- I’m not as outraged at Key and National as most people on the left, because I think that if Labour were in government our commitment to the latest US/UK adventure in Iraq would be pretty much identical. The marketing would be different: our troops would be providing ‘humanitarian aid': painting schools, standing up for women’s rights, and so on, instead of National’s more paternal ‘training the Iraqi army’ pretext. But I just can’t see a Labour PM saying ‘no’ to Obama.
- Also, our defense chiefs and MFAT mandarins will have been in Key’s office for months, gibbering and howling like rabid monkeys that we ‘have to get in the game, have to be in the room, have to be at the table’ regarding Iraq because urging our involvement in every single British and American military action seems like pretty much all we pay these guys to do. Key seems to be making the minimal commitment – sixteen trainers – he can to satisfy our allies and their ‘deep state’ servants/clients in the New Zealand public service.
- The Atlantic Monthly had an article on ‘What ISIS really wants‘ which I found helpful. I was struck by the similarities between ISIS and the Khmer Rouge. It almost seems like bombing a country to rubble and destroying all its civic institutions has terrible repercussions and leads to the rise of obscene murderous extremist groups. So I’m pessimistic that the upcoming western air campaign against ISIS will lead to great things downstream, or that New Zealand is ‘doing the right thing’ by enabling it.
February 24, 2015
February 23, 2015
The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear – Antonio Gramsci
ACT held their annual conference last weekend, so the Herald et al have been running columns and profiles and news stories, all to pretend that ACT is a real political party and not a loophole in the electoral law for National to pour taxpayer money into.
The premise of all this is that ACT will rebuild under ‘classical liberal’ David Seymour. It’s all nonsense. ACT was never a classical liberal party (and the whole notion of ‘classical liberalism’ seems more and more risible to me: a bunch of guys who are outraged about, say, the threat to freedom caused by anti-tobacco regulation but indifferent to the expansion of the surveillance state, or any of dozens of other substantive challenges to individual freedom). ACT made its wins with conservative voters via race-baiting and tough on crime rhetoric, and when an actual conservative party came along ACT’s vote vanished.
They might get it back, I guess, but they’ll be competing with Colin Craig (probably), Winston Peters and most problematically, the National Party, who have a patina of urban liberals, women and Maori arranged across their front bench but whose MPs are mostly middle-aged or elderly white male ex dairy-farmer/ex-cop types who represent electorates ACT would need to target, and who tell their voters to give two ticks to National. David Seymour will never connect with that demographic.
If National gets voted out of government and goes through an identity crisis, and New Zealand First folds post-Winston, and Colin Craig goes away then the conditions might be auspicious for a ‘classical liberal’ and/or conservative party to arise, but the existence of ACT, occupying that space, grifting an electorate off National and money off the taxpayer makes it less likely. Instead the morbid symptoms will continue.
February 13, 2015
I’m reading Sir Vidia’s Shadow, Paul Theroux’s book about his friendship(?) with V S Naipaul. It’s excellent. I think some of it is true. Here’s Naipaul as the writer in residence at a university in Uganda, giving critical feedback to students who showed him their work for appraisal:
“Really.” Vidia found the boy’s eyes and ﬁxed them with his weary
stare. He said, “Don’t write any more poems. I really don’t think you
should. Your gifts lie in some other direction. A story, perhaps. Now,
promise me you won’t write any more poems.”
The boy shook his head and made the promise in a halting voice.
He went away baﬁled and dejected.
“Did you see how relieved he was?” Vidia said. “He was glad I told
Vidia rubbed his hands and disposed of other students in the same
fashion. I was surprised when he agreed to be the judge of a univer-
sity literary competition, but he carried out his duties his own way.
He insisted that there be only one prize, called Third Prize, because
the entries were so bad there could be no ﬁrst and second prizes.
“Make it absolutely clear that this is Third Prize,” he told the
people in the English Department.
February 11, 2015
Two weeks ago the Herald ran this op-ed by former Sky-City executive Heather Shotter making an impassioned, Jane-Austenesque plea for taxpayer funding for Sky City’s ‘free’ convention center:
It is widely acknowledged that international convention centres are essential elements that contribute to the growth and development of big cities. Not only do they bring substantial economic benefits, encouraging international business delegate expenditure during the tourism off-season, but if done well, they are pivotal to promoting the unique character or brand of a city to a wide range of international audiences.
But like any large pieces of infrastructure, convention centres come at a considerable cost.
All over the world, other large cities have acknowledged this and their governments see value in funding convention centres, either fully or with partial cash injections, because of the other economic benefit that they drive.
Centres in Sydney, Melbourne, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Hong Kong were all constructed as part of comprehensive developments where the government and private sector have worked together to develop world-class conference and exhbition facilities.
