Sunday, November 27, 2011

In the wake of the jonkey...

From Spiegel, by way of ALDaily comes thoughts on the state of politics and, directly from that, of democracy as a political form.

Habermas is an 82 y-o "philosopher" who has some considerable standing in Europe in particular and his name has passed my way on occasion in the past as well.
Jürgen Habermas, 82, wants to get the word out. He's sitting on stage at the Goethe Institute in Paris. Next to him sits a good-natured professor who asks six or seven questions in just under two hours -- answers that take fewer than 15 minutes are not Habermas' style.

Usually he says clever things like: "In this crisis, functional and systematic imperatives collide" -- referring to sovereign debts and the pressure of the markets.

Sometimes he shakes his head in consternation and says: "It's simply unacceptable, simply unacceptable" -- referring to the EU diktat and Greece's loss of national sovereignty.


In the past, there were enemies; today, there are markets -- that's how the historical situation could be described that Habermas sees before him. He is standing in an overcrowded, overheated auditorium of the Université Paris Descartes, two days before the evening at the Goethe Institute, and he is speaking to students who look like they would rather establish capitalism in Brussels or Beijing than spend the night in an Occupy movement tent.


Habermas accepts all this without complaint. He steps up to the lectern and explains the mistakes that were made in constructing the EU. He speaks of a lack of political union and of "embedded capitalism," a term he uses to describe a market economy controlled by politics. He makes the amorphous entity Brussels tangible in its contradictions, and points to the fact that the decisions of the European Council, which permeate our everyday life, basically have no legal, legitimate basis. He also speaks, though, of the opportunity that lies in the Lisbon Treaty of creating a union that is more democratic and politically effective. This can also emerge from the crisis, says Habermas. He is, after all, an optimist.


He rails against "political defeatism" and begins the process of building a positive vision for Europe from the rubble of his analysis. He sketches the nation-state as a place in which the rights of the citizens are best protected, and how this notion could be implemented on a European level.

He says that states have no rights, "only people have rights," and then he takes the final step and brings the peoples of Europe and the citizens of Europe into position -- they are the actual historical actors in his eyes, not the states, not the governments. It is the citizens who, in the current manner that politics are done, have been reduced to spectators.

His vision is as follows: "The citizens of each individual country, who until now have had to accept how responsibilities have been reassigned across sovereign borders, could as European citizens bring their democratic influence to bear on the governments that are currently acting within a constitutional gray area."

(emphasis is mine)

That is based upon a premise that government as a process has changed; that it no longer serves "the people" (as in the catch-cry of old); that the process of government has become the means of perpetuating the careers of the "representatives". There is a strong parallel here with the "statism" cry of the libertarians. There are parallels to the "anti-socialism" of the Republicans.

(Confirmation Bias warning here!)

Very near the top of google (on the very first page) in response to "politic opinion europe economy" comes this -
On the other hand the economic policies exercised by the EU as a whole, with anachronistic, counter-productive, centralized protectionist policies, with an increasingly aging population and with the accumulation of excessive debts at private and public level; left the continent in a position of witnessing too little growth based on too much debt - an unsustainable cycle. The European leadership seeks to address the cancer of debt in all of Europe, both eurozone and EU, by means of issuing more debt. This is in practice what the EFSF is, the "stability bonds" and the ECB monetizing debts will be. There can be no end to the cost once new debt is issued to pay for the old one. Only sustainable growth, emancipated from cumbersome bureaucratic techniques can fix the problems EU is facing.

In another more recent post he concludes -
All this is caused by the denial of the powers of the European (and local) establishment, to accept that the crisis is fundamentally caused by quasi-bankrupt banks and by a single currency that should have never been created, but was produced to satisfy the arrogance of its architects, who thought that they could design an economic project to achieve political ends.

