Speaker by Various Artists

20

A simple strategy for Trump to win the Presidency

by Kirk Serpes

As things stand right now, Trump would lose hands down by a landslide to Hillary, mostly likely taking the Republican Party with him.  People hate Hillary but they hate him a lot lot more.  Not just white-American liberals, a lot of conservatives, libertarians, and of course every single minority group – or as he would call them “the blacks and the Hispanics”.

Basically he can’t beat her in fair fight in the existing electoral battlefield.  To win he’ll need to take a page out of Sun Tzu and get Hillary to take him on in his terms.  After about a few minutes thinking I scared myself a bit by how easy that would be to do.

First is taking away Hillary's biggest asset, the grassroots army of the Democracts.  Without them she cannot win. I learned this firsthand in 2012 when I volunteered in North Carolina.  Not only was the actual act of enrolling and voting difficult, so were the people. Apathy was rife and you had to go out there day after day and annoy people to vote, even though it was immensely in their interests to vote.

The Obama campaign had something like two million volunteers, and an intentionally undisclosed number of paid staff - many of whom worked pretty much 12-hour days every single day of the week for months on end, all so they could get their people who support them to actually vote for them.

Naturally, motivation is an issue, even with a largely poplar, inspiring and charismatic candidate like Obama.  Even small changes in enthusiam towards your candidate (or party) can add up over time to mean less volunteers recruited, less doors knocked, less phone calls made and ultimately less voters at the polls.

Hillary's biggest weakness is her relationship with her party base, and conversely that’s Trump’s strength.  Her unfavourability rating would be the highest in history if not for Trump. Conventional wisdom in the US elections is that both sides tack to their base (left and right) in the Primaries, but to the middle in the General. Trump isn’t going to do that.  First because he’s physically incapable of not being an asshole, and second because it’s good strategy.

With two highly unpopular candidates the middle is not really in play this time around.  The swing voters who generally don’t like or pay attention to politics are going to like it even less with two crappy choices, and most won’t show up on election day, and neither will a lot of people who are highly politically engaged but also hate their choices. Which, let’s be honest, is always going to hurt Democrats more than Republicans – but even more so now.

To win, both sides will have to rally their respective bases and make sure they actually turn out and vote. And guess whose base is more vulnerable?  Hillary could make one of history’s greatest strategic mistakes by tacking to the right after she wins the nomination.  The Democratic base would have their worst fears about her confirmed and while some might still volunteer and vote, Democratic turnout would be much much lower than it needs to be.

I hope she’s not stupid enough to do that, but even if she isn’t, Trump could actually provoke her to do so – and he’s very very good at getting people to talk about his agenda, helped in no small part by a news media that chases clicks over common sense.

We’ve seen it before, with Obama’s birth certificate.  He relentlessly repeated the message that Obama was actually Kenyan and the media took the bait.  I imagine that somewhere in some polls the powers that be in the Democratic party started noticing the issue come up more and more with voters, so in an attempt to defuse the situation they simply released Obama’s Birth Certificate, thereby neutralising that issue.  Great it worked that time.  But it’s not always that simple.  

It wouldn’t take a lot for Trump to simply lie and make up some ridiculous claim about Muslims or Mexicans that would leave Democrats with a difficult choice: appear “tough” on some minority group or ignore him.  And as we’ve seen before both in the US and in Australia, left wing leaders would rather send refugees to concentration camps than appear “weak”.

One well placed claim about Clinton being weak on “terror” with a dash of media repeating his lines verbatim for a few weeks and you have a swing in a few key demographics in Florida or some other swing state and the next thing you know Hillary lurches to the right to try and get back those “moderate” voters.  Of course the more she jumps to his agenda the more she’ll lose the support of the Democratic base and live up to the untrustworthy label that the rest of the country and the world already sees her as.

His strength is that he “says what he means” of course, so it essentially in one move both sets the narrative of the election and demoralises his opponents base.  And before you know it we’re all going to be driving around in packs of cars hunting for guzzoline in the wasteland that is planet Earth after he starts a nuclear war with China over a parking ticket.

