Ansell’s talents underemployed

datePosted on 21:29, February 17th, 2009 by Lew

John Ansell, author of the famous and fabulously effective 2005 National party billboard campaign, has been blogging since September last year. As a political communication geek, I kept an eye on his site for the first month or so, but unfortunately neglected it before he published a lot of proofs of material – billboards, banners and newspaper ads for the ACT campaign, and a couple for National, many of which I’d not seen. His services were not in high demand for the 2008 election, but I think they should have been. Regardless of whether you agree with the policy positions these advocate, the point is to convey a message, and I think these do that job admirably. The parties currently outside government have a great deal to learn from those in government in this regard.

Click on this one, my nomination for Most Outrageous NZ Propaganda Image of 2008, for the whole lot. They’re worth it.

Just try to imagine the outcry if it had been hung from the Ghuznee St overpass.

L

Boliviarian or Stalinist?

datePosted on 15:54, February 17th, 2009 by Pablo

Victory in the constitutional referendum on removing term limits on Venezuelan presidents and National Assembly members has been heralded as a mandate for Hugo Chavez to continue the process of deepening his so-called “Boliviarian Revolution.”  His supporters see the open-ended election option as the best guarantee that the socialist and populist -inspired reforms implemented by Chavez during the last decade will continue for the next one. Opponents (who received 46 percent of the “No” vote to 54 percent in favour of the “Yes” vote in the referendum) believe that this event will entrench the slide towards Stalinism evident for the last few years (in which Chavez engineered constitutional reforms that allow him to stack the judiciary and parliament with his followers, and places the armed forces at the service of his “Bolivarian” ideals).  Given the heat generated on both sides, the question is whether Chavez is a a neo-Stalinist in disguise or a new form of democratic socialist responding to the exigencies of the 21st century Latin American context.

To be clear: Chavez has handily won every election he has contested, has survived a (US-backed) coup attempt and was restored by popular acclaim, has reduced poverty levels and increased literacy and health standards with massive funding  from state-controlled oil profits (and with Cuban technical assistance in the form of hundreds of doctors and teachers performing their “internationalist” missions–a Cuban version of the US Peace Corps, if you will), has provided developmental aid and low-cost petroleum to several Latin American neighbours as well as low-income communities in the US, has expanded Venezuela’s web of diplomatic and economic partners, and has served as a champion of the anti-imperialist cause in Latin American and elsewhere by pushing for more egalitarian trading blocs organised around “socialist” principles of fair exchange. He is the most popular Venezuelan leader since Simon Bolivar himself, and like Juan Peron in Argentina, Getulio Vargas in Brazil or Lazaro Cardenas in Mexico during the last century, his appeal to the working and lower classes is equalled by his hatred by the local elites and distrust by larger foreign powers.

On the other hand, Chavez has closed down opposition media and imposed a censorship regime on what his government deems to be “traitorous” commentary; he has armed citizen militias to ensure the “purity” of his “revolution” and to guard against traitors; he has replaced independent military commanders with personal cronies and embarked on a massive military spending spree in anticipation of a US attack that most security analysts believe is a figment of his imagination; he has failed to deal with the country’s escalating crime rate and deteriorating infrastructure; he has failed to invest in the oil industry to the point that production is now 25 percent below what it was ten years ago (although that was disguised by high oil prices up until this past year); he allocates public good provision based solely on partisan adherence to his Boliviarian Party, with the funding criteria being that no funding goes to agencies or individuals not affiliated with his Party. To that effect he has required state registration of all organised interests and collective actors, thereby marginalising those who refuse to register or register as independents or unaffiliated. He has embraced Iran, North Korea and Russia as diplomatic partners, and has threatened to nationalise foreign assets in Venezuela without market value compensation (or negotiation of value). He has been accused of funding and supplying weapons to guerrilla forces in Colombia and elsewhere in the region, as well as providing illegal cash payments to sympathetic politicians in other countries (the most prominent being a money-for-influence scandal involving president Kischner of Argentina). His government is accused of replacing the kleptocratic oligarchy of the Accion Democratica and COPEI governments in the past with red-clad slogan-spouting thieves in the present.

