“Media attack on New Zealand’s democracy”

A post by Dr. Hans B. Grueber at ZealandiaBlog suggests that there is a Media attack on New Zealand’s democracy

It’s true that the only ones seemingly concerned about parliament being left in limbo since the election and politicians not fronting up or answering any questions of note are journalists.

Twenty five years ago New Zealand voted in a first referendum for the (more) democratic proportional voting system called MMP (Mixed Member Proportional) as recommended  by the Royal Commission after the most thorough investigation into all electoral systems around the world.

The media are extremely slow learners. Over all these years they still  seem to be living in the old imperial First Past the Post world. For example they still talk about electorate and list MPs as if there was a difference. In the other MMP country Germany nobody makes that distinctions and never has. In our current debate we still hear the myth that electorate MPs are supposed to be first class while list MPs second class. The former being accountable and being able to be voted out by the people while the later (only) being accountable to their parties, which put them on the list. This myth could not be further from the truth.

As one scientist quipped in the US context that MPs in safe seats are less accountable to the public than the members of the Stalinist polit-bureau. The later having changed much more often under public pressure that safe seats under First-Past-the-Post. As I already said in a 1992 debate in safe National seats like Te Kuiti or Southland Clutha the party can put a blue ribbon around a sheep dog and it will be elected.

This year the blue ribbon around Toddy in Clutha Southland got fairly tatty, leading to him leaving Parliament with his tail between his legs. This was largelky due to the efforts of some of the media.

Not even a conspiracy

Still every election where the results are not to the liking of the neo-liberal media inevitably the electoral system is blamed.

Even the media are labelled ‘neo-liberal’ now. Was that the cause of or a result of the ‘neo-liberal’ revolution in the 1980s?

The New Zealand media in general do not even try to conceal their disdain for our electoral system and democracy. After this year’s election, which as usual under proportional representation didn’t produce a clear winner with over 50% of the vote they almost demanded that the party with the most votes – as it two weeks later turned out to be 44% – be given the right to form the next government.

The fact that 56% had voted against the old government wasn’t ever worth a mention.

I’ve seen something like that mentioned quite a bit. For someone promoting the merits of MMP to be treating it as a binary for/against vote is curious.

It isn’t a fact that “56% had voted against the old government”. There is no way of knowing the reasons why each of 2,591,896 people voted, especially the 186,706 who voted NZ First.

ACT voters, some Maori Party voters and others may not have specifically voted against the old government. Even some of those who voted for the Greens may not have cared who runs the next Government, they may simply have wanted to ensure that the Greens retained a voice in Parliament (I have voted exactly that way in the past)

It was actually 55.6% who didn’t vote for National. And 63.1% who didn’t vote for Labour, 92.8% who didn’t vote NZ First, 93.7% who didn’t vote Green.

We didn’t have a new government on election night, Oh My God !

The media wouldn’t even allow for the final results to come out before crying out about New Zealand being taken hostage by a party with only just over 7% of the vote. They are just taking their time to negotiate and make up their minds. These media, editors, commentators, and pundits assumed that the New Zealand people of voting age are still like little children who cannot wait and want to open the presents under the tree before Christmas day. The only ones who can’t wait are the media themselves. This is the age of instant gratification after all.

It does seem that it is mainly some of the media who are impatient for a new government.

Another media beat-up in the crazy assumption that it will scare the people is the fact that for an interim period after every election the old government continues as caretaker government in charge of running the day to day business of government. However they are not allowed to introduce any policy changes of make major decisions.

This is portrayed as a terrible thing as if the country would not happily function for a few weeks or even months without a proper government.

I haven’t seen the caretaker government portrayed as a terrible thing, although I have heard some concerns expressed about New Zealand not actively reacting on the international stage. However New Zealand’s lack of input will hardly be missed by most of the world.

The other MMP country Germany held elections on the same weekend. The far right neo-liberal party (FDP) represents the interests of the the business community, which according to the media here cannot live without the certainty of a new government. One of their representatives just appeared on the most influential political TV talkshow. When asked about a coalition before Christmas he replied that such serious negotiations could not be rushed. The host’s only reply was that they just would have to wait.

Belgium a few years back was without a new government for about 18 months after their election. The people loved it as no harm and damage was done to them unlike to us by successive neo-liberal governments over the last 33 years.

