Thursday, July 2, 2015

We Have A Word For People Like Gareth Morgan ... Lunatic



WON'T SOMEONE RID ME OF THIS TROUBLESOME ECONOMIST?!

Another week, another imbecilic Gareth Morgan pontification. Not content with last month's attempt to disenfranchise the elderly; this time, he's got yet another of society's most vulnerable groups in his sights: the mentally ill.

Fair warning ... I'm going to get pretty fired up about this.

Morgan starts out by criticizing opponents of National's Social Bonds for Mental Health scheme as being "stuck in the rut of political point scoring". He then proceeds to politically point-score an own goal by first up insisting that the "political leadership of the Left" is "so lame"; then strawmans "the Left" as harbouring "the assumption that the government is the best provider of, well, everything" (hint: not even *I* do that! Despite being well to the left of the modern Labour or Greens parties); and engages in a petty bit of ableism by characterizing all of the above as being "hallucinations". Perhaps not the most sensitive choice of words for a post about how we, as a society, treat our mentally ill ... but then, the next few paragraphs make it pretty much fundamentally clear that Morgan Just Doesn't Care about little things like sensitivity to facts or the feelings of others. He's right. We're wrong. And if you disagree, you must be experiencing about of hallucination-laden delusional psychosis. (I might be)

Let's start with the facts.

Morgan claims that the Social Bonds experiment will lead to "at least the same result as State provision would but more cheaply".

This is false. Bill English, when talking up the policy, outright stated that the Social Bonds scheme would quite likely cost MORE than the extant state-run services do. This is because the state, under the new model, would be paying not just for the services to our mentally ill Kiwis ... but ALSO interest payments and dividends to private firms and investors.

I'm also yet to be convinced that treating a person with a health condition as some sort of tradable revenue-returning asset is likely to lead to an improvement in health outcomes for our mentally unwell countrymen seeing as National's previous pilot scheme in this area didn't seem to be much of a goer, but then maybe I'm just "hallucinating".

Now on top of this, I would have thought that a right-wing theoretically trained economist like Morgan would be absolutely UP IN ARMS about the idea of the state *guaranteeing* profits for investors and private sector firms. Surely this is exactly the kind of distortion which ruins the utility of the market mechanism as an allocator of goods and services? Even leaving aside Morgan's curious lack of scruples about the idea of making a profit off human misery, there's still something fundamentally unsettling about the idea that he's trying to sell a publicly guaranteed income-stream with competitive free-market rhetoric.

It's almost like in his sudden rush of enthusiasm to get THE MARKET involved in something ... he's found himself wildly overlooking the reality of the situation in a bid to get in as quick as possible with a steady stream of insults about some imaginary "Left" giant-cum-windmill. A more hypocritical man than myself might cast this as "Delusional".

All in all this is yet another case, one suspects, of Morgan getting all wildly excited about an idea and jumping up and down about it ... without bothering to check what he's actually found himself championing.

Now to be fair (because unlike Morgan, I'm not in the business of strawmanning my adversaries), Morgan does pick up on two very valid points which have also been raised elsewhere.

When he talks about the perils inherent in the private sector cherry-picking (or "cream skimming") the most manageable cases in order to turn a profit - that's a legitimate concern. And when he prognosticates about the dangers of private sector operations failing to provide meaningful outcomes to their clients in exchange for cash ... that's hella legitimate, too. After all, it seems to be exactly what's happened with National's previous push in this area.

He even suggests that there might be some inevitable problems entailed in contracting out public services to the private sector, and cites the failings of Whanau Ora as a justification for his concern.

But then he goes on to undermine this curiously sane-sounding bit of reasoned analysis by insipidly suggesting that this means the problem is with this *part* of the model, rather than the entire *outsources-to-private-sector* concept itself.

A moment's consideration will reveal the obvious idiocy contained therein.

I know I've said this before, but I shall say it again. And again and again and again ad-nauseum until the people in power listen. (I'd say it again until Gareth Morgan listened ... but I suspect we might be here until Hell acquires an emissions trading scheme)

Social Bonds, by the admission of just about everyone involved, are likely to COST MORE to run than our extant (and admittedly, creaky at the best of times) public health system.

The reason that they will COST MORE than what we're doing now is NOT because there is any guarantee that the outcomes will be better, or superior. There isn't. That's why this is, by definition, an EXPERIMENT.

Instead, Social Bonds will likely cost more because the state (i.e. you and me as taxpayers and/or mental health service provider users) is set to SUBSIDIZE some FAIRLY MASSIVE potential returns and interest for involved private sector entities. (the figures cited are between five and seventeen percent)

Now call me old-fashioned, but that doesn't sound particularly like the wonderful wheels of free-market efficiency being applied to one of our most complex and intractable health problems.

Instead, it sounds simply like yet more plain old Crony Capitalism from a National government picking clean the corpse of our public services sector to feed their gluttonous private sector mates.