To win, Hillary will basically need to learn how to not take the bait and not be drawn into battles she cannot win.  She will have to show consistency so that her base trusts her.  And she’ll need to show her real toughness to the rest of the country by using humour and wit to emasculate him in front of his supporters.  It might actually make sense for her with the support of the rest of the party to refuse to debate him at all.  The fact that he’s on the same stage would make them look like equals, which is the last thing anyone needs right now.

She does have a lot of cards up her sleeve if she wishes to use them though.  The first being her pick for VP.  That’s a chance to bring someone on board who can balance her weaknesses and hit Trump where it hurts, his fragile ego.  And then she also has a really fantastic team behind her, of Obama, Bill, Warren and even Sanders.  Together they have the potential to wipe the floor with this clown, and also win back a lot of seats in the House and Senate (see my previous post).  All they have to do is not fuck up.

356

Talking past each other: Ideological silos and research

by Rebecca Gray

Last week I went to two evening launch events that had some subject matter in common. 

The New Zealand Initiative hosted a panel debate relating to its new report, The Health of the State, which sets out to examine the evidence for “lifestyle regulations”. The panel featured report author Jenesa Jeram, Treasury Chief Economist Dr Girol Karacaoglu, Maori Party Co-leader Marama Fox, and former ACT party leader Jamie Whyte.

Perhaps unsurprisingly for an industry-sponsored think-tank with a libertarian bent, the New Zealand Initiative’s report comes to the conclusion that taxes and restrictions on products that cause health problems (sugar being an example) are a bad idea or not justified by a strong enough evidence base.

The following evening, Unity Books hosted a launch for Dr Robyn Toomath’s new book, Fat Science.  Perhaps unsurprisingly for an endocrinologist, diabetes specialist and longtime advocate for action to stem New Zealand’s increasing obesity rate, Dr Toomath comes to the conclusion that a lot of the factors leading to obesity are genetic. The modifiable factor, in her view, is that the current environment promotes obesity so it is very hard now for those predisposed to it to avoid weight gain and related problems, and therefore there should be changes to the physical and market environment.

I’m not going to go into too much detail about the findings (or about the implicit assumption that being fat = a problem. I totally agree that shaming people for being overweight is awful and counterproductive - but I don’t think that was happening in either of these cases). The thing I am interested in is the framing: both sets of authors and publishers talk about choice and personal responsibility, but go off in completely opposite directions. They both talk about economic theories about choice and market regulations, but come to different conclusions.

Robyn Toomath says that “making weight an issue of personal responsibility is not only ineffective but harmful to overweight people and has allowed industry to get off the hook”. The New Zealand Initiative are of the view that any “paternalistic” regulations or “policies to protect people from themselves” should be questioned as threats to liberty. The foreword states: “until recently the assumption still remained that in principle, at least, consumers should be free to choose for themselves. This general principle now seems under threat by increasing attempts to regulate lifestyle choices”.

The threat, according to the New Zealand Initiative, is the government intervening too much (spurred on by pesky “interventionist” public health lobbyists using dubious science to justify their claims?). The threat, according to Robyn Toomath, is the rampant marketing of unhealthy products which the government is doing far too little about (held back by their ties to business-funded lobby groups?). These two are never going to agree. I know whose analysis I have more faith in. But I think it is worth considering both points of view.

I haven’t seen a huge amount of reaction to Robyn Toomath’s book yet, apart from some Radio NZ interviews and an opinion piece by National Party pollster David Farrar disagreeing and saying that personal choice was the point. But the reaction to the New Zealand Initiative report was quite predictable.

They got support from people like alleged Dirty Politics proponent Carrick Graham and pro-smoking/ anti-regulation writer Christopher Snowdon. Meanwhile Radio NZ presented the report’s claims within an article showing both sides of the debate, and attracted a bunch of comments along the lines of “of course they’d say that, they are a corporate lobby group, why are you even giving them airtime”.