A caretaker government won’t change what has been done by successive “neo-liberal governments” over the last 33 years. Gruber keeps confusing two things, our current political limbo under MMP, and his apparent obsession with and opposition to neo-liberalism. It’s worth pointing out that seven of the “neo-liberalist” governments we have had have been elected under MMP.

And it’s worth remembering that if the incoming government 33 years ago had done nothing for some time, and hadn’t taken drastic action, some fairly severe damage to the country is likely to have occurred.

The media still stuck in the First-Past-the-Post world ignore the fact that all this is totally normal under any proportional system in the world. They are seriously suggesting the we, the people, didn’t know what we were doing when we voted over the last 25 years not only once but three times for MMP – a far more democratic system than we had before.

More democratic, which has resulted in more representative Parliaments, but I wouldn’t say far more, and still misused and abused by parties and politicians when it suits their ambitions for power.

Concerted Attack

Following the mainstream media including the state owned broadcasters you cannot but conclude that we are witnessing a concerted attack on our electoral system. Not only do we read and hear comments by editors, political reporters and media personnel of the above nature. The media also give overwhelming space to totally outrageous and false comments in the letter pages and give a platform to anti MMP campaigners of ‘Dirty Politics‘ fame to spread their old disinformation and lies.

It seems we have been watching the Media attack on New Zealand’s democracy.

I think Grueber is right that some of the media has been overly critical of what our eight MMP election has delivered – a headline and scandal vacuum – but it nothing like a concerted attack.

Some journalists have actually suggested tweaks to our MMP, like lowering the threshold, and having a clearer system for forming a new government. I think both would be good improvements to the already better than most system of democracy that we have.

And a healthy democracy needs a critical media, even if they don’t always get things right, aren’t as balanced as they should be and get too excited about things that don’t matter much, like not having a new government for a few weeks.

Our system of democracy is pretty good, our governments over the last 33 years have in the main been pretty good (they will always annoy some of the people some of the time), and our media does a fairly good job most of the time.

We can be critical of the media, as they can be critical of our politicians and aspects of political system, but attacking media for an “attack on New Zealand’s democracy” is in a way an attack on our democracy as the media are an important part of it.

Journalists complaining about nothing much happening is not something most voters will care about.

Better that we look at how we can improve our way of doing democracy.

TOP lose legal bid to debate

The Opportunities Party went to court to try to get included in tonight’s minor party leaders debate and lost. This isn’t surprising, it’s hard for a court to force a media organisation, but it’s very disappointing to see our state owned television broadcaster using ‘rules’ to be undemocratic.

The MMP system – in particular to ridiculously high 5% threshold – is stacked against new parties making it into Parliament.

TVNZ’s ‘rule of not allowing parties who haven’t got at least 3% in their last two polls to take part in the biggest debate of the campaign for minor parties is a disgrace to democratic principles.

RNZ: TOP loses legal bid to appear in multi-party debate

The Opportunities Party (TOP) has lost its legal fight to appear on TVNZ’s multi-party debate tomorrow evening.

TVNZ lawyer Stacey Shortall said it had robust criteria for parties to be involved, including either already being in parliament or polling at at least three percent in one of the two Colmar Brunton polls before the debate.

It is not ‘robust criteria’. State owned broadcasters in particular should have a responsibility to be fair to serious contenders, but TVNZ is denying TOP a prime  chance of being seen and heard.

TOP polled at 1 percent in its poll at the end of August and at 1.9 percent today.

TOP’s lawyer Francis Cooke QC argued the party’s inclusion in the debates was critical to the election process and TVNZ’s criteria should be more robust.

But the political-media system remains stacked against them.

Key points from Edwards’ affidavit:

24 Fourth, in my view the use of such criteria is self-perpetuating and antidemocratic. A party that is excluded from the debates has little chance of making headway in the polls. What is more, I think that excluding them from the debates sends the message to viewers that their views and policies are not worthy of consideration. I think this is dangerously undemocratic.

25 Fifth, this year’s election campaign is proving extremely volatile. Political scientists and commentators appear to be in consensus that we are witnessing the greatest polling volatility yet recorded in an election campaign in New Zealand. Therefore, it seems unreasonable to take two Colmar Brunton polls as a snapshot of likely outcomes in the election – the flux is just too great at the moment in politics to regard such polling to be definitive.

27 Finally, the minor parties seem set to play a pivotal role in this year’s election as they are likely to hold the balance of power after the election. In my view, this makes it particularly important that the public is given sufficient exposure to their leaders and policies.

