This really needs no further commentary on my part,
Our entire mass media seems to be fixated on RWC, or Rugby, or any other sport, social event, or person(s) vaguely related to balls. If “Happy Feet” had played rugby on Peka Peka beach, our media moguls would have died happy in their beds…
Case in point how the RWC has supplanted normal, every-day, news events. On 25 September, TVNZ7 News-at-8 consisted of the following:
8.00 – 8.07: The Warriors’ win
8.08 – 815: Rugby. RWC. People with a rugby ball. Sick Jonah Lomu (ex rugby player). More rugby.
8.15: Christchurch earthquake. Meningitis case in Wellington.
8.16: Crime story in Dunedin.
8.18: Plane crash in Nepal/Mt Everest
8.19: Libyan civil war
8.21: Civil unrest in Yemen. Fire and fatalities in London.
8.23: Politics in Russia. Putin standing for President again. (Aside; will he campaign bare-chested?)
8.25: Campaign against bull fighting in Spain. (True! No bull!) Crazy US stuntman in China. Followed by Weather today. Followed by International Weather. (Raining in Botswana, I see – fishing trip cancelled tomorrow.) Then TVNZ7 station break.
8.28: Global financial crisis
8.33: UBS Bank Fraud – CEO quits. I shed at tear. (No, not really.) ASB computer glitch. (Some IT geek too busy watching internet porn?) ACT announces policy to decriminalises cannabis. (Good policy – except pot heads will have forgotten by tomorrow morning.)
8.38: Kiwi chick #1,000 born. (Lack of suitable penguin story?)
8.39: “Coming Up Soon” announcement.
8.40: TVNZ7 station break.
8.41: Sport. Rugby. (At this point I switch off. Consider phoning ASB IT geek to obtain his favourite porn website.)
There we have it, folks: fifteen minutes of rugby leading a supposedly “serious” TVNZ7 news hours – with another 15 to 20 minutes of same, at 8.40.
By comparison, the global financial crisis – which threatens the entire planet with another Depression and collapse of entire governments – lasted five minutes.
Though this information was collated from TVNZ7, the other two television news serices, TV1 and TV3, have been likewise guilty of trivialising news reporting. Theresult is that we, as a society, are less well informed as to what is happening in our own country, and indeed the world.
This is perhaps a matter made even more critical as we have a general election looming and the global economic crisis seems to be gathering an evil head of steam. We also have a piece of legislation called the Police Surveillance Bill currently before the House – a proposed law that could make New Zealand one of the most surveilled country in the Western world.
Big Brother has taken a step nearer.
All this is practically “invisible”. The news media has practicalled muzzled itself, as it chases the Rugby World Cup, and cute animal stories.
Now I’m as happy as the next bloke or blokette to have TV news cover the RWC. No, honestly, I am! But not at the expense of general news; politics; the economy; community; and international affairs. There is a time and place for everything and the News media have a responsibility to inform New Zealanders what is happening in their own country. There is more to our lives than a 15 minute story on the All Blacks thrashing [insert other rugby team here], and then a human-angle story on one of the All Blacks’ mum and dad.
Otherwise, this isn’t just “dumbing down”, this is a pre-frontal lobotomy of the electronic media with an ECG charge of 5,000 volts to the temples, for good measure.
Welcome to Bread and Circuses, 21st Century style – instead of Christians and Lions, we have penguins and rugby.
Question – without using Google, do you know the answers to the following:
- What date will the coming General Election will be held on?
- Which party proposed a Capital Gains Tax?
- There are NZ military staff in which country: Iraq, Libya, Fiji?
If you don’t know the answers, but do know who will be playing the next match, then ask yourself why?
And who knew that this was going on:
Government Minister to political dissenters: “Pull your Head in!”
The government has ordered Auckland University to cease political protest action. Government minister, Steven Joyce yesterday decreed that “my general advice to NZUSA (NZ Union of Students’ Associations) on the cost of living for students is to keep your heads down”.
As usual, the full force of the State was brought in to “control” the situation,
Joyce further added, “I think most New Zealanders think students are reasonably well looked after at this point in time”.
“Mr Joyce said university students had 75 per cent of the tuition subsidised on average and benefited from interest-free student loans.” Source
This is true: university students currently have much of their tuition fees subsidised by the State. And their student loans are interest free.
However, the Minister for Tertiary Education forgot to reveal to the NZ Herald that he recieved a free tertiary education. No student fees. No student debt. It was all paid for by the tax-payer.
So, it seems rather curious that Mr Joyce, who benefitted from a free, tax-payer funded, tertiary education, with no debt incurred from his tuition – can order fee-paying students to cease all political dissent.
Another case of a Baby Boomer telling Gen X to “do as I say, not as I do”?
Source for information
- Steven Joyce, born: 1963.
- After completing a zoology degree at Massey University, Steven started his first radio station, Energy FM, in his home town of New Plymouth, at age 21 (1984).
- Student Loan system is started: 1992.
When it comes to bizarre, this has to take the cake,
A billionaire member of the Chinse Communist Party?!
Karl Marx would be spinning in his grave at such high revs that we could attach a dynamo to him; run wires to a nearby sub-station; and power Hamilton with the energy.
It’s official, folks – China is no longer a communist society. Sorry, Mao – nice try, cuz.
Reflections of a GOP Operative Who Left the Cult
- Mike Lofgren
Barbara Stanwyck: “We’re both rotten!”
Fred MacMurray: “Yeah – only you’re a little more rotten.” -”Double Indemnity” (1944)
Those lines of dialogue from a classic film noir sum up the state of the two political parties in contemporary America. Both parties are rotten – how could they not be, given the complete infestation of the political system by corporate money on a scale that now requires a presidential candidate to raise upwards of a billion dollars to be competitive in the general election? Both parties are captives to corporate loot. The main reason the Democrats’ health care bill will be a budget buster once it fully phases in is the Democrats’ rank capitulation to corporate interests – no single-payer system, in order to mollify the insurers; and no negotiation of drug prices, a craven surrender to Big Pharma.
But both parties are not rotten in quite the same way. The Democrats have their share of machine politicians, careerists, corporate bagmen, egomaniacs and kooks. Nothing, however, quite matches the modern GOP.
To those millions of Americans who have finally begun paying attention to politics and watched with exasperation the tragicomedy of the debt ceiling extension, it may have come as a shock that the Republican Party is so full of lunatics. To be sure, the party, like any political party on earth, has always had its share of crackpots, like Robert K. Dornan or William E. Dannemeyer. But the crackpot outliers of two decades ago have become the vital center today: Steve King, Michele Bachman (now a leading presidential candidate as well), Paul Broun, Patrick McHenry, Virginia Foxx, Louie Gohmert, Allen West. The Congressional directory now reads like a casebook of lunacy.
It was this cast of characters and the pernicious ideas they represent that impelled me to end a nearly 30-year career as a professional staff member on Capitol Hill. A couple of months ago, I retired; but I could see as early as last November that the Republican Party would use the debt limit vote, an otherwise routine legislative procedure that has been used 87 times since the end of World War II, in order to concoct an entirely artificial fiscal crisis. Then, they would use that fiscal crisis to get what they wanted, by literally holding the US and global economies as hostages.
The debt ceiling extension is not the only example of this sort of political terrorism. Republicans were willing to lay off 4,000 Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) employees, 70,000 private construction workers and let FAA safety inspectors work without pay, in fact, forcing them to pay for their own work-related travel – how prudent is that? – in order to strong arm some union-busting provisions into the FAA reauthorization.
Everyone knows that in a hostage situation, the reckless and amoral actor has the negotiating upper hand over the cautious and responsible actor because the latter is actually concerned about the life of the hostage, while the former does not care. This fact, which ought to be obvious, has nevertheless caused confusion among the professional pundit class, which is mostly still stuck in the Bob Dole era in terms of its orientation. For instance, Ezra Klein wrote of his puzzlement over the fact that while House Republicans essentially won the debt ceiling fight, enough of them were sufficiently dissatisfied that they might still scuttle the deal. Of course they might – the attitude of many freshman Republicans to national default was “bring it on!”
It should have been evident to clear-eyed observers that the Republican Party is becoming less and less like a traditional political party in a representative democracy and becoming more like an apocalyptic cult, or one of the intensely ideological authoritarian parties of 20th century Europe. This trend has several implications, none of them pleasant.
