Tuesday, 23 October 2018

Missing.

Where's Jami? Jami-Lee Ross has promised to expose what he alleges to be the corruption and moral failings of at least some of this country’s leading parliamentarians. When a person promising revelations of this kind is suddenly uplifted and immured in a secure mental health facility, the public has a right to know on whose authority it was done; how it was accomplished – and to what purpose?

LOCKING DISSIDENTS AWAY in mental institutions was arguably a more humane sanction than sending them off to the gulag. Even so, many of the stories that have emerged from the Soviet Union of the 1970s and 80s are just as chilling as Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s description of the camps. “Patients” subjected to chemical lobotomisation wandered the corridors of state asylums like ghosts. By no means all of the citizens detained were released, and those who made it out were much changed. For a start, they were no longer dissidents.

Learning that a New Zealand Member of Parliament had been detained under the Mental Health Act, it was hard not to think of those Soviet era victims. After all, the MP for Botany, Jami-Lee Ross must be counted among the most destructive malcontents ever to occupy a seat in the NZ House of Representatives. His determination to punish the National Party and its leadership for (as he saw it) abandoning him, was threatening to dissolve all the protections so painstakingly erected by MPs to keep themselves safe from each other’s spite. Prior to Ross’s detention, the party was looking at weeks, perhaps months, of drip-fed excoriation. Who knew how much undiluted political acid Jamie-Lee had in his possession?

Who has that acid now? Who is in possession of Ross’ property? His family? The unnamed mental health facility detaining him? The Police? The National Party? What, if any, obligation are those holding Ross’s phone, his laptop, his hard-copy files, under to keep them safe from prying eyes? What, if anything, has been happening at Ross’s home and/or his parliamentary and electorate offices in the time that has elapsed since he was taken into state custody? Has anyone come calling? If so, who was it – and what were they after?

The public has a right to know the answers to these questions. That would not be the case if Ross was just another citizen, but he is much more than that. Ross is someone who has promised to expose what he alleges to be the corruption and moral failings of at least some of this country’s leading parliamentarians. When a person promising revelations of this kind is suddenly uplifted and immured in a secure mental health facility, the public has a right to know on whose authority it was done; how it was accomplished – and to what purpose?

In particular, the public has a right to know what part, if any, the most obvious beneficiary of Ross’s extraction from the political environment, the NZ National Party, played in his detention.

There has been some comment to the effect that National has a duty of care to Ross. Such a claim presupposes that, in its dealings with Ross, National stands in a relationship akin to that of an employer. Such a presupposition is hard to reconcile with the fact that all political parties are voluntary organisations, whose members are free to remain with them, or leave, as they see fit. Having announced his resignation from the National Party on Tuesday, 16 October, Ross had clearly exercised his right to exit the organisation. Whatever relationship existed between Ross and National ended then. So, why, five days later, was the National Party giving out the very strong impression that it had, in some way, been involved in his detention under the Mental Health Act?

Moreover, if some nebulous duty of care towards Ross remained on National’s part, then why was the party so aggressive in its response to his actions. If its MPs were convinced that their former colleague was mentally unwell (something which the National Opposition’s spokespeople had strongly insinuated in a number of public statements) then why did they feel it necessary to so dramatically increase the stress he was under?

On his Whaleoil blog, Cameron Slater states that it fell to him and at least one other person to inform Ross’s wife of her husband’s fate. This information is deeply disturbing: suggesting, as it does, that at least one of Ross’ next-of-kin was not told of his situation, or even his whereabouts, by the authorities responsible for his detention. If confirmed, it raises serious questions about the legality of the entire process.

This is why the public deserves a full explanation of the Who? What? When? Where? Why? and How? of Jami-Lee Ross’s detention. There may be a completely acceptable reason for the MP for Botany being taken into custody; and those responsible may have been acting in strict accordance with the provisions of the Mental Health Act; but given the extraordinary circumstances in which Ross and his antagonists were enmeshed, and the very high stakes for which they were playing, the people of New Zealand need to hear it – all of it.

The old Soviet joke had it that the Russians must enjoy the best mental health in the world, because only an insane citizen would complain about living under Communist rule – and so few did. It’s the sort of black humour that dictatorships have long been famous for. Let’s hope that New Zealanders never learn to laugh, however sardonically, at their own loss of freedom.

This essay was posted simultaneously on Bowalley Road and The Daily Blog of Tuesday, 23 October 2018.

