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Friday, 28 October 2016

Is New Zealand really ready to talk about Immigration?

There has been a slowly growing current of articles in the media and blogsphere lately about immigration.

The reasons for this, I think, is that the topic has started to become one which does demand discussion but also because things like Brexit and Donald Trump have pushed it back into the light (although often not with the best intents) and the result has been a freeing up of media space for the topic.

But is this a topic that NZ is really ready to discuss? Martin Van Beynen makes a persuasive argument for the fact that whether we like it or not we are going to have this discussion and I don’t really disagree with him but I think this chat will be far more into the “or not” space than the “like it” realm.

And my reasons for this view are simple and based on the fact that prior to my current line of work I spent over five years working for Immigration New Zealand (INZ) as an immigration officer dealing with cases deemed high risk.

The views that follow are shaped by not only working at the coal face but also from being required to deal with an immigration system which is not set up to deal with the problems it faced and the willingness of various governments to ignore the risks that were known in favor of pandering to short term gain and vested interests.

What I won’t be discussing in this post are any case specific details or any “juicy” bits of gossip (although I could regale readers with a fair few hair rising stories if so inclined) simply because that would be unprofessional but also because I agreed not to when I left INZ. What I will do is link things and if you follow the links you will know that there is more to those stories than is being reported. 

What I will be discussing is the dynamic of immigration in NZ, what drives this immigration and the risks that exists and how INZ does (or does not) deal with them.

None of the points that follow are going to be particular mind blowing but I hope that by painting a picture from my point of view the reader may come to see what the issues are and why it will be difficult for NZ to have this discussion in any way but one very fraught with loaded undertones, and one in the end which we may regret having because it’s going to lay bare a lot of things we take for granted, cut to close the bone or one’s personal circumstances or simply because it will require the reader to accept facts which are just unpalatable.

I am not directly echoing Van Beynen’s position but his article made me realize that the growing surge of immigration related content that I was beginning to see might be part of the regular topic related media cycle (where, this time, its immigration's turn to be in the spot light for a month or two just like the housing hernia was before sinking back into blissful obscurity while the real problems and issues continue on) but this is not a topic that will be easily discussed or where its problems will be easily fixed by a few simple law changes.

What is on discussion is something which relates to all of us in one way or another and in a way all of us in this country are immigrants, sons or daughters of immigrants, married to immigrants, live, work or study with immigrants or are only third or fourth generation kiwis (Maori obviously excluded from that last one) or work in an industry which relates to immigration (think tourism) or deal directly with tourists. I myself am the son of a Canadian and a German/Australian with a mix of Irish, English, Scottish and Gypsy blood.  

What is on discussion touches nearly the entire fabric of NZ and once you start pulling on that thread the whole rug could come unraveled which could do a lot more damage than good when you consider the fractures that were unveiled in the UK over Brexit or how Trumps divisive rhetoric tapped into a rather large voter base in the US (although that base somewhat hypocritically seemed happy to support Trump in his immigrant bashing racists views but were less happy with his sexism) and does little but fuel further suspicion, hatred and paranoia towards anyone not part of the racially and culturally accepted homogeneous whole.

It’s not zero sum argument but the only way succeed is to be fully open and honest and that is hard for any nation to do in any area or topic let alone one which might require it to examine its own dark history in depth and detail.

But first some housekeeping.

While I agree with Van Beynen’s argument about the difficulty of the discussion I have issue with his citing Treasury and Reserve Bank figures as the ending coda to his argument. Really? It took Treasury and the Reserve Banks opinion before you thought it was time to weigh in on this Martin? There were no other warning signs? No other indicators that something might be out of whack with NZs current immigration system.

It might be that Martin has only recently become aware of the issue and decided to do a little digging or perhaps the issue has come to him in the form of others (in this case the government) taking notice of the issue.

And it’s here that Martins argument starts to seem a little self-serving, a little like white flight and when you read his final line a little like the rallying call for those on the inside who are here to protect what they have, in what might be considered a nation scale version of gentrification or a gated community, from those outside who do not because that’s how it looks to an ex-immigration officer.

You might think that having worked with lots of high risk immigration I might be averse to letting people come to NZ but in fact it’s exactly the opposite. I just want the right people to come to NZ.

I understand that immigration is important to NZ but I also know that it’s not a one size fits all process or something abstract (although Croaking Cassandra does a good job of doing the numbers) that can be easily discussed. It’s a very human issue because at its core it is all about people, people coming to NZ.

So where to start? What nation or group should we highlight first? Should we go for the low hanging fruit like refugees or perhaps all the dodgy rich people we sell citizenship to? Perhaps we could examine the fact that INZ recently (temporary) closed off the parent/grandparent category for applications. Or we could look at one of my favorite areas, the ever popular student visa category?

Or we could look at how Kiwis ourselves expect to be treated when we travel the world and go live in other peoples lands and how we want to be treated when rock up to the border of a nation state. Do we give as good as we get? How do we treat the increasing number of migrant workers that come here looking for a better wage than they can get in their home country?

Or how about the way we deal with risk? Maybe we should question how much we know about who is actually living here, what their backgrounds and identities really are and where their wealth came from? Then again we could look at the history of various immigration scandals and scams (of which there are a quite a few) and how INZ often knows of them but remains unwilling to do anything about it due to pressure from its political masters.

The ugly truth is when you say “immigration”’ the discussion immediately turns to those who are seeking to come to NZ rather than how we facilitate entry to this country and Martin Van Beynans article exactly encapsulate that view.

It’s not that he is wrong but he summarizes only one side of the issue and that may be due to ignorance of the other side of the coin or (I believe) an unwillingness on his part to want to discuss the other side because it reflects back badly on us and not the people we may end up demonizing.

But again I am not shy of describing immigration risk or admitting that it exists but if I was to proffer an analysis of NZs immigration system I would say that its deeply flawed and we have compromised ourselves in order to facilitate easy tourismdollars, offset a stagnant economy by bringing in cheap labour and to ignoring international reputation damaging people we happily let in because they have friends in high places.

