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Capitalists in Space

25 July 2021 1 comment

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Billionaire Richard Branson did it.

Also-billionaire, Jeff Bezos, did it.

Both will be the first money-hoarders into space (or sub-orbital near-space, to be more specific).

Also-also-billionaire, Elon Musk – not content with sub-orbital ‘jaunts’ – has expressed a desire to go Full Interplanetary and personally colonise Mars.

Meanwhile, as billionaires play “Captain Kirk” in their own private rocketships – it is worth noting the hardship and misery they leave behind on Planet Earth.

As of July this year, Jeff Bezos’ net worth is a staggering US$211 billion. Elon Musk is not far behind at US$180.8 billion.  Richard Branson lags behind at single figures billions: US$4.8. (By comparison,  New Zealand’s annual GDP, last year, was a little over US$209 billion.)

Sadly, Bezos’ workers at Amazon (which, until recently, he was CEO of), are not quite in the billionaire range. Not even millionaires.

Amazon worker’s median wage was US$29,007 last year, up US$159 from 2019.  Those people work for a company that last year (2020) increased its profit by US$100 billion to US$386 billion.

So when Bezos thanked workers for paying for his flight;

“I also want to thank every Amazon employee and every Amazon customer because you guys paid for all of this.”

– the response was less than appreciative of his “gratitude”.

US representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said on Twitter:

“Yes Amazon workers did pay for this – with lower wages, union-busting, a frenzied and inhumane workplace and deliver drivers not having health insurance during a pandemic. Amazon customers are paying for it with Amazon abusing their market power to hurt small businesses.”

“Jeff Bezos forgot to thank all the hardworking Americans who actually paid taxes to keep this country running while he and Amazon paid nothing.” 

Satirist/comedian, Trevor Noah, on The Daily Show put Bezos’ short flight into more human context;

“Jeff Bezos was in space for 5 minutes—or as its known at the Amazon warehouse, your allotted break time for a 16-hour day”

The joy-rides by multi-billionaires who pay little tax and exploit their workers with abysmal working conditions and pathetically low wages is nothing short of an obscenity.

It is not the future we envisaged when courageous men and women like Yuri Gagarin, Valentina Tereshkova, Neil Armstrong, et al, took humanity’s first tentative steps into infinity, leaving Cradle Earth behind.

When television producer, Gene Roddenberry created “Star Trek” – perhaps the most easily recognisable TV sf series ever made – he envisaged a benign future free of war, bigotry, inequality, poverty, and greed. It was a future where human beings were free to explore their fullest potential. It was a future where we devoted our energy to looking outward, to explore the vastness of the Universe and the myriad diversity it offered.

As one of the main characters explained;

“A lot has changed in three hundred years. People are no longer obsessed with the accumulation of “things.” We have eliminated hunger, want, the need for possessions…

… the economics of the future is somewhat different. You see, money doesn’t exist in the 24th century… The acquisition of wealth is no longer the driving force in our lives. We work to better ourselves and the rest of Humanity.”

It was not a future where men with obscene hoarded wealth took joyrides into space for their own aggrandisement.  It was not meant to be the future lauded by libertarian sf writer, Robert Heinlein, whose “hero” in “The Man Who Sold The Moon” was a self-serving businessman hell-bent on commercialising ownership of the Moon.

As an avid sf* reader and space enthusiast in my youth (and still am), I viewed humanity’s first baby-steps into outer space as positive for our species. Not only could we further advance our understanding and knowledge of the Universe; marvel at the beauty of what we saw with our eyes; and understand our place in the cosmos – but the very act of looking outward was uplifting to us collectively and brought out the best from us.

But when society is inward-looking it inevitably creates social division with an Us/Them culture of dis-trust. Xenophobia increases.  Creativity and artistic endeavour are stifled. Groups are pitted against groups.

A society that looks outward has self-confidence. A society that ceases being outward and turns in on itself will lose that confidence and fear and anxiety will hold sway.

