Friday, 29 November 2013

How to put the Con in Conservative ....

Colin Craig's supporters are baying for Chris Trotter's blood because Trotter criticised him. One chap in a letter to The Press even described Trotter's comments as verging on 'hate speech'.  I wonder if that person felt the same about Al Nisbett's racist cartoons?

So, what does the perpetually smiling Mr Craig stand for?  The superstructure may have been painted to resemble moderate conservatism but the base is that of the far Right.   I think the Keyster has told Craig how to walk the electoral tightrope - to persuade the far Right (for whom National is too soft) to vote for him but without ending up looking like the New Zealand Taliban which might scare mainstream National voters, and give the opposition some great ammunition.  

National will do an Epsom to ensure Craig gets an electoral seat and the magic 5%; the Greens and Labour won't do a deal to avoid splitting the vote and voila! we will have another 3 years of neo-liberalism. Just what the oil industry ordered.

No doubt the Craigster is as much an opportunist as one would expect and will have sorted himself a cabinet position.The poor schmucks who vote him in won't realise they've been hoodwinked and used as electoral cannon fodder until it's too late and, tragic though it is, some won't ever realise it. 

So how is Craig conning the increasingly impoverished Kiwi working class? What's he promising them?

Will he:

Raise the ludicrously low minimum wage? No, because that would be 'a cost to businesses and lead to job losses'.   (Of course sensible people know this is not necessarily the case because government could help small businesses, promote buy local, stop the export of capital, enforce tax laws etc and big business could easily cut its massive management costs, reduce shareholder dividends etc. But the monetarist mantra is that raising wages makes business less profitable  - which actually proves the Marxist theory of surplus value. Ironic or what?)

Remove income tax and leave only GST? No, that's too complicated.

Raise the tax threshold? Yes, and to a whopping $25000 - which would mean part-time low paid workers and all those living on superannuation only would pay no tax, and those on the minimum wage working a 40 hour week would pay almost no tax. 

If the tax threshold is raised - what would he cut to make the savings necessitated by the reduction in tax revenue?  My answers:

Police? No, can't cut the police because they're necessary for crowd control and most of them vote National.

Prisons? No, can't cut prisons because they're also necessary, otherwise why have police? Some of Sheriff Joe's ideas to save costs might be tempting, but if prisons are privatised and big business is permitted to use prison labour as they do in the USA, they can't make the conditions too tough or the prisoners won't be able to work as hard.  Tricking the tax payer into subsidising big business is just too good a joke - it ranks up there with the one about wealth trickling down.

Military? No, can't cut the defence force because they might be needed to back up the police.

Civil Service and local government? Can't cut the top levels because they mostly vote National but there's bound to be some slack identified in the front line services and there's definitely scope for some creativity - e.g.  chain gangs for road works, plant and animal pest control. Get the spin guys onto that one John.

Education? Now that's definitely a contender. Increase class sizes, remove all 'unnecessary' elements of the curriculum in working class schools, give free rein to charter schools, lower the school leaving age, reduce teacher holidays - plenty of scope. It's bound to increase the prison population and thereby the pool of publicly subsidised forced labour - so what's not to like about that? And who needs an educated working class anyway?

Income support?  Yes, that seems like a popular area for cuts but .....

Can't cut invalid benefits too much because sick, disabled beggars on the streets isn't a good look for a first-world country.

Can't cut the rest home subsidy because that would affect all the rich National voting people who own or have shares in rest homes, and a lot of wrinklies vote National.

Can't cut the housing subsidy because landlords charge rents that low paid workers can't afford, and we have to keep wages down to keep profits up - so the housing subsidy is actually a subsidy for landlords and employers. 

Can't cut support for families as too many right wingers like that one, leastways not unless we give them more tax cuts.

CAN cut unemployment benefit because the spin doctors have done such a good job in persuading the target audience that it's only useless lazy work shy (brown) people who don't have jobs. In fact they've done such a good job spinning this I reckon they could bring back the workhouse and there'd be people who'd argue it was too soft.

Raise the retirement age? Hmm. That'd be unpopular with the working class but it's very likely because it won't affect most of those who vote National. Besides, it's a hoot, give them a tax break and make them pay for it themselves by working an extra 2 or 3 years before an impoverished retirement and  hopefully they'll die before they get to it or too far into it, thus saving on the rest home subsidy. Win win! And as jokes go - it's right up there with the private use of prison labour and trickle down wealth.

So, there's not all that much scope but there is the big diversion- Craig's favoured child - the binding citizen initiated referendum. CIR = People Power!

On the CP website someone asked the question - "would the Conservative Party honour the results of previous referenda, in which the vast majority of NZer's rejected Govt. legislation, such as the homosexual law reform, civil union bill, same sex marriage legislation, the anti-smacking bill, and the decision to keep the number of MP's at about 120?  Would our party be bold enough to reverse such iniquitous legislation imposed against the majority voice?" 

