New Zealand Police should not be armed

On 15 March 2019 a gunman shot dead 51 people in two Mosque around Christchurch. The terrorist attack that day was meant to inflame tensions between Muslims and the rest of New Zealand and encourage a war against a minority religion. In response, armed Police stood guard outside the two Mosques, a sight meant to show how serious Police were about making sure there would not be another attack.

However, ever since that horrible day in our history, many New Zealanders have been concerned about the direction New Zealand has taken on how the Police use firearms. The casual creeping trend towards regularly armed cops being present on patrol is just one instance in how Police are more overtly showing their firearms. Another is the formation of the tactical group that was announced before Christmas, and which has already been seen controversy after helping with a raid in Christchurch.

There are several very good reasons why I hope I never see New Zealand police officers routinely wear fire arms:

  1. The New Zealand police are trained differently and are taught to understand that the fire arm is the weapon of last resort. Because it is purpose built for delivering a potentially lethal injury, the threshhold for using a gun are correspondingly higher than that for using a taser, or lesser device such as a baton or pepper spray. I hope it stays that way.
  2. There is a certain degree of risk to the credibility of authorities when they play the fear card. New Zealand is a nation that does not like to be ruled by fear. If New Zealanders think authorities are purposefully playing on fear, the authorities will lose respect and any measures seen as punitive will become the target of ridicule. By giving authorities the means to use lethal force, the red line in the sand between credible fear and scare mongering comes a giant step closer to merging.
  3. The gun culture in America makes things much more dangerous than it does in New Zealand. Because the Second Amendment explicitly permits Americans to use firearms for self defence, and because the National Rifle Association holds significant clout with conservatives who often complain about Americans having their gun rights eroded, it is a highly politicized issue which can cause politicians to tread unnecessarily warily around. We do not have that antagonism here and there is no reason to start now.
  4. There is a degree of moral integrity at stake when a police officer shoots someone – for arguments sake – fatally. Because if that person was not armed, or in possession of something less lethal than a fire arm, unless the officer had expended the non-lethal options at their disposal and had failed to subdue the suspect, that officer has potentially committed manslaughter (giving the officer the benefit of the doubt that they did not intend to kill). How can one ascertain the suitability of an officer to possess firearms?
  5. The Police Complaints Authority and the system of accountability it uses to ensure that complaints against the New Zealand Police can be assessed have been found wanting with current cases. One where a formal complaint is laid for the accidental shooting of a homeless man high on methamphetamine could expose it and New Zealands reputation as a safe place with a reliable police force at risk. We cannot afford that.

However, a person high on drugs cannot be reasoned with, at least not safely. Their reactions, their understanding of their immediate physical circumstances and their location is likely to be affected. An officer who approaches a person in such a state is right to be wary.

Despite the concerns that New Zealand police may become like their American counterparts, I think the public scrutiny on the police force and their reactivity to that scrutiny is a good thing. The certainty that individual shootings are automatically referred to the Police Conduct Authority means officers have good reason to be careful about the use of force.

Addressing child poverty is a long term task

For me a nation is defined by how well it treats its most vulnerable sectors of society: the elderly, the very young, the sick and those whose circumstances are the result of complex circumstances – often a mix of bad choices earlier in life and a lack of help since. It is defined by whether those people are able to live a life of dignity; are afforded same or similar chances as others; that those whose conditions are terminal are comfortable.

Children are at the very early stage of the spectrum. They have their whole lives ahead of them and how they are able to live those lives and how they are raised will go a long way towards determining what sort of person they turn into later on. They are yet to learn how the world (does not)work.

Their parents might both hold down full time minimum wage jobs and spend most of the money they get after tax just paying the rent, never mind transport, food, and other costs. They might come from a family that has only ever known poverty and was not able to grow out of it, thus being thrust into a vicious cycle that only a sea change in social welfare can address. If the family has fallen into crime, with drugs and criminal activities happening around the children, before they even go to school, they will have seen stuff no one should see.

It has taken two decades for child poverty to get where it is today. The thought that it might somehow be addressed in a single Parliamentary term is ludicrous. As the latest figures out appear to show, the number of children considered to be in poverty is stagnant. It is neither increasing or decreasing and the number of children now thought to be suffering material hardship has increased by around 4,100.

Child poverty is measured in three ways:

  • The first measure, children living in homes with income less than 50 per cent of the median (currently $1016 a week) before housing costs, counted 16.5 per cent or 183,500 children in 2018.
  • A second measure, 50 per cent of the median income after housing costs

It is perhaps the third measure that resonates the most. Children in material hardship are those in homes lacking the:

  • Ability to see a doctor
  • Ability to pay power bills
  • Basic material needs – such as shoes to wear to school

Treasury estimates poverty will be reduced by 10-12% as a result of the government’s efforts. In other words 88-90% of those in poverty will still be in poverty when current measures expire. I understand solid policy takes time to formulate and implement, but this is hardly the whole sale reduction we need to have happen.

