Another Spectrum

Personal ramblings and rants of a somewhat twisted mind


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Lessons from the Disunited States — Bill Peddie’s website

This thoughtful post by a Christian and fellow Kiwi reflect, I believe, the thinking of most reasonable people, not only in Aotearoa New Zealand but throughout much of the world.

The excruciating four year unfolding circus on the US political scene makes the New Zealand political scene seem very tame in comparison. Unfortunately, for good or ill, we are bound to the leading Western powers by historical ties of trade and defence. The mixed blessing of Vietnam and Iraq should still be relatively fresh in […]

Lessons from the Disunited States by Bill Peddie — Bill Peddie’s website


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The wife and Trump

At 2 PM today, local time, the wife sat down in front of her computer, put on her headphones and watched the live streaming of the Trump/Biden debate. Meanwhile I attempted to perform a variety of tasks on my computer – some business, some leisure.

I got little done.

What the wife lacks in stature, she makes up in volume. She may only be 147 cm (4’10”) tall but there’s no crowd on earth that can drown her out – even the roar of 50,000 Rugby fans at Eden Park witnessing the All Blacks scoring a winning try.

Every few seconds, the air would be disturbed (literally) by “AH, SHUT UP!“, “” “STUPID!“, “LIAR!“, “バカ!“, “YEAH YEAH!“, “THAT’S RIGHT!“, “嘘つき!” and quite a few unrepeatable phrases.

My gentle suggestion that she watch the debate on the TV at the other end of the house so that I would be less affected by her outbursts resulted in a few of the aforementioned phrases being directed at myself. I resigned to having an unproductive afternoon.

I suppose I could have mowed the lawns instead, but somehow being outside and knowing that what I hear above the lawnmower can also be heard by the neighbours is more uncomfortable than sharing the same space with her. Perhaps it’s that when I’m inside, whether or not the neighbours can hear her is hypothetical, whereas when I’m outside, it’s bloody obvious.

Four years ago, the wife’s relationship with Trump was one of disinterest. But over the intervening period, it’s grown in intensity. You could almost say she’s obsessed by him. She’ll spend an hour or more every day on Youtube watching clips of Trump or about Trump.

So what does the wife like about Trump? Absolutely nothing. She loathes the guy with passion. As to why, I can only say that having known her for fifty years, she never does anything by halves. It’s 120% effort or nothing. Trump qualifies for the former and then more.

Personally, I hope Trump loses the election and fades into oblivion – for my sanity as much as for the sanity of America. But I have a nagging fear that whether or not Trump loses the election, we will not have seen the last of him.


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Election outcome

If you haven’t already seen the preliminary results of the general election, the Labour Party (the senior partner in the previous 3-party government coalition) has won an outright victory, meaning they are able to form a government on their own. This is the first occasion over the last nine election cycles that a political party has been in this position.

To me, that is what is most disturbing about the election results – that one party can govern alone. One of the strengths (although some may call it a weakness) of the MMP voting system is that it’s rare for a single political party to gain an absolute majority within the legislature – in NZ’s case the Parliament.

Since the introduction of MMP either of the major political political parties (National or Labour) have had to negotiate support agreements with one or more minor parties in order to form a government.

After the 2017 general election, although National held the largest number of seats (56), it was unable to negotiate a coalition, whereas Labour (with only 46 seats) succeeded in negotiating separate agreements with each of NZ First (9 seats) and the Greens (8 seats) giving them a working government majority of six seats.

I’m hoping that the new government does include at least one minor party, even though it’s not necessary to govern. Jacinda Ardern has indicated that she wants the new government to be inclusive, and one way of ensuring minority voices are heard is to include them in the corridors of power.

