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Delusions of senior management

In announcing the success of his coup against Simon Bridges, Todd Muller offered us the following as an example of what he’d bring to the job of PM:

“Yes, I’ve run businesses. I can read a balance sheet and a profit and loss account.  I can tell a good one from a bad one.  And yes, I’ll bring those skills to the Prime Ministership.”

There are some questions arising over the first sentence, for example whether he really has “run businesses” and why he mistakes the government for a business, but my interest is in his proclaiming his ability to read a balance sheet as though it were an important skill for a Prime Minister rather than an accountant.

This seems to be a common delusion of senior executives, and from my conversations with public servants it’s a common delusion of cabinet ministers as well.

In my experience, if you write a report that’s to go to the senior leadership team of a large organisation, their gatekeepers immediately demand that it be simplified.  All the complexity of the factors going into the decision and the nuances of the downstream effects of different choices are rejected. “They’ll never read all that, let alone understand it – give us one page with bullet points, and make the rest of it an appendix in case any of them are mad enough to read past the first page.” So you go away and bludgeon it into a simple, nuance-free something that a dullard could base an uninformed decision on and tell themselves it was “evidence-based,” and that’s what’s given to the executives.

However, when it comes to the financial info, it’s a different story. The numbers that could easily be condensed down into one page of bullet points by a competent accountant must be handed over in their complicated entirety. “No need to precis it, I can read a balance sheet!” bray the VIPs, as though accountants were a precious resource that mustn’t have their valuable time wasted by mere senior executives or cabinet ministers.

That’s what Todd Muller is promising us he would bring to the role of Prime Minister. I have to admit, it does explain a lot about the National Party’s approach to government, but it’s still a mystery as to why people would vote for it.

Written by Psycho Milt

May 25, 2020 at 8:37 pm

Posted in New Zealand

Competent or incompetent government

In the comments thread under yesterday’s “misfortunes of one’s political enemies” post, I commented to Kimbo that I’d consider this government an improvement on the previous one even if it managed no other achievements beyond ending the meth testing scam. 

I was entirely serious about that, because the meth testing scam was one of the most evil things done by a NZ government that I can remember.  As usual, Danyl McLachlan can explain it much better than I can, and has done as an aside in a post about Bridges’ and Bennett’s demise:

(And on a personal note, I’m glad to see Bennett is no longer part of the leadership team of one of our major political parties. The meth-testing scandal is probably the worst thing I’ve ever seen in New Zealand politics: the government wasted over $100 million dollars throwing the poorest and most vulnerable people in the country out of their homes during a housing crisis, for no reason other than they wanted to look tough on drugs. It ruined lives, it was utterly pointless and evil, and while there was a lot of blame to go around, Bennett was minister of social housing and one of the major architects of the policy. She never apologised for any of it, and she should never be in any position of responsibility, anywhere in this country, ever again).

I’d go further than Danyl and say that it was not only because they wanted to look tough on drugs, but  perhaps also because they had friends in the industry, not least a certain National MP who must not be named due to court suppression rules.

Competence isn’t the only measure of a government’s worth. The Key government was very competent in its deliberate mistreatment of the poorest people in the country, but that’s not a recommendation.  It’s also fair to say the Key government was more competent than the current one (the current government’s three-party structure alone would make that inevitable), but at least I can be confident the current government isn’t competently inflicting a great evil on the country.

Written by Psycho Milt

May 22, 2020 at 8:30 pm

Posted in New Zealand

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The misfortunes of one’s political enemies are always entertaining

It’s official! The National Party has given up on any chance of winning this year’s election. Or at least, that’s the only thing I can conclude from its MPs replacing their leader with someone no-one’s ever heard of and whose anonymity is well-deserved, to the extent that one of the MPs planning to vote for him couldn’t remember his name.

Todd “OK, Boomer” Muller takes over as leader from Simon Bridges.  Muller, a Bay of Plenty-based Christian conservative, should immediately make a strong contrast with Bridges, a… er… Bay of Plenty-based Christian conservative.  Of course, it’s also possible that Muller is just a placeholder for eventual replacement by Chris Luxon, a very different kettle of fish indeed, being a… er… Oh, yes!  Auckland-based Christian conservative.  Ah, what a broad church the National Party is – it has both Catholics and Protestants!

Written by Psycho Milt

May 22, 2020 at 1:35 am

Posted in New Zealand

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"Do you want fries with that?"

I watched Jacinda Ardern’s announcement of the move to level 2 tyesterday afternoon and shortly after saw on the TV news Boris Johnson trying to explain whatever the fuck his government is supposed to be doing, at which point I realised academics are going to have a research gold mine available to them in studying the quality and effectiveness of politicians’ messaging about this pandemic.