I don’t expect that New Zealand will ever quite eliminate poverty, but if we as a nation are not aiming to cut – maybe over 15-20 years – the number of children in poverty by 50% or more then our politicians are not being pushed hard enough. We are not getting “bang for buck” from them as elected Members of Parliament and we need to say so.

Trump victory a certainty unless Democrats get their act together

The most recent Democrat caucus in Nevada must have the realists on the American left quietly petrified. In a caucus race to find someone to oust a man who is probably the most divisive U.S. President in history, few if any of the candidates look anywhere near Presidential material. Donald Trump might have been impeached by the Democrats, but the near unanimous unity of Republicans behind him means the Republican caucuses might as well wrap up now.

Whilst Bernie Sanders has the support of many on the left, given the generally conservative disposition of Americans such a radical swing to the left would probably result in – eventually, and assuming Mr Sanders survives his time in office – an equally radical swing back to the right. And in doing so, would alienate tens of millions of Americans from both sides of the spectrum at a time when a spectrum wide unity is necessary.

Mr Sanders has a more immediate problem that many have overlooked. He is 82. In New Zealand I am not aware of any politician currently or for that matter ever being in office at that age. His health has failed him once or twice recently, and the stress of campaigning across such a vast country must be immense. Should he die in office, he would join just Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy and Franklin Roosevelt on the list of those who did not make it out of the White House alive.

Subsequently for these reasons, I do not see Mr Sanders becoming the 46th President of the United States.

But there are more sinister theories at work that Russian agents are working to get Mr Sanders to become the Democratic nominee so as to create a backlash that ensures Mr Trump’s victory. Mr Trump ardently denied these when they were mentioned to him, which no one should find surprising. Admitting it would be to undo years of Trumpian policy in one fell swoop.

If Mr Sanders withdraws from the race, where does that leave the Democrats? Who else has a realistic chance of taking on Mr Trump?

The state of the Democrat nomination race does not impress me in the least. We have Peter Buttigieg, a gay man of 38 standing for the first time. I see no name recognition whatsoever in him, and a quick look at his policy platform was not exciting either. There is a distinct lack of appeal among black voters in the southern states, who say that Mr Buttigieg does not understand or respect the socio-economic challenges facing them.

Elizabeth Warren is struggling. Her campaign had poor showings in both the Iowa and New Hampshire stages. She has not improved in Nevada. Her media coverage is poor and she is struggling for money.

Joe Biden has an inescapable Barak Obama problem. Because Mr Biden was Mr Obama’s Vice President, he is by default attached to a President that the Republican party have expended huge effort trying to undermine, even though he has not been in the White House for more than three years now. They will no doubt expend similar effort on Mr Biden. But also, Mr Biden is too far to the right for many Democrats, too much a part of the swamp problem that Republicans allege to exist in Washington D.C.

Amy Klobuchar is not leading the Democrats, but she is steady. She is credited with having skills and qualities that other Democrats allegedly do not. One is grit. She will not give up easily and her pragmatism is seen as a way to reach out to Republicans and other Democrats on the policy front. Still, a read of her record tells me she is towards the more progressive end of the Democrat spectrum.

The one Democrat whose policy platform I think is realistic is Tulsi Gabbard. But Ms Gabbard’s campaign has been all but abandoned because she has realized she does not have a big enough profile to draw out donors, but also because she has struggled to get serious media attention. Maybe in 2024 Ms Gabbard will try again with the added experience and better media exposure, but I cannot see her campaign reigniting in 2020.

That leaves a rather field for the Democrats. And maybe it was meant to be this way. Maybe the only way America is going to realize what a moron they have in the White House is to suffer another four years of him and wonder why the world is getting so angry.

I hope not, but unless this Democrat field gets its act together in the next short while, this is a preliminary call of the U.S. 2020 Presidential Election.

Sustainable New Zealand in crisis

Sustainable New Zealand, a political party established last year to challenge the blue-green vote, is in crisis. The green alternative to the Green Party was announced by former National candidate Vernon Tava in 2019. Mr Tava intended to establish the party as a sort of blue green alternative to the Green Party, whilst having an emphasis on economic development.

After much initial fan fare including a public launch with all of the major media outlets invited, the Sustainable New Zealand party appears to be in crisis. Officers of the party have left, citing problems with internal processes, fiscal transparency of the party’s finances among other issues. A quick review of the party’s policy platform shows nothing drastically distinct.

It is not the first party outside of Parliament to have run into newsworthy strife in recent years. Colin Craig established the Conservative Party of New Zealand and then went on to allegedly harass the Party Secretary, Rachel McGregor who took him to court, and who has been on the receiving end of sustained litigation by Mr Craig. The Conservative Party wound up expelling Mr Craig, whose political hopes must be all but dead by now.

