Tagged: waffle watch

David Cunliffe is dangerous

Does David Cunliffe have a secret army of ninja warriors training in the Waitakere ranges?  An underground volcanic lair?  Has he implanted Trevor Mallard with a miniature explosive which will be triggered if he ever experiences a moment of true happiness?

Seriously, these are the only conclusions I can draw.  I feel like finding whichever senior, probably safe-electorate-seat veterans who know they’ll be collecting a Parliamentary paycheque till the day they die, MPs talked shit to Duncan Garner and slap them upside the head, screaming “YOU DO GET THAT HE LOST, RIGHT?”

I mean, Shearer’s in charge, right?  And the big Labour Party reforms are basically going to cement his leadership in place, right?  So why the need to tear him down, and why pick that most cliched of leadership-challenge moments, When He’s Overseas, to do it?

It’s just a bit fucking pathetic, is what it is.

For more thoughtful analysis, see Bryce Edwards and Mickysavage and even Scott Yorke.

Meanwhile, the Glorious Golden Saviour of Labour has been making more dire speeches.  This one was to the heartland.  I can tell by the way he says “heartland” 18 times in a 2,900-word speech (that’s 3 times per page in a 10-pt Word doc.)  Truly inspiring Sam Seaborn-esque lines include:

We need the heartland of New Zealand to succeed. If it doesn’t succeed, New Zealand won’t succeed.

and

One of their points is that here is no shortage of ideas and strategy and documents, and most of them contain sound advice full of proposals for incremental change that will, taken together, add up to a big difference.

Remember, it’s all in the painfully.  Slow.  And thoughtful.  Way you over-pronounce it.

Shambles II: Return of the waffle

Well, if anyone needed proof, here it is – no one in the Labour leadership reads my blog.

Either that or the entire Labour leadership is dedicated to trolling me and willing to destroy their own credibility to do so, which is probably unlikely.  Probably.

Let me just put my reaction to this utterly shambolic recent offering into perspective:  tonight I rewatched part 2 of a great episode of The West Wing, “20 hours in America”.  And this happened:

President Bartlet:  The streets of heaven are too crowded with angels, but every time we think we have measured our capacity to meet a challenge, we look up and we’re reminded that that capacity may well be limitless. This is a time for American heroes. We will do what is hard. We will achieve what is great. This is a time for American heroes and we reach for the stars. God bless their memory, God bless you and God bless the United States of America. Thank you.

Bruno (to Sam):  When did you write that last part?

Sam:  In the car.

Bruno:  Freak.

In comparison, dear readers, we of the New Zealand left are meant to derive hope, inspiration, and enthusiasm for the cause out of:

When I visit some of the smartest new businesses as I go around New Zealand I see them working cooperatively to get ahead.

Almost invariably I see management and workers intelligently demonstrating good faith on all sides and a recognition that everyone’s in there doing their best.

Look, even Martin Sheen ain’t making that scripted-by-committee shit sound cool.

I said this in my last, more even-handed post on the topic, and clearly no one paid attention, so here it is again:

Great speeches are stirring and powerful and they have a sodding point, which they make clearly and strongly in a whole series of interconnected sentences.  Maybe they use repetition for effect (dream/fight them on the beaches etc) and maybe they start off with a cute little anecdote … but fuck, they’ve got to have soul.

I sincerely defy anyone, including youse fullas on Twitter making statements like “but you’re not the target audience” and “they’re trying to recapture the centre, not disaffected progressives”, to tell me that “A Country That Works For All Kiwis” has soul.

That lines like:

I’d like to begin with a question.

Are you familiar with the expression ‘shadow yacht’?

… actually speak to you as a person and make you want to know more … rather than sound like the opening of an infomercial for some kind of self-actualising book-on-tape series narrated by a man with too many teeth and pretty hair.

Or that a wandering paragraph about mansions in Connecticut (probably most familiar to Kiwis as the resident state of the Baby-Sitters Club) has even half the power of any hand-written amateur “I am the 99%” sign you might have seen over the past year.

Or, to be honest, that there is anything in this set of vaguely-connected sentences which in any way can be distinguished from exactly what John Key would say in any speech on a similar theme:

I want us to become prosperous together and give everyone a fair share.

New Zealand has such enormous potential as a nation – that we really can be a place where anyone can grow up hopeful, with the future they dream of within their grasp.

Last month I gave the first of a series of speeches I’ll be making about New Zealand’s future.

I said I intend to lead a government that creates a new New Zealand.

I’ll be setting out how we get there, step by step.

I have talked about the need to lift our educational achievement and the importance of science and innovation in creating more exports.

