Sunday, 2 November 2014

Rugby, Rowing and Blur

It's as if cupidity has mated with stupidity and its awful offspring have taken over New Zealand. The talking heads are busy filling in the most recent paint by numbers picture of John Key as a gracious, inclusive - almost humble - 'man of the people' who spoke from the heart in his victory speech and who has learned his lesson about unwise contacts with unscrupulous bloggers.  

So anxious is Key to represent all New Zealand he's even going to address child poverty - after he's sold off enough state houses to offset the drop in milk profits and pay for TeamNZ to contest the America's Cup.

Some in the media are shifting their feet. They are perhaps a tad uncomfortable with what Labour's comprehensive loss will result in and are a bit anxious about the part they played in that defeat through their acts of omission or commission.  Other, less sensitive and more overtly ideological souls are openly revelling in being on the winning team. The resultant spectacle is unedifying to the point of needing a health warning.

Speaking of health warnings, Cameron Slater is desperately trying to reinvent himself as person of courage and integrity and his mates are busy persuading their witless supporters to fork out large sums of money to 'take down' those who exposed Whaleoil's bile-full excesses.  

The usefully vacuous Paula Bennett is being carefully groomed, rebranded and promoted as future National Party leadership material. It is a terrifying prospect.

And Labour still shows no signs of doing a Lazarus after its media assisted political suicide. 

The election was a resounding victory for dirty politics. The exposure of a series of scandals that should have lost the election for Key and Co, ended up hurting the opposition.  Seemingly sensible and decent people were persuaded it was politically and morally wrong to buy or read 'that book' because it was the product of a 'left-wing conspiracy' and based on stolen material.  

Not having read the book, or even accurate commentaries about it, they were easily persuaded that the dirty politics were the Left's creation and intended to sully the whiter-than-white reputation of John Key. 

In fact, looking at how well it all turned out for Key & Co, one could almost be forgiven for thinking Dirty Politics was a big rightwing master plan. But, however cunning and devious rightwing political plotters are, they really aren't that clever.  They could not have been as successful in sliding out from under Hager's revelations had they not been facing a fractured opposition, sections of which were engaged in the political equivalent of self-harming.

Election material that had David Cunliffe's image or name alongside candidates was seldom seen. Exhortations to give party votes to Labour were notable for their lack of prominence. The message sent out to the electorate, which dovetailed nicely with that of a largely hostile media, was 'a lot of us don't trust our leader'. 

Other than attacking Cunliffe and Labour's 'five new taxes', National's winning strategy was to be as vague as possible about policy, to promote Brand Key as synonymous with National, and to link Key to international sporting successes - a winning trifecta of rugby, rowing and blur.

Rowing is not quite as far removed from the lives of ordinary Kiwis as America's Cup sailing, but it is an elite sport. It's appeal is that it is one at which Kiwis excel.  The image of a slick, professional rowing eight heading towards the right juxtaposed against a lumbering rowboat going in circles was used to denigrate and demoralise the opposition and to fuel  the Right's tendency towards swagger and triumphalism.

Rugby is the country's unofficial religion.  Whoever can coat tail the All Black brand is onto a winner.  Key's expressed preference for the black flag with a silver fern to replace the current flag was not accidental. Nor was posing on the cover of Rugby News in an All Black shirt at the head of a phalanx of All Black forwards, including Ritchie McCaw. McCaw's 'yes you can'  text to Key at the opening of National's election campaign was an unofficial endorsement of Team Key by the All Blacks.  Key's gauche claim to want to be reincarnated as Ritchie McCaw would have been mocked mercilessly had David Cunliffe made it. The election day pro-National tweets and Facebook posts by former and current All Blacks and elite rowers to their thousands of followers would have resulted in a media firestorm had they been in support of Labour. 

And so, we are left with Captain Key still in charge of the ship of state. It doesn't really matter to him if she's dragging her anchors and drifting onto the rocks.  He's got his life raft well stocked and fuelled and can abandon ship any time he chooses, as can his uber-rich supporters. It's the rest of us need to be worried about how badly our ship will be damaged when the next big economic storm hits.

The Neo-Liberal Agenda

1. Remove controls on the movement of capital. 

This is the foundation stone of the project. It will enable the global free market to create wealth that will trickle down to the base - thus enriching everyone. 
(Note:  It is  critically important to obscure the fact that wealth will do the opposite, i.e. accrue exponentially to the rich. See Agenda Item 4)

2. Mechanise any large scale production that is to remain in the developed world and relocate labour intensive production to countries with more amenable labour costs and environmental laws.

This process is essential to the increase of profits as it will enable the reduction of labour costs and reduce Health & Safety and environmental overheads.  It will also break the backs of the industrial trade unions.
Market on the basis of the drive for  "economy, efficiency and effectiveness".  
(Note: It is necessary to have achieved all elements of agenda item 3 before embarking on this.)

