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New Zealand General Election: A Victory for… What?

In civics, ideology, philosophy, politics, psychology/psychiatry, sociology on September 23, 2014 at 1:07 am

There are some measurable reversals in the state of this nation. So, instead it is simpler to talk about –

A LIST OF DEFEATS:

* Democracy defeated: The winning party received 48.1% of the votes cast and has 100% of the power in what purports to be a proportional representation system. Under NZ’s one-house parliamentary system there are no checks and balances on the ruling party’s ideology, freed to pass legislation at will.

* Open and fair government defeated: The ruling party has over the past three elections bedded in two sleeping partners — single candidates in electorate seats — giving them strategic “accommodations”, which works to cement its place in untrammelled power though together the allies receive less than 1% of the vote nationally. One ally is regularly rewarded with a seat in Cabinet, his “mandate” from a total of 4,500 party votes nationwide (approximately one out of every 600 votes cast by electors).

MAXIMISING THE CHARM OFFENSIVE: maybe a Sarah Palin lookalike candidate for NZ's next election (by Spauldron)

MAXIMISING THE CHARM OFFENSIVE: maybe a Sarah Palin lookalike candidate for NZ’s next election (by Spauldron)

* Parliamentary government defeated: The election every three years has more and more become NZ’s presidential race, with media coverage of actual policies shrunk to almost zero this time. The question of who is the more photogenic candidate is at a premium. This might be fine if NZ had a president, which it now has in all but name — exercising power by casual consensus of his cronies. The issue of the challenger’s “double chin” is right up there in public debate with Joan Rivers’ enlightened comments on Obama’s ears. Though slightly the worst off in tv debates to his challenger, the encumbent undoubtedly won in the charm/smarm stakes.

Homes and work? Two issues that might have been discussed but weren't.

Homes and work? Two issues that might have been discussed but weren’t.

* People Power defeated: The Silent Majority rules in New Zealand. It is a truism that many Kiwis only under duress will admit to voting for the National Party — as in “I have a confession to make”, obviously realising they have something to feel ashamed about. It is a question how many individuals do vote for National openly and for motives other than perceived (though usually mistaken) naked self-interest. The vote of the Left Wing — usually held to be the conscience of a country — collapsed, the Labour Party receiving 24.7% of the vote, half that of their Right Wing rivals. Its mistake was apparently to put forward a cogent, well argued, academically rigorous platform of policies to address a number of increasingly urgent problems and inequities that are overripening, just begging for a backlash by the aggrieved. The “Trickle Down” theory — itself a cynical lie — continues unabated after thirty years in place so far. The Internet-Mana Party coalition, supposedly the vanguard of a legitimate left wing, was left to languish on 1.3%, irredeemably tainted by teaming up with an opportunistic internet criminal who bought it off to the tune of $3.5 million in campaign funding (only equalled by the personally wealthy Conservative Party leader), effectively ejecting a strong voice for young, poverty-stricken Maoridom out of Parliament. Ultimately symptomatic of an old British colony, it is extremely bad form to set yourself up as a judge in any field at all no matter how well informed (“experts” are absolutely taboo). So, high-profile activists such as tv actresses Lucy Lawless and Robyn Malcolm protesting against dodgy environmental practices are likely to have contributed to a reaction against what was expected to be a record Green Party vote this election, resulting in an actual decline to 10%. (This is in marked contrast to the public fawning directed at fat-cat movie producer Peter Jackson, instrumental in capping pay and conditions for local performers and accruing massive tax concessions for himself.)

* Idealism defeated: This is a debatable one, since the word idealism has been a dirty one in the ruling Kiwi mythology for generations now. The Kiwi worldview comes from a combination of white Anglo Saxon pioneering stock and hunter-warrior Maori ideology. Both founding cultures are pragmatic to the ultimate, with grand gestures to selflessness today seemingly reserved for sports heroes on the rugby field and netball court. The thought that if you don’t aim for an ideal in government then you’re not likely to come anywhere near it doesn’t even occur. Politicians are known to be untrustworthy, so it is best to pick the one that is most successful at pure politics; i.e. manoeuvring, manipulatiing, spinning, twisting, evading… the whole skill set for running a country.

