POOR JUDGEMENT

Judge Allan Roberts thinks benefit fraud is a 'national problem.' Judge Allan Roberts doesn't know what he's talking about.

Lisa Marie Reid, 34, was sentenced to one year  in jail this week  for falsely claiming some $80,000 worth of  domestic purpose payments over the course of four years.

She was living with her husband during this  period.

From the newspaper reports,  it doesn't sound as if the money was lavished on overseas holidays, restaurant  meals  and plasma TVs.  She told the court that  she continued to take the benefit as a 'safety net ' for herself and her two children.  I suspect there's another story behind this comment.

Reid had never appeared in court before and her defence  counsel  asked for a community - based sentence so that Lisa Reid could  continue  to look after her two teenage children.

But Judge Allan Roberts wasn't having a bar of it. ''Benefit fraud is a national problem and a national disgrace.' he lectured.

It seems that Lisa  Reid has been sent to jail as a symbolic  strike against what the judge perceives to be  'a national problem'.  Intentionally or not, he has  given the impression that thousands of beneficiaries are living the high life on a level of benefit they are not entitled to.

Its a pity that Judge Roberts  didn't do his homework before deciding that he was going to use Reid as a warning to other would-be beneficiary  fraudsters.

Benefit fraud has actually been declining over the  past several years.

In 2004-05  the value of 'overpayment' was approximately  $56 million. In 2009-10 it had  shrunk to $20 million.

Last year I wrote:

In 2009 the number of alleged benefit frauds actually went down to just under 15,000.

These were cases that were just investigated for possible fraud. In the majority of cases Work and Income simply went on fishing expeditions in the hope of finding something,

Of the approximately 15,0000 case investigated in 2009, only 735 ended up in court. Many of these cases ended up collapsing because no reliable evidence was provided to back up the Ministry of Social Development's allegations.

A similar number again ended up in court last year, despite the Ministry having boosted its number of fraud investigators from 79 to 95. The ministry checked 29 million records, up from 12 million two years ago.


Overall   beneficiary fraud is identified as just  0.1% of the Welfare Budget. In 2010  the welfare budget was some $14 billion.

So benefit fraud isn't the 'national problem' that Judge Allan Roberts thinks it is.

He would be better off focusing his moral outrage at those at the top of economic order - but perhaps he has friends 'uptown'.

In June the Inland  Revenue announced the results of a ten year investigation into the tax dealings of the country’s 250 richest people and their 7,500 companies and trusts.   It turns out they have  avoided  paying $500 million worth  of tax –  with hundreds of millions more still in dispute.

It kinds of puts the $20 million worth of welfare fraud into perspective.

Perhaps Judge Roberts could take a good hard look at what the banks are up to as well . They're behaviour hasn't changed markedly  since they  attempted to avoid paying a whopping $3.2bilion  worth of taxes through a deliberate series of carefully constructed financial 'strategies'. 

In 2009 New Zealand's five main  banks settled out of court and  ended up paying just 20 percent of what the Inland Revenue was seeking. The New Zealand public got screwed.  No one from any of the banks ended up doing any time in the can for this orchestrated and deliberate fraud.

Let's also not forget  the crooks and charlatans of the finance sector who  lost over $4 billion of other people's money when the sector collapsed. Other than some of  the most high profile figures, most of those snake oil merchants have escaped the kind of legal punishment meted out to Lisa Reid.

THIS WAY TO SERVITUDE

National's brighter future is economic and social barbarism...

The Prime Minister's 'brighter future' for ordinary New Zealanders has been  anything but.

This Government  now holds the dubious distinction of presiding over the highest  level of social inequality ever recorded.

The Household Incomes Report,  released a week ago,  revealed  the gap between rich and poor widened substantially in 2011, putting inequality at its highest level ever.

Middle and lower class workers have seen their incomes fall significantly, while the rich saw their earnings increase.

We now have approximately 270,0000 children  living in  poverty. This  is almost  a quarter of all children. 

This hasn't just happened but it has been largely invisible, ignored by a corporate media besotted by he trivial and the banal.

If you want to find the real cause of violence  toward children then the answer lies in this horrific statistic.   It's not 'irresponsible' parents' , nor it is the  'young mother who shouldn't have children'   nor is it 'dysfunctional families' .

Paula Bennett , an ignorant and incompetent minister,    has gone as far as to suggest that  child poverty is not  a problem  because children move 'in and out of poverty on a daily or weekly basis' and, furthermore,  there is 'no official measure of poverty' anyway.

These are the pat answers of a political order that is presiding over the pauperisation of New Zealand society by the forces of neoliberalism.

 But life continues to be  sweet for the wealthy elite.

The National Business Review's recent  Rich List revealed that New Zealand's   wealthiest individuals increased their combined fortunes by 27 percent in the past year, on top of a 20 percent increase in 2010-11. To qualify for the “Rich List”,  the wealthy must have a net worth of at least $NZ50 million ($US41 million). This year, their total wealth has jumped from $42.5 billion to $57.7 billion, while the number of people on the list increased from 151 to 157.

