Saturday, August 24, 2013

Regarding Labour's US-style 'primary'

Over the years, more than once, the suggestion has been made that ACT's US-style 'primary' of 2004 destroyed it, albeit the subsequent death was protracted and the party still clings to life by a thread. Even as a mere spectator with a vote I found the process unsettling with torn loyalties and developing rifts. Public Address reported at the time:

 The lid seems finally to be coming off the Act party’s leadership “primary” election, with Stephen Franks use of his Unfranked email newsletter to issue an “urgent appeal for help in defeating the frontrunner, Rodney Hide.

Nobody has ever expressed a positive opinion about the process that I'm aware of. And though I'm only surmising, the ill-feelings and neuroses engendered by the battle festered thereafter. Hide and Franks were both worthy contenders, but my sense is they didn't trust each other and their politics were not necessarily aligned. The vote was probably split along similar lines: the social liberal vs the social conservative - loosely. Members who wanted Franks were bound to be bitterly disappointed and vice versa (though I could have lived with Franks as leader.)

That's all in the past but it's worth remembering as we watch Labour embark on its own primary. Three weeks gives too much time for divisions to form, for expectations to lift, for hopes to rise  and ensuing disappointments to cause lasting fall-out.

The jungle drummers have been trying to beat a tune out this week that Key must be very afraid. That he knew what he had with Shearer as contender next year. Cunliffe or even Robertson could be a whole different kettle of fish.

Personally I doubt he's overly bothered. This match is just another public display of the instability within the Labour ranks which highlights how strong his own team management has been.

In a vague way the celebratory mood and behaviour amongst Labour members currently, as they drop Shearer and look for another messiah,  reminds me of the Egyptians wildly celebrating the overthrow of President Mohhamed Morsi a few weeks back. Look what's happened since.

More battles being won to the end to the war on drugs

This article  contains good news and is well worth the read for those against the war on drugs:

Is it the thin end of the wedge for a policy shift in America's war on drugs? The announcement last week by Attorney General Eric Holder that his office will abandon mandatory minimum sentences for some low-level drug offenders signals not only a rethink towards "unsustainable" incarceration policies but a wider reappraisal of entrenched drug policy.
"We must face the reality that, as it stands, our system is, in too many ways, broken," Holder said. "And with an outsized, unnecessarily large prison population, we need to ensure that incarceration is used to punish, to deter and to rehabilitate - not merely to warehouse and to forget."

Friday, August 23, 2013

Two murders

Jackson St, Petone has become increasingly gentrified with many more apartments and boutique shops.

But down the east end isn't a particularly pleasant place. That's probably where last night's murder occurred - the second this year. Pure speculation on my part mind you.

Murders don't make headlines any more. And I think it's because many people think the victim is probably as bad as the offender.  In fact if one gang member kills another some say "good job".

At this point I'd like to say something humane. Human life is human life. The victim was once an innocent child. The victim is possibly still innocent. Something to that effect.

But what I am actually thinking is, if you lie down with dogs...

I abhor violence. But it excites many. These are the inevitable results.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Unintended consequences and crystal balls

In NZ the de-institutionalisation of mentally ill people happened through the late 1980s and into the 1990s. I'm certain that the thinking behind this development was well-intended and not purely economic. There was a conviction that being out in the community was kinder and better for them. And it may be for some. But not all.

Imagine if the powers-that-be could look into a crystal ball and see the consequences  of their good ideas.

The following is a UK initiative but I have no doubt a similar programme would be warranted here: mental health nurses routinely accompanying  police to attend to emergencies.

It's an eminently sensible idea but it's sad to see mentally unwell people reach the point where they come to the attention of the police. That they become a danger to themselves and others. The incidence is obviously reasonably common in the UK and statistics relating to the mental health of our prison population would suggest similarities with British society.

It seems that some at-risk people are left in or to the community until they reach the point where they end up in a far worse institution than hospital or residential care home.

As part of the scheme, mental health nurses will:
  • Support police officers while they are out on patrol
  • Assist officers when they are responding to emergency calls
  • Give advice to staff in police control rooms
The five new police forces that the Department of Health will be working with are:
  • Metropolitan Police
  • British Transport Police
  • West Yorkshire Police
  • West Midlands Police
  • Thames Valley Police

In launching these new pilot sites, Care and Support Minister Norman Lamb said:

Making sure people with mental health problems get the right assessment, care and treatment they need as quickly as possible is really important, especially in emergency situations.
We know that some police forces are already doing an extremely good job of handling circumstances involving mentally ill people but we want this to be the reality everywhere. By providing police forces with the support of health professionals we can give officers the skills they need to treat vulnerable people appropriately in times of crisis.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Child safety takes precedence over whanau-first

It doesn't always make sense to me how Ministers manage news releases. Here's the latest from Paula Bennett. It kicks off with another innovative idea:

KiwiSaver for kids in care

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett has announced measures to better support children as they move out of State care and into independence.
“While on my U.S Eisenhower fellowship, I was impressed with savings accounts set up for children in care and saw an opportunity with KiwiSaver.”
“New Zealand children in care generally don’t have family who can sign them up to Kiwisaver, but being enrolled will help them later in life and send a message that their future matters,” says Mrs Bennett.

