Speaker by Various Artists

20

Darkness in New York

by Graeme Tuckett

I'm a New Zealander who recently moved to New York City. I really wonder if anyone who isn't here understands just how nuts this place is right now, or how close this presidential race is going to be.

The Republican convention is happening in Ohio: A state in which anyone over 21 years old can carry whatever guns they own in plain sight, in any public place. Not just your standard issue Glock pistol on the hip, but a full military style assault rifle, slung over your shoulder as you contemplate which political rally to attend that night or which shopping mall to have lunch at.

There are at least 10,000 people in Ohio tonight who have come only to protest. These include groups from what we might loosely call the far left and the far right. And all of them can carry a gun if they choose.

In Ohio, you don't need a firearms license . The State doesn't even ask for background checks of gun purchasers.

Someone organising the Republican convention thought being in Ohio was a good idea. If you were endlessly cynical of human nature – or at least that brand of human nature that manifests itself in the organising committees of the Republican party – you might even think that they are hoping someone gets shot. Trump is openly campaigning on the 'Law and Order' platform that is always the first and last refuge of the bully and the closet racist. Violence in Ohio as the convention unfolds will only increase his popularity.

The anti-gun lobby meanwhile, by which we mean pretty much the entire Democratic party and a majority of American citizens, can't even get a law passed that would prevent someone on the 'terrorist no-fly' list from buying a gun.

Yep. You can be banned from boarding an aircraft in this country, but still be legally able to buy an AK 47 and a few thousand rounds of ammunition. Even an amendment watering the legislation down to 'hand-guns are allowed but not automatic rifles' was defeated by the Republicans. And this happened in a country that doesn't even have a Republican president. Yet.

Trump's choice of the ultra-conservative Mike Pence as running mate is frightening for all sorts of pragmatic reasons. It was widely believed that the multi-billionaire Koch brothers, who have raised between $700 million and $900 million to pour into this election, were not about to open up their wallets for Trump. But the appointment of Pence – a longtime Koch favourite – will probably change that.

The Trump campaign, that was looking a little under-resourced, should now have access to the single largest political war-chest in US history.

A CBS news poll put Trump and Clinton at a level 40% each earlier this week. And that was before the Republican convention, where, unless Trump embarrasses himself even more catastrophically than he already has – which doesn't seem possible – he will get another rating bump.

The very real possibility is that Trump will ease ahead in some polls this week or next. And that will put him in the debating position that he is most comfortable in: that of the mocker and the bully.

Clinton seems subdued, nervous and kind of joyless. Her appeals to common sense and our better angels are the only tactic she really has open to her – beyond her own version of 'getting tough on crime', which everyone knows is a card Trump basically owns – but appeals to American common sense haven't really worked for a generation or more.

Even here in the heart of liberal/democratic New York City, I see just as many 'Hillary for Jail 2016' teeshirts as I do 'Dump Trump'.

As HL Mencken wrote in 1926, in what must be the most misquoted 'quote' of all time:

No one in this world, so far as I know — and I have searched the records for years, and employed agents to help me — has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people. Nor has anyone ever lost public office thereby.

Even a single month of trudging and training around this place, watching the news, listening in on bar-arguments, talking to neighbours on the subway and in the queue at the pizza joint has taught me one thing. My cosy liberal assumption back in New Zealand – that even if Trump won the nomination, he would still get toasted in the actual election – I don't subscribe to it any more.

This race is going to be close. And the tenser, uglier and – god forbid, but you know it's coming – more violent this world, country and campaign get between now and November, the more it will play into Trump's tiny little hands.

9

Housing for the disabled is a collective responsibility

by Tom Adson

I have a very good and dear friend who the New Zealand government recognises as having a disability.

He is 41 years old and lives with his ageing parents. The primary carers are transitioning from a supporting and role to one where they will in all probability become consumers, no longer ‘free of cost’ providers.

My friend's dream is to live independently in a place he can call his own in a community where he feels safe and is accepted for who he is. He is gentle. He is kind. He would love to have a job, but the disability acts as a brick wall that prevents him from getting one because of discrimination and ignorance, or the inability to add value to an employer in the short term. Or he would love to use his skill set effectively to run a competitive business and make money in the manner that the government expects.