For the record, I have absolutely no problem with non-state actors working in the mental health sector. Many NGOs perform vital supplementary and even front-line roles right now, already, with services ranging from addiction-counselling through to specialist psychiatric assistance. Hell, by definition any private counselor or psychiatrist you choose to commission the services of in order to help get to the root of your illness, is also a non-state actor.

So it REALLY REALLY rankles me when Morgan wades into a debate he clearly knows worse than nothing about, and blindly insists upon not only fundamentally misrepresenting the solutions on offer ... but woefully mischaracterizing the beliefs and objections of those of us not on his side of the argument.

What he's advocating for, in this instance, is something which the Finance Minister himself has characterized as putting *more* money into mental health, for an as-yet unsure and unspecified outcome.

Particularly given the problems with the model which Morgan himself has identified ... wouldn't it make a helluvalot more sense - if we're going to spend more money on this anyway - to put the cash where it's proven to do some good in front-line service delivery, rather than questionable ideologically-driven social experimentation?

I think so, but then Gareth Morgan disagrees.

Tell me ... which one of us is the supposedly insane one again?





Tuesday, June 30, 2015

A Short History Of German Debt Forgiveness ... By Other Nations. Why Not For Greece?



Right now, a sovereign debt crisis is engorging Europe. You've all probably read about it, so the precise details don't bear repeating here. But suffice to say Greece is left going "Join the Eurozone, they said. It'll be FUN, they said!" while the rest of Europe (particularly Germany) looks on in abject horror at the prospect of a Greek collapse taking a large swathe of one of the world's largest economies with it.

Into that miasmic malaise, as per usual, rode the horsemen IMF, ECB and E.U.. I believe they're still waiting on Death to turn up and join them.

Instead of bolstering a struggling economy by transferring funds as a form of charitable "development assistance", these institutions have made their loans to Greece conditional, for the most part, on the implementation of a far-right and fundamentally damaging economic agenda that is aptly known as "Austerity".

This hasn't exactly saved the Greek economy; and fed up with the tides of woebegotten misery inflicted upon them by their richer, more powerful neighbours ... the Greeks recently en-masse economically revolted by electing radical left-wing party SYRZA to lead their Government.

Now, SYRZA are a pretty ballsy bunch - and from this commentator's seat in the balmy neoliberal sub-tropics of the South Pacific, I've regularly found myself absolutely and abjectly CHEERING every time they swotted the nose of the Eurozone's masters. Everything from demanding reparations from Germany for the last time they wrecked the Greek economy through to insisting on seeking a popular mandate for their economic agenda was pretty resoundingly awesome in my (admittedly little and red) book.

But some of the solutions to Greece's sovereign debt crisis (and it's multi-headed hydra enough as a problem to call for *solutions* in the definitive plural) need not be NEARLY so novel nor controversial.

For you see, this isn't the first time Europe has dealt with a sovereign debt crisis in an economy starting with G.

Way back in the 1920s, during the time of much-mythologized hyperinflation and Cabaret-listening Weimar Democracy ... it happened to Germany.

Twice.

It first happened in 1923. Due to the way World War One panned out (with history, as per usual, being decided by the victors), Germany had been required to pay the victorious Allies an enormous sum totalling 132 billion gold marks (the equivalent of hundreds of billions of NZ dollars today). This, obviously, wasn't entirely feasible for the cash-strapped and broadly ruined post-war German economy - and so they effectively defaulted on their reparations.

One thing lead to another, and Germany's then-industrial heartland of the Ruhr found itself being jointly occupied by France and Belgium (the latter of which was presumably quite enjoying being an aggressive military power somewhere outside of Africa, for a change).

Predictably, the German economy suffered further as a direct result of the military occupation and the conditions imposed on Germany during same - leading to additional impairment of Germany's ability to pay the much sought-after reparations.

The result of this ongoing farce was something called the Dawes Plan - a foreign fiscal intervention designed to put Germany back in a position to meet her reparations debt ... by loaning money to her and externally imposing conditions on government fiscal and monetary policy.

Is this starting to sound familiar, yet ...?

To be fair, softening the conditions of repayment down to a mere *billion* marks a year (and, y'know ... de-occupying a large and important swathe of German economic activity) had some positive short-term effects. Getting Germany's creditors off her back somewhat, and an influx of foreign money certainly staved off the very real prospect of fairly immediate and sharp continued economic decline.

And yet, it wasn't enough.

By 1929, Germany was once again in danger of defaulting on its international debt obligations, requiring another reduction in the level of repayments and yet another round of international credit financing.

This was called the Young Plan - and despite being agreed immediately before that other great economic event of 1929, the Wall Street Crash - it pretty much never found itself implemented.

Ensuing events from 1933 onward featuring the popular election of a socialist government of a *decidedly* different stripe in Germany seemed to put the matter somewhat to rest.

But that wasn't the end of it.

Recognizing that ruinously high levels of foreign debt would *not* be conducive to recovery, peace or stability in newly-re-democratized West Germany; in 1953 the victorious Western Allies once again forgave massive levels of German debt.

