31 May 2008

Short Term Memory Loss or the Rogers Return.

The re-emergence of the two Rogers - Douglas and Kerr - is a dis-quietening reminder that New Zealand appears to suffer from political short term memory loss. These two campaigners for slash & burn economics have crawled out from the shadows to hold forth on the direction the Labour Government has taken the country in since they were consigned to the political scrap heap to claim that they, and only they, have the answers that will guide New Zealand towards the economic nivarna they campaigned for during the 1980s. What both Rogers and their acolytes fail to acknowledge is that the country and economic policy has moved on and that the 90 day focus policies espoused by them have been discredited and, where they were trialled, found wanting.
The economic policies favoured by the Rogers is called “90 day focus” as they were developed in the attempt to solve a perceived problem in the shortest possible time... i.e. before sufficient analysis was done into the possible long term consequences of their implementation.
These policies were based on what Pulitzer prize winning author, Jared Diamond, in his book - Collapse - Why Societies Fail, describes as being where economists rationally attempt to justify irrational focuses to short term problems by “discounting” future profits. They argue that it is better to harvest resources today rather than leave the resource intact on the grounds that the profits from today could be invested and the interest accumulated between now and then could be more valuable than retaining the resource.
This policy relies on the fact that those who may reap the bade consequences that occur in the future from such short term initiatives can’t complain and don’t, at present, vote thus giving the advantage to those who control the government in the present.
For those who don’t suffer from short term memory loss would recall the selling off of Air New Zealand, N.Z. Rail, Telecom and the Electricity industry to private enterprise apparently to encourage long term investment in the country. The results of this policy are self evident... the transport industries were run down, asset stripped until the Government was forced, in the country’s best interest, to buy them back and pump resources into them to ensure progress.
Because of a lack of centralised planning and investment the deregulated and un-coordinated Electricity Industry pleads that it cannot survive without treating the resource as a scarce commodity that means increasing prices in order to ensure high returns to the shareholders while failing to ensure that generating capacity is maintained and increased.
While Telecom set about abusing the virtual monoploy they were given in an effort to stifle the competitors who were meant to encourage Telecom to invest in the infrastructure and keep prices down to the benefit of the consumer. Now, in the only policy officially released by the National Party, Telecom would, under Slippery John, benefit from a taxpayer funded cash injection of $1.5 billion to provide a faster broad-band system with no guarantee that the tax-payer would receive a quantifiable financial return from the private overseas company that owns Telecom.
Let’s all pray that the collective memory of the demonstrable failure of the Rogers’ economic policies returns and that those who espouse them are subject to intense and critical scrutiny before image gets in the way of substance during this election year.

Political Hypocrisy or Employer Generousity?

Following October 1st new tax rates Mr. Bennett cuts his wages bill.

The Herald on Sunday carried an interesting side bar story which trumpeted the generousity of Pacific Helmets boss, David Bennett. Mr. Bennett was, apparently, incensed that the Budget hadn’t been generous enough so he had decided to pay his employees the extra $14.00 a week they would be receiving from the budget tax cuts from this month.
Mr. Bennett told the Herald on Sunday that as a generous employer he would continue to pay the $14.00 a week until October the 1st when the new tax rate would apply.
What the Herald reporter didn’t ask were three very basic and relevant questions:
First, if Mr. Bennett was prepared to pay his employees $14.00 a week extra why doesn’t he keep paying all his workers at this rate even after the new tax rate kicked in thus demonstrating how much he really values his workers?
Second, as Mr. Bennett is going to stop paying his workers the $14.00 a week after October 1st is his behaviour an indication of future National Party policy.... i.e. with a lowered tax rate employers are not obliged to increase hourly rates or engage in negotiations to improve working conditions or wage rates?
The third question should have been; was Mr. Bennett really engaging in a political stunt on behalf of the National Party rather than being altruistic and honestly rewarding his employees?
Any journalist with a bit of political memory would have known that Mr. Bennett is a prominent member of the Wanganui branch of the National Party and has nominated has a candidate in the past.
If the Herald on Sunday journalist had thought to ask these fundamental questions of David Bennett she would have detected the strong smell of political hypocrisy coming from this declaration of employer generousity.
The Herald should acknowledge the self serving hypocrisy behind Mr. Bennett’s grandstanding and report this story for what it really is - “Tory Supporter Reveals Political Double Standard - Heralds National Party Policy - “Tax cuts mean no wage and salary negotiations under a National Government.” or, more accurately, “Key caught again - secret policy released.”

