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  1. Lefter 84 ~ The Rich Could Eat Us

    January 19, 2017 by emweb

    So robots are going to be smarter, cheaper and do more and more work. Already, some New Zealand farmers have laid off staff. They get up at 10am instead of 5am, the cows having been robo-shepherded into their milking stalls, the milking cups auto-attached, the milk hygienically withdrawn from the animals, processed and sent off to market.

    “They’re happier, too!” The farmers proclaim. Well, the farmers sure as hell are – the ones who can afford this level of automation, anyway.
    Soon your car will drive itself. Big deal, people won’t need to learn to drive any more … but think about it. It’s easier to develop and test driverless features on a car than it is on a large vehicle. I predict the real aim is driverless buses and trucks: no sleepy long-haul drivers, no wages and best of all, no pesky unions for owners of haulage companies to deal with any more.
    Have you heard of the post-work future? Your job is probably already meaningless, if not mindless. An uncomplaining robot with machine learning could do this while you lay on the beach.

    Except you won’t be. Think about that, too. Robots can make (and already do make) many of the things we want to buy. Not just equipment, tech and clothes, but even food.
    And how will you buy it? You won’t be working. Universal wage? Right … that would come from the government, and robots won’t be paying taxes. Nor will you, as you won’t be earning. The rich don’t pay taxes already. Their Artificial Intelligence accountancy software will be even better at micromanaging their money so they don’t.
    So governments will have no revenue as they will get no taxes. What are they going to pay you with?

    Which makes you worthless. Dispensable. And seriously, what do you reckon the rich will do with you? Put you in a fun park? You create problems: sewage, for one thing. You breathe the air, drink the water, demand feeding, and you can’t buy anything and you can’t do anything useful. You’ll be completely irrelevant. The rich could wipe 90% of the population and live like lords with no more crowded cities, no more pollution, loads of space, and they could only use sustainable energy, so that fixes global warming, as oil would be irrelevant too. They’d keep a class of technocrats to keep things going, and to design and innovate a bit, and that’s it. No hoi polloi messing up the beaches, filling up the streets and airport terminals, peskily existing.

    Rosy, huh?

  2. Lefter 83 ~ Equality

    August 15, 2016 by emweb

    So, the Neo-Liberal experiment has resulted in a new New Zealand that doesn’t care about its population unless it’s making money, and that demonises rather than supports the poor. It has taken the New Zealand dream away, dangled it like a trophy in the media and then stomped it into the mud under the heels of realtors and The Block. It has fobbed us off with reality television and Max Key’s gleaming, salon-waxed abs. The housewives of Auckland take our attention while the government takes our state houses, handing the properties to developers to make even more money from; it’s supporting landlords to raid the tenants’ livelihoods, and this is the real, unspoken reason behind the property price blow-out.

    It’s got so smug, John Key doesn’t even bother learning the answers to half the questions he’s asked any more. He just says he doesn’t know or can’t remember, and his supporters would rather continue to fondly imagine this shows his honesty instead of what it actually shows: he doesn’t actually even care to pretend he cares any more. People love him anyway. People still think he’s the bloke to have at your barbecue. ‘He’s just like us! He’s given up …’

    Meanwhile, the left in New Zealand is too frightened to call itself left, too wrapped into its own internal dramas to formulate real policy and so far up it’s own inner, defeatist darkness now, it continues to either let its leader and top MPs talk without any preparation, or worse, advises them with really shit advice which makes them look stupid for all to see.

    It’s a spurious argument, in my opinion, to keep insisting Labour just can’t afford good advice, compared to National. This is the thing, Labour: stupid is just stupid, no matter how much or little that’s funded.

    So, with the left successfully demonised that it’s even frightened of itself, and too scared to talk about what it has done for New Zealand (the good things, I mean), what’s left for rational human beings who believe in civil society?

    I reckon it’s time to formulate a new set of precepts to live by, to be proud of and to propagate. It needs a simple, strong message, easy to understand, easy to explain, easy to spread.