3. Undermine the Left and organised labour. 

Use all available anti-communist / anti-socialist memes.  
Create and publicise examples of 'loony leftism', 'political correctness', the dominance of the 'Left Elites' in media and academia etc.
Label Trade Unions and Left as the 'enemy within' which is conspiring to undermine traditional values.   It is of course important to remain vague about what traditional values are for fear of alienating some sections of support. 
(Note: It is essential to have achieved Agenda Item 4 before embarking on this.)

4. Control the mass media.

Use new technology to break the print unions which will leave journalists vulnerable. 
Make journalists responsible for as many other jobs as possible.
Narrow the range of raw news from agencies.
Dumb down news content.  
Sell off as much of public funded media as possible.
Promote the meme of the Left's control of the media to justify stifling of dissent among liberal journalists and commentators.

5. Depress pay and conditions for domestic working class.

Abandon collective agreements and introduce individually negotiated (confidential) contracts which will promote competition (and distrust) between workers. 
Aim for extensions of the working day and abandonment of overtime payments. 
Devolve health & safety responsibility to workers.
Utilise contractors as much as possible and off-shore where possible. 
Aim to make workers responsible for as much of the costs of their employment as possible.
Introduce 'flexible' working conditions and market these as a benefit to workers e.g. contrast with rigid hours of work demanded in traditional industrial / factory operations. 
Ultimate aim is full casualisation ie. zero hours contracts.

6. Ensure there is a well paid and politically loyal middle class.

This is vital to ensure political stability and the length of tenure of governments committed to the project.
It stimulates consumption, promotes the ideology of meritocracy and provides useful buffer zone. 
It is especially important to reward the top echelons of the public sector and the link to pay rates in the private sector  can be used to justify this.

7. Open the public sector to competition through the contract culture. 

Sell this to the public as improving public sector efficiency, effectiveness and economy through the  application of private sector methods and values. 
The anticipated reality is that local taxes / rates will increase and quality of services decrease which can be managed so as to ensure Item 8 works to our advantage. 

8. Prevent local government from being a locus for political opposition to the global project.

Use amalgamations or partitions, boundary changes etc to ensure greater central government control.
Increase compliance demands, strengthen the management/governance split and contract culture. 
Sack any elected authority which promotes a left wing agenda and /or blocks business interests.
Surcharge any uncooperative elected officials if harsher lesson is needed.

9. Sell off publicly owned assets.

Market this as opening up investment opportunities for ordinary citizens and claim that the resulting competition will yield better quality services at lower cost. 
When that does not eventuate, claim the market is not yet free enough or blame it in any vestiges of workers' rights etc.

10. Encourage cults of personality in elections. 

Focus on positive family-centric images of the Head of State and key politicians. 
Link the chosen candidate wherever possible to popular celebrities and sporting icons as their success reflects back on the Head of State.

11. Encourage identity politics.

Portray IP as alternative to/competitor with the traditional labour movement.
Promote the idea of the labour movement as unprogressive and unresponsive to the rights of women and minorities. 
Continue to make concessions to demands for extensions of individual freedoms whilst making it harder for people to exercise them.

12. Denigrate environmentalists 

Use sympathetic scientists, PR / advertsiing specialists and lobbyists to counter and misrepresent green arguments eg. snails-before-jobs' etc and devise, disseminate derogatory labels e.g. 'tree-huggers'.'

13. Consolidate global debt culture.

Make nations dependent on World Bank / IMF loans that are dependent on government implementing measures to privatise corporate profits and socialise corporate debt.
Ensure governments implement required austerity measures and are briefed on how to blame the need for these on the Left.

14. Extend private debt.

A key support of the global project is the extension of private debt. Not only does this debt yield excellent returns, it promotes consumption and, most importantly, it is a set of shackles people don freely and may even be persuaded to wear proudly.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Freedom From Fear

The economic elite has extensive means at its disposal to direct political discourse and form policy to further its interests, including exerting influence over the media and the machinery of state.  National's third election victory and Labour's resounding defeat make it even more obvious that large numbers of Kiwis have been persuaded their interests correspond with those of the economic elite.

Part of the process of persuasion is very simple - it's an appeal to avarice and hubris. People who have sufficient money to buy security and opportunity are free from the fear of privation and they can exercise relatively high levels of control over their own lives.  Many believe they get this abundance of things and opportunities through their own hard work and abilities. They also believe that people who lack their advantages have failed in some way.  

They choose to ignore the fact that the keystone in the protective arch of their comfortable lives is debt - and if, for any reason, they become unable to service that debt, the arch will fall.

The other part of the persuasion process is a bit more complex and is to do with the extension of human rights and civil liberties. 

