BREAD AND CIRCUSES


Have you ever noticed how the New Zealand mainstream media goes ga-ga whenever a New Zealander – usually in the sports arena - has some degree of success? Suddenly nothing else matters.

This week the media got into a lather because Scott Dixon won the Indianapolis 500.

He won this by going around the oval track two hundred times and going faster than anyone else.

Only diehard motor fans will know anything at all about this race. The rest of might of vaguely heard of it or are completely ignorant of its existence. Or we just don’t care.

But the fact that a New Zealander (albeit with a pronounced American accent) won it apparently changes everything – well, that’s according to the mainstream media anyway.

Moments after the Dixon won the event, Pippa Wetzell on TV1’s Breakfast was struggling to make sense of its stupendous significance. After implying that watching racing cars go around a track 200 times was boring she then told us that the Indy 500 was ‘the most important race in the world’.

She didn’t look entirely confident about her claim though.

For the remainder of the day the media went into a Scott Dixon frenzy. By the time six o’clock came around, both TV1 and TV3 had decided Dixon’s victory was worthy of being the lead news item. By this stage TV1 and TV3 were describing the win as ‘historic’. Dixon was even being likened to Edmund Hilary.

This wasn’t journalism. It wasn’t even sports journalism. It was empty-headed cheerleading.

But this is par for the course with mainstream media. If a New Zealander won the World Egg and Spoon Championship then it would end up as the lead item on the evening television news - and that would be followed by some ghastly gushy interviews on Close Up and John Campbell.

And, worryingly, there’s a degree of nationalistic jingoism in the media chestbeating. It’s almost an ‘us’ against ‘them’ mentality. It’s ‘our boys’ against ‘the Poms’ or whoever the enemy is this week.

Former Listener editor Finlay McDonald once wrote that this nationalistic tubthumping was a product of ‘small county syndrome’ and that it betrayed a serious inferiority complex.

But I think something else might be happening here.

In the past twenty or so years New Zealand communities have been destroyed, fragmented and attacked by waves of ‘free market’ reforms.

And market culture has replaced the social democratic egalitarian ethos that existed in the post-war era. These days the values that are constantly promoted via the media are the values of the stockmarket, the values of venal capitalism.

But if it’s all about the individual and economic-self interest what is there to bind a country together? If you’re getting paid low wages, and struggling to make the rent why should you, well, just put up with it?

Hey, says the corporate media, its okay because we’re all ‘united’ behind Scott Dixon, the All Blacks (although this ‘brand' ain’t what it used to be) – or,non-sportingly, film director Peter Jackson. In TV1's words we're all 'One' - what's a little wealth disparity between friends?

TV1's promo for its upcoming Olympic Games coverage is very revealing in this respect.

Against a black backdrop there is a silver Olympics logo and a New Zealand fern logo. Then we hear a voice – it’s a TV1 continuity announcer – and he says, in reverential tones, ‘Ladies and Gentlemen, the national anthem of New Zealand’

The promotion is not about the actual sport but the promise of an award ceremony featuring a gold medal winning New Zealander. Already TV1,four months or so before the actual event, is bumping up the nationalist hype.

Karl Marx is often crudely characterised as being ‘anti-religious’. After all didn’t he say that religion was the opiate of the people?

However Marx, although not religious himself, was not anti-religious. What he did condemn was the role of religion in capitalist societies.

Religion was used to justify the status quo with all its economic injustice and political oppression (the rulers of society had a divine right to rule) and the working class were told to put up with their lot in life because there would be a better life waiting for them in Heaven.

This is what got the old man angry.

In our ever-increasing secular society though religion though just doesn’t cut the mustard as a binding social force.

In New Zealand – and elsewhere – sport is the media's new religion. The promise of Indy 500 winners, the All Blacks winning the Rugby World Cup, someone – preumably Valerie Villi – winning a gold medal at the Olympic Games, this is what is supposed to make us happy enough to put up with low wages, rising prices and redundancies.

Bread and circuses…

2008 BUDGET: LABOUR IGNORES BENEFICIARIES

Despite the fact that a June 2007 report prepared by the Ministry of Development revealed that beneficiaries are now financially worse off than they were after the infamous 1991 benefit cuts, beneficiaries got exactly nothing in the 2008 Budget.

Instead the Minister of Finance targeted his tax cuts principally at the mortgaged middle class, now being squeezed by high interest rates and rising prices.