But the most important message appears at the end of the press release:

The Children, Young Persons and Their Families Act will be amended to clarify the intended prominence of section 13(a) that children must be protected from harm, their rights upheld and their welfare promoted.
In his 2010 report into the serious abuse of a nine year old girl, Mel Smith noted section 5 of the CYPF Act (which says where possible the relationship to family should be maintained) often takes precedence over section 13.
“Mel Smith said this is possibly to the detriment of the safety, welfare and interests of the child, so I think we need to strengthen the core purpose of the Act which is to put the needs of the child first,” says Mrs Bennett.

Let me put it simply.

Child safety takes precedence over whanau-first.

Welfare in the US today - two views

A just-released report from Cato, who have been responsible for much of the welfare analysis that led to the eventual 1996 reforms finds:

The current welfare system provides such a high level of benefits that it acts as a disincentive for work. Welfare currently pays more than a minimum-wage job in 35 states, even after accounting for the Earned Income Tax Credit, and in 13 states it pays more than $15 per hour. If Congress and state legislatures are serious about reducing welfare dependence and rewarding work, they should consider strengthening welfare work requirements, removing exemptions, and narrowing the definition of work. Moreover, states should consider ways to shrink the gap between the value of welfare and work by reducing current benefit levels and tightening eligibility requirements.

Then the World Socialist Website talks to an associate Professor from University of Michigan about the extreme poverty amongst those with the lowest incomes:

Really, I think our interests stemmed at the start from the 1996 Welfare Reform that got rid of this cash assistance entitlement program which, for all of its faults, was an entitlement program that if you fell below a certain income, you could rely on it. They replaced it with this program, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), which has all these restrictions. It requires work, and as a result of that, our cash assistance caseloads plummeted in the US to the extent to which there’s only about 1.5 percent of the entire US that gets a cash check for being poor, which is I think far less than a lot of people think.
Now, we’ve actually expanded a lot of other benefits. We have the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), which is much larger than our cash assistance program ever was. We spend about $60 billion on it, but those benefits are actually targeted towards families who are working. So if you are just above the poverty line and have a minimum wage job, the federal government supplements your income to a greater extent than it ever did before. But if you are on really hard times, have ever been in a long period of unemployment, or you have multiple barriers to work like substance abuse problems or some sort of mental health problems, if you’re at the very bottom, the federal government actually does less for you in terms of cash support than ever before.

The two views aren't mutually exclusive.

The US (in general) is spending more on welfare, but handing out less cash.

That's what our government is doing with the Youth package. Youth and young parents get the same basic benefit, less cash in the hand but can earn more. I expect the government will extend the income management process to other beneficiaries progressively.

(And our In Work Tax Credit is similar to the US Earned Income Tax Credit.)

Monday, August 19, 2013

Welfare versus tax debt

Victoria University last week published research which compared tax debt to welfare debt and concluded that,

“The more punitive approach to managing the debts of welfare recipients appears to reflect the underlying view of those on welfare as less deserving, while taxpayers—even those who do not pay their taxes—are viewed as providing a greater contribution to society and therefore worthy of preferential treatment.”

To compare the two things is silly.

People owe money to the Ministry primarily as a result of overpayments or payments of recoverable assistance loans. (OIA correspondence 2008)
Last time I asked the question, just over half of all beneficiaries were in debt to the Ministry so it's fairly common.

If I get a loan from the bank I expect they will want it back. If the bank makes an error in my favour I expect when they pick it up they will want to recover the money. Perhaps a better comparison to welfare debt would have been debt to another public enterprise - Kiwibank. Would Associate Professor Marriot describe efficient management of that debt as 'punitive'?

Tax debt is the result of unpaid taxes as determined by the IRD. It is not primarily the result of borrowing or the IRD having given you too big a refund and asking for it back. 
Additionally the size of it can be substantially inflated by interest and penalties, which isn't going to happen with welfare debt.

It might be argued that as welfare debt or recoverable assistance does not incur interest it's the beneficiary who is receiving preferential treatment.