A lot of NZers, including fellow authors of this blog, have been scathing about the fact that Ardern has a degree in communication, rather than the law, finance or business degrees favoured by right-wing politicians.  All I can say is, you guys had better start taking comms graduates more seriously – compare her communication over the last eight weeks with Simon Bridges’ output and the massive change in party support levels is immediately explained.

The obvious rejoinder to that is that it’s substance, not messaging, that counts. And fair enough too, but even if we restrict ourselves to substance the picture doesn’t change much. It’s usually claimed that good governance requires leaders with experience in business, but that hasn’t proven to be true in this case. NZ’s leader is a comms grad with no business experience, whereas the USA and UK are led by people with a lot of experience in what right-wing simpletons like to describe as the “real world,” ie business.  Compare the relative performance of those countries so far during the pandemic with ours to see just how little business experience is actually worth when it comes to leadership.

NZ is re-opening its economy in the context of having achieved elimination of COVID-19, for the moment at least (and yes I am using epidemiologists’ definition of what elimination means in the context of an epidemic, not your colloquial one). The USA and UK are planning to re-open theirs in the context of not even having control of the infection rate, let alone eliminated it. That will quite literally cost lives.

NZ has some advantages, of course.  We’re an isolated country with a small population and no land borders with other countries. But we also have disadvantages – compared to the USA and UK we were woefully unprepared to deal with a pandemic. I think there’s a good case to be made that NZ’s simple, clear methods for dealing with the pandemic and the simple, clear messaging that went with it had a lot to do with our success, and for that we most likely have the fact that our PM is a comms grad to thank.

Duncan Grieve’s got a very good piece about it in The Spinoff today, in which the contribution of comms to our success is summed up as:

“…when this episode is finally over, when humanity returns to whatever passes for normal life on the other side of this, it will be manifestly obvious that the single most powerful contribution to the apparent success of our fight against Covid-19 was communication. What we have witnessed over the past two months has been a communications masterclass – a multifaceted, stunningly effective campaign which unified a nation into complying with unprecedented restrictions with near total obedience. 

It utilised a variety of techniques – as ancient as political speech, as modern as hyper-targeted social media advertising – to produce a level of uniform behaviour unimaginable in a western-style democracy.”  

He backs that up with a lengthy article, of course. I think he’s right – let nobody turn their nose up at comms degrees after this, you’ll just make yourself look stupid.

Written by Psycho Milt

May 11, 2020 at 6:53 pm

Posted in New Zealand

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Class war

Readers and fellow authors on this site usually scoff when I mention social class, because for most people “class” is what you see on Downtown Abbey, stuff that communist union leaders used to say back when there were such things, or a vague notion of “working class” or “middle class” as matters of personal identity.

The reality is very different: in modern society, class is a matter of who owns the means of production and who hires their labour to those owners, something that hasn’t changed in a couple of centuries now regardless of how much people scoff at the idea our society is class-based.

A fine description of actual class warfare is in the Guardian today: Donald Trump’s four-step plan to reopen the US economy – and why it will be lethal

The article is, as promised, about how Trump’s campaign to re-open the US economy will kill people, but it lists two related actions as part of that campaign that show class warfare happening live.

First:

Remove income support, so people have no choice but to return to work.Trump’s labor department has decided that furloughed employees “must accept” an employer’s offer to return to work and therefore forfeit unemployment benefits, regardless of Covid-19.

Second:

Shield businesses against lawsuits for spreading the infection.Trump is pushing to give businesses that reopen a “liability shield” against legal action by workers or customers who get infected by the virus. 

This week, he announced he would use the Defense Production Act to force meat-processing plants to remain open, despite high rates of Covid-19 infections and deaths among meatpackers.

Marx, the guy who’s supposedly so irrelevant now, would have immediately recognised the relationship between those two things for what it is: class warfare.  People in modern society, with a supposedly so much more advanced understanding of economics, not so much.

Written by Psycho Milt

May 3, 2020 at 8:10 pm

Posted in New Zealand

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Competent or incompetent pandemic response?

I figured it’s time we had a counter-factual on this blog to argue against the accusations that NZ’s response to COVID-19 has been incompetent. It really is way too early to say how well countries have dealt with a pandemic that’s only just getting started, but everyone else is doing it so why the fuck not?

Comparisons with Taiwan or South Korea are obviously invalid. They are high-tech societies with no liberal tradition of individual freedom and some very relevant recent experience in dealing with coronavirus pandemics, so any comparison between their pandemic response and NZ’s would be unfair.

Right-wing commentators tend to compare NZ’s performance against Sweden’s or Australia’s so I’ll refer to those two, particularly Australia, with a side look at the USA for an example of what genuinely incompetent governance looks like.

