Archives for posts with tag: environment

I’ve spent the last few days in reflection, contemplation and conversation. My reaction to the results of the election was not anger or sadness predominantly, but a form of numbness. Watching the election coverage on Saturday, I felt a surreal sense of déjà vu.

I am worried.

But perhaps not about the same things as some.

One of the things that has become increasingly clear to me is how partisan we have become. It’s difficult to see how things could be any other way at the moment. (For those who don’t know, partisanism is “the term is used for [those] who strongly support their party’s policies and are reluctant to compromise with their political opponents”, and if you observe U.S. politics, it’s typically not ideal for a healthy democracy.)

After the release of Dirty Politics, the revelations about mass surveillance revealed by Pulitzer-prize winning journalist Glenn Greenwald … for those of us who were predisposed to believe these things, it was already hard for us to trust the current government, and it just got harder. This is especially galling given that John Key’s position on mass surveillance is simply that: “Trust me, don’t worry what the letter of the law means”.

For those who do trust the Prime Minister, or don’t trust people like Greenwald, Snowden and Hagar, or simply didn’t believe there was any substance to the allegations … Well, I suppose it came down to much simpler questions for them.

But here’s the problem. For many of us on the left (or even the centre), who believe Key is not to be trusted, it’s very difficult to see how others could ignore what we see as pretty substantive evidence of wrongdoing. And it is conversely very easy to write off those who gave National their renewed and strengthened third term as selfish, ignorant or much worse, based on some of the stuff I’ve seen flying around social media.

I urge you all — please do not limit your relationships with people based on their voting preferences, and please do not attack them for their position. (Though if you feel they are resorting to damaging rhetoric, of course I believe you should be clear that you do not see things that way.)

When we all retreat into our ideological corners, it becomes very difficult to discuss issues, and near impossible for us to agree upon anything. And one of the big things I am discovering post-election is that people cast their votes for a number of different reasons. No, not all of them make sense to me. But they are what they are and you won’t change anyone’s mind if the conversation is accusatory or altogether absent.

This election campaign was one of the weirdest ones New Zealand has perhaps ever had. And I can’t really hold it against people if they retreated from the chaos into something that presented itself as stability. And for many people, I think it did come down to that.

For others, it was the same problem as the 2011 election — what they perceived as “negative campaigning” from the ideological left. (That it mostly came from third parties was clearly beside the point for those people.) And I guess I can’t hold it against those people either. There certainly was a lot of “change the government” talk, and some of it came courtesy of persons who simply were not trusted by a broad swath of New Zealanders. (And this one doesn’t fall along ideological lines. Many progressive “lefties” didn’t like Kim Dotcom either. I think that is well evident now, looking at the election results.)

The problem is, although Labour did try to run a clean positive campaign (even going so far as using the word in their motto, as though we might not realise otherwise) it didn’t really look that way to many people given the kind of external stuff that was going on, especially given that Key kept saying it was a left-wing smear, and since all the parties on the left bought into the allegations, I suppose for some that was all the confirmation they needed that he was correct.

For those who do trust Key (and I might not be one of them, but I must acknowledge their point of view), they saw the left campaign as not just accusations against him, but accusations that there was something wrong with New Zealand. And the National campaign said the opposite — New Zealand’s great, we’re headed in the right direction, don’t you worry, National’s got your back. Also, we’re stable as fuck. Don’t you like stability? Yeah you do.

Perhaps the left parties could have looked a lot more stable if they had co-operated with each other more. I was pleased to hear such sentiments from David Cunliffe post-election. I hope Labour have learnt from this election, because they didn’t seem to learn an awful lot from their 2011 defeat. (Obviously I don’t have all the solutions to Labour’s problems. I wish I did.)

But here’s my point. Those of us on the political left might well spend some time in contemplation at our loss. But more than that, contemplation at National’s win.

I urge you — talk to people who voted for National. Keep your cool. Find out why. They have their reasons, and I promise you, they aren’t all selfish or stupid. It’s infantilizing and arrogant to assume that.

Believe it or not, many people who voted National in this election care just as much as you do about New Zealand. They just have different ideas about what’s the best thing for the country. And I know it’s difficult, given that many of us who are socially progressive feel like we see something National voters don’t (or won’t) about the state of inequality, poverty, environmental damage, media manipulation, mass surveillance and the economy, but I wonder if we need to swallow that attitude occasionally and try to hear people out a bit more (though I hope you realise I direct these comments at those of us who have the luxury and privilege to be a little more removed from the hardships many are suffering).