This was the general vibe among left more left-wing politicians such as Green Party health spokesperson Kevin Hague too. Some commentators did address the report’s assertions as well as the organisation’s assumed inherent bias: Geoff Simmons from the Morgan Foundation promptly provided a succinct rebuttal of the main claims

There was not a lot of overlap in terms of the attendees at both events, which I thought was a bit of a shame. The sad thing, I think, is that people on each side of these kinds of debates are so ideologically opposed to each other that they can’t respect each other as people let alone as intellectuals.

Maybe that’s why I believe that the person whose ideals I relate to did a better job of presenting the relevant evidence? My tribal bias kicking in? I hope not, but I’m sure my experience at each launch event influenced my willingness to engage with the writing.

The New Zealand Initiative event certainly achieved the stated aim of provoking debate. I was appalled by pretty much everything Jamie Whyte said (possibly more appalled by the smug, “Richard Dawkins minus the science”, way he said it). I found the debate interesting but trending towards a debating club-style “let’s make clever arguments” vibe rather than addressing the actual health issues.

Some hostile undercurrents seemed to come through whenever a libertarian-aligned audience member addressed Marama Fox and her efforts to use personal reflection from her community to explain her position on health policies.

Robyn Toomath’s impassioned concern and Andrew Dickson’s personal and professional endorsement of her work the following evening came across as more genuine - but then, I was more relaxed at that event, standing in my favourite book shop surrounded by friends and colleagues.

The New Zealand Initiative ran their report by a number of academics and industry people before finalising it, but none that I could see were public health specialists - and certainly none of the 70 professors who recently called for a sugary drinks tax  were consulted. But I wonder whether those professors would even have agreed to be involved if they were asked?

The New Zealand Initiative do state that they are keen to talk to anyone who wants to discuss their findings, and to develop more networks in new (for them) topic areas such as health. I applaud this aim, but I wonder whether they will be able to overcome the suspicion of their motives that many experts and commentators outside their network hold.

I don’t think that anyone who produces research for a business-aligned organisation goes to work rubbing their hands with glee at the prospect of sacrificing the proletariat’s well-being on the altar of big business. Neither do I believe that the “interventionists” among the public health workforce live for opportunities to impose their puritan morals onto the populace by curtailing their choices.

It’s a shame when we reduce each other to caricatures. Those of us on the public health side risk falling into self-parody if we keep blaming everything on “neoliberalism and corporate cronyism!!" just as those on the other side may fall into self-parody by overusing complaints about “nanny state” and “political correctness gone mad!!”. We do usually have a bit of common ground, but we're not going to find it by standing on opposite sides of an ideological divide throwing buzzwords at each other.

Rebecca Gray blogs at Choose Your Story.

187

Confessions of an Uber driver

by Ben Wilson

My first confession is that I'm an Uber driver. Actually, it's my only confession. It's been 65 days since my first Uber passenger.

It's a confession that has to be made, mostly because it surprises anyone who knows more than nothing about me. I'm not your typical Uber driver. Uber passengers point this out to me, pretty much every ride. I've heard every euphemism for "middle aged white man", and also for "not a middle aged white man", you can imagine as passengers struggle to convey their surprise that I'm ... "normal".

Their bafflement only increases as it becomes plain that I'm intelligent and educated and not broke, and don't have any (obvious) unusual personality quirks or physical attributes that would make other employment difficult. There's typically an "aha" moment when I divulge that I'm a student, although the bafflement tends to return once it gets down to what I'm a student of, and what I did before I was a student.

It's been a very strange part of the job to be finally doing something where practically every person I come across is interested in what it involves. Even more strange to be intensely grilled about my life as if I was the most fascinating person on the planet. It's through the rabbit hole to then get a 5 star rating and a nice comment about how much they enjoyed the experience.

So what's being an Uber driver like? I can honestly say, no joke, that it's most fun job I've ever done. Basically, I spend hours in conversation with people from all walks of life, listening to music, finding out what's going on and where, hearing about their careers or lives or whatever it is they want to talk about. Then I get paid for it.