My last post on Labour Day ended: "All the while that industrial and finance capital was tightening its throttle hold on the neck of organised labour - it allowed certain domestic human rights and civil liberties. "  

Over the past 40 years or so, as corporate capitalism has thrown off its Keysian fetters and has been sucking the world dry like some bloated, psychotic vampire, it has continued to yield to some demands for the full legal and social equality the capitalist system promises. 

The 'neo-liberal revolution' has been so destructive because it has been startlingly effective and one of the reasons for that is there has been a steady progression in individual rights and freedoms which has obscured the dramatic shift in power in the relations of production back towards capital. 

The attacks on organised labour, the erosion of workers'  pay and conditions, the increase in the gap between rich and poor, the increasing concentration of wealth and the hyper-exploitation of labour in those countries to which capital took flight have all occurred alongside progressive changes in race relations, women's and minority rights  - seen most dramatically in the first world countries and especially here in NZ. 

Of course these have had to be fought hard for and were often ceded grudgingly. At times they run against the tide of public opinion and they can be reversed. But, for the economic elite there are benefits in granting to some others a little of the individual freedom to do and to be which it has always enjoyed - as long as those freedoms do not interfere with its pre-eminent right to exploit human and natural resources for maximum profit.  

They have learned that the extension of formal equal rights to women, people of colour and minorities yields greater benefits to the educated and affluent, stimulates consumption and  reinforces the buffer zone between them and the increasingly impoverished and alienated bulk of the population.  

What is not given much prominence is the fact that those who have slipped into the realms of the necessitous, and those who are at risk of doing so, are less and less engaged with the politics of individual choice and more and more engaged with the business of physical and psychological survival. 

Their ideological arguments obscure the fact that, even here in NZ with its relative affluence, people's ability to enjoy their liberty, to do what they want, to forge their own identities as women, as people of colour, as LGBT people, as people with a disability -  is powerfully conditioned and constrained by their individual socio-economic location and prospects.  

The declarations that neo-liberalism signalled the 'end of history', the 'end of ideology' and the end of the battle between capital and labour - are more the product of the ethnocentricity and ahistoricism of the writers than an objective analysis of what has been going on over the past 40 years or so. 

The basis of the capitalist market always was, and remains, the freedom to enter into contracts. In the world of work the thing being bought and sold is labour. Whether it is work by hand or by brain, what's being exchanged for money is part of the life of the seller - in temporal, physical and psychological terms. 

To be able to enter into a legal contract to sell part of yourself, you have to be free from any other legal constraints and obligations. A slave is not free because s/he is owned by another person. A serf is not free because s/he owes fealty to a lord. An indentured labourer is not free because s/he is bound by another contract. A woman is not free when her legal rights are subsumed by those of her husband or father. A person below the legal age of majority is not free because their legal rights are subsumed by those of their parents or guardians. And so on.

The notion of the rights of man has moved from its origins in white, propertied male demands for political and legal equality through the abolition of slavery, the extension of suffrage to non-propertied men, women and people of colour, the formal acceptance of the principle of equal pay for equal work, and beyond - into rights of prisoners and the mentally ill, the decriminalisation of homosexuality, criminalisation of spousal rape, legalisation of prostitution, civil union and same-sex marriage and the removal of the parental defence of castigato moderato

No-one can argue with the fact that the freedom to be, to express oneself, to have genuine equality of opportunity form the main supporting arch of a truly civilised society but how many people accept that the keystone of that arch is the freedom from fear of poverty, disease, homelessness and tyranny which can only be attained and maintained through collective action?  How many appreciate the fact that, without the keystone, the entire edifice will fall?

Harry Smith, the 91 year-old British Labour Party member who spoke so movingly about the need to protect the NHS, said he didn't want his past to become our future.  His political battles had been for freedom from the fear of poverty and disease.  

This is not a rarefied philosophical debate about the distinctions between the absence of coercion and the ability to exercise self-mastery – it’s about the basic preconditions of human rights and civl liberties.

Being nominally free to enter the labour market to sell your labour is no freedom at all if there are no jobs available, or if the wages on offer are below subsistence, or the working conditions are life threateningly dangerous.  Having the right to retire in old age with a pension is meaningless if the hardships of your work and private life mean you die before retirement. 

Most people in the world today subsist by exchanging their labour for a wage that is so low they can never save.  Many are crippled by debt created by being forced to borrow money at extortionate interest rates. Most human beings live on the edge of a financial precipice and their only safety nets are the ones they and their stressed families and communities can fashion from their meager resources. 

This was the reality of the lives of many Kiwis before a Labour government initiated the welfare state - and it is a reality that we are heading back to.  The growing disparities in wealth, and in the power and freedom that wealth buys,  should result in unceasing and tumultuous outrage from those at the base of society but instead result in more anomie  - expressed almost exclusively as horizontal crime - and alienation from the political process.

