National’s Visionless Nullity

TROUBLE AHEAD:  The Reserve Bank has twice in a month put the kybosh on National’s “look how clever we are, we conjured up a surplus” mantra as the solution to all economic ills.   I doubt Finance Minister Bill English feels any less smug.   He admits one is not on the cards this year.

From the Maoriland Worker, 11 October 1912.

From the Maoriland Worker, 11 October 1912.

The Bank raised serious questions about the big issues of liquidity and stability, the housing market, our foreign owned banks and their insatiable appetite for borrowing.  Dairy prices  are expected to drop further,  farmers who have taken on big debt may be in serious strife.   Fortunately, established farmers took the opportunity to pay off debt from the high returns last year.  The Canterbury rebuild, slow to get going, is going to slow off too. A tiddly surplus can’t hide the elephant in the room, our huge indebtedness and trade balance problems.  Banks make money (literally and in the form of profits) by borrowing and lending, the more the better it seems.  Prudential risk management still seems a quaint idea instead of a fundamental obligation.   So the Reserve Bank is trying to keep them reined in.  Sadly I don’t think its short, simple messages percolate far.  

I see David Cameron (in whose company I am deeply discomfited) warned about the Eurozone  while patting himself on the back for the UK’s improved position as if that will save the UK or the rest of us if things go belly up again.  Are we to believe UK banks now leaders in prudential risk management? 

Apparently many happy Aucklanders seized their new property valuations and rushed off to borrow against increased equity in their houses to buy a boat, have an overseas holiday, do some renovations and the like.  My legal offsider delivered pretty brutal advice to clients in the 1980s who did the same, but it didn’t make a jot of difference.   We had to bail out the by then half state-owned BNZ in 1990.

CAPITAL GAINS:

Treasurer Bill English lives off the fruits of inheritance and a well-paid job to boot.   I too live off the fruits of capital inheritance (very modest compared with Bill’s), national super, a small amount of rent and a $15 dividend.   Savings may be called on to top this up.  Many years ago a successful businessman asked me if I knew what a capitalist was and I smartly answered  ‘Me.  I live off interest, a rental and dividends’.   I may have had a job at the time.  I believe a capital gains tax long overdue.   How quickly we have re-established a class system but one, it appears, that may have less sense of noblesse oblige and social obligations than the previous one.    Continue reading

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Quitting the Media II: Feeling Better & TV

Since writing Post No. 1 in my MSM detox series, I’ve been a bit more zealous about not exposing myself to local corporate media, mainly stuff.co.nz and nzherald.co.nz, instead going to the Radio New Zealand website and Scoop.co.nz for “news” and checking out a few (but not many) blogs (and never ever ever reading any comments) for the occasional spot of commentary. And, for those who haven’t waded through that first post, I’m not on Twitter or Facebook, so that’s easy to avoid.

Wendy_SimonAnyway, since quitting NZH and Stuff altogether and in a more concerted fashion, I really do feel a whole lot better for it. (I should have mentioned that I gave up so-called TV News over a year ago. Just ugh! So I don’t visit their sites either. More than a few additional benefits from that decision below.)

Radio New Zealand isn’t into click-bait; their headlines are a bit of a trip back in time to the days when headlines were pretty straight-up: theirs seem intended to inform not sensationalise. Which brings me to the issue of “breaking news/scoops”.

Who Cares Who Got It First? Not You!

Forget about who gets it first. Who cares? Sure, the journalists do. But you don’t need to. Really, think about it: unless there’s a tsunami coming or some other disaster you really really need to know about (and then you should turn on the radio anyway because your internet is probably about to cut out), why would you care who “got” Kim Dotcom’s driving conviction (I actually don’t know, obviously, but I saw it just now on RNZ). If it’s important, my proposed news provider of choice (RNZ) will pick it up eventually. If it’s not important (again: “Jessica Biel Goes Shopping in Auckland”) then it’s better than you not know. It’s better that this rubbish isn’t cluttering up your valuable working memory. It’s better that it isn’t evoking some emotion you’d rather not be having. It’s better that you save the “tut tutting” and getting your undies in a twist for important stuff.