Friday, 19 October 2018

A Quick Update. (Satire)

Well, all I know, REDACTED, is that you scare the hell out of me!

“OPERATION HOTSPUR”

EXEC-COM TELE-CONFERENCE REDACTED TRANSCRIPT

( ON THE CALL: REDACTED, REDACTED, REDACTED, REDACTED )


REDACTED: Are we all here? Good. I thought it would be useful to arrange a quick update on the progress to date of Operation Hotspur.

REDACTED: Before you do, REDACTED, Why Hotspur?

REDACTED: Oh, well, JLR reminds me so much of Harry Hotspur in Shakespeare’s Henry IV Part One – the headstrong knight who refuses to be humiliated by the King and rises in rebellion against him.

REDACTED: Oh, right, very good. Sorry – go on.

REDACTED: Well, as REDACTED predicted, SB’s refusal to grant JLR everything he asked for back in February sent him into a black fury and made him extremely receptive to the idea of getting his own back. It really was very clever of you, REDACTED, to identify JLR’s acute sensitivity to even the slightest of slights. I’ve seldom encountered anyone more willing to allow their passion to over-rule their reason.

REDACTED: Yes, he really has proved to be the perfect patsy, hasn’t he?

REDACTED: However did you persuade him to tape his conversations with SB?

REDACTED: I simply told him it was necessary to prevent SB reneging on any more promises made to caucus colleagues and party members.

REDACTED: Your assessment of the recordings’ worth?

REDACTED: Oh, they’re dynamite. Not only in relation to SB, but to the whole party. If JLR is able to release even a handful of them before the by-election, then National’s going to be left looking pretty tawdry.

REDACTED: And, therefore, in even more need of a new, no-nonsense leader. Someone with the experience and the toughness to restore a sense of purpose – and discipline – to the Opposition.

REDACTED: Precisely, REDACTED. And exactly what Operation Hotspur was set up to achieve.

REDACTED: To expose and discredit the milksops and dunderheads who will never understand that “extremism in defence of liberty is no vice”.

REDACTED: Or that “moderation in pursuit of justice is no virtue”.

REDACTED: Back to JLR’s recordings for a minute. What’s next?

REDACTED: The next conversation will really set the newshounds off. They’ll all be replaying All The President’s Men in their heads. All determined to “follow the money”.

REDACTED: Good. Good. It always pays to let the journos think they’ve uncovered the story all by themselves.

REDACTED: Like JLR’s victims. I don’t imagine Newsroom found them without a little help from their “friends”.

REDACTED: Quite a lot of help actually.

REDACTED: Remind me again why that was necessary. Their story left JLR looking like a complete arsehole.

REDACTED: My dear REDACTED, that was the whole point! After all, we don’t want him to win Botany, do we? His primary use to us is as a dirt-thrower: against SB; against the front bench; the caucus; the whole poisoned party. We want the public to be in the market for a very stiff new broom. Someone determined to sweep every last trace of muck out of the cowshed.

REDACTED: May I inquire as to what happens when JLR finally twigs to the fact that he’s been set up? That he’s been acting as REDACTED’s stalking-horse all along? If he lost it over SB’s “treachery” – how do you suppose he’ll react to ours?

REDACTED: Something tells me that by the time JLR realises what has happened to him he’ll be so discredited that no one will believe a word he says.

REDACTED: Dear God, REDACTED, that’s cold. Are you really willing to see the man disintegrate completely?

REDACTED: Yes, who knows what he might be driven to?

REDACTED: Honestly, who on this call would be all that upset if JLR did do something foolish?

REDACTED: Jesus! This is all getting a little too “House of Cards” for my liking. It’s REDACTED’s leadership we’re promoting here – not Frank Underwoods!

REDACTED: That’s enough! Of course we’ll look after JLR. No one who stands with me now – even unwittingly – will go unrewarded. This party is going to be lifted – by the scruff of its neck if necessary – out of the mire into which that mincing currency trader led it. If you only knew how much I hated all that “Labour-Lite” poison we were forced to swallow. National’s not here to be the executor of Labour’s will. It’s here to draw out the best, the brightest and the strongest from New Zealand society. You don’t achieve that by being soft – by being weak. You do that by being strong. By not surrendering to the nay-sayers and the nimbys and the bleeding hearts! What was it Machiavelli said: “It is better to be feared than loved, if you cannot be both.”