Today I want to talk to the New Zealanders who are doing the work but not reaping the rewards.

Here in New Zealand we have been working harder than almost anyone in the developed world.

But it’s not paying off.

We are trying to succeed by squeezing more out of people, by paying lower wages than other countries and working longer hours than them.

When people tell me they’re actually working harder for less, I believe them.

Hundreds of thousands of honest individuals get out of bed each day and go to work, and they cannot get ahead.

The only difference is in the next line, where Shearer … well, eventually makes some kind of point about growth in productivity vs wage growth in real terms and somehow this is about Australia, but where John Key would … also make some point about Australia, but then move on to red tape, company tax, and trickle-down theory.

The point, yet again, is this:  it may seem really nifty to those who are still hanging on to the dream of a Labour Party with guts to see a speech full of positive aspirational stuff, occasional plaintive dogwhistles to the nursing/IT 2.5 kid crowd and the contractor who wants a new van … but what is there in this speech which will make some swinging centre voter say “Ooh, I like this Nice Mr Shearer a lot more than Nice Mr Key”?

Are we seriously just going to see Labour churning out more “I like New Zealand.  New Zealand is great, and our people are great.  And we’re not bastards with shadow yachts, we just want to have a nice soccer camp for our children, and our children’s children” in the hope that enough Gerry Brownlee-related cockups will take the shine off Key and make Shearer comparatively brighter?

And the thing is, at its very, very stripped-down core, it’s not actually a bad speech!  There are some points in there about the super-rich prospering at the expense of workers, the myth of “productivity” gains, plain simple facts about how hardworking New Zealanders are, creating real opportunities for young people … and it’s completely drowned out with smarm and cliche and significant.  Pauses.

The closest we get to impassioned, punchy oratory is this (and it’s not very close at all):

We need to imagine an economy where we say: Dammit, we can have a country where everyone has enough to live on.

But after trudging through the schlock that came before it, all my brain could leap to was this.

If you insist: Shearer’s speech was a shambles

Okay, chaps, you’ve convinced me.  I may try to be even-handed, but at the end of the day, I expect more from the leader of the Labour Party, and Shearer’s speech was not bold, it was not courageous, it didn’t shake my antipathy towards the party one iota.

There are those who disagree.

There are those who, in fact, think Shearer signalling a move further to the right is in fact a good thing, and we peons who think it’s an abrogation of his duties and an abandonment of his party’s basic principles just don’t understand MMP.

In MMP, apparently, the major leftwing party should just screw the poor, jump on the bene-bashing bandwagon, and buy in to all of National/ACT’s rhetoric because hey, they can always just build coalitions with leftwing parties after the election!  That’ll go swimmingly!

Right up until people point out that using a more extreme party as a cover to pass an agenda you didn’t explicitly campaign on is (a) dishonest, (b) just fucks the minor party and leaves you all-but-bereft of options, and (c) kinda what we’ve been bagging National for for some time now.

Also that whole “betraying the electorate” is definitely a vote-winner and not something an already National-friendly media would just jump on.

But hey, clearly “whether I like it or not“, rightwing vocabulary and ideas and policies are just mainstream now, and we have to work within their framing on their homeground, on a playing field which is specifically designed to lead to their kinds of policies because the rules are written by them and for them.

I guess the only reason Shearer et al aren’t folding up the party and joining National wholesale is because, um, blue isn’t their colour?

So, without further ado and besides the aforementioned “let’s kill the art of oratory with stilted disconnected statements of boringness”, here’s the problems I have with Shearer’s speech.  You may note it covers basically the entire speech.

It starts with a pointless anecdote.  The reason it’s pointless is that someone got hooked on the whole lamb thing, so Shearer focuses too much on the line about lambs, instead of the far better point that our agriculture-based economy can be likened to the Barnum exhibit in that it’s a sham, it’s pretend, it’s unsustainable.

He talks about “anyone who can tell you we can make things better here without making big changes” – like that doesn’t open the door to the Right saying “you’re absolutely right, so bye-bye assets and progressive tax systems – hey, you should be on board with this!”

The honest truth is that a commodities boom, even if it keeps on rolling, isn’t enough on its own to pay for what we need.

But it won’t keep rolling! It can’t! Why would you even mention this as a possibility? Why not say, “the commodities boom cannot keep rolling, and it’s not even paying for itself now”?

Why the fuck make some stupid, out-of-nowhere comment about visions being like freaking Excalibur if you’re then going to launch straight into your vision … and yet not tell us what you’re doing with it because “oh, the policy hasn’t been formulated yet”?