30 In my view TVNZ’s exclusion of TOP would do a disservice to democracy.

31 If TVNZ proceeds with minor party leaders’ and young voters’ debates without The Opportunities Party (TOP), this will have a significantly negative impact on TOP’s chances to be taken seriously by those members of the public looking to vote for a party other than Labour and National. It will send a strong signal to voters that it is not a viable candidate for voting consideration. It may seriously affect TOP’s electoral chances. And given the inclusion of less popular parties, it would be arbitrary and irrational.

The full affidavit: http://liberation.typepad.com/files/affidavitdraft.pdf

The judge probably had no legal basis to rule in favour of TOP, but TVNZ are doing a disservice to taxpayers and to democracy.

Large and incumbent parties (and their supporters) and large media do what the can to deny newcomers a fair chance. Incumbent also have other substantial financial advantages.

Is our democracy in crisis?

Some ‘experts’ are claiming we have a political crisis due to a lack of trust in politicians. I don’t think it’s anywhere near a crisis, but there is certainly room for improvement – from politicians, from media, and for those involved in political discourse.

Stuff:  Politics in crisis and trust issues: How Kiwis feel about how the country is run

Nearly 40,000 voters responded to the Stuff/Massey University election survey in May and they got to have their say on their trust in politics. They’re not happy. Experts say it’s a crisis.

Not many New Zealanders think our political leaders keep their promises. More than half of us think our political leaders are out of touch. Even less think our political cared about the things they valued.

And now, the vast majority of us want change of some sort.

Of course people want change of some sort, there are many problems that need to be addressed, and dealt with better. And the rest of the world changes so New Zealand has to change and adapt.

New Zealand politics and democracy are in trouble and the system isn’t working, academic and political commentator Bryce Edwards said.

It may sound dramatic, but it’s a dilemma that’s been brewing for almost half a century.

The public once saw politics as “fairly noble and important” but support for politicians and trust in institutions had been eroding since the 1970s and 1980s.

“It’s a crisis of politics, it’s a crisis of democracy … when you have a million people that are eligible to vote choose not to, and even many of those who do vote are very dissatisfied with the system.”

If people didn’t vote because they felt alienated by not being represented, the crisis would get worse, he said.

Results from the Stuff/Massey survey showed only 17 per cent of those surveyed believed political leaders kept their promises.

I don’t think it should be described as a crisis, our democracy doesn’t look likely to be at imminent risk of collapse. It just needs to be improved – and overstating how bad things are doesn’t help.

The Stuff/Massey survey results showed:

  • 13% of people thought the political system was “completely” broken
  • 55% thought it worked but needed to change
  • 31% though it worked well.

I would bet that a number of those who thought the system was completely broken want a change that most people would strongly oppose. Those wanting revolution are not likely to be well supported. I don’t think a one party state, nor an extreme socialist state, would be seen as improvements by most of us.

In 2016, a study commissioned by Victoria University found:

  • 8% of respondents had “complete or lots of trust” in MPs
  • 10% per cent trusted ministers
  • 12% trusted local government.

Most of those impressions are formed from media coverage, and the media has similar trust problems.

“New Zealanders want a le4ader who will deliver”:

  • Radical change 22%
  • Gradual change 23%
  • Steady as it goes 54%

I suspect that if various types of ‘radical change’ were proposed there would be limited support for any one of them.

An Ipsos poll taken in May showed over half of Kiwis thought politics and the economy were rigged against them.

A State Services Commission working paper, Declining Government Performance? Why Citizens Don’t Trust Government, last updated in 2002, noted that it had been declining for 30 years.

It’s suggested causes included “greater expectations”. When the public was pumped up by pre-election claims, but politicians failed to follow through, that caused declining confidence in elected officials.

Greater expectations and overemphasis on negatives are problems with media as much as with politicians.

Writer of the book The New Zealand Project, Max Harris, agreed that New Zealand politics was in crisis.

“I’m pretty concerned that we don’t have [an] engaged public that can hold governments to account to make sure policy is good.”

Some politicians were taking the issue seriously, but not enough of the public were.

He said if distrust continued, voter turnout would drop further and who did vote would likely do so reluctantly.

Would our democracy be better of more people voted? We would have more people choosing from the same options, so what would actually change?

Despite all that, Edwards believed the problems could be fixed and said he saw changes occurring already.