Our current immigration system is broken but not in the way that Van Beynen thinks. We currently process immigration applications like a production line, standardizing what we do and setting daily weekly quotas to which middle managers have to meet no matter the risks or the pressure on staff.

We outsource a wide range of work to foreign parties (including making decisions on applications and handling important documents) despite warnings of the risk or danger inherent. Also INZ has a long history of its own internal failures, most of which remain hidden, but where a few have partially surfaced (try googling ‘project crusade NZ” to get a taste of what can go wrong).

The public has only just started to become aware of the issues with the wide range of work visas being issued in NZ but several of these categories were created as payments to various nations for services rendered or votes /support given elsewhere or with a sudden reduction in oversight of their own nationals when they entered NZ no matter the risk.

The ugly truth of immigration in this country is that it serves a purpose and most of NZ benefits from it but those who benefit the most are often those who decide what our immigration policy should be not those who have to deal or live with the effects of it.

Immigration pressures have been cited as a factor in the housing hernia and it is correct as they do factor in but as many have pointed out it’s the government’s response (or lack of it) which is in fact creating the problem. Immigration is a similar issue.

Van Beynans article is honest and has some basis but is a quick road to thinking that it’s just a case of shutting the door when the issue is already inside the house; it’s been here all along.

I will write more on this at a later date but it’s worth ending things today with the following thought: A co-worker of mine was bemoaning the current immigration situation as they saw it. They expressed unhappiness with house prices going up into the stratosphere and the fact that they saw foreign speculators and immigrants as a prime cause. They then lamented the low wage situation and how wage increases were few and far between due to lots of “foreign talent” (as they sarcastically remarked) coming in. Finally they began to remark how they felt about “their country” being sold out from under them and how they felt powerless to do anything about it.

At that point a co-worker* of mine piped up from behind the partition and said the following line. “Now you know how the Maori felt when the Europeans arrived”.

*-yes they were Maori.

Thursday, 27 October 2016

Requiem for the American dream

Its not quite a rant, more a depressed screed...

Like some dark and morbid opera the US election process is building to its final terrible turgid crescendo.

On the stage lightning cracks and thunder rolls as the characters stalk the stage singing the final aria, their voices rising to shrieks and groans in time with the electric flashes and cyclopean booms.

The audience sits stunned in their seats; their faces leaping out of the darkness with each savage illumination only to retreat as the surrounding darkness quickly swallows them again; and their bodies struck tense as the deep bass crashes against their chests and sets their hearts racing.

We are now down to the final few weeks and the drama shows no sign of abating although it’s guaranteed the curtain will come down.

The last year has brutally exposed the US as the heaving mass of political, economic and social contradictions it is and stripped the last remaining veneers of any tolerance, respect or decency from the old established image of the “city on the hill” that the US once portrayed itself as and left it naked and exposed as the dark necropolis it has always been, as all empires always are.

It’s hard for me to be cynical about the US as there is a lot of things I love about it.

Its art and music especially (its cinema, jazz, blues, comics, cartoons,house music, modern art etc) are things that I have greatly admired and enjoyed all my life as well as my many friends, acquaintances and now family that are living in the US or from the US, but over time I have had to separate its artistic output from its toxic political, military and social cultures because these cultures are the cultures of empire; of dominance and hegemony (things which I do not like or enjoy).

But another thing I love about the US is its culture of protest, discussion and debate, often tied to politics but also distinct from it in that it lives and breathes in some many ways the US as a nation behaves and conducts itself. From its talk shows and online cultures to its strong ethical base which arose in the 1960s and still echoes to this day these things have also inspired me and shaped my life.

So like a child caught between two warring parents I find myself in the position of condemning one part of this powerful and influential nation while simultaneously defending and enjoying other aspects of it.

Yet it is cynicism I inevitably turn to when discussing US politics and more specifically the current US election cycle and find it difficult if not impossible to not see in this fractious debate the shadows of other examples of Imperial failure and decline as well as Lincoln’s famous warning that “a house divided against itself cannot stand”.

But it is the other part of this famous quote which is more pertinent to what I am writing about here, the part in which he says “I do not expect the house to fall – but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other” because what he was describing, at a time when the US was at war with itself, was the inevitable outcome of two incompatible forces struggling against each other.

It might seem that this is simply a republican v democrat struggle but it’s really a struggle between wealthy elites played out against a feculent backdrop of imperial decline and stagnation.

This opera which we are watching is Faustian in nature and like the tale itself is a story of a bargain made at terrible cost, the loss of one’s soul.

The soul of the US, as exemplified in the universal yet highly personal idea of the “American Dream”, is an enduring myth and idea which inevitably rings hollow when tested (as proved by Hunter S. Thompson in Fear andLoathing in Las Vegas and William. S Burroughs in his Thanksgiving Prayer) yet still retains it vitality as it emerges renewed in the artistic and cultural output of this mightiest of modern nation states.

But the mythic core of the American Dream, much like the core of the Kiwi Dream (the quarter acre pavalova paradise), is one of success and equality in a new land for all people; a myth which shrouds a darker colonial legacy and racial division which are the dreams true animating forces.

And as the positive aspects of the dream dies and the nation created under those ideals begins to fail so do the darker parts of the dream begin to surface, rising from the depths to reveal their hideous forms with no countervailing force to mitigate their terrible effects.

And that is what we are watching with this election. This is why the “lesser of two evils” argument is folly in the face of what the lesser evil is. There is no escape option, no returning to the past or the sanctity of the high ground and on a higher level this event marks the final stage of the long process of 500 years of Western/European dominance.

Whatever we use to maintain ourselves now will not be underpinned by any moral argument or position. It will be as it has been for the last 50 years in increasing doses; force, cold naked force.