Maybe if you can have the right conversations, you’ll find out something that surprises you. Maybe not, but if we can try to have respectful conversations now, my hope is we can build something more constructive for all of us. Even if that is entirely limited to mutual respect and nothing else, that would be a pretty massive achievement in my mind. After all, no argument ever got resolved without mutual goodwill.

Now, more than ever, we need to find the middle ground.

And yes, that means the political parties on the left need to negotiate their own middle-ground and be more co-operative with each other, but I also think we as citizens need to try to find middle ground with our fellow citizens. We need to try to find the room to understand each other. We need to try to find a way to live with each other.

I know that none of this addresses what many of you perceive as violence towards the poor, or beneficiaries, or the school system or a multitude of other issues, and I’d like to assure you that I do share your concerns.

I just am not sure that we actually help those things by attacking or outright rejecting that which we do not like or understand fully. If we do that, aren’t we the same as those who refuse to read Dirty Politics because it’s a “left-wing smear”, or those people who didn’t think there was any substance in “The Moment of Truth” solely because it was associated with someone they didn’t like?

I am not suggesting that we take the high road. I am suggesting we take the middle path, and perhaps along the way, we might find some wisdom.

None of us are perfect. But one thing is certain — we are all human, and many of us care deeply about the future of this country, no matter who we voted for or what simple or complex reason we had for doing so.

This election, we have the chance to do something really exciting. We get to vote in an MMP Government.

I know, I know, we’ve had MMP in name since 1996, after not one, but two referenda on the issue. In spite of this, in practise, we’ve pretty much had a mostly-two-party system in the intervening nearly twenty years since then, with alternate National- or Labour-majority coalitions having the controlling voices in parliament.

Wow, twenty years is a long time. I was in Primary School when my parents’ generation campaigned to change our electoral system. I’ve been voting for a decade, and we still haven’t had a really equal coalition government.

But I am grateful to those of my parents’ generation who fought so hard to get us MMP, because it is a great system. We just need to trust in it and really utilise it.

First, I want to point out that National and the hard-right have always disliked MMP and have campaigned heavily in favour of FPP on and off the whole time we’ve had it (and before), through both fair means and foul. Notably, a recent failed campaign, Vote for Change in 2011, detailed in Dirty Politics (chapter: El Rushbo of Aotearoa).

So it should come as no surprise that one of National’s classic electioneering tactics (“You don’t know what government you get with MMP, but you do when you vote for National”) is being used again this election cycle, and discussed in the media with some frequency.

Paula Bennett is very much on message in this debate between her and Jacinda Ardern, where she tells Jacinda that Labour policies are unaffordable when combined with the Green Party’s. Jacinda, with a long history of standing up to PB, rightly points out that they are not part of the Green Party.

Likewise, Metiria Turei and Russel Norman are fielding lots of questions about their policies combined with Labour’s, which they have answered by saying that is a question for post-election discussions. Of course, the larger the slice of vote they get, the more they can push for, and it feels like the Green party is gathering momentum in a big way: they’re experienced, credible, and they have strong policy and a strong support base built up over years in parliament watching and learning.

(A quick note on Winston “King-maker” Peters, New Zealand First and the most recent polling. It is possible that he will end up having a deciding voice in the conclusion of post-election coalition discussions. But let’s remember that while almost every poll in the last election overestimated National’s support by around 5%, and Teflon John seems to be on a downward trajectory, the polling has been all over the place in the last few weeks and will continue to be. It is folly to assume that the kind of results we’re seeing now will hold, or as Russel Norman so very sensibly and truthfully says: “it’s dynamic at the moment”. Honestly, Patrick Gower, don’t you know about counting your polls before the election’s hatched?)

And Internet-Mana, those young upstarts (with Hone Harawera and Laila Harré respectively at the helms, and Dotcom providing the funds) have somehow turned into the rockstars of the election campaign if you listen to people who’ve attended their events. Not that you’d know that if you watched the news, because, you know, the party’s supposedly in chaos. But to my mind, what they’re achieving is pretty amazing — a lot of Internet-Mana supporters are young people whose voice was so conspicuously absent in the last election. If they’re attracted to vote in this election by the enthusiasm of the Internet-Mana message that politics is for everyone to participate in, then we all win. (“Only 5.2 percent of people aged 65 years or over did not vote in the 2011 General Election, compared with 42 percent of people aged 18–24 years” Statistics NZ.)

Chaos, obviously:

chaos

This election is more exciting than we’ve had in years.

It’s not just Internet-Mana and their new take on election billboards.

It’s not just Dirty Politics revealed.

It’s not because we have some minor parties in the pool who are strong, united and credible.