  3. Praise the Lord and pass the luke warm dishwater

    May 5, 2016 by emweb

    Out there in the big wide world – or at least the big white western world – traditional politics has polarised. When anxieties rise, people think more left or more right. The Great Depression of the early 1930s led to the massive increase  of Fascism and Communism, bloodshed and trauma.

    When things are going well, economically at least, the extreme ends of the spectrum shrink and the middle expands. Look at the 1950s.

    The middle of New Zealand has definitely expanded – and it’s stuck in spread mode. Trump is so right-wing in his pronouncements, even dyed-in-the-wool Republicans tremble. While the United States tussles with the mawkishly Hitlerian antics of Trump, Sanders almost daily surprises with increases of a constituency that self-admits to being left – quite incredible in itself, in present day America. The only figurehead left upholding the middle, currently, is Hilary Clinton, the darling of her own establishment, and the pillar of its own smug ennui. If she wins (and we have to hope she does, over Trump, as unattractive as that prospect is), she will have a vocally and avowedly disenfranchised left wing to deal with on her own side of the fence – something that hasn’t properly existed in the US since the 1960s.

    In England, Jeremy Corbyn is hated by his own party establishment but loved by its members. Those members put him there, whereas here in New Zealand, the practically useless unions still managed to get their own man in, instead of change and vision. In Europe and elsewhere, right-wing anti-immigrant and refugee parties are surging as people fear the future; fear the mini holocausts that flame across the Middle East; fear the consequences of their actions and inactions while struggling to stay out of it no matter the cost.

    Here, the Left let a middle manager of a union rule the Labour Party again, eschewing the chance to break out of the white hetero middle class male mould even a little.

    Here, the political fight is for the middle.

    Here, it comes down to who you’d rather have at your barbecue, or currency trading at your bank, or who you think is a good bureaucrat. Someone who looks the same, doesn’t stand out, but can still make the ‘hard decisions’ to let a few rich people make even more money.

    It’s boring. They’re boring. Rather than a titanic struggle, we have a disagreement over that bowl of boiled potatoes on the table. Who gets the biggest piece of white bread. Incremental shifts in slight tweaks of policy.

    Labour won in New Zealand a few decades ago by embracing the middle. National won that middle back and now enacts Labour-type policies (what National used to refer to as ‘nanny-statism’) while pretending to still represent conservatism: laissez faire economics and farmyard interests under the smokescreen of increasingly telling people what to eat, drink, smoke and what medicinal drugs it will or won’t allow.

    Is the middle a fight we can win? Not any more. It’s irrelevant, it doesn’t engage youth (and who can blame them), and it’s just bloody boring.

    The world is under increasing stress.

    And the middle’s not going to solve anything.

  4. Lefter 80 ~ Things fall apart …

    February 18, 2016 by emweb

    The centre cannot hold … this country (and, OK, many others to be sure) has developed into a fight for the centre over the last few decades in a race to who can be the most mediocre. Awesome, right? Fighting for the centre? I mean, once it was a battle to drag the country, then the rest of the world, into a future in which women were allowed to take an equal role in society, workers had rights as well as their exploiters, in which all people were cared for … we had the 40 hour week, the first real Welfare State, New Zealand mandated and ensured minority representation in parliament, at least for Māori… I do dare say it: all that made New Zealand a great nation was firmly on the left.

    And now the hardest fought battle is for the centre.

    And yes, John Key has won that battle. Repeatedly.

    But the world is changing and the centre is no longer holding. The battle for power in the United States may devolve to Trump on the far, crazy right and Sanders very distinctly on the left. In Britain, avowedly left-wing Corbyn took the top job in the Labour Party, much to the chagrin of the Labour Party’s ‘leadership’. What is the appeal? Both are not scared to say they’re left, for a start. Something both Labour Parties have found difficult for decades.

    Neither are centrist.

    That’s what you get after years of battling for the centre. Over here, Labour ‘likes’ Sanders but is worried by Corbyn, who has created a groundswell of voter support and who has already been responsible for a massive rise in grass roots Labour Party membership. NZ Labour’s attitude here reflects connections to Labour UK’s leadership more than anything else. We bought Tony Blair’s popularity contest off the back of our own terrible neo-liberal dalliance and we’ve been stuck there since, despite John Key doing it so much better.