With oil prices in decline and demand slacking, lower anticipated revenues means budgetary shortfalls will hit hard this year, forcing Chavez to curtail some of his spending projects. Some argue that is why he pushed for the re-election referendum now, before the recession bottomed out, so that he could impose austerity and betray his campaign promises by force. There are signs of organised anti-semitism among Boliviarian militias and para-military squads, and there are reports that student activists as well as wealthy opposition figures have been the subject of intimidation, beatings and arbitrary arrest. Yet, the elections that Chavez wins, and the referenda that he holds, are inevitably characterised by impartial observers as fair and clean, so such acts would appear to be unecessary in any event. Since Chavez has a fair dose of political smarts, why would he authorise activities that were not needed given his popularity and ability to rule in a transparent fashion?

To be sure, being anti-imperialist does not mean that he is democratic. Engaging in popular redistribution programs does not mean he is democratic. Enjoying a large positive majority in public opinion polls does not mean that he is democratic. But what all of this does mean is that unlike the Latin American military dictators of the 1960s through the 1980s (all backed by the US), he can walk the streets of Caracas without fear of a riot–and not because his armed supporters surround him. Thus the question must be asked: even if he annoys Western powers, irritates neighbouring governments, buys favours at home and abroad and exhibits messianic and narcissistic traits that are at times both intemperate and intolerant, is it not for Venezuelans to decide what he is and  is not? Although he can continue to run for office, so long as elections remain free, fair and the standard for leadership selection, and even admitting the advantages that go to an incumbent such as he (where he can use the entire state machinery to mobilise his supporters), it is that mechanism–the institutionalised uncertainty of elections–that ultimately allows Venezuelans to decide whether Boliviarianism is a benefit or a curse. The combination of free elections, the need to address social problems in a non-partisan way, and the uncertain fortunes of a sclerotic  oil-dependent economy are the best hedge against further personalisation and authoritarian hardening of the Boliviarian dream.

Pen propaganda

datePosted on 12:22, February 17th, 2009 by Lew

Uniball: your first line of defence.

(Link)

A cracking example of someone trading on their TV reputation as someone lacking credulity in order to make you more credulous.

(Via Bruce Schneier, who points out that they haven’t even got their facts right, conflating checkwashing with identify theft.)

L

Progressive bills and freedom of information

datePosted on 09:22, February 17th, 2009 by Anita

No Right Turn is running a wiki for the development of Progressive bills, it’s a great opportunity to figure out some progressive possibilities and get them happening. So if there’s any way you’d like to make NZ more progressive, and you can imagine it being achieved through a private members bill this is the place for you! :)

I”m currently struggling with how to improve our freedom of information legislation, the Mexican model has some real possibilities, but it’s not as easy as one might hope.

My goal is two fold, firstly to extend the amount of information made available (extending it to Parliament and so on) and secondly to make it harder for agencies to game.

My experience with OIAs is that some agencies are lovely, when others require chasing, more chasing before they provide incomplete and overdue responses (at which point the Ombudsmen can sort it out), but it makes a mockery of the current rules, and is unreasonably time and energy intensive. I’m not sure whether legislative change would fix it, or whether a fundamental cultural change is required

The principle underpinning freedom of information is that it’s our information and our government; and that transparency increases justice, fairness and accountability, yet many agencies behave as if they have a right to secrecy and evasion. What would change the attitude?

Issues

datePosted on 20:16, February 16th, 2009 by Lew

Plenty of words have been written about the class and race aspects of Pihema Cameron’s death. How about a picture:

cameron-emery

(Amateurish hack of this – or without evil flash here.)

L

What does at mean that they’re “one of us”?

datePosted on 06:00, February 16th, 2009 by Anita

Over the last couple of weeks there’ve been a number of threads floating round blogs about what it means when “one of us” does something wrong.

Tane has a great post at The Standard about Bruce Emery’s conviction

Let’s not pretend for a second that Emery would have got off so lightly if he was an unemployed Maori and his victim a middle class Pakeha child, tagger or not.

Tim Selwyn and Deborah express similar sentiments. Being one of us has elicited public sympathy and a reduced sentence, as Deborah wrote

Being a white middle class man is a mitigating factor.

