Archive for October, 2016

So, as I mentioned earlier, there’s either a potential groundswell of support for a Republic coming, or we’ve recently had another rogue poll. We’ll see, probably when the monarchists push more biased questions on the public next, (this is the first poll, for instance, that accurately reminded people that the monarchs are primarily the United Kingdom’s monarchs, and they’re even less kiwi than Russell Crowe, who identifies as an Australian) but in the meantime, I’ll discuss why we should bother considering a Republic.

Now, if everything else in our constitutional framework was all correct and functioning fine, I would actually agree with monarchists who argue you don’t need to fix something broken. Transitioning to a republic is as much about having an excuse to debate wider constitutional issues as it is about ditching the monarchy itself, but there are some inherent benefits to it, too. Let’s go one by one.

The monarch is an absentee landlord

Technically, we claim that the UK Queen is also, by pure legal fiction, the Queen of the Realm of New Zealand. (a fancy way of pretending our now nominally independent nation can be independent while still asking the UK to politely lend us their Queen occasionally) However, because she’s busy being queen of another country, we also get her to rubber stamp delegating all of her duties to someone the Prime Minister appoints. A corporation would never pay a CEO to delegate all their duties, so why should a government put up with a head of state that does the same? So in practical terms, the governor general is our head of state, like a real estate company appointed by the landlord to manage our country or something.

But the governor general is a poor real estate agent. Because she’s appointed by the Prime Minister after the process being duly rubber-stamped by the monarch of the day, there is a convention that although the Governor General could technically dissolve Parliament whenever she wanted, or simply refuse to sign the Royal Assent to bills, that she won’t. This “constitutional convention” comes about because it’s essentially a bad look for someone appointed to overrule a bunch of people who have some actual claim to legitimacy because they’re elected. So functionally, the Governor General never acts without explicit instruction by the Prime Minister or Parliament, even when it might arguably be justified, such as laws that have blatant and unjustified disregard to human rights. We politely call these “reserve powers,” labouring under the blissful illusion that a power that is controversial to use under normal circumstances will be less controversial in a constitutional crisis, which to me at least seems rather naïve, as they will in fact generally be more controversial, not less. In our real estate agent metaphor, the practicality of using reserve powers is something like asking the real estate agent to first check that they agree with the tenants before making any decisions about the house!

 The monarchy undermines egalitarianism

There are several different types of egalitarianism, (the idea that we’re all equal to varying degrees) and monarchy undermines all of them. We live in a country where legitimate political power is supposed to come from being an elected representative, yet we are content to have a wealthy family steeped in institutional discrimination on the basis of religion and sex1 to sit above our representatives in legal status because they inherited a title.

Egalitarianism is a core democratic value. It’s one of the things that protects us from democratic decay like they have in the USA, where they’re essentially an elected oligarchy. Yes, this is mostly symbolic stuff, but in the long run, symbols are important, and having to teach kids that we simultaneously believe in equality but also have a Queen is a ridiculous circle to try and square. Why bother?

The monarchy are not all fair brokers

While Queen Elizabeth II has managed to by and large stay out of political scuffles, not all of her family feel the same way. Monarchists generally point to the benefit of having a head of state that’s above politics. It’s a great ideal, but like any democratic norm, it has to be achieved by being adopted as a cultural practice, rather than entirely relying on a philosophical safeguard. Inherited power doesn’t necessarily make you above politics.

In fact, the perception that the monarch is above politics is largely because the royal family have made a large effort to keep silent on political matters, at least until Charles. I would say it’s better for people to actually discuss their political opinions and when they’d step in so that the public is actually aware, and to create a culture where we vote for a President who will act as an honest political broker and protect the interests of the nation as a whole. Unlike just shipping the job out to the monarchy, it’s not an easy answer, but ultimately, it’s a real answer that doesn’t run into conflicts about democratic legitimacy.

We’re not Little Britain anymore

The crux of the argument is, really, whether the British heritage of many (but not all) Pakeha New Zealanders justifies pretending that it’s realistic to timeshare a monarch. There are a lot of mental gymnastics involved to the Monarchist arguments: the Queen is our Queen, but becoming a Republic is also tantamount to cutting ties with Britain. (regardless of them being functionally cut in real terms already, and only beginning to come back into consideration if Brexit does, in fact, succeed before the next general election, and New Zealand manages to work itself into a favourable position with a nation that doesn’t currently consider it particularly relevant)

We speak our own accents in our own media now, and no longer regard sounding British as conferring extra authority. Some Pakeha feel more allegiance to the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi and our New Zealand laws than they do to a far-distant Queen, and don’t identify with the Union Jack. That’s the cultural change that’s coming for the rest of New Zealand, over time. The question is if we’re there yet. Many people won’t be. I can think of a few of them who’re very close to me.