Also, NO ONE TAPES “KICK ME” SIGNS TO THEIR OWN BACK. How long has it been since these guys were in high school?

Why buy into the notion that “people [should] know they can get ahead”? Why subscribe to the notion we can only be happy by accruing goods and wealth? Why not “New Zealand should be a place where people know they can live well, where we’re all secure and able to live good lives”?

Why the hell is anyone chuffed with the mention of Esko Aho and his amazing achievements, when the punctuation at the end is the phrase, “Though our prescription might differ, we could all take a lesson from that”? Because what Shearer just said there, people, is “the important thing is Aho didn’t focus on getting re-elected, but screw all that other stuff I just mentioned, we’ll probably do something different.”

After emphasising so freaking much that visions are meaningless without action, that big change is needed, bite the bullet seize the day reach for the brass ring, what do we get? “A completely new New Zealand. I can forgive you if you have your doubts.”

You’d better be in a forgiving mood, David, because my doubts could create a solar eclipse at this point. We’ll have a plan! Day One we’ll be raring to go! Oh, what that plan might be? No idea. Still in the developmental stages, a bit of focus grouping, maybe a scoping document in the works, but roughly, definitely, there’s a plan, and it’s, um … get re-elected. Just like Esko Aho.

And please, someone shoot whoever thought that it made any sense to say “We need a completely new New Zealand. We’ll have a plan, Day One, etc etc, but I don’t have the plan right now, but if I had to summarise, I’d say we need a new New Zealand.”

Because that just smells like self-referential meaningless bullshit to me.

Then it’s some “I love being back here in … WELLINGTON!” cheap pop, yes we’re all so clever and awesome and yay, and question our assumptions, etc etc. and then it’s straight back into rightwing bollocks:

I believe we can look after everyone better, not by cutting taxes, but by earning more as a country and making sure that everyone gets a real chance to earn their share.

I will bet anyone reading this right now a shiny dollar that originally, that sentence included the phrase grow the pie.

To education, which apparently is the first, and arguably the most important, part of the plan they don’t have yet which will contain policies which don’t exist. Quick: to the I Worked In International Aid anecdote mobile! How fortunate David has a story which roughly equates to “I taught a man to fish and fed him for a lifetime.”

David gets nicely on board with the Crosby Textor “bag our school system but praise the smart kids first so you look understanding and compassionate” meme. We need to value teachers! Yeah teachers! This is sounding positively Labourish! Oh, wait. Just a setup for “bad teachers are bad, naughty unions protecting bad teachers, Won’t Someone Think of the Children” routine #43. David’s a parent! He thinks about parents! God help us all.

Some more delicious shit sandwich is served up:

We all have an instinctive sense in New Zealand that everyone deserves a go, and that everyone needs to pull their weight and contribute.

Labour believes that. It always has.

Don’t let anyone tell you different.

Shorter Shearer: Everyone deserves a go! And some of you are filthy bludging scum. And don’t let anyone tell you different apparently means “National are wrong to say we love bludgers. We hate bludgers. And bad teachers!”

And with a shout-out to that pointless anecdote at the beginning, ’cause everyone loves lambs, we’re out.

Are you serious, people?  I’m meant to get excited about that?  I’m meant to lie back and think of England and say “oh well, the media are against us and the right control the framing of the discussion, so a single sentence on a capital gains tax means we’re back, baby!!!”

Well, you can just sod right off.

Two speeches one ugh

So, David Shearer and John Key made some speeches today.  In the interests of even-handedness and refuting the obvious “splitter, y u hate Labour” response I get every time I dare question that sweet fuck-all has changed in Labour since they lost in 2008 … my response applies to both.

What a gigantic load of “meh”.

I’m not even talking about the policy points, nor the somewhat pained metaphors (apparently “not knowing how to use Excalibur” is some kind of cultural touchstone, despite not appearing anywhere on TV Tropes).  I’m not even hugely bothered by the big announcements (National are restructuring the public service based on the back-in-vogue notion that big, generalised ministries = more efficient; the smart money says when they’re in power in the 2020s it’ll be back to small, specialised ministries = more focused and cost-effective / Labour are probably standing by more policies they nicked from the Green Party and like Elizabeth Hurley lambs.)

I’m bothered by the utter, utter shittiness of modern speechwriting.

Great speeches are stirring and powerful and they have a sodding point, which they make clearly and strongly in a whole series of interconnected sentences.  Maybe they use repetition for effect (dream/fight them on the beaches etc) and maybe they start off with a cute little anecdote … but fuck, they’ve got to have soul.