In part, this is because in NZ we still have the remnants of the social provision that was created to ameliorate the worst excesses of a rapacious colonial capitalism.  It's in part due to a poorly informed and blinkered populace - which has more information at its fingertips than ever but less in its head. It's in part due to the fact that we have a fairly large and relatively prosperous middle class whose well-padded backside is positioned in the social and political foreground where it usefully obstructs both the view of the depleted lives of the poor and the opulence and excesses of the rich.  And it's also due to the fact that it was the NZ Labour Party that enacted monetarist economic dogma and has  severed many of  its connections to its past. 

I lived in the UK in the midst of the Thatcherite revolution - and remember the tsunami of vicious attacks on trade unions and the left in general. I will never forget or forgive the almost complete subservience of the mainstream media in a propaganda war that was extraordinary both for its malevolence and its flagrant disregard for any principles of integrity and natural justice. 

It was no accident that the second item on the monetarists' agenda - after removing all controls on the export of capital - was to attack organised labour. As they labeled trade unions as 'the enemy within' and started dismantling the welfare state and emptying the public purse into private pockets, they also injected more of that illusory compensation for the growing economic and political powerlessness - the notion of the individual freedom to do, and to be which was easily achievable by those who worked hard and made the right sort of choices.

The price being paid by our own poor is high enough but is less than that being paid by workers in those countries to which capital migrated to extract greater profits from lower wages and conditions and slack environmental controls.  

Sunday, 26 October 2014

It's Labour Day …...

It's Labour Day and a large number of my fellow Kiwis see it as nothing more than an oddly named public holiday. Useful idiots declare that the battle between employer and employee is over, unions are obsolete and we should keep the public holiday but rename it.  Debtors' Day perhaps.

Clearly capitalism and its agents are not as convinced the battle is over hence the on-going demonisation of Trade Unions and the Left in general and the constant rewriting of history.  I was pleased to read Rodney Hide's piece of mean-spirited, ahistorical claptrap because I collect examples of right-wing dogma that confirm the theory that conservatives tend to be 'low effort' thinkers who, when they run out of facts and logical arguments, simply make stuff up. 

Hide is right in one respect - Parnell's historic victory was labour market forces at work.  There was a shortage of skilled labour in the colony and a lot of the possessors of that labour had voyaged to the ends of the earth to escape the grossly unbalanced and class-riven labour market in Britain.  Parnell and others like him had both the desire and the means to dictate how and when they would work.

And it was not just skilled labour that had an edge. The bleats of outrage from those whose privileged lives rested on the backs of agricultural and domestic labourers waft down through history. They convey outrage over the fact that the shortage of labourers, or their ability to acquire the means of their own means of subsistence, meant workers could demand higher wages and - horror of horrors - walk out on bad employers. 

Had there been a surfeit of carpenters in 1840, Parnell could never have set his own limits to his working day and it would never have become the custom and practice for the colony. Nor would that customary 8 hour day have passed into law if organised labour had not fought hard for it. 

There is NO example of capitalism proffering or even freely yielding progressive concessions to workers.  Concessions have always had to be wrested from its miserly grasp by organised labour and its allies. Any concessions that have been easily won have had some longer-term pragmatic or strategic advantage for the capitalist class.

Britain's abolition of the slave trade in 1807 is a case in point. The abolition, which is often touted as one of the few 'perfectly virtuous acts in the history of nations', was actually more the result of technological advances and the loss of Britain's American colonies and the desire to deprive the Americans of a supply of new slaves.  

That was why Britain initially abolished only the slave trade and why it deployed the Atlantic Squadron to stop slave traders from other countries.  It's why many of the prominent British abolitionists were against the trade in African slaves but for the retention of the institution of slavery in the colonies.  It's why it took another 24 years for slavery in Britain's colonies to be abolished, and why 'freed' slaves had to work a further 4 years for nothing, and why slave owners were massively compensated by the State.   It's also why the British State was later happy to support and supply the Confederacy during the American Civil War.

The political and economic advantages of abolishing the slave trade coalesced with the fear of popular insurrection - both of slaves in the colonies and, importantly, of workers at home. There was a rising revulsion amongst the affluent and educated middle class against slavery, and working class people saw a parallel between slavery and the reality of their own oppressed lives.  When the anti-slavery movement began to coalesce with the emerging working class movement it became too great threat.  At the same time as he was opposing the slave trade, history's poster boy for abolition, William Wilberforce, actively supported legislation that outlawed radical and trade union organisations.

The simple fact is that, when and where it suits, capital will exploit whoever and whatever yields most profit - without compunction or thought of consequences. That is the business of business and it invariably results in various forms of counter pressure from those who are being exploited and those who want to protect the exploited.  

