Lefter 66 ~ National: Rusting on its laurels

National has been demonstrating the three strongest planks of its fiscal policy and crowing about the results. These are: wait it out; hope for oil; and sell everything possible.

This is the kind of hands-on fiscal management that voters apparently wanted, as it’s a commonly-cited excuse for voting National. If you look back, National has done very little, if anything, to foster the job market, create jobs off its own bat or in fact do any kind of monetary management at all. National seems to attract two kinds of voters: those who know bugger all and don’t care but at least hope to become a little personally wealthier, and those moribund conservatives to whom social responsibility is anathema, always looking for people to blame for their own lack of success or those to denigrate because they’ve found it, and thus feel superior.

Meanwhile, as John Key gears up for the election, he’s looking increasingly concerned at the prospects of governing in partnership with nutters and right-wing ‘philosophers’. There’s a philosophy of greed? Demonstrably yes, unfortunately. Look at Act’s two new top people. Its interesting, if not unsettling, that such a facile thing can be dressed up as academia. But I guess everything can be, ultimately.

Once again, it’s high time for Labour to demonstrate it is different to National. Yes, I mean left wing. Some Labour people may need to look up what it actually means. I still think Labour has an identity crisis. It wants to act, and to be, socialist, but it’s too scared to say so. State a position and market it, Labour. That’s what you need to do. Sure Cunliffe can snipe effectively at Key, but how about some policies?

This just shows that the right has won the battle for hearts and minds, which is bizarre in a way since those are two of the things it cares very little for. It’s not just heartless, it denigrates culture in favour of business, thereby discounting pursuits of the mind as counter to profit.

Where does that leave Labour? Scared of what it represents, and bound by decades of what it has been. Why doesn’t Labour oppose drilling and mining? Because it doesn’t have much union support left (since unions are so small now) but what there is left, Labour feels it can’t afford to lose. Drilling and mining means workers and workers are, still, sometimes, in unions.

Which means once again the Greens steal the moral high ground on this, along with policies that seek to protect the poor, to educate and to raise New Zealanders up as good global citizens.

The more the Greens position themselves as socially left, the more some Labour voters will identify with them.

That’s what I’ve been doing. And Labour’s biggest criticism of the Greens is that they’ve never been tested in government.

Well, that’s possible  to rectify.

Published in: Commentary, Government, Left, New Zealand, Politics, Thought on February 7, 2014 at6:26 pm Comments (0)

Lefter 65 ~ Greed and prejudice

I predict that’s how this government will be seen from a few years hence. There has been a steady stream of measures that advantage those above certain pay scales while demonising, stigmatising and punishing those below.

A lot of the conscious or subconscious motivation for the demonising process is pseudospeciation. You and I are the same species. Our human species spent a few hundred-thousand years (at least) escaping from, preying upon and defending ourselves against other species: big cats, crocodiles, angry antelopes – you name it.

As we brought these mostly under control, or at least learnt to control our environments to the extent where the ever present danger wasn’t so ever present, the restless human mind fostered conflict between people instead, to make up for the shortfall in … I don’t know, adrenaline rushes or something? Or purely from self interest and covetousness for what others had.

Which is not to say I’m a complete cynic. Humans also collaborated to farm, build villages, transport networks, to trade, so swap knowledge and to otherwise mutually benefit each other.

Anyway, back to pseudospeciation. If I call you a kike, a pom, a jungle-bunny or any of the other thousands of pejorative terms we have invented for each other over the millennia, I am making you ‘other’. Not human like me. Something I can more easily be prejudiced against and ignorant about.

The more National punishes those on low incomes, no incomes and benefits, the more people on good incomes can feel they are not as human as them. The more easy it is to scorn them, fail to identify with them and, most importantly, to empathise with their state and conditions. The more Māori slammed into prison, the more others can tell themselves ‘they’re not like us’. The more money the wealthy make, the wider the gap between us and ‘them’.

As the gulf widens, the more they can kid themselves they are better, more deserving and above all, right.

Right being the operative word.

There are three major tiers to New Zealand society these days — those with hardly anything, the middle band and the wealthy. The middle band – the middle class, if you like – used to be much bigger. Now they’re either being pushed into the underclass by multifarious moves by this Government (and Labour pushed some of those out there was well, but it’s getting much worse under Key and Joyce) or sold the line that they, too, can reach the top band.

This makes them into de facto National supporters (or worse). They’ve bought the Key Kool Aid of upwards mobility, status elevation and cash, thanks to tax breaks, prosecutions redirected towards benefit fraudsters and away from the much more prevalent and costly white collar crime, and measures like the ability to fire people within 90 days without any reason or right of comeback, meaning companies can use cheap, low-wage hires to get them through busy periods. This is just another Faustian bargain.

And they fool themselves they work hard for this.

Published in: Commentary, Government, Left, New Zealand on August 29, 2013 at7:17 pm Comments (0)

Left 64 ~ Labour leadership: where’s Jacinda?

