Wednesday, February 14, 2018

On English's Billexit And Why This Means National Is In Trouble For 2020

I'm frankly a bit puzzled when it comes to yesterday's shock political news, and for one simple reason:

Contrary to what a number of people are saying (particularly the "SECOND ELECTION LOST IN A ROW" style of comments) - Bill English leaving the National Party Leadership and Parliament may not actually help contribute to a National-led government in 2020.


First up, it's hard to see National actually improving its performance from Election Night. Their failures in the weeks after were those of negotiation [and, arguably, the fruit of 'dirty tricks' played *during* the campaign - the architects of which are all still around] rather than vote-garnering [they actually *increased* their number of votes over 2014].

As applies 2020, this therefore illuminates two prospective pathways to victory. The first of which, being somehow managing to lure one or the other of Labour's C&S partners away through honeyed words and Ministerial portfolios, thus denying Labour the numbers to form a Government - because National's doing so instead.

And already, we have a bit of an issue here. Insofar as it is difficult to see who National would be able to elevate from its Caucus to the top job who would be better equipped to negotiate with New Zealand First than English. Although a potential counter-argument would be if National somehow managed to find both a figure and sufficient motivation for attempting to negotiate with the Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand instead. Which is, for any number of reasons, pretty seriously unlikely - but given English himself was prepared to extend the relative olive-branch of not smashing the Greens in the face with a stick after Election Night 2017 by leaving the door open to a call from James Shaw ... perhaps in two and a half years' time things might be different on one or both sides.

The second pathway is built around National increasing its share of the vote to the point at which a Labour-led Government becomes non-viable - either through something like NZF exiting Parliament altogether, and/or through National gaining votes, and/or through National somehow winding up in the same position they were in on Election Night 2014 [i.e. before the Specials and such came in] of being able to govern alone if they so chose.

This is, if anything, an arguably *more* difficult scenario now that Bill's gone.

Because while English definitely seemed to lack a bit of lustre during his head-on engagements with Jacinda on the campaign trail last year, there is no denying that he quite successfully reached out to a reasonably broad portion of New Zealand. Not as a "charismatic" frontman [as people for some inexplicable reason seem to brand his predecessor, Key]; but as a "safe pair of hands" to the older demographics of potential swing-voters who've got mortgages and are anemic about the notion of financial shocks to their (credit) system.

National can either seek to find someone to replace that kind of cred - which will likely be something of an exercise in futility, as nobody else in their Caucus can actually front up and point to a record [however fudged and airbrushed and PR, SPIN, and DISTORT-ed] as Finance Minister that seemingly screams "steady as she goes" in the way that English could - or they can attempt to do something different.

Which quite likely means attempting to find an "Anti-Jacinda" to try and hew into Labour's recently bolstered vote. Which is ... not likely to be their most successful plan, if indeed they do attempt it. Many of Labour's 'new' votes at the last Election came from people who didn't vote in 2014. These people [and I don't mean people who were under 18 at the time] are rather unlikely to wind up supporting National, for any number of obvious reasons. And many more of those aforementioned 'new' voters were either Greens or NZF supporters at previous Elections who'd decided to back Labour this time instead - so once again, a very tough prospect to drag over to the Right.

Meanwhile, for those 'swing voters' who DID previously support National, yet went over to Labour this time around - much of their decision-making appears to have been predicated upon the idea that National over the previous 9 years had become stale and wrongheaded in its governance. I'm not sure how a mere 3 years on, with a substantively similar Caucus and Front Bench, National will be able to meaningfully dispel that impression and convince people that putting them *back* in won't ultimately result in a slightly rebranded "more of the same".

But hey, maybe somebody'll decide that Nikki Kaye vs Jacinda Ardern had one outcome [repeatedly] in Auckland Central over elections previous and hope against hope that it'll work out similarly on the national stage.

It's also worth noting that English's elevation to Leader of National may very well have been responsible for some of New Zealand First's flagging fortunes - "conservatives" suddenly having a reason to go back to the darker shade of Blue with a Capital C Catholic on a lot of social policy at the helm of the party and nation. English in Exile may therefore give New Zealand First a bit of a boost and help ensure it makes it over the 5%  threshold as the "only" "conservative" voice left in Parliament [notwithstanding an older generation of National MPs who may see their own spate of retirements later in the Term]; thus further frustrating any National plans of denying Labour a support-partner or attempting to govern alone [something that will be much easier with the redistribution of seats that would take place if NZF had a large 'wasted vote'].

In any case, with the singular exception of the New Zealand Labour Party in the past year ... voters don't like the appearance of instability generated by changing leaders in swift succession. The National Party isn't *quite* at Labour-from-2008-2018 [more especially, 2011-2014] territory *just* yet, but it is worth noting that they'll have had three leaders within the relatively short space of a year and a half.

If they get the *right* leader, that's one thing. but I would be entirely unsurprised if infighting occurred and started leaching out into the public domain regardless. Particularly once Shadow-Cabinet appointments and suchlike are underway and people start "missing out".

With an additional possibility that we may see something akin to what happened with Labour under Cunliffe - wherein a whole lot of Nats decide to put their focus on self-preservation rather than the previous and arguably quite remarkable interior discipline that National has managed to maintain for much of the last 9 years; motivated in no small part by scorn for the "wrong" figure in their individual eyes now being In Charge.

There's also an interesting rhetorical calculation as to which 'message' would be better for National against the incumbent first-term Labour-NZF-(Greens) Government.

That of "things were better under the previous Government - hence why you voted for us"; or "things WILL be better under our NEXT Government".

Obviously, National's next choice of leader will have a considerable influence on how all of this plays out. I mean, the existence of an #ABC faction as applies Judith Collins means that despite her demonstrable ability at channelling and playing upon "the fears & prejudices of the aspirational lower middle class", if she somehow manages to win the position, there's a very real chance of her tenure not leading back into the Beehive.

Meanwhile, several of the other 'clear contenders' so to speak either run the risk of being perceived as too close to potentially less than optimal parts of the previous Government [Nick Smith on housing and the environment, for instance; or Paua Bennett on welfare [as in, as Minister, not her previous source of income] and 'dirty tricks'], or as questionably relatable to the broader New Zealand electorate - especially in comparison to Ardern [e.g. Simon Bridges, who gives off a compelling impression that he's finding his human suit to be a bit itchy form time to time].