My friend is one of many in New Zealand – so who becomes “loco parentis” (a legal term for “in place of the parent”)? Government is the maker of law and as such is responsible to ensure that just laws are in place and adhered to, including adherence to the Human Rights Act.  

A situation under the law has developed where IHC (formerly the Intellectually Handicapped Children’s charity) is being encouraged to purchase ex-state housing, and presumably the land that goes with it. IHC is a ‘not for profit’ entity, but somehow it is expected to generate income in order to provide a worthwhile and essential service.

This strategy makes sense if you are out to make a profit from those who have disabilities. Has the government got shoulders like a Coke bottle, where the accumulated wealth trickles down and around into the pockets of property developers – or square shoulders that are prepared to carry and share the load?

Disabilities are not confined to the intellect and to children alone. They cover a very broad base among (and within an even broader base within) communities, so there is a collective responsibility that must not focus on profit alone – which current policies appear to do.

In any case, the provision of money is not enough. A workforce across a broad spectrum will be required. Building standards must be complied with, and spaces made healthy and energy-efficient.

Smarter systems can become our best resource, to marshal great ideas, material resources and skills, including the skills that many people with disabilities have now or may discover.

The best societies are those that are prepared to generate a positive attitude towards the challenges of the day and overcome them. As Abraham Lincoln said at the Gettysburg address, “The methods and policies of the past are no longer appropriate for the future. We must think anew. We must act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves.”

This is something the government of New Zealand, which means all of us in a true democracy, must take heed. 

32

Sprawled out

by Awkward Orchid

I had heard about gentrification, but I never thought that it would happen to the sleepy towns I grew up in.  It was this thing that had happened in the central city suburbs. But of course it would happen there, it made sense that the houses closest to the city – all those beautiful old villas on leafy streets – were expensive. That those neighbourhoods had changed.

Of course apartments and terraced housing would go in closer to the city. But for it to happen 40 minutes out of Auckland, in the places I grew up in, was horrifying. Everything that is going up in Franklin and Rodney breaks my heart. How far must the sprawl go?

I have always lived in the 09 – I call the Rodney and Franklin Districts home.  We moved out south after my parents' separation. Living in south-South Auckland, going to Manukau was a trip to "the city" when I was a kid. My memories of creepy Santa are from when he resided in Manukau.

I grew up in what was a southside semi-rural town and the family (rented) home is in the part of town known locally as the "dark side", because Maori live there. I’ve always been disgusted by racism in this town because it was the white kids who picked on me for being poor and the brown kids who walked home with me.

I didn’t know I was poor until I was teased at a school in this town for wearing hand-me-downs and not having duraseal on my books. The kids I walked home from school with, most didn’t escape the traps of poverty, debt, gangs, and suicide.  The things that broke families when I was a kid are still breaking families today. And comparing government policies of today against those of yesteryear, it feels like the trap is harder to escape.

When John Key told us to google on Trade Me for houses in great Auckland under $500,000, there were houses in the "dark side" of this town I grew up in. And it really fucking bothers me that despite all of our hard work we can’t even afford to buy a house in the part of town that people actively avoided before this housing shit got out of control.   Do these commuters moving to this town even know they’re buying houses a family rented for 20+ years? And kicking them out as a result?

In the current market, we cannot afford to buy, but if prices dropped by 40% [we] would be able to.  Unfortunately, the city is where the work is. It is a depressing reality that outside of the main cities regional New Zealand does not have the infrastructure to support job growth (especially in high tech, or work-from-home situations enabled through IT) to encourage people to live there.

Sometimes I google houses on trade me in places I can afford (all over the country) and I think, "Yes! I could live there", so I look for jobs in that community and there is nothing for my skill set.  And yes, I could work at The Warehouse or even McDonalds.  But there is no work in the field that I have spent the last decade building a career in.  The career that I am now studying to further myself in because that bit of paper will give me options instead of plateauing.

I lived in Grey Lynn for four years up until recently but we had to move from the isthmus because we were priced out of the one-bedroom-unit-with-no-lawn-or-private-space rental market.  I hear all these stories about how Grey Lynn used to be and now I’m witnessing that change happen where I grew up and it’s fucking heartbreaking.

I’d happily move to regional, rural NZ if you could guarantee me a job and financial security but there’s nothing out there.  There is no infrastructure to support growth in these small towns.

