Sunday, 13 May 2012

Plots thicken, #2

The Dotcom bombshell

It's emerged Kim Dotcom donated $50,000 to John Banks' mayoral bid in 2010, and what does Dotcom get in return? No help from Banksie after he gets raided by the police and the FBI. Now Dotcom seems to have spilled a few beans - a tad too many beans for Banks to be comfortable with.

Namely the allegation that Banks asked for the donations to be split in 2 payments so that they could be declared anonymous, only for Banks to deny all knowledge when Dotcom went public. Additionally, Sky City Casino made $15,000 donations each to Banks and Len Brown - every man has his price, but at least Brown was honest about it.

Under electoral law, anonymous donations where the recipient knows the donor's identity are potentially illegal, and the Opposition has for once made hay from it. If found in breach of the law, Banksie will be required to resign from Parliament, forcing a by-election which the Government would find rather inconvenient. The whole thing's like a McPhail & Gadsby episode, only completely improvised.

It seems what goes around, comes around - Helen Clark was accused of propping up Winston Peters in the final term of her government while Peters was investigated for undeclared donations from transport tycoon Owen Glenn. But now John Key finds himself under fire for doing the exact same thing with Banksie. Because he needs the numbers to sell off what we still own to faceless Wall Street suits.

Freakonomics and wedge politics

The Government's proposed contraception measures for DPB recipients is a nice one in theory, and I'm all for measures that make contraception more accessible to those difficult to reach. But it'll all be for nothing if it turns out to be little more than state control of the gene pool by stealth, which I suspect a certain section of the public wants.

In chapter 4 of Freakonomics, Stephen Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner made a connection between falling crime rates in America towards the end of the 20th Century, and legalised abortion following the Roe vs Wade ruling in 1973. They suggested that legalised abortion led to fewer unwanted babies, and fewer unwanted babies meant fewer career criminals. What Levitt and Dubner also found was that it all happened by accident, with little if any imposition from the state.

Levitt & Dubner's observations suggest that for contraception to be effective, it needs to be not just widely accessible, but also free of state coercion and free of stigma, something that Social Welfare Minister Paula Bennett needs to take heed. But from what's been announced so far, she seems to be putting the 'promiscuity' stigma back into contraception, and Conservatives leader Colin Craig is effectively playing the 'uncovered meat' card. Paul Little notes in the NZ Herald that it's also applying to the daughters of welfare mothers, which gives the implication of what Little calls the 'slut gene'. Minister Bennett might as well encourage the poor to take up a few modest proposals.

The welfare contraceptives issue is just one subset of divide-and-rule politics being mercilessly exploited in times of economic turbulence, if comments on Talkbackistan and the news web are anything to go by. It worked for John Howard with the infamous Big Lie known as the Children Overboard Affair. Economics professor Robert Reich noted in his video, The Truth About The Economy, that the middle and working classes are too busy fighting amongst themselves to focus their attention on the One Percenters responsible for their predicament.
 also written of the "last place aversion paradox", where those near the bottom oppose measures to reduce the wealth gap because it would mean the very bottom would surpass them.

The 'prosperity gospel' relentlessly preached in the last generation has fomented unrealistic expectations that we can all have a sprawling McMansion and a Hummer in the driveway, and a latent inferiority complex in those who would otherwise challenge the One Percenters. When peoples' attempts to climb the social ladder are thwarted, they start taking out their anger on those below them. In 1930s Europe, exploitation of latent inferiority complexes - brought on by the Great Depression and the Treaty of Versailles - got cranked up to eleven, and the rest is history.

In the words of a commenter on a recent Guardian article about civil unrest from the Great Recession:
Sweet Jesus. No one is going to fix this mess, are they? No politician seems up to the job. 
This week I heard a pefectly sensible guest on Radio 4's Moneybox, use the phrase "when the balloon goes up" without any sense of irony whatsoever. I've recently read three level-headed articles predicting the end of the "marriage of convenience" between capitalism and democracy. 
I'm scared. Proper Weimar Republic scared.

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