In his “Manual of Parliamentary Practice,” Thomas Jefferson wrote that it is less important that every rule and custom of a legislature be absolutely justifiable in a theoretical sense, than that they should be generally acknowledged and honored by all parties. These include unwritten rules, customs and courtesies that lubricate the legislative machinery and keep governance a relatively civilized procedure. The US Senate has more complex procedural rules than any other legislative body in the world; many of these rules are contradictory, and on any given day, the Senate parliamentarian may issue a ruling that contradicts earlier rulings on analogous cases.
The only thing that can keep the Senate functioning is collegiality and good faith. During periods of political consensus, for instance, the World War II and early post-war eras, the Senate was a “high functioning” institution: filibusters were rare and the body was legislatively productive. Now, one can no more picture the current Senate producing the original Medicare Act than the old Supreme Soviet having legislated the Bill of Rights.
Far from being a rarity, virtually every bill, every nominee for Senate confirmation and every routine procedural motion is now subject to a Republican filibuster. Under the circumstances, it is no wonder that Washington is gridlocked: legislating has now become war minus the shooting, something one could have observed 80 years ago in the Reichstag of the Weimar Republic. As Hannah Arendt observed, a disciplined minority of totalitarians can use the instruments of democratic government to undermine democracy itself.
John P. Judis sums up the modern GOP this way:
“Over the last four decades, the Republican Party has transformed from a loyal opposition into an insurrectionary party that flouts the law when it is in the majority and threatens disorder when it is the minority. It is the party of Watergate and Iran-Contra, but also of the government shutdown in 1995 and the impeachment trial of 1999. If there is an earlier American precedent for today’s Republican Party, it is the antebellum Southern Democrats of John Calhoun who threatened to nullify, or disregard, federal legislation they objected to and who later led the fight to secede from the union over slavery.”
A couple of years ago, a Republican committee staff director told me candidly (and proudly) what the method was to all this obstruction and disruption. Should Republicans succeed in obstructing the Senate from doing its job, it would further lower Congress’s generic favorability rating among the American people. By sabotaging the reputation of an institution of government, the party that is programmatically against government would come out the relative winner.
A deeply cynical tactic, to be sure, but a psychologically insightful one that plays on the weaknesses both of the voting public and the news media. There are tens of millions of low-information voters who hardly know which party controls which branch of government, let alone which party is pursuing a particular legislative tactic. These voters’ confusion over who did what allows them to form the conclusion that “they are all crooks,” and that “government is no good,” further leading them to think, “a plague on both your houses” and “the parties are like two kids in a school yard.” This ill-informed public cynicism, in its turn, further intensifies the long-term decline in public trust in government that has been taking place since the early 1960s – a distrust that has been stoked by Republican rhetoric at every turn (“Government is the problem,” declared Ronald Reagan in 1980).
The media are also complicit in this phenomenon. Ever since the bifurcation of electronic media into a more or less respectable “hard news” segment and a rabidly ideological talk radio and cable TV political propaganda arm, the “respectable” media have been terrified of any criticism for perceived bias. Hence, they hew to the practice of false evenhandedness. Paul Krugman has skewered this tactic as being the “centrist cop-out.” “I joked long ago,” he says, “that if one party declared that the earth was flat, the headlines would read ‘Views Differ on Shape of Planet.’”
Inside-the-Beltway wise guy Chris Cillizza merely proves Krugman right in his Washington Post analysis of “winners and losers” in the debt ceiling impasse. He wrote that the institution of Congress was a big loser in the fracas, which is, of course, correct, but then he opined: “Lawmakers – bless their hearts – seem entirely unaware of just how bad they looked during this fight and will almost certainly spend the next few weeks (or months) congratulating themselves on their tremendous magnanimity.” Note how the pundit’s ironic deprecation falls like the rain on the just and unjust alike, on those who precipitated the needless crisis and those who despaired of it. He seems oblivious that one side – or a sizable faction of one side – has deliberately attempted to damage the reputation of Congress to achieve its political objectives.
This constant drizzle of “there the two parties go again!” stories out of the news bureaus, combined with the hazy confusion of low-information voters, means that the long-term Republican strategy of undermining confidence in our democratic institutions has reaped electoral dividends. The United States has nearly the lowest voter participation among Western democracies; this, again, is a consequence of the decline of trust in government institutions – if government is a racket and both parties are the same, why vote? And if the uninvolved middle declines to vote, it increases the electoral clout of a minority that is constantly being whipped into a lather by three hours daily of Rush Limbaugh or Fox News. There were only 44 million Republican voters in the 2010 mid-term elections, but they effectively canceled the political results of the election of President Obama by 69 million voters.
This tactic of inducing public distrust of government is not only cynical, it is schizophrenic. For people who profess to revere the Constitution, it is strange that they so caustically denigrate the very federal government that is the material expression of the principles embodied in that document. This is not to say that there is not some theoretical limit to the size or intrusiveness of government; I would be the first to say there are such limits, both fiscal and Constitutional. But most Republican officeholders seem strangely uninterested in the effective repeal of Fourth Amendment protections by the Patriot Act, the weakening of habeas corpus and self-incrimination protections in the public hysteria following 9/11 or the unpalatable fact that the United States has the largest incarcerated population of any country on earth. If anything, they would probably opt for more incarcerated persons, as imprisonment is a profit center for the prison privatization industry, which is itself a growth center for political contributions to these same politicians. Instead, they prefer to rail against those government programs that actually help people. And when a program is too popular to attack directly, like Medicare or Social Security, they prefer to undermine it by feigning an agonized concern about the deficit. That concern, as we shall see, is largely fictitious.
Undermining Americans’ belief in their own institutions of self-government remains a prime GOP electoral strategy. But if this technique falls short of producing Karl Rove’s dream of 30 years of unchallengeable one-party rule (as all such techniques always fall short of achieving the angry and embittered true believer’s New Jerusalem), there are other even less savory techniques upon which to fall back. Ever since Republicans captured the majority in a number of state legislatures last November, they have systematically attempted to make it more difficult to vote: by onerous voter ID requirements (in Wisconsin, Republicans have legislated photo IDs while simultaneously shutting Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) offices in Democratic constituencies while at the same time lengthening the hours of operation of DMV offices in GOP constituencies); by narrowing registration periods; and by residency requirements that may disenfranchise university students.
This legislative assault is moving in a diametrically opposed direction to 200 years of American history, when the arrow of progress pointed toward more political participation by more citizens. Republicans are among the most shrill in self-righteously lecturing other countries about the wonders of democracy; exporting democracy (albeit at the barrel of a gun) to the Middle East was a signature policy of the Bush administration. But domestically, they don’t want those people voting.
You can probably guess who those people are. Above all, anyone not likely to vote Republican. As Sarah Palin would imply, the people who are not Real Americans. Racial minorities. Immigrants. Muslims. Gays. Intellectuals. Basically, anyone who doesn’t look, think, or talk like the GOP base. This must account, at least to some degree, for their extraordinarily vitriolic hatred of President Obama. I have joked in the past that the main administration policy that Republicans object to is Obama’s policy of being black. Among the GOP base, there is constant harping about somebody else, some “other,” who is deliberately, assiduously and with malice aforethought subverting the Good, the True and the Beautiful: Subversives. Commies. Socialists. Ragheads. Secular humanists. Blacks. Fags. Feminazis. The list may change with the political needs of the moment, but they always seem to need a scapegoat to hate and fear.
It is not clear to me how many GOP officeholders believe this reactionary and paranoid claptrap. I would bet that most do not. But they cynically feed the worst instincts of their fearful and angry low-information political base with a nod and a wink. During the disgraceful circus of the “birther” issue, Republican politicians subtly stoked the fires of paranoia by being suggestively equivocal – “I take the president at his word” – while never unambiguously slapping down the myth. John Huntsman was the first major GOP figure forthrightly to refute the birther calumny – albeit after release of the birth certificate.
I do not mean to place too much emphasis on racial animus in the GOP. While it surely exists, it is also a fact that Republicans think that no Democratic president could conceivably be legitimate. Republicans also regarded Bill Clinton as somehow, in some manner, twice fraudulently elected (well do I remember the elaborate conspiracy theories that Republicans traded among themselves). Had it been Hillary Clinton, rather than Barack Obama, who had been elected in 2008, I am certain we would now be hearing, in lieu of the birther myths, conspiracy theories about Vince Foster’s alleged murder.
The reader may think that I am attributing Svengali-like powers to GOP operatives able to manipulate a zombie base to do their bidding. It is more complicated than that. Historical circumstances produced the raw material: the deindustrialization and financialization of America since about 1970 has spawned an increasingly downscale white middle class – without job security (or even without jobs), with pensions and health benefits evaporating and with their principal asset deflating in the collapse of the housing bubble. Their fears are not imaginary; their standard of living is shrinking.