I recently read a piece by Greg Pritchard and Stephen Jennings quotes and found myself agreeing with what I thought was common sense.  This requires work from all political parties, but instead it will become a messy and ugly election issue (and looking at Brexit and Trump, I am scared of how ugly NZ has the potential to get).

Gentrification sucks, we need to empower and lift people so they can afford to stay in their communities. That's what I’m about.

91

The Government you Deserve

by Adam Hunt

From the age of eight when I landed in my brown corduroy shorts and walked off the plane into horizontal sleet, England was my home. I was there for 18 years, joking that you don’t get that for murder . We went to live in rural England in a traditional farming community. I had some time off school while the English kids caught up with my superior Kiwi schooling, then got an education, a job and a wife.

I was granted release in the mid-nineties, and after a brief sojourn in Sydney (where we should all spend a year in our twenties) got back home. It was a bit of an accident – my wife wanted to go back to England, and I suggested we go via Auckland. People who have seen me tell this story 20 years later smile when I choke up describing sitting in the shuttle bus and smelling New Zealand blowing in the window. I cried with relief, and stayed.

Those eighteen years in Britain were something I cherish. I was educated, I got married, I learned about the origins of our democratic system. I marched and rioted, got rid of a Prime Minister and drank significant quantities of brown water. 

But I always felt like an outsider, because I could never quite understand why the British seemed to take such delight in division: the class system just completely baffled me.

I lived in Suffolk, a postcard county with a history of being bolshy. The main town, Ipswich, was a fairly safe Labour seat. But it was surrounded by an ocean of blue. My thinking about the paradox of this English division began trying to figure out why the poorest members of British society (farm labourers, meat workers etc.) for which working conditions have historically been appalling, clearly thought it was in their interest to vote for the people who owned the land.

Sitting in my local looking at men with bodies broken by 50 years of hard labour and listening to them explaining why the guy in the Range Rover was such a decent chap (and lovely children - the nanny doing such a great job, what tykes they are when they come home from boarding school in the summer) would leave me open mouthed (and in need of more brown water).

I went to a solid state school of about 1200 kids 13+. We didn’t get a huge variety of subjects (no Latin on the menu) but I had a good education. Later on I discovered that on Wednesday afternoons (sports: a time when I could generally be found somewhere other than school premises) some of my cohort went to play golf. My mate shyly shared this years later, explaining how his parents had been careful to stress the importance of discretion - keep it quiet or the wrong sort of boys might want to go, and where would that end?

By the time we got to the nineties I had spent two years receiving final demands from the council for refusing to pay the poll tax and been on a trip to Trafalgar Square for a peaceful protest. We got rid of Thatcher (at the price of a VAT rise so those who could least afford still ended up paying - but a partial win). But when John Major was elected (he was anointed initially, as will happen shortly for Cameron's replacement) I couldn’t cope with the dissonance of it any more. We left.

From overseas it has been less frustrating, but still just as baffling. In the UK today they have a principled, thoughtful leader who has never been embroiled in expense or offshore trust issues, who has a long track record of working hard at the coal face for ordinary people. Who has a support base that spans the young and old, the black and the white, Muslims and Atheists. He isn’t afraid to call out the batshit inherited decisions of the establishment. But his name is Corbyn, and he doesn’t sit well with, well, some constituency that deems him inappropriate - we saw it in New Zealand with Shearer, there is something in our psyche that distrusts authenticity.

Pundits are describing the swing to Trump and UKIP (for they share the same DNA: cynical fascist thinking that appeals to the most basic of our instincts) as a call to reject the establishment. But for some reason this hasn’t quite managed to find its target. In our world have been embroiled in an experiment over the last 35 years that is just as ideologically flawed at that which it pretends to oppose.

We will one day view neo-liberal dogma as a fantasy invented by social scientists masquerading as mathematicians. Marx was an economist, and it is another bunch who have invented their own nonsense. This is at the root of our problems, because it fundamentally fails to consider us as a social species. It is an ideology that assumes everyone is a sociopath (which is why it tends to be sociopaths who float to the top of it).

So somehow in the UK (and to a certain extent the US and NZ) a well founded instinct that we are being screwed has been redirected. I can only admire the brilliance with which this desire for change has been directed away from the real cause of our problems. Somehow in the last 30 years it has become acceptable to promote the interests of the few over the needs of the many.

