A follow up to a Tweet (Criminal justice reform)

Let me start off by saying that I am under no illusion that every person sent to prison can be rehabilitated any more than I under the illusion that a person, if given all the opportunities in life are going to turn out as the ideal citizen. As I’ve noted in the past, I am not an idealist or a person trying to deliver a utopia but rather dealing with the system as it exists and make it suck a little less – a modest set of goals with no illusion of perfection ever being reached but that being said we do need to find a different tactic to what we’re using today. For far too long we’ve had a justice system that has pandered to the emotions whipped up by ‘tough on crime’ politicians using the emotive issue to win votes but how successful has it been? well, if being ‘tough on crime’ is meant to be a deterrent and amping up the punishment of ‘three strikes and you’re out’ is meant to be the ultimate message then one should see a reduction but in reality we’ve hit an all time high of 10,200 with per capita numbers going up as well (not just a matter of having a larger population) with the net result being $900million spent propping up the edifice. For me, I don’t look at it from a question of morality but a question of money that could have otherwise been spent on something more productive – mental health for example, imagine what an extra $200million could do along with better pay for those who work in that sector.

There are three steps that are needed, the first is setting up institutions to ensure that young people don’t end up in the system in the first place – that they don’t go from simply being a misbehaving kid to one having graduated from the university of criminality aka the prison system. Yes, in theory their parents should be doing their jobs but unfortunately we don’t live in that ideal world so we have to ensure that the community step in and take on that role. I’ve talked about (in the past) how schools should be offering breakfast, lunch and dinner, uniforms and stationery along with after school homework tutoring as well then during the holidays there are programmes to keep the kids entertained – maybe even stuff that is fun but also teaches practical skills. Combine that with a lifeskills class where budgeting, comprehensive sex education (parents will not be allowed to opt out and all schools will be required to teach it – waving the ‘but I’m religious’ is not a valid excuse) and free contraception (including liberalising abortion laws and making it more widely available) should help reduce the mess that exists at that end.

The second step required is ensuring that once in prison that those who do want to rehabilitate are given the support required – drug and alcohol treatment, counselling to work through their childhood which led them to that situation in their life but it goes beyond that – there needs to be support one they’ve left prison to ensure that they don’t fall back into bad habits. Part of that might having to include a person who visits released prisons for a cup of coffee and deal with issues before they become too big and it is only know about when it actually hits the breaking point. Most guys tend to wait until the shit has hit the fan rather than coming forward sooner – deal with an issue before it gets out of hand.

The third step is dealing with drugs as a health issue rather than an issue of criminality whilst also utilising harm reduction for low risk drugs. For me, I guess I am a lot more radical than the mainstream position by the Green Party since I advocate the legalisation and regulation of ecstasy and weed with all other drugs decriminalised. It is important to keep in mind that decriminalisation does not mean legalisation – drugs will still be stopped at the border or seized by police via raids (and other usual means) and destroyed but rather than a criminal conviction a fine and/or community service will be handed out (those billion tree’s that Labour has talked about aren’t going to plant themselves). End of the day, those who want to take drugs are either already taking them or in the process of finding someone who sells them so the nonsense that is put out that somehow there will be a spike in drug use is assuming that the only thing restraining large sways of the population is the fact that said drugs are illegal – it just defies common sense. Keep also in mind that employers will still demand drug free work places, you still won’t be able to drive your car when intoxicated or impaired by drugs, the only difference is that being caught with drugs won’t destroy your chance of being able to turn your life around in the future and not have your past follow you forever.

An observation is not the same as a moral judgement

Once again I wade into the sewer that is Reddit politics where someone posts a meme where, in a nutshell, talks about how no one bats an eyelid when it comes to increased spending on the military and yet everyone loses their mind when there is the mere suggestion of a single payer system or the government should spend more on healthcare. Part of the usual song and dance is the nonsensical argument that ‘the United States subsidies its allies which allows them spend less on their defence and more on their social programmes’ to which I of course replied with:

‘Lets not try to masquerade American defence spending as being altruistic when in reality it is to prop up the foreign policy of the US which furthers America’s economic and geopolitical interests.’

