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Trump is Toast

datePosted on 13:21, October 11th, 2016 by Pablo

Well, all good things must come to an end.

But first, let’s play word association:

Authoritarian Populist.

Racist. Bigot. Xenophobe.

Bully. Buffoon. Bankrupt.

War-mongerer. Torture fan. Genocidal Demagogue.

Narcissistic Sociopath. Tax evader. Ignorant blowhard.

Serial Liar. Serial Cheat. Serial adulterer.

Thin skinned. Egomaniac. Coward.


Sexual predator.

Whose name comes to mind when these words are mentioned?

Conservative spin aside, there is no coming back from this. The destruction of brand Trump is unfolding before our eyes and soon will be complete.

Let’s unpack the video outtakes from his 2005 Access Hollywood appearance in order to explain the reasons why.

In it he speaks of pursuing a married woman. That will cost him religious conservative votes as well as those from people who take a dim view of home-wreckers.

He then boasts that he has a pre-meditated strategy to swallow breath mints before he forcibly kisses women without their consent. He goes on to say that because he is a “star” he can grope women’s genitals with impunity. These are admissions of repeated sexual assault. That is going to cost him much more than female votes, as many in the law and order crowd, to say nothing of men who have real respect for their mothers, wives, sisters, daughters and grand daughters will walk away from a self-admitted practitioner of such criminal behaviour (say what you want about Bill Clinton, there is no audio recording in his own voice of him admitting to sexual assault).

In his non-apologies he claims that the crude and lewd language he used during the now infamous bus ride is just “locker room banter.” Besides the fact that many have pointed out that it is not, in fact, normal athlete talk to speak the way he did, what he is basically saying is that (presumably male) locker rooms are places where discussion of sexual assault is common place. If that is true, then what he is speaking about–and dismissing–is a particular aspect of rape culture. True or not (and there is definitely a problem with rape cultures in some areas of US society), the fact that he downplays the seriousness of boasting about sexual assault (whether real or made up) is indicative of deeply seated misogyny on his part. This may have been something that he could get away with twenty years ago, but it is not now.

Better yet, Trump is a wrecking ball that is bringing the Republican Party down with him as the GOP rats scramble to get off that sinking ship known as the 2016 campaign. They have to jump because the word association game that we just played will be attached to those who do not. Already 50 Republican elected officials are trying to put distance between themselves and Trump, including the House Majority Leader and 14 Senators. The focus of the Republicans is keeping their House and Senate majorities, and that looks to be increasingly in peril in the Senate (where a shift of 4 seats restores a Democratic majority).

In parallel, the media facilitators at the alternative universe known as Fox News are also in full meltdown mode as the Trump sycophants (Sean Hannity) publicly quarrel with other colleagues (Meghan Kelly, Shepard Smith) in a crisis environment brought about by the forced resignation of another sexual predator, Roger Ailes, as CEO of the network.

These are the worst of times. These are the best of times.

The forces of evil in the US are in disarray, on the run and looking for whatever (political) cover they can find. But there is no place to hide.

This year November 8 is not just election day. It is not just judgement day for the GOP.

It is armageddon for US conservatism. The end is nigh.

The real questions now are what will the Democrats do with the gift of Republican self-destruction? Will the Clinton administration heed the lessons of the election and integrate at least some aspects of Bernie Sanders’ policy prescriptions into it? Will the Democratic Congressional leadership seize the opportunity to consolidate or pursue legislative gains in areas such as health care, education, campaign finance reform and taxation? Will the Supreme Court nominations made by the Clinton administration ensure a “progressive” majority for decades to come?

For their part, will the unsavoury forces unleashed by the Trump campaign crawl back under their rocks or will they turn into a violent disloyal opposition? Will the GOP split into “moderate” and retrograde wings and if so who will dominate conservative discourse? What lessons will the Republicans take away from this disaster? Will those lessons teach them civility or even more darker modes of behaviour?

Time will tell but for the moment we can only thank The Donald for his efforts.

Peddling False Hope.

datePosted on 11:19, October 1st, 2016 by Pablo

By way of a short thought, I venture again into the waters of US election year politics.

Today’s subject is Donald Trump, or more precisely, the promises he passes off as solutions to the US malaise (as he and his supporters see it).  The key denominator in everything he says is that he offers the promise that he and he alone can solve the nation’s problems, foreign and domestic, and that he can do so in a clear, simple and direct fashion without much cost or sacrifice to the nation. Much like PT Barnum a century or so ago, he clearly believes that there is a sucker born every minute in the US. And what he is peddling to them is no more than that snake oil known as false hope.

Let me outline what he has promised to do but which he cannot do. Trump cannot build a wall and make Mexico pay for it. He cannot deport 11 million people including US citizens born of undocumented residents. He cannot place a ban on “all Muslims” immigrating to the US, he cannot institute blanket profiling of Muslims and surveillance of mosques, and he cannot stop refugees from Muslim-dominant countries from seeking asylum in it. He cannot leave NATO to its own devices. He cannot leave South Korea and Japan to defend themselves against Chinese aggression, and he cannot influence Chinese monetary policy in a way that would “level the playing field” with the US. He cannot force US based companies to return all of their operations to the US while paying US workers higher wages. He cannot reinstitute water boarding and other “worse” forms of torture. He cannot order the US military to commit war crimes such s killing the relatives of terrorists, and he cannot “take the oil” from Iraq. He cannot preemptively launch nuclear attacks based on whim. He cannot renege on trade deals without consequence. He cannot “rip up” NAFTA (the North American trade bloc involving Mexico, Canada and the US). He cannot fire generals because they disagree with his views, and he cannot form a partnership with Russia just because he admires Putin.

Trump cannot mandate that women be “punished” for having legal abortions. Trump cannot “wipe out” Daesh.

Trump cannot make “America Great Again” because his vision of greatness–white male christian nativist and insular–has been overcome by the structural, demographic, cultural, social and technological changes of the last quarter century. In fact, his vision of “greatness’ was great only for a socio-economic few, and that few will be a distinct minority within twenty years.

Trump cannot drill, drill, drill or frack, frack, frack. Trump cannot make the US safer by ensuring that more people have guns.  He cannot re-institute “stop and frisk” as the solution to African-American demonstrations against police brutality or even urban crime without re-hashing the case of its (un)constitutionality. Trump cannot run his administration like a family owned business lacking shareholders or a Board of Directors and he certainly cannot use bankruptcy as a means of avoiding liability for poor financial decisions. He cannot renegotiate the US debt using default as leverage.

The reasons he cannot do anything of what he has promised is not only that his words are meaningless and empty, in typical national populist demagogic tradition. It is due to the fact that the US political system does, in fact, rest on institutional checks and balances grounded in law. Any and everything that he proposes, were he to try to execute it via Executive Order, would be challenged in courts as unconstitutional and take years to litigate. He needs Congress to pass laws that will allow him to do some of the things that he promises to do, and other promises require congressional approval in any event. Even if it remains in Republican control, Congress has been the subject of his often personal attacks and understands its role as a check on the Executive (witness the obstructionism of the past eight years). So no matter who controls Congress, but especially if the Democrats win the Senate, the legislative branch will not just play along with Trump’s demands and initiatives and will in fact spend much time blocking most of what he has proposed on the campaign trail. He is on a hiding to nothing.

Trump cannot use his personal wealth while president, which includes paying lobbyists to advance his political projects. Although he can fund partisan and personal trips and events out of his own bank account, he cannot use his taxpayer-funded salary or the resources of his office for personal reasons. That means that he will have to place his assets in the hands of others, be it via trusts or family delegation for the duration of his incumbency. The Donald may have some problems adjusting to that situation and could try to circumvent the rules governing presidential finances. Beyond the ethics of the matter, that poses a practical challenge for him because even if he fills the entire upper echelon of the federal bureaucracy with political appointees (whose credentials will have more to do with shoe licking than competence), he still will have to deal with a career civil service with institutional knowledge and depth of expertise (if not vested interests) when it comes to policy implementation paid for by the taxes Trump thinks it is “smart” to dodge.