In any case, the arguable strength, discipline, and cohesiveness with which the previous leadership transition from Key to English was carried out, was impressive.

I will be inordinately surprised if National manages to accomplish the same feat for a second time running.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

On National's Recent Leadership Rumblings

I was thinking about the recent rumblings in the National Party towards their 'leadership team', and something didn't quite add up.

The main reasons why you'll see challenges mounted towards a Party's Leader and Deputy is pretty simple - the Party either did poorly at the last Election ... or looks set to do poorly at the next one. There's a subsidiary reason-set concerned with the personalities occupying those positions facing immediate and seemingly insurmountable scandals (perhaps one might say this is what happened to Don Brash during the 2005-2008 Term) - but those tend to tie themselves right back to that second reason.

In National's case, it's doubtful whether either reason is the case.

It's true to state that they did not "win" the 2017 General Election - insofar as they are not, presently, the bedrock of a Governing Coalition.

But the plain fact is that they did not exactly "lose" support themselves last year, except in purely percentage terms. In actuality, their number of votes went *up* on 2014, and only shrank as a proportion of the overall vote due to increased turnout.

So while ordinarily, there would arguably be a prima facie case for a defeated National Party to be looking around for a head to fall upon the chopping-block following an unsuccessful Election campaign ... I'm not quite sure that a reasonable observer would agree that it needs to be the case here. After all, Bill English did *well* better than many people expected; and the "loss", in practical terms took place at the Coalition Negotiation stage rather than at the ballot-box or on Election Night proper.

Certainly, a *certain former Minister* who was doing a lot of campaign managing for National over the last few years, *does* look like a potentially viable target for National internal scorn right now - but he is neither Bill English nor Paula Bennett, and therefore a leadership challenge would not directly put paid to him.

Now this leads me on to the *second* frequent-potential-reason-for-an-attempted Coup - namely, worried MPs freaking out that they're not in a viable position to win the next Election.

And for various reasons, I genuinely don't think that many Nats are in *that* basket either.

The main reason we can tell this, I think, is that if they *were* we'd probably have started to see a few List MPs either resign or begin making noises about doing so. Either because they think there's something better they can be doing now and they want to go out before National slides any further ... or because they don't think that waiting around for three years will actually get them their old jobs and perks back.

Or, from a less 'voluntary'/'altruistic' perspective .. because they've been low-key *forced out* in order to make way for "rejuvenation" by bringing in new Backbenchers and promoting upwards on the List into Shadow Cabinet and the like from the extant crop.

The fact that we *haven't* seen this indicates - to me at least - that there's a fairly high level of confidence in the National Party that they won't do significantly *worse* in 2020 than they did in 2017, and with other changes in the psephological terrain ... may even find themselves back in Pole Position once more.

National's polling in the most recent Reid Research remaining steady [in fact, going *up* by 0.1%] despite Labour's climb would further serve to underpin this.

Although against this, I suppose, you have Bill English [never the most charismatic of operators] sliding back into the mid-twenties for Preferred Prime Minister - but again, this was never a particular strength of his, and would *always* have happened against Ardern.

Anyway, that brings me to the crux of the matter.

The problem for whichever Nats are attempting to spread rumours of discontent about English/Bennett ... is NOT likely to be as retribution for a poor electoral performance last year - because there wasn't one. It's ALSO not likely to be a pre-emptive strike and 'clearing of house' to set up for frantic efforts to improve the party's prospects in 2020 - because that arguably isn't necessary. Bill English connects with the right National voter demographics, and will probably connect with even more if NZF's brief run at the "Center-Right" bloc of support continues to unravel with its present speed.

This leaves the somewhat rare potential reasoning for a coup of personal animosity between one or more of the leadership team and one or more of the factions within National itself.

And here, I think, we have struck paydirt.

I doubt it will be Bill English, either - particularly after some of the stuff that has apparently come out about Paula Bennett [c.f her demand for 'skits' in Caucus meetings etc.]

If Bill is being threatened as well, despite his positive results [relatively speaking] a few months ago, then it suggests that somebody's had a quiet word to him about escalating discontentment about Bennett, and he's made the decision to stand by his Deputy even despite the criticism.

Thus implicitly creating a scenario wherein National is effectively presented with the choice of supporting Bill and therefore *also* Bennett ... or potentially seeing how they feel about getting rid of both simultaneously.

Compromise options in the middle are, as ever, a potential medium-grade possibility (you don't get far in National without at least a *certain* facility at going back on previously held positions in pursuit of personal advancement or the maintenance of one's loftily-held position, after all).

But with the possibility of *making things worse* for National both internally and at the next Election by getting rid of English/Bennett no doubt *also* weighing upon the average Nat MP's mind ... perhaps no serious moves will be undertaken just yet, pending any marked scandal or poll deterioration over the coming Term.

And further complicating the issue will be the paucity of potential replacements for Bill that National can conceivably unite around - with Judith Collins predictably having her own iteration of the #ABC political phenomenon, for a start; Simon Bridges perhaps being too unctuous as well as arguably too young [I somehow doubt whether National likes the optics on attempting to get a relatively young leader in as much as Labour did], and Nikki Kaye arguably likewise [and, for that matter, a metropolitan Aucklander].

Still, I have no doubt that Bennett will have gotten both a shock and a sudden rage-spike at what's happened here. Somebody on one of my threads referred to her as a "sociopathic kindergarten teacher"; and I've previously seen memery to the effect of a Dolores Umbridge kinda characterization.

She'll presumably become ever-more-insufferable as a result of somebody attempting a nuking-by-media against her; which may yet further inflame internal tensions within National, and might hopefully contribute more towards her eventual ouster.

As they say ... couldn't have happened to a nastier person.


Also, as a side-note/addendum about this business of Bennett wanting "skits" performed at National Party Caucus meetings ...
I did wonder whether the logical takeaway about this was ...

... that she's actually acutely aware that the average Nat Minister isn't sharp enough to actually *get* anything you present to them, unless it's in a suitably over-dramatic, live-acted-out-in-front-of-you form.