That struggle between capital and labour was and remains the primary market force. It changes its clothes, it relocates and remodels itself but strip it of its ideological accoutrements, and it's still there, essentially unaltered.

207 years after the trade in African slaves was abolished in Britain, slavery still exists in direct and indirect forms. We live in a world in which the obscenity of the trafficking of human beings, including tiny children, as slaves and sex objects, is facilitated by the same extraordinary technological advances that have enabled the resurgence of an utterly rapacious and aggressive corporate capitalism.

It is those same forces that are busy turning the social clock back in NZ.  Employers want and, courtesy of a compliant state, get maximum 'flexibility' of working hours to minimise 'down time' in production or provision of services,  and longer working days on basic pay rates to maximise the return on the 'investment' of employee related overheads and on-costs. 

The NZ state - acting as the obedient servant of corporate interests - sold off the telecommunications wing of the NZ Post Office for peanuts. Politicians and civil servants, aided by the media, sold that economic absurdity to the populace with the lie that it would yield better value for consumers and the wealth from the increased profits and dividends paid out to investors in a free market would 'trickle down' to the base.  

Thirty years later - we have seen that product of social capital divided further and new tranches of shareholders and technocrats seek to maximise profits by divesting themselves  of the costs of directly employed staff. They achieve this via the use of independent contractors based overseas in lower pay economies, and domestically via the creation of self-employed contractors who have to absorb their own employment costs.  The savings to the corporation are not passed on to the consumer in the form of reduced bills but continue to flow up to the already grossly overpaid technocrats and shareholders.  

Those domestic workers - once directly employed, unionised and on collective pay and conditions - are left isolated, responsible for their own insurance, health and safety, taxes etc. Nominally 'free' they are actually between an employment rock and a hard place - tied by a one-sided, individually negotiated contract to sell their labour to a single buyer. They have only the appearance of the economic freedom and self-mastery we all crave.  In essence they're little different from Welsh slate miners who leased a patch of a quarry and were paid piece rates by the quarry owner. 

The ideological icing on the corporate cake is the rebranding of these self-employed workers as part of a new affluent and aspirational 'middle NZ' to which both major political parties have to appeal.  We are told that this new middle New Zealand doesn't have the same concerns as the old working class. They actually do. They may not realise it but they will  when the pressure to extract profit drives their jobs offshore. 

What capital has done - stripped of all its ideological puffery - is turn the clock back to the time when industry could hyper-exploit by paying workers as little as possible, stretching the working day to as long as possible, ignoring or bypassing health and safety and environmental controls as much as possible, and make workers responsible for as much of the costs of their own employment as possible.

What is wanted from the major political parties is a seamless service to corporate capitalism.  The tribal colours and anthems of the parties may differ, indeed that's necessary to maintain the fiction of social democracy, but what matters is that business gets to do what it wants, maximise profits for the increasingly select few. 

Only a fool or a rightwing ideologue (synonymous in many instances)  can fail to understand why the first items on the monetarists' agenda in the 1980s were the undermining of organised labour and the freeing up of capital to shift it to places where profits could be maximised through lower pay and conditions etc.  Only a callous idiot denies the ugly reality that the extremes of capitalist exploitation - child labour, convict labour, indentured and even enslaved labour - still exist in the 21st century, just not here, yet. 

The first industrial workers in Britain were pauper women and children who worked extreme hours in extreme conditions mass producing cloth which, in comparison to the finely woven, delicate materials  used to produce the clothes and furnishings of the rich, was low quality. It was intended for the domestic masses and for export to the colonies.

Capital was happy to exploit small children and women in mines and mills until it was more expedient to employ the increasing numbers of men being 'liberated' from agricultural and small scale artisanal production.  Changes in agricultural and industrial production methods met a rising tide of middle class revulsion with the ugly realities of the hyper-exploitation of very young children, and the notions of human rights and civil liberties which made unemployed, disenfranchised men a potentially subversive force.

Some industrialists and especially the mine owners fought against the Factory and Mines Acts which restricted the age and hours of employment of children - and wailed about the threats to their profits - but the market forces of the time tilted in favour of large scale mass production employing skilled and semi-skilled men. The costs of the plant and the intensive use of labour were offset by economies of scale and continual suppression of pay and conditions. 

Large scale industrial production today is rare in the first world and where it exists it's increasingly mechanised and digitised, less and less reliant on direct labour. Mass produced commodities - consumed mostly by the masses - are made in a mix of large scale, highly mechanised factories and small scale, labour intensive factories.  Both, for the most part, are physically located where labour is cheapest  and health and safety and environmental controls are weakest.  (1)

Most of the commodities aimed at and consumed by the very rich are - as they have always been - produced by highly skilled artisans and technicians in relatively small scale production units. 

