Saturday, April 28, 2012

Under-reported

Yesterday, around 10,000 people marched up the main street of Auckland City to protest against the asset sales the government is planning. The media however have downplayed the scale of the protest, with some saying that there were only 3,000 people there. Numbers aside, my biggest gripe is that it hardly got any media coverage whatsoever. Last night it got a 30 second slot on the news. A 20-person picket against a rural local body governmental issue a few months back got about 3-4 minutes. Further than that, news articles on stuff.co.nz and the NZ herald barely got a whiff on their respective home pages. The second largest protest in a generation and the media looks away and contributes to the widespread political apathy in this country.

"The worse reality becomes, the less a beleaguered population wants to hear about it, and the more it distracts itself with squalid pseudo-events of celebrity breakdowns, gossip, and trivia. These are the debauched revels of a dying civilization. The most ominous cultural divide lies between those who chase after these manufactured illusions, and those who are able to puncture the illusion and confront reality."
—Chris Hedges, Empire of Illusion (p. 190)

Thursday, April 12, 2012

An Open Letter to AUSA Regarding Auckland ProLife

To the Auckland University Student's Association and any concerned parties,

I am writing to express my concern with respect to the re-affiliation of the group 'Auckland ProLife'. I do not think it is appropriate to have groups like this affiliated with AUSA. Firstly, because they are strident opponents of the bodily autonomy and reproductive rights of women. The UN released an official policy document in 2011 relating to the right to physical and mental health. Here is what it said about abortion. "Criminal laws penalizing and restricting induced abortion are the paradigmatic examples of impermissible barriers to the realization of women’s right to health and must be eliminated. These laws infringe women’s dignity and autonomy by severely restricting decision-making by women in respect of their sexual and reproductive health." Women have the right to control their own bodies and they should to be able to exercise their rights without fear, guilt, shame or punishment. ProLife then it seems is a group who seeks to reduce or prevent access to something that is widely considered to be a human right. This alone should be sufficient grounds to sever ties with them, but alas I shall continue.

In the past they have distributed misleading and false information regarding abortion. One almost laughable example I can recall from 2011 was a flier that was distributed in many lecture theatres and on notice-boards around campus that had a picture of a toddler on it and a message along the lines of 'Am I a child or a choice?'. This is an egregious example of emotional baiting trying to mislead people. Any intelligent person knows there is a difference between a foetus and a toddler, so to try to conflate the two, or to imply that people who are pro-choice want to 'abort' toddlers is dishonest and deceitful. They have also previously tried to mislead students by referring to the nonexistent, debunked, so called 'post-abortion syndrome'.

The tactics employed by ProLife around campus are also objectionable. They are known to film the re-affiliation process, meaning that they have a record of those who speak out against them. This is one of many examples of their attempts to intimidate those who oppose them. Their actions have made many students feel unsafe simply being around them, let alone speaking out publically. In addition to actively intimidating people who disagree with them, their presence on campus (especially their posters) creates a hostile atmosphere for all women, including those who don't directly engage with them in any capacity. What they are doing is basically sexual harassment, and is most certainly discrimination on the grounds of sex, which is a violation of the Human Rights Act (which includes discrimination based on pregnancy). The AUSA should prioritise the safety of students (whether it be physical or psychological) over the affiliation of a group like this. The fact that this behaviour carries on unabated is a serious cause for concern.

ProLife do not make any effort to do anything to prevent pregnancy. They do not provide information on contraception and healthy relationships which are the most effective forms of abortion prevention. Instead they exist to harass women for their personal choices.

Finally, the most serious reason I think they should be at the very least de-affiliated from AUSA is because they are a hate group. The imagery and language they use to promote their agenda is violent and obscene. One fine example of this is an article on their website from January 2011 entitled "Is NZ's Down Syndrome Screening Program an act of Genocide?". They also frequently compare abortion to murder, explicitly implying that women who get abortions are murderers. This is no light insult, it is a serious accusation and one that causes untold emotional damage to many women. In fact on several occasions members of the ProLife group have verbally harassed women on campus, calling them names ranging from murderer to evil. Such hate-speech contributed greatly to a student's suicide.

Let it be known, ProLife Auckland is a hate group that spreads misinformation and deceit.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Polls, Can We Trust Them?

Are political polls trustworthy? For the 2011 general election not a single polling company came close. The two big polls TVNZ and Roy Morgan had National well above 50% set to govern alone in their polls just before the election. On the day however, National came up short. The polls also had New Zealand First at 2-3% when on the day they achieved 6%. Then there was the Horizon poll, which had National at below 40%. What do all of these polls have in common? They were all dead wrong.

Polls no longer accurately represent the opinions of the populace, but instead play a role in shaping them. the '08 and '11 elections had some of the lowest voter turnouts in New Zealand electoral history. Polls were everywhere and were often the talk of the town. I believe that such constant polling is detrimental to a democratic system. If people are constantly being told what the rest of the population thinks I can see two effects that are a cause for concern. The first effect of this is that a lot of people tend to align themselves with the status quo. If they see a poll with 60% of the respondents saying they think the economy is headed in the right direction, they will be influenced to believe the same. The second detrimental effect is voter apathy. Having polls predicting the results of the election will make many people think that the outcome is decided already, so may not bother to vote. Think of it from the perspective of a left leaning voter. If the polls tell them that National are going to be able to govern alone, what will their one vote do to stop it?

The sad thing is that if all of the people who didn't vote went to the polling booths on election day, the result would have been completely different.

So what about polls post-election showing National still having over 50% support, despite getting under 48% on election day and with all the bad press exposing their internal civil war and factionalism? I don't believe them for one second. If we truly believe in democracy we would stop these pathetic, inaccurate polls that do more harm than good.