David Farrar and the story of the Strawman

The first I heard of the Population Policy Brouhaha was earlier today as I was campaigning on Queen Street with Zachary Dorner and Gareth Hughes encouraging young workers to take advantage of their legal rights to paid time off work to vote on Saturday the 8th…

Needless to say I was a little confused…I hadn’t watched TV last night as I was cooking for friends, and I hadn’t had a chance to read the newspapers today, so I was unsure what the story was.

So I did what every good informed citizen does, I went home and read the population policy. Then I watched TV3’s news story, and, mouth agog, I had a read about what everyone was saying.

Elections are critical times to get the stories right. You don’t get a chance for corrections or alterations if someone gets it wrong, even if you do. You get one chance to get your message across and that’s it. Unfortunately, we were denied that chance.

TV3’s reporting was shoddy and sensational on a very important issue A global storm is coming in the form of climate change that will uproot hundreds of millions of people, developing countries continue to experience economic and population growth as living standards improve, a fact that we should not begrudge or seek to curtail.

The Green Party are the only mainstream party that has the gumption and the courage to look at the challenges of the future and start some discussions about how we are going to support our nation with finite resources.

Enter David Farrar and his Strawman. Normally I’m a regular reader of Kiwiblog: Farrar is a relatively cogent writer two thirds of the time, but it seems that election years bring out the worst in him.

An issue that would normally have led to some rational discourse on his part – whether be it new energy efficiency building codes or this population policy – inexorably causes the the blinders go up and the blood pressure to go through the roof. Suddenly any screaming hysterical response is fair game, in order to whip up a frothing at the mouth frenzy among his substantially angry readership.

It doesn’t matter if those responses are incorrect or false. It doesn’t matter if they’re deliberate misinterpretations. It doesn’t matter if they’re cherry picked out of context. What matters is if you say something often enough, it becomes common sense. And to the Dad4Justices of the world, those angry men who predominatly read Kiwiblog, Common Sense is what really matters.

According to Farrar:

“The Greens want negative population growth

Wrong. If Farrar had bothered reading our FULL Population Policy, rather than relying on that bastion of objective analysis, the New Zealand Herald, he would have noted nowhere in our policy to do we advocate or promote negative population growth.

Current projections from Statistics New Zealand indicate our population is likely to level off at around the 5.5 million mark. Funnily enough this is under the predicted ecological carrying capacity of New Zealand anyway. Nowhere in our policy implicitly or explicitly do we advocate negative population growth. But that’s not important to Farrar or his readers: why let the truth get in the way of a good angry ignorant rant?

If Farrar had bothered to read our population policy – hell, if he’d bothered to browse the policy summary so kindly available for him on the Greens website rather than cherry pick some things to twist out of context – he would have seen that the maximum sustainable population for New Zealand that will keep allowing him to enjoy the lifestyle he’s so hell bent on ruining by voting for National is not final or fixed, but flexible. That means that if we get our arses into gear and stop consuming natural resources beyond what our systems can provide, then we can support more people. But if we insist on, and indeed advocate for as Farrar and the National Party do – consuming more than our fair share and beyond our means, then we’re up shit creek.

Methinks the reason Farrar and his ilk are so angry is that they recognise the truth in what we’re saying. The fat over fed chickens that have eaten beyond what they can afford are coming home to roost, and the roof is caving in.

You will have to build up enough carbon credits in order to get permission to have a child.”

Wrong. This line’s so retarded I shouldn’t even have to address it. Yes David! And if you have more than the limited number of children, we’ll turn them into organic fertiliser. Would you like to take that line and run a wild eyed post on that too?

“So let’s make sure we have this right. NZ already has a shrinking population from fertility. But in order to allow India, Libya, Saudia Arabia, Pakistan and the Niger to carry on with their over-populating, NZ families should have less children.”

Wrong. Again. If Farrar had bothered to read the damn policy, he would understand that we do not advocate people having less children. What we suggest is that people and are informed about the issues of constrained resources, something that Farrar clearly isn’t. I especially find this part deliciously ironic because you can bet your bottom dollar that it would be someone from the Kiwiblog Right who would make the first utterance about Bloody Useless Maoris Breeding For Business™. Maybe it’s only ok to talk about how many children people should have if they’re brown? Wasn’t it National that advocated putting a limit on how many Useless Teenage Mums could have last election?

“What this means is taxpayer funded bureaucrats working on pamphlets and seminars to frighten parents off having more kids. Can you imagine every school in NZ having some dour faced do gooder preaching to all the kids they they should not have children, in order to save the planet.”