“Not so much in terms of the trust but in terms of a return at the moment to an interest in politics and an involvement in politics.

“To me, it’s a wee bit like a re-run of the 1960s where people are being a bit more energised and excited in politics either through things they oppose or things that they’re in favour of.”

“People are taking more interest in this campaign than they have for many elections. I would predict that this year’s voter turnout would be considerably up on previously elections.”

He said he expected it to be “significant” – five or six per cent.

And we would still end up with a National led or a Labour led government, with some influence from smaller parties.

More voters are not going to uncover better politicians.

I think there are three key issues with our democracy that more voters won’t address.

First, what the public sees of politics generally and elections in particular are dominated by sensationalism by media and seeking sensationalism by politicians. Voters can’t change that (they tend to get turned off by it).

Instead of media looking at voters they should look at themselves and what they contribute to the problems.

Muck raking and exaggerating politicians are rewarded by the media. Why doesn’t media investigate that?

Second, MMP is a more democratic system but it is abused by political parties protecting their own interests. A threshold of 2% would remove most distortions and unfairness, and improve democracy and self interest.

Third, I think that relatively minor changes could be made to our parliamentary system that would improve engagement with the public. A better way of including the public in debate and a simple way of measuring public views on bills of public interest (in addition to the current public submission system) would inform the politicians better and include the public in the process better.

Our democracy is not in crisis, and it’s not close to being in crisis.

Some sensible tweaks could make a significant difference – not good for headlines but far more sensible than using  using claims of the sky falling to promote radical change.

Do we need ostracism?

GreekOstracism

Would something like this work here? Or would it be too much of an online driven witch hunt?

Definition

Ostracism was a political process used in 5th-century BCE Athens whereby those individuals considered too powerful or dangerous to the citywere exiled for 10 years by popular vote. Some of the greatest names in Greek history fell victim to the process, although, as the votes were often not personal but based on policies, many were able to resume politics after they had served the statuary 10 years away from their home city. Nevertheless, ostracism was the supreme example of the power of the ordinary people, the demos, to combat abuses of power in the Athenian democracy.

The Process

The decision whether or not to ostracise individuals was taken once each year. First, the decision to hold a vote on ostracism was presented to the popular assembly of Athens, the ekklesia, which met on the hill of Pnyx. There up to 6,000 male citizens voted to proceed or not. If agreed, a special meeting known as the ostracophoria was organised in the agora on a particular day in the eighth prytany in the year (which was divided into ten such units). The voting was supervised by the executive council of 500 (boule) and the 9 highest administrative officials, the archons (archontes). Citizens voted against a particular candidate by scratching his name on a piece of pottery, an ostrakon. Voting was done anonymously. Officials known as phylai then collected the ostraka and made sure that nobody voted twice.

For the result of an ostracism to be effective a minimum of 6,000 votes had to be cast. Then the officials announced which individual had amassed the most votes and that person was ostracised, that is in the original meaning of the term, exiled. There was no possibility of appeal against the decision. The man was given 10 days to organise his affairs and then he must leave the city and never return to the region of Attica for a period of 10 years. Interestingly, the individual did not lose their citizenship and nor was their personal property confiscated.

Abuses

The exile was not a permanent disgrace as some individuals did return after their sentence was served and continued in public life. This perhaps indicates that votes were very often cast against the policies of an individual rather than them personally and that voting against one individual gave support to their rival and his policies.

However, there must surely have been cases when, without any formal charges or speeches, the assembly was swayed by popularism and voted against individuals without good reason. Plutarch in his Aristidesbiography famously recounts the intention of one assembly member to vote against Aristides simply because he is fed up with hearing the politician constantly referred to as ‘The Just’.

Another suspicious abuse is the finding of 190 ostraka in a well near the acropolis of Athens, all with the name of Themistocles scratched on them but done so by recognisably few hands.

http://www.ancient.eu/Ostracism/

Media promoting selected candidates

I have major concerns about how media gives selective and disproportionate coverage for some parties and some candidates.

Media often pre-selects candidates and gives them favourable publicity while they ignore or dismiss others. This is common with the selection of which candidates or parties feature in debates.

This is doing a disservice to the public and to democracy.

In part it is probably little more than headline hunting. The amount of political oxygen they give Winston Peters is probably a major factor in his success, as is media failure to hold Peters to account adequately. They seem more interested in his story creating potential and forget their fourth estate responsibilities.