That does beg the question - fairly severely - of the cause of the "quasi-bankruptcy" of European banks. Was it the result of the same lending policies as led to the demise of Lehmanns and the need to rescue several other American banks as well as BOS in Britain? Was it the result of the prospect of default on sovereign debt by PIIGS? He is right in that current policies are aimed more at perpetuation rather than cure.

And at this point I can tie back directly to the Jonkey and his government's policies for the next three years. First contrast between NZ and Europe is that not one of the European governments is proposing the sale of government owned assets. Is this because they do not exist? Someone could help me with that one please.

More to Habermas' point, none of the governments in the PIIGS grouping has said anything at all about the real problems. I like Protos-stavrou's comment on the CAP in Europe - About 40% of the total expenditure of the Europe group is subsidy for a sector that produces 2% of GDP. I mean to say, that definitely comes under the "Say WHAT!!??!!" heading.

It also raises the point made by Whanga-Ray (returning here to the Jonkey) that one of the easier targets for the new government will be universal superannuation. That is likely, but it is also a problem for the Jonkey. The logical solution is to defer the qualification age to, say, 67. There is one major difficulty - that was Labour's policy and has already been put down by Jonkey as not an option. There are some quite attractive alternatives within that major strategy - such as paying less super for earlier take-up, more for later take-up. Will Jonkey sugar the pill? I doubt it.

Whenever the Gnats have talked of reducing government expenditure they have always taken the direct route; first to go are the budget items which will lose the least votes, the items which have received the greatest criticism in the past and so the likes of adult education bites the dust; next in line are those who vote for "them", and so we have the reductions in day-care subsidies, changes to the DPB and Unemployment benefits; then...

There is no question that the Jonkey is almost solely responsible for the ressurrection of Winnie the Pooh. His reported comments (directly attributed to the tea-pot tape and reported by W-t-P himself) that NZ First's supporters were "dying out" have created a multitude of Erinnyes that will be richly deserved for the next three years. To make matters worse for the Jonkey, every step he takes toward monkeying with the rate of superannuation is going to create severe pains in the back seats.

And that comes back to Habermas -
Jürgen Habermas is angry. He's really angry. He is nothing short of furious -- because he takes it all personally.

He leans forward. He leans backward. He arranges his fidgety hands to illustrate his tirades before allowing them to fall back to his lap. He bangs on the table and yells: "Enough already!" He simply has no desire to see Europe consigned to the dustbin of world history.

"I'm speaking here as a citizen," he says. "I would rather be sitting back home at my desk, believe me. But this is too important. Everyone has to understand that we have critical decisions facing us. That's why I'm so involved in this debate. The European project can no longer continue in elite modus."

Enough already! Europe is his project. It is the project of his generation.


And then he's really angry again: "I condemn the political parties. Our politicians have long been incapable of aspiring to anything whatsoever other than being re-elected. They have no political substance whatsoever, no convictions."


And, I guess, that leads down a path toward the "Occupy..." protests of the past few months. The WSJ I think has a recent op-ed talking about "blind campaign donations" of past and the next Presidential election in the US. As I pointed out in my last post, DHC laments the connect between Maori Party and iwi corporations. That is a trend that started decades ago in NZ with the Round Table and similar political "ginger groups" with the last major infiltration coming from the Brethren Church. Forget the "open market" arguments, they are as relevant as climate change in this context.

This from Wiley Post says it all...

Friday, November 25, 2011

Almost the end of The Agony -

I quite enjoy reading Deborah Hill Cone in the busyness section of Granny Herald. Not because I necessarily agree with her POV, but simply because it is often one of the better writes in the paper.

And so it is this morning with her take on elections and electorates. In fact I think that I can sympathise with her personal agony of being an Epsom Saltie.

What caught my eye was her wave in the general direction of one of the elephants currently occupying the room. Hers is the one carrying the "youth unemployment" label.
Billionaire Sir Richard Branson this week wrote a piece warning the British Chancellor he is creating a "lost generation" of young people who will never know work, and advocated some drastic policies.