Think of Brexit and why so many British voters turned their backs on Europe.

Think of the United States under Donald Trump. Now think of Trumpism taking hold for another four years, followed by his spawn.

Bezo’s space jaunt was paid by his workers who are poorly remunerated and badly treated. Amazon actively prevents unionisation of its workers.

So a vulgar wealth-hoarder exploited his workers to reach for the stars.

Not content with the worst of  humanity’s nature on Earth, billionaires are now taking our “darker angels” to the Heavens. This was not how visionaries intended our future to look like.

Perhaps the next time a libertarian capitalist suggests that businessmen and woman know better than governments how to spend their accumulated wealth, think of Richard Branson, Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, et al, standing on the backs of their workers.

“I also want to thank every Amazon employee and every Amazon customer because you guys paid for all of this.” – Jeff Bezos, 20 July 2021.

“Fuck you.” – Every Amazon & other employee of billionaires, ever.

The exploration of the Final Frontier just lost some of it’s sheen.

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∗ Correct abbreviation for “science fiction” is “sf”. “Sci-Fi” is considered unsophisticated colloquialism.

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References

New York Times: What will it cost to fly Virgin Galactic to space?

Stuff media: Jeff Bezos blasts into space on board Blue Origin’s first passenger flight

Hindustan Times: Did Richard Branson really fly into space? Neil deGrasse Tyson weighs in

Axios: Elon Musk – There’s a 70% chance that I personally go to Mars

Time: Jeff Bezos Is the Richest Person Ever After His Net Worth Soars to $211 Billion

Knoema: New Zealand – Gross domestic product in current prices

Forbes: #589 Richard Branson

BBC: Jeff Bezos steps down as Amazon boss

Business Insider Australia: Amazon reveals how much it paid its median employee last year – $29,007

Forbes: Amazon’s Net Profit Soars 84% With Sales Hitting $386 Billion

Sky News: Jeff Bezos space flight – Backlash after world’s richest man thanks Amazon customers and staff for paying for his trip

Twitter: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez – Jeff Bezos – Amazon workers – 21 July 2021

Twitter: Elizabeth Warren – Jeff Bezos – workers paid taxes – 21 July 2021

Twitter: Trevor Noah – The Daily Show – Jeff Bezos – Amazon workers – 21 July 2021

Wikipedia: Yuri Gagarin

Wikipedia: Valentina Tereshkova

Wikipedia: Neil Armstrong

Wikipedia: Gene Roddenberry

Memory Alpha: Money

Wikipedia: The Man Who Sold The Moon

CNN: The union loss at Amazon is another sign big companies have too much power

Forbes: What Entrepreneurs Really Want From Government

CNBC: What billionaires said about wealth inequality and capitalism in 2019

Twitter: @WendyCrossArt -21 July 2021

Twitter: @DanRather – 21 July 2021

Twitter: @meladoodle – 21 July 2021

Previous related blogposts

Trumpwatch – How Elon Musk can overcome Trump’s climate-change obstinacy

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Have your own thoughts? Leave a comment. (Trolls need not bother.)

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= fs =

Judith Collins and National: It’s a trust thing

14 July 2021 4 comments

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national not to be trusted

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Clever strategies

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There are firm reasons why National continually fails to gain traction with the voting public (recent Roy Morgan poll notwithstanding, as one fall does a trend not make).

The ongoing in-fighting. The revolving door on leadership changes. It’s lack of coherent policy and direction. A current Caretaker Leader who struggles to be likeable with the public. More leaks than Auckland City’s water pipes. A tarnished image as a “prudent fiscal manager”. And lingering suspicions that the Nats would prioritise business demands to re-open the borders to allow entry to migrant fruit picking workers; hospo staff; tourists; Uncle Tom Cobbly; et al.

The last two are of particular interest.