And as in the US so to in the rest of the West. Democracy is in a fragile space at this time and the alternates (oligarchy and autocracy) seem strangely appealing when the democratic process appears as a bauble to be fought over by squabbling children, neither of which show any positive character or virtue.

On one hand you have naked power as exemplified by Donald Trump; an avatar for pure greed, hubris and arrogance and a clear signifier of a return to autocracy if elected. He might make America great but he will also make himself king. And it’s clear, the king, once crowned, will not leave the building, will not go away as you don’t bestow a divine right on someone and then simply take it away. Often the only way to wrest a crown from a head is to chop the head off.

On the other hand you have Hillary Clinton, a cold technocrat with Machiavellian tendencies and a lust for power cloaked by the acrimonious reaction generated by Trump.  In an election where one candidate can claim a nation to be rapists and channel every sexist and racist spirit going yet their opponent can barely keep ahead of them in the polls due to their own deplorable state it’s clear that the differences are quantitative not qualitative; that this is not good vrs evil but (as people have repeatedly pointed out) one greater evil vrs a lesser evil and to which the end result will still be evil.

And while the US twists and wrenches itself to some hideous climax we watch, absorbed and fascinated at the grotesque spectacle, unable to pull ourselves away from the scene to which we have clustered around, like slack jawed gabblers surrounding a seizure victim.

So come the end of November we will have a result one way or another but as last pealing echo of music fades, stage lights dim, the curtain falls and the houselights come on the audience will unstick themselves from their seats and slowly shuffle outside to find that the dark fantasy they watched so cathartically has become the domain of the real and they themselves are cast adrift on a larger stage in roles not of their choosing.

Come the end of the November the dream will die no matter the outcome and the stark contrast of the day will illuminate that the choices we thought we had now were actually made a long time ago and we have been treading this path to terminus with inevitable fatality.

Friday, 21 October 2016

Parata was the first but won’t be the last and who will fill the gaps left?

So the first fatality of Senor Key’s dreaded pre-election cabinet reshuffle has taken place and surprise, (genuine) surprise its Hekia Parata.

Not because Parata was a stellar performer (her term as education minister was fractious in the least and highly combative at worst with a trail of negatives, blunders and outright stupidity and not a lot of positives being left behind) but because of all the other dead wood currently drifting idly in the cabinet swamp.

In taking odds for the favorite in the National cabinets dismissal derby, Parata was not the odds on choice, nor was Nick Smith, despite calls for his head from Labour; but woefully incompetent nags like Sam Lotu-Liga (who had Let the Serco Private Prison/Fight Club Scandal torpedo the governments idea that a privately run prison was a good idea), Ann Tolley (previous Minister for Education as well as Corrections Minister and thereby having sown fertile ground for both Parata and Lotu-Liga reap) or Paula Bennett (for being the willing handmaiden to homelessness and poverty in New Zealand instead of doing what her portfolio actually specified (Social development and State Housing).

But Parata is not going gracefully and our dear leaders statement that her leaving was due to her husband’s health was rapidly denied by Parata herself in what is probably her first (and most certainly her last) stand against the PM (Key’s tolerance for insubordination is not likely to be high).

And it here where John Keys Furherprinzip (leader principle) shows its problems. Key has surrounded himself with ambitious go getters like himself but does like to change things up from time to time in cabinet by switching out non-performers but he also likes to keep his enemies close and competing among themselves because how else do you prevent them from scheming or causing trouble?

Judith Collins, Jerry Brownlee, Steven Joyce, Paula Bennet and Nick Smith are all well past their use by dates but remain by virtue of their ability to have support in their electorate and their ability to spatter Key with muck if left unattended. They can’t all be sent off to diplomatic postings to keep them out of trouble, like Murray McCully, so Key has to keep them close and load them up with work (all have multiple portfolios as Ministers) so they don’t have time to plot and scheme against him.

Even venerable Bill English is starting to look like a man ghost walking through history when he starts to utter waffle about there being no problems with homelessness in Auckland so it might even be time to retire this particular political warhorse also.

So there is plenty to replace but who is going to replace them?

To answer that questions I spent time digging through MP profiles on Nationals website to see if there appeared to be any candidates form the backbenches that could step up for Parata (and others).

Now leaving aside associate education minister Nikki Kaye, who has health issues (and possibly to be spared the task until she recovers) there are plenty of candidates in the National chorus back rows who would like their time to shine so which of these bright eyed and busy tailed rip snorters could fill Parata’s shoes?

On background alone there are one or two who have an educational background of one sort or another (Jonathan Young, Todd Barclay, Tim Macindoe, Joanne Hayes, Jono Naylor and Jiyan Yang)  along with many others with business, banking and accounting backgrounds (including TWO who previously worked for legal drug pusher Phillip Morris), several with local government experience, a few rare holdovers from Nationals rural past (Lindsay Tich, Barbra Kuiger and Stuart Smith) and finally Jamie-Lee Ross who appears to have no real background or work experience except being an MP and photogenic.

But when you consider that Parata herself had no educational background when she was given the role (having been either working in government or private business) when she was given the role of Education Minister its clear the Key won’t be choosing the next candidate on any such basis as knowing what they are talking about or having any experience working in Education.

No what Key wanted when he set Parata on unsuspecting students, teachers and parents was an attack dog to push though Nationals educational “reforms” in much the same vein as he used bully boy Brownlee, Crusher Collins and Paula “The Beast” Bennett to drive through Nationals reforms in their respective ministries and spaces.

And the problem is with using attack dogs who know little about what they are doing but will willingly do what they are told is that they will bite the hand that feeds them if cut adrift from their food bowl and basket which is what Parata’s outburst to the media was about. She is not going willingly but was pushed as the timing of Keys reshuffle and then her sudden announcement to retire shows, there are few coincidences in politics.

