Another Spectrum

Personal ramblings and rants of a somewhat twisted mind


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Is the violence over? I have my doubts

As much a I prefer not to “interfere” in the politics of other nations, the influence that America has on the world due to its wealth, size and power, persuades me that I cannot in good conscience ignore events in that nation. From time to time I will share posts written by others more skilful than I on the American situation. This post by Padre Steve is one such post. With apologies to the good padre I have given the post a new title that reflects my concern.

I fear that Padre Steve is may well be correct: The great trial facing America has just begun. The violence is not over.

Friends of Padre Steve’s World, I watched the second day of Donald Trump’s second Impeachment trial transfixed by the masterful way in which the House Impeachment Managers presented the documentary evidence and connecting the dots from the election night until 6 January. I struggled to think of a title for the article because the evidence […]

The Impeachment Prosecutors Open: The defendants denounce the law under which their accounting is asked. Their dislike for the law which condemns them is not original. It has been remarked before that: “No thief e’er felt the halter draw with good opinion of the law.” — The Inglorius Padre Steve’s World


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Why am I not surprised?

It came as no surprise to me that the Capitol siege occurred. Perhaps what I find more surprising is that it ended more quickly and with less violence than I would have predicted. Perhaps we have Trump to thank for that as he belatedly urged his supporters to disperse peacefully and return to their homes. According to news reports I heard this morning, New Zealand time, it was viewed by many insurrectionists as an order from the Commander in Chief that had to be followed.

Had the mob been larger and Trump remained silent, I shudder to think what the outcome might have been, and the four known deaths (at time of writing) would have paled into significance. My question is why did Trump, given his ongoing claim that the election result was fraudulent, decide to issue the “go home” directive?

Somehow I don’t think it was in the interests of democracy or the welfare of his supporters, so what was it? Did he come to the realisation that his supporters would follow him to hell and back if he so ordered, and that with a better organised command structure he could be the leader of a militia that the constitution clearly allows for in order to protect the people from a tyrannical government?

The irony of course would be that his followers have mistaken which part of the government is being tyrannical. While it may have been lost to his supporters, it’s clear from non-autocratic leaders around the globe that most of the free world views the Capitol siege as an attack on democracy.

I’m somewhat disappointed that our own Prime Minister was rather guarded in her comment avoiding any direct blame on Trump. I would have much preferred her to have spoken in terms similar to German Chancellor Angela Merkel who placed the blame clearly on trump’s shoulders: “I deeply regret that President Trump has not conceded his defeat, since November and again yesterday. Doubts about the election outcome were stoked and created the atmosphere that made the events of last night possible”.

Somehow I doubt that the number of Trump’s supporters who would be prepared to participate in an insurrection are not as small or insignificant as Biden and others are suggesting, and there may be not just tens of thousands but possibly hundreds of thousands who would be prepared to commit to a militia if such a call was made. Regardless of the final outcome over the next few weeks, the myth of a fraudulent election is not going to go away any time soon and suspicion of American authorities and particularly the federal government does not bode well for democracy in America in the short term.

While I have no doubts about Trump’s legacy, I suspect Biden’s will depend on how well he restores faith in America’s system of democracy.


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Election fraud in NZ!

While the world watches in amusement (or alarm) at Trump’s ridiculous claims of fraud in the US presidential elections, it is ignoring a real and confirmed case of vote rigging that has just been uncovered right here in Aotearoa New Zealand. It has absolutely stunned the nation. What has happened to our notion of fair play and honesty?

How can we as a nation ever hold our heads up high and claim in all sincerity that we are the least corrupt nation on Earth?

The following video gives all the sordid details. Watch and be shocked!


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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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MAGA: NZ style

There’s a section of the conservative right in America, mainly evangelical Christians (although I’m not convinced that the term “Christian” is appropriate) who are are willing to excuse Trump of almost any evil in order to accomplish his proclaimed goal of Make America Great Again, whatever that is supposed to mean. I’m sure that to Trump, MAGA really means Make America Go Autocratic.

The values and ideals held by those in the MAGA camp in the USA are also held by some in this country, although thankfully they make up a significantly smaller percentage of the population. So much are they endeared to the US MAGA brigade that they have lifted the acronym, the red baseball cap, and all, and applied it to themselves.