This resulted in a situation wherein Germany was able to steadily whittle down

The really interesting part of the 1953 Settlement was a clause which limited German debt repayments to a percentage of German trade surpluses. Or, in other words, a slice of what Germany's creditor nations were buying off her in terms of exports.

Needless to say, this spurred German economic recovery by steadfastly encouraging the rest of the world to buy off the Germans - while also limiting what Germany would have to pay to her foreign benefactors to a reasonable and sustainable figure.

Genius.

It's just a pity there apparently isn't the political will to continue to do this sort of thing today.

An entire Nation of people should not be made to suffer simply for the mistakes of a generation of politicians.

It may have taken quite literally thirty years, but eventually Germany's creditor nations realized this themselves.

We can but hope that Germany eventually learns to look to the mistakes of her past and take heed of them when dealing with another nation in a similar position.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Life After Winston - On The Future Leadership of NZ First - Part One: Pretenders To The Throne

The New Zealand First Leadership Post Peters - Prospects & Pretenders


Introduction

The recent débâcle over the Conservative leadership causes one to question the viability of any political party based around one individual. While Colin's Craig Conservative Party is stillborn, other personality based political movements have enjoyed considerable success, both here in New Zealand and around the world. 

Just ask Winston Peters – the man whose politics Craig tried and failed to emulate.

New Zealand First was once described as the “Peters Party”. For many years, it was the personal vehicle of its Leader. Arguably, it still is. Scores of NZ First MPs have come and gone over the last 22 years. But its Leader has remained unchanged. Nevertheless, the NZ First Party of 2015 is not the same party that won the Tauranga by-election in 1993. Over time the party has matured into something resembling a conventional mass political party. And yet, it is almost inconceivable to imagine an NZ First without Winston Peters.

So, that begs the question. What would happen if NZ First, for whatever reason, were suddenly to find itself in the same position the hapless Conservatives are in? Who among the existing caucus of NZ First MPs could carry the party post-Winston? Or would the saviour of NZ First have to come from elsewhere?

This article is the first piece in a multi-part series examining in detail and from a uniquely insider's point of view the various options on offer to succeed Winston.

Be warned. Some of the revelations contained herein will lay bare the sorts of back-room political maneuverings outsiders and those outside the highest echelons of politics rarely get to see. It may even help to redraw bits of the political map as you know it. 

Part 1: The outsiders

Back in August 2013, Martyn Bradbury wrote a piece on TDB entitled “The two words that ensure NZ First gain above 5% –John Tamihere”. Bradbury speculated that the disgraced former Labour MP might be considering a move to NZ First with a view to succeeding Peters. This idea was endorsed by JT's mate and (then) RadioLive co-host Willie Jackson.

To outside observers it might just have seemed media hype - but in fact, Tamihere himself was interested in the role. Following a chance encounter with Winston at the Green Parrot in August of 2012, Tamihere opened a back-channel with NZ First via the parliamentary office of Party whip Barbara Stewart. Tamihere revealed to NZF that he was considering a return to Parliament and discussed the possibility of doing this through joining NZ First.

In the end, Tamihere chose to stay with the Labour Party; and promptly covered himself in a substance not quite akin to glory. But a Peters/Tamihere alliance was never likely to begin with. For one, it would have required Winston to abandon his opposition to the “Whanau Ora” scheme; a programme that Tamihere is intimately involved with as chief executive of the Waipareira Trust. Such re-positioning is not unheard of in politics, but for a leader who has based a large part of his career on attacking race based privilege - and who seemed to spend much of 2012 campaigning against the so-called "Bro-ocracy" "Brown Elephant" Whanau Ora represented - it would have been a bridge too far. 

More to the point, Tamihere's own inflammatory and risk-prone personal style - as best demonstrated by his magnificently mangled attempt to re-join the Labour Party through media-coup and his abominable on-air handling of the RoastBusters issue a year later - would cause just about any political party to think twice at the very least about allowing him to represent them in public, much less in The House. Given Winston's personal nature as a fastidious avoider of risk (to the point that entire nation-wide election campaigns regularly seem to be run by him personally so as to avoid mistakes), the unpredictable and explosive element which Tamihere would add to a Caucus meant that he constituted a singularly non-viable addition to NZF's. Indeed, you could very well call him the "Anti-Winston". 

Tamihere was not the first political has-been rumoured to be plotting a comeback with NZ First, however. In 2010, there was speculation in the media that then-Wanganui mayor, ex-MP and former NZ First strategist Michael Laws was in talks with Peters to return as a candidate and possibly even Deputy Leader. In private, Peters would later dismiss Laws as having too much personal baggage; while the Party never forgave Laws for his tell-all book The Demon Profession. Meanwhile, every time a Laws return has been mentioned subsequent to this, a small mountain of negative correspondence from voters and members would inevitably be sent in to the Party's Board of Directors and Parliamentary offices.