Keep in mind that the above quotation isn’t a moral judgement but simply pointing out a fact. End of the day, if you read that and come to the conclusion that it is a moral judgement then the responsibility falls on your shoulders, not mine. Foreign policy has always been about countries pursuing their countries interests and when I do look foreign policy I divorce morality and simply apply a utilitarian realpolitik logic as to whether it is actually in the countries self interest (such as my criticisms of the United States relationship with Saudi Arabia being counter productive given that Saudi Arabia undermines the sovereignty and security of the United States through the supporting of non-state actors around the world through the use of charities spreading Wahhabism/Salafism) and what a country’s self interest is behind the nationalistic jingoisms and rhetoric which mask what the true intentions actually are.

America pursues a given foreign policy because it has interests that it wishes to protect and I wish that Americans would inform themselves instead of using the ‘we subsidise our allies’ meme in lieu of critically analysing and accepting that what the reality actually is.

Providing a platform for unpopular views adds credibility or brings about greater scrutiny

One of the criticisms that is levelled against Dave Rubin from the Rubin Report (along with other shows such as ‘Real Time with Bill Maher”) is how such programmes provides a platform for ‘unpalatable views’ along with the implied validation that the given point of view is within the realm of ‘acceptable discourse’ (aka the ‘Overton window’ ( link ) ). I’m one of two minds regarding this because I tend to lean heavily towards wanting the least amount of regulation on speech as possible – apart from the usual exemptions such as ‘you can’t yell fire in a theatre’ and ‘you cannot incite violence’, I believe that dialogue should be open and free but that being said there are two points of view that keep in my mind:

1) Sunlight is the best disinfectant for bad ideas or to paraphrase what Fran Lebowitz said “allow idiots to speak because that is how we find out whether they’re idiots”. So when Bill Maher or Dave Rubin invite on eccentric characters such as Alex Jones or Milo Yiannopoulos are they really saying, “these people are within the acceptable realms of discourse” (assuming there is some sort of objective arbiter of what constitutes ‘acceptable realm of discourse’ it a concept that is made up on the fly based on the political expediency of the host or some random opinionator at the Fox News, New York Times etc) or are they actually saying, “here is someone who is high profile, lets bring them on and put their views under scrutiny”.

Part of providing that platform to critique also undermines the well crafted technique that many on the extreme ends of the spectrum try to use to validate their ideas by claiming that the “powers that be do not want to give us a platform because we have the truth so they try to repress it to stop people from finding out! If we were wrong then why wouldn’t they allow us to speak and thus be proven wrong in the marketplace of ideas”. Once you allow them to come on television, make a fool of themselves and then they scurry off then all but the most hardcore crazies remain with the group in much the same way that David Starkey noted that the best way to skewer anti-Semites such as David Irving is to show them up for the charlatans that they are.

2) The platform is implied validation of the view or at least implying that their views are within the ‘acceptable realm’ of discourse thus claiming that there is some sort of legitimacy of what is being said by being given a platform. The best parallel that one can come up with his the ‘teach the controversy’ of ‘evolution vs. intelligent design/creationism’ where people have noted that it is akin to having ‘chemistry vs. alchemy’ if one were to be as ridiculous as coming with a false equivalency when one provides a platform to what is seemingly an irrational position or to paraphrase PJ O’Rouke would say, “outside the acceptable boundaries of being wrong’

Just something that has been rattling in my head over the last few weeks.

Finance Ministers Debate – Queenstown

Lots of fun and excitement watching the leaders debate from Queenstown with the full stream available online ( link ) and it was patently obvious to see that Winston Peters was once again the crazy loud mouth uncle more concerned with ‘zingers’ and ‘one liners’ than actually coming with with a coherent vision let alone addressing what the other representatives actually said instead of using it as a Segway to talk about the things he wants to talk about instead. Steven Joyce was pushing the party line of the National Party which is all very well and good assuming you live in Auckland, Queenstown or some other hotspot but he failed to realise that actually if you live outside of those areas the job boom he talks about is simply non-existent. In Wellington there are tonnes of full time jobs but they’re all temporary contracts or they’re recruitment companies trying to harvest personal information rather than actual jobs that they can allocate to you. Where are the rest of the jobs? casual contract jobs with no guaranteed hours which is then made worse by the fact that the welfare system hasn’t been modernised to keep up with that new reality that is in place when it comes to the unstable employment market.

