Friday 31 July 2015

Music Will Save The World: Anna & Elizabeth

ADAM WHITE, long-time anarchist and music aficionado, alerted me to Anna & Elizabeth – and I’m so pleased that he did.
These two, superb, 25-year-old folk-singers, Elizabeth LaPrelle, from Virginia (she's the short one) and New Englander, Anna Roberts-Gevalt, have carved out an enviable reputation for themselves in the rich Appalachian musical tradition. Their voices produce the most fragile and poignant of acapella harmonies, while, in their highly educated hands, fiddle, banjo and guitar are persuaded to perform with equal emotional effect. Anna & Elizabeth’s monologues, illustrated by their “crankies” – illuminated cloth and paper scrolls – celebrate the lives of the men and women uncovered in the course of their musical-historical research. American music critics have described Elizabeth as possibly “the most sought-after ballad singer of her generation”. Their music is available from Free Dirt Records.
Video courtesy of YouTube
This posting is exclusive to Bowalley Road.

The Impotence Of Purity

"Certainly, The Impotent Are Pure": Gough Whitlam struggled to make the left of his party understand that purity at the expense of power is a poor bargain. “It is true that some parties can exist only as pressure groups ..... Neither our traditions nor our purpose permit us to adopt this role for ourselves. We are in the business to serve and preserve democracy. Parliamentary democracy.”
GOUGH WHITLAM’S LEGACY to Australian Labor is huge, so it’s easy to assume that he was always its hero. Nothing could be further from the truth. Such a doctrinaire beast was the Australian Labor Party in the 1950s and 60s that the “modernising” Whitlam was widely and deeply distrusted. Nowhere was this more evident than in Victorian Labour Party (VLP). Victorian Labour saw itself as the Keeper of the Flame of “true” socialism. Whitlam, a silver-tongued Sydney lawyer, born of privilege and power, was not the sort of person these “true believers” warmed to.
Whitlam, however, had a very clear idea about where Labor needed to go if it was ever to bring the seemingly interminable reign of the Liberal-Country Party Coalition to an end. The VLP, he knew, was a vital station on the federal party’s path to power. The Keepers of the Flame would have to be politically confronted – and ideologically defeated. In June, 1967, Whitlam finally bearded Victoria’s socialist lions in their den.
Speaking to the VLP’s annual conference, Whitlam laid it on the line – as only he could. Addressing directly Labor’s abysmal electoral record at both the state and federal level, he spoke the words that everyone knew to be true, but which no one dared to utter:
“We construct a philosophy of failure, which finds in defeat a form of justification and a proof of the purity of our principles. Certainly, the impotent are pure. This party was not conceived in failure, brought forth by failure or consecrated to failure. Let us have none of this nonsense that defeat is in some way more moral than victory.” [My emphasis.]
Nor was he afraid to name Labor’s two great enemies on the Left: the Moscow-aligned Communist Party of Australia; and that bastard child of Catholic reaction, the Democratic Labor Party (DLP).
“It is true that some parties can exist only as pressure groups. The Communists support this view because they do not want to win Parliamentary representation or power; the DLP supports it because it cannot win Parliamentary representation or power. Neither our traditions nor our purpose permit us to adopt this role for ourselves. We are in the business to serve and preserve democracy. Parliamentary democracy.”
It was this key insight that made Whitlam such an extraordinary change agent. He grasped what the Keepers of the Flame had either forgotten, or never quite understood in the first place. That before it could be about socialism, Labor had to be about democracy. Why? Because socialism only happens when people start taking democracy seriously.
The events of the past three weeks have made it clear just how urgently the New Zealand Labour Party is in need of a good Whitlam-style dressing down. Members of Labour’s Caucus have been stunned and hurt by the viciousness of their own party’s Keepers of the Flame. That Phil Twyford’s campaign to highlight the role played by offshore Chinese property investors in Auckland’s housing bubble could be likened to the activities of the Ku Klux Klan was beyond outrageous.
New Statesman columnist, Helen Lewis, calls it “values signalling”. Heedless of the personal and political damage inflicted by their social media interventions, the Values Signallers are only interested in letting their “friends” and “followers” know just how emphatically they are on the side of “the right and the good”. Not for them the hard slog of increasing their political party’s electoral support – always a desperately frustrating process, fraught with difficult personal compromises and dubious moral elisions. To operate in this world requires a level of maturity which most Values Signallers simply do not possess. For them, proclaiming one’s principled purity to the world is much more satisfying than helping one’s party win the next election. That such strident and unhelpful posturing might indefinitely delay the day when their principles are backed by the power of a parliamentary majority is not an idea they are much given to considering.
In the end, Whitlam’s observations about impotence and purity go to the heart of a much more profound political and philosophical debate. The invitation to sacrifice one’s personal political purity in favour of collective political potency is always a hard one to accept. And yet, if it is not, then the conditions permitting the enlargement of social, as well as individual, morality cannot be realised.
This essay was originally published in The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 31 July 2015.

Thursday 30 July 2015

How Smart Is Tim Groser? Will We End Up Panning Or Praising New Zealand's Trade Minister?

Diplomatic Genius, Or Corporate Minion? From its humble origins as a modest New Zealand trade initiative, the TPPA has always been viewed by Tim Groser (above) as the Kiwi sprat to catch an American mackerel. New Zealand corporates just ain't that clever!
TIM GROSER may be a lot smarter than even his most fervent supporters claim. It’s just possible that the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) – as currently drafted – is the document he had in mind all along. That, from its humble origins as a modest New Zealand trade initiative, the TPPA was always viewed by Groser as the sprat to catch a giant USA mackerel.

With the benefit of hindsight, it is clear there was never the slightest chance that the United States was ever going to sit back and let a handful of small Pacific states set up a free-trade zone from which it was excluded. As a pretty shrewd geopolitician, Groser would also have realised that, as the US slowly disengaged from its military entanglements in the Middle East, there was a very high probability that its struggle with China in the Pacific – disrupted by 9/11 and all that it inspired – would be resumed.