It stops us from putting real constitutional safeguards in place and enacting real reforms

The illusion of protection through the reserve powers saps momentum from efforts for real reform, such as the proposal to have a fixed election date law that gives the winner of a snap election a two-year-and-change term instead of a full three-year one, (thus putting a real price on calling a snap election for political purposes. John Key proposed something like this, but poisoned the well on it by coupling it with an extended four-year parliamentary term) on the proposal for Parliament to appoint a President with similar powers to the Governor General, or collecting together and spelling out some of our constitutional law. If we can agree on a set of circumstances upon which it’s reasonable to ask the republic question, then we can actually start digging into matters of constitutional import without constant alarm over a potential republic popping up.

It doesn’t need to be like the US system

The US system, with its strong executive presidency2 is actually an anomaly among democratic republics, and most serious objections to the idea of a republic come from people assuming “republic” means “like the US,” which has a positively ancient constitution that hasn’t been modified, an obstructionist opposition using gerrymandering to retain influence when they’ve lost the popular vote in over three-quarters of the elections in recent history, and several other significant problems that don’t relate to the intrinsic fact of them being a democratic republic. The German system, for instance, has a Head of State appointed by their legislative body in a way that’s not synchronised with popular elections, like NZ Republic wants, (presumably to remove the talking point that elections cost money, but honestly, elections are one of the hardest bits of government spending to argue against, because look at the alternatives!) which maintains a tradition of a seperation of day-to-day politics, like monarchists claim to want, and our Parliament most closely resembles the German one thanks to our adoption of MMP, so it’s not an unreasonable starting point for talking about Republican reform.

Next post: a deeper dive into options for a NZ presidency, and their pros and cons.

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My feelings on Hillary Clinton as a presidential candidate are very mixed.

The Positive

On the one hand, as several feminists I respect have pointed out, she is the most overqualified candidate for president in modern history, to a point that she’s comparable with one of the greats such as Thomas Jefferson in that regard, who also came to the Presidency through the State Department. (And of course, women do have to be overqualified to break that last glass ceiling in each country, sadly) She is the candidate, of the two likely to win, who I prefer. She has “waited her turn” for the nomination of the democratic party. She was a good supporter of President Obama, even after her understandably hurt feelings at essentially having the nomination swept away from under her feet by him. (because supporting men they lose out on promotions to is expected of women in the workplace, even when men in the same position are allowed to spit the dummy and have a hissy fit) She has played the system extraordinarily well and by any conventional wisdom, deserves to be the USA’s next president.

Which is of course, precisely the problem, and were she not running against a authoritarian narcissist and loser1, who is a fraudulent libel bully2 and likes to brag about sexual assault of attractive blondes3, but some other kind of populist, she would be practically guaranteed to lose because she has essentially been looking for an endorsement of the political establishment, not the people.

Does the fact that she’s a woman and the USA hasn’t yet had a female president play into this? Of course it does. There are absolutely bros out there voting for Gary Johnson or even Donald Trump (or perhaps writing in for Bernie Sanders, despite the fact that he has endorsed Ms. Clinton) who don’t yet understand, like practically the entire rest of the world, that a woman can be a good leader, and what being led by a woman looks like and feels like. (the answer is mainly “good”) I have been a defender of women as Heads of Government before, so I hope I can say this without being accused of disliking the idea of a female president, as I feel that women in particular, and diverse candidates in general, have been long overdue as US Presidents. It should have been a woman’s “turn,” insofar as such a concept should apply to politics, long before Hillary.

Let’s be charitable and not bring up the issue of Hillary’s approval ratings in the negative section, as it’s likely to have been significantly bumped down by pure virtue of her gender, which is not acceptable.

The Negative

That said, is everyone who is being called a Bernie Bro coming to their decision based purely on unconscious sexism? Absolutely not. There are so many legitimate arguments against Clinton as a candidate it’s not funny. She is an establishment candidate running during a populist mood. (which incidentally explains a lot of Trump’s popularity- the fact that the man’s a moron is actually a plus for him with certain voters, as they don’t want someone who sounds like a politician, and they want someone they believe will put the interests of ordinary people first, which Trump at least has passable rhetoric for, if your definition of “ordinary” is restricted to white people) She is the most right-wing candidate (some would argue that, normalising for America’s general rightward lean, she’s a centrist. That may be fair) to succeed in capturing the Democratic nomination since the southern strategy, and yes, I am including her husband in that calculation.