Of course it also  helps when you can avoid paying tax. While this Government continues to bash the poor, a Inland revenue study  has exposed that only half of New Zealand's rich elite (with wealth of over $ 50 million) are paying the  top tax rate. 

And yet all  the  major parliamentary parties remain committed to the notion that is no economic alternative to 'the free market'. How can the opposition parties even suggest that they are offer a 'better' alternative to National when they are largely offering more of the same?

I am now firmly convinced that we cannot adequately respond to the continued attacks on working people through the established parliamentary process. The forces of neoliberalism have taken over the parliamentary process and we have been left with simply a  meaningless charade.  It is all 'sound and fury signifying nothing'.

REVOLUTION 2012


Socialist Aotearoa is holding its annual conference  in Auckland this weekend. A varied program promises an interesting and informative weekend.

A CITY IN TURMOIL

Christchurch is a city in shock after Mayor Sideshow Bob announces that he will be seeking a third term in office.

Christchurch is reeling at the news that Mayor Sideshow Bob will be seeking a third term as mayor of the quake-devastated city.

'What would Tony (Marryatt) do without me?' said Parker. 'Who would he have his secret meetings with? He might get asked to pay back that $34,000 worth of back pay he promised to return. Remember - a vote for me and good local government means voting twice.'

Traci Wilson of Aranui  said she was 'appalled' that Sideshow was standing for re-election.

'We've had earthquakes, Gerry Brownlee and CERA - and now this. How much longer does Christchurch have to suffer?'

Ms Wilson is still waiting for her quake damaged home to be repaired.

Dave 'Hendo'  Henderson, a former property developer  who was placed  in bankruptcy in  2010, said he was 'delighted' that his good friend was standing for re-election.

'Christchurch deserves  more of Bob like I deserve a good dose of the clap. And I could do with a few more million  to get me back in the property game. I know that Councillor Sue Wells would vouch for me - like she did last time.'

Civil Defence  said they were aware  of Sideshow Bob's mayoral ambitions and were monitoring the situation closely.

'The situation is  not  unrecoverable.'   a spokesman said last night. 'The solution lies in the hands of the good people of Christchurch - vote the clown and all his flunkies out of office.'

MARTYRED BY MUNTERS


Graphic: Porcupine Farm

SIDESHOW BOB THROWS A TANTRUM

Sideshow Bob is going on holiday and he  isn't happy that the good people of Christchurch won't be paying for his wife's travel expenses.

Sideshow Bob is off on vacation  at the expense of the good people of Christchurch , namely visiting  some  of Christchurch's sister cities.

Sideshow Bob says that it is 'very important' that he goes  but his overseas jaunt will have no discernible benefit for Christchurch. Indeed The Press asked the Christchurch City Council under the Official Information Act whether it could quantify the economic benefits of the relationships and the response was that 'The council said it did not have any financial reports putting a dollar value on the links.'

But Sideshow Bob is going nevertheless thanks  to a 9-2 council  vote in favour of  Bob's big  holiday. Parker and his wife will visit Gansu and Wuhan in China, Kurashiki in Japan, Songpa-Gu in South Korea, and Seattle in the United States. How nice for them.

Wider Earthquake Communities Action Network spokesman Mike Coleman told The Press  Parker would be "spitting in the face of Cantabrians" if he went on the trip.

"I don't know anyone that believes Bob Parker should be going on trips overseas to sister cities when so many people are struggling across the city."

"We've got thousands and thousands of people in absolutely desperate situations, and for him to get on a 747 overseas to be wined and dined, it's an absolute disgrace."

Sideshow particularly enjoys holidaying in China where even the most minor of overseas politician  gets the red carpet treatment.  In 2008, while in Beijing, he defended the Chinese regime's  bloody repression of the Tibetan uprising.

Said Bob: ''There is the feeling that the story is not a balanced story that is being told in the West. There is a sense in some ways they feel the Western media is being manipulated in a very clever and calculated way. There is a side to the story that also should be told to bring balance to the story.'

I'm sure China's Stalinist rulers will welcome back Bob with open arms.

The only positive  thing to come out of yet another Sideshow Bob rip-off is that the good people of Christchurch  won't be picking up the tab for his wife Jo Nichols Parker.

Last night  Sideshow, who gets paid well over $200,000 a year,  announced that  he would pay for Mrs Sideshow Bob's travel expenses.

But Sideshow isn't happy about it and threw a tantrum at today's council meeting.  He went all red in the face and smoke blew out his ears.

He accused his council opponents of 'politicking'  which , of course, Sideshow  Bob has never, never,  never done. Really.

Reports The Press : When challenged by Cr Glenn Livingstone over whether he should be participating in the debate over the trip, Parker said he had every right to defend himself, and his wife, against the "cheap shots'' that had been fired at them.'