Labour strategists regard 'the mortgage belt' as the party's core constituency but that constituency has been steadily drifting away to new pastures - namely John Key and the National Party.

Labour assumes - and its a mighty big assumption - that it can more or less rely on keeping the beneficiary vote - but that assumption may well blow up in its face.

Beneficiaries are angry that they have been ignored again - and may take their votes elsewhere. Personally, I think benficiaries would be better off voting Alliance later this year. This is a party that does have pro-worker and pro-beneficiary policies (more on this in future blogs).

Reading various pro-Labour blogs all of them have praised this Budget.

And what of beneficiaries? These insipid Labour bloggers have simply decided not to talk about them.

I’m used to intellectual and poltical dishonesty from diehard Labour supporters, but for these bloggers to ( as one Labour blogger did) describe this Budget as ‘socially responsible’ is about as bad as it gets.

SIDESHOW BOB PARKER: TOYS 'R US!



Fun-loving Christchurch Mayor Sideshow Bob Parker recently attended a bash for the website Slynkey.com.The site is aimed at young New Zealand women.

The site features a "sealed section" for reviews of dildos, bondage cuffs and erotic fiction.

Sideshow Bob got into the swing of things by presenting this 'lucky' young woman with a big pink vibrator.

Bob looks like he’s enjoying himself, doesn’t it? Obviously he's not 'struggling' with putting council rents up by 24 percent.

However this photo has since vanished from the Slynkey website. The website owners say they took down the photo because it was not ‘representative’ of the event. Whatever that means.

However you'll be happy to know that we'll be featuring this lovely photo on a regular basis throughout the rest of the year.

We invite readers to submit humourous captions, double entendres, etc.

MIKE WARD UPSETS NORMAN'S GRAND PLAN


Former Green Party MP Mike Ward has prevented co-leader Russel Norman getting into Parliament, replacing the exiting Nandor Tanczos.

The plan - cooked up by Norman and the parliamentary MPs - was for Tanczos to resign and for both Catherine Delahunty and Mike Ward (above Norman on the party list) to refuse to be an MP.

Ward though has cut Norman off at the pass. He won't play ball with Norman and so Norman won't be passing 'Go' and picking up a fat salary and free air travel.

Ward offered to take the place of Tanczos but that was rejected by the party leadership.

The media though has largely portrayed this disagreement as a bitter and contrary Ward getting his own back at Norman, who denied him the co-leadership spot. Also, the party hierarchy dropped Ward down to number 14 (from 8) party list despite the fact that he is very popular among the party membership.

Both the TV1 and TV3 news stories last night portrayed Ward as some old green eccentric - sewing his own clothes (gasp) and failed to explore Ward's comment that he was refusing to co-operate with Norman for the sake of the party.

I don't know a lot about Mike Ward but I do know he is a green campaigner of many years standing. He joined of the Green Party's forerunner, the Values Party, back in 1975.

Ward isn't a socialist but he is also no fan of free market capitalism and he has consistently tried to trace out an alternative - if somewhat idiosyncratic- vision for New Zealand. It's more or less a liberal left wing view I think, but it puts him at odds with a Green Party that has embraced the free market.

Co-leader Jeanette Fitzmaurice has said that the party is neither 'left wing' or 'right wing'. Apparently these are old labels that don't apply to the modern Green Party. This is just meaningless piffle and the fact that Fitmaurice sees no problem in working with a National-led Government just shows how theoretically and politically bankrupt the Greens are.

And what of the business-suited Russel Norman? Why, he has spoken of using the 'power' of 'the market' to address environmental concerns.

Norman has moved a long way right from his days in Australia when he described himself as a socialist (although he fails mention any of this in his ‘official’ biography on the Green Party website).

And then there's Nandor Tanczos. Well, this man wants his cake and eat it too. On one hand he says that the environmental movement has to be 'more radical' while the Green Party in parliament has to act conservatively and work with all the political parties - ie don't rock the boat.

Is it little wonder then that Mike Ward doesn't feel inclined to play ball with these people?

The Green Party is offering no alternative vision to the free market orthodoxy and, not surprisingly, is stagnating in the polls.

Under Fitzmaurice and Norman - backed by the parliamentary MPs -its a party going nowhere and in danger of being wiped out in November.

THE DANDY!

MORE TROUBLE FOR BOB: THE COALITION FOR FAIR RENTS GO TO THE OMBUDSMAN


The Coalition For Fair Rents has laid a complaint with the Ombudsman over the narrowly passed decision by the Christchurch City Council to raise council rents by a massive 24 percent.

