helen Clark’s political position and achievements.

Every once in a while you come across something so insidiously harmful, but so marvelously brazen that you have to sit back to yourself and think: “Holy fuck! What a magnificent bastard1.” And Mark Textor, who is largely behind National’s talking points with regards to Helen Clark, is surely among the most magnificent of bastards. Here’s the relevant quote:

Much of the effort went into attacking Clark. An April 2005 Crosby/Textor report described how the focus group questions probed for latent negative “hesitations or concerns” about her. “Regardless of your overall view of Helen Clark,” the moderator asked, “what would you acknowledge are her weaknesses at the moment, even if they are slight or begrudging weaknesses?” The report’s “strategic opportunities” section concluded that the research revealed “an emerging perception that Helen Clark is too busy with `minorities’ and `other people’ to worry about the concerns and the pressures on `working families’.” They developed a “mantra” about an arrogant and out-of-touch prime minister. “It must be stressed that this sentiment is embryonic and must be consistently demonstrated and leveraged if it is to be effective,” Textor wrote. “These perceptions will not exist and mature on their own.”

C/T took embryonic- perhaps even zygotic- gripes formerly restricted to core National supporters about perceptions of Helen Clark and has used them to define public sentiment against both her and Labour. There’s no doubt we have not seen this sort of professional spindoctoring in New Zealand before. Textor managed to turn a leader who was largely respected as strong, disciplined, principled, and intelligent… and frame her as elitist, cold, arrogant, and out of touch. And they did it through two very simple tactics: Repeatedly attacking her for arrogance and elitism, and letting the core supporters reinforce that by dogwhistling sexism into it, which only reinforces poor impressions from strong women. The most impressive thing about it was that nobody noticed it until it was already too late to turn it around. Yowch.

And of course, now they’re called on their performance, we end up with the accusations being deflected back at Labour and the Greens, despite squeaky clean campaigns completely open about their influence and with no spin doctoring.

1Just FYI, this still works if the person responsible is a woman. Yay! My only distaste is with the implicit discrimination based on marital status… apparently I can only juggle so many fights at once.

Sidetrack: EFA paralells in America

I know, I know right? Two sidetracks in a week. I’m getting bad at this. But this one is really important. It highlights why laws like the EFA are necessary.

Despite believing passionately in free speech rights, I’m a staunch supporter of the electoral finance act, which includes limits on the amount spent on advertising by political parties, and more importantly, limits the amount of parallel campaigning, (where say, rogue members of the exclusive brethren will launch attacks on another political party so that National doesn’t have to) whether positive or negative, that any third party groups can do during the election season. Some people see this as a contradiction. I don’t.

The really important part of this law is that it prevents third parties from spending very large amounts of money to attack or back a particular political party outside of the usual spending limits, thus effectively opening up a loophole and making the election less of a competition of beliefs and policies, and more of a matter of buying your way into power with as much advertising as possible.

National, the party that benefited from this sort of parallel campaigning last election, is calling the Electoral Finance Act an assault on free speech. Apparently, National don’t understand what free speech is. Free Speech is most fundamentally the right to air your political views without punishment, threats, or detainment by the government. We also understand it as the right not to be prevented from presenting those views in public. However, the type of speech being limited (not banned) is not political views. It is electioneering. Under the electoral finance act, you are perfectly welcome to say “we at the Business Roundtable think it is important that the government collect as little tax as possible”. You just can’t say “So vote for the National Party”, or even “so don’t vote for the Labour Party”1. Given that those sorts of statements have no explicit political message in them, I think there’s little reason to protect them in the first place.

Interestingly, the Obama campaign has just made a very similar move in the USA. In the US, Presidential candidates are able to sign up for federal funding of their campaigns on the understanding that they will abide by federal spending limits. Not only has Obama’s opponent, John McCain, already broken the law by exceeding those limits for his primary campaign, but he is also very likely to benefit from nominally independent groups that will run attack advertising on Obama using money raised by the Republican Party.

So, Obama knows that he can make a lot more money than the federal funding will allow him to spend, even though he supports that funding system. He knows that playing within the rules just gives McCain the advantage, especially as he’s demonstrated that he’s prepared to break them outright, and not just bend them as the Republicans usually do. So Obama has opted out of the public financing scheme, saying that it needs to be improved so that it’s not vulnerable to exactly the sort of parallel campaigning that laws like the EFA prevent.

Typically, McCain is following a similar line to National’s attacks on this matter- he’s portraying it as a cynical attempt to have more campaign finance available. And while it’s true in both cases- Obama’s pullout and Labour’s support of the EFA- that there is some self-interest involved, the public still gets to benefit from a far more level playing field come the election, which is something we can all agree is worthwhile.

1Edited to add: Well, you can’t say that without being subject to spending limits, registration as an official third party, submitting a known and inhabited residential address for verification, and a bunch of other things that basically just ensure you’re a real person/organisation and that you’re okay with not trying to saturate the country with advertising, but rather just want to show a small amount of support for your favoured Party or candidate. Even electioneering is technically protected like normal free speech, it’s just that you can’t spend too much money on it. You are however welcome to doorknock, attend debates, etc… which has the effect of making a good campaign involve really getting to know the voters a lot more personally than before. That can only be a good thing for the country as a whole.

All discrimination was not created equal

An interesting talking point that’s floating on the internet right now is that making general statements about rich white men is discrimination and shouldn’t be supported. Obviously this is someone’s first barbeque.

While I certainly agree that these sorts of characterisations are mild discrimination, I actually don’t agree that discrimination is always a terrible thing no matter who it faces. To be sure, I feel discrimination is always a last resort, because of itself it sucks, but there’s a very big difference between the disadvantaged facing discrimination that keeps them down, and the heavily advantaged getting the occasional taste of being the Other when they wander into less “mainstream” territory.

We should also note that it’s largely misbehaviour that is being made fun of, and not men. There is a certain insinuation that rich people are all immoral in this type of social commentary, which I do take issue with, but you’ll note that it’s pretty restricted to “big business” especially in the example I gave, where there is a lot less colateral damage. I have yet to meet a rich person I could call immoral, however some certainly don’t pay enough attention to their own backyards, morally speaking. However, there are certainly big businesses that I can easily identify as being immoral.

Part of the reason I feel that we should continue to have social commentary like this is that I feel we can keep it in check when it goes too far- which we’ve certainly had to do in the past for minorities. The other reason is that it takes real, righteous anger to elicit social change- the groups who want change are never a powerful, self-aware majority. (otherwise why would they need to agitate for it?) They need to gather allies, guilt their opponents, and dictate the moral agenda. Even then it’s unlikely that change will be significant or fast. The politcal machine is more like a freight train than an aircraft- it has a lot of policies to carry, and so it takes some time to accelerate out of the station.

While I certainly wish we didn’t need angry women/Maori/queers/disabled/whatever to make social progress, people who stand in the way are legitimate targets, even on unrelated matters. Politics is not a nice environment, and given that those of us agitating for change have been demonised our fair share, it screams of inconsistency to turn around from gentle acceptance of discrimination to condemnation as soon as it starts affecting your own demographic.

When we see a bit more universal commitment to equal rights and nondiscrimination, maybe we can revisit this topic. But not until then.