Speaking of controversial figures from local body politics, in 2010 a third contender emerged out of the ashes of the 2010 Auckland Super-Mayoralty elections. At the time, this man was lesser known. Certainly not someone capable of commanding national headlines for a week as he is today. He was the owner of a property management company, a self-professed millionaire, and conservative Christian who played a pivotal role in organizing the so-called “March for Democracy”.

Yes. That man was failed Auckland mayoral candidate and future leader of the Conservative Party, Colin Craig. TDB can now reveal that in late 2010, Winston Peters derisively rejected a proposal from Craig that would have seen Craig elected deputy leader of NZ First in return for a substantial donation to the Party.

Ultimately, none of these men were good enough for Peters. Nor fit to lead any serious political party. At best, they would lead NZ First into electoral oblivion. At worst, they would tarnish the Peters legacy forever.

But then, another candidate has stepped out of the shadows (or, if you prefer, out of the Pacific) in recent times.

Shane Jones
Shane Geoffrey Jones shares many similarities with Winston Raymond Peters. They both grew up in rural Northland. They are Maori. They are known for their oratory. Indeed, Jones himself has consciously banked on this in the past, comparing himself in a 2008 interview with NZ Herald journalist Michele Hewiston to the NZ First leader, saying, “I seem to be about to occupy Winston's sort of shoes in the pantheon of personalities in Maori politics”. He may have been woefully premature in that proclamation; but as demonstrated by the demographic Jones semi-successfully reached out to during his abortive Labour leadership campaign, there does indeed appear to be some cross-over in ethos and appeal. He's certainly an innate populist, and it could even be argued he's something of an economic nationalist. The two are also close on a personal level.

The boy from Whananaki has a lot of time for the boy from Awanui. But could Jones ever lead NZ First?

Matthew Hooton certainly believes so. In March last year, Hooton wrote for the National Business Review: “Shane Jones has got to look to the future. He doesn't like the Labour Party, the Labour Party doesn't like him.But there's a fantastic opportunity for him to become a New Zealand First MPand barnstorm the nation with Winston Peters.” Jones dismissed the advice, but his resignation from Parliament a month later prompted further speculation about his political future.

Fellow Northland Maori politician Hone Harawira appeared to endorse the idea of Jones defecting to NZ First when he was inadvertently recorded discussing the possibility of Jones “[coming] back with Winston in 2017”. Now, after Peters' remarkable victory in the Northland by-election, there would appear to be a clear pathway back for Jones. Particularly if Winston does decide to be a nation-wide "list only" candidate in 2017 as he has done for the previous several elections; thus requiring someone to hold fort against the inevitable furious National revanchism in their former stronghold. 

The appearance of Shane Jones at Winston Peters' victory celebration in Russell on the night of the Northland by-election could be seen as coincidental. However, in politics such coincidences are rare enough to be remarkable in and of themselves. TDB can reveal that Jones' long-term partner Dorothy Pumipi was involved in the planning and organisation of Peters' 2015 Northland campaign. Furthermore, TDB can confirm that Jones was approached by a figure close to the upper echelons of the Party as early as 2012. A young Parliamentary Services staffer from the NZ First Leader's Office, Api Dawson, lobbied Jones to leave Labour and join NZ First during a visit to Rarotonga with the Parliamentary rugby team in September 2012.

This casts a new light on the Peters-Jones relationship. It suggests something more than a coincidence or casual linkage is perhaps behind their recent public proximity. Whether or not this is evidence of a succession plan, we cannot be sure. What we can be sure of is that Jones remains very much in contention for the leadership of NZ First.

But how viable is that contention, in reality?

I'd say questionable in the extreme, at best. 

First of all, his lack of history with the party is problematic. Commentators such as Hooton overlook the fact that NZ First has a membership in the thousands, with an elected board of directors and a caucus of 12 MPs. Each of these individuals has some stake in the running of the party. While its leader continues to wield disproportionate influence over the caucus and the board, this influence has diminished since 2008. Few decisions are made without deliberation. Where there is conflict, Peters usually yields to the collective judgement of those around him. When he does act unilaterally, he is challenged (a subject for another post).

Despite the fact that NZF's internal structure remains a labyrinthine network of patronage and personal loyalties all tied fairly directly to Winston, the days of Peters having absolute power are gone. That means any future leader would need to command the loyalty and support of the Party on a personal basis in a manner at least vaguely similar to the way Winston does. It is not enough to simply have Peters' endorsement, and expect the rank-and-file to automatically fall into line. 

Here, Jones lacks two essential qualities. He does not have the patience or the work ethic to build a network of supporters within the party. This was one of the flaws that hampered his bid for the Labour leadership. It is difficult to see Jones cultivating the necessary multitude of relationships with other MPs, board members, low-level party functionaries and volunteers – the people whom Peters has depended on for his political survival. Many long-time Party stalwarts are likely to view Jones with suspicion and contempt (no one likes to be upstaged by a late-comer). Peters, for all his flaws, knows how to make people feel valued. His warmth and empathy will not carry over to Jones.