Instead of doing something simple that would have worked (e.g. voting Labour, or even better adopting proportional representation) the British have been carefully shepherded to an outcome that will do nothing but reinforce the position of the elite, promoting more fear and infighting among the people who it will hurt the most.

And that includes the British Labour party. At a time when they could have risen triumphant over a divided Tory party, they have chosen instead to sacrifice the good of their country and the needs of the many on the alter of egos and sense of entitlement*.

Nice work fellas. As Churchill said, in a democracy you get the government you deserve.

 

*Yes you Benn: this was no time for Daddy issues.

378

A Disorderly Brexit

by John Palethorpe

The United Kingdom elects 73 MEPs to the European Parliament every five years, from twelve regional constituencies. Each region has a number of MEP’s, proportional to their size. Proportion is important, because it’s one of the few election processes in the UK which does not use First Past The Post.

No UK European Parliamentary Election turnout has ever exceeded a turnout of 38.2%. In the eight elections between 1979 and 2014, the UK’s turnout has consistently been lower than the rest of Europe.

Britain never took the European Parliament seriously. It was seen as a place where politicians who couldn’t win a proper seat, using a proper system like FPTP, were sent by their party to get experience. Who’s your local MEP? Well, there’s four or five of them from different parties. Right.

Quite often the complaint was that MEPs got paid handsomely, and they do get reimbursed very well, for doing nothing. Except they weren’t doing nothing, but you’d rarely hear about their efforts from them or their parent party in the UK.

The Parliament itself was in another country, easily dismissable. The political media bought into it. Election results weren’t viewed in terms of relevant to the European Parliament itself, but as indicators of the popularity of the Government in Britain, or the popularity of Opposition parties. The idea that the elections themselves were a way to voice discontent, to protest vote, began to take hold.

It did not go un-noticed. UKIP gained 100,000 votes (1% of the total) and no seats in their first tilt at the European Elections in 1994. By 2014 that had swelled to 4.3 million votes (26.6 of the vote). In 1999 the BNP mirrored UKIP by gaining 100,000 votes. A decade later they’d polled just over 800,000 - before they imploded in spectacular and satisfying fashion.

This matters because Nigel Farage, the most visible member of UKIP, and Nick Griffin of the BNP could not buy a seat in the UK Parliament during this time. And they tried. Each time they did, the unvarnished racist fascism of the BNP proved too unpalatable for the electorate and Farage’s slightly more bonk-eyed euroscepticism failed to attract enough disenfranchised Tory and Labour voters.

Those same voters were happy to send them to Brussels though, highlighting a particularly bloody-minded attitude towards both the right-wing and Europe. Sending parties whose sole aim is to sever ties with the European Union to serve in the European Parliament. Very British.

A friend of mine working for an NGO in Brussels once bemoaned us sending the worst people over to Brussels as our representatives. The relationship was being soured by the refuseniks who took their Parliamentary seats, only to play to the cameras back home.

Electing politicians who refuse to engage with the political system they are elected to be representatives to, and who leverage off their refusal to gain populist support at home. While at the same time the other, traditional, parties of Government failed to effectively communicate just what it was their MEPs were doing across the North Sea. That's a recipe for a democratic deficit and a democratic disaster.

Brexit isn’t a sudden seismic event, it's not a political earthquake. The language being used by politicians of all stripe implies that it is though. But it’s not. It’s more of a slow erosion process, but admitting that would mean that those who were in positions of political influence during the long goodbye would have to accept responsibility for their utter failure to engage on the European Union.

As I mentioned previously, when the European Parliamentary elections were held, the talk was always about how it would affect the Government of the day or the opposition. The warning signs of the BNP’s 800,000 votes in 2009 were only seen as problematic for local councils, not for the UK’s relationship with the European Union.

That’s why there’s an awful lot of people openly expressing regret at the Leave vote, despite having voting in favour of it. They’d become accustomed to using votes on Europe as a protest, and also used to protest votes not really changing anything in a First Past The Post system.

By not taking the European Parliament seriously, political parties and the media ensured that it didn’t really mean anything to British voters. The only people who took it seriously and were vocal about it were those seeking to leverage political capital from it, like Farage and UKIP.