Unlike in the US, they don’t have a hero to champion their cause, so instead have targeted the person who is the antithesis – Jacinda Ardern. It’s very clear to me that the characteristics and values of our Prime Minister that endear her to the majority of Kiwis are not those of the NZ version of the MAGA brigade.

So what does what does the acronym MAGA stand for?

Make Ardern Go Away

Pathetic really.


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Rumours and conspiracy theories

Rumours

Even in this country of Aotearoa New Zealand there are those who like to spread rumours. The problem is that with all the social media platforms available, and the way their algorithms select “news” all too often truth gets drowned out by the cacophony of rumours, innuendos and lies.

In the case of the family at the centre of the current COVID-19 cluster in Auckland, the rumour mill has been working overtime. Social media attacks on the family are vile, and the fact that the family are part of the Pasifika community has brought out the worst of racism in some people.

Health authorities keep the identity and ethnicity of those with COVID-19 away from public scrutiny, but work colleagues, neighbours, friends, family, and the curious will in all probability be aware of their status and either accidentally or maliciously leak the information into the realm of social media. After that it gains a life of its own.

Unfortunately the rumours, innuendos and attacks on the family and and those of the same ethnicity have had such a traumatic effect that the Minister of Health felt it necessary to start Monday’s COVID-19 press briefing with a strongly worded statement:

Coronavirus: Man who started COVID-19 community outbreak rumour in New Zealand speaks out

MBIE shuts down rumour blaming Auckland’s COVID-19 outbreak on girl breaching quarantine to visit man deported from Australia

Conspiracies

When it comes to conspiracy theories, some politicians seem to like nothing better than to add fuel to the fire. It’s election time here, and so to some extent, innuendos that the government is less than honest, have a hidden agenda or are corrupt or incompetent do tend to pop up more frequently. But it’s disappointing that some politicians are using the pandemic as a political football. Mind you, To some extent, the Labour party has to accept some of the blame, as their campaign is based almost entirely on how well they, as government, have managed the pandemic.

I do however feel that Gerry Brownlee (deputy leader of the National Party) overstepped the mark with his comments made shortly after the Auckland outbreak was announced where he said “it was Interesting” that the recommendation to wear face masks, the Prime Minister’s visit to a mask factory, the director General of Health having a COVID-19 test, and the new COVID-19 outbreak all occurring within a relatively short time frame.

His intention might have been an indirect criticism of the news media for not investigating the possibility of a link between these “facts”, or it might have been an attempt to have the media act as a proxy for political point scoring as Parliament was not sitting, but it played right into the hands of the conspiracy theorists.

Even Winston Peters, Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the government junior coalition partner New Zealand First, has got in on the act. On his recent visit to Australia, he claimed that he had information from a “reliable source” that there had been major security breaches at the border isolation facilities. While most Kiwis probably paid little heed to his comment, as he’s notorious for quoting “reliable sources” that turn out to have no substance, it’s precisely what the conspiracy believers crave for – validation from a supposedly reliable source straight from the mouth of a supposedly reliable public figure.

Many prominent scientists and medical professionals have made an open plea for politicians of all persuasions and community leaders to be very careful about how they ruminate in the public forum. They need to fact check before attempting to make one plus one equal three. In this country all the facts relating to COVID-19 and the pandemic are readily available, and unlike many countries our public service, including the health service, are outside the political arena. It’s one thing not to trust politicians, but it’s entirely another matter to believe that peer reviewed scientifically based information is part of some evil plot to eliminate/control/modify humanity.

The conspiracists’ election: How the farthest fringes of politics are making a play for the centre

General elections delayed by four weeks

I’m sure that since Jacinda Ardern has set a new date for the general elections (moved from 19 September to 17 October), there’ll be a conspiracist somewhere who will believe this is part of “the Plan”, whatever that is.

Contrary to the belief of some, the delay is a the behest of most political parties but not because visiting a polling station might be hazardous during lockdown as that can be managed – besides, early voting and postal voting are both available. An essential part of democracy is for those standing for election having an opportunity to argue their cause. That is why, after listening to politicians of all persuasion she put election back 28 days.

While this is less of an issue throughout most of the country (although a limit of 100 people at a political rally does pose its own problems), in Auckland where groups of more than ten are not permitted, the campaign trail has virtually gone cold.