Just a short two weeks ago Sideshow wrote in his Christchurch Star column that 'In the short term , I acknowledge we need to focus on  getting people's homes fixed and help them rebuild their own lives to ensure that they are part of the new city that will evolve in the coming years.'

Clearly this isn't really  a priority for Sideshow - he'd rather go on holiday instead.

Graphic: Porcupine Farm

THE NEW ADVENTURES OF DECISIVE DAVE

TELLING FIBS

Talkback host Mike Hosking (brought to you by Sky City Ltd) is making  things up to justify the drug testing of beneficiaries.

Talkback radio, dominated by just two stations - Newstalk ZB and Radio Live - is home to that rump of New Zealand society  often referred to as redneck.  Under the  cover of anonymity  they  fearlessly  attack lefties, beneficiaries, Maori and anyone else who they consider isn't ' a proper New Zealander'.

Feeding the bigotry and stupidity are hosts like Newstalk ZB's Mike Hosking (brought to you by Sky City Ltd).

Mike Hosking ( brought to you by Sky City Ltd)  is a consistent  basher of beneficiaries  so it comes as no  surprise that he  thinks drug testing  smelly beneficiaries is a fantastic idea

Why does he thinks its such a peachy proposal?

He actually isn't able to provide an even remotely cogent answer - so he just tells fibs instead.

According to  Mike Hosking (brought to you by Sky City Ltd)  one of the hurdles that the  Government  has encountered is  that  'when asked  if you would pass a drug test, alarming numbers are saying no.'

He doesn't  provide any actual evidence for  this claim.   Who has been asked if they would agree to be drug tested? Who was asking? What are these 'alarming numbers' he is referring to?

Mike Hosking (brought to you by Sky City Ltd) provides no answers.  Yes folks, he's just making things up. 

He then goes on to say that Helen Kelly of the Combined Trades Union 'doesn't like drug testing.  She thinks it’s unfair, it’s a waste of money, it targets the wrong people.'

What Mike Hosking (brought to you by Sky City Ltd) doesn't say is that the CTU  has found out , after making a request under the Official Information  Act, that the government  has “received no advice,briefings, papers or reports in the last twelve months about complaints from employers about beneficiaries failing drug tests.'

The CTU requested the information when another fibber, Minister of Finance Bill English, claimed that he had received many complaints from employers in his  electorate who had told him 'they often can't employ our own locally unemployed young people because they can't pass a drug test."

But Mike Hosking  (brought to you by Sky City Ltd) thinks it makes 'common sense' to  drug  test beneficiaries on the basis that the majority of people who answered a Close Up poll on Friday night thought it was a good idea.

It makes 'common sense' then, eh?

That means we can just simply disregard the opinion of the Ministry of Health and make policy on the basis of an unrepresentative television poll run by a tabloid news show. Great.

A memo obtained by  Radio New Zealand - who actually did some real journalistic work, unlike Newstalk ZB, - indicates the plan to cut benefits for job seekers who fail drugs tests could cost up to $14 million per year - double what the Government is setting out to save.

The memo   also says the move could have a dubious effect on people's health and overall welfare.  Which would presumably put even more pressure on an already over-burdened health system.

While he likes to put the boot into the weak and powerless, Mike Hosking (brought to you by Sky City Ltd) loves to kiss the  fat bottoms of the rich and powerful. 

Back in 2010, for example, he told his radio listeners  that Mark Hotchin of Hanover Finance infamy was 'being unfairly hounded by the media'.

According to Mike Hosking (brought to you by Sky City Ltd) )  Mark  Hotchin hadn't done anything wrong because  "What he did was make some bad decisions, borrow too much, gear too highly, and the company fell over."

Mark Hotchin has helped to ruin the lives of many of Hanover's Finance's 16,000 investors. The Serious Fraud Office  froze  $540 million worth  of assets in 2008 and began a probe into Hanover in 2010.

In June Serious Fraud Office boss Adam Feeley told Parliament's law and order select committee. that the  Hanover Finance investigation was dwarfing all previous finance company probes

"It is without precedence in size in New Zealand...it is bigger than South Canterbury Finance, bigger than Equiticorp, bigger than any of the finance companies that we've looked at," said Feeley.

But according to good old Mike Hosking (brought to you by Sky City Ltd). Mark Hotchin has done nothing wrong. That's just 'common sense'....

PAULA'S HAIRY MOMENT

The Minister For Beneficiary Bashing   has posted a new  photo of herself on her Facebook page, sporting a new hairstyle. Paula Bennett has  been at the hair dye bottle and is eager for some feedback.

'I thought I'd try going red. What do you think?' writes Bennett.

Dave Purdon comments: 'Very nice makes your pretty eyes stand out.'

Ugh...

PAULA BENNETT - GUILTY AS CHARGED

Ten Work and Income staff have been sacked for breaching the privacy of beneficiaries but  Paula Bennett keeps her job  despite doing the same thing.