As an aside, Aotearoa New Zealand continues to increase the diversity of its legislature. Both Labour and the Greens have more women than men in their caucuses. Both National and Labour have women leaders, while the Greens and the Māori Party each have a male and female co-leader. According to one political analyst, 10% of the new Parliament will now be from the LGBT+ community. And as in the previous Parliament, Māori will have a higher proportional representation in Parliament than they do in the general population. Unfortunately, neurodiversity is not only under represented, it’s not represented at all. I’d like to see this change during my lifetime, but I’m not holding out strong hopes.

I am thankful that American style politics has not won over the more empathetic and conciliatory style seen here. At what is perhaps a a oblique barb at the US elections, Jacinda had this to say:

We are living in an increasingly polarised world. A place where more and more people have lost the ability to see one another’s point of view. I hope [at] this election, that New Zealand has shown, that this is not who we are – that as a nation we can listen, and we can debate. Afterall we are too small to lose sight of other people’s’ perspectives. Elections aren’t always great at bringing people together, but they also don’t need to tear one another apart.


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Done it!

The wife and I visited a nearby voting place to cast our votes in the General election and referendum. In and out in less than five minutes. I really feel for those in other jurisdictions (and America immediately comes to mind at this time) where the ability to vote is frustrated by gerrymandering, partisanship and regulations making the voting process difficult for those who are not of the “correct” political persuasion.

Advance voting is available in the fortnight before Election Day. However, at previous elections the wife and I have always left it to Election Day to cast our votes (by law it must be on a Saturday). Even though the nation is in COVID-19 alert level one (no restrictions domestically, but international borders closed to non-residents), we decided it was prudent to visit a voting place mid-week when there’s likely to be no or minimal queueing.

When we arrived, there was just one other person in the “queue”, and as it turned out, he wasn’t on the electoral roll. It took about a minute to determine he was eligible to enroll and was directed to the appropriate desk to register. As the wife and I had remembered to bring our EasyVote cards with us, it was a 15 second procedure to confirm we were on the roll and we were handed our voting papers.

This evening, three major TV networks carried an article on the difficulty that voters in Texas, USA were experiencing. Apparently there’s only one voting drop-off facility per county for absentee voting, which seems totally ridiculous. The county referred to in the news item has a population of 4.7 million – almost the entire population of Aotearoa New Zealand. I assume an absentee vote is similar to what we refer to as a special vote, which can be done at every voting place.

During the early voting period there’s around one voting place per 2,500 eligible voters, while on Election Day there’s one per 1,300 eligible voters. The result is zero or minimal queues, unlike those regularly depicted in news items of American voters queuing for hours. I wonder what the ratio of voting places to electors is in the various US states?

I don’t know how common it is to have to wait in line for five or more hours, but the frequency at which it’s depicted on our TV screens would indicate it’s not uncommon. What does seem alarming is that this seems more common in states and counties where Republicans are in control. Has partisanship in the US caused the democratic process to sink to this level?

If America was ever a model of democracy worthy of emulation (which I seriously doubt), it most certainly no longer is. It does help explain why Aotearoa New Zealand is listed in the Democracy Index as one of only twenty-two nations having full democracy, while the United States is listed as one of fifty-three nations having a flawed democracy.

It’s understandable that the American elections take up almost as much news time as our own elections due the the influence America has on world affairs. But I wonder whether the fact that this nation is ranked first on the Corruption Perceptions Index while the US is ranked twenty-third (behind Uruguay and the United Arab Emirates) affects the slant given to American politics and politicians by our news services.

It’s almost a given that humorous scorn pertaining to Trump will find its way into the evening news most days of the week, and while we can laugh at the situation knowing it couldn’t happen here as our system doesn’t give so much power to one person, I wonder how many of us cringe knowing conspiracists and science deniers have a growing number of followers even in Aotearoa New Zealand.


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Day three of fifteen

Our general Elections are to be “officially” held on Saturday, 17th of October. Vote counting will commence after polling places close at 7:00 PM that day. However it has now become standard for voters to be able to vote early. We have been able to cast our vote since Saturday, hence, today being Monday, is day three of the the 15 day period during which we can cast our vote(s).

