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PEOPLE POWER?

In economics, ideology, morality, philosophy, politics 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.

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LITTLE DO WE KNOW…

In civics, economics, ideology, politics on August 6, 2013 at 9:27 am

I’m going to assume we are all adults here in this forum (as I grandly call it, though this post might only reach two readers over the next week) and there is a free flow of ideas to and fro — to whoever is at the other end of this conversation. You are now entering The Twilight Zone… Please just humor me while I allow my paranoia to run free a little while. It’s called brainstorming, or panic stations. Certain socio-political events and utterances impacting on New Zealand across the Pacific from North America and East Asia over recent years and days have prompted the following thoughts.

WHAT IF…

* Beyond hearing and surveillance of all satellites and electronic bugs, heads of much bigger countries have been discussing, even weighing up, how many medium to tiny nations and which ones “we have on our side, so how many do you count in your sphere of influence?” to carry any vote in the United Nations?

* Discarding civilized pleasantries about the UN and choosing up sides in the playground for the egg-and-spoon race, there used to be something in the era of the Cold War called “Realpolitik”, which meant “Let’s cut all the bullshit about nations’ sovereign rights and get down to the nitty-gritty about how big your balls are and how many intercontinental ballistic missiles you’ve got.”

* This is exactly the kind of thing North Korea has got itself into in recent years when they kidnap foreign civilians, attack and kill enemies by the hundreds with impunity as if to provoke something rather precipitous, that might have no end… To stretch a point for the sake of speculative argument, might they be doing this at the behest of, or to curry favor with, their one and only ally, a much larger military and economic power not very far away? In its game of brinksmanship this country has several times crossed over that line, what formerly would have been considered the brink beyond no return.

* A couple of years ago when the Australia and New Zealand governments threatened to get more assertive with the Japanese whaling fleet plying its sickening trade in the Great Southern Ocean, the Japanese government countered that it could send a few minor elements of its naval “defence force” down to these parts and all thoughts of grand gestures on behalf of wildlife disappeared from minds overnight in this part of the world, and Greenpeace and other independent thinkers suddenly became the enemy to be clamped down on by South Pacific governments.

* Come to that, what could New Zealand (even partnered with Australia and Singapore) really do to defend itself against big powers unless it was closely and unquestioningly aligned with the biggest power of all?

Joe the Fonterra Man driving his milk tanker: Little does he know he's a pawn in a much larger game

Joe the Fonterra Man driving his milk tanker: Little does he know he’s a pawn in a much larger game

* The head spokesperson of China has been in the media speaking rather bluntly to John Key, Prime Minister of New Zealand, saying that this country’s image after the “Fonterra Incident” is not so much a “clean, green” one as “a festering sore”. In the old days them would’ve bin fahtin’ wards, especially coming from what is essentially a military dictatorship that treats three quarters of its population as a peasant labor resource and is seemingly dedicated to ridding the world of its last few remaining nonhuman threatened species. But in these times when NZ is merely a vassal state of the USA we can be used (and threatened) as a pawn. I just hope they find bigger fish to fry.

* And that, in turn, would explain why such secret subliminal messages, if not explicit and implicit ones, coming to the ears of New Zealand’s impotent leaders from huge foreign powers, have got John Key and the rest of the NZ government in such a tizz, gung ho for the GCIS Bill and any other surveillance legislation it can lay its hands on in a hurry. “Paranoia strikes deep,” as that Buffalo Springfield song from the psychedelic era said.

A few years ago I devised the outline of a novel about such powerplays across the Pacific and the vulnerability of such a remote country as New Zealand, even created a few characters and sample passages. But it ended up reading like a comedy, like the movie The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming (1965). Please tell me this is just a fanciful scenario, much closer to a novel or a comedy than for real.

Don’t be shy about leaving your thoughts in the Comments…

How the Rich Get Richer

In civics, economics, ideology, sociology on May 23, 2008 at 11:30 pm

anna_nicole_weight300Just a short note — a few observations — because I notice my philosophical meanderings attract a lot fewer readers than postings that might mention Anna Nicole Smith’s boob size (it’s three handfuls, each, by the way — if you’re tuning in to this posting on that basis).

My observations will be based on my New Zealand experience but I have no doubt the same principles apply in the USA and most other countries — just on a much grander scale of larceny. The government’s budget here, just announced — and by a so-called “Labour” government — has just handed out its first TAX CUT, which seem to be all the rage. The average salary will be boosted by $16 a week — just enough for a 1kg block of cheese — for which this government has put the country into hock for $10.6 billion over the next three years (this country only has a population around about Arkansas’s). This is a criminal burden on this country’s services, which will have to be cut back everywhere in every sphere, when they are barely coping now. I know Bush’s tax cuts were deliberately aimed at the rich, but even using the conventional PERCENTAGE cut (or pay raise) the rich benefit far more, obviously. For example, the prime minister here is on $320,000 a year. If she gets a 5 percent increase she’s boosted by a cool $16,000. If someone on $20,000 gets a 5 percent increase they get a not so cool $1,000 a year. This is nothing more than keeping the rich in the manner to which they’ve become accustomed — dressed up as “fairness”. What is wrong with giving everyone the same dollar increase, so the rich don’t hog the gravy for themselves every time?

And this tax cut is being given in the face of galloping inflation — gasoline here is around $9 a gallon, cheese in a dairying country $15 a kilo (about $7 a pound) and milk almost $2 a quart. The health system and hospitals are government run and barely getting by — already slipped to at least 2nd World quality — and obviously any money taken from these in the form of tax cuts affects the poor hugely, unlike the rich who can afford private health care.

dollarloveCorporate salaries here are not what they are in the US — the top CEO (at Telecom) gets about $3 million a year in salary and bonuses. The thing is they get their bonuses, and huge severance bonus even if they’ve done a shitty job — like the CEO who departed last year with about a $2 million golden handshake.

But you listen to any economic commentators and they’re all saying “This is an extremely important position” — It has to be, by definition: they’re paid so much. Well this extremely important position was occupied by precisely NOBODY for eight months until the new CEO was “headhunted” — Is this amputation why they do such a rotten job running things? Any reasonable person would conclude that a company that runs ordinarily well for eight months without someone could do without that position being filled forever. But not the corporate world. They need an obscenely-highly paid figurehead position to aspire to — where they can name their own price, rubber-stamped by the board of directors, who are also invariably wealthy people maintaining their own fiefdoms.

In this country all these CEO and board positions are interchangeable — no experience necessary in the field, so that a person can be shoulder-tapped to sit on umpteen boards and a CEO go from heading a Telecom business to an airline business: It’s all the same to them.

This has been G. A. De Forest.

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