Leaving aside the use of his ministerial credit to purchase pornography, Jones' overblown proclivity for colourful language and odd sexual innuendo - as detailed by Dr Brian Edwards in 2013 - further calls into question his suitability for leadership, particularly of New Zealand First. Despite my frequent protestations to the contrary (and the widespread support enjoyed by Ron Mark for his "shut the fuck up" comment) there remains a large and vocal swathe of NZ First voters who are fundamentally if not stereotypically conservative in such matters. Such braggadocio is the antithesis of Peters' own meticulous image - and for good reason. 

Another plain fact is that Jones is a perennial loser. He twice failed to win the seat of Northland for Labour, each time coming a distant second. In 2011, despite much media hype and the full strength of the Labour Party machine behind him, Jones failed to unseat Pita Sharples in the seat of Tāmaki Makaurau. As if three electoral failures in a row were not enough, Jones then took another beating in the Labour leadership contest of 2013. Despite his oratorical skills and intellectual prowess, it appears that Jones lacks any of Peters' electoral appeal.

Potential future developments in Wairarapa notwithstanding (rest assured: we'll cover him in a future article); assuming Peters holds Northland in 2017 and retires ahead of the 2020 election, the fate of NZ First could depend on Jones winning the seat. His relationship with the fisheries industry, as well as Iwi, will mean Jones can fill the party coffers in a way Peters never could. But as we learnt from ACT and the Conservatives, money doesn't win elections. Should Jones become the leader of NZ First it will likely end in calamity. Even if he won Northland, Jones would struggle to carry the Party with him - at best leaving him satrap of a dangerously marginal northern outpost amidst a collapsing internal administration ... and more likely, a one-term wonder with even less claim to legitimacy as a party than Peter Dunne presently enjoys. 

Conclusion

For many external commentators, predicting the imminent demise of New Zealand First as soon as Winston Peters steps back from the captain's chair has proven something of an irresistible predilection. Certainly, the fate of even relatively successful minor parties such as ACT or The Alliance once the personalities prominent at their founding recede from the scene might be taken as prescriptive.

And yet, it seems quite likely that there will be a future post-Winston for New Zealand First.

It's hard for an organization built around one man to persist, let alone survive and thrive year in and year out. But across the decades to the present day, this is *exactly* what New Zealand First appears to have done. Despite a string of relatively serious internal controversies over the previous half-decade, the New Zealand First of today appears to be in rude and robust health. Not only did the Party successfully nearly double the size of its Parliamentary Caucus between 2011 and 2015 from 7 MPs to 12; its Parliamentarians have also, in many cases, carved out deserved reputations for competency and even independent initiative in the House and elsewhere.

On top of this, and arguably just as importantly for the Party's future, the Party's ranks of volunteers and future candidate prospects are swiftly growing. Thanks at least in part to the efforts of NZ First Youth, it's now not uncommon to see university students and under-30s at regular Party meetings. This combination of a ready supply of seasoned activists and burgeoning future potential is vital for any long-term political project; but as New Zealand First nears its Momentum Excitationis in the not-too-distant future, such resources are particularly important in ensuring our future viability.

And this why, ultimately, it's rather difficult to see how an external new-entrant like Jones or some other as-yet-unknown third party would make for a viable successor to Winston.

As previously mentioned, New Zealand First runs internally on a byzantine network of quasi-feudal personal power-dynamics and man-to-man connections. Almost every local chairman will have some measure of personal relationship with (and, needless to say, personal loyalty to) Winston. In that respect, it's sort of like the Mafia but without the insulating cell-structure.

This has been remarkably effective at keeping the vital core of the Party together and ideologically aligned through some incredibly tough and traumatic times that would have splintered less closely knit electoral organizations ... but it comes at a cost. 

Obviously, if your Party is organized around an interlocking filigree of personal loyalty to one man, replacing that man is going to cause something of a structural weakness at the center. The possibility that some outsider agent could therefore parachute in at the top and suddenly take over without some very, very serious initial preparatory work is, therefore, an exceedingly remote one.

More likely, what we shall see transpire as we head toward the Post-Winston Era is an internecine power struggle between two already-coagulating armed camps within the Party. Indeed, a cynic/realist might argue that this has already begun to happen; and that a series of curious instances such as star MP Ron Mark's inexplicably low placing on the 2014 List or the more recent attempt to have a relative of NZ First Deputy Leader Tracey Martin enter Parliament through the list instead of Ria Bond after Winston won Northland ... represent the early stages of such a game already being played in earnest.

But those are matters for a future article.

Be sure to join us next week for Part Two in our Life After Winston series: "Tracey Martin - Queen of Hearts".

This piece has been a joint effort between long-serving former New Zealand First Board of Directors member Curwen Ares Rolinson, and a mysterious Southern gentleman known only as "Eduardo". 




