Midterm Myopia

The midterm elections is all anyone is talking about in American Politics. In NZ you may be missing it, which is a good thing I assure you. I consume a titanic amount of American political news and analysis, because, well, I need activity. And there is always a lot of noise coming out of ‘Murica, and it is like white noise, it helps me sleep.

The 2018 midterm election is on November 6, and on that day the entire House of Representatives gets elected, a third of the Senate, and hundreds of state and local officials. Big change is opportune, and for the Democrats the odds are in their favor. Unless they choke. And that is what most analysis is focused on. How big will the Democrat wave be, and will it flounder? I thought I would cut through the noise and give it to you in simple terms.

The stakes. These pointy things just get sharper by the minute and threaten to impale the world through its arse. Jair Bolonaro just got elected as President of Brazil, and he promised to further open up the Amazon rain-forest to big-business. So if Trump’s rancid environmental policies continue unchecked coupled with the end of the Amazon, we can kiss the blue sky away. And welcome yet more violent storms. That should be reason enough to send American’s to the polls, but unfortunately in some cases they are too lazy, and others they are inhibited by state restrictions. It is strange in NZ where it is illegal to not be enrolled to vote, or Australia where failure to cast a ballot incurs a fine, but in the USA state governments try to stop people from voting.

Donald Trump won’t be impeached whatever the result. Impeachments are incredibly difficult to win. Removal from office must be voted for by two thirds of the Senate, and if the Democrats take the Senate they will only win it by two or three seats. Impeachment is a non-starter, but obfuscation of Trump’s agenda is possible. That too means something. Tax cuts for the rich become impossible. Health Care cannot be removed. Social Security won’t be gutted. Hearings on anything from Russian meddling, to Trump’s business dealings can be held.

On the state level, this election is critical. State governments control the redistricting that determines the boundaries of Congressional districts after a census. The next census is scheduled for 2020. The last was 2010, and the Republican governors ensured that the districts were drawn in such a way as to favor republican incumbents. The practice is called gerrymandering. The Democrats might have a chance to undo the damage caused in 2010, damage that means you need far more votes to elect Democrats on a federal level than you do to elect Republicans. See the video below to find out more about gerrymandering.

The election also gives us the opportunity to be rid of Ted Cruz. He is neck and neck with Betto O’Rourke, a Democrat who hasn’t shied away from his left-wing positions in order to get elected. This is an election in Texas, so the fact that Cruz isn’t ten points up is remarkable.

Texas Democratic Convention, Fort Worth, USA - 22 Jun 2018
Betto O’Rourke

Let us prepare for the worse. Let us prepare for the bloated face of smug Donald Trump taking a victory lap. This isn’t 2016. There will be no post-election depression. Either there is victory, or we move on to the next contest. I will follow it all so you don’t have to.

No more Jack Sparrow!

The last blood has been repayed, and $4 billion has gone into the dead man’s chest. Captain Jack Sparrow has been returned to mortality and killed off. This happened about three movies too late, his death in the jaws of the Kraken in Dead Man’s Chest being the perfect end to the character.

Alas, Johnny Depp had private islands to buy and ex wives to pay off. Both requiring the mega paycheck wrought by a blockbuster franchise. Even with it’s waning popularity the series was still commercially successful on a tremendous scale, and Jack Sparrow remained a fun character. Depp’s well publicized visits to children’s hospitals in costume showed the power of that swagger. And it looked like he really did have a lot of fun playing the role. The final shoot in Australia may have been the exception, the controversy over Depp illegally bringing his dogs on a private jet and having them deported by unsympathetic authorities.

My objection to Jack Sparrow is based more on the awful writing of the later films than on Depp’s performance, which in the first two films was excellent. But woeful scripts subsequently meant that he had to carry the films at the expense of character development and the reliance on gimmicks. I will always see Jack Sparrow as the farsighted wit sailing into port atop the mast of his sinking cutter. And, as the smiling and slightly sodden figure at the end of The Curse of the Black Pearl at last at the helm of his ship looking into a bright horizon.

I hope, pray and beseech the producers of the series not to reboot Captain Jack in their new incarnation of Pirates. Maybe no new character will strike gold in quite the way he did, but it is worth trying. I for one have seen enough of origin stories with young actors playing knockoffs of classic characters. Captain Kirk, Han Solo, the endless Spider Men, the entire X-Men cast, and so on. Give new actors something fresh! Let them wow us or not entirely on their own.

But, as long as the writing sucks, the characters will suck too. There is no excuse for it, it’s not like the studio lacks the resources to fund a good writing team. Perhaps change the historic time to the Spanish-US war of the 19th century, which created the imperial dominance the US has had over the American hemisphere ever since. Just a thought. We could see the start of steam powered ships with iron plated hulls and contrast that with what we have seen before, instead of a romantic picture of a lawless time full of conquest, death, and slavery.

