Open letter to Andrew Little

Dear Andrew Little

The commentariat is running hot over your narrow victory in the Labour leadership contest. Bryce Edwards in a most comprehensive piece with many links gives a good summery. And there is the NZ Herald editorial under the headline: Daring policies will be axed under Little. And these seem to be the daring policies it (Labour) has taken to the past two elections on capital gains tax and the superannuation age. It really speaks for itself if the editorial of the biggest – of course owned by an international corporation – newspaper calls policies, which generally have been supported by most independent mainstream economic and social commentators, “daring“. These days anything not out of the National Party manifesto seems to be ‘daring’ to its print media mouthpiece.

Unfortunately you have given raise to the expectation that perfectly sensible policies will be dumped because they were hard to sell to a deliberately confused public. If I would put myself into the shoes of a CEO of a company with a perfectly good even superior product, which has been hard to sell, would I go to the engineers and tell them to make a product of lesser quality ? No, I would go to the sales and advertising people to do a better job of selling my superior product.

Now I hear you saying that the customer in this case the voter is always right. However they are led and often misled by advertising and spin doctors and not by rational assessment of the quality of the product. And where is the proof that the election outcome would have been different if these and other policies would not have been on Labour’s agenda ?

We all have been watching Mr Key cutting a fine figure at recent important international meetings. He has amiable rounds of golf with the leader of the “free world”. Royalty enjoys barbecues and beer with him. He might not always be telling the truth but that is what we expect of our politicians.

Why would we vote for anyone else if not for some “daring policies”.  Because it is the policies of the present government, which are destroying the future of this country and the planet for that matter. Examples like selling instead of building houses to tackle the housing crises, like pouring money into for profit charter schools instead of supporting good public education, surrendering our sovereignty to foreign corporation through the secretly negotiated TPP, opening up our oceans to deep sea oil drilling instead of weaning us of fossil fuel to keep climate change in check, building roads instead of public transport and so the list goes on. This is where the focus should be and not to find the magical centre where allegedly the votes are.

If you just try to present a lighter shade of blue and hope to win the next election you are badly mistaken.
Be yourself, stick to your roots, do the right thing with your policies and sell them honestly and truthfully to New Zealand and you will have a chance.

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From toll debacle back to the future for the Transport Agency

The editor has opposed toll for over 10 years. He recently was in the High Court in an appeal hearing defending himself against charges for not paying toll on the Northern Gateway toll road. The decision has not come out yet.
Don’t get me wrong I am not generally opposed to building roads and of course accept that they have to be paid for. However I am opposed to paying more than necessary for the privilege to have and use vital infrastructure.
If the road would be financed through – if need be – an increase in petrol tax there would be no extra collection costs. In case of financing the road through toll an extra cost of at least 50% needs to be added.
As the NZ Herald reported the Northern Gateway tolls to last nine extra years. The the Transport Agency previously hoped that by 2045 tolls would pay off a $180 million loan raised towards the full $356 million cost of the 7.5km motorway extension from Orewa, the Johnstone’s Hill tunnels. However as no more toll project have been added and economy of scale not been reached administration costs are still chewing up 34c of every $1 raised in tolls. If we add the extra infrastructure costs like toll gantries and other hard- and software, which has costs millions of dollars the real costs of toll collection is rather 50% or more of each dollar raised. This is pure economic madness if you can have it at no extra costs by financing the road via (regional) petrol tax.

However it all makes sense if we envisage the future privatisation of the Queen’s Highways. In that case the private owners will need an established system to collect revenue from the roads, which is only possible through toll. The Transport Agency in its previous incarnation as Transit New Zealand clearly envisaged that future and said in its long term plans when the Northern Gateway was changed from a publicly funded into a toll road that it wanted to be at the forefront of future privatised roading systems. Transit was expanding from road construction to financing and toll collection. I called it empire building.
Now in this latest development the Transport Agency is again adding to its empire by urging their political masters to support an early start to Auckland’s $2.4 billion underground rail project. “The risk of not being involved in these early stages is that the key elements of the project get determined in the meantime,” the agency said. “If the Crown is to be a future funding partner, it needs a mechanism to identify options and risks around planning, design, procurement and financing.” So the empire grows.

It all started with the old Works Department, which built the whole range of public infrastructure from roads to dams to public buildings. Now over thirty years of governments divesting from their responsibilities the Transport Agency is going back to the future by adding ever more strings to its bow. Good on them as long as we get some decent public transport out of it.