Why do we have a housing crisis? Because nobody bothered to get a bunch of junior Nat back-benchers, dress them up as bricks-and-mortar and/or overseas investors or something, and demonstrate how "affordability" works with camp dialogue in front of Nick Smith.

Why do we have a river-is-full-of-effluent crisis? Because nobody bothered to get a bunch of junior Nat back-benchers, dress 'em up as a river, and then uh ... well, I'm sure imaginations would have been deployed to demonstrate (again, for Nick Smith) the next part.

Part of me, when I first read about this, was rather aghast that my mental characterization of Paula Bennett as the sort of overbearing INFANTILIZER OF ALL SHE SURVEYS actually *did* seem to be entirely, 100% accurate

But like I say. I'm now wondering whether she was just simply aware of the best method to get results out of some of her even *more* lackluster colleagues.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

On Pregnancy-Induced Irrationality & Mood-Swings In The Nation's Electorate

Remember back on the campaign when retired Cricketer Mark Richardson [who for some reason has a morning slot to opine upon the political happenings of the day, courtesy of The A.M. Show] landed himself in hot water for asking Jacinda Ardern, some seven hours into her position as Labour Leader, whether she'd considered she might need maternity leave if she wound up successfully becoming PM?

Pepperidge Farm remembers - and so too, did a blustering battalion of bloviating brutes all across the talkback, twitter, and other social media spheres today; who seized upon Jacinda Ardern's recent announcement that she'll be a mother by the end of the year, as evidence that Mr Richardson's comments were not, in point of fact, some sort of egregious faux-pas endemic of the sorts of discrimination women can face in the workplace ... and instead merely sensible scrutiny of somebody applying for our country's 'top job'.

Now, as it happens, I don't think many of the people who were talking up this issue on the campaign-trail were doing so in what we might term "good faith". Sure, it's possible that concerns about the PM taking a few weeks or months off *may* have been in the minds of some of them. But if you were a Nat attacking Jacinda and by extension Labour over this issue, I'd almost be prepared to bet that at some point previous in your political pontifications, you'd *also* attacked Jacinda Ardern and/or Helen Clark for being childless. Or, for that matter, that you've put forward vocal protestations about women who're unemployed becoming mothers and such.

Gosh, for that kinda demographic, the specter of a woman having a child out of wedlock whilst drawing tens of thousands of dollars a year from the state in income must cause absolute paroxysms of political pyroclasmis!

Personally, I feel like the underlying motivation for some of these viewpoints has less to do with workplace issues per se, and is more based upon generic opposition to Labour and/or the substantive idea of women in politics. The fact that a number of the "arguments" that have been brought up in reference to Ardern "needing" to "stand down" as a result of this news, are in fact almost 1:1 those historically advanced against women first voting [this is how old they are] and then holding office, may well appear to substantiate this.

But I digress.

What gets me about a lot of the "opposition" to Jacinda continuing as PM following today's announcement is just how utterly bereft of context it is.

Let me explain.

Taking at face value the aforementioned demands for Ardern's resignation or stepping back, it seems like there's two general areas of concern - that she'll wind up having to take time off from official duties due to the pregnancy [a span of about six weeks, according to her own forward planning]; and/or that she'll have impaired performance as PM for a longer period before/during/after alongside this.

If you're really interested in this, there's no doubt a whole boatload of science out there to help you come to the conclusion that these concerns are pretty lacking in merit.

But far be it from me to attempt to mansplain female reproductive biology; so I'll instead stick to what I know - which is political history.

Ready? Here we go!

For most of the previous nine years, we had a Prime Minister who was pretty widely regarded as either i) a "do-nothing", and/or ii) a "do-nothing of any substance/worth". I don't think this is an entirely unfair perception - much of what we can actually look back upon from the previous National  administration appears to have either been the results of Cabinet in a collective, or individual Ministers and Members having ideas. About the only things I can think of off-hand that John Key has personally taken credit for ... were a job-summit a few months into his administration, and making New Zealand an international laughing-stock on at least three occasions with his (personal) antics. [There was also an assurance about resigning if it turned out that New Zealanders were under mass surveillance ... but despite the fact he eventually *did* resign, that didn't appear to have too much to do with said pledge]

Prior to that, we have had some of our *greatest* Prime Ministers carrying out their duties from sick-beds, in hospital, and even upon their death-beds. Names like Michael Joseph Savage and Norman Kirk, for instance.

Arguments that Ardern therefore ought to step down from her post on the basis of an impending future medical/maternal situation, don't really seem to stack up. And for a number of reasons.

We have survived situations wherein the Prime Minister has taken on 'light-duties' for a few weeks or even months at a time beforehand. We have even, as applies the Prime Minister before last, survived situations wherein the office has been held by one of "reduced competency" for entirely less worthwhile reasons than impending motherhood.

We have also managed to survive, potentially against the odds, a bewildering brocade of (male) politicians who were subject to frequent and even occasionally quite (literally) violent mood-swings of a self-inflicted nature due to their alcohol consumption/alcoholism. Now, I do not mean in any way to attempt to equivalize being severely drunk and being pregnant [occasional bouts of vomiting potentially notwithstanding] - just simply to note that many of the people presently upbraiding Ardern over her pregnancy presumably had little to no issue in practice with an older generation of politicians being *ahem* drunk in charge of a country - and thus "emotionally volatile", etc. etc. [again, lest there be any doubt - I am NOT saying that there's serious comparison to be made between a serially drunk person and a pregnant woman in terms of mindset, actions or whatever. Only that the "idea" of the latter being "volatile", "hormonal" or whatever is apparently much more intolerable to some than the *reality* of what was, up until very very recently regarded as entirely normal Parliamentarian behavior].

Many of the concerns about Ardern remaining PM through the term of her pregnancy and beyond are *particularly* unfounded, on grounds that it is not and has never been normal in our country for one single MP to be running the country singlehandedly. That is to say that - despite the occasional pretensions of the media during Campaign Season .. we are not in a Presidential system. Instead, we're privileged enough to have an Executive comprised of *well* more than one person - an entire series of *teams* of Ministers both inside and outside of Cabinet, as well as a rather capable [allegedly] Deputy Prime Minister.

Or perhaps the PM's critics have some dim inkling of this and are experiencing horror flash-backs to the mid-1980s - a period wherein a PM of inarguably "reduced competency" let himself be driven around in the proverbial political golf-cart by a nefarious underling with an agenda.