* Resistance to unbridaled capitalism defeated: Public opinion surveys have for many years rejected more sales of public assets, to the degree of a 90%-plus “No”. While the wider public knows very well it is being sold down the river to those cronies of a right-wing government who can afford to invest in shares, they will not vote accordingly — resulting in inevitable crowing from the government that opponents of wholesale private enterprise would have if they really cared, and encouraging them further in their hubris to sell more. The prime minister, probably the most popular man, woman or beast in the country, has become a role model across classes and age groups — especially for the effortless way he accumulated his fortune estimated at between $50 and $80 million (it’s just vulgar to count the zeroes once you get past a certain point): by using his position as a stock broker to trade internationally in currencies and share manipulations. He’s looking forward to hosting Obama and other world leaders in a nice round of golf here in NZ, and his supporters are thrilling to the status this will bring the country — confirming his people as slobbering, salivating lickspittle pawns in the globalism game waiting for crumbs from the table.

* Environmentalism and Public Transport defeated: While billions of dollars continue to be spent annually on expanding the motorway networks of Auckland and Wellington — two very minor cities by world standards — a relatively cheaper plan for public transport languishes at barely embryonic stage, underfunded and years behind schedule. (No sooner are these “improvements” completed than the roads are filled up and gridlocked again.) The majority of NZ rivers being polluted beyond public use by agricultural runoff, farmers have been left to regulate themselves in the time-honoured fashion of laissez faire private enterprise — an approach two or so centuries out of date.

* Objections to government corruption defeated: Undisguised and unrepentant favoritism for her own husband’s export business in China resulted in just a stand-down period for a senior Cabinet Minister until after the election. Transparent obfuscation on her behalf by her government colleagues was a cause celebre in the media for a while, but have been effectively silenced for the duration. Token scalps of government members of Parliament using public funds for personal purposes have been just that — underwhelming.

* Sane judgment defeated: Reelected with a record majority is a stand-alone government that has taken six years (two terms) to balance the budget, taking the books, just, into the black; that in the face of this, a week before the election, proposed tax cuts after; rejected a capital gains tax on the wealthy, which virtually every other country has; has an ongoing 20% child poverty rate with permanently hungry children in a primary-produce exporting country (the government having pointedly refused to enter a coalition against child poverty); has produced no plan to diversify exports in an era of rapidly dropping produce prices overseas; that presides over an unemployment rate as high as the United States. The proposed budget of spending put forward for the Labour Party, independently costed and steadfast under queries from the incumbent government and media commentators, was a nonissue and seemingly disregarded by the public at large — who went with no costings and baseless assurances from the government. Indeed, the prime minister received a tangible sympathy vote, one supporter saying that he’d had a “tough run” with the Pike River coal mine disaster (four years later the government still has punished none of the negligent management, let alone investigated the miners’ remains) and the Christchurch earthquake(s) — four years later still with tens of thousands of insurance disputes over destroyed homes unresolved.

PEOPLE POWER?

In politics, ideology, economics, philosophy, morality on September 19, 2014 at 11:38 pm

I suppose my first recollection of the phrase “People Power” was around 1986 when ingoing President Corazon Aquino quoted it in raising a groundswell of support promising to free the people of The Philippines from the dynasty of the Marcos family. It seemed like a good idea, and probably still is when carried out by idealists with a real sense of selflessness and self-empowerment and in the cause of the greater good — as it was also in most cases of “The Arab Spring” of a couple of years ago, beginning in Tunisia, taking in Lybia, failing in Syria and Yemen, and culminating in Egypt — where it appeared to have succeeded according to the people’s wishes; that is, before the army took over.

Aye, and there’s the rub, said the inspired Robbie Burns. Closer to this part of the world, in Fiji, Colonel Sitiveni Rabuka took over its Parliament “at the point of a gun” in 1987. And things have never been the same since. Even the most superficial onlookers — tourists — were put off for a few years after repeated coups, setting the Islands’ economy back a millennium. The first general election here in eight years, begun a couple of days ago at the pleasure of the incumbent Generalissimo, Commodore Bainimarama, is poised at a 57 percent “pro” vote for him halfway through the count; the nearest challenging party on a little over half that. Of course, since he instituted physical coercion of political opponents by his army and police force at first opportunity, and under ongoing enforced censorship of the press, it is difficult to tell whether this result is a resounding endorsement of the Bainimarama regime or just symptomatic of a people who have had the spirit kicked out of them.

Ah! What combination do we deserve and/or will we get this time?

Ah! What combination do we deserve and/or will we get this time?

