Sunday 28 March 2010

Whose Gemstones?

The Paranoid Style in American Politics: Ralph Steadman's illustration captures perfectly The Gemstone File's fear and loathing of corporate America. The National Government's mining policies have reawakened fears, first voiced in the 1980s, that New Zealand politics is being driven by a very similar cabal of secret corporate manipulators.

ON TUESDAY MORNING I got a call from an old friend of mine. "This plan to mine our national parks," he said, "doesn’t it all sound a bit like a real-life version of The Gemstone File?"

I laughed out loud. Because he was right – it does.

The Gemstone File???

"Tell me what it is, dear editors, before I get into it" runs the first sentence of a collection of papers sent to the Otago University Students Association way back in the mid-1970s.

"My dear, it’s heavy. What is its history? It’s an anonymous manifestation mailed from Tucson, Arizona to a fanatical friend of the Fanatic, who insisted it should be published for the good of the North Indies – that radiated land improperly referred to by trivialists as America. What does it mean? It’s mean. It names names, and pushes punches right back where they came from."

Today, in the Age of the Internet, we’d have no difficulty in recognising the conspiratorial style – and dismiss it accordingly. But, back then, in the Age of Nixon and Watergate, it all sounded ominously plausible.

At the heart of The Gemstone File lay its anonymous author’s deep paranoia about corporate America and what he saw as its gangster-politicians. As the file unfolds, the reader is inducted into a vast, parapolitical history of the forty-two years 1932-1974. A history which "exposes" the generally accepted narrative of those four decades as an elaborate fiction concocted to mask and/or explain-away the dark crimes of the men who helped to shape them.

Heady stuff for the student activists and journalists of the mid-70s – not so remarkable now.

But wait … there’s more.

In the early 1980s a new document, now referred to as The Kiwi Gemstone, began circulating in left-wing and trade union circles.

Like its American counterpart, The Kiwi Gemstone fundamentally recast our recent history as a grisly narrative of unseen and unpunished crimes. At the heart of which, among the file’s tangle of intricate and interlocking conspiracies, lay a mighty secret: a discovery which could transform New Zealand:

"18th May 1967: Texas oil billionaire [Name Deleted] using a sophisticated satellite technique to detect global deposits, discovers a huge oil source near Aotearoa in the Great South Basin.

"12th October 1968: [Names Deleted] announce confirmation of new oil source comparable to the Alaskan North Slope – gas reserves estimated at 150 times larger than Kapuni Field."

And now, thirty years after The Kiwi Gemstone’s startling "revelations", we discover that beneath New Zealand’s national parks lie quantities of what Resources Minister, Gerry Brownlee, describes as "Rare Earth Elements", potentially worth billions of dollars.

One of these rare metals, "Neodymium" is used in the manufacture of hybrid cars (there’s a kilogram of Neodymium in every Toyota Prius, for example). Other "Rare Earths" feature in the production of high-temperature superconductors – a technology pioneered by Kiwi engineers.

As my old friend put it to me: "So the Rare Earths could be central to a New Zealand clean technology industry that could turn this country completely around, the ‘Nokia’ we’ve been looking for, or, alternatively, we could export them to the USA so that they don't have to go cap-in-hand to China. What will National do? What Comalco [style] deal are they about to sign?"

Hence, his reference to The Gemstone File.

It's an apt comparison, because beneath the wild conspiratorial fiction that fills both the American and Kiwi versions of Gemstone, there lies a common, indisputable, truth. The history of the past eighty years: the slow but relentless appropriation of public goods for private profit; has been one vast swindle. And larceny on such a scale does require "gangster politicians": ruthless men dedicated to keeping the public in the dark, and willing to destroy anyone who threatens their conspiracies with the "disinfectant of sunlight".

"To mine, or not to mine?" That will be the question New Zealand debates between now and 3 May.

But if we do decide to find out what lies beneath our national parks, we should also take care to decide something else: "Cui bono?" – Who benefits?

Us, or Them?

Because, in the words of The Gemstone File:

"If this planet’s a corporation – it’s a corpse."

This essay was originally published in The Timaru Herald, The Taranaki Daily News, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Evening Star of Friday, 26 March 2010.


Thomas Beagle said...

One of the iconic pieces of kiwi graffiti is that on the old bridge supports just north of Mangaweka on SH1:

Gemstone File - We Know

Danyl said...

Meet the Opal file:

Tauhei Notts said...

I believe the Texas oil millionaire who made comments about the Great Southern Basin oil fields in 1967 was Mr Nelson Bunker Hunt. A year later he bought a 400 acre dairy farm near Matamata and named it Waikato Stud. He imported Pretendre who sired the Kentucky Derby winner Cannonero. Many of us were astounded that a Yank would be allowed to buy such land in our country, just a six kilometres down the road from Cactus Kate's dad's farm. The Libyan government put a caveat on the farm following the nationalisation of that country's oil fields in about 1971. Nelson was a brother to the infamous Howard Hunt who was impugned in the Watergate crisis. He also was involved in that weird move to manipulate the world's silver market. Hunt wanted to breed charolais cattle on his property. Sydney's biggest bookie, Bill Waterhouse was into charolais at the same time.
Useless information, but I thought it might be of interest to your readers.

Anonymous said...

Chris, I'm thinking of Wetta studios: Middle Earth invaded for its rare earths,
a Tolkienian plot to rival the Celestine prophecy, but with some material stench of the real.

Chris Trotter said...

A gift for the phantasmagoric, Martin, that's what's required for exercises like "The Gemstone File" - and like all good horror stories, the closer you bring them to reality, the scarier they become!

Brewerstroupe said...

Tauhei Notts.
A little more trivia. In university breaks I used to bale hay on the Hunt farm near Putaruru during the early Charolais craze. I remember admiring a bull calf in the front paddock that had been sold for $40,000 - a huge sum at the time. The next day it was gone. It had died during the night. I asked the manager if it was insured and was told Bunker doesn't insure anything!
Incidentally, I do not believe Bunker and E. Howard Hunt were related.
Bunker went "bust" in 1988 but managed to re-enter the bloodstock game in 1999 with about $2m worth of stock. Funny how these chaps always seem to have a little left over after a bankruptcy.

On a more topical note, is it possible that the Crafar farms and mining scandals are eroding some of National's core support? Tories doing what Tories have always done takes the lustre off their "new" image. Not going down well with the "blue/greens".

Anonymous said...

The blue greens are pro lignite 1930s german coal technology and want to dig up national parks.. such luggards...? The Conservation minister is in favour and the climate and environment is silent, while the tourism minister is as enthusiastic as cheif cheerleader, My browncoal Brownlee.

Nick Smith is silent, as Gerry Brownlee kills any green credentials Guy Salmon was trying to add to the National Party. Is Nikki Kaye the only nat to have an opinion outside of dig it up, blow it up, cut it down?

So much for a low carbon economy, or action on climate change. Its high carbon, its slash and burn.

If New Zealand export and dairy stategy is anything to go by.. national wants volume not quality, hence open cast mining, hence coal and hence the most abundent.. lignite.