What do the Democrats offer these people? Essentially nothing. Democratic Leadership Council-style “centrist” Democrats were among the biggest promoters of disastrous trade deals in the 1990s that outsourced jobs abroad: NAFTA, World Trade Organization, permanent most-favored-nation status for China. At the same time, the identity politics/lifestyle wing of the Democratic Party was seen as a too illegal immigrant-friendly by downscaled and outsourced whites.
While Democrats temporized, or even dismissed the fears of the white working class as racist or nativist, Republicans went to work. To be sure, the business wing of the Republican Party consists of the most energetic outsourcers, wage cutters and hirers of sub-minimum wage immigrant labor to be found anywhere on the globe. But the faux-populist wing of the party, knowing the mental compartmentalization that occurs in most low-information voters, played on the fears of that same white working class to focus their anger on scapegoats that do no damage to corporations’ bottom lines: instead of raising the minimum wage, let’s build a wall on the Southern border (then hire a defense contractor to incompetently manage it). Instead of predatory bankers, it’s evil Muslims. Or evil gays. Or evil abortionists.
How do they manage to do this? Because Democrats ceded the field. Above all, they do not understand language. Their initiatives are posed in impenetrable policy-speak: the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The what? – can anyone even remember it? No wonder the pejorative “Obamacare” won out. Contrast that with the Republicans’ Patriot Act. You’re a patriot, aren’t you? Does anyone at the GED level have a clue what a Stimulus Bill is supposed to be? Why didn’t the White House call it the Jobs Bill and keep pounding on that theme?
You know that Social Security and Medicare are in jeopardy when even Democrats refer to them as entitlements. “Entitlement” has a negative sound in colloquial English: somebody who is “entitled” selfishly claims something he doesn’t really deserve. Why not call them “earned benefits,” which is what they are because we all contribute payroll taxes to fund them? That would never occur to the Democrats. Republicans don’t make that mistake; they are relentlessly on message: it is never the “estate tax,” it is the “death tax.” Heaven forbid that the Walton family should give up one penny of its $86-billion fortune. All of that lucre is necessary to ensure that unions be kept out of Wal-Mart, that women employees not be promoted and that politicians be kept on a short leash.
It was not always thus. It would have been hard to find an uneducated farmer during the depression of the 1890s who did not have a very accurate idea about exactly which economic interests were shafting him. An unemployed worker in a breadline in 1932 would have felt little gratitude to the Rockefellers or the Mellons. But that is not the case in the present economic crisis. After a riot of unbridled greed such as the world has not seen since the conquistadors’ looting expeditions and after an unprecedented broad and rapid transfer of wealth upward by Wall Street and its corporate satellites, where is the popular anger directed, at least as depicted in the media? At “Washington spending” – which has increased primarily to provide unemployment compensation, food stamps and Medicaid to those economically damaged by the previous decade’s corporate saturnalia. Or the popular rage is harmlessly diverted against pseudo-issues: death panels, birtherism, gay marriage, abortion, and so on, none of which stands to dent the corporate bottom line in the slightest.
Thus far, I have concentrated on Republican tactics, rather than Republican beliefs, but the tactics themselves are important indicators of an absolutist, authoritarian mindset that is increasingly hostile to the democratic values of reason, compromise and conciliation. Rather, this mindset seeks polarizing division (Karl Rove has been very explicit that this is his principal campaign strategy), conflict and the crushing of opposition.
As for what they really believe, the Republican Party of 2011 believes in three principal tenets I have laid out below. The rest of their platform one may safely dismiss as window dressing:
1. The GOP cares solely and exclusively about its rich contributors. The party has built a whole catechism on the protection and further enrichment of America’s plutocracy. Their caterwauling about deficit and debt is so much eyewash to con the public. Whatever else President Obama has accomplished (and many of his purported accomplishments are highly suspect), his $4-trillion deficit reduction package did perform the useful service of smoking out Republican hypocrisy. The GOP refused, because it could not abide so much as a one-tenth of one percent increase on the tax rates of the Walton family or the Koch brothers, much less a repeal of the carried interest rule that permits billionaire hedge fund managers to pay income tax at a lower effective rate than cops or nurses. Republicans finally settled on a deal that had far less deficit reduction – and even less spending reduction! – than Obama’s offer, because of their iron resolution to protect at all costs our society’s overclass.
Republicans have attempted to camouflage their amorous solicitude for billionaires with a fog of misleading rhetoric. John Boehner is fond of saying, “we won’t raise anyone’s taxes,” as if the take-home pay of an Olive Garden waitress were inextricably bound up with whether Warren Buffett pays his capital gains as ordinary income or at a lower rate. Another chestnut is that millionaires and billionaires are “job creators.” US corporations have just had their most profitable quarters in history; Apple, for one, is sitting on $76 billion in cash, more than the GDP of most countries. So, where are the jobs?
Another smokescreen is the “small business” meme, since standing up for Mom’s and Pop’s corner store is politically more attractive than to be seen shilling for a megacorporation. Raising taxes on the wealthy will kill small business’ ability to hire; that is the GOP dirge every time Bernie Sanders or some Democrat offers an amendment to increase taxes on incomes above $1 million. But the number of small businesses that have a net annual income over a million dollars is de minimis, if not by definition impossible (as they would no longer be small businesses). And as data from the Center for Economic and Policy Research have shown, small businesses account for only 7.2 percent of total US employment, a significantly smaller share of total employment than in most Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries.
Likewise, Republicans have assiduously spread the myth that Americans are conspicuously overtaxed. But compared to other OECD countries, the effective rates of US taxation are among the lowest. In particular, they point to the top corporate income rate of 35 percent as being confiscatory Bolshevism. But again, the effective rate is much lower. Did GE pay 35 percent on 2010 profits of $14 billion? No, it paid zero.
When pressed, Republicans make up misleading statistics to “prove” that the America’s fiscal burden is being borne by the rich and the rest of us are just freeloaders who don’t appreciate that fact. “Half of Americans don’t pay taxes” is a perennial meme. But what they leave out is that that statement refers to federal income taxes. There are millions of people who don’t pay income taxes, but do contribute payroll taxes – among the most regressive forms of taxation. But according to GOP fiscal theology, payroll taxes don’t count. Somehow, they have convinced themselves that since payroll taxes go into trust funds, they’re not real taxes. Likewise, state and local sales taxes apparently don’t count, although their effect on a poor person buying necessities like foodstuffs is far more regressive than on a millionaire.
All of these half truths and outright lies have seeped into popular culture via the corporate-owned business press. Just listen to CNBC for a few hours and you will hear most of them in one form or another. More important politically, Republicans’ myths about taxation have been internalized by millions of economically downscale “values voters,” who may have been attracted to the GOP for other reasons (which I will explain later), but who now accept this misinformation as dogma.
And when misinformation isn’t enough to sustain popular support for the GOP’s agenda, concealment is needed. One fairly innocuous provision in the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill requires public companies to make a more transparent disclosure of CEO compensation, including bonuses. Note that it would not limit the compensation, only require full disclosure. Republicans are hell-bent on repealing this provision. Of course; it would not serve Wall Street interests if the public took an unhealthy interest in the disparity of their own incomes as against that of a bank CEO. As Spencer Bachus, the Republican chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, says, “In Washington, the view is that the banks are to be regulated and my view is that Washington and the regulators are there to serve the banks.”
2. They worship at the altar of Mars. While the me-too Democrats have set a horrible example of keeping up with the Joneses with respect to waging wars, they can never match GOP stalwarts such as John McCain or Lindsey Graham in their sheer, libidinous enthusiasm for invading other countries. McCain wanted to mix it up with Russia – a nuclear-armed state – during the latter’s conflict with Georgia in 2008 (remember? – “we are all Georgians now,” a slogan that did not, fortunately, catch on), while Graham has been persistently agitating for attacks on Iran and intervention in Syria. And these are not fringe elements of the party; they are the leading “defense experts,” who always get tapped for the Sunday talk shows. About a month before Republicans began holding a gun to the head of the credit markets to get trillions of dollars of cuts, these same Republicans passed a defense appropriations bill that increased spending by $17 billion over the prior year’s defense appropriation. To borrow Chris Hedges’ formulation, war is the force that gives meaning to their lives.