Firstly, it is widely acknowledged by pretty much every independent economic analysis of convention centers you can find that they’re a massive scam that construction companies and politicians perpetuate on taxpayers. The promised benefits never match the tax write-offs and other public costs these companies impose, and in the case of casinos they’re completely wiped out by the negative impacts of the business.
Secondly, this reference to regional competitors is very meaningful, because this is a strategy that casinos and convention center construction companies practice all over the world. They play regional (and in this case national) tourist destinations off each other. Here’s a Washington Post article from June 2014:
All those consultants’ reports, it turns out, were based on optimistic assumptions and failed to anticipate the impact of industry consolidation and slower economic growth on the demand for meeting space. Even more curious was the consultants’ failure to take into account all the other cities contemplating subsidized expansions — something they surely knew because the same group of firms had prepared virtually all of the reports.
Rather than acknowledge their mistakes, however, the CIC convinced political leaders that the reason bookings had failed to meet expectations was that they didn’t have a big “headquarters hotel” to offer convention planners, who value such hotels because they reduce the cost and complexity of running such large events. Curiously, the private sector has been reluctant to seize on this golden opportunity to build them, so dozens of cities concluded that they had no choice but to provide subsidies for the hotels as well.
It’s a bit like being an arms company and selling weapons to a bunch of countries at war with each other. If/when National gives Sky their hundred million dollar payout, Sky can then turn around and start lobbying the governments in Brisbane, Melbourne, Sydney etc for tax write-offs or taxpayer cash because they’ll need to compete with Auckland. And, inevitably, in a few years time we’ll be seeing more op-eds in the Herald insisting that this wildly profitable casino company needs more taxpayer money to compete with whatever Sky just secured from state governments in Australia.
February 10, 2015
There’s a famous quote in Ron Suskind’s book about the Bush Administration – The One Percent Doctrine – in which Karl Rove articulated his view of politics to Suskind:
[Rove] said that guys like me were “in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” … “That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” he continued. “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.
The quote came to mind when I was reading Matthew Hooton’s column in the NBR [paywalled, so I can’t quote or link to it]. Hooton ascribes part of Key’s popularity to his preeminence as a commentator on light-entertainment shows across New Zealand media. More FM, Breakfast TV, Seven-Sharp, etc. Critically these are (a) news sources for ‘median’ or persuadable voters and (b) they’re formats in which Key can assert his version of any news story unchallenged, and then go on to tell funny stories about the All-Blacks.
So there’s a reality-based community in which, say, people read the Inspector-General of Security and Intelligence’s report and see that Key’s office was found to have abused intelligence information for political purposes, but Key can create his own reality in the minds of hundreds of thousands of voters simply by going on Breakfast TV and explaining that his office was completely exonerated while the hosts nod their heads and smile.
The same thing is happening with the Sabin scandal. Key’s line is that Helen Clark didn’t stand down as Prime Minister during ‘painter-gate’, so why should Sabin have stood down as Chair of the Law and Order Select Committee while he was being investigated for assault? Of course, assault is a bit more serious than Clark signing a painting. But also, during ‘painter-gate’ and for many years subsequent National screamed that Clark should resign, and that she was our most corrupt Prime Minister ever. Key’s constant refrain that he’s only as bad as, or not much worse than the PM his party denounced as ‘quite simply the most corrupt in New Zealand history’ is a bad, nonsensical argument, and members of the ‘reality based community’ wonder aloud at how he can say such things and remain popular. But it works because the reality-based community is not the important audience, what’s important is that he gets to make it on infotainment shows where he enjoys good relationships with the hosts and there’s no balance or right of reply.
February 5, 2015
Reserve Bank governor Graeme Wheeler today raised the risk of a “sharp correction” in the housing market.
He warned that “the more that house prices get out of line with historic relativities, the greater the risk of a sharp correction, leading to financial instability”.
Wheeler listed rocketing house prices in Auckland and Christchurch as one of the main risks to the economy.
Though expectations were that house prices in Christchurch would eventually settle, “in Auckland, much more needs to be done”.
All the serious, smart people are saying that Auckland house prices are a bubble, that we’re like Ireland, that we’re heading for a ‘correction’, a collapse, the threat of negative equity etc. I’m just a humble blogger, but it seems to me that the supply of Auckland housing is still incredibly limited, and the fierce demand is driven by a combination of population growth, migration, low interest rates, tax loopholes and various other demand-side factors that aren’t going to change in the foreseeable future.
When I was in Ireland in, I think, 2005, their property market was insane. People were building vast Spanish style beach resorts on the coast of Donegal, where it rains for about 350 days a year. That was a bubble, and it burst because those holiday homes purchased at over-inflated prices with 100% mortgages were more or less worthless. But how is Auckland property a bubble? If the price of a scarce resource that loads of people want to buy is increasing, that means that the market is ‘working’. Why would it correct itself?