As a President, there is evidence that while she will enthusiastically support certain liberal (as opposed to Left) issues like women’s rights in general and abortion rights in particular, queer rights, (albeit as a follower of public opinion rather than an actual leader) compromise gun reforms, and expanding access to healthcare, but taken overall she’s also pretty dangerous on a policy-based analysis. While she does support higher taxes on the rich to pay for expanding access to education, this was actually a concession to her primary opponent, and not a policy she came up with herself. She opposes sufficient regulation on big banks, corporate accountability, refuses to take a side on the Dakota Access pipeline, an unnecessary relic of fossil fuel infrastructure in an era where all new infrastructure needs to be planning for a carbon-zero future, and that’s all before we start mentioning the things she was for before she was “against” them,  like the Keystone XL pipeline, and, thanks to Wikileaks, we have absolute confirmation that she is only pretending to be against the TPPA to score points with voters, and thus cannot be relied upon to prevent its passage into law.

She was the wrong nominee. Her primary opponent, while an elderly white man, would also have been the most left-wing Democratic nominee for President in modern history, and the first Jewish nominee, (and thereby also the first nominee that didn’t openly claim to be Christian) so his nomination would also have been historic, even if it pushed back the first female nominee. Bernie Sanders polled significantly better head-to-head with Trump at the time when he was all-but-nominated as the Republican candidate, and Bernie and Clinton were the only Democrats in the race, at which time it’s likely that opinion around the nominees had solidified to a point that head-to-head polling was reasonable. (At the time, Clinton was losing head-to-head against Trump, precisely because she needed Sanders’ supporters to get her over the line) His policies were objectively better for America: extending Medicare to everyone, a more universal education program, a dovish foreign policy, and real restraint for the US’ billionaire class and their servants on Wall Street.

And on top of that, there’s evidence that, unlike in the general election, (where voter fraud appears to be on Trump’s side) the contest was unfairly stacked against Bernie Sanders. The Democratic campaign was supporting her behind the scenes during the primary, because Bernie Sanders wasn’t an establishment democrat, despite his pledge to support the party and its nominee even if he lost, a pledge he didn’t have to make. They colluded with Debbie Wassermann-Shulz to put primary debates on at obscure times and to run as few as possible, going so far as to back out on the last debate after they had been pressured into running more. They manipulated primary procedure to disadvantage his campaign in Nevada. They illegally colluded with SuperPACs, despite Hillary’s supposed opposition to the Citizens United decision. They took advantage of voter suppression in several primary states in order to win. And there is evidence from our friends at Wikileaks to suggest that Hillary’s campaign did so enthusiastically.

Which of course, brings us to the issue of Wikileaks, and that the Clinton campaign’s defense against their allegations is itself problematic. Firstly, let me say that if any of the actual content of the leaks were incorrect, there would be sufficient proof for her campaign to come out with documentary evidence outright saying so. That they have not done so is a classic “non-denial denial,” ie. implied evidence of absence. Secondly, let me say that leaking documents is not a “cyber attack.” It is either espionage or data breach. Cyber attacks fall under “sabotage,” a charge much too serious to apply to some documents that have been copied and released publicly without permission. (which, by the by, is basically the definition of whistle-blowing once you add in “public interest,” which the fact that Ms. Clinton is a Presidential candidate clearly does) Now, the Clinton campaign have instead pivoted their defense to the provenance of the leak, which they contest (with no information provided to the public to prove so, even though there is reasonable circumstantial evidence available in the data itself) that they are a result of Russian espionage. So what? What does that matter if the leaks are true and of public import? (Nobody has yet provided any reasonable argument that anything Wikileaks has ever published has been false, fyi, so it’s actually a pretty reliable source)

Ms. Clinton has given paid speeches to Wall Street in which she has claimed it is acceptable to have both a private position and a public position, and despite her protestations, she was clearly talking about double-talk to the electorate when you read the leaked transcripts. That said, the upside of that particular speech is that if you look into it carefully, her admission about being out-of-touch with working class Americans is actually genuine, and something she really should be saying on the campaign trail- “I used to be one of you, and just because I’ve risen above that now doesn’t mean I won’t continue trying to advocate for the working class” is simultaneously honest, genuine, and good policy. Hillary is not good at letting us look at the genuine parts of her that make her a good candidate, and they’re there, look at how positively received her defense of abortion rights was, for instance.