Luddite Journo takes the next step to look at the victim rather than the murderer, in a piece titled You can only be a victim if you own a house she writes

Much of New Zealand identifies with only one person in this case – and it’s not the boy who was killed. 

[As an update, Morgue has a great post in which he suggests that the issue is not the treatment of people-like-us, it's our treatment of people who are not like us. Emery got appropriate empathy, but we don't extend it to others]

On similar themes but different incidents Maia writes two posts about why we try to construct rapists as other, and all over the media and blogs people struggle with the way Paula Bennett is one of us but her grandchild’s father is not.

Why is it such a contentious issue? Because is all the bad things in the world are the fault of other people we can sit back and do nothing. This view is well illustrated by Stuart at StuRants:

I’ve now realised there are at least two New Zealands: the one I live in, and the one where all this stuff happens. As yet, the two have never intersected, but until they do (and may God spare me that misfortune!) I refuse to feel bad about it.

This is somewhat at odds with the prevailing politically correct argument that when a child is beaten to death or whatever we are all responsible. Sorry, but no. I can’t think of anything I could have done to cause these things, or anything I can do to stop it happening.

The reality is that people like us kill people, and those killings are just as wrong as the ones that are committed by criminals on benefits in state houses. The domestic violence, rapes and child abuse that is committed by the educated middle class is just as damaging as any other kind. It is only by accepting that these terrible things are done by people like us that we will learn to stop them.

Is New Zealand Unsafe?

datePosted on 22:49, February 15th, 2009 by Pablo

The Dutch travel advisory on New Zealand, which followed two violent assaults on Dutch tourists this summer, places Aotearoa alongside other destinations such as the Congo, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Brazil as places where tourists are targets of criminal, as opposed to political violence. Criminal targeting of tourists in New Zealand is neither new or surprising; in fact, it has  a rather long history. What is apparently new is the escalating violence of crime in New Zealand, not only against tourists but against the population at large. In fact, it is locals, not tourists who suffer the brunt of criminal violence in this country. That much is obvious.

But what are the causes for the upsurge in violence, and what can be done about it? This is one area where the Left are at a disadvantage, as Right anti-crime advocates can always use the issue of personal responsibility and the  “get tough” canard as their rallying cry (as ACT did this past election). To that the Left has a variety of responses, most centred on decreasing poverty rates, decriminalising various low-level offenses and focusing on rehabilitation rather than punishment of offenders. But then the media offers more stories about more rapes and murders, gang intimidation. bail violators, increasingly aggressive boy racers, thuggish taggers and their angry (and armed) detractors, home invasions, domestic violence, child abuse and murder, all seemingly nurtured in a climate of police ineptitude, indifference, bias and corruption. For the pubic at large, the news is bad on all fronts, and it spells one thing: the criminals are winning, and the Left have no response other than to wring their hands.  The last election clearly shows that the NZ public are not buying the Left approach to criminality, so new answers need to be formulated.

It is easy to point at alcohol and P as the cause of increased violent crime. It is easy to blame the vulgarisation of social discourse. It easy to blame failed families, the deleterious impact of the dole in creating generations of welfare addicts, the failings of the education system, bad role models in sports and pop culture, the influence of pernicious foreign music and video and their local imitators. It is easy to blame race or cultural factors. It is easy to push for tougher sentences and bigger prisons (even private ones). But is that really getting to the heart of the problem? Could it be that there is something at the heart of the NZ collective psyche at the beginning of the 21st century that has given foundation to the urge towards violence? Or is the issue structural?

Put another way. Could it be that in NZ the neoliberal-inspired, market darwinist experiments of the last 20 years have coupled with a pre-neoliberal bullying, raping, drinking, patriarchical and xenophobic culture to terminally erode notions of collective solidarity and empathy and replace them with an over-exalted hyper individualist ethos in an environment of ostentatious material wealth, shallow celebrity culture, over-the-top conspicuous consumption and increasing income inequality? (Now THAT was a mouthful!) Under such conditions, where the gap between the haves and the have-nots grows exponentially while the dominant socioeconomic themes  are for individuals to maximize their opportunities regardless of consequence, could it not be that this offers a social sub-text that extends past the “greed is good” mantra of radical libertarians and into the rationalisations of the criminally minded? Could it be that there is an ugliness inside the NZ collective psyche that was raised to the surface by two decades of market-driven prescriptions and the material dislocations they brought to both traditional and new members of the local underclass–an underclass that now finds emulators throughout the social spectrum? Could it be that a culture that produced Ed Hillary and Willie Apiata produces them only as exceptions to a general rule of selfishness and latent rage that takes just a minor provocation or enticement to be unleashed? Could that be the root of the problem?