Collins coming back. Again

Judith Collins seems to be ever on the rebound. Her leadership, rather like David Cunliffe five years ago, has become inevitable. In fact, there is no other credible reason for her to still be in Parliament. She was a senior minister in the last government, at various times holding the Justice, Police, Corrections, Ethnic Affairs and Revenue portfolios. Where else is there for her to go other than the top? Or, if that is out of the question, she has plenty of opportunities in the private sector. Law firms would love to have her as a senior partner, and she has numerous business interests to capitalize on.

How long will she wait? Well, since Simon Bridges has half a dozen nails in his coffin already, the political calculus is on her side. So what does that mean for the public?

Crime. Crusher Collins has a reputation for being demonic on empowering the police and shelving human rights. I would expect that she would build more prisons, lengthen sentences, streamline the courts, and make punishments for youth offenders more severe. She has a special interest in improving the family court, and presumably would do more there. Police may well be allowed to carry firearms and the resulting spike in gun violence would give her an excuse to get ever more draconian.

Economics. She follows National Party orthodoxy so we could expect more of the Key/English policies with larger tax cuts. So a tad more corruption.

On Health and Social Policy one can reasonably presume that the liberalization of trans healthcare in terms of access to affirmation surgery would be reversed. The usual National practice of putting an emphasis on elective surgery and under-funding of DHBs would figure too.

Not a happy picture, unless you are old, white, rich, cisgender, and straight. Judith Collins is all those things, and that her leadership would be self-serving that it seems too obvious to have to say. But the extent of media scrutiny on Collins is to describe her as polarizing. That doesn’t tell you very much. She may be a more effective version of Don Brash, but then again that is small comfort. He got very close to victory in 2005, only the Helen Clark effect held him off. Would the Jacinda effect be enough to beat Collins. The thought needs careful pondering.

No-one wanted the bed-sheets lifted

The last week has been entertaining. As an opponent of the former National-led Government, it has been cathartic to engage in a bit of schadenfreude, to see Simon Bridges brought so low after being so smug when Labour was tearing itself apart in opposition. But, as has become clear, Bridges is the sort of coward who goes for the genitals when he is on the floor.

Jamie-Lee Ross is experiencing a local #metoo backlash, but instead of it being for the sake of the women he has abused, it is a political hit to protect Simon Bridges. The opposition benches are a sewer, and for the personal lives of at least four (Bridges has suggested up to fifteen) women to be opened up to save his own skin is remarkably nauseating.

Going after the sex-lives of MPs is a risky strategy for the leader of a party with a disproportionate amount of debauchery under the sheets. It may cause his caucus to be united behind him through fear, which may plug the leaks in the short term, but is a risky strategy. Jim Bolger dealt with this with a large scotch and a clap on the back, John Key found an innocuous excuse to fire ministers and let them recover in private. Simon Bridges has shown that he is willing to deal with dissent with the scorching heat of the public spotlight. Jamie-Lee Ross is currently burning like a vampire in daylight.

Stupid op-eds hold that there needs to be greater standards in parliament. Some claim that term limits could be a help. But it is obvious to me that the private lives of people always diminish people when they are made public. That is why the tactic is so odious. Jamie-Lee Ross is now being counseled by Simon Lusk and Cameron Slater, the dealers in filth made famous by Dirty Politics by Nicky Hager. So he dirt flinging may be far from over.

Now independent MP Jamie-Lee Ross, who could get tens of thousands of dollars more if he decides to start his own party with himself as leader, will be a thorn in the side of Simon Bridges and the National Party until the next election. Ah, the schadenfreude is delicious.

Steven’s great fall

Atop the wall he sat until today when the former “fixit” man in the National Party caucus failed in his leadership jump and smashed on the floor of parliament. No-one can fix him, and no-one wants to. In bitterness the egg-head, dick-head of National is too hard boiled to endure opposition. Or is it soft-boiled? I don’t care.

The greatest moment of this fragile career, and Joyce’s undeniable legacy was taking a dildo in the face at Waitangi. I repost the gif for your pleasure.

All the best Steve, it’s hard to hate someone who takes a sex toy so well.

The end of Bill

He resigned. And retired. Such is the nature of MMP that as a list MP he will be replaced by the next person on the National Party List. No by-election to worry about.

It’s not like the writing wasn’t on the wall since October last year when he realized he’d lost the election by winning it. Of course, a plurality ain’t a majority, and 44 seats is not enough to govern.