Who will replace Parata is going to have more to do with how hard they bite and how willing they are to suffer the slings and arrows of criticism as well as the will to drive through unpopular policies; and based on the smiling photos and bios on Nationals webpage those kind of skills are less likely to come out of anyone with a genuine background in education and more from the harder end of the business spectrum (perhaps one of the Ex Phillip Morris MPs could front as Education Minister).

So get ready for a new Minister of Education sooner or later but don’t expect anyone who will actually have any idea of what education in NZ needs. Instead, expect some hard nosed economic acolyte with a willingness to follow orders and the skin thick enough to take the inevitable barbs and complaints that Nationals education agenda will create.

And we should expect the same in the rest of cabinet except for one small problem, one teeny tiny problem.

John “purty mouth” Key has run NZ since 2008 on two principles. The first is the traditional Neo-Liberal agenda slightly modified to fit the shifting sands of the NZ political electorate and the second is of ruling this nation of ours as a business enterprise geared for maximum profit for its shareholders (ie those wealthy few who genuinely benefit from its policies) and minimum return for the employees/workers who do the actual work (the rest of the population).

And to do this you don’t need socially conscious educators, morally sound individuals or anyone who will advocate for the fortunes of the general populace. What Key has needed is a team of hard arsed middle managers who will follow orders, kiss his ass (to his face at least) and run through the bosses (him and his backers) orders without question and to do that you need people happy with the psychopathic managerial mind-set and model and willing to make their name as a ball-breaker.

This is why Parata was in cabinet, this is why Collins, Brownlee and all the rest of the hatchet team are in cabinet. Their ability to do the dirty deeds cheaply, without any compunction what so ever and for as long as Key has pits to dig and bodies to haul meant they were useful tools and since the likelihood of Key and National going for a kinder more benevolent government if it gets a fourth term is less than zero there is going to be such work aplenty.

A fourth term National government will either be at the behest of Winston (and who knows what agendas he has planned) and we might see some personal vendettas settled (Peters might want goons like Brownlee out) as part of his coming to play; or we might end up with a situation similar as to what we have now (less likely given the general souring of the mood for Key and Co but you never know) and Key free to keep on managing NZ as some sort of high end tourist resort.  

Either way it will still be at the behest and magic of Key to keep the Company afloat (making him the Steve Jobs of NZ politics) and to do so he will need the same cadre of policy thugs and National Brownshirts to do the hard yards while he directs the show from the backroom and keeps himself a few degrees removed from all the ugliness.

Such a situation leaves little room for our ambitious backbencher to move up unless they can unseat one of the current goon squad or a member of said squad becomes such a liability (like Parata) that Key is required to cut them loose (along with all the risks that entails).

In such a situation promotion will be swift and brutal because it’s the equivalent of walking out of army recruit training and straight into the battle with little time to consider what damage is being done to one’s political reputation or career (unless you like being a political thug) or even if they can survive.

At this time I do not know enough about the back benches to predict who will be stepping up and little in the media indicates that anyone else knows either, rumor and speculation aside.

The final part of this analysis, as much as it is, is that hidden yet important factor of actually how Keys goon squad members have actually shielded him from harm over the years, they take the blame and get angry inches written about them in the media and blogs but he remains relatively unscathed.

Going into a fourth term government with a rash of relatively inexperienced members of cabinet has all the hall marks of Key style (or perhaps his advisers) way of avoiding criticism but that requires getting rid of the monsters that are currently in cabinet first (harder to do than it looks) and also has the risks of either backfiring (think Lotu-Liga’s incompetent handling the of Corrections portfolio) or having a green members of the goon squad not able to take the heat that comes with being in the kitchen and flaking out. Both have their risks and either way it leaves Key exposed and dirty, something he will not want.

This means that Key may wish to remove some of the dead wood and I don’t doubt that he will remove some but Parata’s going makes it clear that his choices may be constrained by unseen factors and any attempt to push a goon too much may get push back.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Our Editorial Policy

Don’t laugh, we do have an editorial policy here it’s just that we have not yet articulated it.

Why have an editorial policy?

Well apart from “why not?” there are several reasons why but the ones that motivate me is that it keeps us focused and guides our work.

I read a lot of blogs online and some seem to be going somewhere; some used to have direction but have lost it and others just read like a highly reactive series of screeds (often highly entertaining screeds I might note) with no real focus or genuine output.

Also I, like you, want to get something out of the blogs that I read and don’t just want a rehash of the news. We want informed opinion, debate, interesting facts (or even factoids), insights, analysis and even just to be entertained by the ability of one person to put words together in an interesting way which, even if we don’t agree with its content, compels us to read it from stem to stern.

So with this in mind I set out below a list of things which I like to consider before I write up blog posts.

Those who followed me on KP may remember that I could be relatively regular in my posts (often two a week) but that these posts would also be quite long and this was because I plotted and planned some of my posts out in advance while also working on smaller, shorter filler posts just to keep the momentum going.

In writing on this blog I have a similar approach but without other contributors to support and buttress my output there may be gaps in between posts that are larger than my KP output. For that I apologies but it’s the peril of a one person blog.

So without any further ado here are the planks of this blogs “editorial policy”.

Politics – No surprises that the primary area this blog looks at will be politics but as the saying goes “anything can be political” so that gives me a wide area for comment but in reality I will try and stick to what I am interested in and what I know. New Zealand politics will get attention but so will other areas where politics or political views apply.

Expert Opinion – Not something I ever got a chance to really do at KP but that will change as much of my career and study has had a high focus on international relations and Security so it’s time to share some of my area knowledge or subject matter expertise when I can.

You don’t work in international education, mental health, advertising, security, the military and government (along with hospitality and others as part time jobs) as well as a decade living and working in strange climes (I am told I can get a cream for that) without getting a broad base of experience and knowledge which can be applied to many things. In short I am a big mouth know-it-all.

In Depth – I am never just one to make surface comments or reflect what the media itself is saying. I get paid to have an inquiring mind and the will to dig further than mere surface appearances so what I write about here will attempt to go deeper than often just the most obvious aspects of a story or situation. I am also by nature naturally curious/nosy/gossipy so what better place to let those tendencies run free.