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Big money in politics – final proof that TPP is bad for you

New Zealand businesses tell Key they plan campaign to sell Kiwis on trade deal’s merits once it’s signed so the NZ Herald tells us.
This raises some interesting questions. One is the role of money in politics in general. The other is how one sided and really bad is the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) deal going to be for one side, big business, to call for a big money campaign to force it down our throats.
The role of money – and in this context I am talking about big money not bucket collections – in politics is basically antidemocratic. People who spend tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars on political causes are not stupidly wasting it out of the goodness of their hearts. No, they buy results they are otherwise not able to get through democratic means i.e. their vote.
If you google ‘money in politics’ you get ‘about 591,000,000 results’, which make for some depressing reading. Just as an example I pick the first entry, which is from the Economist Nov 7th 2014 about Democracy in America (Big money in politics – Two depressing thoughts). One is the fact that the only seventh costliest Senate race – just for one senate seat – cost more than the entire 2010 general election in Britain. And here is the second depressing thought. Many Americans worry that public faith in democracy is being undermined by vast sums of corrupting money. There is a prevailing suspicion that elected representatives are essentially bought and paid for by wealthy special interests. I would call that rather a fact than a suspicion.
In New Zealand we have so far avoided the worst excesses of big money in politics with our laws around elections. However there are big gaps for the rest of the political cycle with no limits to what big business could spend on the TPP issue.
And we have a terrifying example of how big money in New Zealand was able to (almost) buy the result of the most crucial referendum in our history. In 1992 84.7% of voters opted for a change of the old First-past-the-Post electoral system. A year later in 1993 after only six months of a massive big money anti MMP campaign this result was depressed to 53.9%. If the opponents of the more democratic MMP system would have started their campaign a little bit earlier and had spend a little bit more money they would have bought the result they wanted. This is a prime example how antidemocratic big money campaigns really are. Not only the means – big money spend on an ugly  TV misinformation campaign, remember the brown paper bag people – but the aim was antidemocratic. The money men tried to prevent MMP for the first time giving one person one (equal) vote.

Here the parallel to the TPP campaign becomes clear. That agreement will give big corporations the right via so called Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) to overturn decisions democratically made by our parliament (see my previous blog post “Our War Heroes have died in vain“). Again big business is attacking our democracy, which you might say is always part of big business through lobbying and big money corrupting our politicians.
When you read the NZ business leader quoted as saying he was concerned that the public did not understand the benefits of TPP and he wanted to put the facts on the table “rather than things that appeal to people’s gut instincts but aren’t backed by facts” you don’t know if to laugh or cry. The facts are that the negotiations are conducted in secret with just big business around the table. The secrecy however prevents trade unions, environmental and other civil society groups and all of us ‘ordinary New Zealanders’ from knowing the facts. And now the boss is spending big money to tell us – Yeah Right.

If we needed any more proof of how bad the TPP deal will be for us, if we value safe work places, safe to swim rivers, a clean environment, an affordable first class health system and a democratically elected Parliament, which can pass laws in our interest, we have to look no further. The big business run con-job to force TPP down our throats will be it.

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Banksters getting away with it

In 1969 I was lucky enough to spend half a year at the University of California at Berkeley. It was the height of the Vietnam war, the civil rights movement and general student unrest shaking the foundations of the complacent American political system. The Berkeley campus was gassed from helicopters to quell  protests. At the other end of the country Woodstock was the defining event.

Against the prevailing mood on campus my very best friend had an almost religious awakening when he got a job at the New York investment bank Morgan Stanley. While every other student only spoke contemptuously of  “banksters” he was praising the virtues of high finance and his employer and put them on a pedestal somewhere between Jesus and God.
I was reminded of this when today I a came across the story of Alayne Fleischmann : The women who cost JP Morgan Chase (another sterling New York bank) a cool US$9 billion.
Matt Taibbi in Rolling Stone magazine describes her as the central witness in one of the biggest cases of white-collar crime in American history, possessing secrets that JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon late last year paid $9 billion to keep the public from hearing.
And more : Morgan Chase and the Justice Department took pains to silence her.
She was blocked at every turn: by asleep-on-the-job regulators like the Securities and Exchange Commission, by a court system that allowed Chase to use its billions to bury her evidence, and, finally, by officials like outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder, the chief architect of the crazily elaborate government policy of surrender, secrecy and cover-up. “Every time I had a chance to talk, something always got in the way,” Fleischmann says.

Here are the highlighted quotes from the Rolling Stone article :

“I could lose everything. But if we don’t start speaking up, we’re going to get the biggest financial cover-up in history.”

“The ordinary citizen who is the target of a government investigation cannot pick up the phone, call the prosecutor and have his case dropped. But Dimon did just that.”