30 May 2008

The Electoral Finance Act & Granny Herald

One wonders if, under the Electoral Finance Act, the Granny Herald should be registered as an interested third party under the act seeing that its editorial policy and consistent pro National, worship at the shrine of St. John advocacy of vote national would appear to indicate that the company owning this hollow vessel is engaging in a campaign to urge the public to change the government.
The Company, which under the latest ruling about the status of the EPMU as a registered third party, obviously exists as an individual is spending more than $120,000 in its unabashed campaign against the present government should, in the interests of transparency, be registered under the EFA or, perhaps, the entire production and distribution costs of every edition of the Granny Herald which advocates support of the National Party should be put against the election spending by the National Party?
One could argue that the Granny Herald's consistent use of emotive labeling of Government expenditure as part of a "porkometer" - a label which implies that all government expenditure on infra- structural investment, on the provision of health, education, police, justice, housing, welfare and other support agencies is to be seen as self serving, self interested payment to selected target voting groups to buy votes - should be seen as deliberate advocacy to support the national party in this up-coming election.
One wonders if, in the interests of ensuring a fair and unbiased reporting of the election and the differing party policies by what is, across much of the North Island, is a monopoly the EFA should be applied to Granny Herald.

29 May 2008

Spinning the Policy a lesson in double-speak

John & Kate agree on policy confusion in the National Party.

The Evidence of the policy nakedness that is the English-Key led National Party is showing when we finally got some policy out of National. Not detailed policy it's true and John Key certainly wasn't very gracious about having to spit it out at all and he was his usual slippery self about the details.

Mr Key was clearly not happy at having his hand forced to out the policy when he had to contradict his Industrial Spokesperson Kate Wilkinson after she told a breakfast meeting that employer contributions to Kiwis were not going to be compulsary

Quite apart from what National's version of this incredibly popular savings scheme might mean in real dollar terms to the almost 650,000 people who have already signed up to KiwiSaver (the money gets pretty serious over the decades and even one percentage point difference in the employer's contributions will mean many thousands of dollars wiped off the retirement savings of workers) this episode showed National in a poor light on another front.

Here's what Barry Soper from NewstalkZB said on the KiwiSaver debacle:

"What I found interesting was the way it was handled. I was the only person this time yesterday at this particular breakfast and it was a question from the floor. Kate Wilkinson quite clearly said that employer contributions to KiwiSaver was not going to be compulsory.

Now, I had a call from the chief spin doctor from the National Party (Kevin Taylor) saying 'I understand you are going to run this story, you are wrong'. And I thought, hang on, I was there, I heard it, and so did everybody else in the audience. And he repeated, 'you are wrong, you will not run this, you are wrong'. Well we ran it and by two o'clock yesterday afternoon John Key was saying 'it was Kate Wilkinson that was wrong.'

But it was the handling of it that I found not just offensive but bullying, and saying don't run this."

This isn't the first time that John Key has threatened the media. Bay News journalist Greg Robertson was bullied and threatened with dismissal after he quoted John Key saying " I would love to see wages drop."

It's quite a contrast with the Mr Nice Guy image that John Key is so keen to present to the rest of New Zealand but it does accord with what more and more people are starting to realise - he says one thing and means another.

It's about time the serious questioning of the pretender intensified so we can judge the quality of the thinking coming from the select few who are apparently creating the policy statements for Slippery John to read.

24 May 2008

On Being cheesed off or being caught policy short.

Slippery John reveals National's policies post budget.