Nor can he reconcile his financial plan, which involves lowering corporate taxes while renegotiating trade agreements and increasing spending on the military and elected infrastructure projects. In an age of budgetary cost-cutting that has resulted in several government shut-downs, he simply will find it impossible to fund his projects with public money even if he offers sweetheart deals to private parties in order to offset public expenditures–again, because it is not for him alone to do so and he will find his purse strings not only constrained by but attached to the demands of other interests regardless of who controls Congress.

The truly sad aspect of this is that neither Trump or his supporters understand the very basic concepts of separation of powers and checks and balances. They believe that he can just order people around and “get things done.” They think that he can bully foreign leaders the way he bullies out of favour beauty pagent contestants. They think that he can resort to personal insults, to include fat, slut and disability-shaming, to deter his adversaries and critics. They would be mistaken in those beliefs and it is a shame that the US educational system has produced so many people without even an elementary grasp of how government works or why civility is a value. That one such ignorant person is the nominee of a major political party is a clear sign of its demise.

It will interesting to see what happens over the next few weeks of the campaign. It looks like Trump is starting (?) to come unglued as the pressure mounts and his blustery facade begins to crumble under the light of scrutiny. Clinton pounded him into the ropes in the first debate (I scored it a TKO), and if he decides to bring up Bill Clinton’s affairs in future conversation he will be eviscerated on the hypocrisy rack. From my perspective, the election campaign is just getting better.

One thing is certain: ignorance is not bliss and Drumpf is about to find that out in spades.


Confronting academic Taylorists.

datePosted on 08:03, September 27th, 2016 by Pablo

Although the corporate media has not covered it, choosing instead to focus on the university’s fund-raising efforts, the academic and professional staff at the University of Auckland held a one hour strike last week to protest the lack of progress on negotiations for a fair living wage for all staff, especially for those at the lower end of the wage scale. Among other union proposals was the payment of a flat $2.500 increase to everyone covered by the collective contract in lieu of a cost of living increment. In conjunction with a rise in the minimum wage for lower-salaried workers, this would have the greatest positive effect on those struggling to keep afloat in the Auckland market.

University management refuses to negotiate until the budget is decided next month or in November. This runs contrary to traditional practice where pay for academic and professional staff is negotiated prior to the budget being fixed. It follows on more than a decade of erosion of collective benefits for university personnel and the slow but seemingly inexorable weakening of the Tertiary Education Union (TEU) as a bargaining agent at the University of Auckland.

The one hour lunchtime strike was well attended, although not massive in size. Shortly after 12:45 the director of Human Resources, a despicable cur if there ever was one, sent out a group email to TEU members advising them that their pay would be docked for the one hour they were on strike. He went on to request confirmation from the recipient that s/he was indeed on strike so that their pay could be deducted.

There followed a blizzard of emails in response. I am on the TEU mailing list so I got to read them all. Other than one person, all were critical of the university’s approach to employment relations. What stood out were the dozens of stories about countless overtime hours worked with no pay (the academic standard contract is for 37.5 hours per week), the abysmal lack of morale and trust in management amongst staff, and the psychological, emotional and physical toll the stress of working at the UA was taking on its staff. The stories were sad and many gut-wrenching.

These stories came from professors, lecturers, IT specialists, counsellors, librarians, tutors, administrative support staff–you name it, they had something to say. Some people asked how the deduction would work since they were not on an hourly wage. Others pointed out that they were on  leave but would gladly see their pay deducted in solidarity with those who attended the strike.  Many pointed out that they were at their offices during lunch hour working out of loyalty to students and colleagues but would gladly have their pay docked in solidarity with the strikers. Some suggested that the deducted pay should go to charity, at least until it was pointed out to them that the university is a registered  charity and the “donations” could well go into the VC’s pocket or as bonuses to his management team members (the VC is the highest paid public servant in NZ and the senior management team all make in excess of NZ$150K/year).

What became clear from the responses is that behind the facade of the University of Auckland being a “world class” university there is a deeply dishonest and unethical management that is seeking to destroy the TEU Auckland branch and thereby further subjugate its staff to its academic Taylorist precepts. I have written about this before, so no need here to reiterate what it entails. The bottom line is that the University is being hollowed out at its core, in a workplace where academics and academic support staff are reduced to time card punching and asking permission to use the loo while the ranks of middle and upper management bean counters proliferate like rats.

I have been critical of the TEU in the past for valuing wage increases over workplace control (including in the classroom, where there is increasing interference by middle level managers with no teaching experience). I always through that it was a bad idea to trade off regular wage increases for workplace control, which extends to promotion and research leave policy. But what is done is done and now the university management is in the final stages of its assault on the union.

The time to make a stand is now. Having read the emailed responses I decided to write a letter of support to the Auckland TEU and its members. This is what I wrote:

“Dear All,

As a former TEU member and academic staff member at the University of Auckland, I want to add my support to your efforts to restore the university to its former position as a fair and equitable workplace. Unfortunately, having dealt with Mr. Phipps as well as other management lackeys at close range, I believe that yours will be an uphill battle. Their objective is to break the union so that with a few exceptions you will eventually be subject to precarious individual, often part time contracts and thereby will be more easily exploited. The trend is already apparent and the situation is worse for junior staff and those not considered to be “stars.” Given the tight academic labour market and the already low union density amongst professional and academic staff (particularly the latter), it will be difficult to individually resist this project if the TEU is further undermined as a collective bargaining agent.

Mr. McCutcheon was a successful union-buster in his life before being appointed VC. Nothing in his tenure at UA suggests that he has moderated his views on the utility of collective agents, and the tone of Mr. Phipps’s suspension notice is a reflection of that. It should not be forgotten that this management team at UA is not known for its honesty or fairness when it comes to employment relations. “Good faith” is not part of their vocabulary. Many of you will know of the efforts by the SMT to offer financial incentives to senior academics to either quit or not join the union. You will have seen the replacement of departing permanent full time staff with part time hires. Given that there are academics who support or go along with the VC’s approach for self-serving reasons, the struggle to return civility and fairness to employment relations at the UA will be a tough one.

I would not be surprised if the many tales of unpaid hours owed to staff outlined in the barrage of email replies to Mr. Phipps’s suspension notice will be seen by the VC and his minions as a sign that their Taylorist approach to academia is working just fine. They need to be disabused of that notion.

The key to defeating the academic Taylorists is to assiduously defend and increase union membership and to strictly and unwaveringly adhere to any calls for direct action such as labour service withdrawals (be it strikes, slow downs or work-to-rule). The call for a living wage and fair pay for professional (non-academic) staff is a step in the right direction. However, much ground has already been lost in terms of workplace control, academic freedom, promotion and leave, so the time to regain some measure of balance in the employment relationship is rapidly disappearing. The nature and timing of the direct actions to be taken henceforth in defence of the union and its members will be decisive, and must receive unanimous support..

You should not expect favourable media treatment. Today’s editorial in the Herald about the University’s fundraising is indicative of the pro-management bias of the for-profit news outlets. A concerted PR campaign will be required to counter-balance the view, propagated by the SMT, that all is well at the university and that if anything, academics have things easy when compared to other wage earners.The public needs to hear the stories told in your emails to Mr. Phipps.

There comes a time when people can be pushed only so far. Perhaps that time has come for the TEU Auckland branch and its members. Although I no longer belong to the academic community, I understand your struggle and deeply empathise with it. I wish you the best of luck and success in staving off the managerial offensive.