A comprehensive free-trade agreement, including an increasingly apprehensive Japan – but  excluding the Peoples Republic of China – was an obvious “next move” for a United States determined to reassert its hegemony over the nations of the Pacific Rim. It was also an obvious “next move” for New Zealand, whose economic fortunes were, to a potentially dangerous degree, becoming entwined with those of its principal protector’s principal rival.
The plausibility of this argument depends entirely on how skilled at playing geopolitical chess you are willing to believe this country’s diplomats and trade envoys truly are.
Who was it, for example, who initiated the process which led to the New Zealand-China Free Trade Agreement (FTA): New Zealand or China?
This country’s preference, for at least the past two decades, has been an FTA with the United States. Was it the latter’s refusal to negotiate seriously (i.e. to commit to the liberalisation of its agricultural sector) that persuaded the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) to focus its attention, instead, on the Chinese? Because, in addition to boosting our exports, the New Zealand-China FTA also provided our diplomats with the precious bonus of just a little leverage vis-à-vis our “very, very, very good” friends in Washington. Groser, himself, is at pains to reassure anybody who asks, that should the TPPA negotiations fall through, New Zealand will not be left without options. Sceptics are invited to ponder the significance of New Zealand’s early decision to join the Chinese-initiated Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.
Could Tim Groser and his colleagues at MFAT really be so smart? Is it possible that, sometime in the next few days, New Zealand will put its signature to a document that gives its key exporters the best of both worlds? Not only a vastly rewarding economic relationship with the second most powerful economic entity on the planet; but also the long-sought and much-desired prize of a free-trade agreement with the world’s mightiest nation? Well, yes, it is possible. And, if it happens, Tim Groser’s much anticipated appointment as this country’s next ambassador to the United States will have been well-earned.
From Washington, Groser will be supremely well-positioned to judge just how serious the developing struggle between the US Eagle and Chinese Dragon has become. With the TPPA in place, he will, of course, be free to choose between these two heraldic beasts. Free access for New Zealand’s agricultural exports to all the markets of the Pacific Rim – especially those of the USA, Canada and Japan – will mean that if push eventually comes to shove, New Zealand’s economic eggs will not be concentrated in the basket labelled “Made in China”.
A Peoples Republic of China beset by crashing stock markets and a rapidly slowing pace of economic growth will soon be faced with even greater difficulties. Constant economic expansion has been utterly crucial to the Communist Party of China’s ability to keep its population, if not happy, then at least quiescent. Mass unemployment, sharpened by the mass impoverishment of China’s rural and urban stock market investors, could very easily panic China’s leaders into a series of ultra-nationalist distractions in the South China Sea or along the Sino-Indian border. Very quickly, having all our economic (and most of our diplomatic) eggs in a single Chinese basket could prove to be very awkward.
Many New Zealanders are fearful of the TPPA. They worry about the future of Pharmac and are alarmed at the prospect of becoming enmeshed in the coils of the Investor State Dispute Settlement process. While these are by no means insignificant issues, there are much greater dangers out there that we would be most unwise to ignore. Looking back, we may yet have cause to feel relieved that the TPPA was wound up in July-August 2015. And even those on the left of New Zealand politics may feel just a little bit thankful that Tim Groser was where he was, when he was.
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Wednesday, 29 July 2015.

Tuesday 28 July 2015

Behind Prison Walls

Signal Failure: Following the change of government in 2008, the "model" Spring Hill Correctional Facility’s inmate muster went from 650 to 1,038. In 2013, Spring Hill prisoners staged one of the largest and most destructive prison riots in New Zealand history. Under-resourcing in New Zealand's prison system is not confined to Serco's privately-run facilities, it afflicts the public prisons as well.
MAKING MONEY out of locking people up. How would you do it? Presumably, by making sure that the costs of looking after prisoners never amounted to more than the income you received for imprisoning them. In a more brutal society than ours, this would be easy. Those convicted of crimes could be sent to dank, dirty prisons, fed on slops, and allowed to die as Nature ordered. Very few staff would be required, and very little money need be spent. Provided none of the prisoners escaped to harry and harm the public, only a handful of simple-minded do-gooders would ever want to know what goes on behind prison walls.
The problem with making prisons profitable in today’s world, however, is that the State has an internationally mandated duty of care towards all incarcerated persons. Regardless of whether a prison is publicly or privately run, its inmates have rights that must be acknowledged and enforced by the people in charge. Unfortunately for profit-seekers, human-rights cost lots of money.
For those seeking to make a profit out of prisons, the challenge is, therefore, to present the State with a plausible plan for upholding the inmates’ rights, while surreptitiously cutting the institutions’ running-costs to the bone. Obviously, this requires a large measure of collusion on the part of the State. There will, accordingly, be plenty of scrutiny of the plans for rehabilitating their inmates, but very little, if any, of the budgets showing how these will be paid for. Likewise, the State will give lots of publicity to the private prisons’ promises; but none at all to their actual performance.
Why would the State collude so blatantly with private sector incarcerators? The explanation, sadly, is the same as the private sector’s: to make a profit. Except, the State doesn’t call what it does “making a profit”. It’s preferred term is “achieving a surplus”. In brute, political terms: it reduces expenditure on the prison system, which the public doesn’t like, in order to free-up funds for spending on things the public does like – such as schools and hospitals, or tax-cuts.
It requires a very strong-minded government to push back against this kind of political logic. A government determined to uphold its duty of care to prison inmates – even in the face of concerted public opposition. Rather astonishingly, in the light of recent events, New Zealanders elected such a government just 16 years ago.
Matt Robson - Minister of Corrections 1999-2002
In the Labour-Alliance Government of 1999-2002, led by Helen Clark and Jim Anderton, the Minister of Corrections was a man named Matt Robson. As a lawyer, Mr Robson knew a thing or two about the shortcomings of our prison system. Indeed, he is reported to have said that the best thing that could happen to Auckland’s dank and dirty Mt Eden Prison would be for it to be bulldozed flat. Sadly, that did not happen. What Mr Robson did do, however, was order the construction of Spring Hill Prison in North Waikato.
Spring Hill was to be a model, state-owned and operated prison for a maximum of 650 inmates. Each prisoner was to have his own cell, and the institution’s commitment was to rehabilitation through education and skills acquisition. The collapse of the Labour-Alliance Government, in 2002, brought an end to Mr Robson’s short stint as Minister of Corrections. He left Parliament in 2005 – two years before the Spring Hill Corrections Facility finally opened.
A year later, in 2008, a much more conventional Minister of Corrections was appointed to oversee New Zealand’s prison system. Judith Collins, like so many of those who had come before her, was determined to reduce expenditure on, and improve the efficiency of, the business of locking people up.
It was Ms Collins who contracted the global conglomerate, Serco, to manage the Mt Eden Corrections Facility. She was also responsible for the “double-bunking” of prisoners nationwide. This decision, bitterly criticised by inmates and criminologists alike, was seen as a sure-fire means of increasing prisoner stress levels through institutionalised over-crowding. The Spring Hill facility’s inmate muster, for example, went from 650 to 1,038. In 2013, Spring Hill prisoners staged one of the largest and most destructive prison riots in New Zealand history. Mr Robson’s “model” facility lay burned and broken.
The unfolding scandal at the Serco-managed Mt Eden Corrections Facility, while shocking, is only one aspect of the under-resourcing crisis afflicting our entire prison system. Yes, the privately-run facility is chronically under-staffed. And yes, the State does appear to be covering-up some of its deficiencies. But many of our state-run prisons are equally under-resourced. The State’s duty of care is being called into question on a daily basis – in both the public and private sectors.
As citizens of a civilised nation, we have a duty to care about what is being done, in our name, behind prison walls.
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 28 July 2015.

“Something Very, Very Different”: Why Rumours Of Labour’s Internal Poll Numbers Are Giving The Nats The Heebie-Jeebies.