Wrong. Unlike the National Party, the Greens don’t believe in frightening people into making decisions. Communities need to know about the consequences of their collective decisions. People are free to have as many babies as they want. People also need to know that lots and lots of babies will put pressure on our resources, and we need to get prepared now to deal with extra pressure if we collectively choose to go down that path.

Farrar is of course aware of all of this. It doesn’t matter – real ideas and arguments are irrelevant to him. You see, Farrar is the master of the strawman – a fake argument that’s put up by someone to falsely represent another’s position, only to have it torn down in a raging frenzy. It gets people angry. It gets people upset. It gets the Anti PC, Nanny State crusaders chafing at the bit. That’s what it’s all about in Election ’08

It’s a real pity that he chooses to engage in that type of rhetoric. It doesn’t do him justice.

OMG! He’s like, so hot and stuff!

Could there be a bigger waste of carbon and bandwidth than Rachel Glucina and her “Spy” column in the Herald?

Today’s column has to take the cake, although it’s followed closely by a recent journalistic zinger that Richard Worth might be going through a mid life crisis because he was in a Harley-Davidson shop. OMG! No WAAAY Shut UP!

No, today’s was a doozy:

So like, why are politicians, like, not hot?

Come on! Is this woman for real? Can she find anything floating around up there that’s not some mindless claptrap? I don’t need to state the obvious but I will. It actually doesn’t matter what politicians look like because…well…they’re not running in a beauty contest, or vying to be photographed at some wannabe celebrity event in the foyer of Alexandra Park or at some random bar in the viaduct.

It’s called an election. It’s where ideas are exchanged and argued and discussed, not sultry looks or pouty lips.

OMG but that’s like, so boring and stuff! I mean, like, who cares, like whatever!

Oy Vay!

Pale Blue Dot

Stevedore posted recently on Earthrise, the iconic photograph produced by the Apollo 8 mission on their first voyage to the moon. It’s a beautiful shot, and certainly puts the world into perspective.

Far more meaningful to me is the image produced by Voyager on its epic journey through the Solar System, and out into the void of space. At one point Voyager’s cameras were able to turn back and take a shot of our home. What we saw, according to Carl Sagan, was a speck of dust, suspended in a sunbeam.

This image underscores our reliance on this planet for our survival…it is the only one we have; there certainly don’t appear to be any more in the vicinity that we can move to once we’ve trashed this one.

Carl Sagan was probably one of the most formative figures in my political development; his writings on science, atheism and astronomy have shaped my views more than anyone’s on where we are going as a species.

Watch the video below, recorded by Carl before he died, and his views on our futile wars and destruction on the Pale Blue Dot [Warning somewhat cheesy music, and a confusing view of earth from…earth?]

Positive and Practical

I am just so disappointed at the Auckland City Council staff’s advice to Councillors to abandon proposed cycleway and walkway on the Auckland Harbour Bridge. At a time when we all need to be working to minimise our addiction to fossil fuels and our love affairs with our cars, its just unfathomable.

Our harbour bridge was originally designed to take walkers and cyclists who wanted to get off their bums, enjoy the sights and Get Across. For too long we have simply accepted the status quo that the motorcar has the monopoly on our space and our city. That time is coming to an end with climate change and peak oil, and we need positive, practical solutions to transition to a more sustainable way of living in urban areas. That is what we [Greens] are all about – not only looking at the challenges, but finding ways to address them that have that vision thing: Long term, good for the earth, good for people and good for communities.

It’s just so unfortunate that the Auckland City Council staff seem to be on another songsheet – one that pays homage to the Automobile and their exhausts. Hopefully the Councillors will have some of that vision thing and support the cycleway…

Plant of the Week: Rewarewa

So in addition to running as a Green candidate in this year’s election, I am also a budding botanist and evolutionary biologist. I never really was that much into plants. As a child I lived in a small rural community in the Bay of Plenty, with an amateur horticulturist for a father and a local kaumatua who gave all of the kids at Whakamarama Primary School a crash course in identifying native plants for the competition held annually as part of Calf Club. Now, however, I have a lot more time for them. I have written about them a bit at my other blog, although I have been a bit too busy to write there. New Zealand’s plants are really neat; we have some quirky ones, some rare ones, some unique to these isles and others found around the Pacific and the world.

Anyway, one of my most anticipated events has started to happen: the blooming of my favourite New Zealand native, and this week’s plant of the week:

Rewarewa – Knightia excelsa – New Zealand Honeysuckle

Rewarewa is a beautiful woody species in the Proteaceae family, a Gondwanan family that includes the Proteas from South Africa and the Grevilleas, Hakeas, Banksias and Waratahs from Australia. Rewarewa is the only member of the Proteaceae that currently exists in New Zealand, despite the fossil and pollen records indicating that they were once diverse and abundant here, having probably been wiped out as part of the last glaciation period.