There were two stories in the normally tory supporting Herald on Saturday that could serve as object lessons to New Zealand. One was on the fate of the humble banana and the other a post budget opinion piece.
These two seemingly disparate stories are perfect demonstrations of the consequences of being caught short of policy when challenged to counter a platform of responsible, forward thinking initiatives from the Labour led government.
Which leads one to the story about the fate of the banana. As we are probably aware the banana is a fruit that depends on constant intervention by the grower to keep producing. The plant is infertile. It is grown under what are effectively slash and burn farming practices.
As well the banana industry is based on only one cultivar which is now threatened by disease to the point where the existence of the banana is highly questionable and could even become extinct in the near future. These problems have come about because of the single-minded exploitative policies of the industry.
So what are the parallels to New Zealand politics?
The answer is to look closely at the National Party and the reactions of its spokespeople on release of the ninth Cullen budget this past week. Since the last election National has been running on a single policy (cultivar) “Tax cuts” which has, like bananas, become a popular item. Unfortunately for Key and his spinmeisters this policy has proven to be susceptible to canker especially when it is required to demonstrate sustainability and support of continuing production (read a dynamic economy.)
Key’s support of a single policy platform - tax cuts - requires the National Party to subscribe to the same economic model favoured by the banana republics - “slash and burn” the environment that supports more than the banana or, in this case, the policy. The Herald commentator noted that when challenged to explain how he would fund a tax cut programme which would deliver the expected bigger than big tax breaks Key was, as John Campbell noted on TV3, slippery and evasive with answers that lacked conviction and punch floundering and obviously caught hopping as he offered up “We’ll slash and burn bureaucracies, We’ll slash and burn current government inefficient policies...”
However these exercises in slash and burn wouldn’t sustain the level of tax cuts Key and English have talked up.
As was noted by a commentator in The Sunday Star-Times the only big ticket programmes that National could slash and burn in an effort to support their sole policy ticket would be the investment programmes of KiwiSaver and the Superannuation Fund which are designed to build the savings platform that right and left wing economists have been urging on New Zealand as the only credible means of long term investment in infra-structure and a sound economy.
As anyone with a long term memory will recall we had a similar situation at the 1975 election when, after the 1972-75 Labour Government had established a contributory superannuation scheme that was designed to invest in the New Zealand economy, the incoming National government immediately scrapped it on the grounds that such a scheme was pure communism (their big business funded dancing cossacks advertisements supported this argument all the way to the ballot box.). The resulting slashing and burning of the planned savings and investment programmes plunged New Zealand to the status of a banana republic economy as the country discovered after the 1984 election.
Despite the evidence of the failure of single policy platforms there has been no evidence that the National Party has changed its view of economic policy and continues to hold to the economic model that is now threatening to destroy the banana industry as it voted against the introduction of KiwiSaver.
No wonder, then that the only image that Slippery John could muster in debating the budget was that of cheese. He could only be cheesed off as the shallowness of his economic advice and policy was revealed in the aftermath of the latest Cullen budget.

20 May 2008

IMF and Tory Credibility

Another irony of politics and economics in the news today. The IMF, the conservative bastion of economic advice to Nations, entered the political debate in New Zealand with a warning to Engkeylish as the pretenders to “sound economic management” in the country. “Tax Cuts are dangerous in a time of international economic down-turn.”
Such advice from such an august body must surely raise questions in Treasury and among the Banking industry about the soundness of the policy promises coming from John Key and his spin controller - Bill English. Their latest promises of average tax cuts of $50.00 would cost the country $8.6 billion a year and deliver less than $12.50 a week to those on the average annual income of $27000 while rewarding the CEOs of big business who, already being given $250,000 a year, would get a Engkeylish funded $920.00 a week tax cut bonus.
The result of such generosity to the average income earner would be to increase the Government debt by 50%.
The IMF’s advice, in this case, should be heeded - Beware the pretender wearing ill fitting clothes and carrying nothing in the way of substantial policy. It also reveals that John Key, the money speculator, knows little about the macro-economics of responsible governance.