Such is the arrogance of Paula Bennett and such is the contempt she has for beneficiaries and the working people in general, she is refusing to accept the decision  of the Human Rights Commission  which has ruled she   breached the privacy of a beneficiary, Natasha Fuller, who dared to criticise her welfare policies.  Bennett released  details of her benefit, without her permission,  in July 2009.

Not only  will she  not admit to any wrong doing  she has  had  the audacity to say she might do it again if the situation  warranted it !  What is she saying? Any beneficiary  that publicly criticises  her or her Government runs the risk of having their personal  details splattered all over the media?   Is she trying to intimidate into  the silence the people who are the victims of her belligerent and draconian welfare 'reforms'?

She should no longer be in cabinet but instead she has received the backing of her cabinet colleagues.

The Government's benevolent attitude toward Bennett  is in stark contrast to the punishment meted out to ten WINZ staff in recent months.  They were sacked  for breaching the privacy of beneficiaries. Seven were dismissed from the Manukau office of WINZ in November   last year for what the Ministry of Social Development described were  "appalling" breaches of the code of conduct which included improper use of private files belonging to family and friends, as well as inappropriate email use.

But Bennett doesn't get her marching orders.

Indeed Acting Prime Minister Bill English has  hinted that beneficiaries who are thinking of speaking out should think again.

He told the media: "People who enter into public debate are welcome to do so… and they should provide their full information to the public."

This is the same Bill English who recently   raised the possibility of beneficiaries being drug tested.

He said:  "In my electorate, a lot of the jobs available to younger people are in forestry and in the meat-processing industry. And I'm told by those employers they often can't employ our own locally unemployed young people because they can't pass a drug test."

But English was being 'economical with the truth'.  The Combined Trades Union sought information from the Ministry of Social Development about how many complaints the had received from employers about young beneficiaries failing drug tests. They had received none. 

But its not just Bill English and his cabinet colleagues who think Bennett is doing a fantastic job.

In the media beneficiaries are regularly bashed. 

The likes  of Michael Laws, Leighton Smith and Mike Hosking have all done  their little bit to whip up an atmosphere of intimidation against beneficiaries which has  made it so much easier for Paula Bennett to put the boot in.

In fact some media 'personalities' have gone into raptures about Ms Bennett.

This is what  Paul Holmes wrote about Paula Bennett in his NZ Herald column of August2, 2009:

'The week, I have to say, belongs to Paula Bennett. She connects. She speaks normally. She talks the average person's language. We know where she comes from and she remembers where she comes from. She has the X factor.

Charisma, in its extreme form, can be elevating and inspiring. It can also simply be an aura, a quality, that makes us expect something interesting, something we will connect to or relate to, from the person who has it. So it is with Paula Bennett. She has a little of the darkness that stars have, too, and she is becoming, in her own way, a political star. '


Pass me the bucket...

I'M NOT PERKY

No, you can't have affordable power - but you can have a discounted bottle of plonk. 

I guess that most of us, except those at the top of the pile, confront  the sealed envelope containing  the electricity  power bill with a degree of trepidation. We approach it as if it was  a ticking time bomb about to blow up in our faces. What horror lies within? What outrageous demand will our power company be making on our finite finances this time round? 

I opened my latest  power bill from Mercury Energy...

After a cup of tea and a lie down, I noticed that Mercury  included a flyer with my outrageous  bill.

It was headlined 'Try Mercury Perks and enjoy savings every day.'

Savings? Savings?? Was Mercury going to prove it wasn't just another money-grabbing corporate monster?  Had it discovered a social conscience?

I read on..

'Dear Steven James Cowan,

Hands up who likes saving money? 

Thought so. So here's a chance to save everyday. and we're not talking about a one-off deal or having to collect points, or any of that complicated stuff. We're talking about Mercury Energy Perks, where you could save heaps of money each and every day on the kind of things you love doing every day.'


Mmm, this doesn't sound promising and why are they talking to me as if I was six years old?

 I read on...

'Your favourite bottle of wine, brunch at your local coffee shop, renting  a movie or getting  away for the weekend..join Mercury Peaks and you'll save money on all this and more.'

Yes folks, Mercury have heard the anguished cries of financially stretched power consumers and  delivered a stupid discount scheme. It wants me to 'forget the random offers you get from those discount deal sites' and devote myself to Mercury's.....discount deal site. And it'll cost me just $2.50 a month to be a member! Wow. What a deal.

I think I speak  for most Mercury power consumers  when I say  that I'm not interested in saving on bottles of wine with Mercury's 'own online wine club'. Nor I'm interested in a 20 percent discount at some  restaurant somewhere.  Nor do I have any use for a 50 percent discount at selected hotels.

Mercury seems  to think that its customers are all guzzling Pinot Noir at a swanky restaurant while planning a weekend away in Queenstown. None of us are  getting sick because we can't afford to heat our homes adequately.

Perhaps Mercury Perks could offer a discount for the St John's ambulance that takes Mercury's customers off  to hospital, suffering from pneumonia.

We don't want discounts for our discretionary spending because many of us, after paying the bloated power bill, don't have any money left over to be discretionary with.