Of course, issues of police competence, individual responsibility, generational dysfunctionality, and punishment versus rehabilitation need to be addressed by the Left in a way that does not cede the floor to the Right when it comes to tackling the issue. But where the Left has its best argument is in the socioeconomic bases of increasingly violent criminality in NZ, and it is in that argument that the Left’s solutions to the issue may be found. One thing is for sure: tax cuts will not solve the problem, and until then New Zealand has become a country that for  locals and tourists alike is alarmingly unsafe. I am no criminologist, so must defer to those who are when it comes to formulating a comprehensive remedy for the problem of increasingly violent crime in NZ. But I can say this: Above all other issues of domestic policy, it is this issue that the Left needs to confront if it is to regain political credibility in the eyes of the (scared) electorate.

The revolution is handmade

datePosted on 21:15, February 15th, 2009 by Anita

Hand crafts have been woven into many forms of activism over the last few decades; as symbols o the rejection of mass produced consumer goods, as opportunities for individual expression, and as a way of challenging the sterile cities we live in. Rayna Fahey of the Radical Cross Stitch and the Melbourne Revolutionary Craft Circle will be speaking in Wellington this Tuesday night about crafts and social justice.

I was lucky enough to grow up in a home where I learned to cook, sew, garden, embroider, knit and do origami. My extended family repertoire included pottery, batik, awesome cookery, and a variety of other fabric and craft arts. I remember the people who have shared new crafts with me over the years; the women who taught me to pour candles, the girl with whom I made incense, the woman who showed me how to reweave in threads to fix embroidery mistakes.

Every one of those people has left an imprint of caring on my life – that is a big part of what craftivism is, valuing each individual and each conversation, remembering our unique skills and talents. Without that we would be no more than cogs in a factory line.

I do believe it's not butterA few weeks ago, Gordon Campbell wrote an excellent fisk of the Media Biz 09 conference advertising bumpf. This morning on Mediawatch (from 06:30) Colin Peacock covered the issue in characteristic depth, interviewing the conference organiser and two of its luminary speakers, the ones who would “share the secrets of getting your message across positively”, help delegates “get inside the minds of the men whose leadership shapes what the viewing audiences see” and enable them to “get your story to the top of the pile”. Three wise and grizzled industry heads, when questioned by Peacock, emphasised two things; first, that the marketing material was breathless over-hyped bullshit, and second, there were in fact no secrets to impart:

Mark Jennings, TV3 Head of News and Current Affairs:

“I think the marketing for this event has been over-egged [...] I can tell you right now that if anybody coming to this conference thinks they’re going to learn any super-secrets on how to handle the media, they’re mistaken. There aren’t any great big secrets, and if there was, we wouldn’t be divulging them.”

Mark Sainsbury, TV One Close Up Host:

“I paid no attention to the marketing of this thing. I had quite a simple inquiry from Rob Harley saying they were doing this conference, that it was mainly for voluntary groups, community organisations in terms of how to understand the media [...] This is the conference as it was sold to me, and the marketing, of course, as you well know, is something totally different. You don’t go along to, almost a semi-public conference, and people are somehow going to be handing over the secrets. [...] I mean, there is no great sort of secret to hide or anything to impart.”

Rob Harley, Media Biz 09 Organiser:

“I’m wondering what they [journalists not involved in the conference who have expressed concerns] think those secrets are. [...] we could argue the toss all morning about how we worded the brochure, or whether if we’d spent a bit more time workshopping it we could have got it right, fair point.”

I have a few questions in response to this rather remarkable set of statements.