The Coalition for Fair Rents said the increase in rents was made after a flawed and inadequate process .

The Coalition admits this is a last option, but says it is dealing with a Mayor and council that ‘doesn’t want to know’ about the misery it is causing.

Christchurch City Council chief executive and Sideshow Bob’s right hand man Tony Marryatt said the council's legal team was confident that the correct processes had been followed.

However this is Marryatt enagaging in a bit of PR bluster - the process by which this rent increase was arrived at is seriously flawed. It also reveals that this massive rent hike was motivated by neo-liberal ideology rather than by sensible policy making.

Marryatt – like Sideshow Bob - is another ‘free market’ ideologue.

Below is the written complaint lodged with the Ombudsman.

COMPLAINT TO OMBUDSMAN REGARDING CHRISTCHURCH CITY COUNCIL
DETAILS OF COMPLAINT
We are writing regarding the advice given to the Christchurch City Council to inform its decision to increase the rents for its social housing by 24% on 27 March 2008.
We believe that the council advice did not follow the decision-making requirements in Part 6 of the Local Government Act 2002 [the Act].
The advice provided to the Council
- was inadequate and flawed;
- did not consider all options;
- did not adequately assess the costs and benefits associated with each option;
- did not adequately consider the views of those affected or with an interest in the matter at each stage of decision-making;
- did not address the inconsistency with existing policies and plans.

In particular we note:
Flawed Information
1. The report to Council (27th March 2008) claimed that nearly all of the council’s tenants would meet the Ministry of Social Development’s housing affordability guidelines which identify that housing is affordable if its cost does not exceed 30% of gross income. The report had not applied the MSD formula correctly so this statement was not correct (see Appendix 1).
2. The Councillors were informed by officers that an approach had been made to central government for financial support. In fact at that point no formal approach had been made by Council to central government.
3. Councillors were informed by officers that "almost all" of the tenants would be eligible for the Accommodation Supplement, which would cover 70% of the increase. Officers would have had no reliable data on which to substantiate this as eligibility varies according to individual circumstance.
4. Over the period since the 27th March meeting, a variety of different reasons have been offered by the Mayor and Council staff for the large increase, including the need to raise a fund by 2015, the need to raise money for capital development, the need to ensure improved maintenance now and the need to ‘keep up’ with market rental prices in the city. The lack of clear reasoning appears to be an outcome of the flawed and poor quality information on which officers made the recommendation to Council.
Lack of Consultation and / or Consideration of Views
5. Section 78 of the Act requires that the Council gives consideration to the views and preferences of persons likely to be affected by or to have an interest in, the matter at each stage of decision-making. There is no evidence that the views and preferences of persons likely to be affected by or to have an interest in, the matter had been considered at each stage during this process.
6. Section 97 of the Act provides that the Special Consultative Procedure must be undertaken where the Council is making a decision which is inconsistent with the LTCCP. This decision seems inconsistent with the levels of service and financial statements specified in the LTCCP. The officers did not suggest a Special Consultative Procedure on this matter, nor did they table a recommended statement of proposal of consultation.
7. Section 79 of the Act allows councils to use their discretion regarding the extent or degree to which the decision-making processes (section 77 and 78) are applied. However, it requires that councils must, in making this judgement, have regard to the significance of the matter and the principles set out in Section 14 of the Act. When asked whether the Council needed to seek community views, the CEO informed the Council the Act gave them discretion to the degree to which it satisfied the decision-making process. However, he did not provide advice on the basis on which that judgement should be made, nor did he advise them that their own decision-making guide would suggest that more extensive consideration of community views was required.
8. The Council was not reminded that its own decision-making guide suggests it should " Err on the side of Caution” with regards to the level of efforts put into the process and considering community views (i.e. it suggests that is preferable to do a thorough process than use section 79 as a justification for a hasty process).
9. The Council was not informed that this matter could potentially trigger the significance threshold, based on the Council's own Policy on Significance .
Departure from Existing Policy
10. Section 80 of the Act provides that where a significant departure from a plan is proposed the Council must when making the decision clearly identify the inconsistency, the reasons for the inconsistency, and any intention of the local authority to amend the policy or plan to accommodate the decision. The recommendation to Council was inconsistent with the Council's Social Housing Policy , Housing Strategy , the Annual Plan and the LTCCP . The Council was not advised of these inconsistencies, the reasons for them or how these inconsistencies should be addressed.
Options not considered
11. The Council's decision-making guide clearly identifies that options should not be narrowly defined around variations of the favoured proposal. It states the officers should "represent a range of possible courses of action". The officers only presented three options: the preferred option, do nothing and an option which they argued would not address the issue (i.e. an inadequate option). It did not suggest other options, such as alternative funding (i.e. government funding, trust funding etc), partnerships with other providers, staggered increases or alternative asset management and development processes.