When it comes to the capital gains tax I thought the most eloquent response was from the Green Party leader James Shaw where Winston tried to claim that “it won’t work” and Steven Joyce mentioned the 2 year bright line test (Labour has noted that they will would increase it to 5 years since sitting on property for 2 years is relatively easy) but as James said in reply to both Steven and Winston, it was one in a tool box of available tools that when used in combination will have an impact. Personally if it were me I’d sooner see a capital gains applied across the board without exemptions and then reduce income tax rates so that we don’t have a distortionary effect of pushing people into asset inflation because of the skewed way in which we as a society decide what should or shouldn’t be taxed.

The tax working group was a bit of a laugh where Winston pushed and pushed over Labour not ‘coming clean’ and yet when Winston was answered straight up by Patrick regarding what the bottom line issues for NZ First would be he then turns around and starts waffling on and deflecting – got caught out once again holding others to a standard that he himself cannot hold himself to. If you’re going to go around lecturing about how other politicians should ‘come clean’ then be prepared for the same standard to be thrown back at you. That is the reason why I wasn’t onboard with Rodney Hyde’s ‘perk busting’ and going after Winston Peters because when things backfire they can backfire really badly especially for the person who claimed to have taken the moral high ground.

When it comes to income taxes I am disappointed that National has had 9 year and done very little to address the very real problems that John Key outlined in the ‘Free Radical’ article entitled ‘Creeping Socialism’ where ehe rightfully points out the flaws in the ‘Working for Families’ (WFF) policy passed under the Labour Party. Unfortunately here we are 9 years later and still nothing has changed apart from the ‘Independent Earners Credit’ (IEC) which is a bandaid for the larger issue of the state taking with one hand and claiming to be generous by giving back that money to select groups of people with the other hand. Sure, I wasn’t expecting things to occur maybe in the first term because the government was trying to build up trust and credibility with the New Zealand public but by the second term we should have seen a plan to replace WFF, IEC child tax credit and numerous other tax credits/welfare top ups in favour of a tax free threshold and maybe introduce a higher end bracket for income above $150,000 so essentially low income individuals/families would gain a tax cut, the middle would stay about the same and those at the top would pay slightly more for better services.

Keeping in mind that with the debate it was less about specifics and more about key points of difference along with broad principles and Labour’s spokesperson did a pretty good job sticking to the party line regarding the working group. Regarding the Greens, it was great to see James Shaw really come off as a pragmatic centrist politician that you would never known as a Green Party leader if one weren’t told at the beginning. ACT Party has become less radical than it was when I was in the party back in 2008 which make me wonder whether a more middle ground approach is the game plan that’ll win over disaffected National Party voters who want some change instead of voting in a watered down National Party (which in turn is a watered down Helen Clark Labour government). National was keeping the slow and steady with the promise of ‘more of the same’ because they believe they’re on the right track and wanted to convince the audience (and voters in general) that to change who is in power when the formula they’re using is producing results will result in a backwards slide after doing so much hard work to get to this place.

ACT Party, Freedom of speech and Stephen Berry

Before starting this blog post I have to make two points. The first point is that I am a former member of the ACT Party but I’m no longer a member but when I was a member I fit into the socially libertarian wing of the party (with other side being angry ex-National Party members/Maxim Institute fanboys/those who romanticised the tea party from the US). The second point is is to differentiate between condoning an action vs. passing a law to make an action illegal – if you view the legal system to fix societal ills then you’ll take one position where as if you view it (as I do) as way to ensure that one persons freedom does not impede another persons then you’ll take a different position. I’ll write in a point based post because it allows a clear set of statements I want to make without the messy interpolating that can occur when jumping between subjects resulting in ambiguity in interpretation:

1) The question that was posed to Stephen Berry was in regards to the scenario of a transgendered person being told to go ‘kill themselves’ on the internet and although I agree with the principle and underlying thrust of his argument the reply was said in a rather flippant and uncaring manner. Personally I would have started off condemning the action of the hypothetical person who said such a thing online but I would have then followed up with a carefully worded explanation of what I see the legal system is for, the problems faced when you start prosecuting people for ‘mean things’ said on the internet etc. That being said, having been at such an event when I ran for Parliament in Wigram in Christchurch the amount of time afforded for a exhaustive answer is rather limited – terse and snappy replies are sometimes the only way to get complex ideas across (see the abysmal interview with Sue Bradford over the anti-smacking bill – I’m no Sue Bradford fan but the interviewer spent no time actually unpacking a complex philosophical issues regarding the relationship that a child has to their parents vs. the state).