I feel I have to weigh in on Labour’s leadership. Everybody else is. Do you judge people by their faces? There’s a theory that by around 30, your life experience etches itself on your face so it more truly reflects your personality. Look happy or calm, that’s because you have been happy or calm a lot and so on.

Andrew Little looks a bit bitter, don’t you think? Grant Roberts looks like a baby. Cunliffe looks like a Cheshire cat, sure, but not like negative experiences have dictated his life – while Shane Jones somehow looks defeated already.

But of this somewhat unsatisfying foursome, Jones would be my pick if he made a run (I don’t expect him to). He’s savvy, clever, quick and a good debater.

Jones would help get Maori back on side and a lot of men, anyway, would forgive him the porn thing. The stupid thing there, sorry to say, was that Jones used his ministerial credit card to purchase porn in a hotel – not the porn itself. Under the surface, that’s what many guys would actually think, since the figures of men actually looking at porn is  high, and just not generally admitted to. So it’s disingenuous (if awful) for many men to castigate Jones for looking at porn.

But using that credit card showed an incredible naivety or, worse perhaps, simple lack of thought, and that’s a worry – attention to detail was Helen Clark’s big strength. I don’t think he has that – or at least, he didn’t. Has he now?

The likely winner is Cunliffe. Grant may have the numbers outside caucus, but it’s caucus that brought Shearer down. Cunliffe has caucus support, he’s  smart and he’s combative – he would certainly take the fight to Key, which Key might be anxious about (not a bad  thing). But Cunliffe has a mean streak and he’s made dedicated enemies because of it.

Some people reckon Grant could get the numbers to trump Cunliffe, but the problem is I don’t think he’d get the vote of the country come election time unless Grant really ups his game and looks much more decisive in front of the camera. He needs to develop some gravitas.

Yes, Grant is gay. This is hardly insurmountable. The CEO of Apple is gay and he’s widely perceived as effective, decisive and at the top of his game.

Being gay is ever more tolerated in New Zealand (thank goodness). It’s not a bad thing at all as far as many women are concerned, and even for NZ blokes most will admit the onus is on effective leadership, however perceptions around sexuality may make them feel. The church isn’t exactly on side with Labour anyway, thanks to all the advances for gay rights championed by Labour – and this means the most challenging sector of Labour’s traditional base for a gay leader is South Auckland Polynesians, who are already feeling alienated.

With smart handling, none of this is impassable – but currently Grant, to my eyes anyway, simply doesn’t look ready.

But I wish Jacinda Adern would put her hat in the ring. Jacinda’s name is already being mentioned by people, including in the media, as a contender for leadership. Sure, many would say she’s not ready (I think she is –many people just aren’t ready for her). My point is, if Adern goes for leadership now, it puts the party, Labour supporters and the country on notice that she’s a future contender for leadership. Adern is not that far past 30, she’s already incredibly accomplished, smart and successful, and she already has enviable international experience. And Adern is assured and erudite in front of the camera.

If she does put her hat in the ring, she will draw some support. She probably won’t win – but it puts the country on notice she’s a possible future leader. Which I think is a really good thing, to give many people hope for a revived Labour that can be relevant for people under (and over!) 50.

If Cunliffe wins, he might keep Adern at arm’s length as a possible rival, but is that such a bad thing? He’s 20- years older. She’s going to outlast him anyway, one way or another. Or he might, if he’s as clever as people say he is, keep her close, to help him engage with younger voters. Either way is not so bad, I reckon.

And if Grant wins (I’d be most keen on him upping his game and winning) he would probably keep Jacinda Adern close anyway. He’s smart, she’s smart. Their ages are fairly close and they’d make a wonderful combo, along with other young and effective Labour MPs. The party would really appear infused with fresh blood, which it desperately needs. The blood’s there, it’s just mostly invisible. Move into the light…

The other thing like about Jacinda is that she’s not scared of the Greens. Shearer couldn’t seem to take them seriously and Goff treated them as irrelevant even when they had become clearly relevant. And Adern and Turei, now that’s a power combo!

Problem is, at the end of the day, Labour still doesn’t seem to know what it’s about. And if Labour doesn’t, nobody else does.

Whoever wins, I still want to know what Labour actually represents. Succinctly and clearly. Please!

Published in: Commentary, Government, Left, Maori, New Zealand, Pacific, Politics, Thought on August 23, 2013 at10:13 am Comments (2)

Lefter 63 ~ the Key to failure

It’s a salient feature of New Zealand politics that personalities – and personal issues – soon overtake actual politics. Depressingly, this fact doesn’t seem limited to New Zealand but let’s not go there (Australia’s Labor pains have been embarrassing as well as divisive). Regardless, as John Key’s incipient nastiness increasingly emerges, so does a little desperation. They are, of course, related.

The National Party has been gambling on increasing it’s majority to it can govern alone, so has been steadily eroding and emasculating the Māori Party. Actively or not, it has also presided over the decline and fall of United.