Continue reading

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Quitting the Media: Part I

The so-called  “news” (ha ha ha ha ha) media are bad for your health. They’re bad for your personal health. They’re bad for the health of society. They’re just plain bad. I think at this point we all know it. We all know that the pompous claims about being watchdogs for democracy, the Fourth Estate, speakers of truth to power (oh, spare me!) have long since been crushed under the wheels of “Jessica Biel Goes Shopping in Auckland” etc.

Sure, I’ll admit there are teeny tiny corners of what we call the mainstream media (MSM) that still do some of that stuff. But they’re teeny and they’re tiny. And if MSM ever did more good than harm (I don’t believe much in halcyon days), that time has long since disappeared. Simply put: Whatever good the media might do or stand for is surpassed in great measure by the damage and destruction it wreaks. It doesn’t speak truth to power, instead it narrows our view of humanity and the world; it reinforces envy (wealth, beauty things) and stereotypes (where to start on this one? Read through some of this. OK, that was mean. That was click bait, i.e. mysterious link. The link is to the Treaty Resource Centre’s ‘Media and Māori’ section), it tries to tell us how we should think, what we should consider important, it plays down or avoids altogether so much that is significant while filling our lives with the most stomach turning trivia… (I should stop now) I think deep in our hearts, we all know it. We listen to them when they bang on about freedom of the press, and figure, well, we don’t want to live in a totalitarian society. OK, so the media suck, but it’s better than being stuck with Pravda. And we go along with it. We accept their inflated view of their own importance and, off we go, falling for the click bait. Feeling the blood pressure rise. Then becoming overwhelmed with the inevitable regret that we clicked in the first place.

You know what it’s like, that feeling that you’re helping a drug dealer sell more meth, or P, or whatever it might be. The realisation that you’re reinforcing the use of such cheap, smelly, stinky bait. That you are what lies behind all those media people who, when challenged say, “but we’re giving people what they want to read”. All because you just had to click. C’mon people. Take control of your own digits!!

Back in the pre-internet days, newspaper headlines were generally aimed at telling you as much as possible in the fewest words. The editors and subs couldn’t track how many eyes continued down the page, or turned to the next instead. Now, though, they can. And this is where it’s left us: (a) knowing the media is destructive and (b) knowing we’re propping it up. Which is why I think we must give it up. I know, it’s not easy. And you need to take this in steps. Steps I’ll be incoherently outlining in a series of posts. (If you want the whole series, of which this is the first, click here.) Here are a few points for starters.

Continue reading

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At the end of the day: Post-Election Blues Series

Three days before the election I couldn’t hold myself back from beginning a post although my mood was grim.   I felt I could only hope for a cliffhanger.  This didn’t seem very satisfactory so the next day I changed my strategy, gave up post, hoped polls wrong.   Huh.

At first I thought the media had done a fairly good job.  I knew decriminalisation of abortion was a proscribed identity politics issue (whatever that is) because ordinary blokes aren’t into it.    Travelling, taking three days off  work, arranging child care in order to get through the certification process is a major problem for many ordinary women.   

Allie Brosh. Creative Commons license.

Allie Brosh. Creative Commons license.

Blaming Internet Mana and Nicky Hager for the election outcome, the left’s misfortunes and directing attention away from policies is downright pathetic.   A lot of policy did get good coverage. Labour has totally lost its mojo, it was an all too visible mess in steady decline before the advent of Internet Mana.   The latter’s brave but high risk strategy bombed.  I was surprised by the Greens’ failure to increase their support.  So were they.  Are they too losing their mojo?  Both parties might consider co-operating in a very thorough investigation of the problems, outcome and future challenges.   Scrabbling for the middle ground and downplaying their more visionary roles is close to a vote of no confidence in their own merit. 

A resonating line I’m hearing is ‘I/we have done pretty well lately’.  Sounds like it is from National’s armoury.   It isn’t as ugly or self-serving as ‘greed is good’ but it doesn’t offer a lot of hope for those who aren’t doing so well.  Let alone for advancing social cohesion, surely the primary goal of good government.  It is also unlikely to advance the welfare of our planet.  