Thursday, June 25, 2015

When Does National Say Protesting At Parliament A "Serious Risk"?

Yesterday, a crew of GreenPeace affiliated activists scaled Parliament in order to install solar panels.

Predictably, this annoyed the hell outta the National Party - and not least because it made something of a laughing-stock of Parliamentary security.

Speaker of the House David Carter came out strongly against the action - calling it a "serious risk", referring to the action as an "attack", and inviting the Police onto the Parliamentary Precinct in order to deal with the protest.

This stands in marked contravention to the way National has responded to some previous protest actions at Parliament - with luminaries who will no doubt be baying for some book-throwing striking up quite a different tune when it came to their own peers.

Then-Deputy Leader Gerry Brownlee insisted that prosecuting National MP Shane Ardern for driving a tractor called Myrtle up the steps of Parliament constituted a "frivolous prosecution" and lamented the "extraordinary expense police [had] gone to". It didn't seem to matter that he directly defied Parliament's manager of security and operations attempting to stop him - and I can't help but note that in contrast to Carter's actions, then-Speaker of the House Jonathan Hunt deliberately refused to attempt to influence the Police in their decision as to whether or not to get involved.

Further, I don't seem to recall even a hint of disquiet from National MPs about future Speaker of the House Lockwood Smith's actions during the same protest. Not only did he brazenly lead a pair of cows up the steps of Parliament ... one even defecated on our national legislature.

National's protest action quite literally expressed both their contempt for and contribution to our democracy (so very, very much "Bovine Scatology" - as Winston would say) ... and nobody batted an eye.

But four peaceful protesters scale Parliament to provide it with free power ... and suddenly everyone loses their minds.

So in short: when does National reckon protesting at Parliament is a "serious risk"?

Answer: when it's not a National MP doing it. Preferably, for a cause that's anti-sustainability rather than pro-renewables.

[Thanks to Michael Bott for providing the inspiration for this article]

On The Brighter Future With Solar Panels On Parliament

Yesterday morning, I woke up to news that four GreenPeace protesters had scaled Parliament, and were presently engaged in installing solar panels on the pediment.

This is, needless to say, a highly risky and rather exciting means to protest and highlight our collective over-dependence on fossil energy. But I shall not get into the moralities or exigencies of that here. Suffice to say I hope we can all agree that this Government has not done enough to support renewable energy (instead choosing to reward damaging extractive industries by helping out foreign oil and coal concerns); and that there's strong potential for us to make greater use of renewables here in New Zealand.

Instead, what I want to share with you is a little anecdote that immediately popped into my head as soon as I read the headlines about this incident.

For you see, this isn't the first time somebody's installed solar panels on a high-profile government building. Not least as a publicity exercise.

Way back in 1979, President Jimmy Carter had solar panels installed on the roof of the White House. Then, as now, the Developed World found itself in the grips of an Energy Crisis. Except whereas today's woes are caused by a gradual and growing realization that our supplies of these resources are finite (and, to be fair, certain geopolitical happenings) ... the crisis back in his day was primarily driven by a series of oil embargoes and crises at the source. First, in 1973 Arab states initiated an embargo and price-hike designed to punish America and its allies for intervening in the recent Yom Kippur War against Israel. That was then followed by the chaos of the Iranian Revolution in 1979. This lead to the previously unheard-of situation in the US of long queues for petrol at service stations, and oil prices that would, within a year, reach a height unsurpassed again until 2008. Here in New Zealand, this gave us the phenomenon of Carless Days; a synthetic oil refinery at Motunui, and the #Muldoonist stab at providing renewable energy through hydroelectricity. (Gosh, reducing our use of pollution-causing private transport while increasing our use of renewable energy? Sounds almost Green :D )

In any case, rather than aggressive military intervention, Carter decided to pursue the 'smarter' course of action: moves toward energy independence, secured through renewables. As he pointed out at the time, you can't embargo the sun. (unless, of course, we're talking about the backstory to The Matrix)

Carter proudly proclaimed of his solar panels that "A generation from now, this solar heater can either be a curiosity, a museum piece, an example of a road not taken, or it can be a small part of one of the greatest and most exciting adventures ever undertaken by the American people".

And where is that solar panel now?

It's in a museum in China.

How appropriate.

Let's not be like America after Carter. Let's have a sane and sober conversation, as a Nation, about how we move forward into the sunlight of a less fossil-fuel dependent future.

After all - as Winston says, fossil fuels are a "sunset industry" with only a very limited future.

Let's not join them ;)

On Healthcare - National, Dunne And ACT Are Heartless, Brainless, Spineless.

During the 2014 Election campaign, New Zealand First announced a policy of giving Gold Card holders 3 free doctor's visits a year. We thought this was pretty sound policy, the merits of which would outright speak for themselves.

As I've blogged earlier this week, pensioners are on fixed and pretty limited incomes. Doctor's visits are expensive. There's therefore a huge disincentive for pensioners to go visit their local GP for a regular checkup - or even in cases wherein there's clearly something wrong.