The fashion industry - the rag trade - is a classic example. Most of the clothes and accoutrements of the very rich are as they have always been, hand produced by highly skilled and well remunerated artisans and technicians using the finest of materials.  In contrast, the clothes of the masses are made from the cheapest of materials and mass-produced by semi or unskilled workers paid piece rates or barely subsistence wages in very poor working conditions. 

 The poor of the First World borrow money at usurious interest rates to purchase clothing produced by the even poorer workers of the Third World. The shoddiness and poor value of the product is masked by an obsolescence created by seasonal cycles in fashion that are actively promoted by popular media. It is a form of madness.

The breaking of the back of organised labour and the con of self-employment in the domestic market has facilitated the gradual break down of many of the wider social advances that had been won by organised labour and its allies.  The padding of the pay packets of the middle class, and the legitimation of living with perpetual debt has ensured increased consumption of commodities and services produced/provided by overseas based companies.  

The varying degrees of isolation in the working lives of many people is matched by the increasing isolation and alienation of their social lives.  Bill Gates' vision of nuclear families living increasingly individualised and separated existences inside their computerised domestic units is an asocial nightmare.  We are, above ALL ELSE, social animals - profoundly, inescapably social. Outside broad-based family structures and wider associations within viable communities we are weakened - often to the point of being rendered helpless. 

And all the while that industrial and finance capital was tightening its throttle hold on the neck of organised labour - it allowed certain domestic human rights and civil liberties. 

But more of that in a later post.

  1. Ever ready to grab new sources of profit, industry has linked up with the coercive wing of the state to utilise convict labour. At its most nakedly exploitative in the USA, the state funded prison provides the facilities for production as well as the labour which it sells to the company for less than the cost of its subsistence - which is covered by the state. The state enacts a variety of local and federal laws to imprison a tranche of abled bodied young men for whom  there are no jobs because the state has allowed capital to relocate offshore to maximise private profits; the state then hires out the publicly funded facilities  and convict labour at below subsistence which enables the corporation to extract even greater levels of profit. Voila!

Thursday, 23 October 2014

The Age of Cupidity

I've been trying to publish a post for the past couple of weeks.  Although I have several in draft form, when I try to finish them I find myself overwhelmed by a deep lassitude - an uncharacteristic gloom which is only relieved by riding my bike, mowing the lawn or attacking weeds in my garden. If I could find a way of combining all three I might be onto something.

This lack of mental vitality is unusual for me given I'm a person who has robust opinions and a strong drive to express them.  

I blame it on Twitter.  

And John "just call me Prez" Key. And that good mate of his to whom he has never spoken whilst wearing his Presidential hat.  

And the media, large parts of which are downright embarrassing and only saved from total ignominy by the efforts of a few excellent writers - including the one who is currently being harassed by the Police.  

In protest against said harassment I shall cease calling the Police a 'Service' and revert to calling it a 'Force' (which is what Greg "Just call me Chief"  O'Connor wants it to be.)  I am reminded of a Euan McColl song about the UK police - written during the Miner's Strike :

'Remember the chap in the comical hat,
'Is one of humanity's crosses, 
"Wherever there's trouble, whatever the struggle, 
"He'll be on the side of the bosses.'

My gloom was deepened by waking up in the middle of the night with a song on a perpetual loop in my head. It's a song I've always disliked - and the bloody thing was still with me when I woke up this morning.  So, in an attempt to rid myself of the pesky, beady, hairy thing and in lieu of any other way of declaiming about some aspect of this troubled and troubling world, I've rewritten the lyrics.

Age of Cupidity

When tycoons are in the ascendancy,
And capital aligns with greed,
Then war will guide the planet,
And hate will steer the deed.

This is the dawning of the Age of Cupidity,
The Age of Cupidity,
Cupidity! Cupidity!

Disharmony and unawareness,
Indifference and doubt abounding,
More falsehoods and derisions,
Leaden-living nightmare visions,
Venality's revelation
And freedom's last inhalation.

Cupidity! Cupidity!

When tycoons are in the ascendancy,
And capital aligns with greed,
Then war will guide the planet,
And hate will steer the deed.

This is the dawning of the age of Cupidity
The age of Cupidity,  Cupidity,  Cupidity,
Cupidity, Cupidity.

Let the rain fall, Let the rain fall down, Let the rain fall …..etc

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Labour too far to the Left - yeah Right.

My reply to a piece on the Daily Blog 

There’s a lot of moaning from the MSM about being blamed for the election outcome. With a few exceptions, they deserve the slaps but, while they played an important role – we can’t avoid the fact that some members of Labour’s caucus shot Cunliffe in both feet, engaged in a lot of lazy running themselves, and are now blaming him for Labour losing the race.