Kia kaha!”

I can only hope that if the union does make a stand, that it not be its final one.

Autumn of the Patriarch.

datePosted on 14:00, August 21st, 2016 by Pablo

Fidel Castro celebrated his 90th birthday a few days ago. During the public celebration of his milestone he sat in a specialised wheel chair between his brother Raul and Nicolas Maduro, president of Venezuela. He is physically frail but his mind is still sharp, as evidenced in a (rather self-serving) editorial he wrote in which he praised his revolution and denounced US president Obama and the thawing of relations between the US and Cuba (which his brother, now president of Cuba after Fidel’s abdication due to illness, helped engineer). As part of the month long celebrations of his birth, he is being gifted a 90 meter long cigar, a world record for “puros” of any type. Bill Clinton should be so lucky.

Yet, I felt sadness and some pity at watching Fidel in his autumn years. Like Garcia Marquez’s Colonel, he is a man of the past wrapped in memories of what could have been. A man who once was an icon of the Latin American Left, worthy successor to Jose Marti, comrade-in-arms of Che Guevara, patron of the Angolan and Mozambiquian revolutions, inspiration to insurrectionists world-wide, cunning adversary of the US for over five decades and arguably the best poker player the world after he bluffed the US into thinking that he would rather be incinerated rather than relent to US demands during the Cuban Missile Crisis (the USSR eventually agreed to withdraw its missiles from Cuba over Castro’s objections in exchange for a US withdrawal of surface to surface missile batteries in Turkey).

But rather than the imposing physical specimen that towered over so many of his emulators both in height and intellect and who attracted the attention of the rich, famous and powerful during his heyday, here sat a stooped, gaunt, hollow faced elder with visible hand tremors and a certifiable fool sitting on his left side. In fact, if Fidel represented the best hopes and aspirations of a previous generation of revolutionaries, Nicolas Maduro represents the terminal decline of the contemporary “Pink Tide” of elected neo-socialists that emerged during the 2000s and who, with few exceptions like the Frente Amplio governments of Uruguay, have been proven to be no less authoritarian, no less corrupt, and equally if not more incompetent than their capitalist predecessors. In some cases, these Pink Tide regimes were not so much socialist as they were kleptocratic, populist-corporatist or sold-out to the corporate interests they ostensibly opposed. And like Fidel, they have fallen on hard times.

Other than Maduro, no foreign leaders of note attended Fidel’s birthday party (even the Sandinista government of Nicaragua, a country in which many Cubans spilled blood in the overthrow of Somoza and defense of the Sandinista Revolution, did not send a high level delegation). The rich and powerful were absent. In a sense, Fidel’s decline mirrors the struggles of the Cuban Revolution after the USSR withdrew its economic support for it. More tellingly, it symbolises the squandered opportunity of the Pink Tide.

The emergence of elected Left regimes in Latin America during the 2000s was a moment of great hope for progressives in the hemisphere. It followed a wave of so-called neoliberal, market-friendly economic reforms undertaken by a variety of right and populist regimes such as those of Menem in Argentina and Fujimori in Peru during the previous decades. As the negative consequences of neoliberalism began to impact on basic social indicators such as income inequality and child poverty, and could no longer be hidden by creative accounting and statistical manipulation, a window of ideological opportunity opened for the Latin American Left. They were the earliest and fiercest critics of the so-called “Washington Consensus” behind the adoption of neo-liberal reforms.  They were the academics, activists, organisers and politicians who marshalled protests, demonstrations and other forms of passive and active resistance to the implementation of market-driven edicts. They were the outlets through which the dislocating effects and social impact of the “more market” approaches were highlighted. And they had one more thing: structural opportunity in the form of a global commodities boom.

With the rise of China as an economic powerhouse in competition and/or concert with other established and new powers (e.g. the US, India), the late 1990s and early 2000s saw the demand for commodities–primary goods, raw materials and especially minerals, metals and fossil fuels–skyrocket. As prices soared on the back of increased demand previously unexploited regions became the subjects of concerted interest by Chinese and other investors. What already existed in terms of commodities–oil in Venezuela and Ecuador, natural gas and oil in Brazil, copper in Chile, even soy, maize and beef in Argentina and Uruguay–saw redoubled investment in extractive export industries. A boom time ensued.

At the turn of the century Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Uruguay and Venezuela elected or re-elected neo-socialist governments (El Salvador, Honduras, Paraguay and Peru did as well but their tenures were short-lived). Every one of these countries benefited from the commodities boom. The question was not so much how to generate public money surpluses but in what measure and how to make use of them. But, just like Soviet subsidies gave Fidel’s Cuba an unnatural sense of comfort and inflated standard of living, the commodities boom was a temporary boost rather than a long term panacea for the region’s problems, depending on what was done with the surpluses generated by the golden moment.

With the exceptions of Chile and Uruguay, pretty much everywhere else the preferred combination was public spending on popular projects mixed with epic corruption, graft and theft. To be sure, health, education, welfare and housing services improved in the early years of these regimes and social indicators improved relative to the neo-liberal baselines. Income redistribution downwards was accomplished via generous benefits packages provided to the lower classes. Public services such as transport, electricity and gas were heavily subsidised by the State. So were basic food staples. Public works schemes generated employment. But after a while the money provided for such projects began to run out as the demand for commodities stabilised and prices began to drop.

Worse yet, what most of these regimes did not do was invest constructively in long-term productive capacity and infrastructure. Instead, they threw money at popular short term projects and grandiose schemes such as building sports arenas and stadiums. They pushed increased export commodity dependency rather than diversification of the productive apparatus. In parallel, they siphoned off millions in public funds to friends, cronies and family of government officials, when not to themselves. The combination was one of immediate gain (for them and their supporters) at the expense of long-term sustainability, and now those chickens have come home to roost.

In places like Argentina under Cristina Fernandez de Kichner, corruption was elevated to an art form (in a country where it was already a highly developed practice). In places like Brazil and Ecuador corruption was an integral part of the public-private nexus in construction and fossil fuel exploration. But it is in Venezuela where the full depths of the decline are seen. Even before Hugo Chavez died, his “revolution” had turned into a feeding trough for the Boliviarian elites. Billions of dollars were provided to creating anti-imperialist alliances such as ALBA, the anti-capitalist trading bloc that was supposed  to counter MERCOSUR and which never got off the ground. Billions in subsidised oil was sent to Cuba to prop up the Castro regime as a form of anti-US solidarity. After Chavez died, under Maduro, Venezuela has become an economic basket case where shortages of basic staples and power outages are the norm and where both government services and private industry have nearly ground to a halt (in a country with one of the world’s largest oil reserves). In Venezuela and elsewhere there was a conspicuous lack of foresight or public planning. Few sovereign wealth funds were created to save during times of plenty for the inevitable lean times that come with the boom and bust cycles of the commodities trade. Once the lean times came, the response of the neo-socialist Left was to blame anyone but themselves and to grab as much of the dwindling public reserves for their own benefit.

In some cases, the actions of disloyal oppositions and foreign powers hastened the authoritarian response and increased self-enrichment of Leftist leaders. This was very much true in Venezuela. In other cases the sheer weight of historical patterns of political patronage and private nepotism wore down the resolve of Left politicians to resist the temptation to do things “as usual.” That was and is the case of Brazil. In Chile the strength of the military-business network has impeded anything but incremental reform by the most determined Left governments. In some cases (Bolivia and Ecuador) long tenures in power slowly insulated Left governments from the masses and allowed for the development of cultures of impunity in which public officials were no longer responsive to the commonweal and instead focused on maintaining themselves in power. In virtually all cases, again with the exceptions of Chile and Uruguay, public officials treated national treasuries as individual and collective ATMs.