Caretaker-Leader Judith Collins has berated the current government for poor fiscal management;

“It is irresponsible of the government continuing to spend money like it is with no thought as to where it comes from at the same time as we have 4500 kids in [emergency housing] hotels.

We are a small economy, we now have about $100 billion worth of debt, up from about $50b when the govt took over, and you can blame Covid all you like but ultimately – as those reports show – there was a problem before the government took over and the government had no plan for it…

… but it is ultimately the government’s decision to waste enormous amounts of money and not to actually put the focus on where it needs to be.”

Which is so deeply ironic that it could only be at home at the bottom of the Pacific Marianas Trench.

It was only last year that then-Finance spokesperson, Paul Goldsmith promised voters a tax cut (ie, an out-and-out bribe for votes).

When asked how National could possibly fund tax cuts when every economist was predicting a recession – if not outright Depression – Mr Goldsmith struggled to provide an answer. He eventually came up with a funding solution; raiding the Covid Relief Fund;

The change would not affect the National Party’s proposed temporary tax cuts, which are being paid for by drawing down $4.9 billion of the $14 billion Robertson had set aside from Covid-19 Response and Recovery Fund for future Covid-19 policies, if needed.

When the voting public heard National’s plan, they responded en masse to hand a historic majority Labour government. It was clear that most New Zealanders wanted National nowhere near the Treasury benches. Especially Paul Goldsmith who seemed fiscally inept beyond comprehension.

The 2020 General Election did more to undermine National’s “street cred” as a “prudent fiscal manager” than at any time in recent history.

A Newshub-Reid Research poll in July last year backed up National’s fall-from-fiscal-grace in the public eye.;

The latest Newshub-Reid Research Poll asked New Zealanders which party they trust to run the economy from now on through and after COVID-19.

A clear majority – 62.3 percent – trusts a Labour-led Government under Jacinda Ardern, while just over a quarter of the country – 26.5 percent – trusts a National-led Government under Judith Collins.

So when National’s Caretaker Leader Judith Collins accused the govt of being “irresponsible of the government continuing to spend money like it is with no thought as to where it comes from” and wast[ing] enormous amounts of money” – no one was listening.

While Ms Collins berates Labour for “continuing to spend money like it is with no thought as to where it comes from” – her Covid spokesperson, Chris Bishop, was demanding that government purpose-build isolation/quarantine facilities on “vacant land near Auckland Airport“. According to Mr Bishop;

We still think purpose built quarantine facilities makes sense. Using hotels in downtown Auckland was a good stop gap measure last year. But hotels simply aren’t built for quarantine and isolation.”

However, it was noticeable that Neither Mr Bishop, nor his (current) Leader, have offered any costing to purpose-build such a facility.

To provide some broad indication, a planned purpose built quarantine facility in Victoria, Australia, is estimated to cost A$15 million [NZ16 million] to design and a further “A$200 million [NZ$214 million] to build a 500-bed facility and around A$700 million [NZ$750 million]  if it was scaled up to 3,000 beds”.

By comparison, Aotearoa has between 4,000 to 4,500 beds in hotels in Auckland (18), Hamilton (3), Rotorua (3), Wellington (2) and Christchurch (6).

Using the above figures, building a 4,000 bed facility would cost the country well over a billion dollars. With inevitable cost over-runs, the final figure would be anyone’s guess.

Chris Bishop also called for returnees to be paid a wage whilst self isolating;

“We think the government needs to be more generous when it comes to supporting people when they’re told to self-isolate. Earlier this year we announced a policy of the government paying people’s wages when people are ordered to self-isolate. It’s pretty sensible – if the government is saying to you “stay home” and we don’t want you at work – they should pay.”

National’s calls have not been costed – and nor would they be. The agenda from the Opposition is not to demand a more effective Managed Isolation and Quarantine system. Instead, their unspoken aim is,

(A) to paint the Labour government as ineffective, for pure political point-scoring

(B) to pressure the Labour government to adopt costly policies, which would push up borrowing and debt.  Caretaker Leader Collins would then wag a disapproving finger; and tut-tuttingly exclaim,

“It is irresponsible of the government continuing to spend money like it is with no thought as to where it comes from… it is ultimately the government’s decision to waste enormous amounts of money and not to actually put the focus on where it needs to be.”