Some eighteen hours ago news came through that the referendum on Scottish independence, open to all current residents of Scotland aged 16 and above, had come down on the side of staying within the United Kingdom, the vote 55% to 45%. Leader of the Scottish nationalists, veteran politician Alex Salmond, has resigned but not before gaining almost the bulk of what he was seeking in the beginning: what should be important concessions from London made on the eve of the election to swing the vote in favor of the 307-year-old partnership, which until recent years had seen Scotland become increasingly the junior partner. Whether these promises will be kept, and/or on whose timetable now there’s no urgent need, remains to be seen. Apart from national pride — apparently never quite as strong as that of Ireland, which won a hard-fought freedom from London a century ago — from this distance it’s difficult to say whether Scotland has more than the legitimate economic gripe that also pertains to the English North, the Midlands and the West Country: in fact anywhere that the 50 million majority of the United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland is effectively outvoted by the 12 million of Swinging Greater London, which retains more loyalty to its status as a world stock market capital and centre of big business — like, hypothetically, the foreign policy of Mexico or Canada being ruled from Wall Street, New York City.

A little over an hour ago the polling booths opened all over New Zealand for its three-yearly general election. There is so little faith in politicians here that three years is deemed to be the ideal term of government: one year getting settled in (including allowing two months or so for negotiations with minor parties in accordance with the MMP proportional system), one year to undo the “worst” of what the previous government did and rush through its own legislative program with dead-of-night rubber-stamp votes in the unicameral Parliament, and one year effectively campaigning for the next election with tax bribes or other major tweaks that seem expedient. The hope for most people is that they will at least have a show of ousting them in relatively short order before they can do irretrievable damage: probably a forlorn hope given the way the country has gone in all-out capitalism without a working safety net over the past thirty years. The ruling conservative National Party is odds on to win a third consecutive term on the trot, leading with 45-47% in opinion polls and apparently only needing one minor party to side with it to rule again.

Seriously, should inability to recognise your own best economic interests in a simple face-to-face quiz be a disqualifier to voting, like intellectual incapacity or insanity in court? I personally know poor, poor people who are intent on voting conservative, as if the status quo hasn’t screwed them enough. Admittedly, they are in the mental health system and vote counter-intuitively — to put it politely — but that doesn’t account for the other close-to-two-million votes the right wing is set to receive. As one wise person said, “Democracy is a form of government where the people vote for want they want and the politicians give it to them good and hard.”

The Labour Party, in proposing instant action on the 285,000 NZ kids existing under the poverty line (a 20 percent rate nationally), an immediate hike in the minimum wage of two dollars per hour, concrete moves to lower the increasingly out-of-reach average price of new houses by some $100,000 to just under $400,000, introducing a moderate capital gains tax affecting rich people (no more than virtually every other country has) and a small lift in the highest income tax rate to 36% on any earnings over $150,000 p.a. — obviously also on the wealthiest earners — has apparently shrivelled the scrotes of a great many people you wouldn’t expect: maybe in moronic positive-thinking mode that “Anything Oprah can do I can do too.” Traditionally the left-wing alternative, the Labour Party has amassed an unimpressive 24-26% support according to the latest surveys, and will need at least two (and probably more) minor parties to side with it to even approach the required half of the electorate.

Labour’s only guaranteed allies are the Green Party (on 11-14% support), proposing up to a 40% tax maximum, and the Internet-Mana Party (steady on 2%), a queer mix of a poverty-driven Maori initiative funded by international copyright crim Kim Dotcom, wanted by the FBI and Interpol. The third most popular party, NZ First, invented some twenty years ago and still led by Scottish-Maori compassionate conservative Winston Peters (named after you-know-who), has 6-8%, and is, on principle, a wild card, always refusing to say who he will support until one-man-band Winston sees his main chance after the election. The new Conservative Party — speaking for the Tea Party fundamentalist christian element in ths country — out of the blue is now on a surveyed 4.9% (just that smidgeon below the 5% threshold that will qualify it for 6-7 members of Parliament), could conceivably be in a decision-making role after the election, maybe wrecking the country once and for all. Look for binding referendums on everything from smacking of kids — currently against the law but allowed by the police — to creative evolution. Compulsory smacking by parents — under pain of having kids otherwise removed by smacking social agencies — hasn’t been ruled in or out of policy.