One of the most significant things to look at is pandemic preparedness. It’s relevant because I keep seeing people saying how the government should have closed our borders and implemented a mass testing and quarantine programme back in February. This is like saying that the British government in late 1939 should have immediately invaded Germany with overwhelming military force and overthrown the Nazis. Well, yes that certainly would have worked, but there’s one small flaw in that idea…

If you look at the global index of pandemic preparedness, Australia is ranked 4th and Sweden 7th (USA and UK are at 1 and 2 respectively). NZ is ranked 35th, lower than Mexico and Indonesia. 

Now, that in itself is a reflection of government incompetence, but it took incompetence by many different governments, both Labour and National, to get us that low. The current government gets a share of the blame, but a relatively small share (ie the Clark and Key govts had 9 years apiece to do something about it, the Ardern govt’s had less than 3). It’s described further here: New Zealand’s poor pandemic preparedness according the Global Health Security Index.

So, all that coulda/woulda/shoulda blather about what draconian measures the government could have taken back in February are based in fantasy, not reality. NZ didn’t have the preparedness to move that far, that fast.

Next, the response itself. Initially, conservatives compared us poorly against Sweden. Now that Sweden is showing that its approach means thousands of dead, hospitals struggling AND large-scale economic damage, they’ve turned to comparing us with Australia.

Australia’s case numbers and deaths per million pop. are about the same as ours despite having only locked down to the equivalent of our level 3, which will inflict less economic damage than we’ll have suffered from level 4. That makes it tempting for right-wingers to claim the Ardern government over-reacted to the pandemic. These claims ignore two things:

1. Relative preparedness, as described above. Australia started this with superior capability to deal with a pandemic.

2. That lack of preparedness also translated into the pandemic hitting NZ harder and faster than Australia, necessitating a more drastic response. Epidemiologist Brian Cox explains it in The Herald:

His analysis shows that New Zealand’s rate of confirmed cases per capita was far higher than Australia’s at the start of the lockdown, but drew level after about three and a half weeks and is now well below Australia’s.

Although, this graph probably shows it more clearly:

So, given our relative lack of capability for dealing with a pandemic, if we’d gone with Australia’s approach we’d have a case load and deaths per million way higher than theirs by now (and which would of course be being peddled on this blog as evidence of the Ardern government’s incompetence).

Lastly, the USA is an example of what genuinely incompetent governance looks like.  On the pandemic preparedness index, the USA was number one by a significant margin, and yet it’s now poster boy for most cases and most deaths.

How could that happen?  Well, as one commentator expressed it to The Guardian:

A global index released in October concluded the US was more ready than anywhere else to fight a pandemic. But the scorecard, based on WHO methodology, focused more on technical capacity than government processes…

That’s a very diplomatic way of expressing it, I thought.

Written by Psycho Milt

May 1, 2020 at 11:10 pm

Posted in New Zealand

Tagged with

Damned if you do, damned if you don’t

In a fine example of how the government of your political opponents can do nothing right, we have conservative commentary in NZ roughly split into two camps: those who think the government is crap because it should have locked the country down a month ago to stop all those Johnny Foreigners coming here with their filthy germs, and those who think the government is crap for locking down the country at all, since it will wreck our economy for the sake of a small group of useless eaters. It’s difficult to decide which of those is the more obnoxious position, but I believe it’s the second one. The first one is pretty stupid, in that it carries the implied argument that we could prevent a virus from entering the country, but the second one is definitely worse in that it writes off a large number of people as not worth saving. Either way, I’m glad our government doesn’t consist of such people, which it easily could have done if National had won the last election.

Written by Psycho Milt

March 26, 2020 at 2:32 am

Posted in New Zealand

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The Lucky Country

Australia, the country of drought, catastrophic fires, poisonous creatures and toxic racist politicians, for some reason refers to itself as “The Lucky Country.”  Having watched Jacinda Ardern’s press conference on COVID-19 measures this afternoon, I think we have a way better claim to the title – it has to be luck we have her as PM, because we sure as hell haven’t done anything to earn the benefits of such great leadership. 

Here’s the press conference. It’s an empty room for the first few minutes, so you have to scroll to find it:

Key could have managed the same level of user-friendliness, but it’s hard to picture him getting Siouxie Wiles’ “flattening the curve” message onto the evening news so successfully, and it’s sure as hell impossible to image any National government taking the protection of Pacific island countries into account in their response measures to the extent this one has.

As for Simon Bridges and his strenuous efforts to put his personal political advantage above the national interest over the last couple of weeks, thank fucking Christ that useless fuck isn’t running things. We wouldn’t want to be the Unlucky Country.