Which just leads me to wonder whether what's actually happening is the Talkback Brigade expressing their abject panic at the idea of Jacinda Ardern turning into David Lange simply by virtue of an expanding waistline - thus leaving all *actual* decision-making in the hands of her Deputy Prime Minister and his 'hidden agenda'.

Waitaminute ...

Anyway, as applies the period *after* she 'officially' becomes a Mother some time in mid-June, I'm even *more* perplexed. It's apparently not enough for assurances to be issued that her partner will be taking over caregiving duties. The people who've spent much of the last six months wailing and whining about the looming-impending "NANNY STATE" somehow don't seem to realize that even the PM is capable of hiring a "nanny".

Now at this point, I'd customarily reach for International Examples. However the slight issue here is that there's only really two that are being brought up for Heads of Government having kids while in office.

One being former Pakistani PM Benazir Bhutto - who was reportedly back on the job the very next day after giving birth; and the other, Britain's Tony Blair. Although I'd hardly hold up the latter as being a positive example for a Labour leader to aspire to, for reasons that ought be both legion and blatantly obvious. [the idea of some NZ right-wingers wanting us to be *less* progressive than a majority-Muslim country that's these days pretty much a failed state is, however, arguably rather amusing. Or at least it *would* be, if they weren't serious...]

Either way, I do think it's somewhat fair to state that we're entering into 'uncharted territory' here; although opponents will no doubt attempt to direct our attention to the commentary of former Greens MP Holly Walker, concerning her decision to resign as an MP precisely because she didn't feel capable of simultaneously being both a Mother and a Member of Parliament.

That's questionable precedent, however - as apart from the fact that every mother's experience of pregnancy and .. well .. being a mother, is going to be different; it actually turns out that New Zealand MPs have been giving birth while serving as Parliamentarians since the 1970s.

Not, of course, that I'm suggesting *any* politician *ever* should be taking inspiration from the career of Ruth Richardson [the second female MP to have a baby in our nation's history] ... but my issues with her being a mother to things while in office are restricted to things like the [perhaps unfortunately named for the purposes of this discussion] Mother of All Budgets - not her *actual* maternity which preceded it.

But to bring it back to both male politicians and the Prime Ministership for a second ... as soon as I started sitting down to run back through the annals of our Heads of Government of yesteryear, something immediately became clear to me.

The "concerns" around Ardern's ability and commitment to the job in the months to come can be considered [and basically dismissed] in isolation.

Yet the moment they're considered in their *historical context*, we see that what's actually going on here, is that some New Zealanders out there are actually afraid that our  third female Prime Minister might become as lackluster and impotent in office as quite an array of the less-impressive tiers of the 37 men who've held the Premiership before her.

I'm something of an optimist, though [possibly in part thanks to personal experience viewing just how deftly my own mother managed to execute simultaneously being both mother and extraordinarily hard-/over-working familial breadwinner].

From where I'm sitting - even if some things *do* go awry in the medium-grade future [and here's hoping they don't] ... it would be difficult indeed for the Ardern Administration to prove anywhere *near* as tawdry or as ineffectual on the Big Issues of the day as the near-Nine Long Years of John Key's egregious misrule.

Instead, I rather suspect that quite the contrary will prove true.


Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Bitcoin - A Glimpse At Our (Grim) Economic Future

There's been quite a lot of mainstream media attention on the Bitcoin phenomenon recently. And while any amount of prognostication about whether its runaway increases in value represent a bubble can be found pretty much wherever one cares to look, there's one aspect of the present Bitcoin boom that I think's been somewhat under-discussed.

Namely, the way in which what we're seeing right now is arguably a 'glimpse into the future'.

And I don't mean that in the simple sense of currency being decoupled from states [not least because recent developments in both Venezuela and Russia appear to suggest that you can perfectly viably run cryptocurrencies *as* a state .. and potentially have them actually 'worth' something, so to speak], nor the Cyberpunkishness of Darknet-denizens paying for elaborately staged murders or exceedingly cheap-for-quality hard-drug procurations.

Instead, if we take a look at how Bitcoin is actually produced - 'mined' - these days, it basically features a relatively small number of people and operations using pretty excessively large 'mining rigs' of linked computers with super-massive processing power and power-requirements, solving largely pointless [except insofar as they generate more precious bitcoin] mathematical equations, with virtually nil human input required beyond the setting up of the rigs and the paying of the powerbill.

Or, in other words, this is *exactly* how a pretty broad swathe of economic activity is going to go down over the next few decades. Human "operators" - capitalists, entrepreneurs, bourgeoiCPU, whatever ... presiding over effectively automated workforces ... who do ever more 'stuff' to generate a nominal economic return, that's probably functionally pointless except insofar as it leads to some electrons indicating nominal value flowing around an increasingly digitized economy.

While, at the same time, draining ever further quotients of *real* resources out here in the non-cyber world [in this case, power-inputs - but no doubt all manner of other things, too, with time], to turn into largely imaginary [except for its somewhat subjectively agreed upon worth by an investor clade] 'output'.

And meanwhile, you'll have this ever-expanding class of regular ol' Humans who're basically 'locked out' of the whole thing, because they have neither the investment capital necessary to set up an operation of their own inside an increasingly hard-to-get-into market [I mean seriously - the level of coin, bit or otherwise, required to buy the hardware necessary to run a commercially viable mining rig is *ridiculous*, let alone the power-bills] , nor the technological skills to viably participate in this cyber-economy in other ways that'll effectively allow them to make ends meet without assistance.

Personally, I think this whole setup is pretty fundamentally wasteful. Of a whole lot of things. Of the aforementioned physical resources, for a start [because seriously - you're not producing anything tangible via bitcoin-mining except an ongoing arguable "bubble"]; but also of a huge swathe of yet-living human potential. Who are now, after all, just straight-up "surplus to requirements" in so many senses of the term.

But at the same time, it's interesting to consider the way in which Bitcoin and its generation shows that straight-up a lot of the way in which wealth is derived in our economic system [whether present or [near-]future] doesn't actually involve any real effort on the part of the presumptive main beneficiaries of same, other than the initial set-up of capital goods and *maybe* some wrangling of finance here and there.

