Ears on the Wall Syndrome: The real wealth of a nation is its people...

9 November 2012

The euphoria over the re-election of Barak Obama for another four years will continue to hum over the land of the free and home of the brave for the next few days. But, what is clear, all the pre-election huffs and puffs by the supporters of both sides, fuelled by the heightened atmosphere inflated by the media, ended unpredictably in a hiss and a hoot.

Dr Featuna'i Liua'ana and author of Ears on the Wall syndrome

Dr Featuna’i Liua’ana

The expected fireworks fizzled out to a sparkler as many political commentators crawled into their little enclaves wondering why an election predicted to be the hardest to call turned out, as Frankie Valli would sing “so close, so close, and yet so far”.

In the end, Barak Obama easily won despite the close margin in the numbers that voted for each of the candidates; but it is not the number of votes one accumulates that matters but the number of states that a candidate wins.

Barak Obama had many hurdles to negotiate to get re-elected, especially with the state of the economy and unemployment which Mitt Romney utilise to discredit Barak Obama’s lack of leadership, but the people of the United States stayed loyal with the incumbent leader. Interestingly, as I watched the reaction of the two different camps after Barak Obama had been returned to office, I could not help but notice the lack of colour among the supporters of Mitt Romney compared to the rainbow of nations, as well as a huge cross-section of gender and age cheering together at Barak Obama’s victory celebration.

Even the political analysts, such as Nik Dirga, admits that “Obama won in all the ways that matter – young voters, ethnic voters, women voters [and] urban centres.” But, the difference in voters’ demography is not surprising, because many poor and low income people, as well as many non-European ethnic groups, identify with Barak Obama as someone whom in his actions cares first and foremost for the welfare of the people.

For instance, the poor appreciated Barak Obama radically changing the health care system so that  the poor could have a slice of health care; and recently, when hurricane Sandy devastated the east coast of the United States, Barak Obama dropped everything and was immediately on the scene not to primarily assess the economic cost but to identify with, and comfort, people who suffered and their loss.

The political commentators can speculate all they want as to the why Barak Obama had won with ease, but at the end of the day it was about recognising that the real wealth of a nation is its people. However, what boggles the mind is the fact that many politicians have not, or have been very slow, to embrace this fact; and yet the advice had been out there since 2010 in a report by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). The report, entitled The Real Wealth of Nations: Pathways to Human Development, suggests that a strong economy does not guarantee peoples’ health or happiness. The report also “confirms that purely economic measures of national achievement are insufficient in tracking progress in health, education and overall living standards.”

Barak Obama seems to be walking this talk as his speech encouraging voters seems to indicate, he said, “there’s still a lot of folks who have yet to cast their ballots. And they’ve got a choice between two candidates and two parties, but more importantly, between two visions of our country. It’s a choice between returning to the top-down policies that crashed our economy – or a vision of our economy that grows from the middle class out, from the bottom up.”

Barak Obama goes on to say, “But what we also believe is our markets, our free enterprise system, it works best when everybody is participating, when everybody has a chance to succeed, when everybody has a decent education and everybody is learning new skills….We think we’re stronger when everybody has affordable health care, when everybody has Medicare and Social Security that they can count on in their golden years.  We think our markets work better when there are rules in place to protect our kids….rules to protect consumers from being taken advantage of by an unscrupulous credit card company or mortgage lender.”

Barak Obama has not pretended there is no economic crisis, and that the unemployment figures are over-stated and blown out; he acknowledges its constant presence. But it has not detract him from putting in place policies that does not make the poor and the unemployed, and the poverty stricken families trying to make ends meet, scapegoats for the economic and high unemployment crisis.

If there is one lesson that the United States election and Barak Obama can teach John Key and his government, it is to recognise that the real wealth of a nation is its people. When, and if, John Key acknowledges this fact, then the arrogance, that he and some of his Ministers had displayed, contributing  to many people’s suffering benefit cuts, job losses, and being made homeless, would be revisited with more compassion. But, judging by John Key’s reaction to last week’s Household Labour Force Survey that reported a 13,000 rise in unemployment, taking the unemployment figures to almost 300,000; this figure does not include the loss of jobs that will come with the closing down of Dynamic Controls.