Meanwhile, National has been implementing it’s standard Tory-style policies of privatisation and of further elevating the elevated classes (of which Key is a salient member, having clawed his way to wealth via the immoral and counterproductive route of currency trading). Everything is up for privatisation. Mines, transport, primary industries sure – that’s standard stuff for the right. It doesn’t work, but that’s hardly the point. The point is that when you privatise, the wealthy make more money, and then when it fails, the burden is carried by the rest of the population, then baled out by government using the tax money paid by what’s left of the besieged middle class. And since the very rich pay bugger-all tax and have loads of money, it doesn’t effect them. It’s actually another oppressive measure disguised as ‘economic necessity’ that further erodes the middle class while doing no good whatsoever to the underclass.

But privatising education, and even enquiries into domestic abuse? That strikes me as a new plateau of disdainful cynicism. Fortunately the Glenn inquiry is collapsing under its own weight, making National look as bad as, oh, say an underhand deal with a casino. Which in itself is an unspoken poverty and stupidity tax.

Anyway, as the Maori Party grinds itself into an impossible position, and Dunn reaps the rewards of his own lack of a clear position (which has, till now, always allowed him to deal with anyone who’ll have him), National needs to pull some dramatic moves to ensure it can win the next election.

Hence the u-turn (an apt metaphor) on Auckland’s transport woes. This is quite a desperate act, but it acknowledges the power of Auckland. Previously the government was diametrically opposed to the left-leaning council helmed by Len Brown. The mayor must applaud the shift, because he gets what he wants, but it also puts him in the invidious position of being in bed with Key. Let’s just wait and see how this all pans out. Personally, I think Len Brown is just a populist jerk who enjoys the limelight, but I guess the jury is out till the next local election.

However, the real worry is that Key’s ploy may just work. Aucklanders are rightly pissed off at the sorry state of transport, and it’s expensive to fix, but it has to be done. If Key looks like he’s behind it, it will bring back his wavering middle supporters.

Meanwhile, in the Ikaroa-Rawhiti by-election, Labour retained its majority but the most important fact is that, while Mana (avowedly left-wing) trumped the Maori Party, together they got more votes than Labour. The by-election was both a triumph for the left and a clear signal of where NZ Maori sympathies still lie.

Can you see the two Māori parties coalescing? I can’t. If Pita Sharples sorts himself out and steps down and Tariana Turia also goes,  Tu Ururoa Flavell takes the (co-?) helm. He still needs to sort out his differences with Harawira, which may not be possible. If anything, the two Māori-focused have become more opposed philosophically: one of collaborationist versus one embracing resurgence of the distinctive Māori culture. An accord between the two Māori-representative parties would make them a force to be reckoned with once again, but it may also be a blind alley. There’s a distinct place in our culture for the political and cultural values of Hone Harawera’s party, but the Māori Party’s aims have become far from distinct. And it’s hard for lap dogs to change their ways.

Mana  leans more towards Labour (which has been, of course, traditionally more affiliated to Māori, and which has certainly done Māori a lot more good over the decades than National). National will  have to move to shore up the Māori Party’s position – and this will go down like a cup of cold sick with many of its remaining supporters and make them look even worse. Key’s only option is to try and further demonise Mana.

So wait and see what Key does in this space.

But does Labour deserve our support? My own support is never available unconditionally. Labour has done some unforgivable things in the past, including the Foreshore and Seabed act that created the completely unnecessary rift between the left and Maori in the first place. And there were lots of personal issues involved in that process as well.

But sure, we can move on. I’ve said it before: Labour is nowhere near left wing enough for me but I’d rather live under Labour (and/or the Greens) than anyone else.

But Labour with who at the top? Shearer is on notice, apparently. I think he’s a nice bloke. So? In the spin when he was running for Labour’s top job, we heard he ‘stood up to warlords’ in African climes. There’s little evidence of that mettle back here in New Zealand. And he’s still getting really basic things completely wrong.

News bytes, David. I paraphrase but fairly recently, John Key accused the Labour Green joint announcements as wacky evidence of the extreme left.

This is the kind of thing National supporters will gleefully seize on and brandish at every opportunity. So what do we get in return?

Shearer said ‘that’s just a line’. Blah.

So National supporters can yell at me ‘wacky extreme left’ (quite truthfully) and I get … Nothing. I know this kind of thing is rubbish, but it’s important rubbish – especially in the age of instant social media.

It  reminds me of my criticisms of Phil Goff. I conceded he may have been a very intelligent and worthwhile leader (and indeed, he proved this in his vigorous, if frighteningly solo, election campaign) but wrote that his advisors patently needed firing.

It seems they haven’t lost their jobs.

Increasingly, the next election looks like National’s to lose. But I’d rather have it Labour, Greens and Mana’s to win.

Published in: Commentary, Government, Left, Maori, Pacific, Politics, Thought on July 1, 2013 at9:26 am Comments (0)

Lefter 62 ~ Welcome to Mexico!

From Texas to Mexico …  I love Mexican food. Mexican beer can be great, tequila has its uses … Mexican music is awesome. The weather sounds good (haven’t been there) and the beaches look fab, in films anyway.