It's then 'distributed' out by the owners & employers of capital to various beneficiaries from same - whether investors, perhaps, or whatever workforce they've got under them in their operation, or whomever's selling the next round of hardware, software, and other resource-inputs [like POWER! UNLIMITED POWER!] which might be needed to keep the whole thing operational in the short-to-medium-to-long term.

OF course, to bring this back to those aforementioned 'surplus' humans who aren't capable of supporting this whole venture ... that's where things start to get a bit messy. Because these people have no share of the wealth that's thusly generated, whilst it's quite plausible that the rest of the economy which they might otherwise be employed in, is steadily atrophying and dying.

The impacts of having an ever larger swathe of your population with ever less money to spend is pretty obvious - both in economic terms; but also, dependent upon what welfare/redistributive apparatoi look like in your society, quite probably in human/humanitarian terms as well.

Where am I going with this?

Well, one of the main arguments people often have against a UBI, is that it entails giving people money for nothing. And that isn't necessarily true imo , on grounds that a lot of people perform a helluvalot of unpaid and unrecognized labour *anyway* [think caregivers and homemakers], with a UBI arguably forming a partial recognition & remuneration for that. But I digress.

This misses the point that increasingly, on into the future, the way that income is derived for *just about everybody* outside of an ever-narrowing field of occupations, is going o be precisely that - income that is handed to them not through any actual hard work or effort on their part [again, barring initial set-up bist and pieces, for the most part] ... but instead simply as a result of property rights [i.e. a return on increasingly entirely automated capital].

Phrased in these terms, then, when we talk about a UBI we are not simply suggesting that it's one serious way by which an economy might avoid straight-up crash as a result of greater automation being a thing.

But rather, we are making the case that in a vaguely similar manner to the investor/'miner' class, one's right as a stakeholder in the Nation effectively entitles one to a comparable income-stream as a result of this and this potentially alone. [Whether one wishes to get into the extent to which individuals-as-citizens actually play a role in 'investing' in the Nation and supporting its existence through their ongoing civic behavior, or whathaveyou]

Or, to say it another way ... if it is necessary for ongoing economic activity for people to be able to spend money, and we have effectively 'decoupled' the main source of income for a pretty important [economically] portion of society from actual effort [although 'risk' is perhaps another matter], then why do we not look more favourably upon continuing this 'decoupling' for the rest of society at large with a view to *ensuring* that people actually *do* have the ability to spend such money as may be necessary to keep the economy as a whole ticking over.

And I would rather suspect that the power-inputs and other such things hat would go into supporting a UBI scheme would be far an away less wasteful all-up than what we're presently seeing with Bitcoin.

Monday, November 27, 2017

"It's Not Hypocrisy When We Do It" - The National Party's All-Out Attack On Michael Cullen Chairing Labour's Tax Working Group

Now here's a curious thing ... right now the National Party is going absolutely hammer-and-tong attempting to attack the Labour Party's Tax Working Group - for, among other things, the fact it's set to be chaired by former Labour Finance Minister Sir Michael Cullen.
On the face of it, I suppose some might agree with the notion that appointing a well-respected linchpin of the previous Labour government might seem a *little* less than strictly impartial. But from where I'm sitting, Cullen's record as Finance Minister [which, let's remember, was sufficiently glowing that even *National* were singing his praises a few years ago - to the point of awarding him a Knighthood for "services to the state" in this role in 2012] probably means that the competency he brings to the role outweighs concerns he might be "partisan".

Certainly, National seemed to harbour no such concerns when they appointed him to head the review of our intelligence agencies two years ago

And yet, such a potentially "bipartisan" approach from National is pretty inconsistent with their own previous record when it comes to Working Groups, Task Forces, and other such beasts of political-policy-oversight burden. I've literally lost count of the number of consultative bodies and even straight-up Inquiries that the National Party quite pointedly staffed the chairing of with their own people over the last nine years. 

I mean, as an example of this - their placing of John Shewan at the head of the group convened to look into slash "dispel" the perception of New Zealand as a tax-haven, for instance, was quite directly a case of placing a fox in charge of a hen-house [Shewan's private sector activities including quite a spate of tax-"consultancy" and linkages to a series of potentially dodgy international firms in this regard].

Or, worse, the series of appointments of [now Dame - guess why she got the gong, eh?] Paula Rebstock to head Inquiries into everything from Peter Dunne's 'alleged' leaking of materials around the GCSB's illegal conduct through to the 'Leask' affair concerning MFAT information being anonymously passed to the Labour Party.

In both of these above-cited cases, Rebstock basically managed to produce the "correct" outcome from the perspective of the Government of the day .... and was subsequently castigated by other authority-figures who wound up having to review her efforts for getting things wrong, or even presiding over outright illegal conduct.

Clearly, there is a bit of a risk when a Government appoints its own people to what's supposed to be an impartial body - although I would respectfully contend that there's quite a gulf of difference of both degree and kind between empowering a well-regarded former Finance Minister to preside over a taxation working group [which is, after all, an advisory organization set up entirely at the Government's behest to provide potential detail and projections on its own policy] .... versus a Government 'slotting in' its own pugnaciously-construed "enforcer" to Inquiries into Government (mis)actions that are supposed to, by their very nature, be above the petty politics of the day.

As we can see ... the results of National's perfidy were for those aforementioned Inquiries to wind up repeatedly warred-over and iniquitously conducted bun-fights rather than august and impartially-regarded efforts at discerning the truth of important matters

Further, if I recall correctly, the previous National Government's "2025 Taskforce" on pensions and the like was convened to be chaired by none other than arch-neoliberal [and former National Party Leader] Don Brash. I don't seem to recall the National Party raising any issue with "politically tied" appointments to policy working-group style arrangements THEN...?

What's different about Cullen on the Tax Working Group, I wonder...?

I am sure there are a litany of other examples - but that's just a few off the top of my head.

It appears at this point that the National Party knows they can't meaningfully criticize the Tax Working Group on substance [after all - rightly or wrongly, the only thing we know at this stage about their prospective output are a list of the things the Labour Party have pre-emptively ruled *out* of consideration] ... and so are instead resorting to that old favourite of theirs, going for the man - the personality - instead.