2) Regarding the critics talking about the ACT Party’s opposition to the Human Rights Act (or in same cases, the belief by some MPs that certain things shouldn’t be covered by the law such as sexuality or in 2008 where a business didn’t want mothers to breastfeed their baby in their establishment), it isn’t that the party supports discrimination but the belief that firstly as a private individual (and in turn, organisation you own such as a business) have a right to decide who you wish to associate with or serve, and secondly that the best way of dealing with such discrimination (we’re talking about within the private sector, anti-discrimination as so far as the public sector is something that pretty much most libertarian leaning people support) is allowing the private marketplace, through rational self interest, deal with it.

When I talk about rational self interest I am referring to the business owner’s desire to make money will override any prejudice because he or she values money over upholding their prejudicial views. Keeping in mind that it is ‘in theory’ – something I don’t agree with given that people are quite prepared to cut their own nose off to spite their face especially if there is communal retribution for failing to tow the generally accepted line by the community at large or simply that they’ll claim ‘religious beliefs’ as a mask in justification of their discrimination.

3) Although one should wary of the slippery slope fallacy (if we do X, what is next? Y? Z?) it is important to understand that you cannot just simply go after a person who makes a single ‘mean post’ on the internet or otherwise there will be hundreds of police hours wasted on something that quite frankly can be resolved by the complainant blocking the person in question. That was the question being posed – not an active campaign of harassment but a single once off remark online. When dealing with a ‘mean comment’ where is the line drawn? I don’t agree with your assessment of the so-called ‘earnings gap’ between men and women you then go Chanty Binx (aka ‘Big Red’) by labelling anyone as a misogynist and harasser? That the boundaries of freedom of speech are dictated by your feelings and whether your emotional instability makes you do something stupid which therefore makes the person posting the said comment responsible for the actions you take? is it uncaring to actually say that the receiving party in question also has responsibility for the actions they take or are they just automatons that run on external stimuli?

Anti-ACT groupies throwing a temper tantrum in lieu of a well thought out critique

So the Twitter hit the fan and once again the fake outrage machine goes into overdrive thanks to a post that was made by the deputy leader of the ACT Party (for the sake of disclosure, I was a member 9 years ago and ran as a candidate in Wigram but I’ve since left the party and haven’t voted for them since running in 2008) regarding the ‘controversial’ idea that one should live within ones means by only making lifestyle choices that you can afford ( link ):

Screen Shot 2017 07 13 at 2 25 29 AM

So you expect that people would post rational replies such as pointing out that circumstances can change over long periods of time, that the lack of access to affordable contraception, abortion and comprehensive sex education isn’t something that is universally consistent around New Zealand, that punishing children for the stupidity of parents seems cruel and unusual punishment etc. then you would be wrong. Nope, rather than talk about the tonnes of legitimate issues that exist with the ACT Party policies and philosophy you had the usual screaming and complaining from the ‘emotions first, rationalism and logic on the back burner” with screaming about how the rich can only have kids but fail to see how ‘poor having more poor people to be chewed up like a commodity in the capitalist grinder for the benefit of the rich’ apparently doesn’t sound repugnant to one person:

Screen Shot 2017 07 13 at 2 47 36 AM

Then followed by the same stupid nonsense of complaining that the ACT Party want to eradicate those with disabilities:

Screen Shot 2017 07 13 at 2 49 34 AM

Even though on the actual policy website ( link ) they note the following: “Continue to advocate for continued and more generous state support for those with physical or mental conditions who require support, including improved access to supported living arrangements for those with serious mental illness.”. Again, there are loads to attack the ACT Party on without needing to make shit up. Then there is this chap:

Screen Shot 2017 07 13 at 2 56 29 AM

Want to know what is really repugnant, the fact that you couldn’t even be bothered to sit and reflect on what was actually posted before firing off a reply because if you had you would have realised that what Beth was talking about and the scenario you laid out are not the same situation. Again, there are legitimate issues regarding their policy such as the time limit on the Job Seeker or solo parent support benefit that you could rip apart but I guess mischaracterising what someone posts as a Segway for your tirade seems to be your de rigueur. Then there are people who just pull stuff out of their backside like claiming what was posted as a ‘puritanical moralism’:

Screen Shot 2017 07 13 at 3 02 07 AM

Because making sure that you can affordable a lifestyle choice that you make is apparently the hallmark of puritanical moralism according to this chap – really? The only person who seems to be doing puritanical moralism seems to be your and your interpretation of being a responsible adult – feeling guilty about some choices you’ve made in life?