Although we have nowhere near the voter turnout that Australia has (voting is compulsory there), participation rates of 75% or greater are the norm here. And this year with greater promotion and availability of early voting, it’s likely that the turnout this year will be up on the 2017 elections.

One anomaly that early voting has revealed is the regulation that bans political advertising of any sort on polling day. This necessitates the removing of billboards, party banners etc before midnight on the day before polling day. Considering that voting now extends over two weeks and it’s expected that around 60% of all votes will be cast before polling day, either all political advertising needs to be banned for the entire time the polls are open or the advertising ban needs to be done away with entirely. But banning advertising on only the final day of polling is ludicrous in my view.

On a lighter note, here’s a (highly selective) comparison of last week’s leaders’ debates in NZ and the US. Apart from the obvious gender differences, our political leaders think more highly of each other than do American leaders.

A contrast of styles


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The perils of a New Zealand Border Force — Will New Zealand Be Right?

Keeping the coronavirus out of Aotearoa New Zealand is fraught with difficulties, the most significant perhaps being that it requires the cooperation of multiple agencies. I’m glad I’m not the only person who regards the setting up of a Border Security Force as a potential source of abuse and tyranny.

Whilst the current multi-agency arrangement involving Customs, Health, Police and Military has revealed many flaws from managing security to testing for COVID-19, these are being acknowledged and corrected as they come to light. This is uncharted territory, and if anyone believes that a plan of action can be brought from the drawing board to fruition in record time taking into account every possibility with every permutation already considered and planned for, then they are living in cloud cuckooland.

Would a Border Security Force result in appalling forms of abuse as can be witnessed in countries such as Australia and the United States? I would hope not, but I’d prefer that the opportunity does not arise. Better to resource the existing agencies adequately and create a management task force dedicated to coordinating the agencies and quickly respond to issues as they arise.

If there are legal barriers to setting up such a task force in any future national emergency, then sure, bring in legislation that will allow it ensuring that transparent oversight is included. But having a permanent independent force with little in the way of transparent oversight on the American or Australian model with all their reported abuses? No thanks!

With a general election coming up in less than two months, several political parties are promoting a Border Security Force, but this does not appear to be on the radar for the governing Labour party at the moment. However, they are just as subject to public pressure as other parties, so I want to put my position now in the hope that I’m just one of many voices opposing the formation of a Border Security force.

On this matter I can do no better than reblog Robert Glennie’s post on Will New Zealand Be Right?

Normally I am quite tough on matters of national security, and I am, but the concept of a New Zealand border agency fills me with dread. One does not have to look far to see in other countries why it is controversial. And the last a government agency with enormous control was created in New […]

The perils of a New Zealand Border Force — Will New Zealand Be Right?


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“Say I Slew Them Not” Genocide, Crimes Against Humanity, and the U.S. Response to COVID19 — The Inglorius Padre Steve’s World

If you haven’t read the article (below) by Padre Steve, do so. It has relevance to every nation, every community, every social group. This quote from one of the commenters on that blog ring true:

The quote by Martin Luther King comes to me often these days: “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

jilldennison

Friends of Padre Steve’s World, I have to admit that the amount of ignorance in the defense of evil that I see daily is simply mind blowing. It makes me shake my head. But then I cannot be surprised anymore. Over the weekend I saw a poll in which nine percent of Americans said that […]

“Say I Slew Them Not” Genocide, Crimes Against Humanity, and the U.S. Response to COVID19 — The Inglorius Padre Steve’s World


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Will COVID-19 harm our democracy?

The question posed in this blog’s title refers to Aotearoa New Zealand, and no other country. America, has an orange clown who all by himself is harming that nation’s democracy more than the virus can. Putin has already sunk Russia’s fledgling democracy, and Boris is trying to do a Trump impersonation, but is hamstrung by the collective decision making process inherent in a parliamentary democracy.