But, John Key has again refused to accept the report and has suggested that the figures used in the report may have been wrong, and needs to be looked at again. No surprises there! Again, it is someone else fault, as John Key refuses to admit ‘the buck stops’ with him. But, whether John Key accepts the report or not is irrelevant, because no matter how he and the government tries to brush it under the carpet, it would only create a huge ugly bulge that would not go away.

I know for certain that Pacific Islanders have had enough of the lies, especially when some of their own Pacific Islander MPs are at the forefront in pulling the wool over the eyes of their own people. For instance, where are the 7000 jobs a month that Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga had passionately gloated about a few months ago? Show me the jobs? Maybe not!

The latest unemployment figures show the bulk of the unemployed are Maori and Pacific Islanders; the national unemployment rate sits at 7.3 percent of the population, but Maori and Pacific Islanders unemployment figures sits at 15.1 and 15.6 percent respectively.

The effect of having so many unemployed will be felt all the way down to the youngest of the children within the families affected. There will be more children living in poverty, more families being pushed out of affordable housing by Housing New Zealand rent hikes, more children will be at risk of not receiving health care and a good education, and there will definitely be more Pacific Islanders and Maori youths being guests of the newly proposed Wiri penal complex.

If there is one thing we can be sure about is that the government’s emphasis on sacrificing the poor and poverty stricken New Zealanders for economic recovery has only succeeded in seeing many businesses closing down and moving overseas. It seems, the only people benefiting from the poor and welfare stricken beneficiaries, and those who have lost their jobs and have hightailed it out of New Zealand for greener pastures, are the rich and the government employees whose pay packets continue to bulge despite skimming New Zealanders of their entitlements in compensation, and allowing New Zealanders’ private information for public reading.

In a nutshell, John Key and his government has failed miserably; they have not seen the tears nor hear the cries of  the people of New Zealand who have been physically, mentally and spiritually victimized and demoralized for the sake of economic policies that have failed.

The presidential election in the United States last week has much to teach New Zealand voters; it has much to teach people about loyalty and working together to achieve what Barak Obama believed had been the wrong focus for many United States governments in the past. It is something, I believe, has also been misunderstood and has misled many of John Key and his National government policies of late.

Barak Obama said, “for most of the last decade, we [government] tried giving big tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans that we couldn’t afford. We tried giving insurance companies and oil companies and Wall Street the license to do whatever they pleased. And what we got was falling incomes, and record deficits, and the slowest job growth in half a century, and an economic crisis that we’ve been cleaning up after ever since.”

Barak Obama goes on to say that, “part of a presidential race is about policy and part of it is about trust. You’ve got to have a sense of whether or not the person means what they say, and say what they mean….You may not agree with every decision I’ve made….You may be frustrated sometimes by the pace of change — guess what? So am I. But you know what I believe. You know where I stand. You know I tell the truth. And you know that I will fight for you and your families every single day as hard as I know how.”

Barak Obama winning his second term in office happened because the people believed he cared for them more than he does his economic policies; and many New Zealanders are hoping that John Key also recognises the same fact that New Zealanders are the real wealth of this nation.

I call upon John Key and the government to return the benefits to whom it deserve and give poor families a living wage to kick start them in making and carrying out better choices; make housing more affordable for poverty stricken and poor families; help keep manufacturing and industries in operation, not by closing them down but giving them incentives and a helping hand so that New Zealanders can be kept in employment; and to prevent, what Baraka Obama calls, “a return to the top-down policies” that has ruin many lives and countries, and embrace “an economy that grows from the middle class out, from the bottom up.”

But, if John Key and the National government fail to heed the voices of the mass now, and fail to acknowledge that the real wealth of a nation is its people, then only time will tell if their arrogance has all been worth it come 2014.

But, for now, let’s not give up our struggle not just for a more prosperous New Zealand, but for more healthier and happier New Zealanders; and remember, continue to seek the peace and prosperity of this country to which God has given us to dwell. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper…




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