When written out, I like to assume they have more than one sentence per paragraph, on average.  They could even make good blog posts, albeit lacking whatever awesome quality or memorableness a good orator’s voice adds (other things great speeches need?  To be read by good orators).

Neither Key’s nor Shearer’s speeches are even in the same room as great speeches.  They’re fucking boring, they’re mechanical, their writers think adding a pregnant pause at the end of each sentence makes them sound meaningful.  Those sentences apparently don’t need to actually connect together, except in some weird, stream-of-consciousness way.

Let’s just try a simple compare-and-contrast, first off with one of the great speeches of the 21st century so far (pity the dude in question has turned out to be kinda rubbish):

We can stop sending our children to schools with corridors of shame and start putting them on a pathway to success. We can stop talking about how great teachers are and start rewarding them for their greatness. We can do this with our new majority.

We can harness the ingenuity of farmers and scientists; citizens and entrepreneurs to free this nation from the tyranny of oil and save our planet from a point of no return.

And when I am President, we will end this war in Iraq and bring our troops home; we will finish the job against al Qaeda in Afghanistan; we will care for our veterans; we will restore our moral standing in the world; and we will never use 9/11 as a way to scare up votes, because it is not a tactic to win an election, it is a challenge that should unite America and the world against the common threats of the twenty-first century: terrorism and nuclear weapons; climate change and poverty; genocide and disease.

All of the candidates in this race share these goals. All have good ideas. And all are patriots who serve this country honorably.

But the reason our campaign has always been different is because it’s not just about what I will do as President, it’s also about what you, the people who love this country, can do to change it.

That’s why tonight belongs to you. It belongs to the organizers and the volunteers and the staff who believed in our improbable journey and rallied so many others to join.

Thank the Gods Obama didn’t have either of our major parties’ speechwriters to hand, because it would probably have turned out more like:

School is important because it helps kids succeed.

We need to help kids succeed because kids are important.

But teachers are like Excalibur, they need someone to kick the tyres and pull them out of the stone of failure.

And farmers are like Narsil, and scientists are like Krod Mandoon’s Flaming Sword of Fire, and we need them to succeed, too.

We need our thinking people to think for us to develop a knowledge wave.

That’s how we’re going to succeed.

And [when I am Prime Minister / as Prime Minister] we will do things to make this success happen.

But this isn’t just about me.

This is about you.

And you are like our Excalibur, and when we know how to use you no more children will be abused.

No one wants children to be abused.

We want to change things and you are the wind beneath our wings.

Let’s succeed together.

For some actual policy-related comment, see Dim Post and No Right Turn.

~

Just because I know you’re salivating for some Labour-hating, go reread this post, pretend I say “David” instead of “Annette” and focus especially on the points about cliches, using the language of the enemy, and still being boringly vague while promising that honestly, the concrete policies you’re desperate for are [still] in development!

~

Horrifying afterthought: is Shelley Bridgeman writing both Key and Shearer’s speeches?

Why I’m not buying the Stop Asset Sales campaign

… and it ain’t because of road safety rules or the stellar work Labour’s designers did making the authorisation as small as possible while remaining vaguely legible.

It starts with a speech by David Cunliffe in November 2010:

Crucially in a capital constrained fiscal environment, we will better leverage the Crown’s balance sheet in new and innovative ways.

We can expand public-private partnerships for new transport infrastructure.  The project scale must be right and the PPP benefits must outweigh any increase in cost of capital, but that leaves plenty of scope for win-wins .

We can unleash State Owned Enterprises to create and grow new subsidiaries with private partners and shareholders, without diluting the taxpayer’s equity, or wholly or partially privatizing the SOE.

We can turn old models of Government participation in economic development on their head by using equity rather than grants; private sector exports [sic] rather than bureaucrats, and rigorous performance measures rather than public sector doubletalk.

Which with its combination of basically saying “we like the good kinds of privatisation which aren’t really privatisation but are a magical process of getting private investment in public assets without them expecting any form of stake or ownership in return” plus buying into “the public sector are fat and lazy” rhetoric plus the line that “no seriously, this is totes New and Innovative and not the same old neoliberal shit with a few sops to our remaining lefty fans” was depressing enough.

Anyhoo, the sadly-in-hiatus Marty G took to that on The Standard, got a pretty awesomely upfront response from Cunliffe, and then pointed out that PPPs are still universally shit and that expecting to get honest, balanced advice from Treasury?  Tell ‘im ‘e’s dreaming:

There’s a difference between National and Labour’s policies on SOEs and privatisation  – National: we might part sell SOEs, Labour: we might part sell new subsidiaries of SOEs as long as it doesn’t dilute equity in existing SOEs – but they look very similar to the casual observer. Especially since National could just adopt Labour’s policy, carve SOEs into ‘new subsidiaries’, and sell them off for the same result as its policy.