Then of course there’s the drugs, the kidnappings, the drug-related violence and lawlessness, the terrible scourge of widespread low income, the corresponding shanty towns and slums — and the child poverty rate that is at a shameful rate of 26%.

And some of these things we have in common. New Zealand also has some excellent beer, the weather can be great, we have excellent beaches, some pretty good music… drugs don’t exactly rule most communities but they certainly rule some, and the corruption that goes hand in hand is at about a commensurate rate.

But where a correlation is stronger is child poverty. New Zealand has a lesser rate than Mexico. One percent less. Relieved?

You shouldn’t be. If you ever needed evidence that this government doesn’t care about its people, this should be it: 25% of our kids live in poverty. It’s got worse in National’s term – the NZ rate in 2006-2007 was at a still shameful 22%.

Unfortunately, there’s plenty more evidence of this government’s shameful lack of concern for the citizens it pretends to represent.

For example, let’s talk about Auckland. Like it or not, Auckland is the economic powerhouse of the country. Even if most of our wealth does come from farms and other sources with a land-based provenance, it either goes through the port of, or is administered from, or is somehow otherwise touched by, Auckland.

The Auckland Council has a plan for sustaining growth for the Queen City. Unfortunately, the council has a nominal lefty for a mayor in Len Brown, and the National Government does not like Len Brown. So the Key Government has an alternative plan for Auckland. It’s about as opposite as you can get from the council’s Unitary Plan. Who do you think is going to win this?

Interestingly (or it should be) is that Auckland has growth plans – almost nowhere else in the country does. If other NZ places had growth plans, Auckland’s wouldn’t be so important. Or so necessary. It’s a tacit acceptance that every other region of New Zealand is stagnating or worse.

Auckland Council’s plan isn’t perfect, but does, sensibly, try and limit the growth outwards of this massive, sprawling city by allowing for higher density housing within current city limits. You know, like the housing in most big cities of the world. High density housing can actually be done very well, and has been done very well, in various places. But it does require thinking through.

Shame it’s not going to happen. National’s plan, you’d think, would be written for the benefit of the people. You know, those very people among whom sits that startling and shameful figure for child poverty. But it’s not – it may as well have been written by developers. That’s who it suits. Developers put money into land to ‘develop’, making for themselves a massive profit.

National’s plan makes more land available on the outskirts of Auckland, which developers want, simplifies the consent process (which developers want), says virtually nothing about public transport while extending routes to work ever further, allocates more money to roading and, most cynically of all perhaps, has created a 3 cents per litre tax rise per year on petrol for three years. This will pay for more roading. More roads, more cars, more petrol, more tax, more roading … It just goes around generating money, and congestion, for Aucklanders.

Key could care less. He probably gets home to his Remmers mansion by private helicopter anyway.

This petrol tax bill was put through under urgency.

Meanwhile, Pacific Island Aucklanders have been shown (by the Salvation Army) to have been hardest hit by this recession. Anyone surprised?

Money first, people last. And we voted Key in.

Published in: Commentary, Government, Left, New Zealand, Pacific, Politics, Thought on May 20, 2013 at5:59 pm Comments (0)

Lefter 61 ~ NZ power shares in the heart of Texas

Do you consider Texas USA to be like Albania and/or North Korea? Me neither. However, Stephen Joyce fails to see the distinction.

When Labour and the Greens together announced a policy that makes the New Zealand resource of New Zealand-generated power more affordable to New Zealanders (does any of that sound wrong or bad so far?), National’s tory twerps immediately used the Communist card, saying they were trying to make New Zealand like Albania and North Korea. Unfortunately for them, it’s Texas that uses the very model the Labour-Green announcement detailed. Doh!

As far as ‘scaring investors off’, why should I care? Investors, correct me if I am wrong, are those who put money into things that will reap them big rewards. Investing and morals, unfortunately, hardly ever go hand-in-hand. The two main divers of investing are fear and greed, after all. The massive profits our energy utilities have been making are very enticing to these people. Now it’s not so attractive? Boohoo, because you’re looking to profit off the poverty our overpriced power is creating, or at least adding to. You should be ashamed.

We generate this power – we’re not importing it. It’s a New Zealand resource. We have rights to it – well, we should have, as New Zealand citizens.

The model is as follows: privatising New Zealand’s power utilities meant the resulting entities created have been able to develop massive profits. For themselves. In the fond imaginings of those on the right, numbers of entities offering power means they will ‘compete’. This competition is supposed to result in efficiency and lower prices. Yet the market is not a moral or caring thing. It’s just a profit-generating device divorced from human toil, production and daily reality.

Unfortunately, the competition model is usually just a fond imagining. The actuality is quite different.

With the New Zealand power model, it’s easy to see how this happened. It uses a spot pricing model that dictates that the highest spot price in a given period sets the overall price for all power generated, so it fails to take in the difference between very cheaply generated power (of which we have plenty) and the most expensive/least efficient. This is grossly unfair and, if anything, keeps the expensive and inefficient generation going, since it sets the price for the rest. Cue massive profits to those private entities.