A cynic might conclude that this militaristic enthusiasm is no more complicated than the fact that Pentagon contractors spread a lot of bribery money around Capitol Hill. That is true, but there is more to it than that. It is not necessarily even the fact that members of Congress feel they are protecting constituents’ jobs. The wildly uneven concentration of defense contracts and military bases nationally means that some areas, like Washington, DC, and San Diego, are heavily dependent on Department of Defense (DOD) spending. But there are many more areas of the country whose net balance is negative: the citizenry pays more in taxes to support the Pentagon than it receives back in local contracts.
And the economic justification for Pentagon spending is even more fallacious when one considers that the $700 billion annual DOD budget creates comparatively few jobs. The days of Rosie the Riveter are long gone; most weapons projects now require very little touch labor. Instead, a disproportionate share is siphoned off into high-cost research and development (from which the civilian economy benefits little); exorbitant management expenditures, overhead and out-and-out padding; and, of course, the money that flows back into the coffers of political campaigns. A million dollars appropriated for highway construction would create two to three times as many jobs as a million dollars appropriated for Pentagon weapons procurement, so the jobs argument is ultimately specious.
Take away the cash nexus and there still remains a psychological predisposition toward war and militarism on the part of the GOP. This undoubtedly arises from a neurotic need to demonstrate toughness and dovetails perfectly with the belligerent tough-guy pose one constantly hears on right-wing talk radio. Militarism springs from the same psychological deficit that requires an endless series of enemies, both foreign and domestic.
The results of the last decade of unbridled militarism and the Democrats’ cowardly refusal to reverse it, have been disastrous both strategically and fiscally. It has made the United States less prosperous, less secure and less free. Unfortunately, the militarism and the promiscuous intervention it gives rise to are only likely to abate when the Treasury is exhausted, just as it happened to the Dutch Republic and the British Empire.
3. Give me that old time religion. Pandering to fundamentalism is a full-time vocation in the GOP. Beginning in the 1970s, religious cranks ceased simply to be a minor public nuisance in this country and grew into the major element of the Republican rank and file. Pat Robertson’s strong showing in the 1988 Iowa Caucus signaled the gradual merger of politics and religion in the party. The results are all around us: if the American people poll more like Iranians or Nigerians than Europeans or Canadians on questions of evolution versus creationism, scriptural inerrancy, the existence of angels and demons, and so forth, that result is due to the rise of the religious right, its insertion into the public sphere by the Republican Party and the consequent normalizing of formerly reactionary or quaint beliefs. Also around us is a prevailing anti-intellectualism and hostility to science; it is this group that defines “low-information voter” – or, perhaps, “misinformation voter.”
The Constitution to the contrary notwithstanding, there is now a de facto religious test for the presidency: major candidates are encouraged (or coerced) to “share their feelings” about their “faith” in a revelatory speech; or, some televangelist like Rick Warren dragoons the candidates (as he did with Obama and McCain in 2008) to debate the finer points of Christology, with Warren himself, of course, as the arbiter. Politicized religion is also the sheet anchor of the culture wars. But how did the whole toxic stew of GOP beliefs – economic royalism, militarism and culture wars cum fundamentalism – come completely to displace an erstwhile civilized Eisenhower Republicanism?
It is my view that the rise of politicized religious fundamentalism (which is a subset of the decline of rational problem solving in America) may have been the key ingredient of the takeover of the Republican Party. For politicized religion provides a substrate of beliefs that rationalizes – at least in the minds of followers – all three of the GOP’s main tenets.
Televangelists have long espoused the health-and-wealth/name-it-and-claim it gospel. If you are wealthy, it is a sign of God’s favor. If not, too bad! But don’t forget to tithe in any case. This rationale may explain why some economically downscale whites defend the prerogatives of billionaires.
The GOP’s fascination with war is also connected with the fundamentalist mindset. The Old Testament abounds in tales of slaughter – God ordering the killing of the Midianite male infants and enslavement of the balance of the population, the divinely-inspired genocide of the Canaanites, the slaying of various miscreants with the jawbone of an ass – and since American religious fundamentalist seem to prefer the Old Testament to the New (particularly that portion of the New Testament known as the Sermon on the Mount), it is but a short step to approving war as a divinely inspired mission. This sort of thinking has led, inexorably, to such phenomena as Jerry Falwell once writing that God is Pro-War.
It is the apocalyptic frame of reference of fundamentalists, their belief in an imminent Armageddon, that psychologically conditions them to steer this country into conflict, not only on foreign fields (some evangelicals thought Saddam was the Antichrist and therefore a suitable target for cruise missiles), but also in the realm of domestic political controversy. It is hardly surprising that the most adamant proponent of the view that there was no debt ceiling problem was Michele Bachmann, the darling of the fundamentalist right. What does it matter, anyway, if the country defaults? – we shall presently abide in the bosom of the Lord.
Some liberal writers have opined that the different socio-economic perspectives separating the “business” wing of the GOP and the religious right make it an unstable coalition that could crack. I am not so sure. There is no fundamental disagreement on which direction the two factions want to take the country, merely how far in that direction they want to take it. The plutocrats would drag us back to the Gilded Age, the theocrats to the Salem witch trials. In any case, those consummate plutocrats, the Koch brothers, are pumping large sums of money into Michele Bachman’s presidential campaign, so one ought not make too much of a potential plutocrat-theocrat split.
Thus, the modern GOP; it hardly seems conceivable that a Republican could have written the following:
“Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes you can do these things. Among them are H. L. Hunt (you possibly know his background), a few other Texas oil millionaires and an occasional politician or business man from other areas. Their number is negligible and they are stupid.” (That was President Eisenhower, writing to his brother Edgar in 1954.)
It is this broad and ever-widening gulf between the traditional Republicanism of an Eisenhower and the quasi-totalitarian cult of a Michele Bachmann that impelled my departure from Capitol Hill. It is not in my pragmatic nature to make a heroic gesture of self-immolation, or to make lurid revelations of personal martyrdom in the manner of David Brock. And I will leave a more detailed dissection of failed Republican economic policies to my fellow apostate Bruce Bartlett.
I left because I was appalled at the headlong rush of Republicans, like Gadarene swine, to embrace policies that are deeply damaging to this country’s future; and contemptuous of the feckless, craven incompetence of Democrats in their half-hearted attempts to stop them. And, in truth, I left as an act of rational self-interest. Having gutted private-sector pensions and health benefits as a result of their embrace of outsourcing, union busting and “shareholder value,” the GOP now thinks it is only fair that public-sector workers give up their pensions and benefits, too. Hence the intensification of the GOP’s decades-long campaign of scorn against government workers. Under the circumstances, it is simply safer to be a current retiree rather than a prospective one.
If you think Paul Ryan and his Ayn Rand-worshipping colleagues aren’t after your Social Security and Medicare, I am here to disabuse you of your naiveté. They will move heaven and earth to force through tax cuts that will so starve the government of revenue that they will be “forced” to make “hard choices” – and that doesn’t mean repealing those very same tax cuts, it means cutting the benefits for which you worked.
During the week that this piece was written, the debt ceiling fiasco reached its conclusion. The economy was already weak, but the GOP’s disgraceful game of chicken roiled the markets even further. Foreigners could hardly believe it: Americans’ own crazy political actions were destabilizing the safe-haven status of the dollar. Accordingly, during that same week, over one trillion dollars worth of assets evaporated on financial markets. Russia and China have stepped up their advocating that the dollar be replaced as the global reserve currency – a move as consequential and disastrous for US interests as any that can be imagined.
If Republicans have perfected a new form of politics that is successful electorally at the same time that it unleashes major policy disasters, it means twilight both for the democratic process and America’s status as the world’s leading power.
 I am not exaggerating for effect. A law passed in 2010 by the Arizona legislature mandating arrest and incarceration of suspected illegal aliens was actually drafted by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative business front group that drafts “model” legislation on behalf of its corporate sponsors. The draft legislation in question was written for the private prison lobby, which sensed a growth opportunity in imprisoning more people.
 I am not a supporter of Obama and object to a number of his foreign and domestic policies. But when he took office amid the greatest financial collapse in 80 years, I wanted him to succeed, so that the country I served did not fail. But already in 2009, Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader, declared that his greatest legislative priority was – jobs for Americans? Rescuing the financial system? Solving the housing collapse? – no, none of those things. His top priority was to ensure that Obama should be a one-term president. Evidently Senator McConnell hates Obama more than he loves his country. Note that the mainstream media have lately been hailing McConnell as “the adult in the room,” presumably because he is less visibly unstable than the Tea Party freshmen
 This is not a venue for immigrant bashing. It remains a fact that outsourcing jobs overseas, while insourcing sub-minimum wage immigrant labor, will exert downward pressure on US wages. The consequence will be popular anger, and failure to address that anger will result in a downward wage spiral and a breech of the social compact, not to mention a rise in nativism and other reactionary impulses. It does no good to claim that these economic consequences are an inevitable result of globalization; Germany has somehow managed to maintain a high-wage economy and a vigorous industrial base.