Mercury Energy, of course,  are the retail  arm of Mighty River Energy,  the first of the state owned power companies to be partially sold by the government along with Genesis Energy and Meridian Energy.

Mercury's  power prices rose a further 5.8 percent in April which is approximately another $100 a year people have to find.  Another price 'review' will occur in April next year.

The power company reported an  after tax net profit of $101.7 million for the six months to December 31 2011, an increase from $89.4 million in the previous period.

Mercury Energy, like all the other power companies, has long put profits before people. It will continue to do so  if and when it is partially privatised.

As Consumer NZ chief executive Sue Chetwin said last year: ' The power companies over the past 10 years have been rapacious in putting up their prices and I don’t see that making part of the company available for the public to invest in will make much difference there.'

We don't want discount schemes. Nor do want to be  told by the Government 'to shop around' when power prices are obscenely  high all across the board.

What we want is affordable power but in neoliberal New Zealand we're apparently asking for too much.


SMOKE AND MIRRORS

The strange tale of Fletcher Building's '1000 new jobs' for Christchurch. 

The Press has proved to be somewhat of a schizophrenic newspaper when it comes to earthquake-related issues.

It has done some  good solid reporting on the myriad of problems confronting Christchurch but, unfortunately, the newspaper also often feels it is obliged to be  a  cheerleader for all things Christchurch, regardless  of the facts.

Last week it reported, in glowing terms and in a front page story, that Fletcher Building  was 'planning' to hire 1000 workers by the end of the year.

Reported  The Press : 'Fletcher Building is seconding a Work and Income staff manager to help it recruit more beneficiaries for jobs in the Canterbury rebuild.'

Not uncoincidentally, the Minister of Social Development was in Christchurch last week. According to a Government press release, Paula Bennett paid a visit  to 'employers working alongside Work and Income to give New Zealanders jobs.'

Bennett said: '...Fletcher Building will give Work and Income access to a vast array of work opportunities within this internationally recognised company.'

'Beneficiaries hired for Christchurch rebuild' headlined The Press.

It sounds like all hands to the pumps doesn't it or was just a PR stunt designed to make Fletcher and the Government look good?   Something smelt about this story  especially as The Press itself had  also reported that  Fletcher had  so far only employed  26 people to administrative jobs in the past  nine months.

What the newspaper  also chose not to mention is that Fletcher have only been offering the minimum wage - it obviously regards Work and Income as a source of cheap labour.

Fletcher Building's attitude toward its workers was also abundantly evident several weeks ago when it decided it was going to cut painters and plasters' pay rates. The drop in pay has been over 20 percent in some cases.

In response Helen Kelly from the Combined Trades Union commented: “Fletcher is abusing the contracted out employment relationship to profiteer at the expense of the people rebuilding Christchurch. What’s more, the company’s self-interest has led to layoffs and pay cuts that are already delaying repair work urgently needed by the people of Christchurch. '

Two days ago The Press, the same newspaper that had hyped Fletcher Building's supposed '1000 new jobs',  reported that Fletcher's most important  construction partner had  decided  that it no longer wanted anything to do with it.

Carl Taylor Homes managing director Carl Taylor told the newspaper  that working for Fletcher's  was damaging the firm's reputation.

Said Taylor: '"We did the first job in November 2010 and grew to be one of their biggest contractors. Then we started getting frustrated with where EQR was going. Homeowners were getting upset and it was affecting our brand."

Carl Taylor Homes have been instrumental in establishing Rebuild Me for people opting out of the Earthquake Commission repair project run by Fletcher.

And Rebuild have not been short of business.  Taylor  says they are getting   30 to 40 calls a week from homeowners looking to escape Fletcher.

Fletcher has been desperately trying to stop the 'leakage', even making last minute phone calls to angry and frustrated homeowners who have  decided to give them  the boot.

An insurance assessor told The Press  that a last-ditch Fletcher phone call to those opting out was standard. He said that Fletcher was continuing to lose a lot of business.

Which, of course, begs the question how Paula Bennett's 'internationally recognised company'   can  claim it intends to hire 1000 new workers by the end of the year.

In fact people are continuing to lose jobs. For example, 0800Paint says it has sacked 10 staff and 'put off'  several groups of subcontractors.

0800Paint say work from Fletcher  has 'slowed to a trickle'.

Indeed the Earthquake Commission advised contractors several weeks ago to only expect 'at best one new job a week'.

CLASS HATE

Writes  British author Owen Jones: “It is both tragic and absurd that, as our society has become less equal and as in recent years the poor have actually got poorer, resentment against those at the bottom has positively increased. Chav-hate is a way of justifying an unequal society.

Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class
Owen Jones (Verso)


Chav: a young lower-class person typified by brash and loutish behaviour and the wearing of (real or imitation) designer clothes. (Oxforddictionaries).

Chavs was the number one  best selling political book in   the UK last year.  Such was  its impact, it managed to cross that the difficult terrain that usually  prevents  most left wing books from gaining a wide readership beyond the left wing milieu.