Since then Bill English has had plenty of time to think, and so has his restful caucus. The media reported that it wasn’t a question of if he would go, but when. Journalist Jane Bowron wrote a piece recently saying that he would go, but not yet. He said, “hold my beer,” and quit today.

Not surprising that this was coming, and it looked imminent judging by the omens on his twitter feed:

Two dinosaurs, and a knife wielding Amy Adams to boot.

 

Road to nowhere. Directionless. Nowhere to run too.

So, the one time PM who has been in parliament for my entire lifetime has bowed out. It is not for me to eulogise him, I’ll leave that to the Hooton’s and Hosking’s. This is definitely the right time to go, opposition is no fun when you are up against a pregnant PM who can do no wrong. Besides, the Prime Ministerial pension plus whatever salary comes with the certain board position will be a nice distraction for the chap who once put spaghetti on a pizza.

Year Two begins…

It has begun with a partial government shutdown, and it will end with an election. The GOP control of the entire federal government has translated to little legislative advantage, and the democrats are on their way to storming back into the majority of both houses of congress. However, the chaos presidency is unpredictable and relishing the scent of victory against him would be more than midwifing hubris.

Should there be an upset win for democrats it seems likely that the old Congress will be called into a lame duck session so they can pass some last ditch legislation before the democrats can be sown in next year. So there is yet more misery to look forward to.

365 days, 2608 (un)presidential tweets, one supreme court appointee, a criminal tax law change, the erosion of healthcare, unbanned travel bans, gutting of federal environmental regulations, the steady rotting away of infrastructure and education, and total embarrassment around the world. Harvey Weinstein is finally toppled for his grossly inappropriate behavior and a legion of boorish cads from entertainment, the media, and politics disappear into the long brewing cesspool they made. But the president paid hush money to a pornstar to silence her about their 2006-? affair and nothing changes.

The president had himself spanked as the naughty boy he is with a magazine bearing himself, his wife and children. This is just the start of year two. By the end of year four I don’t think we’ll recognise the USA.

The Public are the Enemy? 

Yesterday there was a blockade of the weapons expo being held at the Westpac Stadium in Wellington. Contractors and dealers of things that kill were meeting with representatives from the defense force — something that has happened every year since 1997.

Most years this revolting expo has been held at Te Papa, but in 2015 it was at the TSB Arena, and there was a blockade organised by Peace Action Wellington was stormed by police who arrested 27 people. All charges were eventually dropped. The event was taken to Auckland last year.

But this year it was back and a new venue was found, the Westpac Stadium! How cunning of those wily defense force bosses, they chose a strategically difficult location, one that would require many hundreds of protesters to disrupt.

Peace Action Wellington, and the worthy organisations supporting them, were not outdone. Protest they did, and blockades of every known entrance to the venue occurred throughout the day. But the police were many, and they were brutal.

boyfriend Rei.jpg

14 people were arrested yesterday, including my boyfriend, who I watched from cellphone footage being dragged, throttled, stepped on, and abused by police. They had a cane because of their disabilities, and the police snatched it, broke it in half, and threw it over a fence.

cop dragging the Rei.jpg

It is a chargeable offense to raise a hand to a cop, but not the other way around. They own violence, and they deal in it with relish.

I wasn’t on the scene yesterday, as the cowards on social media who joked that the busloads of weapons dealers should have rolled right over the protesters, were not. But I know now where I stand, much more clearly than before yesterday. It is with the people who reject violence, who love peace, and are willing the lay down before the wheels of an unjust system. A system created and upheld by the perverters of human dignity.

 

All photos are taken from stuff.co.nz which I hope is okay. If it isn’t, they can eat my entire ass and choke. Seriously though, I am not profiting from this and the link from the article is below, so be cool. Be cool.

https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/97713861/peace-action-blockades-westpac-stadium-arms-industry-forum

Cynical Rot

This is a response to the torrid commentary in NZ media in general, and in particular to an opinion piece by Finlay Macdonald that was posted on RNZ on August 9. You can read his piece here.

Of all the disgusting articles posted about Metiria Turei’s resignation, Finlay Macdonald’s contribution is particularly mean-spirited. He argues, in short, that it wasn’t the offense at the centre of the controversy – lying to Work and Income – that was bad, it was Turei’s own handling of the affair. Further, he charges that it was absurd that she should resign on the basis that the public scrutiny of her family was unbearable, because, as he puts it:

“Having invited scrutiny of her private life… If it is not too blunt to ask, what the hell did she expect?” – Finlay Macdonald on Metiria Turei.

That sent a chill to my occipital lobe, perhaps because it is self-evidently victim blaming language. She was asking for it, she should have known what would happen, bad Turei! I say this is absolutely and stunningly wrong, not only in moral terms, but as a basic political analysis.