And, as is frequently the case where National is concerned, criticizing the hell out of Labour et co for doing something that, arguably, they themselves regularly and relentlessly engaged in when in Government.

Although I maintain as I said at the outset of this piece, that it is difficult indeed to draw a meaningful comparison between the appointment of Sir Michael Cullen to the chairmanship of this Tax Working Group, and any of the previously-cited instances of National staffing legal proceedings or advisory panels with its own bully-boys and flunkies.

After all ... given Sir Michael Cullen literally wound up being knighted in no small part for his sound economic management as the previous Labour Government's Finance Minister, it would appear rather unquestionable - even by National, who knighted him, one presumes - that when it comes to these sorts of matters, Cullen (still) has a meaningful and informed contribution to make.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Why New Zealand Is REALLY Under Pressure Over Russian Trade From Atlanticists With An Agenda

Well this is interesting, isn't it. No sooner does New Zealand start talking openly about pursuing a trade policy that is more independent of the Atlanticist E.U.-American block, than the threats start being issued unto us by their diplomats and local mouthpieces; with pliant domestic (yet invariably foreign-owned) media haplessly buying into the hysteria.

Take a look at this recent article from one of our leading newspapers - the New Zealand Herald - on the prospect of the New Zealand Government honouring a promise to the nationalist New Zealand First party, to thaw trade-relations with Russia.

If this were your only source of information on the subject, you could be forgiven for presuming that New Zealand's push for closer economic relations with the Russian Federation was some sort of conspiratorial effort that had been a closely guarded secret - the result of clandestine influence-peddling by a Russian ambassador meeting with the man who's now NZ's Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister earlier this year.

And which is seemingly set to usher in a serious crisis for little old New Zealand as our more 'traditional' trade "partners" and "allies" gear up to turn their backs upon us as we shun their incipient "good-will".

But all of this is so completely and utterly fictional I'm almost surprised it wasn't accompanied by a breathless set of claims that Putin somehow *personally* hacked our recent Election. It's simply that  far fetched.

Let us examine the allegations being made here one by one - and in so doing help to shine a light on what's REALLY going on here.

The first 'odd contention' in this article is that the trade-push is somehow an "unheralded policy" which was not talked about prior to the Election, and was largely unknown even as recently as last week - being sprung out in such a manner as to suggest something untoward or unpalatable was afoot.

This is manifestly false. New Zealand First has been continuously raising the serious issue of our country being locked out of one of the largest beef and dairy markets on Earth [heading for second largest and already second largest, respectively] over a pretty substantial swathe of the previous Parliamentary Term; issuing numerous press releases, asking Questions of the Government in Parliament, and engaging in other political efforts to try and get some traction of the issue for much of the last three years.

Indeed, I even wrote an article on exactly this matter some weeks ago - openly posing the question before the results of coalition negotiations were even a blip on the horizon, as to whether New Zealand First regardless of their choice of coalition partner [the more globalist-neoliberalist inclined National Party; or the somewhat better social-democratic-with-neoliberalist-characteristics Labour Party] might be able to effectively secure progress on this long-standing area of concern.

Or, in other words - if New Zealand "journalists" truly believe that this is an "unheralded policy", it can only be because they have neglected to pay anything even loosely resembling proper attention to the course of Parliamentary politics in this country for the last three years and longer.

The second 'big' claim made in the article - on both an implicit and outright explicit level - is that the further pursuit of warmer economic relations with the Russian Federation will somehow be disastrous, as it risks imperiling our extant trade with the European Union.

And, to be sure, the figure of some twenty billion dollars per year in NZ-EU trade does sound mighty impressive as compared to the $417 million we did in 2016 with Russia.

Except let's take a closer look at those figures. The first, of course, being that it's hardly fair  to compare our trade with a country we have foolishly been subjecting to substantial trade-sanctions for some years now [i.e. Russia] with a trading-bloc we've poured every possible effort into securing stronger economic interchange with pretty much for as long as I've been alive. If we HADN'T had Russia under sanction over this period, and had instead been more amicable to the aforementioned 2nd largest importer of dairy products [our key export, apparently] ... I do not feel at all questionable in outright stating, we would most certainly be trading billions of dollars more in their direction.

But the second point - and the one that really shows the paltry paper-mache of the pro-E.U. voices' stance - is that a very sizeable portion of that twenty billion dollars of trade with the E.U. ... is actually comprised of the $5.3 billion dollars worth of exchange we undertake with the United Kingdom specifically.

You know, that United Kingdom which recently voted to *leave* the European Union; which has endlessly been constrained in just how much of our produce it's been able to take *because* it was part of the European Union; and which we're presently even now [and with much less fan-fare and objection] pursuing a free trade deal with.

Or, in other words - regardless of what the European Union thinks, we are very shortly set to deal directly with our largest constituent market over there WITHOUT the ongoing interference of Brussels or French farmers ... and do so in such a manner that we will once again be gaining billions of dollars worth of trade in addition to what we already have in that direction.

Meanwhile, while the European Union can huff and puff and threaten all it likes that it will continue to defer New Zealand's hoped-for Free Trade Deal with the E.U. - the plain fact of the matter is that they have done exactly this pantomime act of dragging their heals in response to New Zealand's ongoing efforts to gain better access to their market for some decades now. And with 'good' [from their perspective, at least] reason.

Our agricultural produce is simply of such quality and low relative price that the extant suppliers of the domestic market they seek to protect from our superior output will NEVER concede to 'going quietly' on allowing our exports in unmolested. In exactly the same manner that America almost invariably balks at including agricultural produce in the various Free Trade instruments that it occasionally feigns interest in such as the T.P.P.A.

To be fair, the E.U. HAS recently shifted its position on this somewhat with regard to us - upgrading the timescale for a hypothetical NZ-EU FTA from "when Hell freezes over" to "Magic Eight-Ball Says: Answer Unclear - Try Again Later". Although as far as I can tell, the main reasoning for offering to perhaps, maybe, possibly, if we feel like it begin the opening round of talks for such a deal in the indeterminate future has less to do with a sudden thawing of French Farmer or Brussels Bureaucrat sentiment to Anchor Butter ... and much more to do with the imminent prospect of the British beating them to the punch and securing a Free Trade Agreement with New Zealand [i.e. a rather drastic shift of the British away from buying from Europe through to buying from Aotearoa] within the next two years.