REDACTED: He also said: “Men judge generally more by the eye than by the hand, for everyone can see and few can feel. Every one sees what you appear to be, few really know what you are.”

REDACTED: Well, all I know, REDACTED, is that you scare the hell out of me!

This satire was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 19 October 2018.

How Much Damage Has Jami-Lee Ross Really Done?

A Disturbance In The Force? The politics of countries like New Zealand are extremely difficult to derange. A politician like Jamie Lee Ross may give the political gyroscope the most almighty shove – causing it to wobble alarmingly – but in a surprisingly short period of time it will regain its equilibrium.

WHAT IS ACTUALLY HAPPENING inside the National Party Caucus? Are we witnessing a genuine intra-party meltdown or merely the political and personal disintegration of a single individual? When all the dust has settled, will very much have changed?

In the bluntest terms, what we are witnessing is the fullest measure of a single Member of Parliament’s power to disrupt New Zealand’s political life. It is rare to see this power deployed so comprehensively, but the damage inflicted will, ultimately, be relatively light.

There will be costs, of course. Taxpayers will pick up the cost of the by-election which Jami-Lee Ross’ resignation has forced. The National Party – and all other parties choosing to participate in the Botany by-election – will have the costs of campaigning to shoulder. Ross, himself, if he follows through on his promise to stand for re-election, faces an especially heavy burden. The party organisation which formerly met his election expenses is now ranged against him. Everything: from pamphlets to bill boards; radio spots to social media; must now be paid for out of his own pocket.

To what end? The result of the by-election is a near certainty. National’s candidate will be elected by a huge margin, and Ross will lose the contest in the most humiliating fashion. At National’s victory party, the winning candidate will be applauded – but nowhere near as enthusiastically as the Leader of the Opposition, Simon Bridges, who will be cheered to the echo. He will seize the opportunity of Ross’ humiliation to reassert his leadership of the New Zealand Right. The conservative media will amplify his words across all platforms. In all likelihood his popularity will spike upwards.

Jami-Lee’s full-throated attempt to kill Bridges politically will only have made him stronger.

Unless.

If Ross’ “evidence” – the recorded telephone conversation presented to the Police this very afternoon (17/10/18) – turns out to be damning, then National’s caucus will be faced with the necessity of removing Bridges as leader. He may not be the only person to go. Paula Bennett’s decision to make reference to Ross’ private life: her insinuation that he is guilty of marital infidelity; may be regarded by her caucus colleagues as having crossed a line long-considered inviolable by all Parliamentarians. To reassure the members of all the other parties represented in Parliament that their private lives remain “off limits”, National may opt to lose its deputy-leader as well.

Such an outcome would provide Ross with some measure of satisfaction. The two politicians he holds most responsible for his “persecution” will have been brought down with him. Like Captain Ahab, in Moby Dick, he will have exacted his vengeance upon the Great White Whale – even at the cost of being dragged to his death by the dying monster.

The National Party itself, however, might not be all that upset to lose a leader that the country’s conservative voters had declined to take to their collective heart. Among the persons most likely to be dismayed by Ross’ extraordinary behaviour, therefore, are the members of the Labour-NZ First-Green coalition government. The strategists of all three governing parties undoubtedly regarded Bridges as a gift from the electoral gods. Up against the relentlessly positive sunshine of Jacinda, Bridge’s surly temperament was an electoral non-starter. The last thing Labour, NZ First and the Greens want to confront in 2020 is a National leader with oomph!

Perhaps it was this thought that drove Ross to “go nuclear” against is boss. Perhaps, somewhere beneath Jami-Lee’s fevered brow, the notion had taken root that only by the selfless sacrifice of his own career could the National Party be saved from the depredations of Bridges and Bennett. Though they would never admit it to themselves, Ross’ actions will thus have provided National’s Caucus with the opportunity to undo the damage it had collectively inflicted upon itself.

Perhaps not.

The politics of countries like New Zealand are extremely difficult to derange. A politician may give the political gyroscope the most almighty shove – causing it to wobble alarmingly – but in a surprisingly short period of time it will regain its equilibrium.

By the start of the New Year Jami-Lee Ross will, almost certainly, have been reduced to a political footnote. Simon Bridges, if he is able to disprove all the charges leveled against him, will have emerged from the whole sorry business stronger and with a firmer grip on his party. If he fails to do so, National will begin 2019 with a new leader. Whatever happens, Labour, NZ First and the Greens will remain in government. New Zealanders will have been forced to endure a great deal of sound and fury – signifying bugger-all.