In this country, it is still too much of a buzz kill to address the reality of long-term youth unemployment of 25 to 30 per cent, or how to transform an underclass of people stuck on welfare.

But she actually closes with a very accurate posit on the nature of NZers and their attitude to elections and governmental retaliation (translate that with the story of the old radio programme earlier...).
We feel the decisions that affect us are taken way above our heads, in so much as they are the operation of large economic forces over which we have no control. This is probably true. But sometimes we do have at least a small opportunity to exert our agency.

Tomorrow is one of those days. I just wish I could vote for someone who has woken up.

Which earns from me a heartfelt "Hear, hear!"

Friday, November 18, 2011

What a storm in a teapot!!

It begins with all of the anticipation - …will he won’t he will he join the dance… - but not a sign of a lobster at all. For two weeks the media waited agasp for their invitation to the event of all electoral events; the expected invitation for Banksie to share a pot of tea with none other than the PM and the acknowledgement that Banksie was in fact a Nat in all but name for electoral purposes. Not only that, but the pot of tea was to come with shared electoral biscotti. In return for an undertaking (always an interesting word that, in circumstances such as these) to provide stable government the PM himself would ensure that his party would not actively contest the seat in which Banksie is standing.

The appointed day arrives. A media scrum is put down in a café on Broadway – another of those interesting coincidences that passes everyone by - the limousine draws up, the Banksie appears magically with entourage who dust the pavement from car to café and Banksie and PM repair to a table for a nice cuppa.

Once the media have played their part in supporting the election campaigns of the two, they are ushered out to press their noses against the windows and wonder just what PM’s talk about over a nice cuppa. Well, one industrious member of their number found out by (inadvertently) leaving his radio-mike in a bag on the table.

Since then, all manner of unprintables and several hundred tumbrills full of printables have been flying through the air.

Quite amazing then that no one has asked what the PM and Banksie were drinking. Choysa? Bell? Twinings? Or did the PM go the whole way and treat Banksie to a pot of Uncle Don's Best?

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Elections 2011 - Fit the Third

Wednesday -

RNZ on Morning Report as I was avoiding the rush traffic between here and there included a “debate” between the leaders of the “minor parties”. Quote of the 20minute duration; Dunny himself with “Tureia is right up to the point where ideology steps in.”.

Thursday -

SMH this morning is trumpeting the fact that the UN has rated Australia only 0.1 points (on a 0 – 1 scale) behind Norway.

After reading through the whole article, one finds (in the very last para) that the top five are Norway, Australia, Netherlands, US, and NZ.

Say what? NZ is in there at number five? That just can not be true!!! After all, NZers are leaving in droves, herds even, for the much greener pastures of Australia in particular. It is (we are told on the hustings) the problem of the economy. This is why we have to lift our wage rates to compete. That is why our productivity is stuffed. We are so far behind Australia that it is not funny!!!

Well, that deserves a “Yeah, right!!” of the first water.

There is a dose of realism that needs to be taken with the sugar. NZ has vulnerabilities internally, and most especially externally.

The internal exposures stem primarily from size; we are the very small branch office in a very large global multi-corporate organisation; we are the very small leaf at the far end of a long branch of an oak tree. The internal threats is one thing that we should be concentrating on over the next three weeks. Decisions made now are going to shape what this country looks like in three and probably fifteen years as well. My greatest fear is that none of the relatively sane parties has the guts and the intelligence to go beyond the application of ideology to the solution of pressing problems.

There is one instance where I think this combination of belly driven common sense is becoming apparent and that is in the form of Papandreou and his proposal to take the Greek economic woes to the electorate. No, seriously; I mean, stop laughing like that!

This article from The Age gives a pretty fair run-down on the choices; the consequences. That it might be “unspeakable” a distinct possibility is exactly why I think Papandreou has taken this course.