Inadequate Assessment of Benefits and Costs
12. Section 77 of the Act states that Council must assess the benefits and costs of each option in terms of its social, economic, environmental and cultural wellbeing. We believe that the officers did not adequately assess the costs and benefits associated with each option, particularly the health and social impact on housing tenants (despite the Council having endorsed the Health Impact Assessment of the Greater Christchurch Urban Development Strategy, which included a commitment to "ensure affordable housing options for all") .
13. The report to Council (27th March 2008) contained inadequate financial information and therefore did not sufficiently assess the costs and benefits. The need to spend $50m in about 2015 was used as a justification for a recommended rent increase of 24%. No evidence was provided that in seven years there would be a need to spend $50,000 each on 1000 units. No evidence was provided as to why the current annual surplus of about $4m per year could not adequately fund refurbishment.
14. The report stated that the average rent is an average of 58% of market rent. No advice was given as to how Council would go about assessing market rents given its current market share. The Social Housing Strategy identifies that “ninety per cent of the housing stock comprises bed-sits, studios and one-bedroom units. This represents 63% of the market for one-bedroom rental units in Christchurch”. This share of the market means that Council would have a significant influence on provision and rents in the market and market rents would not be an appropriate bench mark. No advice was given as to how Council would overcome this dilemma or how it could develop a more appropriate rent setting process.

STEPS WE'VE TAKEN TO RESOLVE THE COMPLAINT
We have attempted to resolve this matter by
- Writing to the Council requesting that it reconsider its decision.
- Providing additional information regarding the impact of the decision.
- Discussions with Councillors and council staff
- Offering to work with the Council on this matter.
Our efforts were sufficient to bring the matter back to the Council table in an extraordinary meeting on 28 April. At that meeting no further reference was made to the affordability criterion of 30% of gross income. The alternative measure of 80% of market rents was instead relied on. None of the other matters detailed above were addressed.
OUTCOMES SOUGHT
We would like the Council to
a). Halt the 24% increase
b). Seek and consider the views and preferences of persons likely to be affected by or to have an interest in, the matter, and to obtain community views, including undertaking a Special Consultative Procedure on this matter
c). Consider other options for addressing the perceived problem
d). Commission an independent health impact assessment regarding this matter, prior to making this decision

Sharon Torstonson
The Coalition for Fair Rents

THE PROBLEM WITH BOB


I've written a lot about Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker in recent weeks because he keeps on saying and doing things that are profoundly offensive.

His most distasteful action of late,of course, has been to increase the rents of council tenants by a massive 24 percent. This is an economic attack on some of Christchurch’s poorest and most disadvantaged people.

On my desk beside me is a copy of this morning’s The Press newspaper. Its leading news story is reporting that Christchurch social agencies are ‘bracing themselves for a harsh winter as price rises and cold weather combine in a perfect storm to batter the most vulnerable in the community.'

The article goes on to write about 81 year old pensioner Graham Reed who is facing a $30 rent rise for his council flat - as are most of his neighbours.

Mr Reed says he fears for his friends and neighbours. ‘The lady three or four flats down doesn't put her heater on. She just puts on three or four coats to keep warm. We're worried all right.’

This rent rise was inflicted on tenants when food, power and petrol prices are going through the roof. Food prices have risen over 10 percent over the past year.

And where is Mayor Bob Parker at this time when so many people are facing desperate and uncertain times?

Why, he is hob-nobbing with Irish boy band Westlife and talking grandly about a grandly expensive commuter rail system.

It was interesting to observe Sideshow Bob at the council meeting where he succeeded- backed by his council cronies-to push the rent increase through, against the wishes of local MPs, social and welfare agencies and church groups.

Parker barely acknowledged the large crowd in attendance (mostly council tenants), except for - in best headmasterly fashion -to threaten people with expulsion from the meeting if they dared to speak out.

But otherwise he was pretty damn uncomfortable and he swiftly left the meeting once it was all over.