Or, phrased another way - the European Union had no interest in 'playing nice' with New Zealand on trade policy up until they became worried that they'd lose out due to both us and a key trading partner of everybody involved going elsewhere first.

I therefore take these posturing European Union diplomat statements about how they'll view our efforts with Russia in a "very negative" light as the tantrums of a toddler-state conglomerate rather than a serious commentary about likely future prospects.

If the European Union never intended to give us a fair Free Trade Agreement, and particularly in a reasonable timescale - then we have lost absolutely nothing by pursuing better associations with other markets in possession of vastly more growth potential for us, in the mean-time.

And if they WERE serious about suddenly caving to inevitability as applies greater economic interchange with New Zealand - then this is a position they have had to be browbeaten into by a combination of one of their largest constituent markets going elsewhere, and New Zealand looking to join it.

Which means that our own movements toward warmer economic interplay with Russia will have a positive and spurring effect upon our trade relations with Europe as they bend over backwards to attempt to entice us 'back' into "their" sphere of influence/suzerainty with promises of shiny export-dollars.

To state it plainly - despite the rather undiplomatic rhetoric from E.U. Ambassador Bernard Savage [which was judged a sufficient faux-pas as to be being backed away from by the E.U. Embassy here later in the week], we here in New Zealand have almost certainly lost nothing as applies the E.U. from pursuing better relations with Russia - and instead, may yet gain, as a result, capaciously from them in this area through our subtle and canny approach to realpolitik on trade.

The third prong of this bizarre [yet in retrospect, entirely expectable] full-frontal fact-free assault upon New Zealand pursuing an independent foreign policy on the global, geopolitical stage comes from none other than the loudest NeoCon mouth-piece presently given air-time in our media and academic spheres today. A professor of International Relations at Auckland University by the name of Stephen Hoadley, whom I've formerly had the displeasure of being lectured by back when I was an UnderGrad at the same institution [as an aside, another of my former International Relations lecturers - Dr Jian Yang - is presently *also* coming to prominence as the 'potential' agent of a foreign power within our politics ... leading me to question whether there's a puppet-string hidden under seemingly every moss-encrusted rock one cares to turn over on the economic right of our politics these days].

Now, to give you an idea of just how Neo-Conservative Hoadley is ... this is a man who was still defending the American invasion of Iraq as a fundamentally principled and correct action to his classes right up, presumably, to the present (he still point-blank refuses to acknowledge the way this created the present disastrous situation with ISIS etc.). To give perhaps better feeling for the way in which he uses his prominent position within our politico-academic ecosystem here in NZ, one of his more recent works attempted to stop academics writing about American foreign policy from using terms and phrases like "hegemonic", "militaristic", "exploitative", "provocative of terrorism", "destructive of international order" [on that score, i partially agree - at present, unipolar hegemony IS the 'international order' - hence the lack of desire on the part of some actors to change it], and "imperial".

He further absolutely recoils from the thought of anybody using the term "imperialism" to describe the modus operandi and ultimate goals of American actions on the international stage; instead insisting that "analysts" basically polymorph into (geo-)political PR spinners for the latter-day American Empire; lest people speaking frankly and accurately about the ambit of American policy trigger serious resistance to same.

Or, in other words, when it comes to the worth of Associate Professor Hoadley's opinion on a matter of a country choosing to act in its own interest rather than towing the Atlanticist 'party-line' ... anyone acquainted with the corpus of his work can immediately see that it is best understood as being printed on two-ply - and for the American sphincter.

His 'concerns' about us not standing in absolutely slavish 'solidarity' with "like minded Western countries" are pretty much exactly the same as the ones he (and others like him) put forward to attempt to push New Zealand into getting involved with various American military adventurism in the Middle East over the course of the last decade and a half. Their arguments have always been that it is apparently impossible for us to remain on amicable terms with other countries if we offer even the slightest bit of actual substantial criticism of their respective foreign policies; or refuse to "pay the price" of "friendship" by putting New Zealand bodies on the line in THEIR fights overseas.

And to be fair, as we can see from both the American dropping of a prospective Free Trade Deal with NZ in the aftermath of our refusal to fight in Iraq in 2003 - as well as the subsequent exchange of lucrative milk contracts for Kiwi troops - this certainly does appear to be exactly how the Atlanticist block views our relationship.

There's a term for the sort of sustained interaction wherein continued good-treatment is conditional upon the exchange of bodies and money ... and it CERTAINLY isn't "friendship".

But did any of these 'bleeding heart Neocons' protest about New Zealand seeking closer economic relations with America at the very same time as the latter was engaged carrying out an illegal invasion of a sovereign nation?

Of course they didn't!

Because their sentiments on these matters - in this case, their apparent trenchant objections to New Zealand chartering an independent course on matters economic - are not actually "ethically" based. Nor are they even, really, "economic". 

Rather, they are solely concerned with the great dance of Geopolitics. And in service of that agenda, men like Hoadley or this European Union Ambassador will deploy almost any form of rhetoric or other inducements in order to keep 'their' puppet-countries and client-states sitting on the "right" side of the table.

Still, it's not like the forces arrayed against New Zealand pursuing an independent foreign policy and lucrative trade opportunities are exclusively external, either. As we can see from the article, our very own [Inter] National Party has also lined up to take pot-shots at our new Government's incipient new direction.

Although I must confess it a bit rich that this criticism is coming from, once again, the same organization which was gearing up to trade away our long-standing anti-nuclear policy to the Americans in clandestine meetings, and whose present Leader was previously adamant that New Zealand ought to have gone to Iraq in 2003 at the behest of the Atlanticist 'Coalition of the Willing'.

To put it bluntly, there is simply no equivalency to be made between the NZF-Labour Government seeking a trade-deal with Russia ... and the National Party who formed our previous Government outright baying to partake of an illegal war alongside the Americans - even if, as it now turns out, there was the potential inducement of a trade deal with the Americans on the table at the time.