 The cowardice is not merely political. During the past ten years, I have observed that Democrats are actually growing afraid of Republicans. In a quirky and flawed, but insightful, little book, “Democracy and Populism: Fear and Hatred,” John Lukacs concludes that the left fears, the right hates.
 The GOP cult of Ayn Rand is both revealing and mystifying. On the one hand, Rand’s tough guy, every-man-for-himself posturing is a natural fit because it puts a philosophical gloss on the latent sociopathy so prevalent among the hard right. On the other, Rand exclaimed at every opportunity that she was a militant atheist who felt nothing but contempt for Christianity. Apparently, the ignorance of most fundamentalist “values voters” means that GOP candidates who enthuse over Rand at the same time they thump their Bibles never have to explain this stark contradiction. And I imagine a Democratic officeholder would have a harder time explaining why he named his offspring “Marx” than a GOP incumbent would in rationalizing naming his kid “Rand.”
This article was re-printed, verbatim, from Truthout. Whilst it deals primarily with U.S. politics, which is vastly more feral than anything we presently have here, in New Zealand, it is still worthwhile exploring how right wing politics can undermine democratic institutions and processes, to pursue and promote a partisan agenda.
Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License.
Acknowledgement to Tumeke blog.
Ir seems quite likely that New Zealand will soon be joining the ranks of Japan and San Francisco, where earthquake insurance is either highly expensive, or unavailable to home owners,
Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee may chest-thump and bellow till the cows come home, but if insurance companies – as Chris Ryan is suggesting – no longer consider New Zealand property a safe risk to insure against earthquakes, then he had better start taking notice.
Internationally, the insurance industry has been hard-hit after the severe floods in Queensland; two major quakes in Christchurch; and a triple-whammy in Japan; earthquake, tsunami, and atomic reactor disaster. Insurance companies have been hard hit, as Reuters reported in March,
“Some analysts said the disaster, combined with heavy losses already suffered this year from floods in Australia and last month’s New Zealand earthquake, could push up global insurance prices, boosting insurers’ shares.
“In our view the loss will be so large that it will probably provide the trigger to ensure a re-rating of the non-life sector,” Panmure Gordon analyst Barrie Cornes wrote in a note.” Source
Climate-related disasters were also impacting on the insurance industry,
“Climate change is largely to blame for Australasia putting in almost a quarter of the world’s natural disaster insurance claims last year.
Data from major reinsurance provider Munich Re, shows that from 1980 to 2009, Australasia was responsible for 3% of natural disaster insurance claims in dollar terms. But after the Christchurch earthquake, floods in Queensland, and enormous hailstones in Melbourne and Perth, that skyrocketed to 22% last year.
Munich Re, in its own report on the deluge of natural disasters, said climate change “is real and continuing” and cited floods in Pakistan and wildfires caused by a heatwave in Russia. The Christchurch quake was not climate-change related.
Munich Re said 2010 was one of the warmest years since 1850 and featured the second-highest number of loss-related weather catastrophes since 1980, when it started keeping data.
Niwa principal climate scientist Dr James Renwick agreed that weather events like heavy rain were linked to global warming. “It’s possible part of the change since the 1980s is natural variation, but I’m sure there’s a climate change component. We know the globe has warmed and it’s well-documented that the occurrence of extreme rainfalls around the world has increased in a way that’s consistent with the climate models,” he says.
“It’s just what you’d expect – you warm things up, more moisture, more energy, more rain falls. There’s definitely a climate change component in extreme rainfalls around the world.” ” Source
So it seems a little strange that Gerry Brownlee is (a) attempting to dismiss Chris Ryan’s warnings as “scaremongering” and (b) is in denial that re-insuring properties in this country will not be a major problem in future. Of course it will be a problem! How can it not?
Insurance companies and their re-insurers have suffered billions of dollars worth of claims over the last year – $34 billion estimated for the Japanese ‘quake and tsunami, alone, according to a Bloomberg report.
Mr Brownlee should know how the free market works. After all, his party – National – espouses the doctrine of the free market as part of it’s core-philosophy.
Even as we face the prospect of the insurance industry abandoning New Zealand households – we may be left to our own devices when it comes to insurance. Which may be the EQC.
Whilst the EQC is not a full-insurance company in the sense of Tower, AMI, AMP, etc, it has provided a level of protection to New Zealanders since it’s inception in 1945.
The only thing is – it’s broke. Two calamitous earthquakes in Christchurch have effectively emptied the Commission’s ‘war-chest’. Source. As John Key said in February of this year,
“”The good news part of the story is that EQC had about $6 billion before that (quake), that’s going to be exhausted, but we pay in on a continuous basis and we had significant re-insurance in the order of $5b, that will be exhausted.”” Source
Irrespective of Mr Brownlee’s futile rantings against the Insurance Council, it should be abundantly clear that in the near future we will not have the insurance cover that we once enjoyed. Those days are over.
We will have to rely on our own resources and our own ingenuity, whether we like it or not. (Most likely ‘not’, going by past experiences of Baby Boomers who like to Spend Now, Pay Later (or Never, preferably – let the kids pay). To that end, the Greens – as usual – have once again realised what must be done,
“So, it seems, the Greens were right all along – a special levy to fund the costs involved with the Christchurch earthquake still makes good sense, if only (this time around) to replenish the funds available to the Earthquake Commission. Yesterday, it became apparent that the likely cost of the Christchurch rebuild had risen by a massive $4 billion.
This blowout means the EQC couldn’t cope with an additional major disaster (ie anything costing over $2.5 billion) and the government would have to pick up the tab, directly. There are three options on the table : (a) a special levy on all taxpayers (b) a further additional charge attached to insurance premiums already expected to rise significantly, or (c) a rise in income taxes.” – Gordon Campbell, Source
However, in the light of Chris Ryan’s warnings, we may have to reconsider the role of the EQC to adopt a more wide-ranging, pragmatic role in earthquake and flood insurance. The EQC may have to step in where private insurers once provided a service – or else face the prospect of uninsured properties. That would have serious consequences for current and prospective building owners. (Banks currently insist on full insurance cover before they will consider extending a mortgage over a property.)
Once upon a time, we owned an insurance company called – quite simply – State Insurance. State Insurance was sold in June 1990 by the Bolger-led, National government of the day.
It now seems that may have been a mistake (as most asset sales were). The people of this country may yet discover that the Free Market is a Fair Weather friend and when times are tough, we will have to step up and put in place our own, Very Kiwi Solution(s).
The time for a new State-owned insurance company – “EQC-Plus” - has come.
I think someone needs to remind our Italian cuzzies that Terrestrial science is not yet capable of predicting earthquakes. That kind of technology won’t be around for a few decades more.
But if those crazy Italians want to ‘spook’ their scientists into heading overseas – they’re going the right way about it.
In a way, this case – along with ‘junk science’ and alternative ‘remedies’ – shows up one simple fact; that when people don’t have a firm understanding of science, they revert to simplistic notions.
Like those individuals who believe that the moon landings were a hoax. They point to the supposedly “fluttering flag” planted by US astronaut, Neil Armstrong. They insist that, because the Moon has a near vacuum instead of an atmosphere, that it would be impossible for the flag to “flutter”.
Well, in a way, they are right. There is no appreciable atmosphere on the Moon. So flags don’t “flutter”.
But, being made of a fabric with a wire mesh sewn into it, the material still moves with a motion imparted from the rod that it is attached to, as the astronaut is handling it, and trying to bury it into the lunar soil. More here .
Even in a vacuum, objects will move, once energy is applied. (“Energy” in this case being momentum.) Otherwise, of course, rockets wouldn’t work in the vacuum of space, would they?
But back to the case of the trial in Italy. One hopes that the presiding judge will see this as the lunatic situation that it truly is, and dismiss it within about ten seconds. Otherwise every scientist in Italy will probably consider packing their suitcases and buying a one-way ticket out of the country.