A few years on, we’re all paying a lot more for the power we need,, despite being a country rich in generation capabilities, compared to most. In effect, the situation is the same as a monopoly except that the profits are spread around a few more capitalists. And, of course, this is the reality that Key, Joyce et al know only too well, what they really expect and also, unfortunately, what keeps them in power. It’s friends in high (ie, moneyed) places, with the power and the money, that keep Key and his cronies where they are, as they serve their needs and not ours. That’s why National can afford (and does afford) much better spin doctors to pull the wool over our eyes.

I know this is a fact Labour greatly laments, but honestly, spin is hardly rocket surgery. Labour often makes PR mistakes that are simply stupid. I don’t know who Labour hires, but seriously, it’s not hard to get better advice. At any price. Or at least, it’s potentially feasible to work out which advice is good and which is not.

But with this one, Labour is clearly onto something. As so many Labour supporters (or at least, occasional Labour voters like myself) have been saying for years, Green and Labour are a natural fit. If only Labour would stop being so damned arrogant about it. Helen Clark letting the moratorium on genetic engineering lapse did more to turn me off Labour last decade than anything else.

We applaud this change.

Published in: Commentary, Government, Left, New Zealand, Politics, Thought on May 8, 2013 at11:56 am Comments (0)

Lefter 60 ~ Great Track Record

So, have you been looking back at National’s triumphs over the last term? It’s a pretty impressive record. New Zealanders voted for a party with money sense, you see, to get them through tough times.

Shame it hasn’t paid off. One iota. Unless you’re in the wealthy minority.

First of all, you get countries out of recessions by boosting employment. National has resoundingly failed to do this while simultaneously widening the gap between the haves and have nots by giving the better-off a tax break they didn’t need.

Is this a government that cares about all its people? Demonstrably not.

Luckily it has partners. OK, maybe not for much longer. Under National’s embrace, ACT and Maori have almost ceased to be viable parties, because National gambolled on the undeserved electoral love it maintained through the first term to be big enough to govern without them in the third.

Woops.

What do you do when things look bad? Well, you can fix things, like Labour has always done. Labour got New Zealand through the Napier earthquake, the Great Depression and World War Two. Labour, in the early Noughties, left us with a much maligned ‘Nanny State’ that had employment at a record high and money in the bank. But people didn’t like that, even though it was being clearly forecast that a major recession was on its way.

Or you can go the other way and get people to focus on an external threat, real or imagined, to take attention away from internal dissatisfaction. Germany’s Hitler chose the Jews. England’s Thatcher chose some miserable islands no one had heard of and the under-gunned, and safely outclassed, Argentinians. Australia chose the terrifying bogeyman of the starving and destitute refugee.

John Key recently went this way too, demonstrating the incredible depth of his imagination. That being no depth, and no imagination. John Howard in Australia picked on lowly, impoverished and desperate people in leaky boats heading, purportedly, for Australia, playing on White Australia’s fears to such an extent they actually believed a human tidal wave was going to overwhelm them. Australia can’t afford to help people, you see. Unfortunately, it worked.

It worked so well, Julia Gillard, even though she’s Labor (sic), carried on the policy, widely condemned by humanitarian agencies the world over, to maintain her own support. So Australia has been rounding up the tiny numbers of refugees who actually get that far and putting them in inhospitable and distant camps where they commit suicide, go on hunger strike and sew their mouths shut. Welcome to the free world.

Now John Key has seemingly joined in. He reckons New Zealand could take 150 a year from Australia’s concentration camps, thereby condoning what White Australia is doing, and worse, might even send some refugees there himself. Stunning. Way to go, Key. (His own mother was a refugee. Doesn’t seem to matter. Luckily she arrived when there were still state houses and a fully functioning state education system. If she tried that now, she’d be in a sweltering camp on Nauru.)

On that note, National has totally sorted out the teacher’s pay, right? National introduced a scheme that has been a ‘rolling maul’. Of utter disaster. The twit who presided over this is still there (Hekia Parata – she might be incompetent but at least she’s Maori and a woman, two things National needs). She now has Stephen (re)Joyce as her titular boss. So far, nothing’s happened. Check this guy out, he’s your next National Prime Minister. What has NovaPay actually cost the country? We don’t really know. Yet. Perhaps we never will. It certainly has galvanised a typically anti-National bloc (teachers) against National. Good work.

Meanwhile, joining the catalogue of dodgy National MPs in office (a group that includes Nick Smith) is Maurice Williamson, who has dealings, as a director, with a company contracted to Mainzeal. Which just collapsed like a house of cards in an earthquake.

Prime Minister Key approved Construction Minister Maurice Williamson’s directorship of a company involved with failed building company Mainzeal. Mainzeal’s collapse is already costing jobs up and down the country. This is an incredible conflict of interest: a Minister of Construction on the board of a construction company!

Doesn’t matter. Need I remind you that former National Prime Minister Jenny Shipley was on Mainzeal’s board of directors? Funny, that.