In the end, all might depend on the weather — left wing supporters here being notoriously fragile on such things as rainy trips in the car to polling booths all of a few hundred yards away, with nothing between you and the threat of raindrops but a layer of cast iron. They can look mighty scary beating on the windshield — and then there’s the possibility of wind itself that I haven’t mentioned. To mitigate this comfort factor for this election a three-week lead-in period has been introduced, taking special votes at one’s convenience. Some 770,000 early votes were cast, so almost another two million voters (of 3,096,000 registered) will have to turn up today to make a high turnout of over 80% altogether — a tall order. With the weather forecast crummy today for most parts of the country for most of the time, things don’t look good — the truism being that only an abnormally big turnout swings against the status quo.

A friend of mine who is acting as a Labour Party volunteer today has been instructed to knock on random front doors and simply remind people to vote, however — the hope apparently being that most of those ruled by inertia will tend towards social equality, in rudimentary impulse if not in action. I guess there’s always hope. But when I was a canvasser for the left-wing Alliance twenty years ago, we had written lists of actual supporters and their addresses so we could arrange to have them transported to polling booths and vote in a good cause. Strange how times change. I have noticed elsewhere too this tendency from officialdom to encouarge random voting as if it’s a good thing to simply plunk one’s vote in a box and the extent of what can be expected from most people.

I’m afraid the overwhelming probability of my well-informed vote being cancelled out by someone in the booth next to me who has given it just a passing thought or no thought at all leaves me cold — if this is what the World Wars have come down to in winning and exercising the highest principles in a perfunctory democratic process.

Roll on 7pm, now just eight hours away. Stand by for a post script sometime in the next day or two.

Movie Review: “Breakfast At Tiffany’s” (1961)

In film on September 16, 2014 at 8:52 am

I have a confession to make. Until this afternoon I had never seen more than random snippets of Breakfast At Tiffany’s — but I have just watched the last hour and a half of it on the Turner channel. I’m hoping the original novel by Truman Capote was better; but I’ve never been a fan of glossy Blake Edwards movies. This comes across like it’s trying to be a sophisticated comedy but falls way short of those in the Thirties-Forties, and even Pretty Woman, the closest I can draw as a modern equivalent.

There are several glaring shortcomings, the most well-known one today probably being Mickey Rooney’s inexplicable portrayal of a Japanese tenant as a four-foot-something, conspicuously buck-toothed, four-eyed geek — presumably intended to be a comic turn but just highly embarrassing. Another is a scene where Holly describes herself as “fat as a pig” — when you can practically see her skeleton through her dress, every bit of 90 to 100 pounds hanging on her 5ft-8 frame. Yet another huge allowance has to be made for Audrey Hepburn, 32, playing a 20-year-old backwoods Southerner while coming across as a refined Englishwoman, as she did in all her films. George Peppard, quite a sought-after leading man in the Sixties and then not again till The A Team on tv, is Holly’s suitor. An impoverished “rider” (writer) who dresses in a conventional suit like a bank teller, he is supported by Patricia Neal as his cougar until he decides to “help” Holly to change from a self-defined wild child every bit as revolting as Daisy Clover (Natalie Wood) in that film and become herself. Buddy Ebsen is Holly’s ex-husband. Patricia and Buddy give the best performances.

Audrey_Hepburn_Tiffany's

It was a struggle to get through what I did see, partly because so slow moving — but mainly because I found the dominant character of Holly Golightly/Lula-Mae (Audrey Hepburn) insufferable. She was selfish, shallow and a materialistic social-climber. The last straw was when she dumps her cat in a strange area of New York City, in the rain — leaving her dumped boyfriend Paul (whom she calls Fred) to look for him. Far from the “sweet bundle of neuroses” one reviewer describes her as, I would place her at least two steps worse off into the destructive manic-depressive category, with narcissistic tendencies and violent impulses. It didn’t help my perception that the character reminds me very much of a woman I’ve known — who didn’t miraculously turn herself around on the spot as Holly does at the end of the movie, but is still basically the same person in her mid fifties, still clueless about how to behave with simple consideration for others.

Enough to say that the Moon River refrain running through the film is the highlight, not Audrey’s pedestrian rendition of it. By the way, West Side Story is another all-time great from 1961 (and coincidentally similarly set in The Big Apple) I’ve never been able to bring myself to watch: yet another of those examples where the theme music is better than the movie, as was so often the case in the Sixties, when screen composers of evocative music were admittedly at a towering peak of quality.

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