18 May 2008

Political dichotomy or Reconciling the Incompatible

One of the great political ironies of the National Party policy positions is the insistence on the mantra that the State should get out of people’s lives along with the pejorative appellation “the Nanny State” while, at the base of every pronouncement on social policy is the implicit understanding that under a National Government surveillance by the State would be acceptable as a means of cutting costs, of reducing “dependence on the tax payer”, of “ensuring transparency in the allocation of “taxpayers’ resources” or the provision of instant solutions to any issue a well funded lobby group or poll driven policy decision demands.
The use of the political double speak by speakers of Engkeylish canvassed in earlier blogs is a classic example of the campaign to reconcile the incompatible.
The problem for Engkeylish is the moral righteousness of the right demands, expects and insists on the imposition of the weight of the state on those who contribute most to the nett wealth of the country - the wage and salary earners - while relaxing the “cost of compliance” on those whose wealth comes from speculation and gambling on the money markets while attempting to persuade the voters that such policy dichotomies are rational.
This is one of the contradictions that make up the psyche and consequent policies of the National Party which allows them, with the aid of a compliant newspaper or two, to label a Labour led Government as “Helengrad” controlled and being a “Nanny state” while harbouring and encouraging their own stasi like mechanisms to harass and bully those who become dispossessed, disenfranchised and constrained as a result of cut backs and reductions in Government investment in infrastructure and policies designed to support and encourage people while promoting the growth of the country.
We saw the effects of such policies under Muldoon, under Richardson (as the author of the “mother of all budgets” ) , under Bolger and Shipley and in the shadowy figures who backed Brash - so one must ask: “How can one believe that under Key, the Pretender of policy, anything will change? The belief system of protect the self interested over the best interests of the country as a whole is too entrenched within the National Party to change even though the political cosmetics being applied may have a slightly paler blue shading emphasised as the election campaigning gathers momentum.

Policy Deficit In Evidence

Cartoon adapted from The Guardian
John Key dances to the real tune at last.

The National Party this weekend revealed the lack of real future focussed policy they are entering the election period with. Key, in perfect engkeylish, outlined the Party's back to the future policy on electoral reform with a promise to ditch MMP (with the opening to dodge out if it so suits by suggesting a referendum ).
The political gaffe that is perfect political spin demonstrated the lack of discipline of thought that is typical Key. He has said what the National Party really thinks while the spin miesters, who put high value on poll driven spin and hypocrisy during the election campaign cringe.
However, when one discovers that the anti-MMP - back to the dictatorship of FFP campaign and policy drivers (we should all remember the arrogance of the numerous minority dictatorships of Muldoon and other National Governments for reasons why NZ voted to adopt MMP.) are the money men- Graeme Hunt and Peter Shirtcliffe - who have poured thousands of dollars into campaigns to stop New Zealand adopting MMP as a means of ensuring a more democratic process and greater proportionality in Government we should not be surprised.
This policy statement advocating a resolute march back to the future is an indication of the paucity of policy development within the National Party and a demonstration of the influence of the selfish interests of of those for whom tax breaks mean huge advantages over the ordinary voter for whom democracy is designed to help.

10 May 2008

The Trouble with Spin

Since the Minister of Finance, Micharl Cullen, announced the re-nationalisation of the rail network we’ve seen the spin doctors attempting to decry the decision.