I confess it: It wasn’t hard to smirk a little when National didn’t need NZ First.  I’m not sure the young can take heart from their success.  But a peeved Peters could be a thorn in National’ side.    Continue reading

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Election 2014: Sliver of Silver Lining

Setting aside the economy, which I appreciate (a) one can’t do and (b) one shouldn’t do, here’s my non-expert election silver lining: Social and moral conservatism made no headway in this election. And keeping in mind aforementioned need to prioritise economic (and I’d say environmental) issues, keeping the moral conservatives at bay is actually a lot more important than it’s often given credit for. But more on that later…first my attempt at reasoning:

1. The Conservative party didn’t make it. Yes, I appreciate they gained ground on 2011, but there was clearly no significant appetite for their brand of moral conservatism, as in get rid of the “anti-smacking law”, introduce binding citizen referendums (which are a pathway to moral polarisation through nasty campaigns in which big money — conservatives — usually have a leg up) and…well, they check the boxes on issues like being anti-abortion, “tough on crime” (aka candidate Garth McVicar previously of the
Senseless Sensible Sentencing Trust etc.) Like ACT, they’re also big on “one law for all” – aka anti-Maori dog-whistling.
2. The Greens held their ground, and they’re the party that had the most progressive social and moral policies, actually coming out in support of decriminalising abortion, for example — the only major party (major third party anyway) to ever do so. It didn’t hurt them, because people aren’t voting on those issues –> because NZers are not socially and morally conservative.
3. Labour was totally wimpy on abortion, trying to do its usual side-step: Its policy was to have the Law Commission investigate the issue. As I said, people aren’t voting on the abortion issue, but Labour’s position and subsequent poor showing scotches any argument that moral conservatism might have hurt the Green vote.
4. ACT did really badly despite its eagerness to continue the Brash tradition of being anti-Maori, with one of its main slogans being “One Country, One Law”. Clearly I’m including anti-Maori racism as falling under the “social and moral issues” umbrella, which one might dispute. But accepting that for a moment, there appears to have been no appetite among voters to go down that road. (I suppose you could argue Hone Harawira’s loss might count against my thesis here, but I think that was an anti Kim Dotcom thing.)
5. Winston is a moral conservative of a weird stripe, but moral issues are not his brand. He gains / and gained / votes because of his nativism and his maverick brand, not because he’s, say, anti-choice.
6. John Key is a social and moral centrist, if not a liberal in fact. He’s pro-choice (though he tries to be a fence-sitter when it comes to talking about it or acting on it), not a homophobe and doesn’t seem to want to re-criminalise prostitution. He’s also an atheist (yay!) And it was John Key who won the election.

All of which is to say that if you are looking at whether or not we’re on the road to a U.S. style scary moral conservatism, joined at the hip with economic conservatism, then I think it’s clear from this election result that we’re not.

And, as I said, social and moral issues/attitudes are important. Oftentimes, social and moral policy translates into economic policy anyway. It sure does, for example, in the case of reproductive rights. Social and moral conservatism can polarise an electorate/a country in ways economic conservatism can’t, and that kind of polarisation is ugly and destructive. It, in turn, can facilitate economic polarisation. So the fact, on my reading of the results anyway, that we are not at least heading down that particular road is, I would argue, a solid piece of silver in the lining of the black election cloud.

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Forget About Spying

There’s something about the obsession of the progressive left on “spying” that bothers me. Sure, the mass surveillance that’s going on of citizens by their governments should be opposed, even though deep down – or not so deep down – I think we’ve gone Get_Smartway past the possibility of stopping it. And more power to the activists and whistle-blowers and journalists who have exposed it. Because even if, per above, we never manage to stop governments and corporations from doing it, it’s crucial that we’re kept up to date about where and how and why they’re doing it. At least then, the cleverest among us can come up with work-arounds. No, what bothers me is the priority this issue seems to get when I can’t help feel it should be much lower down the list than, say, global inequality, war, climate change (not necessarily in that order). I’ve had this argument, uh, discussion with my partner, who disagrees. He sees the “surveillance state” as a super important issue because of the danger of dictatorship that comes with the ability to know what everyone is doing, not to mention the handing over to the government and corporates (and other surveillors) the ability to covertly blackmail people who haven’t done anything wrong (maybe they have some compromising pix on their phone, or had an affair or an abortion or a facelift).