I’ve heard of anti-intellectualism (eg; the Scopes Monkey Trial) – but this is one firmly out of the “Strange & Stupid” Files…
See Also: Moon Landing Hoax Conspiracy
It’s nice to see more investment in the up-grading of our rail and inter-island ferry service. Kiwirail is fast being brought back up to standard, after 15 years of neglect under private ownership.
Railways was privatised in 1993, by the then-Bolger-led National Government. (Source) The new owner, Tranz Rail Ltd, paid $400 million to the government and was made up of a consortium consisting of Fay, Richwhite & Company (40% ), the American railroad Wisconsin Central (40%), and Berkshire Partners (20%).
From then, until 2008 – when railways was re-nationalised by the then-Clark-led Labour government – the asset was owned by a variety of private owners. In 2003, one of the major institutional shareholders was AMI – now facing insolvency after several major earthquakes in Christchurch.
Continuing losses, such as $346 million lost in the half-year ended December 2003, did not help the companies viability, despite carrying considerable amounts of freight such as 2.1 million tonnes of coal on the Midland line in the South Island.
The rail network was badly run-down by 2008, with many urban lines and stations dilapidated, vandalised, and in need of urgent maintenance.
In the Hutt Valley, for example, very few stations had any identifying signage which indicated which stop it was. They had all been mostly vandalised beyond recognition or destroyed totally. It was not until post-2008, and with State investment, that suburban rail began a programme of considerable improvements and upgrades. New passenger carriages; freight wagons; and locomotives were purchased, and Kiwirail began a slow progression back to a modern service, that is fit-for-purpose and a valuable asset for the 21st century.
The privatisation of railways has been a stark and expensive reminder that privatisation is not a guarantee for better service. In the case of railways, the taxpayer is now footing the bill for fifteen years of neglect – even when the directors and managers of Tranz Rail walked away with $6 million in severance payments. Not exactly a good look, one might think.
In fact, the only pirece of major capital investment in 15 years of private ownership was the sub-charter of the new inter-island ferry, ‘Kaitaki, in 2005. No other capital investment, rolling stock, or improvements were made to the rail system during the period of private ownership.
As the price of fossil-based fuels continues to rise, transport based on alternative systems such as railways will become more and more critical to a modern, functioning economy. Railways is simply too vital to be rested in private ownership which – as recent history has demonstrated – is not capable of managing such a strategic asset.
In the coming decades, this author predicts that railways will assume a greater role in our economy and society. As petrol and diesel escates in price, rising on an almost weekly or monthly basis, rail will once again become profitable. It may also reverse the primacy of the internal-combustion automobile, making rail a preferred option for long-distance travel.
In the decades to come, it may become apparent that the decision of the Labour Government in 2008 to re-nationalise railways was perhaps the single most prescient act on their part.
Lack of ongoing maintainance reached critical levels in the summer of 2002/03, when high temperatures resulted in tracks buckling and the LTSA ordering Tranz Rail to reduce train speeds and to re-hire track de-stessing crews,
Broken-down trains… unmaintained tracks… disgruntled passengers. Sound familiar?
It is fairly evident that the current maintenance and purchase of new rolling-stock are things that should have been carried out over the last couple of decades. The neglect of our rail system allowed private owners to attempt to make short-term gains, over long-term necessary expenditure.
The tax-payer is picking up the ‘tab’ for this misguided experiement in privatisation.
As far back (or even further, if one looks harder) as 2006, National (and it’s little “buddy”, ACT) was advocating privately-run prisons as a means of saving taxpayers money. They were supposedly more cost-effective, and would save the country considerable sums of money.
In June 2006, the then-National Party Law & Order Spokesman, Simon Power, said in a press release,
“Overseas experience indicates that contracting out prison operations reduces costs, both in the design and construction and in the management of prisons.”
Power was effusive in his enthusiasm for privately-managed prisons, going so far as to quote Treasury documents which also promoted the concept.
National and ACT both promoted privately-managed prisons as a money-saving concept,
ACT’s Law & Order Policy:
“Action: Bring back private prisons – now best practice overseas. Let private firms free up cops for ‘Zero Tolerance’ policing. Speed up courts (eg. night courts) to reduce unfair delays.
Benefit: More secure, more humane, cheaper prisons. Young taggers don’t progress to worse crimes. People feel safer. More decisions sooner.”
National’s 2008 policy document, “Law and Order Policy: Prisons“, under the heading “The Management of Prisons” states (in part),
“The average per-prisoner cost over the five years of private management of ACRP from 2000-2005 was $42,720 per prisoner per annum, compared to the average cost for Corrections to keep a remand prisoner of $52,925in 2001/02. Of the original short list of four tenderers for ACRP, the Public Prisons Service was listed as fourth. Aside from cost advantages, Treasury has argued that contestability of prison management also encourages innovation in reducing recidivism…
…The British National Audit Office review of the private prison system in the UK concludes that “competition has helped drive up standards and improve efficiency across the prison system as a whole.”
Throughout the press releases, and policy documents, both National and ACT complain that “Labour’s objection to private prisons has been ideological”.
It is also interesting to note that National compares the figure of $42,720 per prisoner per annum, over a five year period with that of $52,925 over a two year period. Neither of National’s references provided on their policy paper can be verified on-line. So it seems that National may be comparing an average figure over five years with an average figure over two years, which results in privately-run prisons appearing to be a cheaper option.
National’s dubious figures are then parroted by others, such as right-wing bloggers,
“Delighted to see the new Wiri prison will be openly tendered. Not only may it cost less, but more importantly it provides opportunities to have a lower escape rate, and a higher rehabilitation rate.”
As someone infamous once said, if you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.
In November 2009, the year-old National Government passed legislation – under Urgency – permitting prisons to be handed over to private companies for management. Quite why this piece of legislation was considered “urgent” has never been made clear.
Corrections Minister Judith Collins claimed that National’s previous experiment in privately-run prisons, in the late 1990s had been “generally positive”. ACT’s Law & Order spokesperson, David Garrett, stated that ” international data showed privately run prisons were cheaper and delivered better outcomes“.
Labour’s Lianne Dalziel pointed out that ten out of eleven British prisons were in the bottom 25% of all the prisons on performance measures.
In May 2010, the Green Party released a media statement that said,
“Private Prisons cost more
Privatising Auckland prison is a dangerous precedent that will increase costs and compromise New Zealand’s justice system, said the Green Party today.
John Key’s Government announced yesterday the joint Mt Eden-Auckland Central Remand Prison (ACRP) will be run privately. The corporation to run the prison will be announced by the end of the year.
“The last privatisation experiment with the ACRP increased costs by $7000 per prisoner,” said Green Party Corrections Spokesperson David Clendon…
… Evidence from the US and Australia shows that private prisons do not reduce costs for the Government. Research from New South Wales suggests prisoner safety is compromised because of the focus on profit…
… “If John Key’s Government really wants to reduce prison costs, they need to get serious about addressing the causes of crime – especially inequality which they seem to be hell bent on making worse,” said Mr Clendon.”
The Green Party blogsite links to two interesting reports on privatised prisons in Australia and US. The reports make for interesting reading and seem to undermine claims by National and ACT that privately-managed prisons are cheaper options. For example, the US Justice Office of Justice Reforms report stated, in part,
“The study resulted in some interesting conclusions. For example, it was discovered that, rather than the projected 20-percent savings, the average saving from privatization was only about 1 percent, and most of that was achieved through lower labor costs.” Source
The Australian report “Privatisation and New South Wales Prisons: Value for Money and Neo Liberal Regulation”, makes similar points,
“For example, Cooper and Taylor (2005), in a study of prison privatisation in Scotland, identify reducing labour costs and increasing labour flexibilities as a key reason for privatisations. We contend that, in the specific case of the New South Wales ‘Value for Money Report’, the government’s support for the maintenance of ‘at least one private prison’, in the absence of meaningful cost data, was on the basis of the continuing disciplinary effects it would have upon the union, and therefore the leverage it would grant the government in extending its workplace reform agenda.” Source
It seems that warnings regarding the ideology that private-is-cheaper come home to roost, though somewhat earlier than many had anticipated,
As for Corrections deputy chief executive Christine Stevenson claiming that “costs were high because it was New Zealand’s first PPP prison” - one wonders where she’s been for the last ten years?!
Has Ms Stevenson no knowledge of National’s previous experiment with privately-managed prisons? The Auckland Central Remand Prison (ARCP) was under private management from 1999 to 2005, after which the former Labour Government did not renew the contract.