Reasons To Smile: For some in Labour’s Caucus, the experience of taking fire (especially from people they considered friends and allies) has been a painful one. But the fact that they have remained at their posts, and returned fire, has not been lost on Labour’s traditional constituency. There have been no leaks, no private briefings, no wayward press releases. The Labour Caucus has – touch wood – rediscovered the power of collective commitment and responsibility. In the process, it has reclaimed a good measure of much-needed credibility.
CAMERON SLATER is appealing directly to members of Labour’s caucus on his Whaleoil blog. Why? Because he’s just got wind of Labour’s internal poll numbers. According to Cameron: “Their internal polls show something very, very different from the publicly available polls. Apparently the gap between Labour & National is about 6 or 7 percent when the public polls have it at 15%.”
This can only mean that, in the usually highly accurate UMR poll, Labour is positioned somewhere between 34-36 percent and the National Party somewhere between 40 and 42 percent. At that level of support, it’s ‘Game Over!’ for John Key’s government. No wonder Cameron is doing everything he can to sow doubt in the minds of Andrew Little’s colleagues.
Clearly, these results have brought on an attack of the heebie-jeebies in National’s ranks. How else to explain the usually very crafty Mr Slater’s tactical lapse? Calling people’s attention to what he’s heard about Labour’s internal polling – when it’s this good – has given a major boost to the Left’s morale. It’s also boosted the credibility of the other big rumour doing the rounds about UMR’s polling: the one that puts the combined Labour-Green vote at 49 percent.
Cameron’s post may also serve to confirm the rumours about National’s own internal polling. According to these, Labour’s much criticised ‘China Play’ almost immediately began shaking erstwhile Labour voters loose from National’s tree in large numbers.
That would certainly explain the way National suddenly went dark on the whole issue. As Matthew Hooton explained in his NBR column of 17/7/15: “Wedge politics are straightforward: You find a genuine problem, associate it with an unpopular minority, raise it with inflammatory language, or in a provocative context, and wait for your opponents to defend the minority. Then you stand with the majority against them.” With advisers as skilled in the dark arts of wedge politics as Mark Textor and Lynton Crosby, the Prime Minister was almost certainly warned against expressing too much solidarity with the targets of Labour’s campaign.
That job was left to TV3’s Patrick Gower, who has been waging a virtual one-man-war against what he insists are Labour’s “cooked-up” statistics. How disappointed poor Paddy must have been when his week-long assault upon Labour for “playing the race card” was rewarded with a marginal increase in Labour’s support (from 30.4 to 31.1 percent) in the TV3/Reid Research Poll. To rub salt in his wounds, the poll also showed the ‘Opposition Bloc’ of parties (Labour, Greens, NZ First) registering 50.9 percent to the ‘Government Bloc’s’ (National, Act, Maori Party, United Future) 48.2 percent. Completing Mr Gower’s discombobulation must have been Reid Research’s finding that 61 percent of New Zealanders support a ban on foreign investors buying-up residential property.
So, let us assume, purely for the sake of argument, that all the rumours are true and all the numbers are correct. It would mean that National has shed 6-7 percentage points directly to Labour. Interestingly, this is exactly what the Roy Morgan Poll of 17 July indicated. It had National down 6.5 points to 43 percent, Labour up 6 points to 32 percent, and the combined Labour-Green vote on 45 percent. Admittedly, the Roy Morgan survey only caught the first day of Labour’s China Play, but, by the same token, it escaped the effects of ‘Paddy’s Play’ entirely.
From the beginning of the year, Labour’s clear objective, and Andrew Little’s laser-like focus, has been to re-capture the roughly 10 percent of former Labour voters who have, ever since Helen Clark’s departure, taken to voting National with their Party Vote. Crucial to recovering that lost support are the two “Cs” – Connection and Credibility.
Labour's Caucus - Sticking To Their Guns.
Labour and Little must first connect with, and then remain at the side of, their electoral base. They must whistle their tune – and keep on whistling it – until their supporters start whistling it back to them. In lifting Labour’s vote towards that magical 40 percent mark, nothing is more important than saying what you mean, meaning what you say, and sticking to your guns.
For some in Labour’s Caucus, the experience of taking fire (especially from people they considered friends and allies) has been a painful one. But the fact that they have remained at their posts, and returned fire, has not been lost on Labour’s traditional constituency. There have been no leaks, no private briefings, no wayward press releases. The Labour Caucus has – touch wood – rediscovered the power of collective commitment and responsibility. In the process, it has reclaimed a good measure of much-needed credibility.
And if Cameron Slater’s right about the results of the latest UMR poll, they now have their reward.
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Monday, 27 July 2015.

Sunday 26 July 2015

Is Jeremy Corbyn Labour’s Bill Brand? Can A Socialist Become The British Labour Party’s Next Leader?

Uncanny Resemblance: British actor, Jack Shepherd (left) played the role of a firebrand socialist Labour MP in the 1976 series, Bill Brand. Nearly 40 years later, a real firebrand socialist, Jeremy Corbyn (right) is leading the race to replace Ed Miliband as Leader of the British Labour Party. The question posed by Bill Brand, and now by Jeremy Corbyn, is: "Are Socialism and Labour compatible?"
WAY BACK IN THE 1970s there was a red-hot political drama series called Bill Brand. Produced by Thames Television, it starred a (very young) Jack Shepherd (more familiar to today’s Sky subscribers for his lead role in the Wycliffe TV series). Back in 1976, however, he was Bill Brand, a young socialist firebrand elected, almost accidentally, to the House of Commons in a run-of-the-mill by-election in a safe Labour seat. Written by Trevor Griffiths, the 11-episode series explored the question of whether or not it was possible to be both a socialist and a Labour Party MP. The answer, at least as far as Griffiths was concerned, appeared to be – “No.”
I raise the ghost of the long-forgotten Bill Brand only because Griffiths’ question about socialism and Labour is being tested again. This time, however, the stakes are much higher. This time the question is: Can a socialist become the Leader of the Labour Party? The man who may yet provide an affirmative answer to that question is Jeremy Corbyn.
A man of the 1980s, rather than the 1970s, Corbyn’s record, in just about every other respect, marks him out as a sort of real-life Bill Brand. (Amazingly, he even looks like Jack Shepherd!) A supporter of just about every radical cause that has emerged over the past 35 years – from Anti-Apartheid to Animal Rights – Corbyn is among the most rebellious of Labour’s back-benchers. He is, however, much more than a mere darling of the NGOs. Corbyn is also a self-proclaimed socialist, and former trade unionist, who does not shrink from advocating swingeing tax rises for the rich, abolishing student fees, or renationalising the railways. (All extremely popular policies with British voters BTW.)
If Corbyn sounds a bit like a square left-wing peg in round Blairite hole, it’s because that is exactly what he has been for practically the whole time he’s been the MP for Islington North. And it was only as a forlorn standard-bearer for Labour’s long-abandoned socialist ideals that he put himself forward as a candidate to fill the vacancy created by Ed Miliband’s resignation. Indeed, most of the 35 MPs who signed his nomination form did so in the spirit of political charity. Why? Because everybody “knew” that Corbyn didn’t stand a chance.
And then something very strange began to happen. One after another Labour’s constituency organisations began declaring for Corbyn. By the end of the nominating process, to the abject horror of the Labour Party leadership, Corbyn had amassed 70 constituency nominations to the erstwhile (and very moderate) front-runner, Andy Burnham’s, 68. And, as if that wasn’t enough bad news for the Blairite establishment, the polling agency, YouGov, put Corbyn well ahead of his rivals Burnham, Liz Kendall and Yvette Cooper.
Talk about putting a very red cat among a whole coop-full of pink and blue pigeons! Almost immediately, Blairite MPs were threatening to organise a parliamentary vote of no-confidence in Corbyn should the membership of the party do anything so utterly irresponsible as electing a left-winger leader of the Labour Party. Others called for an ABC campaign (remind you of anything, Kiwis?) to unite the anti-Corbyn vote behind Burnham. Chiming in to the furore, in reflexive support of the Labour Right, came the lofty pundits of the Guardian and the Observer. “Surely,” they exclaimed to their shuddering keyboards, “Labour could not be that suicidal!
It is all so reminiscent of Bill Brand. The sheer madness of attempting to storm the ramparts of The City of London; of believing, even for a moment, that the news media might give you a fair shake; or assuming that your colleagues harboured the slightest respect for the wishes of the Labour members and supporters who sent them to Parliament.
And yet, Jeremy Corbyn is in the lead. He is winning the battle for the hearts and minds of the British Labour Party. Socialism may be dead in the committee rooms of Westminster, but in the suburbs of London, in the green valleys of Wales and in the grim post-industrial cities of the angry North, it still lives. And to the shock and horror of the entire British Establishment, the socialists have found themselves a champion.
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Saturday, 25 July 2015.