There are some tests I like to run on political issues before I get involved: will it challenge/undermine the status quo: i.e. will it challenge capitalism, will it challenge racism, will it challenge the patriarchy (which, yeah, it’s old but I still think it (a) exists and (b) is a huge problem), will it challenge the power structures in society? I suppose, if I’m honest, I don’t really think protesting mass surveillance does that. I don’t think capitalism, the military industrial complex, male hegemony, etc., is too bothered by all of this, despite the noise they make. I could be wrong. I could so very well be completely wrong. After all, the way the U.S. has gone after the journalists and the whistle-blowers suggests its leadership (aka corporate America) feels very threatened. Which in turns suggests it does challenge the status quo.

Yes, I think this over reaction to Snowden, to Assange, to Chelsea Manning (slightly different, but related) is the best piece of evidence suggesting I am indeed wrong about this. And that the surveillance state should, perhaps, be at the very top of the agenda.

Clearly, my position (“being vaguely bothered”) isn’t too well thought out, but I can’t help see this as a middle-class activist issue (a category I myself am in). But if our government said it was pulling out of the Five Eyes spy group right now, was dismantling all of its spying infrastructure and programmes – and if it actually did this – what difference would it make to people who are poor? To women who don’t have reproductive rights? To polluted waterways, endangered species, global warming? I don’t think it would make the teeniest tiniest little bit of difference.

Which doesn’t really counter my partner’s argument about the risks of mass surveillance. On the other hand, there have been many dictatorships that pulled it off quite well without all this technology. You just need to get everyone to become an informant on everyone else. You don’t need access to the population’s text messages and locations and emails. Dictatorship is always a risk, with or without mass surveillance. That, of course raises another question: Has the rise of mass surveillance increased the risk? I think the answer to that remains open.

What’s more, IMHO, all the lefties who are all burned up about mass surveillance should take another look at what difference it would really make if they got their way on this one issue. Right now. To (most) people’s lives. My answer: none.

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Dirty, Dirtier, Dirtiest Politics

I’ve finally finished Nicky Hager’s Dirty Politics.   I could have read it quickly.  It isn’t long and it wasn’t as though I wanted to savour its contents by reading slowly.  The exact DirtyPoliticsopposite was true.  It took some willpower to go on after getting about halfway through on the first night.   It was the grubby feeling one gets when exposed to war porn or court cases on television and simply switches off.

At the launch Hager spoke haltingly about the books contents:  it’s awful, bloody awful.  The following morning I felt terribly sad for him, driven as he is to expose the dark, ugly side of politics and demand better of our politicians.  And ourselves.  Proud of our democracy we pretend too often nothing too ugly is going on.   One good outcome for me was a sea change in the level of respect shown for Hager’s hard work and credibility in many mainstream media outlets.  It is long overdue but may encourage more investigative journalism which currently requires considerable financial sacrifice and very hard, sometimes unpleasant work.  Not to mention nasty, sometimes threatening personal attacks.

Andrew Geddis excellent piece on the The Pundit blog best describes the book as a Cri de Coeur’.  Oh indeed.   I would advise reading Geddis’ review at the very least as he includes excerpts he considers worst.  Better still buy the book.   Don’t let it get you down and switch off because, as Hager compellingly argues, that is exactly what the perpetrators of dirty politics want us to do.   VOTE, ENCOURAGE AND HELP OTHERS TO GET OUT AND VOTE.

POSTSCRIPT:   Like most media, I got it wrong in regard to the subject of the book.  Great, I’m not into mystical claptrap.   Here’s another crystal ball effort:  Key is waiting, desperately and too late to save face,  for Judith Collins to fall on her sword.

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