Of Jami-Lee Ross, however, people will say, in the spirit of the old Maori proverb: “He died like a shark, not a flounder.”

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Thursday, 18 October 2018.

Jami-Lee Ross Lets It All Hang Out. Simon Bridges Stonewalls.

Making Him Deny It: Dramatic allegations, of the sort leveled against Simon Bridges by Jamie Lee Ross, are intended to force the targeted person onto the defensive. Requiring one’s opponents to deny the accusations leveled against them, all-too-often produces the paradoxical effect of rendering those accusations more – not less – believable.

PRESIDENT RICHARD NIXON, on 17 November 1973, declared to a gathering of newspaper editors: “I welcome this kind of examination, because people have got to know whether or not their president is a crook. Well, I am not a crook.” This infelicitous sentence would, of course, come back to haunt Nixon as the Watergate scandal that brought down his presidency ground remorselessly on.

Hearing Simon Bridges solemnly reassure the Parliamentary Press Gallery: “I have done nothing wrong”, couldn’t help but remind me of Nixon’s exculpatory performance. Not, I hasten to add, because I believe the Leader of the Opposition to be guilty of the charges leveled against him by his former colleague, Jami-Lee Ross, but because it’s in the nature of such allegations to force the targeted person onto the defensive. Requiring one’s opponents to deny the accusations leveled against them, all-too-often produces the paradoxical effect of rendering those accusations more – not less – believable.

In terms of political theatre, the initial performances of Jami-Lee Ross and Simon Bridges offered some telling contrasts.

As befitted a man with very little left to lose, Ross spoke clearly and compellingly and answered the assembled journalists’ questions with impressive composure and a minimum of prevarication. To borrow once again from the Watergate lexicon, he opted for the “let it all hang-out” approach – openly divulging information which, in the normal course of political events, is kept under wraps.

Bridges’ performance was nowhere near as open, or impressive, as Ross’. Over and over again he declared his former colleague’s accusations to be “baseless”. Over and over again, he referred to Ross as a “liar”, a “leaker” and a “lone wolf” guilty of “appalling behaviour”. What he refused to do, however, was respond in detail to the charges of corrupt electoral practice and political blackmail which Ross had leveled against him.

During Watergate, a refusal to respond expansively to journalists’ direct questions was termed “stonewalling”. It is not a good look. I was disappointed that the Leader of the Opposition did not opt to match Ross’ earlier demonstration of candour. Laying to rest “baseless” charges surely requires nothing more than a frank description of what happened and why. In the United Kingdom, persons charged with an offense are cautioned that “it may harm your defence if you do not mention when questioned something you later rely on in court.” These are wise words, which politicians facing judgement in the Court of Public Opinion would do well to remember.

What remains to be seen is whether or not Simon Bridges and his caucus will be able to “draw a line under Jami-Lee Ross” and “move on”. I suspect the future of the National Party and its leader will turn upon the quality of the “evidence” (a recorded telephone conversation) which Ross promised on Tuesday to place in the hands of the Police. Much, too, will hinge on whether Ross’ allegation that he was threatened with false accusations of sexual harassment (a threat which, he claims, caused him to experience a mental breakdown) can be verified.

If fire is detected among all this smoke, then National faces a grim future. Having voted unanimously to expel Ross from their caucus, National’s 55 remaining MPs have voluntarily roped themselves to their precariously positioned leader. If he falls, they are all at grave risk of falling with him.

Reverting, once again, to the language of Watergate: if Ross is in possession of a “smoking gun” capable of bringing down Bridges; and if his caucus refuses to cut through the rope binding them to his fate; then the possibility opens up for Ross to run for re-election in Botany not as an independent (his current intention) but as the harbinger of a new and uncorrupted conservative movement.

Paradoxically, such an eventuality might ultimately rebound to the National Party’s electoral advantage. A new conservative party, located to National’s right on the political spectrum, would be ideally positioned to supply New Zealand’s dominant right-wing party with what it so sorely lacks at the present moment: a natural coalition partner.

The problem, to date, has been how to set up such a party without the voters dismissing it as a mere National Party contrivance. Well, problem solved. Whatever else may be said about the enmity between Bridges and Ross – it certainly isn’t contrived.

This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 19 October 2018.

Thursday, 18 October 2018

No Country For Dishonourable Men.