Clever strategy; force your rival to spend money – then blame them for spending money.

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Crazy incoherencies

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National’s Deputy Leader, Dr Shane Reti, has called for the retention of Aotearoa’s system of twenty District Health Boards (DHBs);

“So far the Government has employed 25 people with a budget of $5 million to reduce the number of DHBs. But this funding will never directly benefit patients.

Rather than spending millions on the unnecessary amalgamation of DHBs, this money would be much better spent in areas that will actually help New Zealanders.”

Dr Reti’s statement was backed up by his Caretaker Leader, Ms Collins;

“We have all sorts of issues right now. Now is not the time to be restructuring in the middle of a pandemic and an inability to get vaccines out.”

Meanwhile, National’s Covid spokesperson, Chris Bishop, has condemned DHB’s role in distribution of the vaccine;

“We’ve always said that relying on the DHB to do the rollout is not a particularly great model.”

Clearly, Dr Reti, Ms Collins, and Mr Bishop don’t talk much to each other. Based on the comments of those three, the public would be confused as to what National’s policy was regarding DHBs and the vaccine roll-out.

As Former Senior Policy & Communications Strategist for PM Ardern, Clint Smith, put it in a recent ‘tweet‘;

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This is called “incoherence”.

If  “relying on the DHB to do the rollout is not a particularly great model” – then what use are they? Why endorse a system that cannot carry out a task that is their raison d’etre – vaccinations?

Are they opposing reform of 20 DHBs for the sake of Opposition, when they clearly have no alternative solutions of their own?

Yes, they are.

And the public have noticed.

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Confusing irrevancies

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#Demandthedebate is a hashtag currently trending on social media – but not quite in the way National ever intended.

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Social media wits – notably on Twitter – have mercilessly lampooned the launch of National’s campaign to publicise and “debate” certain issues. The “serious” version;

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The more entertaining takes;

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There was more – much more. So much in fact that at last one media outlet realised what was happening and reported the hi-jacking and mass lampooning of National’s “Demand the Debate”.

The campaign has been clumsy since it released it’s initial press statement on

The Press Statement, in it’s entirety;

Leader of the Opposition Judith Collins says New Zealanders are being left out of important decisions by the Labour Government and today she has launched a campaign for Kiwis to ‘Demand the debate’.

“The Labour Government continues to make policy announcements that were never campaigned on and will have a significant impact on New Zealanders.

“From the Car Tax, cancelling promised infrastructure projects, the $785m Auckland cycle bridge, rushed law changes to deliver Māori wards, to the hastily announced oil and gas exploration ban; New Zealanders are starting to feel left out.

“At the same time more than 4000 children are left to grow up in motels, mental health services are in crisis, the Government is looking to criminalise speech they disapprove of and tell you what car you can drive.

“Let’s be clear, Labour was elected on a Covid-19 mandate and nine months later we are still waiting for border workers to be properly vaccinated and MIQ beds sit empty while migrant families wait in desperation to be reunited. We are still last in the developed world for Covid-19 vaccinations. Kiwis deserve better.

“Every week, I’m contacted by thousands of Kiwis who are worried they just don’t have a say in the future of their country anymore. They’re being kept in the dark and their questions go unanswered by Ardern’s Government. So today, we launch the first in a series of billboards on important issues that Kiwis deserve to have their say on.

“The first campaign relates to the Government’s 2019 He Puapua report. Kiwis were never told about it at the time and it was never campaigned on by Labour. It has recently been considered by Cabinet and is being consulted on with a select few New Zealanders.