    Of course, Labour here could actually grow some convictions and come from a similar stance to Sanders and Corbyn. Actually, you don’t even need to grow some – just resuscitate the ones the party was founded on.

    Remember those?

    Too scary? Then you really don’t deserve votes.

    Because National is currently staggering, Labour – what are you going to do? Never before has ennui so dogged this party of the moneyed and the glib. Key catastrophically mishandled Waitangi Day, then got booed at the League. That would have been unthinkable even a few months ago. Meanwhile, up north where the running-scared Key should have been, Stephen Joyce went from looking like an imperturbable manager to just another suited dickhead thanks to a very deftly-pitched toy penis.

    The ‘new flag’ looks awful – want proof? Even many National MPs think that. John Key’s personal vanity project to foist his corporate conservative logo onto the nation’s masthead is faltering badly, meaning they have to turn up the heat to bring even their own people in line. Once again, this would have been unthinkable a short time ago, when National’s caucus was as tight as Judith Collins’ pursed lips. Meanwhile people like me, who have long hated the Union Jack being part of ‘our’ flag long after England turned its back on New Zealand (a process which has accelerated recently, with punitive measures against Kiwis who want to work and live there) finds myself about to vote to keep the damn thing, both to spite John Key and because, frankly, the alternative sucks and the process to come to this design sucks more.

    Two million dollars was promised to ameliorate emergency housing months ago and … surprise! Not a cent has been spent. Meanwhile, 27 million has been squandered on the ‘new’ flag. How much of that has been spent? How many people made tidy profits from that process while other kids go hungry and while people have to live in cars, garages and on the street?

    State house evictions have accelerated. And concurrently, National has cut funding for mental health in Canterbury coz – who cares? Clearly not the National Government, which has failed to rebuild the city, failed the traumatised citizens of quake-ridden Christchurch and clearly couldn’t actually give a shit apart from keeping its insurance cronies sweet and crowing about a little building work – much of which has been mishandled.

    As for dairy, are we crying foul yet? We should be – how have all the eggs in that basket actually worked out for this short sighted ‘governance’?

    Gareth Hughes absolutely skewered Key in a speech in Parliament in an excoriating and painfully-accurate dissection of our Prime Minister’s current state of affairs … oh for someone like Lange in Labour who could do this so well! Now it’s the Greens we have to turn to for in-depth socio-cultural commentary.

    Meanwhile, National has its Trump in waiting, in the form of Judith Collins champing at the bit to muscle in and erect her police state. Her alternative is ‘bite the hand that feeds’ Bennett.

    Who has Labour got?

    This is your chance. Like never before.

  5. Lefter 79 ~ The Left, Green, Right and fright

    January 9, 2016 by emweb

    Or should that be ‘fight’? I’d certainly prefer that.

    The Green Party of New Zealand has a singular advantage over the Labour Party: one unified aim. You might be a left Greeny, a right one or ‘Aqua’, an eco warrior or hell, just a hippy, but no matter where you came from and how you exercise your Green ambitions, you all have the same aim as the other Greenies: you want a more ecologically sustainable New Zealand that protects its current stock of natural attributes.
    Of course, lots of left wing voters and even some right wing voters want that too. (Most right-wing voters can’t see beyond pure exploitation of anything in reach). For the left, it’s more a matter of what comes first: a better environment in which to live, or a better way to live within that environment.
    National Party and Act supporters also have one aim – self enrichment.

    But Labour does not have one aim.
    Once upon a time, in the Labour heyday, the aim was more rights and better pay for workers. This is no longer tenable. For one thing, there aren’t many workers left. The wealthy, thanks to neo-liberal might and wiles, crush jobs, robotise, off-shore … anything to avoid giving any kind of quality of life to what workers there are left. If you think your job will never be done by a robot and/or computer, you’re wrong. The wealthy have the money to invest in these things. You may have seen the New Zealand dairy farm that was on TV a few months ago: while the couple who owned it slept-in, their cows were herded automatically into pens, suction cups attached themselves, the milk was taken and the cows robotically compelled back out into the fields. The couple insisted the cows were happier – perhaps they could only think this as they were themselves, with no more early rises to mess with their days, and no more staff to look after.