Friday 24 July 2015

Time To Stop "Dribbling" And Start "Clouting"?

Boots On The Ground: The former head of the UK armed forces, General David Richards, suspects in his “bones”, that if the Islamic State is to be defeated, then the armed forces of the West will have to stop "dribbling" and start "clouting". In the General’s words: “tanks would have to roll and there’s going to have to be boots on the ground”.
ARE WE AT WAR with the Islamic State – or not? The Prime Minister says “Not”. Our role in the conflict between the Islamic State and its enemies is merely to assist the government of Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi. Sixteen NZ Defence Force personnel are stationed less than an hour’s drive north of Baghdad at Camp Taji – a former US military base. Their mission: to help train Iraq’s army. A further 100 Kiwi troops have been sent to provide them with protection while they get on with it. That’s all.
This is what General David Richards, former head of the UK’s armed forces, and current member of the House of Lords, calls “dribbling” – the sort of one-handed military activity soldiers are required to engage in when their political masters would rather not have them wage war with both hands.
Lord Richards has warned UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, that, when it comes to defeating the Islamic State, “dribbling” will not be enough. What’s needed against the highly motivated and exceptionally well-led soldiers of the self-proclaimed Caliphate is “clouting”.
“Properly brought together with proper leadership and proper command and control it is a very doable proposition”, Lord Richards told the BBC’s Andrew Marr. “But I worry that […] if we dribble, which is really rather what we are doing at the moment, it is simply firing up the problem rather than dealing with it.”
The former head of the UK armed forces told Marr that he suspected, in his “bones”, that if IS to be defeated, then its army will have to “clouted” by his country’s soldiers – on the front lines. In the general’s words: “tanks would have to roll and there’s going to have to be boots on the ground”.
But the UK could not possibly do this alone. After 14 years of fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, the UK’s defence force is bruised, battered and in urgent need of repair and replenishment. Lord Richards knows full-well that what he is really calling for is the assembly of another great Western invasion force; comparable in strength to Operation Desert Storm, and guided by similar, strictly limited, objectives.
The mission of Operation Desert Storm was to drive the Iraqi Army out of Kuwait. The core mission of this new Western force would be the utter destruction of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. To render the defeat of IS permanent, however, it would, almost certainly, be necessary to accomplish the complete pacification of Syria and the disarmament of the Iranian-backed Shite militias operating in Iraq.
The elimination of the murderous regime of President Bashar al-Assad, and the disarmament of his many enemies, would lift a huge burden from the shoulders of Syria’s neighbours. Millions of refugees, driven across borders by civil war and religious extremism, would be free to return, and the arduous task of reconstructing their ancient homeland could, finally, begin.
An effort of such magnitude on the part of the West – especially the USA and the UK – is the only truly effective means of bringing the multiple tragedies of the last quarter-century in the Middle East to an honourable resolution.
The barbarity of IS is an affront, not just to the peoples of the Islamic world but to all humanity. And, in their heart of hearts, the USA and the UK both know its poisonous creed could only have been distilled from the seething cauldron of hatred and resentment which their 2003 invasion of Iraq created. “You break it, you own it”, quipped US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, back in 2003. Well, between them, the USA and the UK smashed Iraq into a thousand pieces, and now they must make her whole again.
Do the peoples of the West have the stomach for another great military effort in the Middle East. Many would say “No.” But they should fix their eyes on the tens-of-thousands, desperate and despairing, who daily make their way toward Europe’s borders. If the West does not bring peace to the Middle East, then the Middle East will bring chaos to the West. Lord Richards knows the efficacy of forward defence, that is why he is urging his prime minister to stop dribbling and start clouting.
Would it be asking too much of our own defence force, and prime minister, to do the same?
This essay was originally published in The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 24 July 2015.

Thursday 23 July 2015

Friends And Allies: What Is The “Comprador Bourgeoisie” When It’s At Home?