A few days later an article appeared in The Press- probably written by his press officer - where Parker attempted to defend the rent increase. It's easier to do this, apparently, safely ensconced in you're mayoral office, away from the ugly masses.

The problem with Bob is that he doesn't like ordinary working people much.

Sideshow Bob doesn't mind passing by-laws and rules about what Christchurch people can or cannot do, he doesn't mind taking the rates money from ordinary people, he doesn't mind occasionally exploiting them for some political grandstanding (eg his so-called ‘fight' against boy racers), but he doesn't like to spend any time with them.

He doesn't want to hear how they're hurting, economically. He doesn't want to hear about they're dreams or aspirations.

Check out the photos on Bob’s mayoral website. There he is in the company of the rich, famous, the influential. This is Bob with his kind of people -the people who backed his mayoral campaign. There's not a council tenant in sight, no ordinary folk.

And Bob doesn't seem to mind what his mates say or do. So you're a right-wing bully who may still be associated with a bizarre right wing cult? No problem Dave Henderson - Bob still likes you because you're ‘entrepreneurial', you're made of 'the right stuff'.

You're a representative of the Chinese Stalinist dictatorship presently engaged in violently suppressing the Tibetan people? No problem - because Bob wants to make business deals. In fact Bob ends up suggesting that maybe the western media are putting out only 'one side' of the story.

One of you're councillors defends an Auckland businessman who allegedly stabbed to death a sixteen year old kid who was tagging a fence? Do you ask him to resign - no, you defend him and say he's a good councillor.

Listen to what Sideshow Bob is saying. He talks about a cosmopolitan city which apparently means spending $60 million plus on new council offices, its about expensive bars and restaurants, its about over-priced lattes in trendy coffe shops. It's about spending $50,000 to bring American ban Bon Jovi to Christchurch. It's about spending $2 million on an Auckland garden show.

It's about creating a city for people with money, people like Bob and the people who support him.

Watch Sideshow Bob. There he is in his expensive Italian suits, driving an Audi sports car that cost $100,000. He's a wealthy dandy in a working class town where wages are low and people struggle everyday - and people don't like him much.

He'll be voted out of office at the next council elections and with him will go the likes of Barry Corbett and Susan Wells. Parker and his supporters are about protecting wealth and privilege- but that wealth and privilege won't be able to save them at the ballot box in some two years or so.

PAUL HENRY’S ‘DOCTORED’ BIOGRAPHY

It’s interesting to note that presenter Paul Henry’s glowing biography on the TVNZ website makes no reference to him standing as a National Party candidate in 1999. Why?

Meanwhile Green Party co-leader Russell Norman is seething at the treatment he received from Henry in an interview on Wednesday’s Breakfast (May 7).

Henry appeared incensed that Norman could actually dare criticise the government for softening its stance on the Emissions Trading Scheme.

Such was Henry’s obvious hostility that co-presenter Pippa Witzell was moved to imply that Henry had displayed his political colours throughout the interview.

Curiously though Witzell’s comment has been edited out of the version that appears on the TVNZ website.

Henry’s style might go down a treat on Fox TV, but why is Henry being allowed to use Breakfast - and occasionally Close Up to attack politicians and political parties he doesn’t like – while giving John Key and the National Party an easy ride?

TWO TVNZ TURKEYS TALK TRAINS


The very-right-wing TVNZ presenter Paul Henry and the right-wing newsreader Peter Williams were sharing a giggle or two about pre-privatisation New Zealand Railways on Breakfast this morning.

'It was just like social welfare,' commented Williams. 'Everyone was employed there.'

Former National Party candidate Henry chimed in, 'And, you know, when there was extra work on they brought in extra people!'

Henry, who has criticised John Key for being 'centrist' then amused himself speculating on who could head NZ Railways. 'What about Ross Armstrong?' asked Henry. 'Or Ian Fraser?'

However no jokes were to be heard about how the privatised NZ Rail has been run into the ground, with little money spent on crucial modernisation and rails services cut.

And just to rub it in, Henry then talked to the man largely responsible for selling NZ Rail in the first place - former Labour minister Richard Prebble. Not surprisingly, he opposed the renationalisation.

Henry gave Prebble a easy ride, seemingly unable to challenge the discredited Prebble on anything at all. In fact Henry then went on to ask him who he thought could head NZ Rail.

'The Labour Party President,' contributed Prebble.

Clearly Henry is now in full election campaign mode. He wants a National Government -even if he thinks John Key isn't right wing enough.

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