That's bad. And not just for the pensioners in question. At the forefront of EVERY policymaker's political consciousness and conscience ought to be how the state can help alleviate the suffering and improve the lives of all our citizens - particularly vulnerable Kiwis like pensioners.

But there's also a cold, hard fiscal-financial reason for advocating such a policy, as well.

Early interventions don't just save lives. They save cash and hospital resources, too. If we can get to a problem at the GP-level - and treat it early - then that means the patient doesn't have to be referred on up the chain to a hospital because things have already gotten more serious.

It also leaves hospitals with more time and resources to deal with emergencies, and other patients with immediately urgent health concerns. And all thanks to a quick visit to the GP detecting the problem earlier - and starting management of it accordingly.

In other words, it's a totally common sense and widely popular policy.

And I should therefore be *entirely unsurprised* that National, Peter Dunne, and ACT have done everything in their power to prevent it from happening.

Winston Peters put forward a bill to make our policy a reality. Had it passed, it would have been a simple and effective way of looking after our old people while reducing hospital wait-times and healthcare costs to both consumers and taxpayers.

Unfortunately, despite each of the Labour Party, the Green Party and even the Maori Party coming together to support New Zealand First's bill ... it failed last night in the House. By ONE vote. A single conscience which ought to hang heavy for standing in the way of alleviating misery for tens of thousands of older New Zealanders.

And what justification did the right-wing knife-edge cossacks cite for denying the bill's passage? Cost.

Because apparently, having preventable illnesses dealt with in our hospitals costs less than having those same problems detected and treated at a far earlier stage thanks to a GP. Because the absolutely minuscule fiscal cost of giving Gold Card holders 3 free doctor's visits a year is an unjustifiable expense and the Government would MUCH rather count a mounting cost in human turmoil and misery from our elderly instead.

Because that's what Neoliberalism is all about. A stupid, short-sighted strangulation of an over-emphasis on short-term immediately apparent "costs" while ignoring utterly and completely the larger and long-term savings in both monetary and mortal (if not outright mortality) terms. And an absolute emphatic insistence upon "user pays" - even when the "users" in question might lack the funds or the fortitude to do something as simple as shelling out the cost of a doctor's visit.

Make no mistake. What we saw last night in The House was the true face of this government. One that doesn't care one iota about the actual wellbeing of some of its most vulnerable citizens when there's an imaginary "surplus" it can ride off in pursuit of.

Having said that, it wasn't just National, ACT and United Future prepared to sacrifice ease of access to medical care for the elderly to the surplus-slasher's knife come the last Election. Labour, too, announced a similar policy to NZF's (as per usual, we thank them for knowing a good idea when they see one) ... but then revoked it once again in quixotic pursuit of surplus.

In a spirit of fairness, I should therefore like to congratulate the Labour Party for recanting on their earlier policy commitments and choosing to put people before bottom lines in supporting New Zealand First on this issue.

In any case, given the Government was good enough to adopt *another* NZ First inspired policy in the form of free doctor's visits for under-13s as part of its most recent Budget ... it's plainly apparent that they already get the logic behind preventative medicine and early interdiction.

So I guess we're left asking: If they were prepared to do something to help their target support demographic of young families ... why are they not prepared to do something very similar to help *our* perceived main support demographic in the form of the elderly?

Is it because they're playing politics with the people's health?

Monday, June 22, 2015

Exclude Gareth Morgan From Political Process And End His War On The Elderly



One thing I really, really hate in this world ... is the certain sort of economist or business-person who blithely assumes that just because they've demonstrated an alleged competency in *one* field of human endeavour, that this means we are all axiomatically beholden to listen to them in their parsimonious if not pugnacious opinions on just about everything else.

Fresh from his resounding successes at abolishing housecatsincome taxunhealthy eating habits, and the economically progressive wing of the Green Party (otherwise known as "The Green Party"), Gareth Morgan's at it again.

This time, apparently declaring war on some of our most vulnerable citizens (and perhaps not coincidentally, the mainstay of the stereotypical NZ First voterbase), The Elderly.

Now let's get one thing straight. I'm biased. I *like* many of our older citizens - and not just because they're often appreciative of the work my Chief has done for them.

When it comes to my political values, I've often found myself absolutely bowled over and surprised by how much there is in common between people of my generation and our illustrious forebears. I still remember the first time I addressed an NZF meeting, I went on a bit of a rant about how we were going to Unmake Neoliberalism in New Zealand and restore some sort of Social Democratic Sanity to both our economy and our society. A "fair go" kind of ethos wherein we didn't just close our eyes and blindly trust in the market and hope that things would get better. Where The State was an active, interventionist and CARING one that stepped in both to curb the market's excesses - and, more importantly, to protect its citizens and boost up and bolster their prospects.

Now, this met with resounding applause. Not because I'm any great orator (at least, I wasn't, then) ... but because to these people I wasn't describing some mythical Camelot or City on a Hill.