My Persona – The person you are reading is not the person who is writing. What I mean by this is I have developed a particular persona for my blogging. Part Hunter S Thompson, part John Stewart, Part George Orwell, a dash of Bill Hicks, two parts Daffy Duck, a pinch of Clausewitz and a sprinkle of the original gadfly himself, Socrates. This is not who I am when at work or in other parts of my life. 

It’s a combustible mix but then it’s supposed to be. It allows me to detach from my own beliefs and prejudices and take on the mantle of another mind and write as such.

The basis of this mix is deliberately confrontational, in your face and designed to kick the reader out of their comfort zone as much as possible. Its very teenage radical I admit but old habits die hard and there is nothing I can stand more than mundanity.

Parroting – Sometimes I will follow the thread the media is giving and sometimes I won’t. Just because its front page today does not mean it will be front page tomorrow given the nature of the modern media cycle and its relentless quest for new and novel over actually exploring a story to its natural conclusion.

I do not like the way the media controls the debate in such a way as you can almost guarantee that the positions, ideas and arguments you hear are often pulled straight of new sources like Stuff and read out like an actor reciting lines.

There is nothing wrong with sourcing the mainstream media or following their lead but it’s never enough to just take what they give and stop there and its places like blogs where these discussions can continue forward, rather than descend into incoherent shouting as they often do on Stuffs comments section (which is often quickly closed for more topical stories).

Profanity – The power of such words is robbed when used regularly or inappropriately. I do not use them in my work because it not only lowers the professional tone but because they simply do not add anything to most words except in the rarest of cases (the exception being my time in the military where swearing approached that of an art form and was often highly creative. Sadly it can not really be repeated here because it would lack the effect of the situation/context in which it occurred although this very NSFW scene from Full Metal Jacket may provide some illustration, watch at your own discretion -  you have been warned!).

Also If I am going to take issue with some there are far more creative ways and combinations of words to take someone down a peg than just appending or prefixing a profanity to other words.

Rants – rants are cathartic and often (at least for me) focused burst of creative energy mixed with genuine emotion. They are an outlet for quick-fire inspiration and (again for me) serve as animus to much of what I write (in the reformist sense as much as the angry sense; ie focused anger) in much the same manner as John Lydon sang that anger is an energy.

Sarcasm and Parody – these are my tools in trade as I write. I would like to think it was my quick wit but that has long since devolved into sarcasm so I go with what works. 

Also in this day and age where politicians and the powers that be have openly started to believe they are beyond reproach and publicly lie and act as such then the only response to such actions is not a calm measured analysis but a red blooded piss take with lashings of scathing language and the mocking contempt.

Hyperbole – I was accused a million times of this over on KP more than while and I was guilty as charged but I never saw hyperbole as a bad thing (see Sarcasm and Parody).

Humor – Spike Milligan once said money can’t buy you friends but it can get you a better class of enemy. I laugh at life, and myself and everything around me, the serious is absurd and the absurd is serious. Also I don’t have much money.

Respect – Not so much for those I blog about but for those who take the time to comment. I was very grateful for the comments I got when on KP, even the negative ones as I see them as helping me correct myself as well as keeping me in check.

So for any who take the time to comment on this blog you will get treated with respect in all cases except in the rare instance where that line is crossed and its gets personal. In such cases it’s all bets are off and no quarter asked or given. But since I treat others with respect I usually get it in kind so these situations are rare.

Opinion – I have an opinion and I encourage the readers/commentators to have one also. It makes the discussion much more interesting.

Nothing is sacred – This does not mean I will be going out of my way to insult or offend people but if its needs to be discussed it will be and in full effect.

Humanity – While I come from a rather religious background I am no longer devout in having loyalty to any particular religious franchise. I believe in the power of the human spirit and will in all endeavors and while believing in something bigger than myself and John Key I have no wish to ram my belief structure onto another person. I am a secular humanist as well as an animist as well as a realist. Make of that what you will.

So those are the things which will be guiding me as I write. You might not see all of them in any particular post but they will be there somewhere, guiding me and making sure I am aiming for more than something than just words.

Next post we are back in the saddle as soon as the nitwits in parliament or the rest of the planet gives me cause to start writing. On the side are ongoing posts on Asia and Politics which will surface in due course as well as part II to my Probing the Depths posts.

But if if you would like a summation of the above then I leave you with lyrics from Billy Joel's - The Stranger.

You may never understand
How the stranger is inspired
But he isn't always evil
And he isn't always wrong
Though you drown in good intentions
You will never quench the fire
You'll give into your desire
When the stranger comes along

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Are you not entertained?*

Having moved house across town (a lot easier than moving between cities or from country to country as I have done) I am now free to turn to my current favorite entertainment spectacle. 

For those who watched the recent Clinton/Trump debate it’s pretty clear from the numbers that Clinton won.

Or so it appears.

Now I don’t say this because I am supporting a douche canoe like Trump or because I am not supporting a sleaze like Clinton but because watching the debate, the coverage around it and how the current US presidential election has developed its clear that there were two very different debates taking place on that stage and appealing to two different audiences.

On Clinton’s side you have a politician, who grubby history aside, was willing to go into the debate cycle of the election and play it like all previous presidential debates had gone; debate the issues and the policies, a sound strategy and one that hits the all-important “logical” button with potential voters.

It also follows the time tested formula of “talking straight” and thereby proving oneself onstage in what amounts to an important and symbolic nod to the long dead skills of political oratory by attempting to correlate (in the minds of the voter) the ability to speak well with the ability to be a leader but which is now nothing more than a glorified popularity/debate contest for candidates and a formality of getting elected (a somewhat demented and deranged debutantes ball if you will).

And in earlier times the ability to speak well was a lot more important for being a leader; from inspiring troops to go into battle (and possible bloody death) to swaying an undecided parliamentary house to vote for a particular piece of legislation or even just because the power of words to move minds had yet to be made irrelevant in the political context.