Interesting what's included in the list of 'iniquitous legislation', given the first three were not subject to a CIR. A curious omission was prostitution law reform - but maybe the writer approves of that. It's also interesting that CIRs were regarded by the Royal Commission on the Electoral System 1986 as  'blunt and crude devices... that  blur the lines of accountability and responsibility of Government.'  I guess that's why the Ranting Right like them so much. Look at the parties and organisations which have supported CIRs - ACT, NZ First, Family First NZ, Sensible Sentencing Trust,  Kiwi Party and now the Conservative Part - it's Amygdala Central. Even the Maxim Institute doesn't want them to be binding.

Craig's answer was a classic tightrope walk - he promised to honour the outcome of referenda but as CIRs currently are not legally binding, that's pretty meaningless and there's no way he'd be able to force through legislative changes.

Any working class Kiwi who thinks that Colin Craig gives a rodent's fart about them, is deluded. And that's my final word on the subject - for now at least.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

The Politically Incorrect Guide to Forensic Psychology....

Nigel Latta’s celebrity and professional cachet as a clinical psychologist add considerable weight to his theories about criminals. With Mark Lundy out on bail, it's interesting to look back on Latta’s pronouncements about him - and others - in the Beyond the Darklands (BTD) series.
Latta didn’t address the soundness of Lundy’s conviction. As far as Latta was concerned Lundy's guilt was a given. Clearly the six Judges of the Privy Council and the QC and members of the legal team who worked on Lundy's appeal were not of the same mind as Latta or journalist Jane Clifton, who wrote in a Dominion Post article :

"Though there has been much debate about the correctness of the jury decision to convict Lundy, owing to controversy about the timings of events the night of the murder, no-one seeing this programme can be left with much doubt." 
It’s easy to see why Clifton’s article is reproduced on the website of Screentime, the company that makes BTD. She wrote:
"It's hard to imagine a more useful and engrossing programme than Beyond the Darklands…Not only is it world-class in production terms, with skilful winding-in of docu-drama, but it helps viewers to understand the most bewildering questions about some of our most horrific crimes."

Or not. From my perspective, it's hard to imagine a less useful programme, and what I find most engrossing about it is the fact that it’s used in Police training.
Clifton also stated that, 'unlike a lot of professionals, (Latta) doesn't hedge his answers about, or trouble with sensitivities toward, the criminal. He has the self-assertive bluntness to spell out how these individuals come to be so evil."

In other words, he has the courage to say the things others are too scared, or too PC to say. The religious connotations of terms like ‘evil’ and ‘redemption’ are interesting in that they appeal to, and reinforce the view that some people are inherently bad and just have to be kept locked up forever  - or killed.
 Importantly, Clifton didn’t ask how Latta arrived at his assessment of Lundy as a narcissistic, exhibitionist alcoholic who brutally battered his wife to death because of her opposition to his money-making schemes, and who killed his daughter because she was an 'encumbrance'.
 A thorough clinical analysis would involve extensive interviews of the subject, or at least of the professionals who have worked with him, plus meticulous, informed analysis of documentary evidence such as trial transcripts, school and medical records etc. Most of this would need the permission of the subject and various Government agencies. As it’s unlikely Latta had that access, unless he was being fed information unofficially, he’d have based his assessment on the sort of case specific data that’s available to the public.
 Interviews with family and friends are there mainly to back up the assessment, not be the basis of it. Anecdotes provide the all-important personal narratives, and dramatized scenes provide the visual element without which a lot of the target audience would quickly lose interest.
Given the seriousness of the content, ideally the commentator should remind the audience that forensic psychology isn’t an exact science and that an analyst is totally dependent on the quality of information s/he has to work with. S/he should caution the audience that an assessment presented in a 45-minute television programme will not have the precision and thoroughness of a formal clinical analysis. S/he might even clarify the interface and critical differences between forensic psychology and criminal profiling.
One indicator of the rigour of Latta’s analysis is his notion of ‘limb specific grief’. The image that most people will have of Lundy is at the funerals - grief-stricken, with his arms draped over the shoulders of two friends. Latta typified this expression of grief as 'limb specific’, ie the fact that Lundy was able to support himself on his arms proves his grief was phony and is evidence of his guilt.
 The term sounds impressively scientific. It’s not. Physical reactions to extreme emotional distress vary between individuals and may well affect the legs more than the arms.

I did a more in-depth analysis of the BTD episode about Peter Holdem. I concluded that, in relation to impartiality and accuracy, that episode proffered no evidence drawn from recent or current professional assessments; it relied heavily on hearsay and failed to alert viewers to the possibility that some contributors might not be accurate in their recollections; it failed to point out that almost all stories about the subject available to the public contain inaccuracies and are emotive in tone; and it manipulated viewers both with the use of supposition stated as fact, and the use of misleading and highly emotive images.

Reality television should make thinking people ask the questions – whose reality is this, and who benefits from it?
In my view, BTD has a political agenda that is close to that of the Sensible Sentencing Trust. It was no accident that the episode on Holdem came in advance of his parole hearing and that people who have campaigned to keep Holdem in prison were heavily involved in the making of the programme.
I don’t pretend that any of this is easy - doing the socially sensible thing often isn’t.  It’s far easier to label people as ‘evil’, ‘unredeemable’, ‘born bad’. No-one can dispute the fact that there are people who are so dangerous they have to be kept incarcerated. But there are people who have been so damaged in the ‘care’ of the State that they are now unrecoverable – which should make us question the fitness of that ‘care’. And, there are many people in prison who are at risk of becoming unsalvageable, who should not have been sent to prison because they are innocent, or their crimes did not warrant it.

