Climate: Will New Zealand fight alongside the elves or the orcs ?

Following the militaristic culture and thinking of our ally and only remaining superpower America we frame all our problems in terms of war. War on drugs, war on terror, war on weeds and the list goes on. I am desperately waiting for the war on war.

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At present war is fought over climate change as the headline of the feature article in the Business Herald of 12 June < Climate change the next battle > suggests. Climate change has been going on for over 200 years without us first understanding it. Since it dawned on humanity how grave the consequences are for everyone and every side the battle line has been drawn. Even if the details of how climate change will affect the planet and everyone of us are still sketchy the big picture is clear and does not look good. The consequences of our actions or non-actions will potentially be fatal to millions of our fellow men and all other living beings on our planet.

According to the above mentioned enlightening article by Brian Fallow the main question for New Zealand will be what will we be bringing to the fight?

Shouldn’t we at least be discussing what it is about, what are the objectives, are they worth fighting for and should we join in. However these simple questions seem to be lost in the government’s consultation process.

The government asked economic modellers at Infometrics and Landcare Research to model.
The mind boggles. There is a battle raging and in true neoliberal fashion the government is calling in the accountants!  Instead of engineers and scientist of all fields from climate to agriculture we are looking for economists! Waterloo has been in the news lately. Imagine the Duke of Wellington when the battle was on a knife’s edge calling instead of the cavalry a regiment of accountants to give him victory.

All the focus has been on the financial matter of carbon pricing and how much it is going to cost and who is going to pay and who gets paid by whom for what. Which basically boils the whole existential threat down to a matter of the economy.

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And in true neoliberal fashion all the accounting figures are based on phony theories and consequently equally phony data.

“In recent years New Zealand emitters with obligations under the emissions trading scheme (ETS) have been able to buy those credits for a few cents per tonne of carbon – a far cry from the estimated $25 a tonne when the ETS was designed.”
This means that the theory failed in the real world. The whole purpose of the ETS to actually reduce carbon emission was defeated by making it cheaper to buy credits than to do the right thing by the planet.

And the crazy thing is these people who following their neoliberal theories designed or backed those brilliantly failing carbon credit markets are today still at it coming up with questions like:
“From 2020, however, the modellers were asked to assume that the international carbon price will rise from $25 a tonne in 2020 to $50 by 2030.”
Haven’t we just learned that a ton carbon credit could be bought for a few cents instead of $ 25.- Who in a clear state of mind expects a significant change by having to pay instead of a few cents a few more cents. The market approach has failed so let’s try more market and hope for a different outcome. The classic definition of insanity.

As our neoliberal government worships the “Market” it cannot possibly set the price required to reduce carbon emission or do the only fair and sensible thing of introducing a carbon tax.

But we have to give it to the creators of carbon credit market that they at least achieved one of their goals to create some riches for their mates on the way.

The whole economic discussion is of course a farce and distraction. If there would be a serious economic argument the other side of the ledger needed to be included. The costs of doing something would need to be balanced against the cost of doing nothing. And the cost of a transition towards a low carbon economy would need to be balanced with the benefits of such a transition. Our government does not seem to be interested to ask the right question even if it is economics 101.

So lets not get distracted further. The science is clear. Lets ask the real questions.

What do we like more?
Do we like our planet more and want to keep her for our grandchildren and their grandchildren to enjoy ?
Or do we like more our wasteful capitalist consumer lifestyle, which is designed to never really satisfy us like an addiction ?

Or as Fawzi Ibrahim puts it:
Humanity faces a stark choice: save the planet and ditch capitalism or save capitalism and ditch the planet.

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The government hasn’t answered the above questions yet. It hasn’t made the safe or ditch decision. We don’t know which side we are on.

As we seem to be going into “battle” later this year at the Climate Conference in Paris let me put the battle scenario into a context the majority of us who luckily never experienced war understands. Imagine Lord of the Rings. Imagine us from Hobbit Country joining the battle without having made up our minds if we want to fight alongside the elves

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or alongside the orcs.

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Isn’t it time we decided between the elves and the orcs. It shouldn’t be too difficult, really.

Yet the current government consultation process does not cover this fundamental discussion and decision.

by Dr. Hans B. Grueber

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Media: Neoliberal corporate propaganda or just sloppy journalism ?

One of the features of the Reagan/Thatcher neoliberal revolution over the last 30 plus years – in New Zealand called Rogernomics – is growing inequality. The rich are getting richer at the expense of the poor getting poorer. This is expressed in two measures. The income gap, for example between the lowest paid worker and the highest paid executive of the same company. And the wealth gap, which measures the increase of net wealth at the top (top 1% or top 0.1%) compared to bottom 50% or even 80% who are getting poorer.

On a global scale this inequality has reached such an obscene level that comedian Russel Brand in his book “Revolution” is joking about the one diamond crusted fun-bus the richest 85 billionaires could ride owning as much as 3.5 billion people, half of humanity.

This growing inequality is not only a matter of fairness. It is threatening to wipe out the middle class in the process and is widely seen as a very bad thing. Countries with higher inequality do worse in all sorts of indicators from economic performance to life expectancy, health, educational achievement and social indicators like participation in democracy. This applies across the board for the poor and the better off alike.

Over the 30 plus years of this revolution we have been fed the “trickle down” theory :

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George Orwell would have marvelled at this use of language to manipulate the mind of the ordinary punter. “Trickle down” we know from leaky buildings and we associate it with water, which of course follows the law of nature i.e. gravity. So it sounds all plausible that  money and wealth will follow the law of gravity, which is of course total bollocks.

Money does not follow any law of nature. Our neoliberal economics is an artificial man made system, which favours the people at the top who created it. We should rather talk about the “cream theory” where money and wealth rises to the top like cream in a bottle of full milk.

