Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Upping the ante: Holiday highways to nowhere

The Holiday Highways to Nowhere are now $14 billion and counting. What makes it all the more audacious is that it single-handedly managed to avoid any Treasury scrutiny whatsoever, while austerity applies to just about everything else. Which raises another question: when is austerity not austerity? The answer's quite simple: when it's socialism for the One Percenters and the so-called market for everyone else.

And it's heartening to see those aware of lopsided transport priorities taking a stand in a light-hearted way. Even in the middle of winter.

So, here it is - the ante has been upped. Image is ©Kumara Republic Media but free to download and circulate. Also available as prints from CafePress.

Holiday Highways to Nowhere

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Save TVNZ7 in Wellington

The Save TVNZ7 crowd was in town on Monday, and certainly not a small crowd it was, barely a month and a half out from the channel's final closedown. The panel was hosted by Wallace Chapman of TVNZ7's Back Benchers, local MP Grant Robertson, Dr Peter Thompson of Victoria University of Wellington's media studies department, Opposition broadcasting spokeswoman Clare Curran, former MP and local public broadcasting advocate Sue Kedgley, and veteran media commentator Tom Frewen. Government MPs were believed to have been invited but all chose to turn it down.

Here's a podcast of Dr Thompson, giving his suggestions for the future of public broadcasting and how to finance it:

And my question to the panel about the Law Commission's inquiry into media convergence, answered by Clare Curran:
"No doubt you'll probably be aware of the Leveson Inquiry in Britain looking into the News of the World scandal, and the Finkelstein Inquiry in Australia that's looking into Rupert Murdoch's anti-competitive practices. There's been a similar kind of report here by the Law Commission looking into media convergence and possibly the concentration of media ownership... what sort of hopes do you hold for any positive finds from that, and if not, what chance of a Royal Commission into public broadcasting as a whole?"

Curran's response was that the Commerce Commission is probing SKY TV's anti-competitive practices involving sweetheart deals with Internet providers, and for a need for a wider public debate on media concentration and ownership in NZ, which has one of the most law-of-the-jungle media sectors in the world. Meeting Ms Curran afterwards, she believed that a Royal Commission wouldn't be necessary unless there was a catastrophic scandal on the level of Hackgate or Arthur Allan Thomas. (John Drinnan and Liam Dann have more on the Commerce Commission's probe.)

Instead of yet another hot air vent, this actually seems to be getting some traction. Grant Robertson has pledged support for a proposed Campaign for Public Broadcasting, which would combine both the Save TVNZ7 group and the earlier Save Radio NZ meetings, and seek to create a new public broadcaster at arms length from politics.

After the meeting finished, I met Frank of Frankly Speaking for the first time in person, who has a fuller account of the night's discussion.

I'm of the view that the real reason for weakening public broadcasting isn't penny-pinching, but bare-faced anti-intellectualism disguised as penny-pinching, which is a subset of what Naomi Klein calls "disaster capitalism". I overheard a comment in the discussion, probably from Sue Kedgley, that an ignorant populace is a compliant populace - a dogma straight out of Ancient Rome's bread and circuses, and Orwell's 1984. When John Howard was Australia's Prime Minister, he hated the ABC because he thought it was full of socialists, and unsuccessfully threatened it with funding cuts. It's now stronger than ever. Even the BBC has largely held its own despite being targeted by hostile politicians.

TVNZ7's demise on 30 June, 2012 is a given, and its fatal weakness was the first four letters in its name. I'm personally of the view that TVNZ in its present form - being dominated by overpaid managerialists over actual broadcasting people - has passed the point of no return, given that former CEO Ian Fraser - very much in favour of public broadcasting - couldn't effect the change he wanted. And if or when TVNZ7 does rise from the ashes, it'll likely be without the TVNZ baggage.

That's enough venting on the topic for now. In the meantime, get some satirical therapy with my SKYNET gear.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

SKY's net has landed

Now available from CafePress, just in time for the Save TVNZ7 meetings:

If anyone knows a more local (read: NZ-based) alternative to CafePress, please do let me know.

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.