Meanwhile, the statement from Winston's predecessor as Foreign Minister - the National MP Gerry Brownlee - that Winston had met with the Russian Ambassador far more frequently than Brownlee over the latter's tenure, does not reveal anything untoward. Unless Brownlee genuinely thinks (no doubt as a result of reading too many James Bond novels) that the Russians have developed mind-control pheromones or something, it does not seem plausible that simply meeting with a diplomat is cause for alarm. [This despite the Herald's journalist deliberately invoking the shadowy specter of alleged Russian "hacking" of the recent US General Election and supposed improper influence over US President Donald Trump. I am genuinely surprised at this point that no serious media outlet has yet stooped so low as to outright allege that Russia has hacked Winston!]

Indeed, I read the situation entirely differently. Namely, that Winston - as arguably our best Foreign Minister in decades, during his previous tenure in the role - was keeping an ear to the ground and diligently fact-finding for his efforts in Parliament on trade policy, particularly as pertains Russia ... whilst Brownlee, by not meeting on even a single occasion with the Russian Ambassador over the entire course of his time as Foreign Minister, was engaged in a SERIOUS dereliction of duty!

With that in mind, it is a shameful thing indeed that Brownlee has attempted to turn his laziness into an assumed "virtue" in this regard .

To sum up, then - it does indeed appear that there is something of a 'shift in the wind' in both New Zealand's foreign policy, as well as the Geopolitical 'game' more generally. The trade winds are now blowing to the East, whilst naught but 'hot air' and the whiff of sulfur appears to emanate from the 'Old Empires' on either side of the Atlantic.

New Zealand has, for the longest time, attempted to maintain cordial relations with the European Union and America in the vaguest, vainest hopes that we might one day be able to be treated with fairness and dignity by either economic unit on matters of foreign and trade policy.

Thus far, our hopes have largely proven futile - and after some decades of waiting upon an improvement in either situation, it now appears that our national patience has worn seriously thin.

At the same time, we have found ourselves confronted with a serious opportunity in the form of a resurgently prominent Russia; and it would appear on the face of it that there are no onerous demands for our militarized loyalty or diplomatic posturing being placed upon us by this Great Power in exchange for trade. This is, obviously, in rather direct contrast to both the E.U. and the US - and *especially* the pair of them together.

The absolute furore from a number of quarters over the prospect that New Zealand might once again take back control of our own economic and geopolitical destiny ... rather than endlessly sitting on the sidelines hoping against hope to be picked for fair play ... is thus absolutely terrifying to the mandarins and the mouthpieces in each of the Atlanticist centers of power.

Because, put quite simply, it represents the tangible new reality that they are no longer in control of events and other places.

And that their time as would-be charlatan Chakravartins is rather swiftly drawing to a close.

Good Riddance. And disregard the shamelessly perfidious 'talking heads' who dare to say otherwise.

As we enter into the incoming Age of Multipolarity, New Zealand is already set to do very well by remaining *well* ahead of the curve.

Long may we prosper as a result.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

"Inflammatory Remarks"

You know, it is a peculiar thing to wake up to various people demanding the expulsion of an Iranian diplomat for remarks he made at a private gathering about the state of Israel.
I mean, correct me if I'm wrong about this ... but it was not Iran which boldly threatened a state of war with our country only a few months ago, now, was it.
I have not viewed Secretary Ghahremani's speech in its entirity, and am running off the quotes which have been extracted therefrom to bedeck the sensationalist Sunday newspapers all breathlessly seeking to cover this story.
But going off these, I can only ask where, exactly, it was that he erred?
Was it with the contention that Israel has been 'fuelling terrorism' in order to advance its geopolitical objectives? Surely not. After all, the Israelis themselves admitted to actively assisting Al-Nusra [better known as the local franchisee of Al-Qaeda operating in Syria]. Perhaps it was his comment that the state in question frequently attempts to "deceive the world" with the ever-widening gulf between its rhetoric of enthusiasm for peace and diplomacy ... and a litany of transgressions even in recent times I hardly need to list for their familiarity.
Maybe there is objection to the Israeli state's policy and impetus being designated "anti-human" ... and yet it seems pretty plainly apparent that on everything from the [now thankfully officially discontinued] involuntary sterilization of its black citizenry through to the ongoing illegal blockades, incursions, detentions, airstrikes, etc. etc. etc. that it is rather avowedly anti *some* humans at the very least.
It is true that Secretary Ghahremani's remarks may, in their now public disclosure, be regarded as "inflammatory". But unless there is something significantly salacious in the rest of his speech that has as-yet gone unreported, I am not entirely sure I would suggest that anything he has said is manifestly counter-factual.
And we do enter into a rather .. odd situation if historical truths and contemporary realities are unable to be voiced because they may potentially be deemed "inflammatory".
I mean, the pathway that takes us down, I might find myself subject to censure & vilification for simply pointing out that the pattern of Israeli-Kiwi relations over the past two decades has been characterized by an ever-escalating series of incidences more befitting outright foes than nominal 'friends'.
Or is it "inflammatory" to mention such things as the Israeli passport-harvesting for overseas espionage at the expense of people such as a profoundly disabled tetraplegic New Zealander; the alleged activities of similar personnel in Christchurch in 2011 with the target of our national policing computer-system; or even the not-quite-Declaration-of-War from the Netanyahu Government late last year.
In any case, I do not seek to support nor exculpate the remarks uttered by some of the other speakers Secretary Ghahrameni shared a stage with back in June. Those can be considered on their own relative merits [or lack thereof].
But it is not the accountant from Mt Albert, nor the visiting Cleric whom I am seeing the loudest calls for expulsion from our country in reference to.
Instead, these are being foisted in the direction of a diplomat clearly articulating the long-held position of his Government, on the occasion of a solemn commemoration and solidarity-extension to an oppressed and marginalized people.
With that in mind, I can only wonder whether the opprobium presently being heaped in Secretary Ghahremani's direction has less to do with what he said .. and more to do with some people being profoundly uneasy with the progressive normalization of both our relations with Iran - as well as the escalatingly positive role that the Iranians have found themselves playing with regard to the broader security situation in the Middle East these past few years.
Who knows. "Haters", as they say, "gonna hate".
Although it would be a pretty unctuous & unfortunate situation if this man WERE to be banished from our country for speaking in support of a people we have previously pledged to help, his only 'crime' that's thus far been made out in any detail, the remarks of some of those who happened to be in the room with him at the time.
Some might even call such a move ... "inflammatory"....