This week the NZ Herald created a problem for itself publishing surveys following the incomes of New Zealand’s top corporate executives with headlines like this:
Salaries interactive: What CEOs of top NZ companies earn“(16 June) or”CEO Pay Survey: Bosses’ pay up 325pc in decade“(17 June), which is even understating the magnitude of the problem as according to the “marathon men” figures the salary increase in that sample was over 10 years between 228% and a whopping 528%.

The problem for the Herald has become so embarrassing that Monday’s (15 June) front page headline “Meet NZ’s best-paid bosses” and corresponding business section article “Top Bosses pocket 10 per cent pay rises – While average wage earners gain 3 per cent, some executives’ net rises range from 70 to 170 per cent” cannot be found on-line anymore. The corporate media instinct is in full damage control mode.

It started with Liam Dann’s (15 June) piece “Chief executive salaries merely keeping pace with buoyant market“. Under this apologetic headline we find more morsels from the neoliberal prayerbook like :
There will always be outrage from some quarters about the seemingly exponential scale of executive salaries. But we live in a free and global market where supply and demand set the pricing for talent.

Whenever I hear the “market” as an excuse for the exponential scale of executive salaries I want to scream.

If Dann was a serious journalist he would check the facts and find that executive pay has nothing to do with “the market” and nothing with personal performance.

There are countless studies, which show that CEO pay is at best unrelated to the company’s performance. Just one study analysed by Forbes lately carries the headline :

The Highest-Paid CEOs Are The Worst Performers, New Study Says
Professor Cooper (Utah) and two professors, one at Purdue and the other at the University of Cambridge, have studied a large data set of the 1,500 companies with the biggest market caps, supplied by a firm called Execucomp. They also looked at pay and company performance in three-year periods over a relatively long time span, from 1994-2013, and compared what are known as firms’ “abnormal” performance, meaning a company’s revenues and profits as compared with like companies in their fields. They were startled to find that the more CEOs got paid, the worse their companies did.

I could be cynical and say that we may here already have half the explanation for dairy giant Fonterra’s bad performance and negative outlook.

If Dann was a serious journalist he would have debunked the myth that the free global market where supply and demand set the pricing for talent determines executive pay. You only have to look at other professions where there is undersupply of “talent” like specialist medical staff or even foreign construction workers brought into Christchurch and Auckland. If the – “the market” –  would determine their pay it should also rise on the same exponential scale of executive salaries.
But Dann is blinded by his own ideology not to be able to spot the difference. The medical specialists and construction staff do the actual work and their salaries are seen as just an expense to the organisation to be held down at all costs. Their only chance is to band together and go on strike to achieve any pay increases. In their case free and global market only puts downward pressure on their pay and conditions.
The CEOs on the other hand don’t need to band together and go on strike for better pay. They are already institutionally banded together to write their own pay cheques. Unlike with the workers’ pay the people who determine the executive pay – be it company boards or renumeration committees – have the perverse opposite incentive to increase pay as much as they can get away with as they directly benefit. If they increase the CEO’s pay their own pay will in due course increase too. They are not stupid to just play the system.

As Mr. Dann’s effort in damage control was obviously not enough the Herald had to back it up with next day’s editorial (which also is hidden from the on-line edition) under the headline : “Judge bosses on results, not size of salary”
The editorial again perpetuates the myth that the outrageous and widely criticised executive salaries in this case of Theo Spierings of giant dairy co-op Fonterra, which has been doing poorly recently under his leadership could be justified by “results”.

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Rod Emmerson

This cartoon reminds me of another Russel Brand quote of how “are profits hurtled with thoughtless expedience into the pendular pockets, swinging like a velor scrotum, of the thumb-twiddling plutocrat“.

I have to say on all the above evidence that the NZ Herald – as an example for our corporate media – does not just do sloppy journalism but is engaging full bore in neoliberal corporate propaganda.

by  Dr. Hans B. Grueber

 

 

 

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Let’s kill a corp – where is the terminator when we need him most ?

You might have missed a disturbing piece in the NZ Herald under the headline “Humans can’t win against US killer robots“.
Two programmes commissioned by the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency are seeking to create drones which can track and kill targets even when out of contact with their handlers.
Writing in the journal Nature, the professor of computer science at the University of California, Berkley, Stuart Russell, said the research could breach the Geneva Convention and leave humanity in the hands of amoral machines.
The robots, called Laws – lethal autonomous weapons systems – are likely to be armed quadcopters or mini-tanks that can decide without human intervention who should live or die.
Professor Russell, said “Laws could violate fundamental principles of human dignity by allowing machines to choose who to kill.”

We are of course familiar with these horror scenarios from Hollywood where our man made machines start disobeying our orders and turn against us. The 1968 classic 2001: A Space Odyssey is one of the finest examples. However the list goes on along the same theme with the revenge of the machines , clones what have you and of course the Terminator franchise.

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The scenario we have been made familiar almost comfortable with is always the same. That we are able to make things, which are more powerful then us and which will turn against us as soon as we lose control over them. There is always a narrow escape and of course happy Hollywood ending when the human manages to pull the plug or in more recent action movies violently fights and kills the machines.

The scary new dimension is that the US military are picking up Hollywood fantasies and turning them into grim realities.

Then it dawned on me that this situation feels all too familiar and as a matter of fact we humans are actually facing the very same grim reality right now with the most powerful man made amoral creation ever. Unfortunately in this 2015 reality the outcome of the struggle does not look good for humanity.
There is only a slim hope that we will get together to fight the common threat and narrowly escape into a happy ending.

To understand I just replaced robot or machine with another human invention : the corporation and the scales fell off my eyes.

Corporations are the most powerful creation man ever invented and they are out of control.
From humble beginnings as a form of organising the building of one project like a dam or a bridge only to be disestablished at the finish we have allowed them to become immortal without expiry date. They are not only in all jurisdictions legal entities, which can sue and be sued in a court of law but in the perverted US legal system have become humanoids like the terminator robot pulling Arnold Schwarzenegger’s face over it’s metal structure.