The book 'benefited' in the aftermath of the London riots, as people  sought  explanations  for the riots that didn't merely blame the protesters for what occurred.  While the British Establishment  simply threw 'the scum' into jail,   Chavs  explains how the British working  class has been stigmatised by successive Brutish Governments and by  its allies within civil society.

In New Zealand chavs would be defined as 'the underclass'.These are  the people that right wing talkback host Michael Laws says shouldn't have children - the women, he says, who should be sterilised. He  has discussed this abominable idea  on air with the Minister for 'Social Development' Paula Bennett - who did not immediately reject it.  Bennett herself   has opined about young women having to take the pill while on the Domestic Purposes Benefit. We can't have 'the mongrels' breeding, can we? Look what they get up to on Outrageous Fortune, for god's sake!

When  did it become the norm to simply dismiss the working class as lazy, criminally inclined, sexually promiscuous,  drug addled, drunk?  When did it become acceptable to turn  the working class into caricatured objects for  entertainment in such shows as Shameless and Outrageous Fortune? When did the working class suddenly become 'STUPID'?  When did the British working class suddenly into Vicki from Little Britain?  When did the issues of poverty, and unemployment become  not an economic question but a moral issue about how poor people should be treated? When did it become the poor's own fault for being poor?  

To his credit, Jones pinpoints the  stigmatisation of the British working class within  actual material conditions. He argues  that the process of demonization began with the election of the  Thatcher Government and the subsequent 'neoliberal revolution '. Facing only sporadic resistance from the so-called defenders of the working  class  the gains of the post-war era were gradually dismantled. Indeed, the so-called 'leaders' of the working class movement  did as much damage as Thatcher did - if not more. The likes of Tony Blair and his  allies in the trade union hierarchy have a lot to answer for.  Blair is not just a 'war criminal'.

Jones  writes that the policies of neoliberalism  have devastated and impoverished  working class communities. This is not an issue of cultural oppression (the 'get out of jail' card  that many  liberals might  like to play in order to not confront the issue of  class) but one of economic oppression. It is about who rules society and who doesn't.  It's not a question of 'why can't we all just get along?' and token reforms that achieve nothing.

While some  right wing commentators - and even some so-called 'left wing commentators' -   would like to argue that the working class no longer exists, Jones writes that it has become  transformed rather  than wiped out.

He writes that when traditional British industries had once  provided well paid  and secure  jobs the erosion   of Britain's manufacturing   base means that these jobs have been replaced by badly paid, insecure and low-status jobs in retail and ‘customer service’.  It is also largely a de-unionised workforce - Jones estimates the only fifteen percent of the British workforce  in the private sector is unionised.

While Jones is writing about  the British experience there are obvious parallels with New Zealand. That's the thing about capitalism - it screws us ordinary Joes and Joannes, no matter where we are. 

We have widespread poverty and unemployment in New Zealand  yet Paula  Bennett will not accept  that it might be the three  decades  worth of neoliberal  economic policies that have  led us to this devastation.

You can throw statistics  at her as much as you like  but she continues to victimise the victims. Too many poor women  having children! Too many people whooping it up on the 'riches' that a benefit provides ! And so it goes on.

And while she claims she  wants to give the poor a  'helping hand' ' that 'helping hand' actually holds a  big stick which she regularly whacks beneficiaries with. Believe me, it'll hurt you more than it hurts her.

We also too have a Labour Party and a trade union hierarchy that have betrayed the very  people they pretend to represent.

Read what Owen Jones writes about Britain  this and reflect on how it might relate to New Zealand:

“It is both tragic and absurd that, as our society has become less equal and as in recent years the poor have actually got poorer, resentment against those at the bottom has positively increased. Chav-hate is a way of justifying an unequal society. What if you have wealth and success because it has been handed to you on a plate? What if people are poorer than you because the odds are stacked against them? To accept this would trigger a crisis of self-confidence among the well-off few. And if you were to accept it, then surely you would have to accept that the government’s duty is to do something about it – namely, by curtailing your own privileges. But, if you convince yourself that the less fortunate are smelly, thick, racist and rude by nature, then it is only right they should remain at the bottom. Chav-hate justifies the preservation of the pecking order, based on the fiction that it actually a fair reflection of people’s worth.”


Left defenceless by a trade union hierarchy that won't fight and a Labour Party that largely agrees with the economic policies of the National Government, ordinary New Zealanders are largely politically voiceless and vulnerable to attack by a Government encouraged, in the absence of organised resistance, to push on with its anti-working class policies.

And we are expected to believe that the election of another neoliberal  Labour Government will save us! It is a sick joke indeed but one that is being played on us right now  by the trade union big wigs - none of them short of a dollar, I might add.

As Western economies continue to decline - irreversibly so -   many countries are implementing drastic austerity measures that hit  both the middle and working classes.