“The assumption they make is that I won’t blow up my life to do it. But they’re wrong about that.”

Thank you Alayne for your courage shining some light on the criminality of the (American) banking system and the corruption of the (American) justice system.

Which brings me back to the third best friend from my Berkeley days, one of the top lawyers in Hamburg. When we discussed what we were witnessing since 2008, the almost collapse of the financial system and the wealth destruction of trillions of dollars, he suggested the best way to deal with it would be through the criminal justice system.
I will believe you, my dear friend, as soon as we see the first responsible top banksters not get away with it but behind bars.

 

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Our War Heroes have died in vain

The ‘Heroes’ of all our wars have died in vain, betrayed by today’s government.

We are continuously reminded of the democratic freedoms our ancestors lost their lives for on the battlefields, which is the ability of parliament to legislate on behalf of the people. One hundred years after the Great War New Zealand seems prepared to give up these rights and freedoms despite all the solemn talk of politicians at any event commemorating their ultimate sacrifices.
The betrayal comes in the secret negotiations of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement. We are made to believe that it is just a trade agreement about access for our agricultural products like dairy and meat. In reality it is about international corporations enriching themselves by the stroke of a pen by extending patent and other intellectual property  rights and seizing power over our democratically elected government via so called Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) without a single shot been fired.

In an excellent article George Monbiot  in the Guardian writing about the parallel Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) highlights the dangers and insanity – if you are not a corporation – of the later. The treaty would allow corporations to sue governments before an arbitration panel composed of corporate lawyers, at which other people have no representation, and which is not subject to judicial review.

Already, thanks to the insertion of ISDS into much smaller trade treaties, big business is engaged in an orgy of litigation, whose purpose is to strike down any law that might impinge on its anticipated future profits. The tobacco firm Philip Morris is suing governments in Uruguay and Australia for trying to discourage people from smoking. The oil firm Occidental was awarded $2.3bn in compensation from Ecuador, which terminated the company’s drilling concession in the Amazon after finding that Occidental had broken Ecuadorean law. The Swedish company Vattenfall is suing the German government for shutting down nuclear power. An Australian firm is suing El Salvador’s government for $300m for refusing permission for a goldmine over concerns it would poison the drinking water.
The same mechanism, under TPP, could be used to prevent NZ governments from defending public health and the natural world against corporate greed.
The corporate lawyers who sit on these panels are beholden only to the companies whose cases they adjudicate, who at other times are their employers.

As one of these people commented:
“When I wake up at night and think about arbitration, it never ceases to amaze me that sovereign states have agreed to investment arbitration at all … Three private individuals are entrusted with the power to review, without any restriction or appeal procedure, all actions of the government, all decisions of the courts, and all laws and regulations emanating from parliament.”

The TPP negotiations unlike the ones between the US and Europe are conducted in total secrecy. Therefore our government has failed to answer the howlingly obvious question: what’s wrong with the courts? If corporations want to sue governments, they already have a right to do so, through the courts, like anyone else. It’s not as if, with their vast budgets, they are disadvantaged in this arena. Why should they be allowed to use a separate legal system, to which the rest of us have no access? What happened to the principle of equality before the law?

This is a blatant attack on our freedom and democracy not only by international corporations but our own government.
Our heroes are turning in their graves at Gallipoli and the Western Front.

Lest We Forget.

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SIS chief: We’re about security not spying – Yeah right

New head of the SIS Rebecca Kitteridge wants to change the image of the spy agency. What is obvious is that she is on a public relations drive to change the public’s image of SIS agents.
She obviously doesn’t want to change the culture of the organisation if she is looking for “ethical young patriots“.

For one it reminds me to much of the post 9/11 US Patriot Act, which led to the abuse of power by the US government as for instance revealed by Edward Snowden.
It also reminds me of the story former Supreme Court Justice Sir Ted Thomas told a big public meeting in Auckland last year about his experience with the secret service. When he was vetted by their agents a few times for cases he was involved in as a judge they struck him rather less bright than “right wing” in their thinking.

Filling the services with patriots like that will not change the cold war culture and all the image makeover will be in vain.

PS. However I very much liked the NZ Herald photo of the lady. If only the  makeover of the SIS would be so easy.