Then new Speaker, National’s ‘I need to try and be non-partisan’ David Carter refused permission for three MPs to host a parliamentary function for Benny Wenda, a United Kingdom-exiled West Papuan leader agitating against Indonesia’s iron-fisted control of his country, which it invaded several decades ago. Wenda has never been refused a parliamentary function anywhere else in the world; then he came to good ol’ liberal ‘integrated’ New Zealand.

Just to add to New Zealand’s socially enterprising liberal image on the world stage, Prime Minister John Key said on 11th February that providing New Zealanders with a living wage is not high on the Government’s agenda.

Well, who’d have thought? I’m shocked. OK, hardly. The wellbeing of New Zealanders, if they’re not rich white men, has never been on Key’s agenda.

Mainzeal was just the type of company that should be rebuilding Christchurch, right? Two years on, and how’s Christchurch doing?

Napier was rebuilt in two years. In the Great Depression.

Meanwhile, house prices keep going up. Unemployment is high, poverty increases, housing is short. Yet there are no houses to buy, state housing is being shut down and the land turned over to developers so they can profit from it, including at Hobsonville in John Key’s electorate which was supposed to have had social housing as a component. Doesn’t matter. All while the wealthy keep speculating their property prices up and borrowing more off the back of it, living the life of Riley.

Building houses employs people, as well as … creating homes for New Zealanders to live in. Hardly rocket surgery.

But the beneficiary figures dropped – why? Because people are leaving for Australia, where they no longer have basic rights despite their taxes going into Australian government coffers. Or they’re here, but in certain programs that don’t figure in the figures.

But Key does listen to some people. Rich people. Here, he’s equal opportunity – it doesn’t matter if you’re rich New Zealander or a rich American from New Line Cinema getting a deal from a banana republic to make even more money from a union-busting movie maker (Peter Jackson). Why, you could be a rich German with a dodgy track record that includes trading convictions, peddling material you don’t have the copyright for, or a rich Chinese wheeler dealer. Doesn’t matter. You’ll have his ear, and he’ll bend over backwards to proffer New Zealand at you.

How does Key take criticism about any of this? Yes, in public he’s increasingly nasty, mean and short tempered. He’s feeling the pressure. He can’t work out why people don’t love him anymore.

I can.

Published in: Commentary, Government, Left, New Zealand, Pacific, Politics, Thought on February 12, 2013 at10:24 pm Comments (0)

Lefter 59 ~ The promise of 2013

What do you think National will do this year? Let me lay a few predictions on you, cynical as they might first seem.

Strangely, New Zealand’s unemployment figures keep going up but there are less people on the benefit. This has actually been delivered as some kind of government success, but apply logic. With unemployment rising, there are more people in need, for sure.

So where are they? Some gave up and moved to Australia, where they now have diminished civil rights and no access to social welfare or medical treatment. Even though their taxes go into Australian government coffers. There’s a National Party success right there. And there are other ways of fudging the benefit figures.

But you haven’t seen anything yet – wait till they get to work on the sickness benefit. Our ‘government’ (is that what you call it?) reckons the sickness benefit is some kind of rort in order to get a more money. In some cases this may well be true – the majority, though, of people on sickness are victims in genuine need, getting a little more while they cope with illness, medication and all sorts of other stresses.

Meanwhile, far flung schools are getting teachers who have only had six weeks training. Six weeks training!

To this government, people in far flung communities mean little. They’re marginal already, so why not marginalise them further? Who cares? (We all should. This is utterly unconscionable in a modern society.) Rich people live in cities and send they’re children to private schools. The wealthy land owners and farmers in the country use boarding schools, as they always have done. Every one else … well, they simply don’t matter.

Key will continue to dismantle state housing. Labour may have set out on this path a couple of decades ago (with Helen Clark as Minister of Housing), but getting National in on the coat tails has been a disaster. The main bugbear seems to be that poor people have been housed on prime real estate, or at least real estate that has become prime, thanks to spiralling out-of-control and inequitable house prices that … rich people profit from. Poor people are supposed to be hidden in South and West Auckland, Porirua, Wainuiomata etc. Michael Joseph Savage should be spinning in his grave. He’s probably generating untapped power in his mausoleum right now.

Meanwhile, our houses continue to get more expensive thanks to the failure to introduce – or even entertain – a Capitol Gains Tax. Why? Capitol Gains Tax is an equitable measure. It would mitigate the greed of the class that … supports and votes National. So it doesn’t have a chance. But you knew that, right?

The gap between rich and poor is being widened on purpose. If you’re not rich, National has no reason to care about you. If that wasn’t obvious to you before, it sure will be soon. And those with money and power can buy the votes of the poor either quite directly, or simply by hiring PR gurus who specialise in wool-over-eyes.

Key will make way for Joyce, who will be next National Prime Minister, since Key is getting bored even though it’s harder work than he thought. Mr Fixit is sure as hell going to fix you, soon, if you are poor and marginalised already or heading that way. Joyce has more leverage than ever, in the latest cabinet reshuffle. He’s dangerous because he’s been the power behind the grinning Key’s throne – and Key’s election campaigns – for a while already. He’s most likely the person responsible for the gentle, slow destruction of the Maori Party, which Flavell must have figured out, unlike the patsies currently running that doomed show.