Media can also have a negative effect, often blowing problems and potential things up out of proportion to their importance.

One simple example is renewed media attention given to dildo news. Journalists like to snigger and promote offensive attacks and threats against politicians without caring about the implications of attaching dildo imagery with the targets. I doubt that media outlets would be so salacious if they were the targets.

Selective reporting can lift lucky candidates out of obscurity. This happened in the boring Auckland mayoral campaign, which was everyone thought was a foregone conclusion with a boring Phil Goff. So the media switched their attention to promote Chloe Swarbrick, seemingly for novelty value and to put some interest into their coverage.

As a result Swarbrick did unexpectedly well in the election, and has since been given more media attention when she became a Green candidate.

The media have also been prominent in the rise of Jacinda Ardern to deputy leadership of the Labour Party.

It’s unclear whether media promotion pushed Andrew Little into pushing Annette King and installing Ardern, or whether Labour or Ardern operators manipulated the media to help orchestrate the coup. Whichever it was it was democratically suspect.


The Spinoff is a new media alternative to the old school ‘mainstream’ media. They describe themselves:

The Spinoff is a New Zealand online magazine covering politics, pop culture and social issues. We also have a custom editorial division which creates smart, shareable content for brands.

There seems to be a confusion there between editorial and brand promotion. I thought that news and advertising were supposed to be kept separate.

Yesterday “Politics editor for The Spinoff” Toby Manhire drew my attention to something via Twitter:

That was an odd call for three new candidates. it referred to a this post:

‘Let’s be honest, I wanted to throw up’: Kiri Allan on taking the Labour message from the doorsteps to the TV studio

In her second candidate diary for the Spinoff, Labour’s candidate for East Coast describes door-knocking in the electorate, meeting fellow diarist Chlöe Swarbrick, fronting a press stand-up after that controversial list announcement, and a big TV appearance.

It seems that Allan (Labour), Stanford (National) and Swarbrick (Greens) are being given an ongoing opportunity to promote themselves and their election campaigns via The Spinoff.

There is no suggestion that money is involved but this looks like a selective promotion of “shareable content for brands”.

Sure, media play an important part in allowing the public to learn about political candidates and parties – but a sound democracy requires this to be reasonably fair and balanced rather than picking winners and giving them disproportionate promotion opportunities.

I sought clarification from Manhire about how their ‘candidate diary for the Spinoff’ thing worked and asked “Is giving all first time candidates the same opportunity to promote themselves? Or just a select few?”

Manhire seemed to be deliberately unclear in his response.

All candidates arefree to comment here at Your NZ, or to submit guest posts or inform me of items of interest, but I’m not going to give special preference to any.

@TheSpinoffTV later also simply answered “No”. It seems like another evasive fobbing off.

Last month Manhire detailed The Spinoff versus the 2017 election: our campaign plans exclusively revealed

Generally that sounds quite good, but…

Candidate diaries

We have enlisted a stellar bunch of first-time candidates to write regular posts documenting their experiences as newbies. We begin today with the first pieces from Erica Stanford, National’s candidate in the electorate of East Coast Bays, and Kiri Allan, Labour’s candidate for East Coast.

Not all of our candidates have East Coast in their constituency names, however; we’re also welcoming Chlöe Swarbrick, the insurgent runner for the Auckland mayoralty, Green candidate for Maungakiekie and 13th placed in the “initial” party list. And, with a bit of luck, someone from NZ First, too.

“Enlisted’ sounds like The Spinoff are recruiting – selecting – a handful of candidates to give them special attention. Just candidates from the four largest parties, who already get substantial campaign advantages.

The three already chosen are all youngish and female. Geographically two electorates are in Auckland, one in the north east of the North island. So these selections are not very representative.

Perhaps all three of these candidates will become MPs and may even eventually become Prime Minister as Manhire proposes. And The Spinoff may pat themselves on the back for successfully picking winners.

But in a fair democracy I don’t think the media should be pre-picking winners and providing them with special attention.

Media has to make enough money to sustain their operations, and to do that they have to provide news and information that interests and attracts readers and listeners and viewers.

But if a democracy is to function fairly the media also needs to meet it’s responsibilities. There are growing signs that they are straying from fair and balanced coverage.

We are nowhere near the media and political mess that the US is in, but the power and ability of media to swing an election is certainly there. They need to be as aware of this as they are aware of the need to make money and look cool by selecting a small number hip looking candidates.