In some countries Left governments have been electorally replaced by Right ones (Argentina and Peru). In Brazil the Left PT government has crumbled under the weight of corruption scandals and succumbed to what amounted to a constitutional coup carried out by no less corrupt right-wingers. In several others such as Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Venezuela, the Left continues to rule, however sclerotically and increasingly autocratically. In Chile the Concertacion government of Michelle Bachelet that preceded and replaced the one-term Right government of Sebastian Pinera is more establishment-friendly centrist than anything else (because it has to be in order to keep the coup plotters at bay). Only in Uruguay has the Left, in the form of the Frente Amplio governments of Tabare Vazquez and Jose Mujica, been true to its socialist and democratic principles.

This is just an broad overview. The extent of mismanagement, incompetence, ineptitude and outright criminality undertaken by the neo-socialist Left when governing in Latin American during the last decade and a half has been astounding. The hard truth is that the Latin American Left had its golden windows of opportunity in the 2000s and with some notable exceptions squandered it all.

In a sense, that is a fate they share with Fidel. Had he passed from the scene in the 80s or even 90s he would still be revered in many progressive circles. But he has lingered too long, well after the contradictions and frailty of his revolution have been exposed. In fact, an entire generation of Cubans have been raised in the “special times” of austerity and deprivation that have marked the last 25 years of Communist rule in Cuba and which has forced his brother to open the national economy and seek rapprochement with the US. This has made that generation much less committed to revolutionary ideals and much more committed to materially improving themselves. As an old friend said to me upon returning from Cuba: “Ideology goes out the window when you are hungry.”

Worse yet, it now appears true that Fidel was less a committed revolutionary as he was a Cuban nationalist who used the context of the Cold War to bolster his rule and burnish his credentials as a committed internationalist. Mutatis mutandis, that is a trait shared by many neo-socialists of the Pink Tide: they were and are socialists more in name than in deed, and are more interested in enshrining their rule than in truly re-making their countries into viable socialist (or social democratic) societies in which political power is exercised by the people for the people. Revolutionary rhetoric is no substitute for revolutionary praxis and is a poor cover for political and economic mismanagement.

I say this with much regret. One never expects the Latin American Right (or pretty much any Right) to do anything other than enrich themselves and their cronies. But one certainly expects that self-professed socialists will behave differently, especially more fairly and less venally, when in power. Many people, myself included, wanted to believe in the promise of the Pink Tide just as we previously wanted to believe in the transformational impact of the Cuban Revolution. And yet, like the neo-liberals before them, the majority of Pink Tide neo-socialists have been exposed as charlatans, thieves and frauds.

On those grounds Fidel has one thing over them. He may not have accomplished all of the things that he promised that he would, and his “revolution” may have been much less than he promised and more dependent than he admits, but at least he has remained true to himself in his declining years. That cannot be said for the likes of the Boliviarians and their erstwhile regional comrades.

That is why I felt sadness when I watched his birthday celebrations. In the autumn of his life, el Comandante is condemned to the unique solitude that goes with being the last of his kind.

PS: Looks like I am not the only one who thinks that the Pink Tide failed to deliver on its promise (although this author puts a more positive and hopeful spin on things).

Praise where it’s due…

datePosted on 08:52, August 15th, 2016 by E.A.

I did little this weekend except walk on the beach, watch the roller derby and surf the interwebs, where I found…

After bagging New Zealand’s political media last week about low budget reporting (specifically Stacey Kirk’s article about Labour/Greens being “neck and neck” with National in the latest polls) and previously for similar bland and mediocre work (in that case Tracy Watkins for reporting on Winston Peters) I was pleasantly surprised to see that both reporters had filed rather good pieces over the weekend (here and here).

Now my inflated ego would love to think that this was due to the persuasive words in my posts about their work stinging them to produce better but the reality is that they simply turned in good work, because they are professional journalists after all, and would not know me (or my rants online) from Adam.

So in that case praise where praise is due for both of them turning in sharp and interesting articles on the current situation in Labour (you would think Labour would try to build off their recent jump in poll results but noooooo).

And for those who might wonder if I am simply trolling Stuff for all my political reportage I link this piece from Gordon Campbell (previously from the most excellent Scoop but now on his own site, Werewolf) who I consider the gold standard to which I strive in my blogging but rarely achieve.

Campbell is always incisive and on point and his recent post on the China situation where he describes Todd McClay as “the sock puppet otherwise known as the New Zealand Minister of Trade” is a fabulous combination of scathing political commentary and actual grim truth (given how McClay took the bullet meant for Key on China’s dodgy behavior) as he relates the latest on and then compares the National Governments response to that of a PR firm fronting for China.

Finally I watched this rather excellent video of Jon Stewart talking with David Axelrod (yes that David Axelrod!) about the US elections and wondered, like many others, what great work he would have made from things this time given how he covered the last round of clown politics in 2012 (my all-time favorite being the Dope Diamond).

Have a good week.

A note on the US navy ship visit.

datePosted on 12:51, July 22nd, 2016 by Pablo

So the US has agreed to send a ship to the RNZN 75th anniversary celebrations in November. That means that it has accepted New Zealand’s non-nuclear policy and will send a ship that is neither nuclear armed or propelled. It may have taken 33 years for it to finally loosen up on its “neither confirm or deny” policy when it comes to nukes on board, but the US realises that the geopolitical and strategic environment in which that policy was adopted is long gone and has been replaced by another in which continuing to adhere to it is a matter of hubris that is both churlish and counterproductive. Given the pressing realities of Chinese strategic competition in the Western Pacific and elsewhere, the US needs to consolidate its alliance commitments in the region. If acknowledging New Zealand’s non-nuclear stance is one way of doing so, than any loss of face is well worth it.

Pundits on the NZ Left and Right have claimed that NZ has “won” in its dispute with the US and that it is a great “victory” for the anti-nuclear movement that took to the waters of the Waitemata Harbour three decades ago. Quite frankly, I find the crowing about victory to be infantile because there were many other factors at play and decisions such as this are not a simple matter of win or lose. Moreover, with the Wellington and Washington agreements and RNZN participation in the annual US-led RIMPAC naval exercises, the bilateral military relationship between New Zealand and the US is pretty much back to first-tier partner status regardless of the symbolic stand-off about nukes. Add to that the fact that US nuclear submarines regularly patrol around (and some suggest in) NZ territorial waters, and the reality is that NZ’s non-nuclear status does not impede US naval operations near its shores regardless of what is said in public.

The issue of the US “relenting” is all about context. First off, the strategic environment has changed considerably. It is well known that US surface ships, with the exception of carriers, are all diesel power and as of 1991 have not carried tactical nuclear munitions. Even if resurgent, Russia no longer poses the global nuclear threat to the US that it once did, and although China has emerged as the giant’s rival in the last two decades, it still has limited capacity to project blue water force deep into the Pacific in a measure that would constitute a direct challenge to US maritime interests. However, the Chinese are working hard to address that imbalance, evident in their land reclamation projects in the South China Sea and their overtures to South Pacific island states with regard to naval port visits and fishing rights, something that the US views with concern and which in part motivates Vice President Biden’s whirlwind tour of the region this week. Likewise, the re-establishment of the Russian Pacific Fleet also signals that the era of US maritime supremacy is now subject to contestation, so the US well understands that it needs all of its military allies working off of the same page when it comes to these new challenges. Recognizing the RNZN on its anniversary is one small way of doing so.