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Vladimir Putin is not olone

Putin: The US is to blame for almost all the world’s major conflicts ( The Independent)
Russian President Vladimir Putin has accused the US of undermining global stability, and warned that the world will face new wars if Washington does not respect the interests of other nations. During a speech in the Russian city of Sochi, the President argued that while Moscow does not see Washington as a threat US foreign policy has created chaos. Citing the wars in Iraq, Libya and Syria, he went on to accuse the US and its allies of “fighting against the results of its own policy”.
And as quoted in the Guardian :  “The exceptionalism of the United States, the way they implement their leadership, is it really a benefit? And their worldwide intervention brings peace and stability, progress and peak of democracy? Maybe we should relax and enjoy this splendour? No!” and  “Unilateral dictatorship and obtrusion of the patterns leads to opposite result. Instead of conflicts settlement – their escalation. Instead of sovereign, stable states – growing chaos. Instead of democracy – support for very dubious people, such as neo-Nazis and Islamic extremists.

Unfortunately in his criticism of US foreign policy based on the dogma of American exceptionalism Putin is not alone despite his remarks being called “diatribe” in the NZ Fairfax media. Again and again international surveys have found, which country is seen the most dangerous to world peace. In one of the latest examples researchers in their annual End of Year poll for WIN and Gallup International surveyed more than 66,000 people across 65 nations : In Gallup Poll, The Biggest Threat To World Peace Is … America ! 

Should this not cause New Zealand to pause for some thought before we again rush into another war at the side of the US ?

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John Key Minister of Double-standards

It seems a long time ago actually just earlier this year that Minister Maurice Williamson rang the police on behalf of a Chinese immigrant. His explanation that he rang in his capacity not as Minister but the electoral MP or just as a friend did not wash and he had to resign. Only a couple of months back Minister Judith Collins communicated with gutter blogger Cameron Slater. Her explanation that she rang him as a long time friend did not save her from her downfall.
This week the Prime Minster in Parliament fobbed off a question from Greens co-leader Russel Norman how often he had spoken with the same “gutter blogger” (Toby Manhire) by saying that he hadn’t spoken with him “in my capacity as Prime Minister”.
The Media comments were scathing for instance the NZ Herald editorial October 24 : “Speaker gives PM, ministers a licence to duck for cover” or Fran O’Sullivan October 25 : “When it’s the Prime Minister who is being asked to account for his own actions during Question Time, resorting to semantic gymnastics and logical contortions to avoid accountability just looks too cute by half.”

Call it ‘too cute by half’, call it ‘a cavalier disregard for the accountability and integrity of his office’ (editorial) or call it just plain arrogant the question remains why can the New Zealand voter not see the true colour/character of the man. Are we still all queuing up to have a beer with him at a barbecue ?

May be Mr Key should add a new portfolio to his list : “Minister for Double-standards”.
Come to think of it remembering the PM’s often re-played efforts on  the cat walk he should for good measure add “Minister for silly Walks”.
Sorry John Cleese.

 

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Old Snake Oil Merchants driven out of Town ?

Brian Fallow in the 23 Oct Herald alerts us to a change in economic debate with the publication of the The Piketty Phenomenon a collection of essays dealing with the groundbreaking work of the French economist’s Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century. “His careful scholarship torpedoes the comfortable belief that economic growth is the rising tide that lifts all boats.”
The result of Piketty’s research, as Geoff Bertram (one of the essayists) puts it, is that: “Simply leaving the logic of the free market economy to work without restraint will produce a society with a super-rich patrimonial elite owning the lion’s share of the total wealth, and wielding the political power to go with it.” “Patrimonial” here refers to inherited wealth or belonging to what Warren Buffett has called “the lucky sperm club”.

Professor Tim Hazledine (another contributor) was struck not only by Piketty’s finding that the top 1 per cent have more than doubled their share of income since 1980 in English-speaking countries but by “the equally striking lack of such an increase in most other large rich countries such as Japan, Germany and France“.
That suggests rising inequality is the result of policy choices, in particular “the 1980s counter-Keynesian neoliberal revolution, which celebrated unrestrained greed in an ever-more permissive policy environment“.

I have lived through the crazy days of Reagan, Thatcher and “Rogernomics” from the eighties onwards. I was always struck by the audacity of the advocates of thieving by the elites from all of us of not possessing a rational intellectual argument standing up to scrutiny.  They did not dare to debate their theories instead resorted to the mantra: “There is no alternative“.
Other non-English speaking rich countries, which did not follow the economic snake oil merchants of the time had quite different and arguably better outcomes. This proves that there always was and is an alternative to the 1980s counter-Keynesian neoliberal revolution, which celebrated unrestrained greed in an ever-more permissive policy environment.

Are we now in good old fashion going to drive the snake oil merchants out of town ?
Looking at this government and the two main political parties for that matter Brian Easton (another contributor) might be correct in his pessimism that it might take another decade or so.

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