Fair and balanced coverage can be difficult to achieve – but it should at least be given priority.

Trump v. US ‘intelligence’ agencies

I’m sure it’s been said before that US Intelligence is an oxymoron. They have somewhere around 20 intelligence agencies for a start (including the CIA, NSA, Defense Intelligence Agency and components of the State Department, Justice Department, Department of Homeland Security and the armed forces), with conflicting jurisdictions, and with rivalries and a lack of systems that prevents comprehensive consolidation of intelligence.

US intelligence agencies have long clashed with their democracy, notably in the Nixon era. Recently Director James Comey inserted the FBI into the presidential election, quite possibly swinging the result.

There have been controversial claims by multiple intelligence agencies that Russia interfered with the presidential election, and that Donald trump’s campaign team had ongoing contact with Russian interests.

And now that Trump is president things seem to be getting worse, with ongoing leaks from intelligence agencies that conflict with and and undermine the presidency.

There are some claims that intelligence agencies won’t tell Trump things for fear of their methods being passed on to Russia.

Salon covers much of this in Trump vs. the Deep State: This death match of American political power will forever change history -President Trump escalates his battle with the U.S security apparatus.

The firing of Gen. Michael Flynn has popularized the concept of the “Deep State” across the political spectrum.

Breitbart’s Joel Pollak attacks the disloyal “Deep State #Resistance” to President Trump, while conservative pundit Bill Kristol defends it.

“Obviously [I] strongly prefer normal democratic and constitutional politics,” Kristol tweeted Tuesday. “But if it comes to it, [I] prefer the deep state to the Trump state.”

Glenn Greenwald is more even-handed: “Trump presidency is dangerous,” the Intercept columnist tweeted Wednesday. “CIA/Deep State abuse of spy powers to subvert elected Govt is dangerous.”

And the conflict is deepening. The New York Times reported Thursday that Trump wants to bring in Wall Street billionaire Stephen Feinberg “to lead a broad review of American intelligence agencies.”

The idea is reportedly provoking “fierce resistance” from intelligence officials who fear it “could curtail their independence and reduce the flow of information that contradicts the president’s worldview.”

They describe ‘Deep State’:

The Deep State is shorthand for the nexus of secretive intelligence agencies whose leaders and policies are not much affected by changes in the White House or the Congress. While definitions vary, the Deep State includes the CIA, NSA, Defense Intelligence Agency and components of the State Department, Justice Department, Department of Homeland Security and the armed forces.

The leaders of these agencies are generally disturbed by Trump’s cavalier treatment of their intelligence findings and particularly worried about contacts between Trump’s entourage and Russian intelligence officials.

There are known facts plus many claims and accusations that are at least partially unsubstantiated.

As Taegan Goddard’s Political Wire noted, the undisputed facts are accumulating:

  • Multiple U.S. intelligence services believe that Russian operatives, at Putin’s directions, tried to help Trump get elected. The FBI is investigating contacts between Russian officials and at least three people connected to Trump’s presidential campaign: Paul Manafort, Carter Page and Roger Stone.
  • There were “continuous” contacts between Trump’s presidential campaign and Russian intelligence officials. At least some of the claims made in a dossier compiled by a former British intelligence official have been confirmed, though none of the more salacious details.
  • Trump has had many financial dealings with Russian oligarchs, as shown in an investigation by the American Interest.

As a result, the intelligence agencies are withholding sources and methods from the president out of fear they will leak to foreign powers, according to the Wall Street Journal. Senior officials are also leaking the results of the ongoing investigation into Trump to reporters at The Washington Post, The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.

The leaking of classified information, which Trump welcomed during the 2016 campaign, is indeed a felonious violation of the law, although it has been standard procedure for Washington power players since the passage of the National Security Act in 1947.

It is a serious threat to US democracy, and a serious threat to Trump’s presidency:

Vanity Fair calls the crisis of Trump’s presidency Watergate 2.0. The historical analogy is apt because the Watergate scandal that engulfed President Richard Nixon in the early 1970s was also a struggle between the White House and the intelligence agencies. But today’s crisis is more accurately described as Trump vs. the Deep State.

It is the death match of American political power and it will determine the fate of Trump’s troubled presidency.

It could be said that Trump is a serious threat to his presidency and to the US, but his clash with ‘Deep State’ is particularly ugly, and is likely to make more of a mess of US democracy.