More importantly, from the moment President Obama stepped into the Oval Office he made de-nuclearization a cornerstone of his foreign policy. The Iran nuclear deal, the increased sanctions levied on North Korea, the slowing of advanced weapons sales to Pakistan, the repeated attempts to engage in bilateral strategic ballistic missile reductions with Russia–all of these efforts were undertaken as part of Obama’s vision of a safer world. It is therefore completely logical given his commitment to a world without (or at least with lesser amounts of) nuclear weapons, that under his administration the US would relent on the issue of NZ’s non-nuclear policy. In fact, it can be argued that the Obama administration wants to highlight its agreement with the principled commitment to a non-nuclear stance by authorising a US ship visit on a ceremonial occasion with symbolic significance given that several other nuclear powers will be among the 30 odd nations sending naval vessels to the celebrations–including its new competitors.

I have publicly suggested that the US send the USS Mercy, a hospital ship home ported at Pearl Harbour. It would symbolise the humanitarian aspects of naval deployments that the RNZN claims as one of its core missions and would defuse the grounds for opposition of protesters who see US warships as imperialist death platforms. Surprisingly, this suggestion has been ridiculed by some (most on the Right) who say that a ship without guns is not “exciting” and is not a real naval vessel. Given that navies around the world have tenders, tankers, tugs, intelligence collection vessels and assorted other non-combat ships, it strikes me as strange that some people think that the US decision to send a navy ship is a victory for NZ and yet that victory must be confirmed with a warship visit as opposed to something with a non-combat purpose. Given that the NZDF spends much time publicising its non-combat, peacekeeping and humanitarian roles, I would have thought that a visit by a US naval vessel whose purpose was something other than kinetic operations would be perfectly suited for the occasion.

In the end the decision by the US to accept the invitation to send a ship to the RNZN anniversary celebrations was a triumph of good sense over bureaucratic intransigence within the US defense establishment, pushed as much by the president’s commitment to a nuclear weapons-free world as it is by the evolving strategic realities in the Western Pacific Rim that require the US to consolidate its military alliance commitments in the region. Some in NZ may think that it “won” and the US lost with its change of posture, but a simple glance at geopolitical realities suggests that it was not the NZ non-nuclear movement that forced the change so much as it is the influence of much broader factors in a context when haggling about nukes on board is about as relevant to modern naval warfare as is arguing about the relative merits of spinnakers and mainsails.

Lets Get Statistical!

datePosted on 12:32, July 22nd, 2016 by E.A.

I had half of this in the works when the latest results came out so it was a simple case of plugging them into what I was already working on. Apologies for the wonky layout on the stats, I tried, I really did.

Is anyone else slightly amazed at the astounding 10% in Nationals polling from 43% to 53% in one month via Roy Morgan?

Personally I am calling BS on this one right now.

I admit that I might be slightly bias in my opinion of National (see my previous posts where I have referred to them as criminal scumbags et al) but I don’t think even my bias would blind me to the fact that in our current clime of political ineptitude (housing crisis, diary failure, immigration concerns, housing crisis, possible trade wars, water concerns, housing crisis and the repellent and nauseating image of either Clinton or Trump in the Whitehouse) the mood of the nation would suddenly shift 250,000 people to the political right in the space of one month!

And the idea that 10% of the electorate just suddenly jumping to the right seems even more dubious when you look at these numbers:

NAT              53%             (+10%)

LAB              25%             (-2.5%)

GRN              11.5%            (-3.0%)

NZF              7.0%             (-2.0%)

MAR              0.5%              (1.5%)

UNF              0.0%             (Nc)

  ACT              1.0%              (+0.5%)

MAN              0.5%              (-0.5%)

CON              0.5%              (-0.5%)

What stands out is not just the stupendous surge in popularity with National but the large losses to the Greens, Labour and New Zealand First. I could imagine that some NZ First voters might jump ship (being relative neighbors on the political spectrum) but -3% from the Greens?

But Roy Morgan is just one of the three main thermometers (the other two being Colmar Brunton (TV1) and Reid Research (TV3)) taking the rectal temperature of our nation (sorry Fairfax and Digipol you don’t count).

So let’s compare the polling figures for all three from the last month before quarter of a million kiwis decided that National is the way to go (thanks to Curia Market Research for their handy blog which provides and updated blog on all three).


Colmar(TV1)         Roy                     Reid(TV3)

NAT       48% (-2%)            43% (-2.5)           47% (+0.3%)

LAB        29% (+1%)           28% (-1.5%)       31.3% (-1.0%)

GRN       12% (+2%)           14.5% (+2.5%)    11.1% (+0.9%)

NZF        9% (nc)                9.0% (+1%)          7.8% (+0.3%)

MAR        0.7% (-0.4%)        1.0% (+1%)          1% (-0.3%)

UNF        0.0% (nc)              0.0% (nc)              0.0 (nc)

ACT         0.3% (-0.4%)        0.5% (+0.5%)       0.4% (-0.4%)

MAN       0.0% (nc)              1% (+1%)               0.0% (nc)

CON        0.7% (+0.4%)        1.0 (+0.5%)           0.0% (-0.7%)


METHOD            Rnd Phone      Rnd Phone     Rnd Phone

SAMPLE              1509/1245     868/820        1000

UNDECIDED       15%           5.5%           Unknown

SUBSCRIBE         Yes           No             Yes

MARGIN              +/- 2.5%      n/a            +/- 1.9%


What one gets from last month’s polling is that while National was polling higher for the Colmar Brunton and Reid polls (%48 and 47% respectively) the Roy Morgan poll was down at 43% just 30 days ago the movement of National from previous months was down on two out of the three and the third (+0.3%) was well within the margin of error.

Further the average for National from all three polls was just 45%.

And Roy Morgan’s own data from previous months shows National in gentle decline from its previous high of 50% in April last year

This shows that National was either holding steady or declining under the ongoing pressure of current events and its own limp reactions.

David Farrer, who runs Curia, posts about this on KiwiBlog where he breaks the numbers down a bit more and concludes that while probably not a 10% jump the rise, is probably genuine.

Now I know better than to argue stats with anyone interested in stats, as being a stat freak myself (military stats rather than the more usual Kiwi field of sports stats), but they are only as good as their method of collection and the method of processing, and with all due respect to David (and his statistical probabilities of the data being correct), I am just not convinced that National has increased at all.

As David himself notes on Kiwiblog, it’s been a month of “relentless negativity” for the government after previous months of doom and gloom also. So where is the positive direction coming from? Where is the love for Key and his scaly minions hailing? It can’t be the media, the Reserve Bank or the general public.

And what statements or announcements from the Lizard King himself or any announced policy (Nationals weak willed attempt at dealing with the housing crisis?) could be driving this? Where is the momentum for 10% of those being polled to shift to National at the expense of all other parties?

Farrer again has his own take on this calling Roy Morgan a “yo-yo poll” which sounds like a polite way for statisticians to put each other’s work down.

But before we dive into that lets have a bit more of a look at political polling in Godzone.

Firstly two of the big three polls have to confirm to the New Zealand Political Polling Code by being members of the Research Association of New Zealand (RANZ). Guess which poll is not a member? Hint it’s not Colmar or Reid. This is probably because Roy Morgan is based in Australia.

The code is reasonably robust with prescriptions for conducting, reporting and publishing the data covering the sampling, the collection method, the weighting, the margin of error and results. It does have a few grey areas like excluding unlikely voters from the sample but in general is sound and if followed should lead to consistent and accurate results and transparent reporting.

Second have a look at the sample size, Morgans is by far the smallest at 820. Now I know that for polling you don’t need to poll all people to get a representative sample (usually above 1000 is considered acceptable) but I do know that polling at such small levels can magnify small shifts in the data (my own undergrad study in Pol Sci was relentlessly American in technique, which as anyone taught under that system knows is very heavy on data collection and analysis over theory or analysis).

Then there is the margin of error (MOE) and the undecided portion of the polling. Roy Morgan does not have a margin of error that I could find but did have a 5.5% rate of undecided voters. This is not as high as Colmar’s 15% for +/-2.5% margin from a sample of over 1500 people but in a poll of just over 860 people a nearly 50 person hole in the data is problematic to say the least. Also Reids data does not even include the number of people undecided so we only know that it was less than 1000 listed.