You could be forgiven for thinking that they threw the election so they could sacrifice him and get back to business as usual – turning the LP into a NZ version of the US Democratic party.

We have a poorly unionised workforce in an increasingly low wage economy that rests on a narrow and precarious base of extractive industry and cash crop agriculture, viticulture and horticulture. A lot of people are doing very nicely – able to afford to live the individualised, digitised lives of Bill Gates’ asocial vision – a lot of others are struggling to stay afloat and some are drowning.

Traditional working class jobs haven’t disappeared from the planet, they’ve been moved to places where the costs of production are lower, i.e. lower wages and conditions, poor H&S and environment controls etc. The only way corporates will bring those jobs back is if those costs are reduced here so they can extract the same levels of profit.

For the corporates, the means to that end are maintaining :
  • a large pool of unemployed;
  • a low paid ‘service’ class;
  • a massively indebted working class (which includes everyone whose only means of living is by exchanging their labour – be that by hand or brain – for a wage); and,
  • an affluent buffer class which includes the upper echelons of the public service and the media, and rightwing professional politicians.
This stratum of people have a vested interest in maintaining the manifestly unfair and unjust status quo and to ensure that the state’s service to the corporates is seamless.

When you drag political discourse back to the Right and redefine the Centre, you also redefine the Left. Moderate, totally unremarkable and easily achievable structural changes that would be as socially beneficial as the Right’s structural changes of the 1980s were destructive, are labelled as ‘far-Left’ and unrealistic. The way that message is conveyed is, for the most part, via the mass media which for the most part is owned and controlled by corporates.

The way forward for Labour is: to challenge that control of the media through support for a non-partisan well funded public broadcasting, and by creating its own voice; and, to rebuild its membership and supporter base. It has too small a membership and lacks National’s big bucks to compensate for that.

The only way Labour would attract the big bucks is by continuing to betray domestic labour in favour of international capital. It simply cannot compete as a Labour Party worthy of the name unless there is mass participation at the base which in turn demands accountability from its democratically elected leaders.

(edited to fix layout)

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Post-election blues

Frank Macskasy has written an interesting piece on the Daily Blog about things Labour needs to take away from this election.

Some people picked him up on his claim that National has not increased its vote over 2011, pointing out that the special votes have yet to be counted.  Although National may increase its vote once all the specials have been counted,  it's unlikely its percentage of the votes cast will increase significantly. 

And there's still the missing million - the 8.7% of eligible people who are not enrolled and the 23.2% who were enrolled but did not vote. Just under a third of people who could vote chose not to - resulting in the 3rd lowest turnout in 100 years.  

National's core support was, as always, consistent and obedient. They turned out and did as they were told, including voting tactically.  The Right's strategy to maximise its vote and discourage opposition voters is working well and what counts as the Left in NZ seems powerless to counter it. 

About 1 in 3 NZers voted for a party that was deeply implicated in a series of scandals which, in most countries, would have resulted in electoral failure.  I hoped it wouldn't but thought it was likely that National would be able to form a government, but the outcome was so unexpected as to leave some people convinced of voter fraud.

The morally-challenged National supporter who boasted on his Facebook page about having found a way to vote multiple times,  and the 'vote-National' tweets on election day from prominent athletes to tens of thousands of their followers have not helped soothe the conspiracy theorists' brow. That the athletes were from the two sports which featured heavily in National's formal and informal campaigns adds to the mix. 

So what are we seeing here? Why did NZ sashay further to the Right with John Key?

I often joke about the Amygdala Brigade but there are studies which support the theory that liberals and conservatives not only think differently but have differences in brain structure. 

Political conservatives have been typified as 'low effort' thinkers (LETs), and political liberals are 'high-effort' thinkers. It's theorised that the former cognitive style dominates in times of threat, social instability and danger and was perhaps the evolutionary 'default' mode. But, of course, without 'high effort' thinking we wouldn't progress. In truth, we all switch between the two but there are people who tend far more towards one than the the other and there are some who are incapable of anything but low-effort thinking.

We can all agree that a lot of New Zealanders react badly to any criticism of their country, however valid it is.  'Dirty Politics' shook many Kiwis' cosy notion of their country as honest, decent, moderate -  a 'mature, sensible and successful'  nation.  Some just trusted Key and shrugged the revelations off as untrue.  Some reacted with anger, anxiety or disgust at Nicky Hager's revelations but that wave of emotion didn't sweep away the perpetrators of the dirty politics.  With the considerable assistance of a largely compliant mass media (which itself has far too many LETs in its ranks), the wave was directed at the author of the book and the Left in general. 

I've met a lot of people who would stake a claim to reason and rationality who declare trenchantly that they will NOT read that book because they don't need to; they know it is - as a manic letter writer in The Press today puts it -  'accusations, half-truths, innuendos, smear and lies'. 