It’s not just because the Smiling Assassin is losing his grip on our fellow countrymen’s hearts and minds and being hounded by media and pressured like never before. (And don’t get me wrong, I love that people are finally seeing a little of the Key I’ve long suspected lurks in the background.)

It’s because we finally have a shot at the government we decided on twenty years ago but have never quite had. We finally have a credible group of political parties, who need each other and have to negotiate like never before. It might be a little slower to make decisions and pass law, but haven’t you heard? Slow and steady wins the race.

Because I want our politicians to have to talk things out and discuss them. I don’t want questionable laws passed under expediency. I don’t want our executive to override parliament. I definitely don’t want laws passed that are in conflict with the rule of law itself. And I don’t want a party in power that doesn’t know how to compromise.

It’s really important that there be active, thorough and rigorous debate around law and policy. A true coalition government could provide that.

A truly multi-party coalition, with a more even balance of power, can work to hold our elected officials to account — to hold each other to account.

And it’s not just debate and argument. For the first time, I think we’ve got a group of parties who actually might have more similarities than differences in their policy issues. They’re on the same page about a lot, never mind that it might be different sentences on that page. This is a good place to start in a negotiation.

Poverty, inequality, the environment, the economy, health and education are all on the table. And those are the key ingredients that make up the essence of the society we live in. Those are good things to discuss!

And that conversation will be an interesting one, not only because each party will need each other, but because they’ve all had a taste of the years of being in opposition together, and they’ve had to figure out how to work with each other with a controlling government who’d rather bully, belittle and avoid than be held to any kind of account or take any responsibility for issues raised. (Seriously, you should watch question time in parliament, if everybody did, I doubt the right honorable John Key would have ever had the nice guy reputation he held until recently; New Zealanders are not fans of arrogance at all.)

Bryan Bruce:
Screen shot 2014-08-28 at 11.32.41 AM

 

rowing

In National’s latest ad campaign, John Key and the National Party are doing what they’ve always done — using our electoral system to take a jab at the opposition parties. (The boat with the red, green and purple people in life jackets rowing in opposite directions. Yeah, we get it, National, it represents the opposition parties. Haw haw!)

But it goes further than that: it’s a jab at the MMP system that gives more people a voice and enables a diversity of participation that we fought for and we should actually embrace. More people get a chance for their voice to be heard! We get to explore the next phase in our democratic system! That’s awesome! It’s exciting! It’s not a problem; it’s the solution to one.

When National makes fun of MMP by proxy, they are not only making fun of the regular New Zealanders who worked hard in the past to bring us that system, but the inevitable and promising future of our chosen inclusive political system and utilising its best qualities: co-operation, compromise, communication and a shared vision of the future woven together from the many diverse points of view in New Zealand society.

No, it’s not always going to be easy, but maybe making new laws shouldn’t be as easy as it’s been under National for the last six years. I’m not sure how great some of those fast and easy laws are. Probably not that great if the “a body as authoritative and dispassionate as the Law Society feels forced to report to the United Nations that the Government in New Zealand is acting in conflict with the rule of law” (NZHerald).

So what sort of society do we want to be? Compromising and caring, working together to make something more than the sum of its parts?

Or a big group of bullies, who don’t listen, break the law, don’t care about half of us, try to trick us rather than woo us, and think they’re above the rule of law, while they race to the finish line leaving most of us struggling in their wake?

I know what I want.

A positive vote is a vote for any of the parties of the left right now, because they’re going to be part of building a co-operative future in politics, not one of bullying and standover tactics that leaves most of us struggling to keep up.

 

If you’ve got a spare eighteen minutes, this short film by Planetary Collective is a wholly worthwhile way to spend it. Here’s what they’re saying about this over on Vimeo:

“On the 40th anniversary of the famous ‘Blue Marble’ photograph taken of Earth from space, Planetary Collective presents a short film documenting astronauts’ life-changing stories of seeing the Earth from the outside – a perspective-altering experience often described as the Overview Effect.

The Overview Effect, first described by author Frank White in 1987, is an experience that transforms astronauts’ perspective of the planet and mankind’s place upon it. Common features of the experience are a feeling of awe for the planet, a profound understanding of the interconnection of all life, and a renewed sense of responsibility for taking care of the environment.

‘Overview’ is a short film that explores this phenomenon through interviews with five astronauts who have experienced the Overview Effect. The film also features insights from commentators and thinkers on the wider implications and importance of this understanding for society, and our relationship to the environment.”

And you can donate to the Planetary Collective’s kickstarter for their feature-length documentary ‘Continuum’ here.