By the way, do you think Joyce will fix Nova Pay for teachers? That’s not really what he’s there for. Nova Pay can’t go belly up as then we’ll find out what it’s actually cost us. Mark my words – Joyce will make it work so we don’t find out too soon what an actual expensive mess it’s been, so as not to spoil National’s election chances. That’s why Hekia Parata has been kept on – she knows too much. Can you think of any other reason she’s still there? She’s a walking disaster. Meanwhile, virtually off-the-radar ministers have been summarily dismissed. But at least Joyce might make it work. If National wins the next election, Joyce will be our fuhrer.

Meanwhile, the economy won’t grow. No jobs are are being – or have been – created. More middle class people will be forced into the margins.

But for the lower class, things are, and will continue to be,  so much worse.

Have a great year.

Published in: Commentary, Government, Left, Maori, New Zealand, Pacific, Politics, Thought on January 24, 2013 at1:23 pm Comments (0)

Lefter 58 ~ The Wrong Turn versus the Perfect Car

I don’t necessarily believe in constant growth, economically. Is there any reason for a growth fixation other than pure profit?

The current model means success is usually measured by percentage of year-on-year growth, as well as by financial returns. On the small scale, you’re not supposed to be focused on setting up a successful small business – you’re supposed to be fixated on the long term success via more branches, heightened recognition, potential franchising opportunities or the possibility of a hefty sale price for your brand once you reach a certain critical mass. Why isn’t it acceptable, or even desirable, to want to be really good at running your small business on one site? NZ has a huge number of small businesses, but these expectations add to the high number of small business and startup failures.

While we celebrate, or at least discuss, sustainability, the economic fixation with growth is anything but. It leads to results like monopolies, slash and burn expenditure lowering, weakening of control and, eventually, collapse. The centre doesn’t hold.

One area where economics and industrialisation coalesce and have done for over a century is the automobile industry. With manufacturing in general, we long ago departed from the axe analogy which goes like this: once upon a time, you bought an axe, and when you splintered the handle, you replaced it, and when the head broke or became impossible to sharpen, you replaced that. Ad infinitum. Perhaps you upgraded that axe haft to a better wood, or that head to better steel. And this is possibly still true, at least for a few axes, but if the axe maker has also since followed the pattern for most other goods, the handle is irreplaceable for some reason to do with materials and manufacture, or the head is attached by a proprietary device, or integral even, or you simply can’t find a replacement, or it can’t be added on outside the factory, or the cost of shipping an axe head to you is the same or more than just buying a new axe, since the composite parts are not stocked. So most people these days do just buy a new axe, since even if it is possible to replace the shaft and/or head.

Back on that original axe model: 100 years ago, a good axe (a bad axe being highly undesirable, not to mention dangerous) was a major expense. Part of that cost, if you like, can be predicated towards the longevity of that product through the possibility of continuous and sustained replacement.

Now we just buy cheap stuff.

With cars, in Japan the government had a policy of no warrant of fitness for seven years. You blithely drove your new car for seven years. Then the test was so unbelievably strict, most cars failed even on cosmetic damage like scratches, so most got rid of the car and bought a new one. This was done expressly so Japanese people bought new Japanese cars every seven years, as a terrific boost to the local industry and a considerable barrier against entering the car market in the first place.

Ironically, as a consequence, the canny Japanese manufacturers built their cars to last about that long – why engineer cars to last longer when they are just going to be crushed? Trouble is, New Zealand started rescuing these vehicles from the Japanese crushers and importing them as ‘used imports’. A seven-year-old Japanese car that’s been sold in the Japanese home market is rubbish. But that’s another story. (But with so many on our roads, I do think there’s at least some merit to keeping NZ’s strict every-six-months WoF regime.)

By the way, a Japanese car designed for sale, new, in New Zealand is an excellent car with much longer life and all round reliability built in than a seven year span. That’s why the phrase ‘NZ new’ – even on a used vehicle – fetches a higher price. It really does mean a better car.

Thing is, cars are just consumables now. A car manufacturer wants you to love their brand, and replace your car with another from their brand. Some car companies do have loyal customers, so this does work to some extent. That’s also why individual models evolve, becoming bigger and more luxurious, as both expectations and (hopefully) bank accounts expand. Compare a 20-year-old and ten-year-old Corolla or Civic with the current models and you’ll see what I mean.

For New Zealand, by the way, the two largest groups of new car buyers are fleet followed by retirees. It’s hardly a massive market.

But why do we have cars like these? Apart from the oil and petrol they burn and the heating and pollution they add to the atmosphere, a short-life car is full of hard-to-recycle and replace parts that all ends up as very highly developed, manufactured, assembled, maintained, marketed and delivered across the seas … land fill.

This is absolutely crazy.

Somewhere along the line, when manufacturing first became a big factor in the world, we diverged. At first, industrialisation’s promise was to deliver good products mass manufactured for economy of scale, delivering uniformly good products at an achievable price to a new range of consumers. For a while, industrialisation delivered on that promise.