Oh, and I drive people to where they want to go, for a very reasonable price, in a timely manner, safely and comfortably. That's the most basic part of it, the fundamental function, of course – but you knew that. That's the bit that I can't stuff up, the bit I absolutely have to get right. That's the bare minimum. That's the part that's so automatic, I kind of forget to mention it.

I've never been in a position to steer conversations so much as I get every night in my car. Oh, sorry, minor detail – I drive mostly at night, particularly the busiest nights, Friday and Saturday. Let me steer you guys now, to where this ride is meant to go. This, strangely, is not the first Uber ride where I've been the one to pick the destination, as the driver. Not even the first one this week.

So how about these massive price drops that happened on the other day? In case you didn't know, Uber made a whole bunch of changes in Auckland and Wellington last Thursday, all announced simultaneously. As drivers we found out no sooner than our riders, that as of ... that instant ... all Uber rides were now 20% cheaper than the day before.

Yes, I found out about my 20% pay cut only hours before it came into effect. Some of my fellow drivers found out about it in the middle of their shift. They suddenly discovered that the smallest possible ride they could give was now for $4, before costs, where earlier in the shift it had been $4.80.

These rates are being trialled. It's only for a month and, simultaneously, they brought in something I found interesting: 'Guaranteed' Hourly Rates. Auckland-only.

Also brought in simultaneously was an announcement that they had lowered the standards for driver entry. This is not just for Christchurch, where they had already done that. This is in Auckland and Wellington too, where up until yesterday, drivers had basically the exact same compliance standards and costs as taxi drivers, with only one exception: Uber runs the meter.

This was always of dubious legality in this country, but no one has yet been successfully prosecuted. This is hardly that unfair, since the meter Uber does run is a very fair and extremely competitive one, which is also back-checked against the meter held by the customer in their own pocket. It's pretty clear to anyone but the most petty bureaucrat that, as a metering system, it's a good one, and the law just hasn't kept up.

Furthermore, it's an opt-in system. You had to call the Uber to you using the app. You had to agree to the terms and conditions to even install it. In every fair sense, there is an agreement between the customer and the provider about what the fare structure will be, which is all that is technically required for a Private Hire Service.

In the letter of the law, however, this kind of service is meant to agree to a fixed price beforehand, or an hourly rate. Metering the kilometres traveled is not allowed. Only taxis may do that. The definition of a taxi is very strict.

How do I know all these rules? Therein lies what I really wanted to bring to your attention. To become an Uber driver, I had to get a P endorsement. It's not a particularly difficult thing to get, I just had to pass a course, have held a full NZ drivers license for two years, pass the practical driving test again and pass a full police check which involved scrutiny of my driving record. (Both here and overseas - I had to get all my records from my time in Australia 16 years ago, both from VicRoads and from the Federal Police. It took a few months, and cost about a thousand dollars, $400 of which were reimbursed by Uber.)

The course itself was a two-day affair, and naturally very simple. I had to learn what the law was for passenger drivers. All of the laws, including laws that don't cover my situation. I had to learn the laws of shuttle buses, and tour buses and school buses, and dial-a-driver services, and taxis, as well as Private Hire Services involving Small Passenger Vehicles, which is what Uber does here. The most complex of these by far is taxis. A great deal of the course was about what they are and are not allowed to do.

Quite a bit of the course was also dedicated to the simple issue of customer service and rights, particularly the rights of the disabled, and how they should be dealt with. Also, a lot about how to fill out log books and all the dangers associated with tired driving, and a whole lot of very stern (and righteous) warnings about the severity of the punishments you can face by not complying with log book laws and other compliance matters.

As of yesterday, drivers for Uber are no longer being required to get a P endorsement. I'm curious what you guys all think about that.

Uber drivers, from now on, could turn up without the proper license that the law says they must have, in a vehicle that also does not have the certification that the law says it must have. It will be enough to have a WOF, where I had to get a COF for my car. They no longer need to drive under a Transport Service License (TSL). They will not need commercial insurance. They will not need to keep a log of their driving hours.