It started with a decision by the US Supreme Court, which was about a corporation taking part in a legal battle over water rights, which was misquoted as giving the legal entity ‘human rights’. Up to that point most of the US federal states had laws on their books, which prevented corporations from taking part in the political process. CEOs could be jailed if their corporation contributed in any way to a political candidate or campaign. The logic was as simple as compelling. Corporations have no right to take part in the political process as they have no right to vote. After the above misquoted Supreme Court decision these laws were scrapped. The rise of the corporations began. They have now such human rights as the right to free speech or be libelled i.e. seek damages for the hurt of being insulted. And forget the voting since the infamous Supreme Court citizen united decision they don’t even need voting as they have now the right to use their unlimited funds to buy elections, governments and the courts.

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Through the global financial crisis corporations have reached new heights in their power. Many have become ‘to big to fail’ and their executives ‘to big to jail’. Like with the robots/machines in the movies they are now out of human control.

And the showdown between corporations and humanity is happening right now in the US Congress with the battle over the secret Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement. The battle is on a knife’s edge. In the movies we would have reached the last five minutes when the humans have to go all out to kill the machines in order to survive. We have reached the point of either them or us.

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As humanity is cornered by our own too powerful creation we seem to have no choice than to start killing them off in their present form. I have some prime candidates in mind.

Phillip Morris on top of the list for killing millions with their tobacco products and their executives lying about it under oath.
Monsanto for killing not only the birds and the bees and therewith threatening our survival but driving thousands of Indian farmers into suicide by selling them seed with the aptly named “terminator” gene.
BP and Exxon not only for destroying the environment in the Mexican Gulf and Alaska with oil spills but destroying the global climate we rely on for our survival.
Goldman Sachs for being the biggest banksters who almost brought the world’s financial system to it’s knees with their criminal actions only to benefit from it being bailed out by the taxpayer.

And I am itching to go on.

Make no mistake these crimes are only possible for the super-human corporations. Any businessman or partnership with the personal responsibility and liability of the owners would not be able to do what corporations do as they would all end up in jail pretty quickly.

There really is no choice between leaving humanity in the hands of amoral machines i.e. corporations to decide who should live or die or fighting back and kill the corporations.

To kill off the TPP would be a good start.

Where is the terminator when we need him most ?

by  Dr. Hans b. Grueber

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One cartoon a thousand thoughts

Sad but true.
We are remembering, commemorating, celebrating – call it what you like – 100 years Gallipoli by again sending our young men into the Middle East on a mission impossible.

Ever since the enormous cost of the WWI remembrance industry became apparent I have wondered if and what value we get for the millions of taxpayers money. Instinctively I had  to agree with a visiting Oxford historian who was disappointed that not a greater share of the lavish spending was directed into education around WWI. Among all the pomp and ceremony we did not learn much about why thousands of New Zealanders ended up on the Dardanelles in the first place. Turkey being a country we previously had no angry word with.
And I am not talking about the narrow history of one of the greatest military fuck-ups. I am talking about the political developments leading the world in 1914 into a catastrophe of industrial scale slaughter of millions of men. I am talking about the political situation and climate in New Zealand, which led so many gullible young men to voluntarily join the jolly Great War.

May be if our Prime Minister who’s knowledge of New Zealand history is flaky at the best of times had learned something about that specific period he would not have sent our troops to Iraq invoking the ANZAC spirit and suggesting to serve together with the Australians under a special ANZAC badge. He must have got his ideas from (Sir) Peter Jackson’s monstrous displays at our national museum Te Papa

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and he definitely learned the wrong lesson. These images of pure raw emotions go like all propaganda straight to the gut bypassing the brain, which is fair enough as that is the intention.
John Key must have imagined himself as the above heroic officer when he – while cowardly avoiding a vote in Parliament – yelled at the opposition: “Get some guts” (and don’t engage your brain).

What instead of making me sick in the stomach made me think was another picture.

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Rod Emerson

First of all it reminds us that the most or rather only glorious part of the Gallipoli campaign was at the end of it the mass retreat without loss of life.

I am wondering who got the Victoria Cross for that clever military manoeuvre saving thousands of lives. Or can only acts of “bravery”, which also can be called “stupidity” – the more brave the more stupid or vice versa – be rewarded by giving the survivor or in case not his widow a piece of scrap metal from the Crimean war. I am afraid that the later might be the case as the military runs on stupidity not cleverness. Even our latest VC hero from Afghanistan who was decorated for rescuing a comrade under fire acted not only bravely – and his mate will be thankful for the rest of his life – but also incredibly stupidly. Whoever has done a first aid course has learned as the first lesson that in order to help and rescue people you have to make sure first that you are safe. Otherwise you are of no use to the person in need of help. Luckily no OSH officer was in the field.

Then it makes me think about our alleged mission to “train” Iraqi soldiers who according to the US defence secretary lack the will to fight or as our own ex-army officer and MP Ron Marks puts it more bluntly are cowards.
Not that I agree with that assessment. These men are not cowards they are rather clever, which is of course an enigma to an (ex) army officer. They are clever enough to have realised that this corrupt Iraqi regime engaged in a fractional religious civil war is not worth fighting for.

If our Prime Minister had learned a little bit of WWI history he would know that Turkey was a reluctant entrant into the war. However the other empires Britain and France, our allies, were circling the moribund Ottoman Empire like vultures to get their piece of flesh. And as today that piece can be summed up in one word: Oil.

Another lesson from history would be that the Kurds, a people of 20 million, did not get their own state in the carve-up of the Ottoman Empire. They were left as minorities in five countries, which naturally have ever since opposed Kurdish independence. Now it is the Kurds who after almost one hundred years of discrimination have something to fight for: Kurdish Independence. And they fight fiercely especially their women fighters. These are the guys we should be “training”.