“The He Puapua report contains recommendations for fundamental changes to our legal, constitutional, and democratic governance arrangements. Changes like separate health and justice systems, separate RMA rules, and separate electoral arrangements. These proposals must be taken to an election so all Kiwis can have their say.

“While they claim publicly it’s not their policy, the Labour Government has already started to implement large parts of He Puapua like Māori Wards and a Māori Health Authority, without the wide-ranging public debate that these changes deserve.

“The Government’s parliamentary majority is not a mandate for Labour to promote their ideological wish list. New Zealanders deserve a say on their country’s future and together we must demand the debate.”

As many have pointed out, National’s claim that “He Puapua report. Kiwis were never told about it at the time and it was never campaigned on by Labour“. Which is bizarre. The report was just that; a report. How could a political party campaign on a “report” that had no standing as it had not even been accepted as party policy?

Government departments create hundreds, if not thousands of reports. Campaigning on each one would be impossible.

This is desperate mischief-making taken to ridiculous levels.

Whilst mentioning the He Pua Pua report as the “first campaign”, it only hints at successive topics; “the Car Tax, cancelling promised infrastructure projects, the $785m Auckland cycle bridge, rushed law changes to deliver Māori wards, to the hastily announced oil and gas exploration ban.”

The craziest part of the press statement is this “gem”;

“The Government’s parliamentary majority is not a mandate for Labour to promote their ideological wish list…”

It’s almost as if the 2020 election never happened and Labour never won a historic 65 seat majority – the first in a MMP Parliament.

Then again, when it comes to “mak[ing] policy announcements that were never campaigned on and will have a significant impact on New Zealanders” – National has some experience in this area;

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Then he raised GST.

If these are the issues that National wants to debate, they have been living in the Wellington Beltway longer than is healthy. Most people would not care greatly about these issues and a considerable number might even agree with them; eg the oil and gas exploration ban.

(Which, by the way, was announced in April, 2018 – two years before the 2020 election.)

These are not debating issues. They are not even “talking points”.

They are a lame attempt for National to be relevant.

And even here, they have failed miserably. Because very few  – perhaps no more than National’s current voting base – would be greatly interested in these so-called issues. They are perhaps Issues of National Significance for National only.

The real issues confronting this country – housing; climate change; staying safe during the covid pandemic – have been all but ignored.

This is by design, not by accident. For not only does National not have anything “fresh” to offer on these issues – but it has actively contributed to one (the housing crisis) and is distrusted on another (keeping us safe from covid).

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Callous indifference

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When Boris Johnson announced that Britain would be easing covid restrictions by 19 July, it was met with incredulity and fear. Even as a covid was surging through the country, PM Johnson was announcing the unthinkable;

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PM Johnson’s statement was nothing less than a death sentence for thousands of unvaccinated British people;

We’re seeing rising hospital admissions and we must reconcile ourselves, sadly, to more deaths from COVID. In these circumstances we must take a careful and a balanced decision.

It was surrender to covid and prioritisation of business over peoples’ lives;

“We have to balance the risks of the disease and of continuing with legal restrictions, with their impact on people’s lives and livelihoods.”

The stats speak for themselves; – over 31,000 new cases and 26 deaths, daily;

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No wonder the interim director for Royal College of Nursing, Jude Diggins, was scathing;

“This disease does not disappear on 19 July. No available vaccine is 100% effective … Public mask-wearing is straightforward and well-established – government will regret the day it sent the wrong signal for political expediency.”

Chair of the Winton Centre for Risk and Evidence Communication at Cambridge University, David Spiegelhalter, described PM Johnson’s 19 July decision is chilling terms;

This is an experiment, and I think we’ve got to call it that. I respect the judgments by Chris Whitty and others who say that if you’re going to do this, this is the right time to do it.”