Now I’m not linking these two inextricably but in such polls the MOE and percentage of those undecided are key measures for how reliable your data is and not being bound by the Polling Code or having a MOE leaves me concerned at this result, yo-yo poll or not.

Of course Colmar’s 15% hole in the data and Reid’s undeclared undecided are also problems but at least there is a margin of error to give some guarantee and I will be surprised if their new data shows such shifts.

With all three polls there are deeper issues with the data, one of which is the method of polling (calls to households with landlines).  Current data from Stats NZ has landlines in NZ at 85% which means that any house without a landline is automatically excluded.

The standard “wisdom” for this is that any household without a landline would be extremely low income and not likely to vote anyway. The issue is that I myself have a cell phone and an internet connection in my house but not a landline and many people I know don’t have one either being that mobile and internet can cover all the bases in modern life better than a landline can AND we are all politically active (ie we vote!). But that does not appear to register for the pollsters.

So the assumption that no landline equals no political participation is dubious at best and flawed at worst. I do acknowledge that the high rate of non participation in politics in NZ, which is reflected in only 76% of eligible voters voting in the last election, may have some correlation with economic well being and possibly not having a landline but as far as I know there is nothing to show exactly what those numbers are. Buts that’s an issue for another day.

So back to the question, where is National supposedly getting this 10% surge in votes from? Probably, as Farrer noted, there is likely some statistical error or readjustment (ie they were too low so the previous results were out of whack so this month’s result is more a readjustment than a surge in votes. That theory I can accept but I remain dubious of any increase in popularity for National at all given the current pressure they are under.

But apart from my grumbles about Key and Co there is a lot of other interesting data that can be taken from all three polls.

The first is that United Future is 0.0% across the board and with no change from previous polls. Add to this that Dunne currently holds less than a 2% majority in his one and only electorate and it’s not hard to imagine what’s going on in both Peter Dunne’s and the other parties minds as they consider the coming election and any electorates which might be up for Grabs.

Another is that the Maori Party, United Future and ACT are all one seat parties and all living well within the margin of error. Loose that seat and its goodbye baby. In the case of Act and the Maori Party both hold comfortable majorities (12% and over 20% respectively) but as noted above United Future is the straggling calf in the herd of political Wildebeest and the predators are circling.

Another interesting statistic is that if you add Mana and The Conservatives to the above three then five out of the nine parties in the poll are functioning non entities politically (ie no real representation in NZ). All live within the margin of error and all are political equivalent of the living dead if not actually dead (Mana and the Conservatives). The fact that all these zombie political parties, barring Mana, are or would assemble under the banner of National cements John Keys status as the Necromancer king of New Zealand politics.

But the most telling statistics of them all is that no matter how much National is up or down in the polls no combination of Labour and the Greens has enough to beat National at this time. They come close, ironically, in the Roy Morgan poll of last month, but nowhere can they actually get enough in the numbers to beat any poll result national has.

And if you’re thinking like I am thinking then you already know what those results are really saying, which has been said before by myself and many others, which is that the balance of power in all of this remains the MP for Northland, Winston Peters!

But with the current Roy Morgan results not even Winston can help the Greens and Labour but as I have been saying I do not believe the results to be that high and such polling always gets closer come election time as minds are made up and campaigning has an effect.

And why did Labour go down in the polls after announcing its own policy on housing which is streets ahead of Nationals own tepid response? There had been cautious indicators that the Labour/Greens MOU had helped build both brands and raise both in the polls but the current stats would have us believe that both have suffered for it and for actually proposing a solution to the housing circus.

So what has happened here? Did National pay someone at Roy Morgan to fudge the results? I would not put it past them but let’s assume no for the moment.

But the message, if echoed by the other two polls results (soon to be out), could have a chilling effect on any momentum the two parties have been building up the last months as they keep the pressure on the government through an ongoing barrage of criticism AND alternate solutions.

Political polling is the barometer of modern politics with its desperate reliance on unstable voter bases and shiftless ideologies. But as I use the barometer in my kitchen to give me an idea of the what the next 24 hours weather will be I also take those results with a grain of salt as the local and immediate reality can and does differ.

Most of the time we take political polls as gospel and never question their results, they are the life giving air that inflates or deflates party fortunes in western democracies far more than anywhere else in the world but they are, at the end of the day, just statistics and while a useful tool and just measure of past performance are not, in the quantum storm that is politics, always a good indicator of things to come.

I remain dubious of the 10% jump in preference as well as National having any uptake in the current round of political polling but I will have to respect the data if they all come in with the same conclusion. The question I would then ask is why? This is something that the stats and statistical data can never really answer.

I’m a gambling man so I will happily take odds on this one. All bets payable next Monday morning.

I see that Andrew Little has announced Labour’s new policy on fixing the housing crisis but will drop the actual details on the weekend (link here).

Somehow I don’t think the fact that he announced it days after National wheeled out its own policy for solving the housing crisis was a coincidence.

For Little this is a big opportunity, National have dropped the ball in regards to housing time and again and, as many have said, “mucked around the edges” rather than do anything concrete to fix a situation that shows no sign of fixing itself.

If Labours new policy has some genuine fixes to the situation and is not just another policy gimmick then expect this to be a game changer in the coming election because if you don’t think housing will be an issue in voters’ minds in 2017 then you might as well click off this page, shut the computer down and take a walk round your ultra-palatial, multimillion dollar, property because you are probably the only person in New Zealand that thinks so.

Housing has been a running theme for several years now but the magnitude of the problem is no longer able to be ignored or swept under the rug. If normally hands off National has been forced to wheel out some sort of “policy response” to address the growing concern then you know it’s a growing issue.

As Chris Trotter noted in today’s paper, National has nothing less than the removal of the state from the housing market in NZ as its stated goal and anything they do is not going to change that. Its new policy sounds less like a fix, as other commentators have already pointed out, and more like a desperate illusion of a government out of ideas and unwilling to upset its backers who profit from the current housing crisis.

And John Key knows this as his warning to party faithful at the recent party conference in Christchurch last weekend (just down the road from my house) was all about not being complacent and expecting to breeze into a fourth term.

Perhaps it was also an understanding that Brand Key has lost some of its gloss and simply relying on a series of public relations spin and plastering his face on billboards won’t fix things (unless someone is going to build houses out of those billboards).

So National has played its cards on the housing crisis and Andrew Little and Labour (scrappy rebels that they are) have seen an opening and decided to take it by announcing their own solution to the housing crisis.

This is the “stealing the narrative oxygen” strategy I noted a few weeks back and the potential to make big political capital off this is not to be sneezed at.

But as always the proof is in the pudding and we will have to wait until the weekend to find out.

The media has already done some speculation on what’s coming up (by linking it to Labours Kiwibuild policy) and Little himself has hinted some more by noting that whatever else the policy will do it will get houses prices to “a figure that’s affordable”.

But what is “affordable”? Is it around $500,000 as Little seems to think? And if we take his anti-speculator comments as real then these questions become even more pertinent as where is the line between owning a house and speculation? Is it when you own more than one house? Is it when the average property is around $500,000 (as opposed to the $1,000,000 it is now for a house in Auckland)? Where does it lie?

What policy prescriptions will be given that will do anything to stop a bubble housing market from getting bigger, or worse reducing the damage from when the bubble bursts? The answer to this looming bubble of doom and gloom is likely to be, say it with me, STATE INTERVENTION, as leaving the market to continue on as it has been will clearly do nothing and there is no alternate other than state intervention to address a clear market imbalance (if readers have any other suggestions please feel free to add them in the comments).