Recent history should have taught us another lesson that you reap what you sow.
I recently spoke with an Iraqi doctor who told me about the reason why the Islamic State is so deadly efficient in their religious war. When the US moved into Iraq they disbanded the Iraqi army and interned their officers. After beating them up for years almost daily in prisons like Abu Ghraib they set them loose. Most of them being Sunnis with no prospect in postwar Iraq now peddle their skills at ISIS. They are highly skilled killers who know how to fly fighter jets, handle modern weaponry, computers, the internet you name it. They have nothing to lose and hate the Americans and their allies. Who can blame them ?

And on “our” side you have the new Iraqi army by all reports crippled by corruption where everyone seems to be in there for his own interest. And in the sectarian divide firmly aligned with the Shia majority. No wonder that they drive out of town rather than defend the Sunni city of Ramadi where they were not welcome anyway.

Good luck Kiwi soldiers with that lot.

But we must not forget that the deployment of New Zealand troops had nothing to do with militarily rational – if there is such thing – but a (five eyes, foreign) political rational. Our membership fees were due. We had to be seen as part of the gang asserting our patch.

All we can hope for now is that the 16 instructors don’t just teach the Iraqis how to do a mass retreat without loss of life but heed that lesson themselves and get out of there in one piece.

They shouldn’t have been put there as pawns in a political game of chess where pawns are sometimes taken.

by  Dr. Hans B. Grueber

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Have you stopped beating your wife Mr. Armstrong ?

John Armstrong,

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this is not just about you or even the New Zealand Herald but about all mainstream media, which are engaged in just uncritically defending the status quo of economic and political power. And this is not just about the Green Party but attacks on any critical voice questioning the recent neoliberal orthodoxy of the “market” being the answer to everything. If the “market” is always the answer why bother with any questions.

John Armstrong’s piece in the NZ Herald  on 30 May is just a classic with it’s headline

Mad or toxic … Greens’ image newbie’s challenge”

The assumption of this headline – and I have to stress that it is just an example for all mainstream media – is that the image of the Greens is “mad or toxic”. And we are not talking about just the image “mad or toxic” but policies as he writes that in order to change the image and get traction with voters it requires the Greens to be tighter and more orthodox (reading: neoliberal) in their economic policies.
Policies seeking to cut greenhouse gas emissions do not have a strong market in places like West Auckland.
Here again pops up the “market” as the answer. What was the question again ?

This is all part of an concerted effort by the 1 % at the top to defend their wealth, power and privilege against any questioning by the 99 % who are increasingly left behind. The privileged rich who mostly exercise their power through corporations have as their most powerful tool the media in their portfolios. The media’s role is to defend the privileges of their owners.

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They either do it by ignoring any different points of view and if that is not possible to attack any dissent firstly by name calling (mad or toxic) or ridiculing dissenters.

An example of the later is the TV coverage of Green Party conferences going back over 20 years. Way back it was the inevitable shot of some barn dancing at the recreational part of the weekend. Then it was the vegetarian or vegan and – god forbid – organic food on the lunch smorgasbord. Then it was Kiwifruit- or organic low alcohol wine. As those clips have gone stale and the Greens have elected an urban businessman as their male co-leader what is left are shots of the female co-leader together with other women knitting. The camera operators know exactly what is expected of them and the editors put these shots in for one purpose and one purpose only to ridicule the Greens by creating an image of some kind of weirdo dreamers. To top it all off comes the sanctimonious question what the party is doing about the perception that the Greens are not living in the real world.
If the media would not be so immersed in their hypocrisy they would instead marvel at the Greens having been ahead of the time with organic food, fruit wines and even low alcohol wines, which all have become very profitable parts of the economy.

This is hard to swallow for anybody actually living in the real world who can figure out that it is only the Green Party, which is prepared to talk about and tackle the problems we are all facing politically, economically, environmentally, climatically while all other parties fiddle around the edges or put the heads firmly in the sand.

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The people being called names like mad, toxic, dreamer and the list goes on must of course be insane being told for over 30 years that there is no alternative and still don’t get it and are bitching about a better world.

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The irony is that even if the alternative is all around us the media put on the blinkers and still call dissenters lunatics. Remember the relentless media campaign against Russel Norman when he dared to suggest quantitative easing i.e. printing money as a better way to tackle the financial crisis. The media pack regurgitating the dismissal by our great currency trader helmsman was all over poor Russel like a pack of hounds ripping apart a hapless fox at the end of the hunt. All the while the rest of the world like the US Federal Reserve, the Bank of England, the European Central Bank, even the Swiss and all other who needed to were doing the exact same thing, quantitative easing. The media pack did not tell their readers or listeners that nor explain why the rest of the financial world are all lunatics and little New Zealand the only sane stand out.

You also won’t hear from these media that New Zealand could have dealt with the crisis differently and we would actually be much better off if this government would not have followed the neoliberal mantra of austerity. Instead we are right on election time fed the picture of a rock star economy. You don’t have to be a cynic to connect the dots to see in whose interest we were fed that bullshit.

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Back to the other parts of the ‘symphony’ of Green Party policies the mainstream media want changed for more votes. It reminds me of Mozart after the premiere of one of his symphonies meeting his Emperor who somehow was not very impressed. When asked about his dislike the Emperor said : Too many notes. When Mozart asked which one he suggested to take out there was silence.

We really should insist that the media calling the Green’s policies mad, toxic or at minimum unrealistic should actually name them. We will find that all are successful realities in other countries like energy policies in Germany, social policies in Scandinavia, housing policies all over the world and even minimum wage policies in the US where studies have shown that states with higher minimum wages do better economically than the ones with low or no minimum wage. Instead the media continue not to question the lie that higher minimum wages mean jobs losses when then opposite is true.