People complain that the Remain campaign were muddled and uninspiring. That’s hardly surprising given that no political party had managed a full throated and authentic defence of the European Union in over a decade. Instead they attempted to align themselves as understanding the concerns of eurosceptics, attempting to triangulate their way to regaining votes they’d lost to UKIP instead of attempting to actually defend the European Union.

Meanwhile, the Leave campaign spent nearly twenty years practising their lines and establishing a track record of solid xenophobia, nationalism and right wing popularism.

The voters never took the European Parliament seriously. Neither did the big political parties. UKIP did, they saw an opportunity to gain political authenticity, secure a sweet funding stream and gain nationwide profile through their positions as MEPs. Trotsky’s French Turn re-purposed for Little Englanders. There’s no small irony in that.

In a political environment where news-cycles and term limits create a short-termism, Farage and UKIP have played the long game. So too have Nicola Sturgeon, Alex Salmond and the SNP, who have seen UK Governments come and go while remaining committed to their cause. Both parties have benefit hugely from the traditional big parties of Labour and the Conservatives taking the electorate for granted, viewing certain areas as ‘theirs’ and not noticing the disintegration of trust in them.

There are echoes of the Scottish Independence referendum of 2014 in the Brexit result and its immediate aftermath. The winning campaign has immediately hit reverse and is backing out of the core promises made to voters should they choose Leave. Voters are understandably angry at this, much in the same way the Scottish electorate were. In that case their wrath was reserved for Pro-Union Labour, who lost almost all of their Scottish seats in Westminster in 2015 and nearly all of their Scottish Parliament seats earlier this year.

Where will voters target their wrath should Brexit fail to deliver the no immigration, money for everything, good old Great Britain promises that were made? David Cameron has already resigned, going from the man who helped save the Union in 2014 to the first Tory Leader to win a majority in 23 years in 2015, to the guy who fucked a pig and then the Union. When he first arose to prominence, it was joked that the ‘heir to Blair’ as he was then couldn’t possibly out-do Blair in terms of resentment. Nobody’s laughing now.

The leadership contest should see Boris Johnson fulfil his destiny, having establishing his public-school buffoon reputation, and become leader of the Conservative Party. He’s an intensely dangerous politician, a smart man doing an impression of an idiot. Michael Gove is also in the ascendancy, which I can only assume is final proof that God does not exist.

That said, it won’t be all plain sailing. Only ⅔ of Conservative MPs backed Leave and there’s talk of an anti-Boris candidate. The eventual decision will be made by 100,000 or so Conservative Party members. That’s comforting. They elected Cameron last time.

The Parliamentary Labour Party is blaming Jeremy Corbyn, but they’ve been blaming him for everything since he was elected leader, against their wishes, by the party membership last year. They seem to be looking for a miracle leader who can solve a decades worth of decline within the Parliamentary Party, who are at least partly responsible for it.

Then there’s outside of England. Nicola Sturgeon attempting to retain Scottish EU membership should England and Wales leave and preparing for Indyref 2: Electorate Boogaloo. Sinn Fein calling for a unification vote for Northern Ireland, given Brexit wholly undermines the Belfast Accord of 1999. The sight of Ian Paisley MP, son of the Doctor, advising Northern Ireland residents to get a Republic of Ireland passport.

Spain offering joint sovereignty of Gibraltar, lest border controls make life unbearable for its British residents. Calais demanding that the UK take back the border to Dover, meaning an end to the refugee and migrant camps at the French port. The EU indicating that if Britain wants to leave then it should do so quickly, given it doesn’t want to stick around. Oh, and the world economy lost $2 trillion dollars - and that’s just on the vote outcome.

(I’m half expecting Argentina to make a dash for the Malvinas while everyone’s busy)

There’s the possibility it all grinds to an anti-climactic back down, that Article 50 is not activated and the UK doesn’t leave the E.U at all. That doesn’t make the disenchantment, disregard and outright hostility towards Europe and Westminster any less of a problem though. Nor the racism, xenophobia and divisions that the referendum has starkly illustrated.  An MP was MURDERED during the campaign by a right wing fascist, for heaven's sake. Cameron came to power speaking of Broken Britain. As he departs, it seems it is more broken than ever.

It is, without doubt, an exciting time for British politics. Exciting like the rush of adrenaline you get when you’re about to bin your car into a wall. Well, at least they’ve got control of the vehicle now.

I think.