And that is what Clinton would have had in mind going into these debates, her training regimen included sparring against people who spoke and thought like Trump and simply being skilled on all potential issues that might come up (Syria, The economy or China for example) so that she could calmly and clearly say something and sound like she knew what she was talking about AND that she had a solution to any particular situation or problem.

On Trump’s side you have a full out media spectacle, confrontational talk show where reasoned debate (or at least as reasonable as any political debate can get), is thrown out the window in favor of a full out orgy of hate, anger and accusations all layered over with hints of scandal (bringing out those women) and the kind of nervous unscripted tension that only reality television can provide (ie “what will they do next?”).

It was a made for TV political ambush, although it would be been an actually effective ambush if he had not announced in advance what he was going to do but then again it probably was not his intent to simply embarrass the Clinton's (and that particular photo of a gaunt looking Bill Clinton peering worriedly in one direction certainly conveyed that idea (even if it had been taken out of context) but rather simply air Bill and Hillary’s dirty laundry in a hitherto forbidden forum.

Previously, even in celebrity obsessed America where stars are royalty and royalty are stars, such a thing would simply not have been possible, or even considered aside from muttering things to the press corps while out on the campaign trail and then letting them percolate back through the media (Lyndon Johnson's supposed referenced about one of his senatorial opponents having carnal knowledge of pigs to the horror of his aides, comes to mind) but now it was billed and advertised and millions tuned into watch.

Now before you dismiss the above separation as gibberish consider why YOU tuned into watch the debate? What were you hoping to see? Were you really there to see Clinton rationally talk through the issues facing the US at this time (God knows what they are because they have not even been tabled this time round, it’s not just about the candidates it IS the candidates) or were you there to watch what had been billed (and yes it had been as hyped up as any big name fight card) as Trump Vs Clinton – The Sex Scandal Edition live on your screen.

If you say the former then you’re lying though your teeth or a hard core Clinton supporter. If you say the latter, good on you for being honest but shame on you for helping lower the tone of the debate.

And here is where we are now, on the cusp of a change in how the highly mechanized political machine in the US operates. If a candidate cannot go out on stage without worrying that her husband’s mistresses and sex crime accusers will be sitting front row then what remains off the table? What dirt, real or otherwise, will not be loaded into the muck cannons and sprayed at a candidate as they try to talk about foreign policy? What is left in the escalating arms race that is the scandal farm of US politics?

But so what I hear you cry, Trump is a deranged loon (on that we agree) and as soon as he is flushed by Clinton in the election we will hear no more and things will go back to the way they were before (on that we don’t agree).

It’s not that I don’t think Clinton will win this election but that I don’t put it past the Republicans to engineer another Gore/Bush 2000 Florida style voting crisis (because when you look into who runs the companies that make those machines, who they are connected to and a growing body of documentary evidence that electronic voting in the US is a serious problem) just to get back into power, even if they can’t stand Trump, because if they don’t it’s another eight years out of the oval office and all attendant offices.

What I don’t agree with is that things will go back to “the way they were”. Is it really likely given the (de)evolution of politics in the last 60 years that such a tactic is not going to be brought up again or that a candidate like Trump (despite all his obvious flaws and issues) turns out to be the only candidate (and message) that people on one side of the line can get excited about voting for?

Can we imagine the vast new territories for spin doctors to chart in the course of campaign assassination of their masters opponents (and for these evil little gnomes my feelings about them run pretty much the same as Bill Hick’s for people in advertising) and what piece of gossip or innuendo (true or otherwise) will now be unmentionable on the campaign trail?

No the trajectory of modern politics is far too clearly diving into the primordial scum pond for this to not be the next, un-Darwinian, leap forward. All you need is the dirt and a candidate willing to use it.

And pause for a moment before you think that it might happen in the US but not in safe, clean and neat NZ because if National’s Dirty Politics scandal was something else than a well organised smear campaign** for the parties benefit then we clearly know where your allegiances lie.

So we have the method (mudslinging as you have never seen before) and we have the motive (power for powers sake) but do we have candidates (not just in the US but here in NZ)?

Clearly in the US we do because Trump has made it this far despite his buffoonery, despite his racists and sexists comments (perhaps even because of them) and despite being an overly entitled member of the wealthy with the business sense and history of a rock melon.

But the US is a highly partisan pressure cooker where it’s one side or the other and no third parties or middle ground; where rabid frothing attack politics is the order of the day and cognitive dissonance reigns (you can see the flaws in the other sides candidate but not yours); could such grotesque politics really work in the long run there or even in little ol Godzone?

You bet your bottom dollar they could!

There are several reasons why this is the next step forward and not just an errant blip on the political radar.

The first is that nothing has generated more coverage of the US elections this year than the Trump vs Clinton muckraking. Donald’s dodgy tax and business history is exposed; his outright comments about Mexicans and women, his bankruptcies etc. Clinton's email server, her husband Bills peccadilloes, the highly suspect Clinton Foundation and its cash for access activities etc. 

Or compare Colin Craig's dirty laundry being aired daily in the media while the declining voter turnout in local body elections barely made a ripple in the news or got a reaction form the public.

These are the themes that have defined the US campaign and NZ political coverage (although the housing hernia still continues to swell and poverty remains an issue but there is just no action being done to fix them). Not foreign policy (like Syria or North Korea), not even domestic politics in a time when issues such as race and police violence, the US spying on its own citizens, water issues and many more demand attention.

No what has driven this debate are the candidates themselves and the general disgust voters have for both of them and that disgust is due to neither being much of an exemplar of anything except wealth, corruption and naked greed (you can decide if I am speaking about Clinton or Trump).

The Second is the declining levels of democratic participation in both the US and elsewhere (like the afore mentioned local body elections) in the world and like any TV show with sagging ratings the producers have turned to a new marketing gimmick to boost viewers and keep that sweet ad revenue flowing in.