After the media have driven Russel Norman to despair only to cry crocodile tears when he chucked in the towel they now have set their sights on James Shaw. Mark my words, they will do everything to destroy his economic credibility despite or you may say because of his business background. You already saw a taste of it in Rodney Hide‘s I can’t help falling out of love (with James Shaw) again.  John Key will not properly debate him on the merit of different ideas but just pooh pooh him in Parliament or any other opportunity to the jeers of his neoliberal coterie in the media. We cannot have an insane leader of a political party who has not learned his lesson of the last 30 plus years that there is no alternative.

Asking a green politician if they will stop promoting “mad or toxic” policies is equivalent to asking someone if he will stop beating his wife. However you answer the implication is that there is something wrong with the Greens and their policies, which needs to stop.

I would love to see the look on the face of any journalist trying it on and been asked back if he will stop beating his wife.

Have you stopped beating your wife, Mr Armstrong ?

And when considering this question you have to remember that the Greens had to put up with this nonsense for 25 years.

by  Dr. Hans B. Grueber

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Government experiment on the mentally ill without Ethics Committee approval

Buried among the long weekend non-news the item on mental health bonds made me choke on my dinner. This government, which fancies itself compassionate conservative after throwing a 25 dollar bone to the poorest of the poor is showing its true colours. This latest move is straight out of the most cynical chapter of the neoliberal textbook.

Finance minister Bill English

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released a statement as quoted in the Herald saying :

The Government is focused on achieving better results for individuals and families in highest need. 
Where we succeed, there are opportunities to help people fulfil their potential, a chance to break inter-generational cycles of dependency and, in the long term, potential savings for taxpayers.
So social bonds are a consistent fit with our wider social investment approach which aims to better understand both the drivers and risks of social dysfunction and where we can have the greatest impact in improving people’s lives.”

Sweet as, like motherhood and apple pie. This Crosby Textor Australian dirty tricks spin doctor language is designed to inoculate the policy from any criticism. Who could possibly be against ‘better results for people in highest need’ ? Who could possibly be against ‘people fulfil their potential’ ?  Who can be against ‘savings for taxpayers, social investment improving people’s lives’ ? However, most of us are not buying it.

This neoliberal spin speak has to be translated from Bill’s English into the Queen’s English to really make you puke.
Individuals and families in highest need’ means ‘the most vulnerable in society who cannot fight back and/or don’t even realise what is happening to them’.
‘Social bonds are a consistent fit with our wider social investment approach’ has to be translated into ‘the government is washing it’s hands off it’s responsibility to the ones who need their support most.
The greatest impact in improving people’s lives’ has to be read as ‘forcing mentally ill people into some kind of phoney work – ready or not – as the only way to make money for the investors’.

‘The National-led Government gave the green light to a pilot scheme in September 2013, and has now confirmed the first four social bond contracts’ must be interpreted as this “compassionate” government has decided on a social experiment, but kept it secret for almost two years as it would not have looked good at election time. And predictably they are picking the most vulnerable. They wouldn’t dare to take on as their first target ACC clients trying to get back into work or mothers or the elderly who all have a voice and would fight back. The mentally ill don’t vote.

Of course the criticism was immediate. But the minister of health ‘Dr Coleman defended the scheme against claims that it was gambling with New Zealand’s most vulnerable people.
Until now there had been no sanctions or incentives in the mental health sector, he said. Because individuals, private companies or charities would be paid a return only if targets were met, there would be an incentive to provide high-quality services. “This will sharpen everyone’s minds,” Dr Coleman said’.

Of the three who need to be profit driven ‘individuals, private companies or charities‘ realistically only companies would be even remotely interested to have a look. Individuals would not have the capacity and charities by definition would not be allowed to be profit driven. It will be interesting to see who the private investors in mental health bonds will be. One thing however is certain it will be the scum of the earth who would want to profit from the misfortune of the most feeble and vulnerable of their fellow men.

It seems that the social experiment also has some research purpose as the government’s ‘wider social investment approach aims to better understand both the drivers and risks of social dysfunction and where we can have the greatest impact’. 

One would expect experiments on mental patients without their consent for research purposes to require some sort of ethics committee approval.

Thinking of forced experiments on mental health patients for research purposes I am of course reminded of the infamous Nazi Concentration camp doctor Joseph Mengele and his experiments on Jews and the mentally ill.

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Jewish children victims of medical experiment in Auschwitz

One cannot in any way diminish the uniqueness of the Nazi crimes.

However, our government’s experiment with mental health patients and Dr. Mengele’s experiments on mental health patients have one thing in common.
They both don’t/didn’t have ethics committee approval.

Makes you think.

by  Dr. Hans B. Grueber

Posted in Economics, Media Grabs, politics, Society | 1 Comment

FIFA : So much more than a crime syndicate

Corruption allegations around FIFA are as old as the now over 30 year leadership of it’s newly re-elected president Sepp Blatter.

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FIFA under his leadership has been compared by insiders and outsider alike to the Mafia. The charges are that FIFA and/or it’s officials and/or member organisations have for many many years been receiving huge financial benefits in exchange for favours. The favours being awarding hosting rights for the world cup or other tournaments and easier access into the world cup. And new revelations emerge almost daily. On the eve of last weeks conference 14 people most of them top ranking officials and members of the executive were arrested in Zürich being indicted for corruption, bribery and money laundering by the US Justice Department. A parallel investigation into corruption in connection with the rewarding of the hosing rights for the next two world cups in Russia and Qatar are on-going in Switzerland.

John Oliver again has the best analysis of FIFA and the last world cup in Brazil.