Here in Aotearoa New Zealand, it’s the government’s success in squashing the virus that makes me a little uneasy. It has made Jacinda and the Labour Party too popular based on recent polls. We have our triennial General Election in September, and if voting is anywhere near recent opinion polls, Labour will romp home with an clear, outright majority. And that’s the problem.

What I like about our MMP voting system is that since its introduction in 1996 no political party has been able to govern alone. This may not seem all that important to many today, but as one who lived through decades of governments that in many respects acted as three-year dictatorships, I’m grateful that no party can steamroll whatever legislation it likes through Parliament.

Perhaps the worst part of FPP voting is that it almost invariably leads to a two-party system, and if as in Aotearoa New Zealand, you have a unicameral legislature, the majority party has almost unbridled power and that was the case until the introduction of MMP.

Given that the NZ Parliament is sovereign and we don’t have a formal constitution, it is perhaps surprising that this nation has the highest levels of economic and personal of freedom and lowest levels of corruption worldwide. Perhaps it says something about our politicians, or about respecting social and parliamentary conventions?

Two conventions that have arisen from MMP ensure that a single political party does not hold sway over Parliament. One is that political parties do not form coalition arrangements before an election. The other is that coalitions are very loose allowing the coalition partners to pursue their own policies apart from those specified in the coalition agreement.

A case in point is the current government formed after a coalition agreement between the New Zealand Labour Party and the New Zealand First Party. Together they form a minority government, and to ensure stability on matters of confidence and supply, the Labour Party entered into a confidence and supply agreement with the Green Party.

So, getting back to my concern:

Prior to COVID-19, opinion polls placed both the two major political parties, National and Labour, each with a little over 40% support, although national was usually slightly ahead. I’m comfortable with that although the slow decline in support for minor parties as a concern.

However, the success of the government’s handling of the pandemic, which at its height had an approval rating of 87%, has seen opinion polls reporting those who intend to vote Labour soaring well above 60% while National have slumped to the low 30s, with one poll showing only 28%. That, I don’t like.

Just as alarming is that Labour’s popularity has resulted in support for minor parties dropping away. The outcome is that there are likely to be fewer political parties in Parliament after the elections given that a party must gain at 5% of party vote or gain an electorate (voting district) seat to be represented in Parliament.

While governments need to be able to govern, they also need to be subject to effective scrutiny. They also need to be inclusive – to listen to minority voices. One way of guaranteeing this is to ensure that no political party has absolute control over the legislature. One method is to have a bicameral or multicameral legislature, although my observation of such arrangements is that scrutiny often disintegrates into filibustering and political point scoring.

Here, the parties that make up the government are free to disagree in all policies apart from those specified in coalition or support agreements. Given that Labour’s partners are a centrist nationalist party and a socialist environmental party that have about as much in common as chalk and cheese, it often requires a lot of negotiation and compromise all round for bills presented to Parliament to be passed.

As sometimes occurs, Labour is unable to gain the support of one or both of its partners, in which case either the bill is dropped from the Parliamentary schedule, sent back for further consultation and redrafting, or support is negotiated with National. All round, it results in more inclusive and better written legislation.

If Labour does achieve an absolute majority in September’s election what guarantee do we have that we won’t return to the pre MMP days where poorly drafted and ill considered legislation too easily became law? The only safety net would be the select committee process that all legislation must pass through.

The select committee process allows for the public to present oral and or written submissions and committees themselves can recommend and draft amendments to bills for consideration by the Parliament. The select committee stage may take three to six months for all submissions to be considered. Convention has it that these changes are accepted, but if one party commands an absolute majority, would it continue to adhere to convention? Would it heed the voice of the public?


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Health Minister David Clark in disgrace

We’re all human – even members of Cabinet. And oftentimes the biggest mistakes seem so innocuous at the time. Take for example the actions of Health Minister David Clark and his family. During the first weekend of the COVID-19 lockdown, they took a trip to the beach. While going to the beach isn’t forbidden, driving 20 Km (12 miles) to do so is considered “non-essential” and therefore prohibited.