    Meanwhile, there’s the working poor who can’t afford rent, food and childcare anymore, being worked into early graves, and the ever shrinking middle tier of ‘workers’ who are tax-paying paper-shufflers (this category includes academics and teachers these days). They only ever seem to get more paper to shuffle in their increasingly mindless jobs.

    I’ve said it before and, wearyingly, I imagine I’m going to be saying it again: the New Zealand Labour Party doesn’t know what it believes in any more. There’s no vision for the future. The people who have stopped voting Labour either vote for National because they think ‘at least I might get some more money’ (ha ha, more fool you); vote Green coz hell, none of us want to die of pollution or tainted food; or they just don’t vote out of disgust.

    Which leaves the 24% or whatever it was that voted Labour last time. These are, increasingly, people who vote for nostalgia reasons, or so I cynically surmise. And this category appears to include Andrew Little. Labour was great once … well, so was Rome.

    We need a new vision, Labour. We need you to come up with a vision that’s worth voting for. You need to be able to articulate it, sound-bite it and back it. We need something to believe in – and then all the different factions in the left won’t matter.

  6. Lefter 78 ~ New Zealand at heart is bitter. And dark

    November 22, 2015 by emweb

    You may have heard that most right-wingers consider left-wingers to be stupid. Left wingers, on the other hand, consider right-wingers to be evil.
    Presumably they think we’re stupid because we don’t channel all our energies into making money. Into ourselves. We – I certainly – think they’re evil because they are so selfish.
    I had two experiences lately that made me reconsider the usual established, fluffy view of New Zealand as being an upstanding nation of citizens who share a fairly general belief in equality. Egalitarianism. Fairness.
    The first: I went to a hospital pick up a relative who had just had a knee operation. I had to wait with them until the surgeon signed them off. Forty minutes or so. Waiting with them – note this was a public hospital, not private – was a middle-aged bloke who was very chatty. Let’s call him Geoff. He insisted, first, on showing me a picture of one of his cars. He’d hot-rodded a Rolls Royce. I’m not kidding. Now to me, hot-rodding any old car is already an indicator of bad taste, with a few notable exceptions. Notable in their paucity. You’re basically wrecking a classic to fit some kind of petrol-head fantasy.

    But to do it to a Roller is entering a whole new level of new-money gauche. Even so, what he’d done to it was bloody ugly in anyone’s book. Well, anyone’s except his.

    The nurse came in and he immediately started regaling her with financial advice. She’d just bought a house in Grey Lynn. ‘Sell it!’ he said. ‘Buy another one. Wait two months. Sell it! When the market crashes, live in that last one. I bought some land last year on the outskirts of Auckland for half-a-million, waited two months, sold it for 1.5 million.’ Now at this point, I was thinking he might have been a blow-hard, but even if he was, this was his belief. He said we have to capitalise on the Chinese driving up our house prices. His words.
    The nurse replied ‘But I like Grey Lynn. I want to live there.’
    ‘Have you got a mortgage? Well, sell it then. Within three or four sales, you’ll have paid it off. Soon after that, you’ll be rich.’
    Then he told us, unbidden (although we were being polite, considering he’d just had surgery), that he’d found a good woman, although the last one, with whom he’d fallen out, had set fire to his house while he’d been in America. ‘So I moved the two boats off the tennis court immediately so she couldn’t torch those as well.’
    Then he said he was rebuilding a Spitfire aeroplane to carry four people. It was a Supermarine, so it could land on water. This was so he could get to his exclusive Nelson property when the apocalypse came. ‘It’s only accessible by water.’
    I raised my eyebrows. ‘Apocalypse?’
    ‘The anarchists,’ he said. ‘I’ve talked to them. They want to get rid of people like me.’