Violating The Code: In an army, honour and courage cannot be separated. An honourable officer follows the code of military conduct – even if, in doing so, he or she may incur a senior officer’s displeasure. An honourable officer will refuse to abandon that code, even when his country’s allies ask him, just this once, to look the other way.

NICKY HAGER’S latest revelations concerning the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) could not be more timely. In the year of #MeToo, he has exposed a culture of toxic masculinity extending from the top to the bottom of New Zealand’s armed forces.

Although it is clear that Hager’s North & South article merely scrapes the surface of the NZDF’s moral turpitude, the crimes he has brought to the public’s attention: breaches of the Geneva Convention, dishonesty and cover-ups, sexual assault and torture; are more than enough to force the Coalition Government’s hand. Anything less than a full Royal Commission of Inquiry into the institutional integrity of the NZDF will be seen, quite rightly, as a failure to grasp the full seriousness of his exposé.

The Royal Commission of Inquiry must, moreover, be explicitly empowered to set aside any attempt by NZDF to sweep its actions under the highly embroidered carpet of “national security”. This is precisely what has been happening in relation to the official investigation ordered by the Coalition Government into the allegations contained in Hit & Run – the book co-authored by John Stephenson and Nicky Hager, published in March 2017.

No more than the law firm Russell McVeagh, should the NZDF be permitted to position itself above and beyond the reach of either its victims or the New Zealand public generally. In fairness, it is important to note that Russell McVeagh was willing to subject itself to the inquisitor’s scrutiny. What Hager’s article makes very clear, however, is that penetrating the veil of secrecy in which the NZDF has swathed itself will not be so straightforward. Great care will have to be taken to prevent the NZDF from doing what it has done so often in the past: offer the public fine words and phrases – which change nothing.

A very heavy burden thus falls upon the shoulders of the Minister of Defence, the Hon. Ron Mark. The inclusion of the honorific is deliberate. Because nothing comes closer to the heart of the matters exposed in Hager’s article than the concept of honour. Hager understands this well. It’s why he and his co-author made Hit & Run’s subtitle: “The New Zealand SAS in Afghanistan and the meaning of honour”. As a former soldier, Mark needs no instruction in the meaning of honour. Nor does he need to be told that what Hager’s North & South article has exposed is an NZDF which has deliberately, repeatedly, and as a matter of conscious policy, dishonoured itself.

Enormous pressure will be brought to bear on Mark by the officer corps of the NZDF. He will be urged to protect the reputation and integrity of the armed services. He will be told that Hager is the sworn enemy of the brave men and women who stand ready to give their all – including their lives – for their country. That he cannot, therefore, be allowed to win. More darkly, the NZDF’s friends and allies in the “Intelligence Community” will warn Mark and his Cabinet colleague, Andrew Little, that New Zealand’s allies will look askance at any inquiry which threatens to breach the security undertakings given to and received from New Zealand as a member of the “Five Eyes Club”.

But, is it honourable to lie? To deliberately cover-up the truth? Would a man of honour, upon receiving complaints of sexual assault, repeatedly refuse to take the appropriate action? If there was the slightest possibility that a young, gay enlisted man was being subjected to unrelenting bullying and abuse, would not immediate remedial action be the only honourable course to take? And if a failure to take such action contributed in any way to that young man’s brutal torture and eventual suicide, what honourable officer, overcome with guilt and shame, would not step forward to acknowledge his part in the tragedy?

Because, in an army, honour and courage cannot be separated. An honourable officer follows the code of military conduct – even if, in doing so, he or she may incur a senior officer’s displeasure. An honourable officer will refuse to abandon that code, even when his country’s allies ask him, just this once, to look the other way. A medic does not join in the fight: lest, when his non-combatant status is most in need of respect, the recollection of two 12-13 year-old boys shot dead in defence of their village, causes our enemies to set aside their obligations under the Geneva Convention – just as we did.

Doing the honourable thing requires bravery. Any coward can behave dishonourably.

We know from the sheer number of serving and former military personnel who have found the courage to speak to journalists like Hager and Stephenson that our armed services are not without brave and honourable men and women. The great tragedy, of course, is that the very people who possess the courage to do the honourable thing are the very people whose careers in the NZDF are the most likely to be ruined. Worse still, it is clear that in the NZDF dishonourable scum rises. That, instead of a stronghold for brave and honourable soldiers, the NZDF is rapidly becoming a fiercely defended sanctuary for dishonourable cowards.