In The Lancet, 122 scientists wrote an open letter condemning Boris Johnson and his government;

In light of these grave risks, and given that vaccination offers the prospect of quickly reaching the same goal of population immunity without incurring them, we consider any strategy that tolerates high levels of infection to be both unethical and illogical. The UK Government must reconsider its current strategy and take urgent steps to protect the public, including children. We believe the government is embarking on a dangerous and unethical experiment, and we call on it to pause plans to abandon mitigations on July 19, 2021.

 

New Zealanders look aghast at covid out of control in India and Fiji; the virus taking hold in New South Wales; and then a British Prime Minister stating matter-of-factly that his country will lift all restrictions – even if it means “we must reconcile ourselves, sadly, to more deaths“.

Then they look at Jacinda Ardern and Judith Collins…

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… and they wonder. They wonder if, in National’s Caretaker Leader, Judith Collins, there lurks a “Boris Johnson” waiting to throw open the doors to the rest of the world – and a virus.

With Judith Collins and National, it’s a trust thing.

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#NationalNotFitToGovern

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References

Roy Morgan: Is the COVID-19 ‘honeymoon’ over for PM Jacinda Ardern?

RNZ: Ardern stays firm on superannuation age after Treasury flags rising cost pressures

Stuff media: Election 2020 – ‘Fair cop’ – National’s Paul Goldsmith admits to accounting mistake as Labour points out $4b hole

Stuff media: Election 2020 – National’s fiscal hole appears to double to $8 billion as Paul Goldsmith denies double count mistake

Newshub: Newshub-Reid Research Poll – Kiwis trust Labour more than National to run the economy

Business Insider: Boris Johnson told the UK to reconcile itself to more COVID-19 deaths as the country lifts almost all restrictions amid a new surge

TVNZ News: National proposes building of purpose-built quarantine facility on Auckland’s outskirts

National Party: Our approach to COVID-19 and the vaccine roll-out

ABC News: Melbourne COVID-19 quarantine facility approved as Commonwealth, Victoria agree on site

Managed Isolation and Quarantine: Managed Isolation and Quarantine capacity

Stuff media: Covid-19 – Why the Government isn’t using purpose-built quarantine facilities

National Party: Ditch DHB merger, spend funding on medicines instead

Stuff media: Judith Collins lashes DHB overhaul as too much Wellington bureaucracy, and a ‘separatist model’

Twitter: Morning Report – Chris Bishop – vaccine rollout (RNZ: Morning Report – Chris Bishop on vaccination rollout)

Twitter: Clint Smith – 8 July 2021

Stuff media: National launches billboard campaign to ‘demand debate’ on Government policies

Newshub:  ‘Pineapple on pizza? Demand the debate’: National’s new campaign parodied in memes

Scoop media: National Launch Campaign To Demand The Debate For All New Zealanders

NZ Herald; Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern bans oil exploration

Electoral Commission: 2020 General Election official results

ODT:  Key ruled out GST increase in 2008

RNZ: PM defends proposed GST increase

Business Insider: Boris Johnson told the UK to reconcile itself to more COVID-19 deaths as the country lifts almost all restrictions amid a new surge

The Independent: Big majority of Britons ‘worried’ about Boris Johnson’s plan to lift all Covid restrictions, poll reveals

TVNZ: Covid-19 cases in the UK surge to highest levels in five months

Gov.Uk: Coronavirus (Covid-19) in the UK

The Guardian: New Zealand not willing to risk UK-style ‘live with Covid’ policy, says Jacinda Ardern

The Guardian: Boris Johnson to scrap most of England’s Covid rules from 19 July

Reuters: Analysis – UK PM Johnson’s new COVID gamble worries some scientists

Sky News: COVID-19 – Tolerating high levels of COVID infections is both ‘unethical and illogical’, scientists warn

The Lancet: Mass infection is not an option – we must do more to protect our young

The Guardian: New Zealand not willing to risk UK-style ‘live with Covid’ policy, says Jacinda Ardern

TVNZ: Judith Collins ‘very hopeful’ Covid-19 alert level restrictions will lift today

TVNZ: ‘New Zealand cannot afford any more lockdowns’ – Judith Collins

NZ Herald: Covid 19 coronavirus – National leader Judith Collins calls on Government to open travel bubble with Australia

Stuff media: Covid-19 – Judith Collins says Government should look into vaccinated people skipping managed isolation

Previous related blogposts

Life in Level 1: The Taxpayer’s Coin

Life in Level 1: The Doom of National

Life in Level 2: National’s Barely Secret Agenda

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Acknowledgement: Rod Emmerson

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Have your own thoughts? Leave a comment. (Trolls need not bother.)