Imperial Façade: Shanghai's famous "Bund", where Western and Japanese capitalists rubbed shoulders with what Mao's communists called the "bourgeois comprador class" - the local capitalist intermediaries who built and maintained the crucial links between the Chinese people and the foreign investors, multi-national corporations, bankers and military interests of the imperial powers. Ironically, a reinvigorated China is now cultivating comprador capitalism in the societies of its dependent trading partners.
CHINA’S RAPID RISE to superpower status (at least economically) is producing some delicious political ironies. Eighty years ago, Mao Zedong’s communists wrote scathingly about China’s “bourgeois comprador class”. These were the local Chinese capitalists who acted as intermediaries between the Chinese people and the foreign-controlled enterprises and investors then operating in China under the protection of the major imperialist powers (Great Britain, Japan, France and the USA). The expression eventually entered the broader Marxist lexicon as “comprador bourgeoisie” and is defined as: “A section of an indigenous middle class allied with foreign investors, multi-national corporations, bankers and military interests.” The political irony lies in the fact that today’s comprador bourgeoisie is no longer located in China, but in the societies of her increasingly dependent trading partners.
As New Zealand’s largest trading partner, China is steadily wooing our own bourgeois comprador class away from its traditional friends and allies among the foreign investors, multi-national corporations, bankers and military interests of the UK, the USA and Australia. Already, a number of large Chinese banks have set up shop in New Zealand and have thought it politic to recruit both a former prime-minister, and a former leader of the opposition, to sit on their boards of directors. In light of the on-going furore about offshore investment in Auckland residential property, it is clear that this country’s largest real estate agencies must also be numbered among the more prominent members of our comprador bourgeoisie.
The Chinese surnames controversy has also exposed the role played by what might be called “cultural compradors”. The penetration of foreign capital, and the political leverage that goes with it, is only very occasionally accomplished at the point of an imperial bayonet. By far the most common method of establishing foreign influence is by using religion and/or ideology to recruit a local following to perform the role of domestic friends and allies. Such people constitute an invaluable bulwark against any attempt by the opponents of foreign influence and control to reassert national values and interests.
The extraordinary attacks on the Labour Party: the vicious accusations of “racism” levelled against Andrew Little and Phil Twyford; both provide grim evidence of the cultural compradors’ reckless hatred of the bourgeois compradors’ deadliest foe – the national bourgeoisie.
The word “national” notwithstanding, it is the Labour Party which has always represented New Zealand’s national bourgeoisie most effectively. As one of this country’s foremost public intellectuals, the late Bruce Jesson, shrewdly observed: “National knows how to govern for capitalists; but only Labour knows how to govern for capitalism.” The National Party may be “relaxed” about foreign investors pushing the price of a house beyond all but the wealthiest Kiwi’s reach, but Labour, by promising to restrict the rights of foreigners to purchase land, indicates its willingness to put the interests of New Zealanders first.
Dr Bryce Edwards: "Global Cosmopolitan".
The University of Otago political studies lecturer, Dr Bryce Edwards, frames the struggle of comprador against national capitalists as a contest between what he calls “Economic Nationalists” and “Global Cosmopolitans”. It’s a neat trick. Rather than dealing with the very hard choices New Zealanders are going to face as the economic and cultural power of China and its local facilitators waxes ever greater, Bryce has simply re-cast the drama as an existential confrontation between ageing patriots, clinging stubbornly to the outdated shibboleths of the nation state; and free-wheeling global citizens of the twenty-first century, possessed of an impressive collection of internationally marketable skills – but no country.
Bryce would also like to cloak his cultural comprador allies in the frayed costume of twentieth century socialist internationalism. He is hardly alone in this. All over the world, the Left is engaged in a bitter debate over whether nationalism can ever be turned to progressive purposes; and if it is still (or ever was) possible to construct socialism in one country.
Bryce is, however, wrong to try and smuggle those who would prepare the way for Chinese state capitalism in New Zealand into the honourable precincts of progressive disputation. Cultural compradors, like the comprador bourgeoisie, of which they are part, have no interest in constructing a political space in which the future of New Zealand can be reasonably debated. In their eyes, the future of New Zealand has already been decided – and not by New Zealanders.
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Thursday, 23 July 2015.

Tuesday 21 July 2015

Class Trip: Should Labour Go After The "Bogan Vote"?

Cries From The Heart: That young working-class males, growing up in the post-1984 era, were often gripped by feelings of extreme frustration, resentment, anger, worthlessness and despair is hardly surprising. Socially, they appeared to have lost all value; politically, they had become invisible – and utterly without champions.
CAN LABOUR WIN the “Bogan Vote”? Should it even try? Seriously, if going after the votes of “Waitakere Man” is considered bad, then pursuing the Bogan Vote must, surely, be worse? And yet, at one time, the in-work, well-remunerated, union-dues-paying, domestically-settled, family man – and his sons – constituted the heart and soul of the Labour vote. Indeed, so irrevocably gendered was the New Zealand working-class vote that the poet, James K. Baxter, made humorous reference to it in his otherwise bleak suburban tragedy, Calvary Street:
Where two old souls go slowly mad,
National Mum and Labour Dad.
In 2015, however, Baxter’s stereotype seems all wrong. Fifty years after the publication of Calvary Street it is Dad who votes for National and Mum who (maybe) votes for Labour. In 2015, the self-employed, well-remunerated, domestically-settled, family man – a.k.a Waitakere Man – is much more likely to vote for the Right than the Left. His children, if they bother to vote at all, probably do the same.
Bogans are very different from, and should never be confused with, the offspring of Waitakere Man. Waitakere Man represents working-class New Zealand males on an upward socio-economic trajectory. Bogans, by contrast, represent working-class New Zealand males on the socio-economic skids. They are the blokes – especially the young blokes – who struggle to find and remain in even the most poorly-paid employment. Their domestic situations tend towards the precarious. They rent rooms – not houses – and struggle to both make and retain strong social connections. That’s why mateship is so crucial to the Bogan identity; especially mateship built around sporting allegiances and motor vehicles.
The fathers and grandfathers of 21st Century Bogans were the men for whom the fully employed, compulsorily unionised, welfare state was, primarily, constructed. Men of modest educational attainment and limited ambition who were able, nevertheless, live full and rewarding lives under the state’s (and their union’s) protection. These were the men who worked for the state-owned Post Office and Railways; whose families occupied state houses; whose award-wages kept them, if not in luxury, then, at least, in reasonable comfort. They were also the Labour Party’s most loyal supporters. That it was Labour, in the person of Roger Douglas, who destroyed their world and cast them and their families onto the scrapheap, is the defining Bogan betrayal.
To the sons of these men, growing up in the 1980s and 90s it must have seemed as if the “new” New Zealand cared about everybody except them and their dads.
Maori were in the middle of a “renaissance”. Multi-million-dollar “Treaty Settlements” were being signed. For the coming generations of Maoridom there would be university scholarships and trade-training programmes. New business enterprises were planned, and special housing schemes. Things were looking up – if you were Maori.
For women, too, all paths appeared to lead upward and onward. At school, the Bogan boys’ female class mates were constantly being told that “Girls can do anything!” And with the top posts of Governor-General, Chief Justice, Prime Minister and CEO of New Zealand’s largest company all held by women, that inspirational feminist slogan seemed no idle boast.
For young, working-class blokes without tertiary qualifications or readily marketable skills, however, inspirational slogans were in short supply. The two great institutions which working-class New Zealanders had constructed to protect and advance their interests: the trade union movement and the Labour Party; were no longer able or willing to do so. Labour had been taken over by Thatcherite ideologues in the early 80s. And, in 1991, the public sector unions had voted down the call for a General Strike against the Employment Contracts Bill. Not that it was the unions of the public servants, teachers and nurses which were about to be decimated by National’s union-busting legislation. That fate was reserved for the unskilled and semi-skilled workers of the private sector. Within a decade, barely one private-sector worker in ten remained unionised.
That young working-class males, growing up in the post-1984 era, were often gripped by feelings of extreme frustration, resentment, anger, worthlessness and despair is hardly surprising. Socially, they appeared to have lost all value; politically, they had become invisible – and utterly without champions.
Indeed, the opposite appeared to be true. More and more, the Bogans began to hear themselves described in the most derogatory terms. Expressions imported from the USA – like “rednecks” and “white trash” – entered the vocabulary of the Bogans’ middle-class detractors. In a Labour Party almost entirely purged of its working-class membership, the people who had once constituted the very heart of its electoral support were increasingly regarded as the natural enemies of the party’s new, upwardly-mobile, and socially-liberal apparatchiks.
Only very occasionally, did the Bogans become visible to the rest of New Zealand. Denied anything even remotely resembling the ennobling narratives available to Maori and women, they had become little more than the butt of stand-up comedic humour. With their mullet haircuts and Metallica T-Shirts, the best they could hope for was to be treated as a colourful Kiwi sub-culture – something akin to the outcast “Juggalo” movement in the United States.
And then in 2003, Possum Bourne died. The rally-car champion had been a hero to tens-of-thousands of Bogan “petrol heads” and they turned out in vast numbers to bid him farewell. It was a poignant reminder of just how many young New Zealanders lived below the radar of a society obsessed with wealth and “winning”. Like the huge Pasifika turn-out for Jerry Collins, 12 years later, Possum Bourne’s mourners were emblematic of a New Zealand routinely ignored, even denigrated, by those with the power to keep the spotlight aimed exclusively at themselves.
So, yes, I believe that Labour should try to win the “Bogan Vote”. Not only because, having ignored them for 30 years, Labour owes them – big time. But also because Neoliberalism will never be defeated by the social groups it lifted up, only by those it cast down.
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Monday, 20 July 2015.