No person of integrity can question the fact that, as a society, we imprison far too many people : more men than women; more young than old; more brown than white; more poor than affluent; more uneducated than educated.
Our incarceration rate and the ethnic and socio-economic profile of our prison population is a national disgrace. Young, poorly educated men of colour end up in prison in NZ at truly alarming rates. In this we follow the USA, which leads the world in both the number of its citizens it imprisons and the proportion of people of colour.

Mark Lundy was lucky to have people who believe enough in the legal principle of beyond all reasonable doubt to have fought his corner. There are many who aren’t so lucky.

Friday, 1 November 2013

The Meme Machine

The metaphor of the division of a cake in how the products of human endeavour are / or should be divided is a useful device because most people relate on an emotional level to the sheer injustice of some people having more cake than they could ever possibly eat, while some get no cake at all, and others get just a few crumbs that fall off the table. 

What's often not considered is the role of those who get more cake in exchange for their support for the notion that the OWNERS of the cake have the RIGHT to more than they could ever eat and at least a major say in how it should be divided.   

Cake baking is a social process. The labour of many is necessary for the making of any given cake. No single person is born with the knowledge of how to make a cake, nor does any single person ever produce - by their own effort - all the ingredients and all the implements necessary for its baking. 

The knowledge of what a cake is and how to bake it is acquired and handed down by people operating socially; the ingredients are grown and harvested and processed by people operating socially; the implements used in the baking of the cake are manufactured by people operating socially ….

At some point in pre-history, long before cake making was possible, the notion of private property and trade was born - very likely as a result of the domestication of cattle. With the notion of privately owned property came the notion of the right to appropriate the labour of others  - if I can 'own' a cow, I can 'own' another human being. (There was another HUGE development that is highly pertinent to cake making as it happens - which was the dominance of a patrilineal family form and the birth of patriarchy - but that's a story for another day.)

Many different means were used to force people to give up the products of their labour and to be allowed to keep / be given only what was necessary for their subsistence. Some means were coercive; others were ideological - usually calling on god's / gods'  authority.

Inevitably some greedy bastards decided they owned EVERYTHING and declared divine support for that right. They employed swathes of people to keep it that way - law makers and law enforcers and the all important ideologues - The Meme Machine. 

And look how successful the The Meme Machine  has been. Many people cannot even conceive of a different - more just, balanced and sustainable way - of organising production. They dutifully parrot the line that the rich deserve to be rich because they are cleverer, more talented, more creative and that it is the rich who are the 'wealth generators'.  Instead of carping about the unfairness of the system, they argue that we should invest in enterprises set up by the 'wealth generators' so they can turn the tap on a little and the occasional drip (necessitated by the wealth generators not being able to afford more) can become a trickle - which is more than enough to keep the simple folk at the base happy. 

But this inverts reality. The 'wealth generators' are not those at the top of the social pyramid - they're the people at the base. The whole system (including the truly, madly, deeply insane world of virtual finance) relies on the exploitation of human labour - and that exploitation gets more obvious, coercive and brutal the further down the pyramid you go.  

Companies move to countries /locations where labour is cheaper and there are fewer environmental / health and safety laws; they do so to keep production costs down in order to extract the maximum surplus to pay the shareholders and the technocrats and the ideologues -  and to feed the various State machines that help keep the wasteful, unstable, unsustainable system going.  

The idea that the rich deserve to be rich, that they generate wealth is stupid. It is so stupid it is hard to comprehend how any rational person can fall for it. But that's where The Meme Machine  is so important. It has persuaded enough people that the current way we organise production - the economy - is the most efficient (maximum productivity for minimum expense/effort) and effective (achieving an intended or desired outcome) way possible. 

This is often demonstrably untrue even when judged by the system's own stunted methodologies.  If we use a wider angled lens and accept that production is a social process, we see that the relations of production (like the relations of reproduction) have evolved and any measurement of the efficiency and effectiveness of an enterprise must also consider the concepts of equality of opportunity, equity of treatment in legal terms and ethical practice. Without these, a true measure of efficiency and effectiveness can't be made. 

If we simply want the current system to be fairer, we can use the very political and legal concepts that challenged the divine right of kings and latter day autocracies to force it to change. But that's always a struggle. No social, economic or political advance has been given freely by those in power until it was in their interests to do so. And every hard won advance must be guarded because it can be easily lost. Sometimes the loss is sudden and catastrophic and obvious - and sometimes it's gradual and surreptitious and the loss goes largely unnoticed.

What the rich and powerful and their supporters forget or choose to ignore is that people at the base are not passive ciphers. Excellence, talent, intelligence, insight, creativity, goodness are not the preserve of the rich - as even the most cursory examination proves beyond all doubt.

So - people of the base - use all that excellence, talent, insight, creativity and belief in natural justice to bring about change - because if we don't change the way we do things, we're all stuffed.