Richard & Roger prepare for battle

The spin has seen the re-emergence of the Tweedledum and Tweedledee of the Right - the Business Round Table, in the shape of Roger Kerr, as the spokes-body for those who want to privatise all the State activities in the interests of “the market” and the tired attack dog of ACT, Richard Prebble.
Along with Tory Press release regurgitators these critics of the decision have all chosen to repeat the now largely discredited advice of the 1980s Treasury employees who argued that the market would provide efficiencies through competition and self interest. It did. The self interest resulted in the asset stripping of the resource, a rapid transfer of funds off shore to Wisconsin and to the other investors in the purchase and a rapid rundown of the enterprise until it could be dumped into someone-else’s lap.
The Treasury advisors also informed the Bolger Government that the Rail network was inefficient because the distances between key points was too short, that the narrow gauge track the geography of the country forced on the builders was inefficient and that, of course, running a railway was not part of the “core business” of a nation’s government and so it was sold.
The apologisers for the advice and decisions now chorus that the market has demonstrated their “truths” and, for good measure, that it is a myth that rail is environmentally friendly - especially if the production of the trains and the use of trucks to transport goods from the rail head to the final destination is taken into account.
Interestingly there is more material that proves these advocates of asset stripping wrong. The Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority (2000) report provided data that showed that road transport was inefficienct in that it used 3,000,000 units of energy to move 1 tonne of goods one kilometre whereas rail, even taking into account the energy used by the trucks moving goods from the rail head to its final destination, only took 0.61 million units of energy to move the equivalent tonne a kilometre.
The costs of building the trains as compared to he costs of building trucks is, according to European research, three times less. That is road transport is less energy efficient than rail transport even taking into account the costs claimed by Richard Prebble.
The decision to re-nationalise the rail network needs to be seen in the context of rapidly rising petrol & oil prices and the consequent rise in long distance road transport costs which, along with the increasing costs the heavy vehicles cause on the roading infra-structure demonstrate the need to have a viable national alternative available to efficiently and relatively inexpensively move resources and products around the country. The combination of research and the realities of ever increasing energy costs make the long term planning of this decision a wise one and renders the contortions of the spin doctors meaningless.

8 May 2008

Disquiet in the "ME TOO" camp

The par in the Herald Business section today indicates that there is disquiet emerging among the members of the Engkeylish "me too" policy presenters. It's good to see the political hypocrisy of the Tory Party starting to unravel.
Apparently while the spinners like the poll driven results the more politically consistent members are beginning to argue for a "more assertive presentation of what the party actually stands for." Perhaps the public will soon be able to witness the pretenders standing public with their true agenda evident.

5 May 2008

The evidence for Engkeylish use

A brevity:
Has anyone noted the number of times Key, under the influence of his minders, used the verb "struggling" in his recent press releases. Along with the concept of the "strugglers" we have a key example of weaselly word use in national party speeches.
The blatant attempt to identify with those they have traditionally spurned, through the use of emotively loaded terms, is obvious.
On the same issue I wonder if Fran O'Sullivan actually asked John to explain what he actually meant in his sound bite statement: "When householders are struggling to pay the weekly bills. Helen Clark's decision to spend the thick end of a billion dollars to buy back the rail rolling stock does not make sense."
Does he mean that the Government should not invest in the development and enhancement of the country's infrastructure or does he mean that the Government should not use its reserves to the advantage of the people or does he mean that the government should pay everyone less than the price of a chewing gum pack immediately?
What ever he means it becomes obvious he has little grasp of wise investment policies.
Then, again perhaps we should ask why he has adopted the policy of increasing state aid to private schools when those who actively support private schools are so adamantly opposed to social welfare? Surely increasing the State's contribution to Private Schools amounts to making these same people welfare dependent?
Oh well hypocrisy is such a shallow thing when it comes to poll driven policy creation.

Comment to support the argument!!

I thought this comment appropriate after my earlier post

Fran O’Shillivan strikes again

Here’s the first par of National’s release on the rail deal:

National Party Leader John Key says at a time when householders are struggling to pay the weekly bills, Helen Clark’s decision to spend the thick end of a billion dollars to buy back the rail rolling stock does not make any sense.

Here’s Fran O’Sullivan’s first par in her column about the rail deal:

Finance Minister Michael Cullen has now spent the thick end of a billion dollars of taxpayers’ cash to renationalise a flagging railway system he could have picked up for a song much earlier if he had played a more aggressive hand.

H-A-C-K spells “Hack”.

I wonder how much the Herald pays her for her outstanding cut and paste talent?

Empty Words Do Not Substantial Policy Make.