Out of this has arisen the New Conservative Party, a socially conservative, Christian oriented party of small government, that is anti-abortion and anti-same sex marriage.

But if we go back to Sustainable New Zealand, the idea of a political party campaigning on sustainability is not at all a bad idea. Which is why I am slightly disappointed to hear that it has struck trouble. Whilst not being a member of the party, or even likely to vote for it, I have long believed that there needs to be a party that keeps the Greens honest about the need to balance environmental protection with making sure that there is a functional economy.

So what are the problems?

Any newly formed political party in New Zealand has some massive obstacles to mount, in order to get into Parliament and I think that most of the problems are basic ones that all new political parties have to tackle. But having a leader with a public profile that can be seen by everyone is perhaps the most important. With no profile, raising public awareness of ones existence is the biggest challenge by far.

Beyond that there are the issues of reaching the 500 member threshhold needed to call a party a party by Electoral Commission rules. Other parties have struggled with this as well in recent years, with United Future having the embarrassment of having not enough members to be a recognized party despite it being a supporting member of the National-led Government of Prime Minister John Key. That deprived it of critical Parliamentary Services support available to every party in Parliament until this could be rectified.

And what of a legitimate functional Board that governs the party internally? If you read the article it is said that Sustainable New Zealand’s board was not legitimate.

Then there is the 1-seat/5% party vote threshhold that any party must overcome to get into Parliament. The only time a party has been under 5% and made it into Parliament was New Zealand First in 2011, after being ejected from Parliament in 2008. For a new party this is an almost insurmountable barrier. One that I believe is too high, and should be lowered to 4%.

Finally there is policy. I noted during my quick examination of their policies, nothing about social welfare, health, education, justice, foreign policy and a slew of others. Most notably there was also nothing about Maori or Te Tiriti O Waitangi. For any party to be in Parliament, some idea of where it stands on all of these and other policy areas is essential.

Sustainable New Zealand might be a fledgling party struggling to get momentum, and the challenges facing it are definitely daunting. However two other political parties have started up in the last year or so – Prosperity, and Social Credit. They too have these challenges, but the last thing I heard from Prosperity was that they were having a steady influx of members.


Coronavirus dangerous, but not New Zealand’s biggest medical threat

Around the world 62 nations, including New Zealand have closed their border to Chinese visitors as a result of Coronavirus (COVID19). The closures, which in the coming weeks will be reviewed, have drawn much criticism from China, upset that its nationals are being denied entry into other countries.

Whilst I believe, given the lack of Chinese government transparency around COVID19, these are the correct measures to be taking, it should be noted that other medical threats around the world with a much lower profile cause significantly more deaths per annum. In other parts of the world COVID19, despite the reputation it is building, still does not come close to their biggest medical threats to human beings. In Africa, Asia and South America combined 100,000 people each year die from snake bite, from snakes that are far more prolific than COVID19 cases. They include the Lancehead in South America, the Russell Viper in Asia, the Saw Scale Viper in both Asia and Africa and Cobras of various types throughout both continents.

In New Zealand, snakes are obviously not an issue. And so, the major killer is actually respiratory illnesses caused by poorly insulated housing. 1600 people die during each winter from respiratory illnesses caused by mould, by excessive moisture content in the house, by simply not having enough insulation in the house. And this is not a new problem either, but rather one that has been quietly working away in the background known by authorities and the public all along, yet somehow despite the significant annual spike it causes in the deaths per month, not viewed seriously by the Ministers (and their Ministries)of Housing, Health and Social Development.

So, what to do about it? Attempts have been made to address our substandard housing insulation standards, the Government will tell you, but those attempts fit with what I call “the best we can” approach of New Zealand Governments, which read correctly actually means “the best we can be bothered doing”. In these cases, the case exists for higher quality regulations, but in order to avoid offending those industries a watered down version often gets released instead.

I have not been in many rental properties, but the ones I have been in, I noted significant mould around the shower from condensation that has not been allowed to escape. At home, prior to having double glazing installed, I noticed that if one uses a scraper attached to a scope which doubles as the handle, on very heavy condensation days the scope might collect nearly a litre of water. And people talk about how frequently they have to empty the dehumidifier tray of its contents.

But how much of this could we potentially prevent if we got really serious and required insulation to reach say R7.0 in new homes and R5.0 in everything else? I suspect the death toll would come down significantly.

But is New Zealand prepared to tackle this quiet, low profile agent of death that lives among us on a day to day basis in our colder months? Are we prepared to demand law changes that require these new standards, or is another potential New Zealand killer, the “she’ll be right” attitude that makes “the best we can be bothered doing” an acceptable outcome going to continue its equally dirty work aiding and abetting such outcomes.

The choice is yours New Zealand.