More on ‘Deep State’:

Is voter turnout a problem?

Voter turnout has been trending down for decades. Is this a problem? Or should we not care about people who don’t care about voting, and just work on having better informed people who have an interest in voting?

The Opportunities Party has just released policy on democracy – The Opportunities Party – Democracy Reset – and has a detailed look at voter turnout data.


1. The Data

deomocracy-reset1.jpg

Source: http://www.elections.org.nz/events/past-events/2014-general-election

Fewer and fewer people have confidence in our democracy. They simply don’t see voting as something that impacts on their lives. This is illustrated by the voter turnout.

In addition there’s a difference in the enthusiasm to vote between the age groups. The babyboomers are the most enthusiastic voters. In the 2014 election, 85% of eligible Baby Boomers or older voted (81% of that total cohort).

But for those under 50, only 70% of registered (or 51% of that total cohort) voted and it gets a lot lower for those under 30. For this cohort – weighed down by student debt and the prohibitive cost of getting on the first rung of the property ladder – only 62% of the registered (45% of the number of under 30’s) bothered to vote.

This alienation from the democratic process is not just a New Zealand phenomenon – right across the Western World, people are increasingly frustrated that their democracies are not serving them. There is even a significant difference in opinion on the value of keeping democracy between young and old. In the US 43% of oldies see it as illegitimate for the military to take over if the government is incompetent, yet only 19% of millennials feel like that. And in Europe the numbers were 53% and 36% respectively. The generation divide – wherein younger ones feel our so-called “democratic” government is not serving their interests – is stark.

Such a dichotomy between young and old can be seen from the following graph.

Percentage of people (identified by birth year) who believe it is “essential” to live in a democracy

democracyreset2.jpg

In our view there are three issues to address;

  1. the absence of an independent body that holds the government of the day to account on long term issues
  2. not enough empowerment of communities and direct participation for voters
  3. the lack of a well articulated and widely valued Constitution that makes it clear what all New Zealanders’ rights are

“Democracy is about choice”

One of the stupidest criticisms of Bill English’s decision not to stand a National candidate in the My Albert by-election is that it is undemocratic.

I’ve seen that said in social media, but nonsense is to be expected there.

But veteran journalist Barry Soper also spins that line in Mt Albert byelection waste of money

It’s hard to envisage John Key chucking in the towel in the way English has done on this one. Democracy is about choice and the people of Mt Albert are now being denied it.

Yes, democracy is about choice, and choosing not to stand a candidate is just as valid as choosing to stand a candidate.

Greens chose not to stand a candidate in the Northland by-election last year, and while Labour chose to stand a candidate they also chose to not campaign for votes for her to help Winston Peters win.

Greens chose not to stand a candidate in last month’s Mt Roskill by-election to help Labour’s Michael Wood. NZ First chose not to stand a candidate (I don’t know why).

National choose not to stand candidates in Maori electorates and I haven’t seen Soper condemn them for that.

Democracy is about choice, and an important choice for parties is whether to stand candidates or not.

Media an extension of established power

There is an obvious and major current example of media and journalism working with and enabling established power, in the US election.

It’s nothing new that media both had close connections with the Hillary Clinton campaign, and tried to influence the outcome. Or that other media had close connections with the Donald Trump campaign and tried to influence the outcome.

What is unusual and more complicated is that media, including those who promoted Clinton’s interests, also gifted  exposure to Trump, and enabled his rise and his momentum, and ultimately his success.

There was a clear conflict between what the media wanted – their choice of candidate as president, but they also wanted the headlines and clicks that Trump kept giving them.

A lot of the time it was difficult to separate Clinton’s and Trump’s campaigns from the media coverage.

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The US presidential election was a big event, but on a smaller scale the New Zealand media also works hand in hand with established power, and actively excludes those who challenge established power.

I’ve experienced this myself, and it was a public broadcaster that was involved. In the 2013 Dunedin mayoral campaign Radio New Zealand profiled just four of the nine candidates – that is. gave exposure and publicity to less than half the candidates.

I complained to RNZ in Dunedin and was told they selected the candidates they thought had the most chance of success. Of course this favouritism reinforces the advantages of established power, and makes it virtually impossible for challengers of that power. Ironically I was campaigning for better democratic processes.