Well, so says Uber – although obviously NZTA and the police beg to differ. Their position is that they will fine the hell out of people doing all that, anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000 for the first offense. I'm really quite nervous about what tonight is going to be like, despite being as 100% compliant as it was possible to be yesterday.

For interest, a COF was really easy to get for my car, because it's a sedan - I only had to make one alteration, disabling the kiddie locks (or I could optionally have put a red sticker on the door saying it had a working kiddie lock). I glued them up, proved to LTNZ that I had a proper TSL that I was working under, and they gave me a COF, and I began work that day. Modifications to non-sedan shapes are bit more onerous. Vehicles like Priuses (which are most of the Uber fleet) have to have a proper certified luggage barrier to prevent luggage killing passengers in the event of an accident. Seven-seater vans need to essentially have the sliding door seat removed to make the entry way clear enough that passengers can be got out easily in the event of an accident.

As of yesterday, no such assurances will be necessarily made about a vehicle you book with Uber. You will have to check for yourself, if you are worried. Hint: It's called a Certificate of Fitness, not a Warrant of Fitness. If it has one of those, it's functionally the same as a taxi. If it doesn't, all bets are off.

The pay cut, I have no real objection to. Not yet anyway. It's a suck-it-and-see moment. Maybe the rising demand will cover the 20% less earnings per trip. I'll be working 20% more, but since I enjoy the work, I'm not expecting that to be that much more terrible. Although this nagging back pain that's reared its ugly head might temper that some, if I pretty much won't be able to spend as much time outside of the vehicle as I used to.

But these safety related cuts ...? Guys? Just to get drivers on the road faster, we're now going to be breaking the safety laws? Because the neverending stream of people signing up for Uber at the office every time I go there just isn't enough? Or is it the cost of reimbursing them for the course?

The changes are naturally, welcomed by most riders. The Herald responded fairly positively, although the reporter also noted that the Government has undertaken a sweeping review, and reports the proposed changes, but unfortunately only mentions the things that are already the law. The actual changes remove some of the lesser requirements.

Unfortunately, there's a bit of a disconnect between Uber's policy and all of this. Ridesharing is specifically mentioned in this Ministry of Transport Q&A, and it specifically says that the service must pass all the same compliance as any other Small Passenger Service. In other words, drivers will still need P Endorsements, COFs, an organisation that is their employer, etc.

These changes, of course, have not yet come into effect. Probably in 2017. So right now, the law is still as it was. It's still illegal to drive someone “for hire or reward” without having a P Endorsement in this country. All Uber drivers, up until Thursday, had one of those. I have one.

I'm going to cut this ride off here. You can have another one if you like, there's plenty more to say about this strange phenomenon known as Uber, and no time to say it. Please leave a comment! I want to know what the hive mind thinks about this, so I won't mediate with my own opinion on it – you have some of the facts now.

It's my intention to make this the first of a series of posts on the topic of Ubering, should enough interest be generated. Future possible topics: uberASSIST. Surge Pricing. How much we get paid. Tricks and traps. Best ride anecdotes. The future. The perfect playlist. Taxi Wars. Is it safe? The rating system.

Cheers guys. Have a mint. Please, don't chunder in here. 5 stars are given out liberally.

33

Banking on a relationship

by Colin Jackson

Dear Kiwibank,

It’s not you, it’s me. I guess I wanted more from our relationship, and I thought you were serious, but I see now that it could never have worked. My mistake, and I’m sorry. I hope we can both move on.

When my previous business credit card went off with someone else, I didn’t just go for the first one on the rebound. Maybe that was a mistake. Instead, I wooed you, and it was a lengthy chase, but anything worth catching is worth chasing, right? And I liked the idea that you are owned in New Zealand. In a way, you were mine already.

Of course there were problems as we got to know each other. My wife wasn’t at all happy that you put “Number 2” in the middle of her name on her copy of the card. But we gradually got comfortable with each other, despite the odd harsh word and awkward moment.

After a few months we had a nice thing going, or so I thought. I finally got my regular bills moved over to pay from your card, and I took your card with me as I travelled overseas to some of the unusual places I work in. It worked just fine.