Ignorance, disinterest or head-in-the-sand syndrome: the Ponzi scheme that is our financial system

I’ve come to realise people don’t really understand how the economy works and often aren’t really that interested. Look, I know why — I mean, I wasn’t either until a few years ago, when it became clear to me that maybe it was something I should be interested in. I suppose in a way, it’s easy to feel like it doesn’t affect you (which I think is crazy, but what do I know?). I suppose that’s what happens when people feel alienated from the systems that govern their world. Anyway, I suspect a lot of people think:

  1. It’s the government’s job to know about these things, so why should they bother, and
  2. The government always has their best interests at heart, right?

Maybe it’s naïve (it certainly seems so to me), but I can understand why people might not be interested in getting involved; we have enough to think about already, what with choosing what kind of car to buy, getting other people to think we are cool, and (on a more serious note) trying to make ends meet. Not everyone has the inclination or desire to know about these things.

But for those who do care, and don’t know, let me give you a quick rundown. This is the super-simplified version, and I’m going to be up front with you and admit that my own knowledge on these things is limited and basic.

So, most people think that money is made by our governing bodies. That’s not really true. I think that maybe it used to be true, but since the advent of computers, most money is in fact not physical at all, and exists simply as a series of numbers in a shared database, created by banking systems. Of course we still print real money. That’s what the federal reserve, treasury, or reserve bank is for (among other things). But most money is not created this way.

Instead, the majority of the money in the world is brought into existence only when a loan is taken out from a bank. So, in this way, most money created is actually a negative balance and is actually fictional. Seriously, when you go to the bank and get a loan, that money doesn’t really exist, but is simply some digits typed into a box, which then appear in your account. You can then give those digits to others.

Okay, so far so simple? Here’s where the catch comes in. Because this (majority of) money comes into existence as debt, as a negative balance, it means effectively that all the debt (or fictional money) really grossly outweighs all the real money in the world. So, while it might be possible for an individual to pay back their personal debt, it not possible for everyone in the world to pay back their debt. Because there just isn’t as much real money as there is negative money. This is a little tricky to get your head around, so let’s check out this video (it’s a little cheesy and not the most sophisticated but it explains the origins of this system quite well):

 

This is basically fractional reserve banking in a nutshell (only a fraction of the deposits a bank holds are required to be held in reserve = fractional reserve banking). And this is why everyone’s gotten so upset since the global financial crisis; because they realised our global financial system was basically the world’s biggest Ponzi scheme. What makes it even worse, is that the only thing that keeps this scheme going, aside from ever-increasing debt, is people believing that the system is stable. Which is the very thing that people are now beginning to question.

But wait, there’s more! The other thing this system relies upon is ever increasing consumption of resources. Capitalism is a system that relies upon infinite expansion, infinite growth, infinite increase. The problem there being (if you hadn’t spotted it already), we live in a finite world. Furthermore, we’re starting to realise that we’re actually going to have to consume a little less pretty soon, because our (mis)management of resources has been, to put it lightly, unsustainable.

The problem is that a lot of people seem not to care; if they can still make lots of money and feel safe, then why should they? And, dear reader, we’re almost back in the bubble we were in pre-meltdown five years ago.  Not too many people saw the bubble itself as the problem, what was a problem was the chance that the bubble might burst. In other words, living in a dream world is okay, as long as no one wakes me up from that dream.

Welcome to the 21st Century; don’t look too closely and you won’t notice the cracks in the system.

Lack of perceivable incentives to change

Our friendly politicians (by “our”, I mean the US) have helped (whether this was their intention or not) to create this. The economic collapse wasn’t allowed to happen because of the banking bail-out(s), which essentially meant that no one there learned any lesson except that they were “too big to fail”. This sort of means that reality is on hold for them and they can keep making more of the crazy kinds of decisions they were making circa 2006, with no fear of repercussion. If only life were that easy for the little fish!

Probably it would’ve made more sense to bail out individual mortgages and let the banks fail (ala Iceland), but they didn’t and they haven’t. Our only hope is that the US government (and the UK government, and all the other major players on the financial field) get it together and manage to pass some regulations that have meaning. Then I suppose they will have to give their regulating bodies some power to actually regulate.

Environmentally, we’re seeing the same problems with slightly different uniforms – lack of incentives financially rather than morally. In the US, the EPA, the regulating body who decides matters of potential environmental and human impact, (they do things like decide whether a pesticide is safe for use on food) rely on research carried out by the very corporations who stand to gain from having their substance pass. Okay, it seems to make sense to place the burden of proof on those who want to license something for use, but the problem is the strength of these proofs. They aren’t required, for example, to look at effects of substances on subsequent generations that may be affected. Overall, it seems to me to be a massive conflict of interests — especially when for most corporations, their only real interest is the bottom line, and making money for their stakeholders.

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