I also complained to RNZ in Wellington. They were very dismissive, when pushed said that more candidates “didn’t fit their format” and effectively told me to get stuffed, they weren’t interested in fair democracy.

Similar things happen in every general election, where big media give big exposure to big power, and exclude others. This is common with leaders’ debates.

And the same thing is happening in the Mt Roskill by-election right now. Fairfax has already run a candidate debate that only includes established power, the Labour and National candidates.

On Wednesday: People’s Party threatens legal action over exclusion from Mt Roskill debate

The newly formed People’s Party is considering taking legal action because it’s been excluded from a Mt Roskill by-election debate on Wednesday night.

It’s being hosted by the Central Leader, which has only invited the candidates from National and Labour. 

People’s Party leader Roshan Nauhria says he’s not being petty; he just wants a fair go.

“We were trying to talk to them and convince them that you need to give us equal opportunity,” he says.

Fairfax Media brand and communications manager Phillipa Cameron told Newshub that “Fairfax is comfortable that the Central Leader will provide appropriate coverage of parties involved in the Mt Roskill by-election”.

“This particular event is a one-off live stream involving the two major political parties, which is typical of a debate style event,” she said.

Typical of a debate style event where Fairfax are favouring established power. It is a corruption of fair democratic practice.

There was a follow up – Fairfax apologises for Mt Roskill debate snub

Fairfax has apologised to New Zealand People’s Party candidate Roshan Nauhria for excluding him from a by-election debate it is hosting in Mt Roskill on Wednesday.

But he’s still not invited.

Mr Nauhria says Fairfax told him it made the call to only include the candidates from Labour and National because both had polled above 10 percent at the last election.

A very hollow apology – effectively ‘we are sorry, we set the ten percent bar to favour established power and if you challenge that power and our power you can get stuffed’.

All candidates are equal, but some candidates are made far more equal than others.

Newshub points out:

The People’s Party held its official campaign launch on Saturday night drawing a crowd of around 300 people. In comparison, the National Party candidate’s campaign launch held on the same day, with the Prime Minister in attendance, attracted a crowd of just over 200.

That’s an impressive crowd for the People’s Party, but even that shouldn’t matter. What if a candidate does most of their campaigning online?

On a smaller scale than in the US, but this is exposure of New Zealand media being a corrupt extension of established power.

Clinton v Trump, round 1

There has been massive coverage of and commentary on the first US presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Will it change anything? We wil have to wait to find out.

Clinton sounds like a PC electronic checkout; Trump like a drunken uncle from a side of the family you try to avoid.

I didn’t watch the debate and have only seen small bits of it, but from what I did see and hear Clinton was a practiced, smug and smarmy establishment candidate. She won’t have lost committed support but I don’t know whether she will have won many over either.

Trump emphasised his boofishness and what must be a deliberate strategy to lie profusely.

One bizarre aspect of the debate was that Trump denied having said something (I can’t remember which brazen lie it was), and it was shown shortly afterwards that tweets from him that prove he was lying were being deleted from his Twitter account.

Prior to the debate there was interesting string of tweets from @gtiso on the Italian election of Silvio Berlusconi in 1994.

Berlusconi’s secret weapon leading into the 1994 elections was he worked out he could just lie all the time. The whopper the better.

He worked out that the state media would be paralised by the imperative to provide balance and powerless to correct him, while his opponents were left in a state of permanent impotent outrage, both at being lied about and at the fact that he was getting away with it.

So they, and the portion of the non-state media aligned with the left, just spent the campaign repeating “this man can’t be prime minister”.

Result: he won in the closest thing we could get in our system to a landslide. Hey, does any of this sound familiar?

To give you an idea of the caliber of lying: he said over and over that the communists had been in power in Italy for the previous 50 years.

This was, obviously, the opposite of the truth. But in no time at all I started hearing people repeating it in my neighbourhood.

The Brexit campaign adopted similar tactics, now Trump. But I’m shocked it took so long for such a simple idea to be exported.

How many Americans don’t care about politicians lying? Enough to turn their politics and their presidency upside down?

I’m not a US voter but I think I share a common sentiment – I don’t particularly like Clinton, nor what she stands for in politics. But I fear for the effect that a President Trump would have on the United States, and how that would flow on to impact on the world.

Credible democracy is already the loser, but perhaps we ain’t seen nothing yet.

The US election may hinge on how many of those who despair at what they are witnessing turn out to vote versus how many turn away from the election .