Meanwhile, the villains at the top of the pecking order, continue to live the lifestyles they have grown accustomed to - courtesy of  taxpayer- funded bailouts . What the economic  crisis has clearly exposed is  that Western governments, such as New Zealand's,   are dedicated to the protection of the ruling  class, at the expense of everyone else. The state in the end, is not some neutral arbiter of society's woes, but always remains a capitalist state.  The social democratic illusion has been smashed, the heirs of Eduard Bernstein have nowhere left to run. They are a pathetic rabble, bankrupt both of ideas and vision.

It's as if the curtain has been pulled aside to reveal who is really  puling the levers of power  and, surprise, it ain't us!

Those who presently hold these levers of  power must to be removed in order that we can build a fundamentally different  society that is managed for the betterment  of all and not just the few.



OUT IN THE COLD

So where's the 'blueprint' for the eastern suburbs of Christchurch, then? Guess what? There isn't one....

The Monday night  launch  of the Christchurch's central city redevelopment  blueprint was very much designed for national - and possibly international - consumption. With the Prime Minister in attendance to provide his Government's blessing, this was very much a show about Christchurch moving into a bright new future - 'The Rebuild Starts Here!' Not Right Now! But Soon! Don't Worry About Who's Going To Pay For It!'

Key of course was backed by the usual crowd of Government cheerleaders - Mayor Sideshow Bob (he just loves the media spotlight, doesn't he?), Pete Townsend from the Canterbury Chambers of Commerce, Uncle Tom Cobbly and all. Peter seemed very happy - he was probably dreaming of all that cash his business mates would make once the council's assets got sold off to pay for the rebuild.

Of course the invited  audience - mostly from the business  sector ( no surprises there, then) lapped it all up. They were going to get their CBD back!

Not having any of the wine and canapes were the approximately 300  protesters standing in the rain  outside the Christchurch  City Council Civic Offices. It wasn't  a new protest - just a continuation of a protest  that has  been going on for months and months.

And the usual questions were being asked.  When are the eastern suburbs going  to receive the  same kind of focus and attention that has been lavished on the CBD?  When are people's homes going to be repaired?  How much longer are people going to have to call a caravan or garage 'home'?  How much  longer  are  the  insurance companies and the Earthquake  Commission  going to be allowed to trample roughshod over  people's lives?

No answers  were forthcoming from the happy  soiree going  down inside  council HQ. 

Nearly 30,000 houses   lie on damaged land and people are having to endure what are intolerable situations - while the Minister for Earthquake Recovery continues to insist there is no housing crisis.

What most  folk resent is that the new CBD is being planned while the plight of the eastern suburbs is deemed to be of low priority. The concerns of business have been given precedence over  the concerns of local communities.

Sideshow  Bob might be hailing the proposed new white elephant / sports  stadium and the  extravagant new  convention centre but the fact remains that people  in the Eastside  have been waiting to have their houses repaired for over two years. There is no 'bright future' awaiting them - just more financial hardship, stress and anxiety.

The failure of Mayor Sideshow Bob and his council cronies  to promote the concerns of the eastern suburbs has meant that organisations like WeCan (Wider Earthquake Communities  Action  Network) ) and Action for Christchurch East have been the grassroots organisations that have given voice to the concerns of the eastern suburbs.  People like the  Reverend Mike Coleman of WeCan  and Kiri Hider of Action for Christchurch East have been real heroes but I doubt they'll eventually  get a mention  in the Queen's Birthday Awards - unlike Sideshow Bob, the  faithful lapdog of Gerry Brownlee.

While Sideshow Bob did not get round to talking with the protesters  he did pen a few thoughts in his column in  the Christchurch Star this week.

The relevant paragraph is this: 'In the short term , I acknowledge we need to focus on  getting people's homes fixed and help them rebuild their own lives to ensure that they are part of the new city that will evolve in the coming years.'

But folk have heard these kind of platitudes from Mayor Bob and others for over two years. The time  for empty rhetoric is long gone and people want to see some significant action now and not at some vague time in the future.

For the Eastside, the future never seems to arrive.

Kiri Hider and Action for East Christchurch  organised the Monday night protest and WeCan have another protest scheduled for next Wednesday  (August 5)  at midday. There will be a march to the offices of the EQC and then on to the offices of the insurance company  IAG.

DISPATCH FROM GENERATION FUCKED


The job outlook in the United States is bleak and getting bleaker. Let's lay the blame where it belongs;  at an  economic system that values profits over people. By Trish Kahle.

If you’re like me—a person under 30—the job outlook right now is pretty much shit.  And if you’re even more like me—a graduate student in history (or any of the humanities/social sciences)—you likely have to cope with a lot of the social blame we receive regularly that lambaste us for our “poor life choices” and “unemployable” fields.  If you’re like me, and joined academia from a working class community, you’ve probably also been told numerous times that perhaps you should have eschewed college altogether, perhaps it wasn’t the “right” choice for you, and you should go back to shovelling manure and subjecting your body to inhuman working hours because that’s your natural state—even if it caused you to slide into a severe depression that almost lost you the right to attend university in the first place.