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Including the power of FIFA to have laws changed in allegedly sovereign countries to the benefit of their sponsors, the slave labour problem in Qatar leading to thousands of migrant workers being killed on world cup building sites by the time the construction is finished, the non-for-profit tax-free status of the organisation with over a billion US dollars in the bank and FIFA demanding that host countries waste huge amounts of money and resources on stadiums never to be used again even if these countries have enormous problems with poverty.

All this is not news of course and if you care to google FIFA or Sepp Blatter you’ll find thousands of items almost all negative. Even Prince William in his capacity as president of the UK football association just fired a salvo at FIFA.
As reported in the media the FBI said it had uncovered 24 years of “brazen corruption … undisclosed illegal payments, kickbacks and bribes” by Fifa officials, and that corruption in the organisation was “rampant, systemic and deep-rooted”.
The US inquiry alleges South Africa was awarded the 2010 World Cup as a result of bribery, with the head of its IRS Criminal Investigations division accusing Fifa of running a “World Cup of fraud”.

Sepp Blatter and FIFA have become synonymous with bribery and corruption.

I never believed I would say that but in this case I am glad that the US is playing the world policeman as no other seems to be powerful enough to take on FIFA.

The man at the centre of course sees it differently accepting no responsibility for the beast he created saying that he cannot watch everybody all the time.

However, what happened since last week’s re-election of Blatter to the presidency of FIFA really blew my mind. Blatter in response to the criticism and the fact that he faced opposition for the first time in over ten years issued an ominous warning of future relations he stated: “I forgive but I do not forget when it comes to persons.”

One has to take this sentence in slowly like a glass of vintage wine and swirl it around your pallet to appreciate the full meaning of it.

This sentence and the thinking behind it have not been heard in civil society in any comparable context. It is unheard off a politician saying something like it after being elected against opposition, a business leader after opposition at an AGM or any other democratically elected leader threatening his opponents like this. One has to take the parts in separately: I forgive i.e. you can kiss my ring. The thinking behind it is that opposing Mr Blatter and citing corruption charges is something, which needs to be forgiven by the man himself. On planet Blatter who does he think he is ?
I do not forget when it comes to persons is clearly a warning of rather a threat.
Facing down his critics, Blatter raised the prospect of growing conflict between UEFA, European football’s governing body, and his main group of support in the African and Asian football confederations.
“It is a hate that comes not just from one person at UEFA, it comes from the UEFA organisation that cannot understand that in 1998 I became president.”
In response to growing calls for UEFA to boycott the next World Cup and demands that Fifa reruns the vote to pick the host nations for the 2018 and 2022 tournaments, Blatter accused the “English media and the American movement” of conspiring against him.

There is no precedent in civil society for this kind of language and thinking. It is clearly the language and thinking of a crime boss and a wounded and therefore dangerous one at that.

Then the scenes of Blatter’s supporters, all paragons of un-corruptibility mainly from Africa and the Caribbean sucking up to him after the election fitted the picture of the coterie of a Mafia don.

Another sign of what is happening at FIFA are the comments in the media about the principled decision of the New Zealand football association to vote against Blatter being called “brave“. The subsequent reporting that Oceania will not get direct entry into the next world cup was interpreted as punishment for that brave/bad behaviour. We are being conditioned to accept that this is how things are at FIFA and there seems to be nothing, which can be done about it. Like : There is no alternative.

Which brings me to the question : Is Sepp Blatter’s FIFA a disease or is it just a symptom of our – greed is good – neoliberal system ? Is it a coincidence that Blatter’s creation has run in parallel with the Thatcher/Reagan/Rogernomics revolution ?

The more I think about it it appears to me that Blatter’s FIFA is more than just a crime syndicate. It is not deviant but rather symptomatic of the system we all have been living under over the last 30 plus years.

Wouldn’t it be ironic if it was the US justice system taking it/him down.

by  Dr. Hans B. Grueber

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Campbell Live vs Kardashian’s Arse

The reaction of the mainstream media to the axing of Campbell Live was predictably superficial. No deep analysis nor compassion.

The analysis
must include the almost constitutional – if only we had a constitution – role of independent media in a democracy. Do I give away my age when I remind you that the media were once called the Fourth Estate in our democratic system of government after the Executive, Legislature and Judiciary. We even had a top shelf media focused TV program of the same name.
Independent media are ranked so highly because the central part of this balance of power system the legislature, that is the exercise of the will of the people through free elections of Parliament, relies on the people being informed and knowledgable about the issues and candidates. This information can only be delivered objectively and impartially by independent media.
According to neoliberal dogma this function of the media is best delivered – you guessed it – by the market. Competition in the television market will ensure that we get the information we are looking for. The list is long of what we should and want to be informed about like the effects of government policy on say child poverty, health, education or simple government abuse of power, secret service spying on citizens, secret ‘trade’ negotiations affecting our sovereignty.
With the demise of Campbell Live the only source of timely more in-depth  information on television on these important issues is gone. Going to be replaced by entertainment focussing probably focussing on Kim Kardashian’s Arse.

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In other bigger countries the media landscape might be diverse enough with niche channels giving you the information you want and need. In New Zealand with only two main television companies this choice is extremely limited if not non-existent if you regard the jokers Hoskins and Henry as the alternative.
This failure of the ‘market’ to deliver information , which holds the government to account is of course not acknowledged by our great leader. John Key is on record saying that Campbell Live’s primary role was to entertain rather than hold the Government to account.

Let’s make no mistake the lack of critical reporting on television is a sign of an authoritarian system. Just imagine our indignation if that were to happen in Rumania, Zimbabwe or Russia! However, it seems to be just fine for our neoliberal government with it’s hallmarks of secrecy (‘trade’ negotiations, GCSB, deployment of troops) and abuse of power (dirty politics, using the secret service to help a job application of a senior minister) to name only a few. What we have is a clear policy failure when television does not any longer fulfill in any meaningful way it’s crucial constitutional role in a democracy to hold power to account. However, it’s all part of the plan.