If the electorate chooses to turn down the bail-out offered by the EU it will so do in the knowledge (I would hope) of the consequences. That, I submit, is exactly what Papandreou wants. If the electorate is not going to stand behind him and support the economic rebuilding that is needed then why bother making the start. I can well imagine that his political career would end the next day. This is essentially the thesis of Thomas’ “return to the drachma” article.

There are many who paint – with Rolf Harris like speed – terrifying portraits of the result of Greek default on its international loans. It would, we are told, lead to the failure of the Euro, the collapse of most of Europe’s banks and financial institutions.

So, I want to stand back for a moment and look at that. If Greece were to refuse to comply with the conditions imposed by the EU what would really happen?

There is already in place an agreement to write off 50% of Greece’s borrowing. That is being soaked by the banks and financial institutions. The other 50% will largely fall on the same funds sources. But, and no one I have read says this, there is also agreement to bail Greece out to the tune of a very large sum indeed. That, in addition, is being expressed in a way that implies the presence of a very large “AND” that would follow; the agreement to provide further funding down the track with Greece’s continuing compliance with EU restraints. What happens to those agreements and promises should Greece refuse? They immediately become void.

Germany and France, in particular, have promised the greatest part of that funding; most in the form of guarantees but with the provision of immediate cash as well. Hands up those who remember the NZ deposit guarantee scheme that was implemented with almost indecent haste (let’s face it, the response was essential) a couple years back. That is where the Euro zone nations should be putting their efforts if Greece fails to meet their demands.

And, I think, Papandreou would be among the first to say, “Good on yer, mate. Take care of home first.”.

I follows on from that to back at home here where a small number of young and enthusiastic improvers of the universe have joined in the fun and games (that started in Wall St NY) of occupying places. In Auckland they chose Aotea Sq, in Dunedin the Octagon. Their main beef is the power and greed of the major banks. Watching those same major banks taking a bit of a pasting on the fallout from Greece might have them smiling. Hearing that the EU is bailing out those same banks will no doubt add a great deal of fuel to the fire.

I can but wonder how many of those yaeiou will pause for a moment to reflect on the problems that Greece would be facing.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Elections 2011 - Fit the second

No, I did not watch the “Leadership Debate” on the tv last night. I had a few better things to do.

No, I am not sorry. (That is the same kind of answer as “I am not going to raise GST”.)

From the reports, seen and read, I have the impression that it was pretty much as scripted. The Jonkey was not surprised by anything that the Gofer raised, though there is a suspicion that he was momentarily a bit backed up by the delivery. Similarly, there seems to have been no surprises for the Gofer.

And that really is the point. These leadership presentations are not much more than proving to the electorate that the leaders they are voting for are not zombies, are not frothing at the mouth maniacs, can and do hold something that could pass for a conversation. But, as politics keeps reminding us, that is about as far as it goes.

The pundits and propounders are all weighing the outcome as even, favouring whichever side of the divide they sit.

Of course, there are always the likes of Cactus Kate who is trumpeting Brash Donnie’s “triumph” over a hapless tv3 reporter. In that instance the script only ran to two words. Brash Donnie was not able to expand past his robot-like inchantation of “deceitful bastard”. CK herself seemed stuck in a groove to prove the journo’s typo revealed a total inability to spell. Yep, well as I pointed out in a submitted comment there are a lot of suitable alternative epithets. Rather than ascribing to the Chris Christie school of political attack the Donnie could perhaps get a whole lot more benefit from a quiet review of a few of the archive tapes of the master, old Mouldie himself. As for handling unwanted journos, Mouldie’s attack on Tom Scott has to be the pinnacle.

There is a rich vein of commentary in this. It follows the interdependence of politician and journalist; both need the other. In Muldoon v Scott, the dependence was “broken” because Scott became “expendable” to Muldoon. There were far more servile channels he could use and Scott was just too hostile. Personally, I think that Scott was doing his job well and that was to get Muldoon pissed off…

There is a similar conflict in the relationship between Granny Herald and The Speaker just before Parliament rose for the RWC.