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= fs =

All good things…

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In 2011, in between jobs and the Great Recession still biting our collective arses, I took to trying my hand at building on my letters-to-the-editor experience by taking up blogging. There were already a number of blogs about; Kiwiblog (on the Right); Tumeke (on the Left), Imperator Fish (another on the Left,with a big dollop of satire); No Right Turn (Left, featuring short and concise posts; et al. There was also one named after processed cetacean fat – but let’s not go there (for the moment).

It’s hard to state which was “better” than the other; they each had a unique style of presenting information, views, criticisms. But I quickly learned from each and my first blogpost appeared on 14 July 2011.

It was a supportive piece on the then-proposed Capital Gains Tax. Looking at it now, it was pretty ‘rough’.

My writing increased; improved the formatting; and – who knows – maybe even got better in the process. (Though I still have a problem with brevity…)

Three years later and I received an invitation- from out of the blue – from Martyn Bradbury, inviting me to join The Daily Blog as a regular contributor.

Needless to say, we in our household were stunned. My ego came close to growing to a Jupiter-sized gas giant. The smile on my face must’ve stayed with me even as I slept.

It was – and still is – an honour. I was to join the ranks of writers like Martyn, Leslie Bravery, Chris Trotter, Susan St John, Selwyn Manning, Christine Rose, John Minto, and many others to whom I’ll apologise later at length for omitting their names.

There was no shortage of issues to write about during the Key/English years. They were the political gift that kept giving. Indeed many of their legacies such as the housing crisis remain with us today. (Though John Key’s flag referendum was one we’ll never forget. And New Zealanders learned a new word for a fetish: trichophilia.)

Then covid hit us and my blogging, for a while, became a daily diary. Even as the country ground to a halt, I drove (near-)deserted roads in my job as a Community Worker. It was eerie and unsettling. But keeping busy, I was one of the lucky ones.

I still wonder what it would’ve been like had I been a non-essential worker, expected to stay home to ride out the silent microbial war. Did I have enough paint to do the entire exterior of my house?

But recently, things have taken an unexpected turn.

And this is why this will be my last post for The Daily Blog.

Most of us thought that the struggle of the LGBTQI+ community for equality and inclusion had been laid to rest in 1986 with the passing of the Homosexual Law Reform Bill. Though not gay, I was a staunch ally for gay men struggling not to be criminalised for simply fancying another bloke.

It was beyond my comprehension why anyone thought that other’s sexuality was their business. As I am happy to advise chauvinists, the only sexuality you can comment on is your own.

I wore my “HUG” badge with pride, even at work, almost daring my employer to order me to remove it. (He never did. Another ally?)

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I used my letter-writing experience and tackled the homophobes and religious conservatives (often one and the same) in newspapers and magazines. Especially the TV Guide, which, for some inexplicable reason, seemed to attract copious letters from homophobes.

Toward the end, I wrote to the TV  Guide stating that for every homophobic letter published in the editorial pages, I would donate $10 to a gay activist group. (Which I did, by the way.) And every couple of weeks, I’d send in my letter detailing how much I had donated during a certain period.

The homophobes didn’t like that.

My on-going support for the transgender community is an extension of my support for gay rights.

It is inconceivable for me to enjoy my rights; my inclusivity; my privileged existence in society knowing that a minority was still struggling. It is the same reason I support Maori in their struggles; workers in their struggles against Talleys, Ports of Auckland, et al.