The rest of the posts on that thread? A clear indication that they never read the ACT Party policies ( link ) so instead they use it as a venue to projectile vomit the poorly digested information they gleamed off their friends, family and an almost pavlovian response when ever the name of a centre right party’s is heard within earshot. As noted the beginning, there is a lot one can be critical of in regards to what the ACT Party actually say in their party manifesto – you don’t need to go around inventing new things to be outraged about just as Democrats don’t need to whip themselves into a frenzy over Russia when there are so many horrible things the Republicans are doing already – be it the EPA, Education, the repeal of ObamaCare etc. How about people focus on what is actually real rather than making stuff up or am I expecting too much?

Healthcare reform in the US: The dumpster fire of dumpster fires.

So once again we have the Republicans, after having 8 years to come up with an alternative healthcare policy, have delivered a mess called ‘The Better Care Reconciliation Act’ which not only fails but what makes the situation worse which is compounded further via the dishonesty by Republicans regarding the ‘Affordable Care Act’ aka ObamaCare – side note, I personally prefer a single payer healthcare system like we have in New Zealand but take from that you will:

1) It fails to explain to the American public why there is an individual mandate in the first place. It has nothing to do with ‘big bad Obama’ taking away your rights’ and everything to do with ensuring that a system that doesn’t discriminate against those with pre-existing conditions are able to get coverage without risking a death spiral in the health insurance market. You need enough young and healthy people paying into the system so that cost of those with pre-existing conditions can be offset.

2) The death spiral isn’t the result of ObamaCare but the result of Republicans getting rid of the ObamaCare Risk corridor stabilisation fund which would help during the transition as all Americans get into the insurance system. The first wave of people signing up being the sickest thus their costs would be immediate and need to be offset by the stabilisation fund whilst the healthier customers come in and buy up policies which will eventually balance out the initial amount of money that went out to cover the first wave of people who signed up.

3) The stabilisation fund was to bridge the gap (the period between sick people entering and then healthier people entering in later on) as to ensure that it didn’t go into the death spiral but thanks to Republicans cutting it (the stabilisation fund) the net result was a sharp rise in premiums and insurance companies leaving states but then again this has always been part of their (Republican) play book: “[policy] doesn’t work and we’ll make sure that [policy] won’t work by taking away the central plank that holds up the said policy”.

Are there issues that need resolving? Sure but what have the Republicans proposed other than the same reheated ideas that simply don’t work because healthcare is one sector of the market which the ideas of market forces cannot be applied – increasing costs don’t reduce demand (simply put, health is a need not a want so people generally cannot hold off until a ‘better deal’ comes along) and due to the highly regulated nature of the market (for good reason) the sorts of innovation that drive down costs take years to make it market not to mention the requirement to make back not only the initial investment but the costs of getting it to market in the first place (reduction in delivery is undermined by the cost of the final product due those inputs I talked about).

How does one deal with it? government intervention which ensures that a social good like healthcare is available in sufficient enough volume at an accessible price point hence government intervention; either directly such as directly providing healthcare by owning hospitals, clinics etc or indirectly through a single payer with strong regulations to keep costs under control. There is also invention in the education sector to also ensure that sufficient enough nurses, doctors and trained specialists are entering into the profession through subsidising education through lower fees and interest free student loans. Then there is bulk negotiation of pharmaceuticals from companies – horse trade over the prices and drive down the cost per unit, the company gets a secure customer who pays on time and the customer (aka ‘the tax payer’) receives value for money. At different points in the health sector the government can and does intervene to bring down the cost of delivery and you’d think with over 70+ years of national healthcare systems from around the world that America could learn from, they (America) still insist on re-inventing the wheel.