This was revolutionary, but what has tit become? Now a car is essentially manufactured as a revenue gathering commodity on an ever shorter journey to landfill, with various people clipping the ticket on the journey.

Cars did not need to become like this, but it’s partly because of that growth fixation. The Ford Model T, for example, was seen as a starting point when it left a Ford factory. Even Henry Ford declared it so.

My mother used to say “Why aren’t cars made of bouncy rubber? They’d be safer to travel in and would hardly be damaged in scrapes and collisions.”

She had a point. But that would put panelbeaters, third-party manufacturers and parts suppliers out of work. But so what? Because … why hasn’t a car manufacturer developed an extremely sturdy, mass-manufacturable chassis that can be adapted endlessly? Axles go on, wheels, drive-train, transmission, one of four body shapes, and includes some kind of economical standard engine.

‘Bolted in’ are be the operative words. Although I don’t think standard bolts, I think some sort of special, super strong bolts that need a certain tool to undo, but that can’t come undone by themselves. You buy the bog standard car and you get the tool with it. The car is warrantable straight out of the factory in any country it’s sold.

From then on, buyers can buy better or different bits and change them themselves. Want to swap the carburettor for fuel injection? Bolt off, bolt on, fire it up. Axles? Wheels? Body panels? No problem.

Don’t trust yourself? Go to a mechanic.

As this all fosters, rather than displaces, third party specialists and bespoke parts makers. Even body makers. Also, your entry into your first new car would have a much lower price point, but you could end up years down the track with the original chassis, but having evolved it through three distinct body styles and many other modifications. You could go to four-wheel-drive, a hybrid or diesel engine, automatic transmission, more power, leather seats, tinted windows … all easily, rather than at great expense.

To me, this makes absolute and perfect sense.

Yet it’s the polar opposite of what we have.

Published in: Commentary, Government, Left, New Zealand, Pacific, Politics, Thought, Uncategorized on November 19, 2012 at6:23 pm Comments (1)

Lefter 57 ~ Bloody farmers

I’ve always found farmers strange, probably in common with many city dwellers. Their professed love of animals, like giving cutesy names to various calves and lambs for example, counterpointed by their casual attitude to slaughter. Their professed love of the land which they then strew with rusting farm junk while letting their run-off pollute the nation’s rivers. Their professed importance as ‘backbone of the economy’ while being first in line for government subsidies.

Planes are full of NZ farmers in our winter, heading off to Europe for their annual holidays. Privileged? Never.

In the last few years, more things have been added to my list of things to dislike about bloody farmers. For example, every winter turns out to be too wet or too cold, every summer too warm and too dry. I know I’m just an ignorant townie, but I honestly thought that’s what differentiated those seasons. Apparently not. Also, I assumed farmers would have at least some little experience of dealing with these conditions but no: every few months it’s yet another surprise at what the season once again delivers.

Europe has been a revelation. For one thing, the Dutch are very proud of their intensively farmed green spaces. They are surprisingly attractive, despite centuries of farming. And there are legions of wind turbines supplanting the national grid – sustainably and with no pollution. They are mesmerisingly attractive, actually, to anybody with any sensibility.

In New Zealand, our farmers feel free to pollute the land and the food they produce on it with pesticides, and with their cast-off junk, illegal landfills and their redneck attitudes, yet set up a most unseemly braying at the prospect of wind turbines as being ‘destructive to the landscapes’. This is nothing but *asinine (*good agrarian word, there).

But there’s worse. I lived on the Continent for three years in the 1980s. European fruit and vegetables often looked perfect but were mostly pretty devoid of flavour. At least they were cheap.

Not any more – they are still cheap, but bursting with flavour. I realised with a shock how tasteless and poor New Zealand produce has become. (I can’t talk about meat – I don’t eat it.)

Remember that perfect peach you had when you were a child, full of taste, the juice rich and laden with fragrance? I haven’t had one in 20 years – until Rotterdam, of all places (it’s a huge industrial port town) and again in London last month. Crispy apples sharp and sweet, piles of aubergines, delicious beans and lots more.

Kiwis, we pay too much for vastly inferior food. The fruit is often still cold from the freezers when you buy it, and it’s second grade at best. Everyone knows what refrigeration does to flavour. Is it really necessary inside New Zealand? It didn’t used to be.

The worst thing is, food production is pretty much all we have to distinguish ourselves in the world. New Zealand has an incredibly enviable geographic position, with a surfeit of arable land and water. Yet this appears to be squandered on … what, exactly? We produce huge quantities of produce which is then difficult to afford. What’s going on?

Why are farmers holding us and the government to ransom, peddling us their inferior products on the home market at inflated prices?

Oh yes: because they are the backbone of the country and firm New Zealand patriots. Like seasons to farmers, patently, I just don’t get it.

Published in: Commentary, Government, Left, New Zealand, Pacific, Politics, Thought on October 15, 2012 at3:24 am Comments (0)