So in effect politics has been given, by Trump and his camp, a reality style makeover (not so surprising when you remember that Trump has already had his own reality TV show); no more fixed cameras and scripts, now its gladiatorial style battles to the death and at the end of each episode (just like Survivor) someone is voted off the island until they get down to the final two.

And the punters like it as well. As I noted above, why have most people been tuning into these debates, do we really want to hear what the candidates are going say about the economy or some aspect of foreign policy? No we don’t, like Game of Thrones we can’t wait to get our next fix of sex and violence; we can’t wait to see who dies next and which way the plot will lurch.

People I know who have never taken an interest in politics ever, let alone US politics will now debate the Clinton/Trump situation like seasoned pros, except that the level of discussion is more along the lines of professional wrestling than an actual discussion of any real political weight or substance (ie policy planks or issues).

The third reason is what I like to call FukYoo or Gotterdammerung politics***; these are democracies where voters are not just beyond disillusioned with their political leaders (hence the low voter turnout) but they are also now feeling the sharp pinch of their “leaders” greedy and grubby actions in enriching themselves while everyone else tightens their belt.

These are people who don’t care if they win or lose but who will happily take as many down with them by voting against their own party (I referred to this on a previous post at KP as politics of the Joker; referring to Heath Ledgers Joker character in Batman who simply wanted to "watch the world burn") or values because they can’t abide their own parties candidate) or who have invested their political hopes in a candidate who will say anything to win (much like politics in the Philippines where there has been with a succession of “tough guy” leaders who end up doing nothing of any substance).

All of these three factors exist in the US and NZ and we are only fooling ourselves if we don’t expect the 2017 election here in NZ to not have elements of dirt and scandal of a new and potent strain or if a post Trump political system will not simply codify the ground-breaking techniques he has pioneered and modify them to a sleeker, more palatable, more marketable candidate that is under party control and not careening around like a drunk in bar.

In this sense Clinton lost the debate as the rear guard of the old school of politics facing down a monster which she cannot slay (every head she cuts off two more appears). In the conventional sense she won but few if any were tuning in to watch that kind of debate.

This is politics as entertainment first and foremost, bread and circuses for the political classes (rather than the plebs), reality TV for those who cant get their rocks off to the The X-Factor or The Real Housewives of Auckland and a further step away from democracy.

*-The title is from Russel Crowe in Gladiator but the sentiment is all Frank Zappa when he said "politics is the entertainment arm of industry".

**-As anyone who has worked in Wellington for any period of time, I have herd (and on occasion seen) all manner of dirty, dodgy and sometimes wonderful stories about MPs, the PM and assorted hangers on in Parliament (some from my friend Q who looked after them but others who were also in proximity) which would cause all manner of scandals if they got into the public space (my favorites are the parliamentary groupies and who knows about various wanted individuals now residing in various parts of NZ with full knowledge of the government)

***-I thought I was being clever when I first thought I had coined that term (Gotterdammerung politics) a few months back but a quick google search showed that I was not by far the first person to link Trump to such a term

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Craig, Key and Brash: Out of date, out of touch and out of time!

Usually I have several ideas for posts (still working on Asia and others) on the go and as I am moving house this weekend (along with two kids and a cat) those ideas have been sitting on the back burner while I stuff things into boxes and make arrangements.

But after the recent events of last week in the fantasy play space we call NZ politics where three idiots called forth and highlighted themselves as politically brain dead I think it is worth taking the time out to comment.

And the trio of twits I am referring to is of course John “fairy dust” Key; Colin “magic thys” Craig and Don “Cockroach” Brash.

First there was Colin Craig, who in the course of his defamation trial was, unsurprisingly, found to be guilty, but also described as behaving in a manner towards his former press secretary which drove straight through Creepytown, without stopping to get an ice cream for the kids, and down the dirty back road to Predatorville (where he currently resides).

Describing someone as “like a sister” and then barraging her with various letters, emails and texts of a lewd and inappropriate nature is a strange way to treat ones sister (unless of course you’re Colin Craig or some member of a freaky religious sect).

Further information reveals a Colin Craig that can’t even follow a simple confidentiality agreement as he breached it by speaking out against his former press secretary on 12 occasions!

And if that were not enough, the ruling from the Human Rights Review Tribunal last year found Craig had “abused his power and wealth” in breaching the confidentiality agreement.

All of this paints the picture of a man who not only was unable to keep his sexual urges within the perimeter of his marriage but who also used his wealth and privilege to act in a predatory manner towards the target of his affections (weather she wanted them or not).

Perhaps at one time, Craig and MacGregor did have something, but regardless it is clear even if true once later MacGregor wanted no part of it. But Craig would not take no for an answer and kept on using his power and position as a cloak for activities which have now exposed him as a lot less like a loving, dedicated husband in a happy marriage and more like some Cosbyesqe prototype who kept on coming no matter what his victim wanted.

But if that were not enough Craig has vowed to fight on and defend his innocence, and adding the sugar frosted sprinkles to this turd Twinkie is Barry Soper describing him as Bill Clinton like, but in a good way (ie surviving a sexual scandal and not being a serial sexual philanderer or abusing his power for sexual gratification), and possibly returning to politics supported by his wife Helen (who stood by him like Hillary to his Bill; although I think Anthony Weiner and Huma Abedin would be a better analogy).

And it’s that last paragraph of mine which is the real crux of the problem with Craig. Power and privilege found to have done wrong but instead of learning the lesson it plows on using its weight and bulk to try and force reality to dance to its dictates no matter how absurd it looks or the damage it does (both collateral or to itself).

Colin Craig returning to the Conservative Party would be nothing more than a doom struck scenario of a man with too much money and not enough morals (or brains).

I’m sure the Conservatives would like to keep being funded by Craig but their willingness to give evidence against him shows that they probably don’t want Craig’s creepy face fronting the party in the future.

