Thursday, March 13, 2014

Wealth and Citizenship Part II

Last week I blogged about the relationship between wealth and your ability to participate in governance. We all think that it is our vote that is getting people elected but in fact it is powerful business interests driven by the wealthiest of our society. This week we have the story of John Banks and Maurice Williamson (both with heavy interest in the sustainability of the National Party) advocating for citizenship of a person who then later donated quite a substantial amount to the National Party. I find this extremely repulsive. The House of Representatives is suppose to represent the people of New Zealand. By giving people citizenship which enables funding of the party, National has the appearance of trading citizenship for campaign funds. Now, I am positive that of course National Minister didn't explicitly ask Liu to make the donation - that's Ministerial Conduct 101 (although not sure Judith Collins took that class) - but it makes it look like if you are wealthy you can have special treatment from the government and that is repulsive.

We, the people, no longer really affect decision making. You can submit at select committee all you want but let's look at the Mixed Ownership Model Bill and the Paid Parental Leave Bill for example - overwhelming opposition or support really made no difference to the final vote. I bet you, maybe if we donated heavily to the National Party we could make some headway on that. Maybe that's an unfair assessment but I can't help feeling like voting is just a symbolic exercise of citizenship and unless we change some rules around political influence by the wealthy and the non-people entities like corporations - we face a very depressing state of affairs. Now I know someone will say what about Unions?? They are non-people entities with a lot of influence but my response to that is they represent people. Corporations represent profits and could care less about human welfare. There is a difference. Unions themselves don't get anything out of changes to worker's rights - workers do.

I have digressed... BUT... Once again to reiterate last week's post, it isn't just income inequality that is crippling us, it is inequality of access to decision-making.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Wealth and Citizenship

Over at No Right Turn, the price of honour has been revealed. It is $165,000. Tony Astle, ONZM donated heavily to the National Party and then received the honours - Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit, for services as a chef.  When we go to vote, all of us Kiwis have the same power. We get two votes. Two ticks and in that we are all equal. We can all sleep easy that our votes are the same as the rich and the famous. But votes do not equal influence. Sometimes I wonder if our votes are just a rubber stamp on a decision that has already been made. 

Much is made of campaign donations in the United States where the elections spending is higher than what’s budgeted for many public programmes. Top fundraisers even get to be Ambassadors in comfortable countries (the U.S. amabassador to New Zealand and Samoa raised $1.2 million for Obama and has NO Foreign Service experience) by-passing those who have dedicated their lives to public service. What an insult to those people. 

Income inequality is the issue of our time both in upcoming NZ elections and in the dialogue here in the US. But as many people have pointed out, it is not just income inequality. It is inequality of access – access to prime education, health services, and perhaps more importantly - the decision makers. Money buys you relationships with those who govern. What good are those two ticks when there are some who can have an actual conversation with the Prime Minister? Yesterday there was this tweet: 
On New Zealand Herald, about a week ago, Liam Dann wrote about the importance getting the stamp of approval from the business community. Labour shouldn't do anything (public policy-wise) to scare off those pesky business leaders he says. What an astounding article. He says "Drop that economic experiment and convince the business community that your election wouldn't be an absolute disaster for the country". Because only business can innovate and solve problems. Government should do as they are told by businesses.

Let’s remind ourselves of one thing. Democracy is supposed to guarantee equal participation FOR CITIZENS. Elected representatives represent the votes of the people, the humans not the business entity. Corporate and individual campaign donations’ only aim is to by-pass the democratic “rule of the people”. Businesses cannot approve of public policy because business aims are to make profit and public policy aims are to serve the public. They are inherently at odds with each other. Governments cannot be run like a business. Governments make law and they regulate businesses to protect citizens. We have come to accept businesses at the superior beings of our society because they have the money and they create the jobs. But we continuously forget that they exploit and manipulate public resources and human capital to get there. The minimum wage and workplace safety standards would not be necessary if markets didn't fail people. The need for these public policies are because of markets’ failure to provide those protections for citizens.