But back to her campaign’s defense about Wikileaks, this brings us to the issue of how hawkish Ms. Clinton is on foreign policy, and why that’s a problem with tensions so high with Russia. She is openly accusing them of manipulating the election in her country without concrete evidence, (to which she is lucky the extent of the response has been to humorously request to observe the election in certain non-critical states) she is openly trying to increase tensions by calling for a no-fly zone in Syria when the only people bombing it are aligned with Russia, and she supports encroaching on Russian territory so far by admitting new members into NATO that the metaphorical equivalent would be Russia having bases along the Canadian and Mexican borders with the USA, despite the fact that the Allies promised after German reunification4 that NATO would go no further east than Germany.

The fact is that, regardless of the sexism against her, Ms. Clinton is an over-scripted establishment candidate, appealing to the rich and trying to steal establishment Republicans away from Mr. Trump in an election environment where there is a real hunger for a populist candidate that understands that working class (no, not middle class, I mean working class) people are suffering, that the US is tired of political corruption and political dynasties, (of which Ms. Clinton is now part, in campaigning for the Presidency after her husband had won) and that they want someone who will not only provide them proven leadership and sound policy, but will attack the people who are economically bleeding them dry. The former Secretary of State isn’t that person, although of course, despite the perceptions of the rust belt and certain authoritarians, neither is Mr. Trump.

In Summary

Hillary Clinton may be the most qualified candidate in modern US political history. She may be the best shot at the first woman to become US president, and the hardest campaigner among the major parties. But she was neither the best candidate in her primary, (that was, objectively, Bernie Sanders) nor is she the best female candidate in the race. It is, of course, fortunate for her that she’s fighting against perhaps the most unqualified man to ever become a major party nominee. (I will count Ronald Reagan as more qualified because at least he had charisma)

I hope we look back at the US election and see it as the missed opportunity for a Sanders Presidency. I hope we don’t end up with a resumption of the cold war between the US and Russia, despite indications that Hillary Clinton’s provocation of Russia are above the level that occured in the original Cold War. I hope I’m wrong about not being able to trust Hillary’s will-I-won’t-I opposition to the TPPA. I hope I’m proven wrong and that she works with Mr. Sanders in fostering the new progressive caucus within the Democratic Party. I hope I’m wrong about my pessimism that she’ll fight climate change adequately. I hope I genuinely get to celebrate the US joining the rest of the civilised world in electing a woman, instead of bemoaning that on the issues she’s the worst female candidate we possibly could have gotten. But I’m not optimistic yet.

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One of the things I most commonly do as a guy who participates in feminism is simply provide a male face repeating things that women have said to give them “more credibility” with a certain audience, because people who to varying degrees buy into into patriarchal arguments are to varying degrees going to unconsciously distrust women saying something more than men saying something. (and you know, because there’s a long and unfortunate tradition of men needing to hear men say something before it really takes off)

In that tradition, I’m going to assemble some common objections to feminism so I can link people to this post rather than writing a new argument every time. Let’s go one-by-one.

1: Feminism is out to get men.

On the contrary, every type of feminism holds at its core that women and men are equal. (yes, there are different “flavours” of feminism) It is literally the dictionary definition of feminism. Yes, even radical feminists believe this.

Do things feminists advocate sometimes hurt men’s feelings, or maybe result in small temporary “inequalities” in what’s socially acceptable while we adjust social norms to a more equal framework? Yes. But that’s a problem of practical implementation and usually a relic of sexism that hurts men, (such as the awkward situation where a man defending himself against a women being violent against him is regarded as wronger than her attacking him in the first place for some strange reason because “men shouldn’t hit women”) rather than something that feminism is to blame for.

2: Feminism has been bad for men overall.

Sometimes this argument is phrased as “feminism has hurt both men and women,” but I think the accusation that feminism has been bad for women is so ridiculous I won’t even bother arguing against it here. (it’s usually based on a particular study which has been well-analyzed as not meaning what people say it means, if it’s even robust enough to take seriously at all)

Arguments that feminism benefits men are so common that “fbm” is a well-used acronym by various feminisms. I have even made a few myself.

Men have been seen as “default” and a certain view of masculinity as unassailable for so long that it’s not been up for question what it means to be a man, and thus society has brutally punished people who fall to any degree outside that definition. It is now beginning to change and that is only possible because of men beginning to believe in feminist ideals.

I’m constantly pleased by how it’s becoming not only tolerated or okay to have a different idea of what it means to be a man, but how it’s actually beginning to be celebrated.And for those of us who never felt we fit in, this is one of the more exciting times to be alive, even if it means that there are some problems showing up while we figure it out.