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The compassion is not with John Campbell but the people he has given a human face. The people who are now without a voice. The victims of Pike River or the Canterbury earthquake; the children in decile one schools with empty lunch boxes; the child victims of the soul and community destroying school closure policies in the aftermath of the earthquake; the mother and true hero of a most recent report raising four children on two jobs coming home at midnight leaving her with less than 5 hours sleep every night; the victims of insurance companies’ actions or rather inactions; the kids with horrendously malformed teeth, who got life changing help through Campbell’s campaigning and even the wonderful people of Samoa getting their first All Black test match ever in their home country. They and many more will disappear from our screens and our minds.

The most disappointing aspect was the willingness of most of us to unquestionably accept bogus economic logic behind the move even if that was clearly an excuse and smokescreen. Ratings were never the issue as shown when ratings went up without any effect on a decision done for ideological political reasons.

However economic imperatives are used because they are sacrosanct these days. To question them is heresy. A convenient device to suffocate all discussion of the fundamentals of our economic system.

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Nobody dares to say that “the market” i.e. ratings should not determine if we have a democracy in which voters can make an informed choice, that television news and TV current affairs are different to a can of baked beans. Nobody dares to say that we need public television funded by taxes as a costs of our democracy. Nobody dares to say that media ownership might come with social responsibility. The neoliberal dogma does not allow for such heretic thoughts as public good, social responsibility or even democracy.

I am not blaming the new overseas owners of TV3. They are not called a vulture fund for nothing. They do what they do without any loyalty or social conscience picking over the corpses in this case of MediaWorks.
The blame lies with neoliberal governments over the last 30 plus years who told us the well packaged web of lies. We must at least since the world economic crisis have realized that we have been fed bullshit with the biggest lie being that there is no alternative.

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I blame us for having become docile and obedient under the onslaught of neoliberal propaganda. This again shows my age as you have to be truly on the wrong side of 50 to even remember a time when greed was not good.

Sorry John, Kim won pants down.

by  Dr. Hans B. Grueber

PS
Recommended reading: Positive news : Campbell Live is going – RadioNZ next

Positive news : Campbell Live is going – RadioNZ next

 

 

 

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Moving deck chairs on the Titanic while the band is playing

My ‘post-budget’ blog is off to a slow start. Listening to the commentariat constipates the mind. This is of course intentional. We are not to be enlightened but rather confused and distracted from the big picture.
One little morsel to demonstrate this is the information that an extra 25 dollars for the poorest of the poor was the first real (not inflation related) increase in benefits in 43 (!) years. We did not expect that from a minister of finance of a right wing neoliberal government.
That this was hailed as a big positive surprise just goes to show how over the last 30 plus years of neoliberalism we have been manipulated into accepting mean, nasty, vindictive governments. Vindictive towards the poor and of course generous to their wealthy supporters with tax cuts for the rich and billion dollar plus hand-outs for investors as in Canterbury Finance.
The Razzmatazz around budgets in New Zealand and Australia for that matter is a bit like the Melbourne Cup. Everyone seems to be in an office sweepstake eagerly awaiting the result if you are one of the winners or one of the huge majority of losers.
This is part of the big picture where ‘bread and circuses’ are all that is left in a declining civilisation. We still marvel at the colossal Roman ruins.

Colosseum

And yesterday was – as we are conditioned to accept – very little bread and a lot of circus.

Then I listened to the Minister of Finance this morning. Talking about social policies he told us he was tasking the “Productivity Commission” with overseeing delivery of social service. And now I cannot keep Monty Python’s “Spanish Inquisition” sketch out of my head.

Spanish Inquisition

Both are as ridiculous as each other. You only have to go into the commission’s official government web-site with the heading “Productivity Growth for Maximum Wellbeing”. You have to wonder who comes up with such bull-shit and how stupid do the government spin-masters think we are. We all know that the neoliberal buzz word “productivity” is code for cost cutting, which is the only meaning it can have if applied to social services as there is no “product” produced.

If you watch Michael Palin in the Spanish Inquisition you see another parallel with the Productivity Commission. Both have four weapons: Fear, surprise, ruthless efficiency and a fanatical devotion to the Pope i.e. neoliberal dogma.

We also hear that the finance minister is dangling the old chestnut in front of us: tax cuts in an election year. No prizes for guessing who will benefit most from those tax cuts. One thing is clear however that it is all part of the long term neoliberal agenda to shrink the state / government to make it easier prey for the corporate takeover. So far they managed to introduce charter schools as the first step to privatise education, private prisons, more private healthcare even more outsourcing of social welfare to private providers. There is obviously money to be made even from the poorest of the poor.

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All the while sailing on the Titanic our (rock star) economy is heading for the rocks and our climate is heading for the iceberg.

How long does any sane person think our economy can roll on making the (mostly non-working) rich ever richer at the expense of the (mostly working) poor ? When will the engineers and profiteers of this neoliberal economy start fearing the dispossessed masses  and realise that it will not do to tell them to eat cake ? When do they think the 99% will wake up ? When the top 1% own 70%, 80% or 90% of all wealth ? That is the trajectory we are on. At some stage the manipulation of the majority will stop working.

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As long as we are running this kind of economy we are also wrecking the planet. There is scientific consensus that if we don’t change direction from New Zealand’s “Drill Baby Drill” fossil fuel economy we are heading for not 2 degrees but 4 or even 6 degrees global warming with sea level rises measured not in centimeters but meters in the not too distant future. When will we start making the right decisions ?

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Sailing on the Titanic we just shuffled a few deck chairs around. The government for instance moved money from Kiwi Saver to the 25 dollar social welfare increase and lowering ACC levies and introducing departure and arrival tax. I really don’t want to belittle the importance of 25 dollars to the poorest of the poor. However, in the long run there is only one solution.