Foreign Investors.

Foreign Investment: The Native Land Court transferred more land from Maori to Pakeha than Queen Victoria's regiments ever managed. Without land, no people may be counted free. Restricting the access of foreigners to New Zealand real estate isn't about racism - it's about the preservation of our national sovereignty.
IT IS THE EARLY 1860s in the Waikato. A Maori newspaper editor, and fervent supporter of the Kingitanga movement, has a great idea for a story. He summons his best journalist and explains what he has in mind.
“I want you to travel to all the major cities,” he says, “visit the Land Registry offices, and discover the identity of everyone who’s been purchasing land that formerly belonged to Maori.”
“That’s a pretty expensive exercise, Boss”, the young journalist replies, “especially when we both know what the answer will be.”
“You’re right,” says the editor, “but I need more than mere conjecture, more than just anecdotal evidence. What I’m looking for are cold, hard facts! Under the Treaty of Waitangi, we Maori can only sell land to the Crown. But who is the Crown selling it to? Is it being sold to New Zealanders? Or is it being purchased by foreigners with huge sums of money to invest? That’s what I want you to find out.”
“Hmmmm?” The journalist responds, doubtfully. “I’m not sure the Pakeha keep that sort of information.”
“Yes, yes, I’ve thought of that. What I want you to do is look at the surnames of the purchasers. That’ll give you are reasonably good steer. After all, somebody called McKenzie is unlikely to be of Tainui descent, is he?”
“No. But, there are quite a few McKenzies already here in New Zealand. How are we supposed to sort out the local sheep from the foreign goats?”
“I’ve thought about that, too”, says the Editor, warming to his theme. “What percentage of the total population do you think the Pakeha currently comprise – especially here in Te Ika A Maui?”
The young journalist scratches his head. “Surely not much short of 4 in 10? With more arriving all the time. It would be higher in Te Wai Pounamu.”
“Exactly so!”, says the Editor. “So, if your research shows that 8 out of 10 purchasers of former Maori lands has a surname like McKenzie, or O’Reilly, or Twyford, then doesn’t it stand to reason that overseas British investors are disproportionately involved in buying up this country from under the feet of its original inhabitants? That we Maori are fast becoming tenants in our own land?”
“Actually, Boss, I’m not sure it does. Couldn’t it mean that the British settlers already here are just buying up as much land as they can – as quickly as they can get their hands on it?”
“Oh come on!”, the Editor snorts derisively. “Most of the Pakeha disembarking at the ports don’t have a pot to piss in! Where are they going to get the money to buy land?”
“I’m not talking about the ones who come in steerage, Boss. I’m talking about the ones who make the voyage in private cabins. The youngest sons of good English and Scottish families who arrive here with a very healthy bank balance – courtesy of Papa back in London or Edinburgh. They’ve got plenty to spend.”
“Alright. But even if that’s true, the result is exactly the same – isn’t it? They apply to the Crown, and the Crown obliges them – at our expense.”
“But only so long as we go on selling our lands to the Crown, Boss. I mean, who else are they going to buy land from in these islands – if not from Maori? Isn’t that the whole point of the Kingitanga? To stop the sale of any more Maori land to the Crown?”
“Yes, of course it is! Which is why I want you to write this story for me. To give the Kingitanga the facts about what’s happening to their whenua – to their future!”
“The Settler Government in Auckland isn’t going to like a story that singles them out on the basis of their surnames”, the young journalist observes, ruefully. “They’re going to point to it as yet more evidence of Maori mischief-making. Yet another reason why the Governor should send troops south to destroy the Kingitanga.”
“No! No! Governor Grey will never make war upon the Maori people. He is a good man. He believes this country can only be improved by British capital and Maori enterprise. He also recognises the importance of Maori autonomy – he made provision for it in the Constitution Act!”
“He did, Boss. Yes. But the settlers seem ill-disposed to granting us that autonomy. And, I think I know why.”
“Tell me.”
“Because they want everything, Boss. Not just what Maori consent to sell them – but everything. Just think of how much we depend on them for already – and it’s only going to get worse. There’s millions of them, Boss – numbers our language has no words for. And we’re in their way.”
The Editor turned and gazed out over the lush Waikato countryside. There were tears in his eyes.
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 21 July 2015.

Saturday 18 July 2015

One Hand Clapping? Why Ika’s Latest Intellectual Meal Proved Less-Than-Satisfying.

Bring On The Dialectic: Politics without conflict isn’t politics. For Ika's "Table-Talk" evenings to work, there need to be speakers seated on both sides.
I’VE BEEN RACKING MY BRAIN ever since Tuesday evening, trying to work out what went wrong.
The occasion was another of the Ika Seafood Bar & Grill’s “Table-Talks”. On the face of it, I should have come away from the event feeling intellectually replete. Our hosts for the evening, TV3 journalists Mike McRoberts and Paula Penfold, as seasoned professionals, were well-placed to handle the two-and-fro of discussion. The invited panel of speakers: war correspondent, Jon Stephenson; former Green Party spokesperson on foreign affairs and defence issues, Keith Locke; and the General Manager of the Changemakers Refugee Forum, Tayyaba Khan; brought considerable experience and expertise to the question “New Zealand at War: Where are we and what are we doing there.” And yet, I came away feeling intellectually famished. Why?
The answer I’ve arrived at, after mulling the question over for 72 hours, is rather convoluted, so please, bear with me, while I try to explain.
In my opinion, all politics is adversarial. So, if I find myself at an event and there’s no conflict, then, whatever’s happening, it isn’t politics. On Tuesday, for example, nobody questioned the fundamental premise of the topic under discussion – that New Zealand is at war. Nor was there any disagreement about why New Zealand military personnel are stationed in the Middle East. It was simply assumed that this was the price of admission to John Key’s “Five Eyes Club”. That this is not a Club New Zealand should belong to, and that, anyway, the admission price is much too high, was not disputed.
The audience did not object. Indeed, there was almost complete accord between what the panellists were saying, and what the audience believed to be true. Boiled down to its essentials, this could be summarised as: War is a very bad thing. It inflicts terrible and ineradicable injuries upon bodies and souls. This, in turn, produces a downward spiral into ever more horror and violence. New Zealanders, therefore, should have nothing to do with war – except to offer as much help as possible to its victims.
The audience had arrived at Ika with these opinions, and, as far as I could determine, they left with them either unchanged or considerably reinforced. Which meant that, for me, nothing political had occurred. The participants had applauded a series of eloquent and heart-felt reiterations of views with which they strongly agreed. No one was challenged. No one was forced to defend their beliefs.
War is, indeed, a very bad thing. Thank you for coming, and have a safe journey home.
Consider the impact of the following, counterfactual, Table-Talk.
The first speaker, a military historian, openly disputes the assertion that New Zealand is at war. He asserts that the dispatch of a fraction of New Zealand’s small, highly professional, defence force as advisers to the armed forces of the Republic of Iraq, in no way meets the definition of a country at war. He asks his audience to recall what they have been told about life in New Zealand during the first and second world wars, and then to compare the experiences of our parents and grandparents with life in New Zealand today. Can we really say, with any honesty, that this country is at war? Syria, he declares, is at war. New Zealand is not.
He then turns his attention to the question: “What are we doing there?”
Our oil, their sand? Photo by Jon Stephenson
There must be a very good reason, he says, why first Great Britain, and then the United States, have been willing to expend so much blood and treasure over a part of the world distinguished primarily by heat and dust. And, of course, there is a very good reason. A reason which every person in the audience who drove to the restaurant, and who intends to drive home, should be able to guess. The UK and the USA have been interfering in the Middle East for the past 100 years for the very simple reason that – as one American wit put it: “Unaccountably, a huge proportion of our oil has ended up under their sand.”
That would have been more than enough. The introduction of a set of perspectives so radically at odds with those of the Ika audience would have transformed the evening from an opportunity for people to bear witness to a set of pre-agreed articles of faith, to a full-scale political engagement between a handful of military and diplomatic realists and a roomful of neutralists and pacifists. Those articles of faith might have been tested. People’s beliefs would, without question, have been challenged.
Politics without conflict isn’t politics. For Table-Talk to work, there need to be speakers seated on both sides.
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Saturday, 18 July 2015.