Craig has smeared his filth all over himself so much that few individuals (who might believe they are “conservative”) are going to want to be stained by a guy whose actions openly mock conservative ideals such as family values, the institution of marriage and respect for the law.

No Craig gets to keep his money and possibly his marriage but I suspect that he won’t be coming back to politics except as a wiener like joke and won’t be getting any comfort in the marital bed for a long long time.

Next up is Don Brash; ex reserve bank governor, ex leader of the National Party, ex leader of Act and now spokesperson for the Hobson Pledge.

Brash’s announcement last week that the Treaty was defunct and Hobson's words superseded the document, all it stood for probably hit the right note with a few individuals in the “bloody Maori” crowd of voters but if he was hoping for another reaction (ie monumental poll jump) like his infamous Orewa speech of a decade ago he was surely disappointed.

The groups message of “equality before the law” as a way to claim Maori have some sort of legal advantage sounds clearly deceitful when there are plenty examples of Maori clearly not being equal before the law (just the fact that Maori are 15% of the population but are 50% of the NZ prison population makes a mockery of that message, although I am sure many Maori would agree with the sentiment of wanting to be treated equally before the law).

As more than one commentator pointed out, times have changed and the Brash of the Orewa speech is not the same Brash of Hobsons pledge.

Brash had some political respectability and legitimacy in 2004 but he has neither in 2016 where he is now a byword for grubby politics, racism and elite privilege.

The Brash of 2004 had not yet been exposed by Nicky Hager in The Hollow Men, had not lead his party to electoral defeat, not staged a coup to take over ACT and in general been revealed to be little more than a human glove puppet for some dark agenda.

And the timing of his announcement has all the hall marks of a flawed brain trust thinking that playing the race card in the wake of the Kermandec Sanctuary blow-up, would be the perfect time to play said card and tap into all that Pakeha angst that it was stirring up except there was no real angst and the issue has calmed down for the time being. Retrospectively they may be wishing that they could crawl back under their rock but given the mind set of such individuals probably not.

The group itself does have a website and its who’s who page is composed of a weird combination of all white (with the exception of one who claims some Maori heritage), all old ex-business, academia and ex security/police who are all far past middle age.

Contrast the aged members of this wretched group with the stock photos of a group of ethnically diverse young people on the front page holding New Zealand flag and smiling and you suddenly realize what you’re looking at: a time capsule from a past age.

The Hobsons Pledge is a relic to that time when white NZ, and its views, were dominant, Bastion Point and the Springbok Tour had not yet happened and Ray Columbus and the Invaders were still on the charts.

It’s the desperate attempt by an entitled few to create a time machine to try take NZ back to when people like them were in charge and Maori voices and views were neither seen nor heard (except on postcards and those mock villages for tourists).

And Brash fronting this odious little clique is obviously not by accident, he is the only prominent member of the group and the only one with any name recognition to take it and its message out beyond just another voice in the wilderness of talk-back radio.

Yet again, like Colin Craig, Brash is pushing on with his message in the face of reality (NZ having accepted its bi-cultural status and its multi-cultural mix) no matter what people say, and the people have been saying a lot.

From Chris Trotter (giving a very clear idea of what we could expect if the treaty was repealed) to Barry Soper* (simply labeling Brash a political “cockroach”) the denouncement of The Hobson Pledge and its attempt to rewrite history has been far reaching and also followed by the immediate dismissal of its hollow spokesman as just another disgusting pest scuttling across the nations kitchen floor in the middle of the night.

Finally we get to our beloved PM, caught like a sewer rat in the headlights, when pressed to commit to reducing child poverty numbers by this time next year.

Again, we get another, politician, ignoring reality, this time by claiming the numbers are “airy fairy” and therefore not able to be committed to, when the government has pledged itself to the far more ambiguous and “airy fairy” goal of NZ being predator free by 2050.

Key of course knows that child poverty is an issue, he committed the government to doing something about it in 2014 after the election, but he also knows that agreeing to a meet a target by a date only a month out from general election he is handing all and sundry a stick by which to beat him with because he has no intention of doing anything about child poverty.

Because for John Key to actually do anything about child poverty would require pulling up a lot of the planks in Nationals rickety policy shack (like the housing hernia for example) as many contribute to child poverty, which he will never do, in part because he has shown he just does not care but also that’s what you get when you have a merchant banker as leader of your country who will sacrifice anyone in the name of the economy.

And as Jo Moir points out he is on the “wrong side of the debate” in this, as he is on many things and it’s here that our child "friendly" PM, Colin Craig and Don Brash all converge in a horrid mix of out of date attitudes, arrogance and the kind of hubris that only gratuitous wealth can create (although Key has no grubby marital infidelities that we know about like Brash and Craig).

It is, in a nutshell, your 1% elite impotently shouting out what they want to happen when no one is listening, clinging to attitudes that are so far out of date that they appear positively medieval and clearly hoping to return to what they would euphemistically term “the good old days”.

The positive thing about all of this is when a faux Christian politician is outed as lecherous creep with out of date attitudes and made to pay the largest defamation settlement in NZ history; the zombie shell of a failed politician touting racist claptrap as a front for backwards looking group is dismissed immediately as out of touch with reality; and an economic conman masquerading as a political leader is reviled as willing to sell children (the nation’s future) down the line to protect his flawed economic model you know the zeitgeist (and time itself) is against them and the people they represent.

The reality is that the New Zealand these three white, privileged males represent is on its way out, if not already gone and their behavior is the rear guard action of a small minority who used to have power and things going all their way but who no longer represent a majority or an acceptable point of view and all they have left are weasel words and an Emperor’s New Clothes attitude.

Now back to moving house.

*-To be fair to Soper, his article he really did not seem to be bashing brash as much as the cockroach label suggested, by suggesting Brash was a political survivor (like cockroaches after a nuclear war), but still there had to be a better creature to compare him to than a cockroach.