If six years of private prison management has not privided the necessary experience to prevent spending $21 million on “consultants” and “internal costs”, then what confidence is there that this exercise will not end up costing the tax-payer vast sums of money?
The NZ Herald article quotes Conservative MP Richard Bacon,
“It is clear that [PPP] has spawned an entire industry of advisers who have done extremely well out of it.”
The whole point of this exercise is that private enterprise has the necessary expertise and experience to put this project together. Thus far there appears precious little indication that private management is most cost effective or efficient than State management.
However, as Damien Cahill and Jane Andrew write (“Privatisation and New South Wales Prisons: Value for Money and Neo-liberal Regulation”), the privatisation of prison management is not simply about cost-effectiveness per se. Instead, it is more about driving down employees wages.
Remember what Bill English let slip on 10 April of this year, on TVNZ’s Q+A, when English said the 30% difference in incomes between New Zealand and Australia is a way of competing,
“If we want to grow this economy we need capital and we’re competing for people too… and we need to get on with competing for Australia. So if you take an area like tourism, we are competing with Australia. We’re trying to get Australians here instead of spending their tourist dollar in Australia.” - Bill English
It seems that not all con-artists are in prison.
Some are busily trying to sell us a “lemon”. A bloody expensive one at that.
1. One of the references in the National Party 2008 policy document – Dom Karauria, General Manager of Auckland Central Remand Prison (ACRP) – was an employee of GEO Group Australia Pty Ltd – the private contractor that managed the ACRP from 2000-2005.
2. Catholic organisation Caritas … noted that in the US the same people running private prisons were also involved in lobbying government for longer sentences. Source
3. In a June 2009 submission to the Law and Order Select Committee , GEO Group Australia Pty Ltd admitted that privately-managed prisons do not always deliver cheaper services;
“However, comparing the quality and cost of private and publicly−managed
correctional centres is fraught with difficulties. Simple questions about which
approach delivers the best outcome cannot always be answered definitively. Such
comparisons must be based on a strict like−for−like basis and this rarely is possible,
and the performance of any correctional centre varies over time through factors both
within and outside its control.
There are correctional facilities under public−management that perform exceptionally
well, whilst others perform poorly. Whilst privately−managed correctional centres
cannot reliably be stated as always being superior or inferior to publicly−managed
correctional centres, on a number of occasions privately−managed correctional
centres have been singled out for the highest praise…” Source
Furthermore, GEO Group Australia managing director Pieter Bezuidenhout said,
“Privatisation is not about cost savings. If that’s all you want to achieve I am saying that you are knocking at the wrong door.
“Privatisation will bring an enhanced public service…” Source
With acknowledgement to Tumeke Blog, for highlighting this issue,
Sue Bradford will be standing against Paula Bennett for the Waitakere seat, representing the new Mana Party.
Sue’s decision to stand against Paula Bennett is highly symbolic. Bennett makes noises about having lived as a solo-mum, on the DPB, and “making something of her life”.
What Bennett leaves out of her glowing self-appraisal is that she benefitted from the Training Incentive Allowance, which paid for her University tuition. Soon after having been elected into Parliament and being appointed to Cabinet as Minister of Social Development and Employment (as well as Minister for Disability Issues and Minister of Youth Affairs), Ms Bennet scrapped the TIA in 2009.
The same allowance she used to “better” herself would be denied to other solo-parents.
Enter Sue Bradford, who has not forgotten her working-class roots.
Rightwingers and religious fundamentalists hate Sue Bradford because she keeps firm to her principles and core values. She is not one who will be swayed – including those who would level death threats against her. When extremist, right wing lunatics issue such threats, it is a clear indication of her effectiveness as a champion for the working classes. It means that they have no other argument to use against her.
Whether I agree with all her politics or not, she is probably one of the most courageous and principled political figures I’ve known in my life.
This Blog encourages and supports her campaign to be re-elected to Parliament.
Well, this is a new one for the books. From our “You Wouldn’t Believe It” Files, we have this story…
Background: a report was published in today’s edition of the “Sydney Morning Herald” that alleged that one of three NZ government ministers had behaved offensively during the recent Italy vs Wallabies RWC game. The report stated, in part,
“…”He booed and abused the Wallabies all game,” Jeeves said. ”He was yelling out, ‘f—ing cheats’ and other offensive remarks, and then when the Wallabies started to get on top, he suddenly left.” Naturally the ARU representatives and their partners in the box were gobsmacked. One asked an Auckland government official: ”Who is this bloke? His behaviour is right over the top.” The local suit replied: ”Sorry. I can’t do much about it. He’s a government minister.” The contingent now refer to him as the New Zealand Minister for Bad Manners…” Source
Prime Minister, John Key was not happy, and made inquiries. The three ministers concerned; Wayne Mapp, Maurice Williamson; and Jonathan Coleman, were all interviewed by the media – and all appeared uncomfortable at the allegations.
Things were not looking good for any of the three National Ministers. They knew only too well that their boss, John Key, would not hesitate to sack anyone who mis-behaved in such a fashion.
Enter a Knight in Shining Armour; trade unionist Robert Reid, General secretary of the National Distribution Union. Mr Reid was present in the VIP area, and confirmed that whilst Maurice Williamson “was boisterous [that] it certainly was not offensive behaviour”. Mr Reid went on to defend Mr Williamson as not behaving offensively and not swearing,
A story rich in irony; a right wing, anti-Union Minister; belonging to a centre-right, National/Act government – “saved” by a trade unionist coming to his defence.
Something that Maurice Williamson might ponder next time his colleagues in National consider legislation that might impact of workers’ rights?
The government has launched, what is in effect, a “Very Kiwi Coup” in taking over certain aspects of the RWC in Auckland; the “fanzone” at Queens Wharf, and
However, it is worthwhile to note that central Government already held responsibility for several major aspects of this event. The Prime Minister, John Key, cannot easily dismiss his government’s culpability in last Friday’s fiasco with a smile and brief comment,
“I am more than happy to apologise to those individuals involved, but at the end of the day, the responsibility rests with the delivery agent that is in Auckland.” Source
In fact, only two years ago, Key was warned of severe shortcomings to RWC planning,
In July 2009, the government received a report from the then-Auckland Regional Transport Authority (now replaced by the Auckland Transport Agency – but more on that in a moment) on Rugby World Cup transport planning. The report stated, in part,
“The impression is that the level of public transport required for RWC2011 is a little above normal. The levels of patron movement and operational standard [needed for the RWC] are in reality significantly above what is currently delivered.” Source
Why is this important?
Because Murray McCully holds several portfolios,
- Minister of Foreign Affairs
- Minister for Sport and Recreation
- Minister for the Rugby World Cup
- Member, Privileges Committee
As such, Minister McCully holds a role in government over-seeing the smooth running of the Rugby World Cup event in this country. (Otherwise, why hold such a position in the first place?)
So for John Key to attempt to shift responsibility for oversight of the RWC planning for Auckland to the “delivery agent that is in Auckland” – then we are witnessing a certain degree of buck-passing.
The body overseeing transport organisation is the Auckland Transport Agency,
This Agency was set up by central government in November 2009 and Transport Minister Steven Joyce said that “the Auckland Transport Agency will be responsible for all local authority transport functions, including roads and public transport“.
Of the ATA’s Board of seven directors, five are appointed by the government and two by the ‘new’, amalgamated super-city Auckland Council.
The ATA is therefore a ‘creature’ of central government, and is stacked with a majority of Directors of government appointees.
And finally, Veolia Transport Auckland operates the Auckland passenger rail network on behalf of Auckland Transport, as per the current ideology that “private enterprise can deliver a better, more efficient service” than Council or State organisations.
Veolia was directly managing the rail system and had supposedly prepared for heightened demand for RWC patrons and other members of the public,
“During September and October 2011 we will be increasing our services to provide higher frequency and higher capacity rail services during the Rugby World Cup.”
It therefore seems bizarre that Central Government has attempted to blame Auckland Council for the inadequate transport arrangements of last Friday. Even the low number of Police – 200 by one report – who courageously managed a crowd of 200,000+ , could not be made the responsibility of the Auckland Council.
Last time I looked, police were under the command of the Police Commissioner (Peter Marshall), who reports to the Minister of (Police (Judith Collins) – not the mayor of Auckland.
It is obvious that a sporting event of this magnitude; spanning the entire country (not just held in Auckland); and requiring the full resources of the state; required hands-on over-sight by central government.