I was describing exactly the sort of New Zealand they felt they'd grown up in - and then watched cruelly ripped asunder from them during the Rogernomics and Ruthanasia economic reforms of the 1980s and early 1990s.

So this is why many of that generation GO OUT AND VOTE at EVERY ELECTION. Not because of some high-minded idealist rhetoric about how they were also literally the same generation who not infrequently put life and limb on the line to fight for YOUR right to vote here and now in the future. They did that too - and to the veterans who've fought for this country, rest assured you have my eternal and enduring gratitude for what you have done for me and my people.

But instead, because they KNOW that a better society - a fairer society ... hell, one where you can even swim in the rivers like they used to do - is possible. And they're generally hella, hella pissed at the fact that a rogue generation of economists like Gareth Morgan have seen fit to fundamentally distort this in favour of "market equilibriums" and "the state should not interfere".

That rhetoric's evil. And these elderly voters ... they're not afraid to call it out for what it is.

Now into this fray rides our very own Man from La Mancha on a motorbike, Gareth Morgan.

Morgan has some very, very funny ideas. One of those is his cat-astrophic campaign to eliminate the main predator of rats and mice within New Zealand (you'll note those are devourers of Kiwi bird-life at a rate that outstrips cats), apparently heedless of the ecological consequences of same. Another is his ongoing quixotic crusade to destroy the Green Party by vainly shouting from the sidelines about how it ought to coalesce with National, and ditch most of its values in the process.

A third, is his continual effort to overhaul the pension system.

Now let's be clear about this. Contra to Morgan's assertions, the New Zealand state pension is not "Fat".

It is, in fact, between $295.41 and $431.10 a week. A minimum wage job, by contrast, is $590 a week. And we already, as a society, acknowledge that the latter figure is not exactly enough to live on.

So when Morgan breathlessly claims that our senior citizens don't "deserve" to be looked after in their old age because they're effectively, in his view, creaming a "fat" income off all of the rest of our common backs ... I find this absolutely repugnant.

Hard-working New Zealanders who've hit retirement in the last few years and decades have spent the best years of their lives paying taxes - in the case of income generated before Neoliberalism, often quite HIGH taxes - in order to provide the infrastructure, services and support systems which subsequent generations have been lucky enough to enjoy. They've also done this on the implicit - if not outright explicit in some cases - promise that we would ALSO look after THEM when the time came that they were no longer up to earning their own income in the work-force.

That's the social compact (or contract) in action, pure plain and simple.

Now to be fair, the state COULD have been a bit smarter about moving to provide for the needs of its citizens in their retirement - and Morgan is quite right when he points out the lamentable folly of Key's government suspending contributions to the Cullen Fund while also negligently divesting itself of an income-earning state-asset base which might have helped to pay for future state services and social spending.

But his dual, forked-tongue proposed alternative solutions are abominable.

Quite apart from placing the welfare and income-streams of our elderly under threat ... he wants to ensure a lack of opposition to his dastardly scheme by straight-up disenfranchising the elderly! I'm not going to stoop to the depths of rhetoric entailed by his luridly phrased metaphor about "financial genocide" - but it's not particularly hard to think of other instances wherein entire classes of people have been robbed of their democratic rights in order to mete out a discriminatory injustice against them.

The logic for this is, apparently, that only by removing the voices and the votes of our senior citizens from our democracy can the country prosper. This is in spite of the fact that the fiercest resistors of neoliberalism - and ultimately, the generations that gave us MMP in the first place - are still some of the most active and engaged contributors to the protection of same. I fully agree that more needs to be done to encourage and engage young potential-voters by giving them a stake in our democracy (it's one of the reasons why I'm in politics) ... but getting rid of the elderly so that young people have more of a relative say seems highly sketchy if not outright spurious reasoning at best. You might like to phrase it as "excluding one of the most politically active and experienced generations in order to engage the one that often can't be bothered voting".

But I have more faith in the social conscience of young voters than Gareth Morgan himself seems to possess or appears to think we have. The obvious testament to this is the number of people my age I met who've said they were voting New Zealand First not just because of their nationalistic streak, or our kick-arse policies for youth ... but because they respected and admired the job we did of looking after their grand-parents, too.

We recognize that a stable, sane and fair society is not one in which - Logan's Run style - you wind up being excluded and marginalized just because of your age. But rather, one in which both the previous contributions and the present needs of our citizenry are acknowledged, respected, and engaged with appropriately.

Not least because, as in the case of our older New Zealanders, they've often lived through the mistakes of the past and come through them with the wisdom which we can learn from if we wish to repeat them.

Having said that, there's one older New Zealander who, through their ongoing fruitcake contributions to our public sphere (and I *don't* mean Alison Holst), has potentially demonstrated they're no longer worthy of a say.

I think it's high time we let Gareth Morgan take his own advice and disregard his self-appointed political role in our society.