An ethical and thorough investigative writer and the broad Left were accused of engaging in the very dirty politics that had been exposed. It was the purest expression of political spin.

The LETs' emotional state was then heightened by appeals to their (highly selective) xenophobia when the nature of Internet-Mana's Moment of Truth was unveiled and repackaged by National and the media as a group of foreigners (some of them 'criminals' and 'traitors') who were attempting to hijack our mature, sensible and successful nation's election.

John Key  - who is the arch exponent of intellectual and political minimalism - was the teflon-coated port in the ensuing emotional storm.  

But Key's non-stick coating has degraded and is leaking toxins. However much the National Party's spin machine and the MSM pour oil over the damaged surface,  stuff will stick. 

Contrary to Josie Pagani's fervent assertion, the forces on the Right are not as united as they seem. They're very good at giving the appearance of stability and unity, which is vital given the mindset of their core supporters, but the leaders of National's factions are predatory and would eat each other with as much relish as they display when they tuck into the flesh of Wagyu cattle. 

That dogfight may be triggered when the rock star economy is found dead from an overdose of hype - or mutagenic swede perhaps.

On the question of the Green's failure to vote tactically in Ohariu and Epsom - Labour rejected an offer to work together with them, presumably because the blimps in the Labour party thought a formal alliance would turn off some voters.  That was inexplicable to an outsider like me as Labour was always going to need the Greens to form a government and a coordinated strategy was logical and necessary in light of National's plans to manipulate the vote in Epsom again, and Peter Dunne's continuing vulnerability in Ohariu. 

Having been rejected, the Greens could have taken the moral high ground anyway and not stood candidates in Epsom and Ohariu and other strategic seats - but why should they?  And once they'd decided to stand candidates, why should they tell their supporters not to vote for them?   

The fault lies with Labour. Who in Labour I don't know - but Cunliffe is leader and he carries the can for what he's now admitting was a major tactical error. If I was him I'd be looking long and hard at the people who were in favour of rejecting the Green's proposal. 

The Greens then paid Labour back with their statement about Labour's policies needing to be vetted and having a MOU with National. This  meant that what should have been a strong, principled alliance ended up looking like the strained relationship that's 'only staying together for the sake of the kids'.  

It contrasted badly with National's media-assisted appearance of harmony and unity - and is why that slick piece of ad-man agitprop featuring elite rowers worked so very well. 

On the question of Mana - the decision to ally itself with Internet was always going to end badly in my opinion. It was always going to be hard for people to buy into KDC's  transmogrification - from someone who was the personification of the Wednesday Lotto ad - into a leftwing politico concerned about the impact of mass surveillance on the lives of ordinary NZers. 

But that does nothing to mitigate the unpleasant fact that Labour - with the help of NZ First and National -  took Mana down.  Kelvin Davis got into parliament on the back of right wing votes - which may be very apposite - and I suspect Josie Pagani is correct and he'll prove to be a loose cannon in the party. 

A shabby strategy yielded a crappy outcome for progressive politics given the end result is a staunch advocate for ordinary NZers and Maori has been lost to parliament.  Add in Cunliffe's unnecessarily high-handed rejection of Internet and overall it was badly done. 

There's a lot else that borders on the surreal in this election. 

Stuart Nash, who was described by far-Right political strategist Simon Lusk in 2013 as, 'an exceptionally gifted politician', won Napier only because Garth 'I love Joe Arpaio' McVicar split the rightwing vote. Nash has said he is considering entering the leadership race along with David Shearer, Grant Robertson and David Parker.  They would all do well to sheath their knives and ask themselves if 2/3rds of the Kiwis who did not vote National either want or need National Lite. 

National's machinations in Epsom resulted in a political neophyte (I'm being kind) getting into parliament with 0.69% of the party vote, while a party that got 4.12% of the vote was left out.  And I was so looking forward to seeing Key having to deal with Craig, Rankin and McVicar.

Winston Peters is swishing around in his mantle of the nation's senior statesman, pontificating about the Green's being the cause of Labour's failure.  If No 3 on NZ First's list - Richard 'Wogistan' Prosser - is a measure of Peters' political integrity and acumen, we needn't take any notice of his opinion.

Finally, what put the mainstream media's role into perspective for me was the counterposing of Matthew Hooton and Josie Pagani as representatives of the political right and left; and the presence of Paul 'tells jokes about infant mortality in the third world' Henry who, judging by his outfit, thinks he's still 15. 

And meanwhile in the real world, there are the still unresolved questions of National's complicity in dirty tactics to influence candidate selection and advance corporate interests; mass surveillance and subservience to global corporate interests; the deep and growing fissures in the body politic.  All the spin and slick agit prop in the Right's makeup bag does not change the fact that the overwhelming majority of NZers did not vote for John Key's National Party.