It is further symptomatic of the shambles from last Friday, that Murray McCully has only now called for more planning around the Qureen’s Wharf “fanzone”,
“Over the weekend I held discussions with the Queens Wharf management team, including Auckland Festival Trust and the NZ2011 Office. Yesterday, I formally instructed them to form a plan for the accommodation of the public based on the large numbers we saw last Friday, and in the expectation that even without a major event operating, numbers might flow over from Queens Wharf.” Source
It is extraordinary that he has only today realised that large numbers of people attending would require special planning. Unbelievable.
Murray McCully is the Minister for the Rugby World Cup. Unless he relinquished that role sometime in the last few days, responsibility rests with him. As do the government controlled agencies such as the Police and ATA. As such, he and his well-paid officials should be over-seeing the planning and co-ordination of state and local agencies for this event.
Otherwise, next time it may not end so well. We were lucky – very lucky indeed that no one was seriously injured or killed. It was only by good lucky; the good nature (generally) of the crowd; and the cool heads of the police that prevented a tragedy.
As one person wrote, in an email to the Prime Minister,
“Dear Mr Key …
You are extremely lucky that there was no death or serious injury from crushing or trampling in Quay Street during the opening celebrations.
“When we got off the ferry, Quay Street was packed so we were squeezed amongst all the people … It was not a safe feeling so we turned back. People were trying to move in both directions, both to and from the ferry and there were many people who were trying to stay still in front of the big screen to watch the … entertainment.
“A girl of about 12 being pushed beside me became hysterical yelling and screaming over and over `stop pushing me’.
“I saw my friend on top of the fence yelling at me to get to it and climb over it down to the lower floating pontoons. I eventually managed to get to the fence and was helped over and down (it was about a two-metre drop with a gap where I could have fallen into the water) onto the pontoons … It was along those pontoons that we eventually got to the ferry building where we could catch a ferry to get out of there.
“Party Central for 12,000 people for a city of Auckland’s size was ridiculous.
Auckland resident “
This is one cock-up that John Key cannot smile and wave his way out of.
Continued here: New Warnings: R.W.C.
From our esteemed Prime Minister,
John Key “would like to think” the world is a safer place?!
Mr Prime Minister – what colour is the sky on your world?
It seems somewhat odd then, that Neil Reid, has written on this very same issue, in the Sunday Star Times, stating, “Documents obtained by the Sunday Star-Times show the department – covering Army, Air Force and Navy – spent more than $2.7 million in the past financial year on public relations and communications. “
This story has at least three componants to it;
1. PR spend.
Last time I looked, the job of the military was to carry out such actions as determined by the Government-of-the-Day. The military is tasked with certain missions, to achieve certain objectives, as laid down by the Minister of Defence, and the Government. In effect, the politicians tell the soldier boys (and girls) to go to “Spot X” and do what soldiers do best; point guns at other people.
As such, it boggles the mind as to what on Earth the NZDF would need to spend $20 million tax-dollars of Public Relations on?!?!
Spending $20 million on tanks, guns, ammunition, radios, tents, medical equipment, planes, trucks – I think we get that. Military gear doesn’t come cheap – not since we moved away from clubs and pointy-sticks.
But spending that kind of money on PR? That just makes no sense whatsoever.
Unless the NZDF were doing something overseas that the Government(s)-of-the-Day were not being totally candid with us, the New Zealand public?
PR is basically ‘spin’ – putting the best possible image of an unpleasant situation. Another word that might be appropriate is propaganda. Authoritarian regimes (such as Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia, Maoist China, et al) are exceedingly good at propaganda. But Western Democracies have also developed ways and means to use PR/spin/Propaganda to make the public believe something that may not be strictly-speaking, true. (Telling lies, in other words.)
Which leads us to the Big Question: what requires a big enough lie to be told that warrants $16 million dollars of tax-payers’ money to be spent on Public Relations from Saatchi & Saatchi, plus another $4.2 million in media advertising?
That is difficult to believe when, currently, this government is laying off around 400 military personnel and removing another 600 out of uniform, to re-employ them more cheaply as civilians.
There seems to be an obvious and serious “disconnect” from what the NZDF is telling the public, and where the money is being spent, and what for.
$20 million of tax-payers money is not “small change”. Where is it going, and why?
And why aren’t the media delving more deeply into this issue, instead of two, very brief, superficial newspaper stories?
Perhaps the following provides us with a possible answer…
2. “Media product vetting”
The Sunday Star Times article, by Neil Reid, states that,
“…Locke also provided the Star-Times with a contract TVNZ signed before sending a journalist to join the Provincial Reconstruction Team in Afghanistan, which states the role of defence officials included “media product vetting”.
It follows claims by Hager that the Defence Force had been selective in what it had allowed to be reported in New Zealand on the role of the joint-services team in Afghanistan…”
Commander Phil Bradshaw’s response that the NZDF is vetting images of “LAVs [light armoured vehicles] [and] the Humvees” beggars belief.
Is Cmdr Bradshaw seriously telling us that “media product vetting” (ie; censorship) relates to pictures of light armoured vehicles and humvees?!?! In which case, someone needs to advise Cmdr Bradshaw that there as been a serious security breach: a “Google” search using the parameters “NZ Defence Force lav” yielded 79,400 results for images alone.
Let’s hope Al Qaida has no access to “Google”, or we’re stuffed.
No, folks, there is more to the NZDF’s “media product vetting” (censorship) than pics of a few dusty Army vehicles.
Nicky Hager has pointed the way on this issue, and the media – to it’s eternal shame – has not followed up on this story.
3. Media Complicity?
Not only is there a question mark hanging over how $20 million was spent – but it seems that the mainstream media (MSM) have been decidely blase about asking any serious questions. To date, we’ve seen two newspaper articles by Neil Reid and Andrea Vance – but precious little else in the MSM.
As well as Nicky Hager’s investigative book, “Other People’s Wars“, Jon Stephenson wrote an article for “Metro” magazine on Afghan prisoners’ treatment after being captured by New Zealand’s SAS. This excellent piece of investigative journalism resulted in…
“…Prime Minister John Key’s extraordinary ad hominem attack on independent journalist Jon Stephenson, of ‘Metro’ magazine.
Recently, Stephenson wrote an article in Metro alleging that New Zealand was not meeting its Geneva Convention obligations in its handling of prisoners captured in the course of SAS operations in Afghanistan. You might think that as the only NZ journalist who has regularly been reporting from Afghanistan, Stephenson speaks with some authority.” Source
“Stephenson speaks with some authority”, writes Gordon Campbell.
But not according to the Prime Minister, who dismissed Stephenson’s article with almost sneering derision.
In contrast, two senior journalists, Vernon Small and Guyon Espiner, both stated that they were aware of a CIA “presence” at the Kiwi base in Bamiyan.
“In fact, I, and other reporters before me, were introduced to US intelligence and communications staff at Bamiyan and at other Kiwi forward bases and ate and chatted with them. The stars and stripes flies alongside the New Zealand flag at Bamiyan to advertise the US contingent…” – Vernon Small, Source
Neither felt it necessary to report this fact to the New Zealand public? In fact, both Small and Espiner remained silent until Nicky Hager’s book blew the whistle on the real situation.
For journalists to withhold information that reveals a truth about our government and/or military, shows how far the media has sunk in the last twentyfive years. It raises questions not just about competancy and professionalism, but how far the MSM has become a “cog” in the Establishment.
Perhaps the most obscene thing about this matter is that our beloved Prime Minister, the ever-smiling; happily waving John Key; saw fit to dismiss both Nickey Hager and Jon Stephenson’s investigations into the war in Afghanistan with single, derisory, comments,
“Nothing surprises me when it comes to Nicky Hager. So whether they’re true or not is a completely different issue, but he makes a lot of spurious claims and never generally backs it up.” Source
“I’ve got no reason for NZDF to be lying, and I’ve found [Stephenson] myself personally not to be credible.” Source
Two pieces of investigative journalism; well-researched; impeccably documented; and both able to withstand critical scrutiny – dismissed by the Prime Minister without any serious explanation whatsoever.
Compare the response of the MSM and public to that of a certain stranded penguin and to the proposed “Wellywood” sign in the capital city, and one begins to suspect that, collectively, our priorities are definitely arse-about-face. Perhaps if the SAS had handed “Happy Feet” over to the American CIA, for “extraordinary rendition” to some misbegotten Third World state, for “interrogation”, we might have had an uproar from the good folk of New Zealand?
Well, thankfully “Happy Feet” is safe and sound somewhere in the Southern Ocean.
It’s a shame that the same cannot be said of our media in this country.