Rewarewa has wonderfully imposing leaves – long, stiff and serrated – and the most beautiful wood. The real treasure, however, are its flowers. They are very characteristic of the more recent Proteaceae. The thing I love about them is that you can often walk past the trees when they are flowering and not notice, because they tend to bloom inside the tree. Rather than being on the outside of the plant at the ends of the branches the flowers, which a deep velvety crimson that lighten as they mature, are clustered at the base of the branches and thus often hidden by the leaves. They are currently blooming all along Mt Eden Road in Auckland, on my cycle way to University. They are just so precious, and remind me that spring is on its way…

Drinking Liberally…

Ok so this is a couple of days old, but I just thought I would mention Drinking Liberally Auckland that was held last Wednesday at the London Bar, Wellesley Street. It was a great seeing our old colleagues and allies from the liberal left, having a brew…

Anyway, this month’s speaker was Laila Harre, former MP, ex-Alliance Leader and current National Secretary of the NDU (and resident of the Te Atatu electorate :P). Laila gave us an excellent analysis of the current state of Industrial Relations and the union movement within New Zealand, particularly within the context of a General Election this year – definitely food for thought for those of us on the left concerned about workers’ rights and the role of the institution of organised labour in society at large.

Laila addressing the crowd

Laila addressing the crowd

I’m sorry…WHAT?!?

Ok, so I can normally understand some people who spout the old Anti-PC rhetoric about turning men into wimps, women running the country, section 59, homosexual agenda blah blah blah, but this guy has me well and truly stumped…

Apparently, not only did Lochore leave his babies (not children, but three week old babies) outside in the mud while he was boozing, but he actually attempts to justify the fact that he assaulted other people’s children. WTF?

This isn’t even in the realm of rational debate about section 59 and its future in this country. This is the New Zealand Herald somehow justifying this man’s neglect and abuse of not only his own children, but others’ as well, as some kind of legitimate discourse about families and the rights of children. All because what, he’s an ex rugby coach? Un-fracking-believable. If this guy is the poster boy for the anti-PC thugs, then all I can say is good luck to them.

The Politics of Distraction

This is going to be a little bit of a rant:

It’s been a while…it seems that running as a candidate, being involved with fundraising and…oh yeah trying to write a Thesis (!) can be a bit much at times. I’ve been sweating the small stuff over little fundraising events, local Te Atatu issues and one hell of a writer’s block; I seemed to have lost my mojo…but I went to Nandor’s talk at the University today (At The Tipping Point: Thinking Beyond Sustainability; see it at AUT tomorrow and Unitec Thursday! Do It!) and found myself re-invigorated, re-energised and re-focussed. Finally! Kia ora Nandor – you were wasted in Parliament! 😉

Living day to day in a world that demands your attention for fleeting engagements, instant gratification and an ever deafening chorus of more More MORE! means it can be difficult to remain focussed on the Things That Matter. It is as if our system of living has been set up, either intentionally or not, to distract us from the really important things in our lives; the relationships with people around us, the inequalities and inequities in our communities, and the destruction of our planet – to rephrase Marx: Consumerism is the opiate of the Masses. Our political system is no better, with politicians using smoke and mirrors to distract us from the big things that are happening. Politics seems to be something that we have, that we consume, rather than something that we do…

Case in Point: National Party politicians were caught red-handed (or rather red-mouthed) essentially admitting that they are willing to say what people want to hear in order to get into power, only for them to enact a legislative and regulatory agenda that will not be subjected to an electoral mandate. Now, on one hand, no big deal: most of us expect that from a party that’s been in the political wilderness for the last 9 years and within inches of regaining the mantle. On the other hand: Big Freakin’ Deal – in the democracy that we ‘do’ rather than ‘have’, it’s unacceptable that a political party would enact said agenda without being transparent about it. Now for the distraction: rather than the media maintaining their focus on what was said, and doing some real investigation, they ran after the stick that John Key threw them. Our media fell for the distraction that who recorded the comments was more important, more scandalous than what the comments meant. Hook. Line. Sinker. Hopefully the public didn’t buy it (and judging by the comments in the ‘Your Views‘ section of the Herald, not everyone did), or else we could be in for the biggest dupe of our electoral history…

In many other aspects though, we’ve bought the messages; the lines that have been repeated so often that we now accept them as truths. In many instances these messages appeal to a darker side to us: the selfish, the individualistic, in some cases the downright mean. Of course we rationalise it with rhetoric about ‘personal responsibility’, ‘choice’ and ‘hard-working taxpayers’: the last thing we want to do is really reflect on the ideas that we’re buying into, what they mean for us, and for our communities.