By saying that certain professions (let’s say business owners) deserve more government attention, we are creating a new caste system in the western world where your career position determines your level of citizenship. Currently, if you are wealthy you can apply for a special residency like Kim Dotcom did. You can get have easier visa processing to come gamble your millions in New Zealand casinos. You can be appointed to the board of an agency because of close ties to a political party. You can even get special treatment and get laws changed for your business like the SkyCity deal. 

As I have heard so many times on the radio now – 'we’ll never be royals'. But that does not mean that we don’t deserve the same rights. I suppose I should be glad that Tony Astle wasn’t named ambassador. Yet.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Mathers doing her job - not ok. Royal visit - all good.

I think all that needs to be said about the Mojo Mathers travel expense has probably been said in the “twitterstorm” yesterday that saw Jordan Williams and David Farrar dig even bigger holes later in the day. Mojo Mathers is not above other MPs because she is deaf. She is neither better or above criticism. If she was raiding the minibar on taxpayer expense I don’t think she would deserve to be let off. But as a deaf MP, I do believe she represents more than the Green constituents. NZers really need to get out of the ‘electorate’ mindset where electorate MPs are seen as superior to others. I don’t want to denegrade the work they do; electorate work is extremely hard and time consuming but an MP like Mojo serves more than just area she is from. She is the first deaf MP we have ever had. It speaks volumes about our nation that you can serve in political office in our country as a person who is deaf but with that she carries the responsibility of highlighting all disability issues. As has been reiterated, if she has to travel to a community radio to give an interview on disability issues not only should she be able to do so but if she didn’t, I’d expect the political fallout to be worse.

Let’s juxtapose what happened this weekend with this little gem of a story on ZB this morning about the royal visit. No doubt that’s going to cause an arm and a leg but do we care about that? Evidently not. This quote from the chair of Monarch New Zealand really struck me about Prince George:

"I think a precedent was set with Prince William himself when he came to New Zealand at almost exactly the same age 37 years ago"

My response? Who cares? No really? Who gives a damn. I am no monarchist and I have very little respect for the institution. Actually I am lying. I have no respect for the institution. But there is no precedent. The Royals are on a PR campaign and if they bring George it will be for PR reasons. The Queen cares a lot about New Zealand? Well if she had any respect for the country she would push for Republicanism. The fact that our head of state is an unelected state dependent beneficiary is disrespectful to us as people.

Let’s go over what happened yesterday:
-Mojo Mathers was doing her job – representing and communicating with her constituents – it’s called DEMOCRACY
-This country is in dire need of education and awareness of disability issues starting perhaps with the folks over at Taxpayer ‘Union’ 
-Young, privileged, able bodied, white men don’t get to pick and choose issues when they don’t serve their corporate subsidization/welfare needs
 -We got a headline “Green MP's 800km taxpayer-funded trip questioned” and no idea who actually posed the initial question and more importantly why?

The reason why I put that Royal story in this article is because remember when John Key went to visit the Queen? How much did that cost? What was the point? Whose interests was he representing? Oh right the Queen invited him and he couldn’t say no because protocol. Well you know what? Screw protocol. More kids are in poverty, more elderly are in poverty, people with disability don’t have the same rights, and we are a low wage economy and who really cares about the Royal visit? I guess that 51% who are obsessed with John Key do... I guess we have to represent their needs.

Jordan Williams said that it’s not worth it for him for Mojo Mathers to "travel to a community radio that probably has as many listeners as you can count on your hand," and that “the only silver lining is that the time spent travelling to go on the station in the middle of nowhere is less time spent dreaming up new ways to spend tax payers money." I’d rather the 5 people get represented by their elected representatives, the 5 people who are unheard, unseen, and unrepresented than the zero people this so called ‘royal visit’ is going to materially help. 

[Update] Little Prince George will be coming. I'm sure it'll be great.