The flip side of this, of course, happens when I live my “other” life—when I’m at my job, cashiering and bagging groceries at a high-end chain retailer.  You, as a fellow member of what I’ve taken to calling Generation Fucked, probably have to deal with all sorts of b.s. here too.  Sometimes, it’s the wealthy customers who assume you’re an idiot because you’re bagging groceries and haven’t been named the junior partner at daddy’s law firm. (Though, in my department alone, we have at least ten graduate students in fields from education to history to sculpture, a comedian who just landed his first gig at Second City, a successful DJ, a working costume designer, and an apprenticing filmmaker.  It’s about the least idiotic group of people I’ve ever met.) Other times, you are subjected to dehumanising company incentive programs that run a classic speed-up on you while they explain that you are a “stakeholder” in this process.  Oh, and they’ll split you into teams that have to dance around like a troupe of trained monkeys in front of regional management in the name of synergy.

There’s no winning in this dichotomy.  Either you’re a failure because you dared to get educated beyond the ruling class’s minimal needs for you, or you’re a failure because you haven’t manage to make a fortune by stealing from others in banking.  The problem isn’t so much what you’re doing, it’s that you’re not rich.  You are therefore open to ridicule from any wealthy person who feels the desire.

But far too many people jump on the ruling class’s bandwagon here.  They urge us to go into “employable” fields without ever questioning the priorities of a society that is willing to pay massive salaries and bonuses to people who wreck the world economy and destroy the lives of millions but not willing to pay teachers a fair salary with pension and benefits—let alone hire an adequate number to give our children the quality education they deserve.  If I had run the course on my first career choice—aerospace engineering—I could definitely have landed a job…with the military, designing drones to murder innocent people around the world.  A society that values the ability to wage endless imperial conquest on people around the world above the ability to examine the social forces of history and extract lessons from it for the future is the failure.  Not me.

What about my co-worker earning her masters in literacy education?  If Rahm Emanuel has his way, she’ll be getting a gutted wage with no benefits, no pension, and no seniority protection, but if she joined the Chicago Police Department, she’d be getting a raise and brand new equipment.  People who tell her she should not rack up student debt in pursuit of her degree are completely missing the point: that the priorities of capitalism have skewed our social values in such a way that the socially beneficial and constructive careers become untenable while the morally unconscionable paths of enforcing the new Jim Crow through police terrorism, of making record profits by speculating on the misery, starvation, and death of millions are considered success.

Apologists for this system cry, “But we can’t have everyone studying post-colonial literature and Diaspora studies! We need nurses!” at the exact same time that they lay off health care workers and subject remaining ones to brutal and unsafe working conditions.  In reality, people do want to be nurses, and doctors, and care staff, and if they had good pay, healthcare, and meaningful say in running their workplaces, we’d probably have a lot more.  The following is not a joke: I actually heard a man on National Public Radio claim that bankers deserve to be paid more than nurses because they do more for society.  In other words, bankers make him more money and screw those nurses and poor people.  A society that values Bankzilla above the people who save our lives is a very sick society.

Instead of blaming a whole generation of youth who sought protection from poverty and a meaningful career through an increasingly inaccessible higher education system, let’s instead lay the blame at the source of the problem: an entire economic system that values profits over people.

For our entire lives, the ruling class has been on the offensive, busting the unions four generations before us fought so hard to build and protect, rolling back the gains of the Black freedom struggle, the women’s movement, the environmental movement, and the Chicano movement, and reasserting the terrorism of empire from Nicaragua to Iraq, from Chile to Afghanistan, from Bosnia to Uganda.  The truth is that while austerity and empire are killing us, the rich are richer than ever before, the powerful more powerful.  If we ever question that, they pepper spray you, they gas you, they shoot at you, and if things get really out of control, they turn your city into a war zone like they did in Anaheim.

Again, the problem is not us.  The problem is capitalism and the society that has been constructed to support it.  Without the need for ever expanding profits and markets, there is no need for imperial conquest, no need for the speed ups, the ecological degradation, the human destruction.  Shockingly enough, a society in which college students facing loans that will keep them massively in debt for the rest of their lives is not the best we can do.  How many kinds of cheese would we need in that society?  I can’t say for sure, but we sure as hell wouldn’t be selling $34 a pound brie to middle class yuppies while people are starving in high-poverty neighborhoods in the same city.

In fact, the choices that so many students make—to study fields that are not valued by our society—like history or literature—or fields like dance and sculpture that are, in academia, reduced to luxury tokenism speak to the massive gap in values between ordinary people and the wealthiest among us, and they make me incredibly hopeful of the society we can build.  But before we can build a new society, we have to tear this one down.  We, the new generation of workers, we are the gravediggers of capitalism.  We have the power on a global level to build a new world that values us and our abilities.

As Karl Marx noted, the system has produced its own gravediggers.

This column was first published by I Can't Believe We Still Have To Protest This Shit

HOLY DIALECTICAL!


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