Our Minister of Defence cannot allow that situation to continue. Our soldiers, sailors and aviators are supported by the taxpayers to defend their nation from harm. That mission cannot be accomplished by people who lack the courage to conduct themselves ethically. Nor can it be fulfilled by people who are afraid to speak their minds; to take unpopular positions; to warn against the inadvisability (or, more importantly, the immorality) of a proposed course of military action. An army that is not composed of brave, upright and honourable personnel not only offers its nation’s citizens inadequate protection, it also constitutes a deadly threat to their rights and freedoms.

Dishonourable men do dishonourable things. Which is why New Zealand’s armed forces must be purged of them – immediately.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Tuesday, 16 October 2018.

Saturday, 13 October 2018

Donald Trump And The Art Of Populist Grotesque.

Empowered By His Contradictions: Trump is a populist demagogue, and like all such demagogues he is empowered by his contradictions. This very special kind of leader is required to dance not only with the people, but also with those individuals and institutions he has promised to protect the people from.


JANE KELSEY, in a recent post, identifies some of the more important challenges posed for the Left by Donald Trump. His peculiar mix of worker-friendly policies and corporate concessions. His willingness to advance protectionism – along with a host of other ideas long-declared “verboten” by neoliberal ideologues. His brazen rejection of globalism. His reaffirmation of the citizen’s indissoluble duty of loyalty to the nation state – and vice versa.

These contradictions are impossible to reconcile with either old-school socialism, or its “Third Way” bastard offspring. They are, however, entirely consistent with the logic of  populism. Trump is a populist demagogue, and like all such demagogues he is empowered by his contradictions. This very special kind of leader is required to dance not only with the people, but also with those individuals and institutions he has promised to protect the people from.

These populist politicians typically arise in circumstances of socio-political deadlock: reconciling in their own persons the irreconcilable differences of contending social forces – and classes. What these vast conglomerations of conflicting interests cannot achieve – having lost all opportunity for strategic and/or tactical manoeuvre – is achieved in the populist’s personality. A volatile mixture of ignorance and vanity which permits the demagogue to believe in, as Lewis Carrol so memorably put it, “five impossible things before breakfast” – and then tweet about them.

To rational men and women, the demagogic personality is a standing affront to the complex art of politics. What they fail to understand is that, under the conditions which give rise to populism, rationality has very little political utility. In the populist moment: which is itself the product of antagonistic social and political forces’ inability to compromise; it is irrationality that makes the “politically impossible” possible.

Because the average man or woman finds it relatively easy to hold two contradictory notions in their heads, believing in both, they are not in the least perturbed by a leader who is constantly demonstrating his ability to do the same. Indeed, they are likely to feel more comfortable living under such a leader than they are under someone who is constantly requiring them to choose one or the other.

This celebration of ignorance, along with the constant and wilful distortion of the truth, goes hand-in-hand with the demagogue’s acceptance and promotion of irreconcilable ideas. And, once again, he or she is rewarded for doing so by the endorsement of a significant minority of the electorate. Politicians who make voters aware of their intellectual shortcomings are seldom thanked for the experience. The demagogic ignoramus, on the other hand; the master of that new school of performance art “populist grotesque”; by demonstrating his or her solidarity with the average punter’s lack of knowledge, is rewarded with their undying loyalty and affection.

None of this should strike an old Marxist like Jane Kelsey as in any way surprising. In what is indisputably his greatest piece of political journalism, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon, Karl Marx explains in riveting detail the way in which Napoleon’s nephew – a politician with more than a little in common with Donald Trump – set about seizing control of the French state:

“Historical tradition gave rise to the French peasants’ belief in the miracle that a man named Napoleon would bring all glory back to them. And there turned up an individual who claims to be that man because he bears the name Napoleon, in consequence of the Code Napoleon, which decrees: ‘inquiry into paternity is forbidden’ After a twenty-year vagabondage and a series of grotesque adventures the legend is consummated, and the man becomes Emperor of the French. The fixed idea of the nephew was realized because it coincided with the fixed idea of the most numerous class of the French people.”

Americans are not all that comfortable with historical tradition, but they are particularly admiring of the extremely wealthy and entertainers – both of whom they imbue with almost supernatural powers. In Donald Trump they were confronted with a wealthy entertainer who wanted to be President of the United States. In this “The Donald” went one better than “The Gipper”. Ronald Reagan was only a B-grade movie star, Trump is a billionaire. In his person the broken white American working-class glimpsed the possibility of recovery. Not simply because they judged his promise to run America the way he ran his business empire as unlikely to produce a worse result than the nightmare in which they were currently enmeshed, but because Trump held out the additional promise of telling their supposed “friends” in the Democratic Party, the despised liberal elites: “You’re fired!”