Don’t think Labour won’t go down this road? Afraid that the Labour of the past three decades will rear its ugly head and roll over for the market? Well you may be right but in the climate of New Zealand’s housing crisis as well as the international mood of growing dissatisfaction with the Status quo means Little and Labour would be mad to not a) propose a vote winning solution to New Zealand number one issue; and b) tap into the growing dissent around the same old same olds of politics in Aotearoa.

The alternates are not pretty, especially now that Labour in the UK has effectively decided that outright public squabbling is the way to go and the recent results at the ballot box in Oz show that voters can’t make up their minds either.

And Andrew Little will have been watching his counterparts in the UK and OZ and doing the math in his head. He knows, as do many many others, that his position is only as secure as the support he has in cabinet, public perception of him and the ability of the Party to counter the current government in policy prescription.

So wheeling out more of the same is not likely to gain support of the public or the party and this is not a crisis that will just go away especially when the Reserve Bank, fronted by Graeme Wheeler is warning of a “sharp correction” in the housing market.

So in my mind the die has been cast, Little and Labour are going to announce a new housing policy which will be in effect ‘State Houses part II’. It makes sense and it would address the problem. It also is a clear distinction with National which is going to be key to winning the next election.

The opportunity here is prime and for a limited time only. The effect on the situation if Labour announced a sure and dedicated expansion in affordable public housing would be immense and tap into so many strands of concern that exists today (increasing homelessness, price speculation, the housing shortage etc).

If Labour don’t have anything which is a real solution AND catches the public’s imagination then expect a long and painful 16 months until the next election. We have the next five days to speculate. Go!

Brexit Smecksxit

datePosted on 09:04, June 28th, 2016 by E.A.

Still cant finish writing about Peter Dunne, thankfully we live in interesting times.

So the UK is leaving the EU. I can’t say I was surprised with the outcome but I have been with the post vote situation.

Either way it was a doom and gloom scenario for some people. If the vote was Leave then the UK sinks beneath the waves in an orgy of chaos and anarchy. If it was Stay then the UK is flooded with refugees and all semblance of English culture is washed away.

What has been interesting is that, much like the US and other democracies around the world, the established political order is being split along lines which have little to do with the prevailing political orthodoxy and more to do with the economic realities of their respective countries.

But it was the post vote grumbling that first got my attention as it appears that many of those who did not (and in some cases did) vote in the referendum have now decided that they don’t like the outcome and want another referendum so they can vote (a petition has been circulating) or demanding a weighting system for voters based on their age (so that the younger voters get more weight to any vote over the older). Both of these are the political equivalents of science fiction.

While democracy is a complex and often flawed beast it works the best at expressing the will of the people and usually only needs a majority to get a decision or change enacted and in the UK it appears that the older voters got out more than the young in an referendum with approximately 75% of the able population casting a vote. So while a close result (51% to 49%) there is not likely to be any going back because imagine the precedent such an action would set.

Don’t like the first outcome of an election or referendum? Have another and keep on until you get the outcome you desire (if such a thing is possible) while allowing the rest of the population to get the outcome they want. No, not going to happen! No government (much less a democratic one) in its right mind is going to let such a plant take root and flower as the fruits are surely chaos and civil war.

Meanwhile David Cameron has decided to step down after staking his reputation on the country remaining in the EU, which seems like a good outcome for those which don’t like Cameron and what he represents but few have seemed to consider who, or what, will fill his shoes and already the talk has turned to things like snap elections and “reaffirming the mandate”.

Possibly it will be Boris Johnson, ex-mayor of London and Tory MP who at least appears to have a sense of humor if his quotes are to be believed* but appears to be too controversial a figure to the more conservative members of the party to get the top job, but in these volatile times strange things can happen.

And in “possibly related” circumstances Jeremy Corbyn is facing down mass insurrection in his shadow cabinet over his failure to mobilize the populace to vote no to leaving with 35 MPs walking and Labours London youth wing spitting the dummy.

It’s been interesting to watch the degrees of reporting in the various totally not partisan English media about this but for me Corbyn has had the last word, at least for now, by tweeting that he was “elected as the Labour Party’s leader to redistribute wealth and power” as he retains the support of the actual party and the unions and that should be enough (for now).

Which makes sense if the argument that the voting in the brexit was along financial (and class) lines with those who were doing well and living in London arguing to stay while those who were not so well off and/or not living in London voting to leave (including a fair selection of recent immigrants to the UK if reports are to be believed).

It seems that Labour UK has finally reached the point where the contradictions inherent in the party have brought the situation to the point of crisis. It had been simmering away for some time since Corbyns rise to become party leader but perhaps the Champagne socialists in party needed an excuse to revolt and this looks to be it.

And between pondering what (or how many) knives Corbyn will soon be picking out of his back or what shambling horror will replace Cameron my thoughts briefly turned to Andrew Little and John Key here in safe, clean and neat New Zealand and how their situations would turn out if there was a vote for NZ to amalgamate with OZ or the South Island to split from the North (say goodbye to hydro power north island!).

But the most mind blowing of the things to come out of this post vote dust storm is the fact that Nigel Farage and UKIP have in effect backed away from reneged on  the very promises  they made while campaigning for the UK to leave (money spent on the EU would be transferred to the NHS), the day after they got the desired outcome!

Farage played rather loose on TV by claiming that it was not him but “the party” which had made this decision and I was left wondering if the two halves of his brain were actually connected as rarely has a politician so blatantly, rapidly and publicly reneged on a campaign promise (and survived!).

So it would be probably fair to say that the UK is in a little bit of turmoil at the moment


*- “My chances of being PM are about as good as the chances of finding Elvis on Mars, or my being reincarnated as an olive.”

“The dreadful truth is that when people come to see their MP they have run out of better ideas.”


What Price?

datePosted on 15:18, June 10th, 2016 by E.A.

This one bubbled up after a three week run of in depth work. I blame my subconscious.

One of the fun parts of being at university was attending lectures for subjects I was not actually enrolled in. One of these was economics. I was doing Political Economics in POLS but the un-enrolled course I was sitting in on was hard core, perfectly pure, Chicago School dogma being drummed into eager young acolytes all ready to get out there and be part of the machine.

It was interesting stuff and while I soon found it to 20% sound theory and 80% minute social mechanics and psychology BS packaged as truth but I continued to attend lectures for the rest of the year, sitting up the back, smugly standing out by my dress, hair length and general demeanour as not one of the true believers.

They knew I was an infiltrator because they didn’t see me at tutorials and I was not of the general mold of Economics students but since I could hold a conversation on general concepts, was up with market play and kept turning up no one ratted me out, to which I was thankful.

And one of the interesting things I learnt attending that course was the concept of externalities, which in general is when a business excludes a particular costs from a product or process from its cost calculations.

For example a factory using chemicals in its production process will not factor in the cost of the toxic waste it produces, that is dumped into the water, sky or environment, if it does not have to, thereby making the product cheaper and generating more profit for the business.

But the concept does not stop there and I remember being fascinated as the lecturer expounded further on whether the decision to exclude was deliberate or due to incomplete information and if it was deliberate how such deliberations played out in the cost/benefit calculations.

It was, as he calmly noted (like a Mongol warlord ordering a pile of heads to be built form the population of a conquered city), not something that any aspect of morality should have influence on and at the end of the day the decision was to be deliberately amoral, made on pure cost calculation alone (in the Mongol case a simple calculation that fear would weaken the enemy and make victory come easier). And when he presented within the frame work of the economic theory (which at the end of the day boils down to “how to make the most profit”) it made perfect sense.

Such theories are clear, clean and crystalline in their perfection and inside their own particular paradigm make perfect sense, all the part fit together and the machine functions smoothly (my favorite example of such a theory at the time was John Rawls Theory of Justice but I have mellowed in my age).