The notoriously ‘pro-road at any cost’ NZTA, Treasury, and MED will be chomping at the bit for sell-offs and PPPs, and providing advice that everything will be fine.

Fast-forward to recent weeks, and Labour launch a bold, certainly attention-grabbing, Stop Asset Sales campaign.  It’s probably good marketing, it’s a nice clear message, it would definitely be nice if it seemed to be part of a concerted campaign, and it’s got two major weaknesses in that the non-politically-aware demographic might just be confused, because That Nice Mr Key said they wouldn’t totally sell asset sales* while the more-politically-aware demographic look at speeches like Cunliffe’s above and wonder, “Shouldn’t those signs read “Stop Asset Sales, terms & conditions apply”?”

And then you get a snarky hater like me who first of all looks at the “donate a sign” page for the campaign and thinks “If Labour is literally spending $10 per sign and can’t even give a discount on a 10-sign donation I may not want such fiscal geniuses in charge of my country’s economy” and then sees Trevor Mallard trying to sell the line that:

Phil Goff has made it clear that No Asset sales means just that.

Which he really, really hasn’t if you’re a sarcastic wench like me.  Consider:

“My position is I don’t want to see the SOEs sold at all,” Mr Goff replied.

“I just want to consider flogging off small parts of them under a theoretically restrictive set of conditions,” he continued.

“What I am saying to you today very clearly is that Labour won’t be selling the assets that all of us as New Zealanders own now.”

“But my Finance spokesperson also says very clearly that we will consider arrangements which basically boil down to partial privatisation, giving the private sector the benefits and putting the risk onto the public sector.”

“But I have to look after the interests of all New Zealanders, both as taxpayers and consumers.”

Because you can always spot the Labour leaders by the way they categorise New Zealanders as consumers and taxpayers,** unlike the right who focus on New Zealanders’ rights as citizens … oh wait.

“As taxpayers it doesn’t make sense to us to lose control of those assets.”

“Which of course is exactly the line National is running with that whole “keeping a controlling stake” thing, but we mean, um, a different kind of not-losing-control-of-those-assets …”

“The difference is when you have sold them you have lost them and lose the dividend stream forever.”

… Unless you don’t sell them but instead allow private investment in their subsidiaries and expand public-private partnerships, right?

Goff scoffed at National’s plans to sell to “mum and dad” investors. “Mums and dads can’t even afford the power bills, let alone to buy the power companies,” he said.

Mr Goff was later observed looking puzzled and asking his political advisors, “Do you peeps think I should have maybe led with that strong, punchy mums-and-dads line instead of waffling on in terms which actually leave a lot of space for us to organise schemes and partial privatisations which the good people spending their $10 per sign will probably consider a betrayal of a rather blunt, uncompromising campaign statement?”

~

*And even lefties aren’t entirely comfortable expressing the view that everything is a lie.

**Maybe if Goff loves consumers and taxpayers so much he could set up an Association for them.

Waffle watch: police complaints edition

Via Radio NZ:

Mr Goff has admitted he got it wrong when he pressured Prime Minister John Key to reveal details of a police investigation into a former National MP.

Mr Goff says he has a better understanding now of how these things work and regrets pressuring Mr Key at the time to discuss aspects of the police complaint.

I cede the floor to Mr McEnroe.

So let’s get this straight:

One of the only issues in this term where Goff has been able to largely control the story, stand up for a progressive principle in the face of horrific misogyny and victim-blaming and conspiracy-theory-spinning.  The scalp of a Minister and an eternal “so why was he fired, Mr Open Smile and Transparent Wave?”

… was all a fucking mistake because a former Minister of Justice, whose deputy is a former Minister of Police, didn’t know how sensitive-political-ramifications investigations went?

Let’s consider something far less Pythonesque.

Phil Goff doesn’t actually believe in the right of women not to be sexually harassed and doesn’t really think New Zealanders have the right to know why a Minister of the Crown was bundled out of a job.  Phil Goff sat on his fucking hands over whatever allegations have been levelled at Darren Hughes and hoped it would all go away and has no one in his staff who thought “maybe this could fucking backfire on us a tiny bit”.

And now that it has, now that those principled statements have been revealed as waffle, the only possible way to make this not about hypocrisy and cover-ups and double standards is to tell the public Phil Goff has no fucking idea what he’s doing.

That is their idea of “positive” spin.

We are just so fucked.