According to Don Watson, an Australian commentator, once words like outcomes, events, accountability and transparency become commonly used in “pol-speak” the audience will come to realise that “most events are managed and those that aren’t possibly should be and, of course, the management will be transparent so that it can reach the agreed outcomes that will meet the requirements of responsible accountability.” So it is no wonder that whenever one is exposed to a John Key soundbite one immediately thinks that he, as an event, is being managd in a “transparently accountable manner” by his political adviser cum manager- Bill English. After all any afternoon spent sitting in the House, watching the debate, one is treated to the sight of the erstwhile pretender to government smirking to the gallery while his deputy stands and fires the bullets during question time and throughout the debates. (At least he doesn’t quite continue the stunned possum approach his predecessor cultivated.)
Of course one should expose the pronouncements of the leader to some sort of analysis for logic and style if one is to be fair to the man but I haven’t heard either Bill or John say anything as profound as:
“The principal function of Government must be to ensure social and economic justice for all families, to protect their physical security and well being in such a way as to assist parents to achieve independent, secure and happy family life. All social reforms must be judged by the standard of whether they assist the family or not. If they assist the family they are good; if they handicap the family they are bad.”
“The Welfare State does not imprison people - it sets them free. It does not compel a dreary uniformity - it opens the door to a wide range of richly varied opportunities. It does not sap self reliance - it strengthens confidence by removing fear and insecurity. It is the wide spectrum of education, housing, better cities, economic development, planning; of better house and secure, healthier families. It exists to ensure social justice for all.”
These statements are from a politician who had a strong political and philosophic belief that he could articulate clearly and in an inspirational manner to his audience - an audience that was present and visible to him and with whom he could and did interact. A far cry from the artificial, stage managed and isolated presentations that produce the eight second media massaged sound bites we hear from those who pretend to be aspirational leaders after attempting to don the clothes of greater men.
The problem for the National Party and those who follow the politics of the right is that the last thing they want is a clearly articulated policy and philosophy getting in the way of logic or profundity, or, for that matter getting any where near a living, breathing audience that might dare to interact with their chosen speakers.
The spin doctors will insist that John Key never utter a profound, clearly articulated statement in the quest to present him in the clothes of the ordinary man. ( The disguise he adopted at Waitangi Day with his folky tee shirt, politically sensitive design, and designer (but not too smart ) jeans is an example of spin doctor advice. ) His advisers will tell him that a man who speaks the language of the ordinary man will embody their wisdom, their aspirations. This is an assumption driven by the polls, the focus groups and collective wisdom of campaign bag-men and then accepted by commentators hired by the media who then tell everyone that the speaker is sincere and obviously has much deeper motivations than he really sounds like. These commentators will, instead of asking John Key what his words mean, will tell us what they want the words to mean on his behalf. As a result they take the most inarticulate and vacillating response at face value and elevate it to more than it really is.
The pol-speak of the media managers, the script writers of the Engkeylish sound bites, provide an impoverished language that reflects impoverished thought. Speech that could not reach the heights of that quoted earlier in this blog. For Engkeylish demands that they speak as inarticulately as the vox pop comments that on the spot TV interviewers grab from people emerging from the noise of a blockbuster movie. So it behoves us to constantly scrutinise the statements coming from the pretenders to government and ask: “Yes - BUT what do you really mean? Where is the real policy behind the repetitive mantras and offers of immediate nostrums and panaceas to all the social, economic and poltical isues their poll driven policy programme gives them. The scrutiny will, as the cartoon demonstrates, reveal that the pretender has neither substantial policy or true fitting political clothes.

(the source of the aspirational quotes about the purpose of Government and the function of Social Welfare? Norman Eric Kirk. Labour Prime Minister.)

4 May 2008

Reponses indicate limited intellects

I received two responses to my first blogs from somewhat intellectually limited individuals. Please note that an exchange of views over issues raised on the blog fora should be more than labelling the contributer a liar or indulging in the chance to abuse the writer.
Curmudgeon that I am I reserve the right to refuse the publication of abuse masquerading as a response to what is intended as rational debate.