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 12 October 2018.

Friday, 12 October 2018

The IPCC Report: All Of A Sudden - Nothing Happened.

Limited Vision: As a species, human-beings are superb at dealing with immediate dangers and short-to-medium term problems. Storing up food for the coming winter, setting aside enough grain for next year’s crops: thinking this way produced extraordinary human advancements. So many that, as a species, we never really saw the need, or acquired the knack, of thinking ten, twenty, a hundred years ahead.


ON TUESDAY MORNING the world should have awoken to financial chaos.* Stockmarkets around the planet should have been plummeting to levels not seen for a decade – or more.

For the markets to be in freefall, however, something truly shocking must have happened. Had the Saudi monarchy been overthrown? Had the President of the United States been assassinated?

The answer, of course, is: “No.” and “No.”

What had happened was that, on Monday afternoon, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) had released its latest emissions report.

This sombre document speaks bluntly about the huge response required from the whole of humanity if the emissions targets set at Paris in 2015 are to be met. Massive and disruptive economic and social challenges loom ahead for the global community. The future of the human species (not to mention the survival of the millions of other species with which humanity shares the earth) now depends on those challenges being confronted and met.

But, as everyone reading this knows perfectly well, the world’s stockmarkets did not go into freefall on Tuesday. There were some jitters over the deepening rift between the United States and China – but these weren’t serious. Certainly, nothing approaching the financial Gotterdammerung of 2008-09 had unfolded – anywhere.

And that should tell us something about the problem of Climate Change.

Clearly, the “Masters of the Universe” – those expert buyers and sellers of financial derivatives, pork-belly futures and Apple shares – weren’t worried. The men (and they mostly are men) who drive the world’s markets up and down – had placed not the slightest weight on the IPCC’s pronouncements. They weren’t in the least bit bothered that the world’s leading climate scientists were telling them that by the 2050s (and maybe sooner) capitalism, as they understood it, would cease to be a viable system.

It’s not as if these economic movers and shakers are all Climate Change Denialists (although some of them undoubtedly are) or that they don’t believe in science. They do. In fact, market traders have a great deal in common with the climate scientists. Both groups spend their time developing models about the way the world works, and then using them to anticipate and shape future events. The big difference between the two, however, is that market traders base their predictions on the behaviour of human-beings, and climate scientists on the behaviour of the earth’s atmosphere.

The market traders know to a near certainty that nobody – or at least nobody that matters – is going to do a damn thing about the IPCC report. World leaders certainly aren’t about to hurl their respective peoples into a maelstrom of economic and social pain. The producers of coal, oil and natural gas are not going to stop sending their product to market – not while upwards of 90 percent of the world economy still runs on it. Those with money and status will continue to fly around the world to admire the scenery and soak up the cultures of faraway lands – regardless of the damage inflicted by their enormous carbon footprints.

“The American way of life is non-negotiable”, warned the US Vice-President, Dick Cheney, in 2001. Seventeen years later, the rest of the world’s newly enriched citizens feel exactly the same way about the rising living standards to which they are rapidly becoming accustomed.

“But what about the rising seas!”, laments Greenpeace. “What about the extreme weather events? The floods? The forest fires? The hurricanes?”

To the world’s environmentalists, their fellow human-beings’ blank indifference to the looming catastrophe is both baffling and infuriating. As good ecologists, however, they should not be surprised.

As a species, human-beings are superb at dealing with immediate dangers and short-to-medium term problems. Storing up food for the coming winter, setting aside enough grain for next year’s crops: thinking this way produced extraordinary human advancements. So many that, as a species, we never really saw the need, or acquired the knack, of thinking ten, twenty, a hundred years ahead.

For the past ten-thousand years, humanity’s ability to master the planet’s creatures and plunder her natural resources has brought nothing but a longer and more bounteous life. In the desiccated remnants of that legacy, future generations will curse us for taking so long to identify our species’ suicidal trajectory, and wonder why we refused to get off it – until it was too late.

* In a wonderful example of Murphy's Law, two days after I filed this column the world's markets were in turmoil. Not, I hasten to add, in response to the IPCC's report, but still. - C.T.

This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 12 October 2018.