February 4, 2015
Andrea Vance has an overview here. The crux is that Key appointed Sabin to chair the Law and Order Select Committee while he was being investigated by the police, which is just a horrible, horrible conflict of interest. Key claims he didn’t know Sabin was being investigated when he appointed him, but he’s changed his story about when he did know three times in one week as new facts came to light, so everyone thinks he’s lying but no one can prove it.
On the one hand it seems really unlikely that our super-gossipy Prime Minister didn’t know one of his own MPs was being investigated for a very serious crime. On the other, if he did know, why would he appoint the guy to a position which could – and has – blown up into a scandal? Makes no sense. Maybe they thought they could ride it out? That Sabin is an ex-cop and the police would look after their own, and it wouldn’t go to court? No one would ever find out and Sabin’s career could go on as normal.
Which kinda begs the question: how did this get out? Who tipped off the media? Someone in National? Who feels slighted by the PM and his office? Who has close ties to the police and justice sector? Who would very much like Sabin’s position as Chair of the Law and Order Select Committee? Who is very close to WhaleOil. But who???
January 29, 2015
There are lots of good pieces on the Eleanor Catton contretemps – Morgan Godfrey, Brian Easton, Gordon Campbell, Andrew Geddis, Simon Wilson – all focusing on issues around intellectuals and criticism and New Zealand attitudes towards same, which are all valid points. But what’s also meaningful, I think, is that this is a reprise of National’s two-track communications strategy we spent so much time talking about last year. Sean Plunket isn’t just a talk-radio dofus: he’s very close to the National government and, just like his mate Cameron Slater, Plunket is there to smear and bully and intimidate anyone who speaks out against John Key or National, so that National themselves don’t have to.
If – like most of the country – you haven’t heard anything from Plunket since he left Morning Report a few years back then his attack on Catton probably seemed very strange. But if you listened to him during the 2014 election campaign, most of which he spent in a state of flat-out hysteria ranting about terrorists and traitors, culminating in Plunket phoning Paddy Gower live on air and accusing him of being involved in a conspiracy against the government because he was reporting on Dirty Politics, it’s easier to see that abusing critics of the National Party – real or imaginary – is pretty much just his day to day role.
January 28, 2015
- I agree with some of what Eleanor Catton said. I’m not particularly outraged by Key’s response because if you accuse the Prime Minister of being a ‘neo-liberal, profit-obsessed, shallow and money hungry politician’ while speaking on the international stage he’s going to hit back.
- I do disagree with pretty much everything Sean Plunket said when he called Catton a traitor and an ‘ungrateful whore’ for criticising the government, partly because Plunket is a horrible clown, but also because almost everything he says about her is partly or completely wrong.
- EG. Catton wrote the bulk of The Luminaries in Iowa when she was an adjunct lecturer there, not ‘moonlighting on a government salary’ as Plunket claims.
- But yes, Catton is currently ‘paid by the government’. She teaches creative writing at the Manukau Institute of Technology where she is, I suspect, the lowest paid Booker Prize Winner in the world. It’s a bit like having Mark Zuckerberg teaching programming down at the local polytech. The employer/taxpayer isn’t really in a position to demand people like that keep their heads down and their mouths shut if they want to keep their jobs.
- Besides which you don’t really employ people at universities to buy their silence and political consent. That’s not how it works. Or, actually, unfortunately that is mostly how it works, but universities are supposed to be bastions for free speech and criticism.
- Plunket himself was ‘paid by the government’ for a very long time when he worked at TVNZ and Radio New Zealand, and he was extremely critical of the government (at least while the government was a Labour government.) Why was that okay for him but not for Catton?
- At about three minutes in Plunket calls Catton ‘an ungrateful whore’, for which he should, I think, apologise or be suspended or sacked, because really?
- Since Plunket is so outraged about this issue of conflicts of interests, it would be a good time to clear up the question of whether he himself has done media training for, or provides communications advice to the National MPs or Ministers he interviews or reports on, and on whose behalf he is so wroth with Catton today – a question he’s always dodged in the past.
Update: It’s been bugging me all day. Plunket’s ‘hua’ pronunciation is Ralphie from The Sopranos!
Andrew Little’s State of the Nation speech is up on The Standard:
- Some on the left are freaking out because he’s addressing a business audience. It’s true that Labour is never going to win over ‘business’, but median voters seem to want competent managers of the economy and its okay for Labour to signal to them that they’ll fill that role by making nice with business.
- Little’s actual speech is pretty clunky.
- His emphasis will be on growing small businesses
- So he probably should have talked about small businesses instead of Air New Zealand and Fonterra
- Labour will get rid of zero hour contracts
- He’s promising the lowest unemployment in the developed world.
- Inevitable content about housing affordability, inequality, manufacturing, possibly cut and pasted from near identical speeches given by Goff, Shearer and Cunliffe.
- I have nothing else to say about this speech. I give it a 5/10. Seems like a wasted opportunity.