We have to change direction and we better figure out how to do it soon.

Right now the Titanic is firmly set on autopilot heading for disaster. But lets look at the bright side. The band is still playing.

by  Dr. Hans B. Grueber

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Corruption – its much more than that

Thanks to public radio I just  heard an almost hour long excellent Kim Hill interview on Radio New Zealand National. She spoke with Sarah Chayes reporter and author of

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Here is someone who actually knows what she is writing and talking about.

After covering the fall of the Taliban and the early weeks of post-Taliban Afghanistan, Chayes decided to leave reporting and stay behind to try to contribute to the rebuilding of the war-torn country. She lived and worked in the former Taliban heartland, Kandahar, for most of the next decade. In 2005, she founded a small manufacturing cooperative, which produces high-quality natural skin-care products from licit local agriculture. She speaks the Pashto language.
In 2010, Sarah Chayes became a special adviser to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen. In this capacity, she contributed to strategic US policy on Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the Arab Spring.
She also extensively visited other corruption riddled countries like Nigeria and Egypt.

The review of her book in The Telegraph by Oliver Bullough sums up her findings:

The book opens with an account of an acquaintance from Kandahar who was assaulted by police for refusing to pay a bribe, and who then had his phone smashed when he reported it. She heard the story from the man’s brother, a former police officer himself, who was furious and told her: “If I see someone planting an IED (improvised explosive device) on a road, and then see a police truck coming, I will turn away, I will not warn them.”
Much Western analysis has referred to countries such as Afghanistan as “failed states” but, Chayes argues, this is misguided. Their rulers have no intention of providing the services we think a state should provide, but want only to get very rich. Looked at from this perspective, Afghanistan is successful.
In examinations of insurgencies in Nigeria, North Africa, Uzbekistan and elsewhere, she argues that this problem is not something unique to Afghanistan. Many governments are machines for fleecing their citizens. Citizens become tired of paying off corrupt officials, and try to stop. The officials force the citizens to pay up. The citizens, angered, fight back. Violence erupts: leading to bloodshed, terrorism, human rights abuses, and the rest. If we respond only to the last part of the process, we will be defending the thieves, thus making the problem even worse.

In the interview Chayes describes how as a foreign journalist in Afghanistan she was initially sucked in by the Karzai (subsequently President of Afghanistan) clan before she gradually discovered that is was what can only be described a Mafia – like criminal organisation turning the whole state into a successful criminal enterprise.

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The fact most of us western taxpayers are and should rightly be concerned about is that most of the loot is coming right out of our treasuries in the form military assistance and all kinds of foreign aid money. These criminal governments are actually on our payroll. And hardly anything serious is done about it. For instance literally billions of US dollar bills flown by big cargo planes into Iraq disappeared without trace and nobody in the US administration seems to bid an eyelid about it.

However, this should not be surprising as Chaye’s most remarkable observations reveal.

She observes that this corrupt and criminal behavior became more prevalent with the ideological backing of the Reagan/Thatcher brand of neoliberal “greed is good” form of Anglo-American capitalism with a capital “C”.
She points to the active support given to the thieves not only by western banks and law firms to funnel the loot out of the countries into the safety of tax havens and secret bank accounts but our governments, which seem to condone any crime of these regimes as long as they are seen as ‘loyal’ to us and are the enemy of our enemy, the insurgents.
Then she remarked on the corrupt criminal system in Nigeria where she observed that the country’s elites just took over the exploitative colonial system the British had left them together with the oil companies collaborating with the regime to fleece their own impoverished citizenry.

However, Chayes as an American fails to see the wood for all the trees. How can she seriously expect the US to enhance global security by combating corruption in these countries if it has mostly been created and nurtured by the US ? How can the world be expected to do what the US says and not what it does ? Don’t we have to look at ourselves first before giving lectures to others ?
So let’s for a moment focus on the USA, which is going around the world trying to sell us their brand of freedom and democracy.

To start with the above story of the Afghan man been shaken down by policemen. What is the difference to the practice of Civil Forfeiture in the US made fun of by comedian John Oliver ?

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The difference is that in the US it is institutionalised legalised daylight robbery with more money involved to feather police department’s nests.
If we look at corruption former Vice-president Dick Cheney and Halliburton spring to mind with damage to the treasury at a much grander scale.
And do the USA have any enviable form of democracy to sell to the rest of the world ?

The foremost American thinker of our time Noam Chomsky

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does not think that the US is a democracy but rather a polyarchy where the power resides in the hands of those who manage the wealth of the nation, the responsible class of men, as so designed by the fathers of the constitution (Madison) to protect the minority of the opulent against the majority.
In the US the whole constitutional set-up is undemocratic to protect the haves against the have-nots. No wonder that the election results are bought by the party with the most money and nobody cares as it is seen as the American way.
This is of course not new to us in New Zealand where the victorious National Party raised more than four times as much money than Labour prior to the last election.
And what would you call it when raising money for a winning presidential candidate is quite regularly by both sides rewarded with government posts like ambassadorships ? We had a few of those in Wellington recently, which seems to be popular with campaign donors.
And what about the revolving door policy between corporations, government and lobbyists ?

All these are are clear signs of an undemocratic and corrupt political system.

The irony is that the USA and Nigeria have this one thing in common. In both the elites have continued the bad old practices of their British colonial masters.

Hand in hand with this go the human right abuses.

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Unfortunately, Noam Chomsky is only too justified to call the US the ‘world’s leading terrorist statemainly because of it’s policy of extra judicial killings of targets and bystanders alike in foreign countries by drones remote controlled from the US.

Let us not point the finger at countries like Afghanistan, Egypt, Nigeria, Ukraine and all the others we care to look at for corruption. It is much more than that.

It is the post colonial Anglo/American system of neoliberal Capitalism with a capital “C”.

by Dr. Hans B. Grueber

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