    Which was funny, considering who he was talking to and his lack of recognition of the import of the exclusively black and red clothing I was wearing. I considered his words, whether they constituted contributory negligence, weighed up my pacifism … but all I had on me was a pocket knife and besides, we were in a hospital … anyway, he then went on to tell us he’d hot-rodded the Roller so he could ship it to Hong Kong and drive it to Europe, all the while looking for a new place to live because ‘New Zealand was going to the dogs.’
    Driving home, we reflected how he’d just had his knee fixed at tax payers’ expense.

    Then, a few weeks later, I visited an elderly man. He was someone I knew, got on with, had decided was a nice guy. He’d worked at a school for years – one which benefited from public money, but was a fairly exclusive boys’ school. Before that he’d been an accountant. He showed me his computer and how he liked to have his stocks and his spreadsheets visible at the same time.
    He lived in a large, well-appointed Remuera old people’s home. Blocks of apartments. He went on two big trips a year. He bade me sit at his computer – his web browser was open to Whale Oil Beef Hooked. His emails, also visible, showed he was on the Act Party mailing list. I could not help but see – indeed, had the impression he wanted me to see – his investments. There was a long column, but I only noticed the first two before I looked away: $1.1 million, $760,000 …
    ‘I like to have them both open at the same time so I can move things around,’ he explained, ‘Because I hate to pay tax.’
    Noticing my startled expression, he added ‘Legally not pay tax.’

    Both these guys had a strangely aggrieved air about them!

    I honestly wish I was making this up.

    I’m not.

  7. Lefter 77 ~ we’re not ready for National’s collapse

    June 23, 2015 by emweb

    I’ve been thinking and saying for years that Labour needs a full renewal. Over here on the left, we’ve been grasping hopefully at whatever straws National hands us, praying that one after another failure, misstep and gaffe will be the long awaited key to a right collapse. Time after time it has led to nothing as National’s caucus unity and spin machine gloatingly triumphs.

    Now we’re in mid 2015, however, National has never seemed so jaded. Key has become so uncaring and arrogant, he can no longer be bothered learning even basic facts for his news appearances, and besides, most of his public appearances these days revolve around making excuses for mistakes by his MPs. Spin supremo the maleficent Steven Joyce completely wrong-footed the entire northland by-election campaign from beginning to end, giving National’s veteran enemy Winston Peters a grand campaign platform while even managing to make Peters come across as a working class hero, as unlikely as that is. (In this entire by -election, Labour was only notable, if at all, by its absence.) Nick Smith increasingly comes across, even to his own supporters, as a blithering twit, and even Bill English appears as if he doesn’t care and isn’t paying attention. Meanwhile the prospect that Judith Collins is seething in the wings salivating over what she considers her inevitable ascent must be shaking even the bluest of loyalists: she’s pure poison. Even her own colleagues and staff are afraid of and unsettled by her.

    But so what? There’s no viable alternative. When Labour had the chance to reinvent itself with the leadership process, offer a purpose, decide on its future and image, present a new voice and emerge as a credible, new-left voice for the twenty-teens, instead we ended up with old school Andrew Little, there only by dint of what’s left of the unions voting him in against the wishes of his caucus and members. This is Old Labour at its worst – the union stump is holding back the party, refusing to engage in the future, still jealous and possessive of its loss of decades-old working man’s power, still refusing to believe, against all evidence, that those days are long gone.

    I know many in Labour, including people I respect, fought hard to stop Labour collapsing in the last leadership process, and perhaps even to prevent Labour sintering into conservative and progressive factions.

    But that’s what I wanted. Because what would have emerged would have been something worth voting for.

    The old, scarred party staggers on, unable to let go, unable to capitalise beyond a few cheap shots here and there, its factions still treacherously leaking things to the press, back stabbing, arse covering, unhappy with the leader they didn’t vote for, unable to form a cohesive world view they can sell to the swing voters.

    Sad, sad, sad – because now National can fail as much as it wants and still win the next election.

  8. Lefter 76 ~ Artificially-lengthened poppies need no help from me. Or you.

    November 1, 2014 by emweb

    I don’t really understand why success needs celebrating. When I was little, I was taught to share and not be greedy.