3: But feminists didn’t argue against (this thing that hurts men).

Really? Are you sure?

Because feminists argued against conscription, are still arguing against the prison-industrial complex, have stood with gay men to protect their rights, have stood with transpeople (both transmen and transwomen) to help them advocate for themselves, have joined the economy while still facing pressure to pick up more than their share of unpaid work, and have generally been one of the biggest voices in support of men who have faced sexual assault, who may never have received justice without the reforms advocated by feminists.

Usually this argument is one of two things- either a failure to do the research, or in some particular cases, (such as TERFs, eugh) stumbling upon the one splinter-group of feminists who have actually taken things too far and don’t represent the good things that feminism as a whole is responsible for.

4: Child custody cases are biased against men

This kinda falls under the whole “fbm” discussion earlier- the reason child custody sometimes perpetuates a bias against men is because of a patriarchal stereotype that men aren’t interested in childcare the same way women are, and that to the degree that they are, they’re not as competent. (And also the dichotomy of men being viewed as sexual predators when interacting with children vs women being viewed as caregivers)

That you even have the option to contest custody is ironically thanks to feminism. The tradition otherwise would have been that even if your spouse died you would need to find some other woman to look after your children- either a family member, a new wife, or an employee or slave. (yeah, we’re going back THAT far)

There have been trends and individual cases regarding child custody that have bothered me. This isn’t an argument for less feminism. It’s an argument for more.

5: Feminists aren’t consistent in arguing for perfect equality of outcome

This is usually phrased something along the lines of “feminists want precise equality of pay, but don’t want us to (x),” where (x) may be, for example, “release male prisoners until equal amounts of men and women are imprisoned” or something equally ridiculous. (You can also substitute equality of pay for equal numbers of women in Parliament)

Firstly, feminism is an entire school of thought. You will find people arguing all sorts of positions within it, so it’s a bit erroneous to pretend that All Feminists Think (x) for anything that doesn’t directly relate to feminism. And even then, there’s no guarantee that an issue won’t be controversial, or split between different sub-ideologies.

Ignoring that for a moment, let’s talk about equality, the stated goal of feminists. There’s two broad schools of thought on What Equality Is, and those are equality of outcome, and equality of opportunity. The latter claims that if we all have the same rights, that is equality. As the violation of those rights differs by gender in practice, we don’t even have equality of opportunity today in my view. The latter says that we should be able to look at outcomes (eg. statistics about imprisonment, or sexual assault, or number of female parliamentarians, or the pay gap) and they should be close to equal in an equal society.

My personal view is that equality of opportunity should imply approximate equality of outcome. (as in, if women are equal to men, controlling for other factors*, they should be within a couple of percentage points of achieving the same outcomes, such as equal pay) Looking at that in terms of pay equity, the closest women have gotten an acceptable level of inequality is a 6% gap. (ie. being paid 92% of what a man gets, on average) Likewise, in Parliament, you would expect an average of 57-63 female MPs, with that number varying upwards in elections with overhang seats. Since MMP, parliaments have only averaged around 30% female MPs. There’s a really good argument that we should be looking at approximate equality of outcome in those easy-to-measure areas as an indicator of whether gender equality has been realised. (and it also becomes more excusable to have years in which that number is below equal if there are also years in which that number is above equal, which hasn’t happened yet)

The general counter-argument to whatever (x) is, such as prison populations, is that said figures don’t control for other factors. Sure, more men are imprisoned, but that’s because more men are committing serious crimes. New Zealand imprisons about 15.35 men for every woman, and while each type of offending achieves the same rank in how common it is among male and female prisoners, it is noted that men commit more violent offenses relative to their numbers. What we would want to be looking at is conviction rates of men and women among similar crimes, although of course we would expect more variability than in some other gender comparisons, as there are complex variables that can’t be properly controlled for, and it could be that, for instance, one gender is brought to court when they’re innocent more often, and thus should actually have a lower conviction rate. Controlling for all the unrelated factors is extremely difficult, and would constitute a research paper in its own right.

6: Feminists don’t believe in equality because they called me/someone names

It’s not inequality to critique through humour, which is what most feminist name-calling seems to be related to. You also have to understand that for most women, feminism isn’t simply them railing about hypotheticals they’d like to change or things that might be a little nicer. It’s more about screaming at the top of the lungs about how the world is broken and it needs to be fixed and how frustrating that is.

And maybe we should sit back and have a think before we go privileging our feelings about being humourously insulted over their feelings about how much their life sucks, because that’s a pretty terrible set of priorities right there.

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