Case in Point: This week National released (finally!) their policy on social welfare. There are actually some positives that we should support: increasing the abatement threshold for supplemental income for beneficiaries – although this should be much higher if we’re not going to raise benefit levels in real terms-  and fixing increases of benefits to inflation a legal requirement rather than a convention. By and large, however, the policy released by National isn’t new, it isn’t informed by real research into what makes our communities tick, and it isn’t going to actually improve the lives of those it is meant to help. While political pundits are marvelling at how John Key has toned down the rhetoric, it is still there – a wolf in sheep’s clothing tapping into a message, an idea that we bought into as a society only recently: the sick, the poor, the vulnerable exist solely because of our good graces, our generosity. During the last thirty years, we have seen a fundamental paradigm shift that has changed our collective perception of the welfare state from being an integral part of our social functioning – a dignified response of our communities to those who by and large through no fault of their own have found themselves in need of assistance – to one that maligns and marginalises those same groups, tarring them all as lazy; valueless; without worth; ‘breeding for business’.

I am a proud child of a DPB family, much like John Key it seems. Unlike John Key, my experiences moved me into the opposite direction of political views. My mother was blessed with five children from three births and a cheating husband who left when I was about 10 or so. My mum is a pretty proud person, and we never accepted the generosity of our neighbours in the rural community I was raised in. Nonetheless, at a certain point she shifted to the DPB in the early nineties, when the real harm of Shipley’s benefit cut’s was being felt. I still remember to this day my mother apologising to my brother and I that she wouldn’t be able to be home in the evenings because she had to work til late to supplement her income. That one experience has stayed with me: no parent should ever have to apologise to their child because they’re working late – and committing benefit fraud – to try and scrape together enough money to live. Of course, we aren’t motivated by real stories, and we don’t want a real conversation. We were fed the line that beneficiaries weren’t worthy of true compassion, of real dignity. They are lazy. They’re having children to get money. We bought it.

I view this as a fundamental challenge for us to resolve. Labour haven’t forgotten beneficiaries: ‘forgetting’ implies that some passive process occurred. To the contrary – the exclusion of beneficiaries from the in work payment, the exclusion of beneficiaires from Working for Families, the exclusion of beneficiaries from KiwiSaver, the lack of movement on benefit levels – all of this belies the fact that Labour have actively abandoned beneficiaries and low income earners, in the quest for the ‘Centre’ – that mythological beast that guarantees electoral success. Why? Because the ‘centre’ – you and me and all of us ‘hard working taxpayers’, with our relative affluence, our education, our comfortable incomes – has accepted the anti-beneficiary rhetoric. We accept it, we regurgitate it, and we respond to the dog-whistling around it. It’s political poison for a mainstream party to champion beneficiaries. By accepting the lines fed to us, we have fundamentally altered the political landscape so that the party (read: Labour) with the right motivation and power to restore dignity to the welfare state daren’t do it.

Our challenge is not only to restore dignity in financial terms to the welfare state, but to restore dignity to the recipients of that assistance within the wider community. That is going to be a much harder task, and one we can’t afford to be distracted from.

Food Show

I love food. I love growing it, I love cooking it and I love eating it, so it was with great enthusiasm that I popped off to the Auckland Food Show this weekend to help man the Green Party stall. It’s interesting that in a time of rocketing prices in almost all kinds of food, including staples abroad and even local produce here, the Greens are the only party that seem to be aware of, and responding to, what’s going on. Unsurprisingly then, we were the only political group at the Food Show, spreading our message of safe, affordable food to people who are as passionate about their kai as us!

I could only attend on the Friday, but it was a fantastic event from what I saw: huge kudos to Sue Kedgley and Lisa Er (Candidate for Mt Roskill) for getting us there and among the public. I found that people, whether they were just domestic foodies or the importers of Australian rice, were really willing to engage with us about our policy on food; having a chat about getting gardening skills back into primary schools, getting mandatory country of origin labeling for the food we import, and having a long hard look at the things we’re throwing into our food to replace the nutrients we seem hell bent on ripping out.

Special thanks to Atomic Coffee for providing good quality Fair Trade coffee at a very reasonable price – and for donating a third of the price of every cup sold to Oxfam. Kia ora!