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Decisions

Our triennial general elections are just two months away (Saturday 19th September) at which time I will be faced with four choices:

  1. Cast a vote in the End of Life Choice referendum
  2. Cast a vote in the Cannabis legalisation and control referendum
  3. Chose my electorate (constituency or voting district) representative
  4. Choose my preferred political party

Choices 1 and 2 are the easiest to deal with as the choice is binary: support or oppose. Unless some radically new information comes to hand before I cast my vote, I will be saying Yes, I support the End of Life Choice Act 2019 coming into force and Yes, I support the proposed Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill.

I have been a long time supporter of the concept of drug abuse being a health issue and not a criminal matter, so my decision to support the proposed legislation was a no brainer. I hope this is just the first step on the path to removing all drug use from criminality. I have a very different view of those who peddle the drugs.

The cannabis referendum is nonbinding, but the Labour Party and the Green Party are committed to introducing the proposed legislation to Parliament in 2021. The other parties have made no such commitment, so if Labour and/or the Greens do not form the next government, the proposed legislation will likely fade into oblivion, at least for a while..

On the other hand, the End of Life Choice Act has already been passed by Parliament and simply requires a 50% Yes vote from the electors to come into force. As it was first introduced into Parliament, I would not have supported it. While I personally felt it was too liberal on the grounds one could request assisted dying, my main objections were twofold:

  • It would not have prevented those suffering from depression and other mental health issues from obtaining assisted dying
  • There was no protection from individuals being pressured or persuaded into seeking assisted dying.

I believe that the act as it now stands answers those concerns. Also the grounds under which assisted dying can be granted has been tightened, although possibly more than I thought necessary. Perhaps this is a good thing. In my view, it’s better that a life not be taken unnecessarily than a life be spared unnecessarily. And like all laws, it can be amended in light of new evidence.

If I’m not mistaken this will be the first time any nation has held a referendum on assisted dying.

Choices 3 and 4 are more difficult for me as they are “multiple choice”. Choice 3 is perhaps the easiest as I base my choice on who I feel is the best person to represent myself and my community in Parliament. I’m more interested in them as a person than what their politics might be.

In this regard, I prefer someone who is open minded over someone with rigid views, someone who values consensus over majority decisions, someone who puts social justice above individual “rights”, someone who has shown service to the community over someone who has not, someone who recognises that the interests of minorities, be they ethnic, neurology, religious, or healthwise, are just as important as those of the majority, and finally, someone who I feel I can relate to. Such attributes can be found in people of any political persuasion. Ultimately who I choose as my local representative has no impact on the proportionality of the parties in Parliament.

In the bad old days of FPP I had to juggle the often conflicting issues my preferred MP (Member of Parliament) and the political party I preferred to govern the country. Not always an easy decision, and under MMP, something I no longer have to struggle with.

I was first able to vote in the general elections in 1972 – I had just missed out in the 1969 elections as the voting age was still 21 at that time. I have voted in every election since. By a quick estimate, that’s 16 general elections I’ve participated in.

Over that time I have voted for six different political parties! By a strange twist of fate, not one of the parties I have voted for has been in government (prior to 1996) or part of a governing coalition (since 1996). On only one occasion have I voted for either of the major parties, and that was before the introduction of MMP in 1996.

I don’t regard my vote as either a protest vote or a wasted vote. Perhaps, prior to MMP, it could be argued that any vote other than for the winning candidate was a wasted vote – in one election the party of the candidate I voted for gained almost 30% of the popular vote nationwide, but gained only a single seat in Parliament. That result was a significant catalyst in the call that eventually lead to the introduction of MMP.

Provided your preferred party reaches the 5% threshold, or gains an electorate seat, a party vote is never wasted. It counts towards the number of seats that party will have in Parliament.

Personally, I’d like to see the threshold lowered to 2% or removed altogether to encourage more diversity in Parliament, but such a change would require the support of one of the two major parties, and I don’t see that happening any time soon. Neither of them supported lowering the threshold to 4% as recommend by an electoral review a few years ago, and both voted against that change when Parliament considered the matter.

I usually decide who my electorate candidate will be by around a week before the election, but typically, all the policies I’d like to see implemented are spread across many parties, including both major parties, and my very final decision on preferred party is not made until, pencil in hand in the voting booth, I go to place a tick beside one of the parties listed on the ballot paper. I don’t think this year is going to be any different.