The layers of irony in Macdonald’s piece might be funny if they were not so overdrawn. I almost expect a disclaimer that the article is a clumsy satire on media commentators becoming so saturated in parliamentary politics that they are more hack than human. At least, they have either forgotten the human element, or simply deny that it exists.

This is deep cynicism, to actually convict Turei of the heresy of not being cynical. Of not acting as a cold and ruthless political machine. Of having the temerity to be hurt when her family is bullied and harassed for nearly a month by the media, and attacked online by political opponents, and troglodytes with nothing to say that isn’t intended to hurt.

The crux of Macdonald’s argument, and I think it encapsulates the thinking of many on the centre-left, is that the damage done to the Green Party, and the left in general, is the sole responsibility of the former co-leader. Here, I smell the sterile odor of a whitewash, the clean-up crew from the political centre heaping as much rubbish onto the most prominent Māori leader the left has. All to spare their dream of a gentle change of government from centre to centre. Nevermind that it is mere weeks since Labour was itself in turmoil, no, Turei might have spoiled it all.

Therefore, if the result of the September election is that Jacinda Ardern is not Prime Minister, fault can be dumped on Turei for fatally compromising the campaign. Forgive my cynicism, but I think it is distinctly less rotten because unlike Finlay Macdonald, I don’t expect or desire politicians to act cynically. I don’t think it is ever desirable to put the world-weary in command of even a slice of the world.

The truth might actually be that Metiria Turei didn’t know what speaking up about her experience on the DPB in the 1990s would do, but that she genuinely believed it worth taking the risk and standing up for the powerless.  Doing so is worth losing support today, even her own position, and maybe even the election. Is it worth changing the government if the price is shutting down such an important debate about dignity in the welfare system? I don’t think it is, frankly.

However, I’m glad to say that the debate isn’t going away. This particular elephant has been in the room a long time and Metiria Turei has turned us to face it. That she paid a heavy political, and personal price should not be thrown back in her face. The tragedy is that New Zealand politics is a little more cynical.

 

 

 

NZIFF: Final Portrait

Righto, not having written a blogpost in a while I will keep this fairly terse. The New Zealand International Film Festival is on in Wellington, and if you are in a position to attend a screening I strongly recommend that you do. In fact, don’t even check what you are about to see. Get a ticket for whatever and enjoy the surprise; independent cinema won’t hurt you. Now then, on to what I saw today:

Final Portrait (wri/dir: Stanley Tucci, starring: Geoffrey Rush, Armie Hammer) is a character study of Swiss-Italian artist Alberto Giacometti (b. 1901 – d.1966), set in Paris in 1964.

Giacometti, a draftsman and sculptor as well as a painter, is particularly known for his  style of rendering the human form in long, gaunt, monochromatic shapes. Coincidentally, my father showed me some of Giacometti’s work only a matter of weeks ago, and it was the first time that I actually took note of who he was. Therefore, seeing Final Portrait was, for me, a perfect elaboration from that introduction.

Geoffrey Rush is just as brilliant as I expected, playing irritable, chain-smoking, eccentrics is hardly a leap for him, but few could have done it better. Rush captures the look of Giacometti; the muttering bleakness of his spirit, and all the idiosyncrasies to be found in painters. I don’t have the knowledge to verify to accuracy of the portrayal, but to do so would be a mistake in my view. It would be beside the point. Let me explain.

James Lord (played by Armie Hammer), was Giacometti’s biographer, and in the movie he is enduring sitting after sitting in the hope of getting a finished portrait of himself to take back to New York, where his fiancee is waiting for him. The days pass by, and progress is slow. Giacometti sits opposite Lord in the studio and watches him, getting him to move his body by miniscule amounts, stopping work frequently crying, “fuck!” Sometimes packing up having only added a few strokes to the picture. As the sessions wear on, Lord’s morale is worn thin, and he despairs that the painting will never be finished.

Giacometti also despairs. That he can’t finish anything. He says to Lord, “When I was young I thought I could do anything, when I grew up I realised I can do nothing.” This may not be mere fatalism, but an expression of the existentialist view that modernity is vacuous. That it is without meaning. In the face of that, Giacometti searches for meaning in his subjects – in James Lord.

The painting itself, and the act of painting it, is cathartic for both Giacometti and Lord. The film, with it’s wit, and its excellent supporting cast (Clémence Poésy (Caroline), Tony Shalhoub (Diego Giacometti), James Faulkner (Pierre Matisse), Sylvie Testud (Annette Arm), is a much easier watch than Mr. Turner was, which is the best film I can compare it with – in terms of being about an artist.

Unfortunately, I have exhausted my analytical ability, and to continue to slip on the keyboard would be a waste of my, and your time. For art lovers this is not a film to miss.

That’s all for now.