Parliament is in recess during the current crisis, and the oversight of government is currently being undertaken by a parliamentary Select Committee – the Epidemic Response Committee. This has very wide ranging powers, has a majority of opposition MPs (Members of Parliament) and is chaired by the leader of the opposition Simon Bridges, leader of the National Party.

The Epidemic Response Committee had requested the Health Minister provide a summary of his movements since the the nation went into the COVIC-19 level 4 lockdown after it was discovered that he had travelled 2 Km (1.2 miles) to a mountain cycling track.

While 2Km is stretching the definition of local, it was the risk involved in cycling on a mountain track that was the issue. We’re being discouraged from undertaking risky activities because should we get injured, lost or otherwise needing rescue, we’re putting responders and their families at risk as they would need to break their isolation bubble.

David Clark Clark had provided the Prime Minister with a complete picture of his activity outside his home during alert level 4, as part of his preparation for the Epidemic Response Committee. Jacinda was not amused. If it wasn’t for the fact that sacking him would be too disruptive, he would have been fired. From the Prime Minister:

Under normal conditions I would sack the Minister of Health. What he did was wrong, and there are no excuses. But right now, my priority is our collective fight against Covid-19. We cannot afford massive disruption in the health sector or to our response. For that reason, and that reason alone, Dr Clark will maintain his role.

But he does need to pay a price. He broke the rules. While he maintains his Health portfolio, I am stripping him of his role as Associate Finance Minister and demoting him to the bottom of our Cabinet rankings. I expect better, and so does New Zealand.

It’s activities such as those undertaken by David Clark, that put in jeopardy a relatively short period of being at a nationwide COVID-19 Alert Level 4. We are all expected to forego our walk in the park. It’s good to know it’s also expected of those at the top.


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Political leaders can change our opinions

I have been a regular participant in the New Zealand Attitudes and Values Study (NZAVS) for many years. Their website describes NZAVS as a

20-year longitudinal national study of social attitudes, personality and health outcomes of more than 60,000 New Zealanders. The study is broad-ranging and includes researchers from a number of New Zealand universities, including the University of Auckland, Victoria University of Wellington, the University of Canterbury, the University of Otago, and Massey University. The NZAVS extends our understanding of how New Zealanders’ life circumstances, attitudes, values, and beliefs change over time. The study is university-based, not-for-profit and independent of political or corporate funding.

A recent NZAVS newsletter included the headline “Political leaders can change our opinions” which I found intriguing. My first thought was that politicians typically try to determine the opinions of potential voters, particularly in Aotearoa New Zealand, where the differences between the centre right and centre left are very small and there are very few issues that polarise  public opinion.

But then I thought about Trump and wondered how much his opinions and those of his supporters influence each other.  Research shows that the positions taken by political leaders and political parties can have an important impact on peoples’ preferences, even on issues that are supposed to reflect personal preferences. The newsletter reports:

How much can our own attitudes be affected by our political leaders?

In 2015, then-leaders of National and Labour publicly expressed their personal opinions on whether the New Zealand flag should be changed, with John Key (National) arguing New Zealanders should choose a new flag, and Andrew Little (Labour) arguing New Zealanders should keep the current flag. We measured public support for changing the flag both before and after these opinions were published in the media.

Overall, 30.5% of National party supporters and 27.5% of Labour party supporters changed their original opinion to match their party leaders. This research provides a rare real-time example of politicians’ influence on public opinion.

To learn more, read the article from the Association of Psychological Science

Although the research was conducted only on Kiwis, I wonder to what degree the same effect occurs in other countries. Anyone care to comment?


Just for the record, I’ve wanted a flag change since before I was old enough to vote, and I still hold that opinion. If Australia changes their’s before we do, then I might consider it a less pressing issue, but one still worth pursuing.