Fast forward to March this year. We had got comfortable with each other. I went to Canada on a business trip, used your card to get from the airport just fine, then a few days later tried to check out of my hotel. Big problem – the card was declined, the hotel bill wasn’t paid, even though I had the money available. No matter, I knew you’d wouldn’t let me down – I’d call you to ask you to sort it out. You were asleep, then you went on holiday for Easter. My flight was the next day. What to do? I’m not used to having someone I trust abandon me among strangers.

You didn’t answer my email for days, but when you did you sounded reasonable. You didn’t quite say sorry, but you wanted me to see it from your point of view. Even though I’d travelled with your card before, you said you weren’t sure why I was away and you thought it safer to to wait until I called you. You said you’d tried to call me on a landline I haven’t had for years, no matter that I’d given you my up to date number and email when I asked you for the card. You told me that your Daddy doesn’t give you enough allowance to afford to support your cards all the time like the other banks. I sort of accepted that, even though I was still hurting from your rejection.

A week or so later I got a bill from Spark. It had a late payment fee on it – you had dishonoured my card when Spark was trying to get payment and Spark charged me for it. I asked you if you would at least cover the extra cost you’d put me to – never mind the anguish. You said no.

Other banks refund costs they cause people when they make errors. Obviously you aren’t prepared to do that. Perhaps that’s another aspect of the folksy New Zealand brand you like to show off, along with not providing out of hours support. From my point of view, it makes you not just someone with bad service, but an actual problem to be managed. I have enough of those already, I don’t need any more.

I’ve tried as much as I can in this relationship. I’ve bent over backward. But you don’t see that. I I realise now that you see me as someone to be dealt with from 9 to 5 after a long call centre wait, looked after in a haphazard fashion, and really not anyone worth troubling about at all.

That’s not enough for me, it really isn’t. After what we’ve been through, I want more. I expect you to care a bit. That’s obviously not happening.

So, this is it. I’m sorry it had to come to this, I really am. I’ll be looking for another card as soon as I get back. Like I say, it’s my fault – I probably expected too much.

Let’s try to stay friends.

18

Banning begging will be about as effective as banning breathing

by Six

Auckland mayoral candidate Mark Thomas has promised to introduce a new bylaw to prohibit begging in Auckland. Banning begging will be about as effective as banning breathing.

Not only is it the last bastion of the broken and bent, but human nature means most of us also want to help.

From my observation, Street People are as cunning as a Remuera rat and as wily as a Penthouse fox.

Not all are receiving a benefit or appropriate mental health care or addressing addictions. A lot of homeless people are not literate enough to read this rant, let alone comply with Work and Income paperwork.

Street characters are not generally on the streets because they are socially compliant.

Some Streeties are pathological, antisocial parasites.

Many others, however, are just disenfranchised, separated from their community and lack the support needed for any success. 

Most of these people are simply trying to pass time in the most profitable manner possible.

Sure, take away begging. No one wants to see or surrender to soliciting. 

But give the central city rough community a hub, a marae-style centre where anyone can go to learn artisan skills such as knitting, weaving, pottery and music.  Second, find a vacant warehouse and enlist some of our skilled graduates as mentors, tutors and admin.

Start by promoting existing free courses, and have people on the streets to talk to people and point them in the way of something more productive for the entire community.

Surely we would rather buy a handcrafted beanie or scarf, kit bag or candle than throw a coin into cup?

To remove begging and poverty you have to give people options.

Adjunct:

According to information released under the Local Government Official Information ACT, The Counci's The Long Term Plan (LTP) 2015-2025 allocated $360,000 for year one and two (2015/16 and 2016/17) and $110,000 for year three ($2017/18).

The funds are to support emergency housing and homelessness initiatives.

To date, the Council has given $25k to the Auckland City Mission, allocated a further $35k to be divided between The Salvation Army and consumed an operating budget of $58k.

Six has lived on the streets at various times and writes about that and other things at Tranzspotting.