Of course unexpected or unwanted things do occur and no functional theory can simply exclude them if it wants to pass peer review but often the mechanism to enable this is to simply treat the rouge data as a black box effect (ie X goes in, we don’t know what goes on in there, and Y comes out) or to set it up as having minimal impact (an externality) and the results of such styles of thinking is to either run very quickly into dogma (as economics has done) when confronted with a more holistic situation than its mechanistic process can handle or fall before the new and more complete picture.

And the process goes something like this: Ignore, ridicule then accept but acceptance only occurs after the current adherents of a theory pass on or give up or when the truth is so absolute that it cannot be denied.

Of course logic itself can easily become as much of a dogma as any crack-pot theory or religion (I always laugh when I go to people’s houses and they have the oh so trendy “Thou shall not commit logical fallacies” wall chart in their toilet) and the purpose of this post is not to wade of into the realm of abstract philosophical concepts but to look at the idea (such as externalities) and examples of such in real life (something all good philosophies should be doing).

And it’s here where we start to swing this post back towards the title of this blog, Kiwi (ie New Zealand) politics. But before people turn off thinking I am on another one of my rogernomics rants I beg a moment to show that I am not and am in fact looking at something far more relevant and current, poverty in New Zealand.

There is a reason why social safety nets exist. There is a reason why NZ built state housing in the 30s. There is a reason why states have laws to regulate economic and other activities and those reasons are, while possibly not absolute, due to a clear and obvious acceptance of most if not all related costs (to the state as well as groups and individuals), or to put it in other terms, refusal to allow externalities.

Now before someone accuses me of Keynesian leanings, that’s John Maynard Keynes not John Moneymarket Key for those not in the know, it’s worth pointing out that I am not advocating any solution which is can be simply boiled down to “make the state pay for it” any more than our PM is advocating “let the market take care of it” (although that is what he is doing).

Oh no it’s not that simple, but then again holistic theories never are. Reality is, often a messy beast that will not only track dirt into the house but also trail dirty paw/foot prints all over the rug, hide a nasty little surprise behind (or under the couch) and generally make you wish you never owned/spawned a cat/dog/children.

But back to poverty in NZ; right now, without going too far into media histrionics, the questions are: Do we have poverty in NZ, is it widespread, is it growing and (most importantly) what can we do about it?

Currently we have media reports of families sleeping in cars and garages, the government (mostly though ultra-hypocrite Paula Bennett, a previous receiver of state support and funding for education and living but also our beloved PM doing his best to put his “thinking serious face” on when confronted by the media) suggesting they live in motels or just go online and fill in some forms, beggars on the streets of the major cities and state housing stock (and the attendant social capital that it creates) being sold off to let the market take care of things but are these things sufficient to say we have a poverty problem in NZ?

For me the answer/bellwether of the answer to this question was not the media (because they rarely drive events or discussion they just respond to them) or looking out my window (I live in a resolutely blue collar neighborhood) but to the tone of those who support the current government and that tone is starting to change.

A good spike in the data to me was when erstwhile columnist now turned committed blatherer, Jane Bowron, used one of her columns to criticize John Key and the current government and it was poverty in NZ which was the switch she used to cut some strips on our kava swilling PMs backside (I’m hoping Pablo will be wading into the PMs Fiji Visit).

Now Mz Bowron may be a dyed in the wool Green voter in private for all I know but her column is resolutely mainstream and a rather noxious mix of folksy reminiscences, cut rate platitudes and dull day to day observations which are nothing if not well in touch with the main herd and its group consensus but also safely espousing/reinforcing the herds view.

And when one of the herd starts up on topics of such nature and unloads a double barrel of criticism on the current government you know a line has been crossed.

And it’s not just her, the fact that the mainstream media has finally picked up on what is not exactly a new problem (those families sleeping in cars were out where they were a long time before the TV news crews came a calling) and there seem to be subtle changes in the ongoing narrative around the poor, the unemployed and the homeless is enough to trigger a consciousness shift*.

John Key, National, Labour and much of the electorate have treated these issues as externalities for a long long time while not realising the grim flipside to dismantling the welfare state and its only now as that beloved kiwi dream, that of the quarter acre pavalova paradise, is now slipping out of reach of more than just a few poor buggers at the bottom that its beginning to register.

It’s not that home ownership is the main issue, because it’s not, but it’s that home ownership is a core plank in any welfare reform program from all budding peasant revolutionaries’ promises of land for the people to the sub-prime crisis in the US. Its integral to any welfare program and sits low down on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

So when you have families living in cars, government departments housing homeless in motels (at a cost they have to pay back) increasing people on the streets AND general house and living costs racing out of reach of average pay packets and entering the realm of market speculation AND middle ground opinion starting to show a growing intolerance with the situation you have a slow but gradual rejection of political, social and economic externalities of poverty in NZ (and the attendant economic and political theories) and the beginning of a more holistic, more realistic view of NZ (complete with acknowledging the value of the market but also the worth of the people that actually compose it).

But if it’s not to plainly spelt out enough at this time let me take it one step further.

Somewhere in the 19th century when Europe created the model of the welfare state and began to address the problems of the growing underclass (and all its associated problems) that capitalism (then in its unadulterated rapacious stage) was creating the choices were clear: take steps to address the problems created by unleashing mercantile greed and labour saving technology on a feudal and mostly rural population or face the consequences and after the 1840s and several socialist near misses the consequences would be more likely to be a return to the savagery of the French revolution (then still a recent memory for many) than anything else.

More than now their eyes were open and ignoring the externalities was not an option. Funny how having a good proportion of the ruling class executed in front of a blood thirsty mob can bring about clarity (sometimes if only for a split second before the blade drops) in those that survive.

And today the focus of the battle is between the ideology of externalities (economics) and the grim meat hook realities waiting if we continue to ignore what we know is happening (a forceful and deliberate realignment of our social and economic priorities or at minimum a bloody attempt to do so buy those most affected by the purposeful and deliberate decline in our nation’s social and living standards by a cabal of ideologically lead criminals that we call politicians and their patrons).

Does that mean we will have revolution in NZ? Maybe, maybe not. The Kiwi psyche seems ill adjusted to sing the hymns of Viva Revolution or Liberty, Fraternity and Equality! But it does seem well suited for the kind of passive aggressive resistance common of general populations living in totalitarian regimes. None the less I would find it hard to see any real loss if such a thing did occur and a selection of MPs, lawyers and accountants were put up against the well in order to ensure that the rest toe the line.

It’s the reason democracies have elections (ritualized revolutions) rather than actual revolutions complete with real bloodshed and the ruling class being executed or imprisoned. Perhaps that’s why John Key is currently hobnobbing with the “duly elected” PM of Fiji; he is getting some advice on how to stave off an uprising.

And while some families living in cars seems like a far cry from and all-star cast singing and dancing their way through the French revolution it’s the fact that the traditional supporters of externalizing the costs of turning NZ into a free market bastion are starting to grumble that makes me wonder as one of the key tenents of counter revolutionary theory is that if you leave it until there are armed bands roaming the hills your chances of fixing it are almost nil.

It has to be caught before it gets to that point, when there are no obvious, flaming symbols of resistance and it often relies on more subtle readings of the situation than any crystalline theory can predict or is willing to acknowledge. And while it may not be the poor and miserable doing the leading, it will sure as be some motivated individual who is willing to say what the mob wants to hear that will be at the front.

In the US, the right has fallen prey to demagoguery while the left seeks to suppress through modulated pacification and assimilation of key themes while keeping the status quo in place.

In NZ the climate for 2017 is ripe for messages and possibly actions. At first it was dildos and mud but for how long?


*- The fact that Chris Trotter has been going on about this for ages is beside the point as he is an identified dyed in the wool socialist and the medias resident dispenser of left opinion.

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