Friday 17 July 2015

The Economic Consequences Of Angela Merkel.

Dragons' Teeth: The German Chancellor, Angela Merkel's, torture of Greece marks the end of the European project. Europe's acquiescence at Versailles in 1919 meant that, within 20 years, Europe was, once again, at war with itself. The EU's refusal to stand in solidarity with the Greeks against German aggression (deploying banks this time, not tanks) has set the continent on the path to ever-increasing conflict and economic sclerosis.

Once all the Germans were warlike and mean
But that couldn’t happen again.
We taught them a lesson in 1918
And they’ve hardly bothered us since then!
YANIS VAROUFAKIS openly compares the Eurozone’s diktat to Greece with the Treaty of Versailles. The former finance minister’s comparison is well made. The Carthaginian peace imposed upon the German people in 1919 was not only intended to devastate their economy it was supposed to crush their spirit.
As punishment for launching the most catastrophic military conflict in human history, the Germans were to be kept in a state of economic servitude for decades to come. Nor was the victorious allies claim that Germany was solely responsible for the outbreak of the First World War a matter of mere rhetoric. The British naval blockade of Germany, which was gradually starving the defeated nation to death, would not be lifted until Germany’s “negotiators” (not that these were, in any genuine sense, negotiations) accepted the Treaty’s “War Guilt Clause”.
As the brutally punitive intentions of the Versailles diktat gradually emerged, three members of the Imperial British delegation, Harold Nicolson, Jan Smuts and John Maynard Keynes were filled with a terrible sense of foreboding. All three were convinced that nothing good could come from such an inhuman document. Each understood, with a chilling certainty, that the victorious allies were sowing dragons' teeth.
John Maynard Keynes: A terrible sense of foreboding.
The young economist, Keynes, quit the negotiations and returned to England where he spent the summer months of 1919 writing The Economic Consequences of the Peace. In his book (which instantly became an international best-seller) Keynes argued that the massive reparations demanded of Germany, combined with the Americans’ insistence that all Allied war debts be repaid, could only result in a fundamental derangement of the global economy. Throw in the German people’s Versailles-inspired sense of grievance and disaster was guaranteed. With uncanny accuracy, he predicted that Europe would be at war with itself, again, in just 20 years.
Flogging A Dead Horse: The imposition, by the victorious allies of World War I, of impossibly harsh economic conditions on the German people, constituted the first step on the road to World War II.
Of course, Greece is not Germany. Her people are not about to pull on jackboots and stomp all over the peace of Europe. But Germany is Germany and it is nothing short of tragic that the nation that went through the experience of Versailles – and all that followed from it – has so easily forgotten how it feels to be ganged-up on by a Europe determined to drive your country to the wall economically and strip it of what little self-respect it has managed to retain.
This failure of memory is particularly worrying in the light of what happened in 1953. That was the year in which Germany’s European neighbours, including Greece, wrote off up to 50 percent of her still outstanding Versailles debts. Yes, it was the Cold War. Yes, Germany was divided and it was important to give those Germans living in the West a sense of hope and confidence in the future. Even so, barely 14 years had passed since, as Mick Jagger put it: “the blitzkrieg raged/and the bodies stank”. Europe had considerably more to forgive Germany for in 1953 than it has to forgive Greece for in 2015.
Germany's Angela Merkel and Wolfgang Schauble: Executioners of the European dream.
The spectacle of Germany’s Chancellor, Angela Merkel, and her flinty-faced Finance Minister, Dr Wolfgang Schauble, squeezing the last drops of blood from the broken stones of Greece has sent a collective shudder through the rest of Europe. It’s a reaction with which Dr Schauble will be well pleased. It has long been the German Finance Minister’s plan to render Germany’s economic hegemony over Europe permanent by turning the continent into a “glorified debtors’ prison”. Greece is to serve as an example of what will befall any Eurozone member foolhardy enough to challenge the one-way flow of wealth to Europe’s biggest banker.
Frau Merkel is convinced that by allowing Greece to remain in the Eurozone she has demonstrated her bona fides as a “Good European”. It is, after all, vital that all Europeans understand that debts must be repaid, and that only orthodox economic policies should be pursued. If that requires German technocrats to second-guess the decisions of elected Greek politicians, then so be it. The Greek people need to understand that democracy has its limits; that saying “No” has a price.
The economic consequences of Angela Merkel, like the economic consequences of Versailles, will be a Europe at war with itself – within 20 years.
This essay was originally published in The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 17 July 2015.

Thursday 16 July 2015

Perilous Whites: Labour, China and the Liberal Intelligentsia.