    Those lessons stuck, and I passed them on to my own children in turn. Again, they stuck. In the light of that, I am sick to death of being told about New Zealand’s ‘tall poppies’ and how we shouldn’t lop them off. Almost invariably, these are people who have made it in financial terms. To me, that means they have successfully tailored and processed their greed to the extent that they have made loads of money for themselves.

    Celebrate that? I don’t think so.

    John Key is rich. Is that because he’s clever? No, it’s because he harnessed whatever Public Schoolboy bullying cleverness he did possess towards the singular aim of making himself wealthy. To me, this does not make him a figure worth any admiration, with the caveat that he should perhaps never be underestimated since there was enough cleverness present for him to be very successful at it.

    Do something good for your fellow humans, sure.

    Make yourself rich? You need some real values, mate.

  9. Lefter 75 ~ Labour leader options

    October 20, 2014 by emweb

    What a mess. OK, this is how I see it: Cunliffe stepped aside, thank the lords, but that actually doesn’t solve much. Cunliffe had union support and he endorsed Little and, sure enough, Little now has that union support. Who else likes Little? He hardly made any impact as Labour Party President. Labour needed reform, and either there were simply no efforts made to undertake reform, or Little was singularly unsuccessful at it. Neither is very good on his CV. So apart from throwing out most of Labour’s policies, many of which were very sound if very not well sold, it’s hardly a platform for a resounding Labour future.

    Little now looks like a de facto Cunliffe representative, but he represents the union movement which still holds power in Labour if almost nowhere else (more’s the pity, but that’s just a fact of life). This is a dysfunctional facet of Labour’s leadership process.

    Nanaia Mahuta’s candidacy surprised everyone. She’s a Cunliffe supporter too, so this actually could spike the Little campaign a bit, and Mahuta might actually gain some headway amongst Maori voters. Maori supported Labour strongly in the last election. But it would be very presumptuous to assume Mahuta would have the support of Pacifica voters, and both groups are as prone to factionalism as the rest of Labour’s current interest groups and caucus. On the good side, Mahuta is not a white middle class man, but her record is not exactly breathtaking and her running obfuscates Cunliffe’s almost undoubted string-pullings.

    But maybe that’s a good thing, as no one expected (or expects) Cunliffe to go quietly – least of all David Cunliffe and his supporters.

    Then we have Grant Robertson. I can’t help thinking he’s a very clever bloke with all his heart – and all his brain – in the right place, and he certainly has a fantastic running mate in Jacinda Adern. This combo may appeal to young sophisticated urban voters, but might do little to assuage the somewhat more jaundiced and moribund views of most of the rest of Labour’s electorate. I would love this combo to lead Labour … but I wonder if it’s time yet. It might be for me, it might not be for Labour’s more usual supporters.

    Finally we have David Parker. In a way, like Goff, Shearer, Cunliffe et al, Parker also represents ‘Old Labour’. But in Parker’s case, is this a bad thing? He has a clear mind, he speaks and understands economics, which is National’s (perceived, anyway) strong point, and he can be coached to show well in interviews etc (but Parker already proved he’s made great strides by his performance in the TV debate versus Bill English). Parker wrote some very sound policies which would have worked to better New Zealand, and they will work if Labour were to win an election. Parker has a good team behind him, he has few enemies in caucus (apart from Cunliffe, perhaps, and his diminished band of stalwarts) and, perhaps most importantly, Parker doesn’t use dirty tactics. David Parker is morally courageous, and everyone who has met him (including me) knows he’s a nice guy who thinks deeply and genuinely listens.

    Since Parker is quite progressive, the line from Old Labour to New Labour would be more of a redefinition than an umbilical cut if he were to win. The first job Parker would have is to reunify the party, which basically means addressing every single faction and demanding – then getting – compromise to progress towards a goal that they – and we – can all believe in. Parker’s mana and charisma would rise with each success in this task.

    This all comes back to the clear messaging around a position we can understand easily, as I have been banging on about for years.

    But none of this is impossible … for whoever wins. I say good luck to David Parker’s aspirations, and to his toil ahead: and may Grant Robertson and Jacinda Adern somehow fit into all this if it’s Parker who wins!