Written by Psycho Milt

March 14, 2020 at 7:31 am

Posted in New Zealand

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Simon Bridges threatens Australians with bringing a knife to the gun fight

I know I keep writing posts about the lack of ethics that Simon Bridges models as leader of the National Party, but the prick just keeps on giving us such excellent examples of what an ethics-free zone he is.

The latest one is described in this Stuff article:

The National Party says it will explore tough new laws to deport Australians who are convicted of serious crimes in New Zealand.

Leaving aside the not-insignificant fact that we already have laws allowing us to deport ethnic Australians who commit serious crimes here, my interest is in the thinking involved with this plan.

Australia has for years now followed a policy of deporting ethnic NZers who commit crimes or fail some amorphous “good character” test.  In most cases these are people who’ve grown up in Australia and call it home, and in some cases people who have no memories of NZ at all and no family they know here.  It’s a sick, racist policy, not that that should be a surprise given the nature of the people running Australia at the moment.  It’s also caused a massive spike in gang activity here in NZ as these supposed “New Zealanders” who are in effect Australians form attachments with each other, having no attachments with anyone else in NZ.

Simon Bridges’ response to Australia’s sick, racist practice of deporting ethnic NZ criminals with no connections to NZ is to propose that we replicate the policy here and deport ethnic Australian criminals to Australia.  There are some very obvious issues with that:

1. If your response to appalling behaviour from someone is to replicate that behaviour and blame them for it, you really need to have a think about your ethical standards.

2. NZ has spent years pointing out that this policy is morally wrong and a disgrace to Australia.  If NZ now adopts the same policy, it would expose the NZ government as hypocrites and remove any capacity for us to continue presenting the policy as morally wrong and a disgrace to Australia.

3. There are 10 times as many ethnic NZers living in Australia as there are ethnic Australians living in NZ, and Australia’s capacity to absorb deportees is five times ours (ie their population is five times larger than NZ’s).  Simon Bridges’ “retaliation” against Australia would be like retaliating against an M1 Abrams with your bolt-action rifle.

So this would be a very bad, stupid move for a Bridges-led government to make.  Bridges isn’t stupid, so he presumably knows that.  However, it’s a policy that’s likely to be very popular with the simple-minded, whose morality tends to be of the “eye for an eye” kind. It’s yet another illustration of the ethics-free zone Bridges occupies that he’d promote a policy he knows is a bad one solely for the purpose of attracting malicious simpletons to support National.

Written by Psycho Milt

February 24, 2020 at 6:56 pm

Posted in New Zealand

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"I have always maintained I had nothing to do with the donations"

Or, to quote a more famous politician, “I am not a crook.”

One thing you could be pretty sure about when the SFO charged people over criminal fraud involving donations to the National Party was that the instance referred to by Jami Lee Ross wouldn’t be a one-off. Sure enough, it wasn’t:

The Serious Fraud Office prosecution of four people over donations to the National Party involves not one but two $100,000 donations – in June 2017 and June 2018.

I’d say another thing we can be sure about is that it didn’t just involve two instances – it sounds like this was normal practice. 

I have two things to point out regarding this:

1. The usual reason for anonymising large donations from private interests to a political party is that the private interest is expecting to get influence in return for the donation and doesn’t want people drawing connections between the donation and the political party subsequently acting in its interests. National and NZ First are both providing good examples of that right now.

In that context, it’s worth mentioning here that at least one of the donations involved in this prosecution, and possibly both, came from a leading figure in the Chinese Communist Party’s United Front organisation, which exists to promote CCP influence over foreign countries.  Simon Bridges’ and Todd McLay’s recent sycophancy towards the CCP should be seen in that light.

2. The SFO says:

“The defendants adopted a fraudulent device, trick or stratagem whereby the … donation was split into sums of money less than $15,000 and transferred into bank accounts of eight different people before being paid to, and retained by, the National Party.”

That fraudulent device was described to Simon Bridges by Jami Lee Ross in the phone call Ross recorded:

…the way they’ve done it meets the disclosure requirements – sorry, it meets the requirements where it’s under the particular disclosure level because they’re a big association and there’s multiple people and multiple people make donations…

Bridges doesn’t bat an eyelid.  Clearly this is a normal practice being described. So, what would the United Front expect in return for this anonymised donation? After saying there’s no catch, in a moment of pure comedy Ross says:

You may recall at the dinner they did discuss candidacy, and another Chinese candidate.

Oh, right – no catch, just an expectation that they get to nominate a National Party list candidate. Again, Bridges discusses this as though it’s normal practice.  And, apparently, upwards of 40% of NZ voters have no problem with voting for a party involved in serious fraud. 

Written by Psycho Milt

February 17, 2020 at 5:08 pm

Posted in New Zealand

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