Wiring Problems: What makes it so difficult for the Liberal Intelligentsia to see what is happening to their country; to its people; to its assets; when it is all unfolding before their very eyes? Is it possible that the answer really is, as they insist, racism?
THE OUTCRY precipitated by Labour’s critique of overseas Chinese investment in the Auckland housing market is profoundly disturbing. The “Liberal Intelligentsia” (to use Steven Joyce’s term) has reacted to Phil Twyford’s and Rob Salmond’s data as if this is 1915, not 2015.
China’s revolutionary self-emancipation and her transformation into a global economic superpower – a process spanning the whole of the twentieth century – appears to have passed the Liberal Intelligentsia by entirely. It’s as though they are still living in the days when most Chinese New Zealanders were green-grocers and market-gardeners. When Pakeha children intoned racist rhymes about “Ching-Chong-Chinaman”, and their parents openly parroted the prejudices of those earlier generations of New Zealanders who had erected a viciously discriminatory legislative cage to contain the “Yellow Peril”.
The liberals seem blissfully unaware that the period in which tens-of-thousands of economic refugees poured out of a China in search of safety and the chance to build a better life ended more than half-a-century ago. The Chinese immigrant of today arrives with capital to invest, a factory to build and/or a business to run. And the New Zealand government is only too eager to assist. Indeed, in 2015, it’s the Kiwi exporter heading north who travels in hope of a better deal. And his destination is a hundred years distant from the China laid low by the superior firepower of Western imperialism. We are the supplicants now.
Carve Up: In this turn-of-the-19th-Century cartoon, a helpless China protests the imperial powers' carve up of its territory and resources. A century later China's position in the world has changed dramatically.
The failure of the liberals’ historical imagination is even more astonishing when one considers how very loudly they have proclaimed their support for tino rangatiratanga. Their outrage at the thought of the indigenous Maori people of New Zealand being relieved of their lands, forests and fisheries by rapacious British colonists was awesome to behold. And it mattered to them not at all that most of these real estate transactions were without legal blemish. How quick the Liberals of the 1970s and 80s were to remind us of the words of the Lakota War Chief, Red Cloud: “The white man made us many promises – more  than I can remember, but he never kept but one: he promised to take our land – and he took it.”
All of which raises a very interesting question: what makes it so difficult for the Liberal Intelligentsia to see what is happening to their country; to its people; to its assets; when it is all unfolding before their very eyes? Is it possible that the answer really is, as they insist, racism?
If racism is at work in this matter, then it is not in the Labour Party. No, the racism at work here is born of the towering arrogance and ignorance of the Liberal Intelligentsia itself. So sure are these people of their own superiority that they simply cannot accept that in this little corner of the world, at least, the power of the West is waning. That white, well-educated, urban professionals, like themselves, are no longer calling the shots in New Zealand. That, for some time now, the future of this country has been decided thousands of miles from these shores – where New Zealanders don’t get a vote. These blissfully unconscious racists still see Chinese New Zealanders in terms of a helpless minority to which they, with infinite condescension, are duty-bound to extend their protection – as if the “victims” are still green-grocers and market-gardeners. The idea that it might be the Chinese who, increasingly, are calling the shots in New Zealand, is beyond their comprehension.
Raybon Kan’s brilliant essay in this morning’s Herald said it all. We Kiwis have become so smug, so insular, so convinced that we have all the answers, that we have failed to notice how very large and dangerous the world has grown. Land will always end up in the hands of those who best appreciate its value. If we are unwilling to assign a credible price to our little paradise at the bottom of the world, then there are millions of other human beings out there who will happily do it for us.
That is all Labour’s politicians are trying to say. It is a fact of real political importance that the Liberal Intelligentsia can no longer hear them.
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Wednesday, 15 July 2015.

Tuesday 14 July 2015

Chinese Whispers.

New Imperiums For Old: China now stands where Britain stood: an economic colossus with expectations of this country that New Zealanders are only reluctantly beginning to comprehend. The thought that the Chinese might want something in return for opening up their market to our milk powder and baby formula has come very late to the ordinary Kiwi.
SONJA DAVIES was only in Parliament for six years. But, she could hardly have chosen a worse six-year period to be a Labour MP. Her time as MP for the Wellington seat of Pencarrow (1987-1993) coincided with the crescendo of Rogernomics and the splitting of the Labour Party. It was not a happy time for the celebrated feminist and trade union fighter, and she was only too happy to hand her seat over to Trevor Mallard and get out.
It wasn’t just the awfulness of life in the Labour Party in the late-1980s and early-90s that depressed Sonja Davies. As a shrewd observer of both local and international politics, she rapidly became aware that New Zealand was passing through a period of fundamental cultural and economic re-orientation. What concerned her most was how little New Zealanders were being told and, therefore, how little they knew, about the changes that were radically reshaping what it means to be a New Zealander.
“If people had any idea about the scale of these changes,” she confided to me early in her first term as MP for Pencarrow,” they’d be horrified. It’s been decided that New Zealand’s future lies in Asia. That’s got massive implications – but most people haven’t a clue. No one asked them and certainly no one’s telling them.”
Sonja Davies: People would be horrified.
New Zealand’s embrace of Asia (remember Jim Bolger’s startling comment that “New Zealand is an Asian country”?) was a policy driven by the same elite group of bureaucrats and businesspeople that had sponsored Roger Douglas’s “Quiet Revolution”. New Zealand’s once heavily-protected economy had been thrown open to the world in anticipation of the world’s major economies doing the same.
Significantly, the corollary of the free movement of capital, goods and services across international borders – the free movement of peoples – remained largely unexamined. Most New Zealanders simply did not realise that if their country was determined to trade freely with the whole world, then, more and more, its population would come to resemble the people with whom it was trading. If most of those people hailed from Asia, then New Zealand would, indeed, become “an Asian country”.
Why Asia? Simply because the traditional destinations for New Zealand’s exports, Europe and the United States, were largely satiated markets. Even worse, they remained highly protected markets. Throughout Asia generally, however, and, more specifically, in China, it was evident that millions of hitherto poor peasants and workers would soon be entering the ranks of a new and materialistically inclined “Middle Class”.
And, if history was any guide, one of the principal effects of these millions of Chinese becoming wealthy would be a dramatic change in their dietary habits. The demand would go up for protein, protein and more protein. And protein was – and is – what New Zealanders do best. Increasingly, the diplomatic and trade focus shifted from the global free trade chimeras of APEC and the Doha Round of the WTO, to the golden prize of a single, bilateral, free trade agreement with the People’s Republic of China.
That agreement was the crowning achievement of the Helen Clark-led Labour Government (1999-2008) and there can be no disputing its enormous and beneficial impact on the New Zealand economy. Equally indisputable, however, are the profound socio-cultural and political impacts of China becoming this country’s largest trading partner.
The New Zealand historian, James Belich, describes the political and socio-cultural effects of New Zealand being transformed into Britain’s “protein factory” as “The Great Tightening”. Essentially, this country was re-colonised by British capitalists and its population re- educated accordingly. That the process was carried out by people who looked like us and talked like us – our own kith and kin, as it were – did not make it any less destructive of our national sovereignty. More than 18,000 young New Zealanders’ died in World War I: their blood exchanged for our butter’s guaranteed access to the British market. New Zealand’s Prime Minister, William Massey, was happy to pay the butcher’s bill.
China now stands where Britain stood: an economic colossus with expectations of this country that New Zealanders are only reluctantly beginning to comprehend. The thought that the Chinese might want something in return for opening up their market to our milk powder and baby formula has come very late to the ordinary Kiwi.
That Labour is leading the discussion about how much, precisely, the Chinese have a right to expect from New Zealanders is entirely fitting. After all, it was Labour who sealed the deal. It was Labour, too, who presided over the electorally unmandated “turn” towards Asia in the late-80s. That they are, at last, addressing the misgivings expressed to me by Sonja Davies’ all those years ago, is to be applauded – not condemned.
Labour’s Chinese whispers have nothing to do with racism. They’re about national sovereignty and the people’s will.
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 14 July 2015.