1. Given that there are in fact no great secrets, why would anyone attend such a conference, at a cost of $2k per delegate?
2. If the conference is in fact pitched at the voluntary sector, community groups, educators and the like, variations of which were affirmed by all three speakers including Harley, why is it billed as “the ultimate conference for business people seeking more effective use of the media”, and why does it cost $2k per delegate (a cost far beyond the budgets of most such groups)? Come on, the word `biz’ is even in the conference title!
3. Why would anyone take communications advice from a bunch of people who have so abjectly failed to: a. communicate the purpose of their conference; b. correctly identify its target audience; c. market their conference material in such a way that it actually has some relationship with reality; d. avoid negative publicity for all of the above; and e. make any sort of justification to combat negative publicity stemming from the above failures, other than `well, yeah, the marketing is bollocks and there are no secrets anyhow’?

It’s possible to view this either as sinister or incompetent: either the conference organisers and the news agencies involved are just utterly incompetent and are now making excuses, or there is a co-ordinated post-hoc damage control programme underway, as those same people try to spin the story away from Gordon Campbell’s argument that this was a sinister meeting of the news and PR industries and an assault on media independence.

According to all three interviewees, the real purpose of the conference was to allow news professionals to try to help people understand how the media works at an operational level so as to help them make it easy for the media to run their story: essentially, promoting media literacy among sectors who are traditionally not media literate. This ostensibly to combat cases like the example Rob Harley gave, where “everybody lost because the requisite information was not included in the news, stuff that had been said overseas which really needed to be commented on in New Zealand went begging for an explanation.” He’s absolutely right – there is a strong public good in having all sectors of the community meet a minimal standard of communications expertise. This sort of training can be a hugely important service, imparting skills (not `great secrets’) which are already widely exercised in business circles to groups without the capacity to employ trained comms staff or PR firms.

So, in my view, Rob Harley and the others involved in Media Biz 09 have a great opportunity to match their actions to their fine words about media literacy and the community and voluntary sector, by inviting a few delegates from key community or voluntary organisations to attend on a pro-bono or subsidised-fee basis. The conference is (presumably) too close to deadline to cancel, according to Harley it probably won’t break even anyhow, and I can’t see this epic PR fail helping to lift enrolment among the monied businessfolks at whom it’s targeted. But there’s no doubting the credentials of the speakers, and it’ll probably be a cracking two days. An opportunity for those involved to do some good, restore a bit of goodwill in the media, and wipe some egg off their well-known faces.

Edit: Gordon has emailed me to point out the seemingly-obvious, that they’re not so much knaves or fools, but apparently knaves then fools.

Edit, 20090217: Event director Richard Nauck told bFM’s Jose Barbosa a few interesting facts. First, he says half the registrations are non-profit organisations, while most of the remainder are small-business and schools; second, all the non-profits got in for half-price, and only about 20% of attendees have paid full-price; third, he “truly regrets” the use of the word `secrets’ in the advertising bumpf. In the same session, Jose also interviewed Brian Edwards, who does this sort of thing himself, but retains grave concerns about the conflicts of interest for the media people involved.

L

Because she’s Indian

datePosted on 23:51, February 13th, 2009 by Lew

Now, I don’t have a Facebook account. I’ll rant to you another time about why I consider social networking to be a form of mass surveillance; just let it be said than before hiring anyone, and I’ve hired a lot of people in the past few years, I check out their social networking pages. But damn, it’s wild what some people will put up there in public.

Anyhow, my wife has a Facebook account, and she just found that someone she knows has a child whose ethnicity is listed on some official form as `Indian/NZ European/Pakeha’, who got automatically enrolled in an ESOL course upon enrolment at some school. Yes; apparently you can get yourself automatically enrolled in a course in school because of your ethnicity. (Think of the possibilities! I’d start with enrolling everyone of `NZ European/Pakeha’ in the full suite of Te Reo Māori courses).

Apparently she found it pretty easy and reckoned she was the best in the class; she’d been speaking English and nothing else ever since she was born.

Now, there was a fair bit of the old `moribund bureaucratic state schools’, and rightly so. But what I think was grand about the ensuing discussion was that people universally found it absurd that someone would be prejudged on their stated ethnicity. Best quote: “Maybe they could teach her Indian as a second language?”

Good stuff.

L

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