As learn more, I believe my stand is right and shared by many others, also allies of trans people. Recently I have learned that two close friends of mine have children, one is transitioning f-t-m, the other is questioning their gender identity. The mothers of both do what mothers do; support and love their children.

Things have come to a head with TERF/GC, Rachel Stewart’s unfortunate ‘tweet’ where she mused/threatened to kill someone;

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It has been said that the threat was made in jest; a joke that people have taken the “wrong way”.

Trying to minimise the tweet as a “joke” is almost as bad as if it had been made in earnest.  As a society, we are supposed to be beyond making jokes about killing people. Or rape jokes. Or jokes about Maori, Pacifica, Muslims, Jewish people, etc.

The phrase – “Hey, lighten up, it was just a joke!” – no longer carries validity. And rightly so.

Remembering that we are only two years from the worst terrorist atrocity in modern New Zealand; considering that Ms Stewart actually had access to firearms – the person at the receiving end of her “joke” would not have been as dismissive as her supporters appear to be.

Those who are prepared to dismiss Ms Stewart’s comment as a “joke” and “not to be taken seriously” might reflect on Al Nisbet’s notorious cartoons in 2013;

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Neither cartoon threatened to kill or physically harm anyone. Yet, Martyn was moved to quite rightly condemn them in no uncertain terms;

“This disgustingly racist, despicable cartoon appeared in the Marlborough Express as a response to the feed the kids bill…

…the grinding poverty that destroys so many of the lives of the 270 000 children crushed by it is not a laughing matter, it is a deep shame this country of plenty should carry and this cartoon by the Marlborough Express manages to offend every sensibility.

For shame that such a racist cartoon can be published in 2013.

For shame that so many NZers seem to think it’s funny.”

Let’s be quite clear in one thing. If we can make a “joke” about humiliating someone and killing them, then we can make a “joke” about anything else; Maori, gays, lesbians, people with disabilities, people of colour, beneficiaries, etc, etc.

The list of minorities we can crack a joke at is pretty long. Time to dust off those old 1970s joke-books from the attic.

It also means other zealots and cranks can threaten people they don’t like – as long as it can be cloaked under the guise of “humour”.

Take Ms Stewart’s tweet for example. Reverse the genders. Read it back to yourself. Is it still a “joke”?

I find nothing funny in death threats, humorous or otherwise. I find nothing humorous about “jokes” that punch down, instead of up.

I have immense respect for Martyn and all he has achieved. I believe his support for his friend, Ms Stewart, is well-intentioned – but mis-guided in this case.

Ms Stewart made a colossal error of judgement with her comment. A true friend would’ve counselled her to look more deeply at her actions and accept her mistake.

We all make mistakes. (My teens and 20s were filled with them.) It’s what we do when a mistake is made that matters.

In trivialising this issue, we have given alt-right trolls, bigots, and other zealots a free pass. This is a low bar that Ms Stewart and Martyn have set, and they will be only too happy to step over it.  (BFD – the successor to “Whaleoil” – is also supporting Rachel Stewart’s “joke”. That Martyn has found himself aligned with something as odious as BFD  should be troubling in itself.)

For the transgender community and their LGBTQI brothers, sisters,non-binaries, this is yet more crap in their lives.

It is with deepest regret that I will no longer contribute to The Daily Blog. TDB has achieved much and can be a vehicle for considerable progressive good. But this is not the right way to go about it.

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References

“Frankly Speaking”: A Capital Gains Tax?

“The Daily Blog”: Talkback Radio, Public Radio, and related matters…

“The Daily Blog”: Twitter Watch – and then they came for Rachel Stewart…

“The Daily Blog”: There is no place in NZ for this kind of disgusting fucking racism – for shame Marlborough Express, for shame!

Twitter: The Aunties – 6 July 2021

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This blogpost was submitted to The Daily Blog two days ago. As as this moment, it remains unpublished..

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