Tuesday, 14 August 2018

Who Are You Calling "Evil"?

This ordinary-looking man, who lived in an ordinary-looking house, on an ordinary-looking street, who was tried in this ordinary-looking courtroom - for mass murder:  Could this balding, middle-aged man wearing horn-rimmed glasses and an ill-fitting suit really be responsible for the deaths of six million innocent people? Far from resembling Lucifer, Adolf Eichmann looked like a worn-out bureaucrat – which is exactly what he was. The philosopher, Hannah Arendt, referred to this profoundly demoralising discrepancy as “the banality of evil”.

THE PROBLEM OF EVIL has taxed the minds of men and women for millennia. Is evil a force, like gravity, that drags human-beings down into the depths of depravity? Does this force reside in a single conscious entity: immensely powerful and seemingly immortal? If so, is this entity motivated to pour its essence into individual human-beings: transforming them into monsters? Or is it, rather, that certain individuals open themselves voluntarily to the malignant forces of the cosmos: deliberately absorbing them in order to unleash evil upon others?

Many theologians (yes, theologians, because any discussion of evil cannot help straying into the realms of religion and metaphysics) reject the idea of evil as a universal force and dismiss entirely the idea that evil can be personified. Their definition of evil employs the concepts of absence and distance. Evil, they say, manifests itself in the behaviour of people who have become separated from God. (Or, if you prefer, from what is Good.) The more prolonged the absence; the greater the distance; the greater their capacity to behave in “un-good” ways.

Since religion and metaphysics make a great many people living in the twenty-first century uncomfortable, the Problem of Evil is often transferred into the realm of science – most particularly, the disciplines of psychiatry, psychology and neurology.

Of course, if the explanation for evil is neurological – i.e. some form of brain malfunction – then the concept is immediately stripped of its moral dimension. If someone behaves violently, inflicting pain and suffering upon the innocent because of some physical defect they cannot control, then they cannot be considered evil. Dangerous, certainly. But not evil.

The psychiatrists, by contrast, search for the causes of predatory and sadistic behaviour in the individual’s past. Traumatic events, experienced in infancy, are believed to influence the individual’s adult conduct. Violence and cruelty, especially, are thought to manifest themselves intergenerationally. Or, as the English poet, W. H. Auden, expresses the idea in his famous poem, “1 September 1939”:

I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.

But, even this approach to the Problem of Evil leaves many people feeling troubled. Since we cannot control the things that are done to us in our infancy then, surely, it is unfair to hold adult individuals responsible for their aberrant behaviour. If the harm they inflict on others is generated by harms inflicted on them, then how can we call them evil? Our unease becomes even more pronounced when we discover that extreme trauma can leave not only emotional, but also very real neurological scars on its victims’ minds and brains. And, if that is true, then, once again, the concept of evil dissolves before our eyes.

Psychology only compounds these concerns. If human behaviour is the result of “drives” impelled by the mitochondria in our cells, our instincts; and if religious, philosophical and ideological systems are overlaid upon these drives in order to control and channel their social effects; then, again, the scope for individual human agency is severely limited. As the American socialist writer, Upton Sinclair, shrewdly observed: “It is very difficult to make a man understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”

The other great difficulty presented by the Problem of Evil is the way in which human-beings, upon being convinced that a certain course of action is not only entirely justified but entirely right, will proceed methodically to ensure that the course of action is implemented – no matter what the cost.

Dr Stanley Milgram’s horrible experiment, in which people were instructed to inflict electric shocks on participants who failed to answer set questions correctly, offers grim confirmation of this human weakness. Responding to the instructions of the authority figure overseeing the experiment, fully two-thirds of the participants were prepared to deliver potentially lethal shocks. They could hear the person screaming (or thought they could since no one was actually being hurt) but, when ordered by the man in the white coat to “continue with the experiment”, they obeyed.

In a society divided by class, gender and ethnicity there will inevitably be people whose salaries depend upon their willingness to deliver shocks – both real and symbolic – to their fellow human-beings. It is extremely difficult to convince such people that they are doing anything wrong. While the prevailing social and economic system and its practices are believed to be both justified and right, the actions of these people, and the consequences of their actions, will be similarly regarded.

The German philosopher, Hannah Arendt, observing the trial of Adolf Eichmann (one of the leading planners and executors of the Holocaust) in a Tel Aviv courtroom was struck by how ordinary he looked. Could this balding, middle-aged man wearing horn-rimmed glasses and an ill-fitting suit really be responsible for the deaths of six million innocent people? Far from resembling Lucifer, Eichmann looked like a worn-out bureaucrat – which is exactly what he was. Arendt referred to this profoundly demoralising discrepancy as “the banality of evil”.

Because, unfortunately, evil looks nothing like the artist’s impression: there are no horns, no tail, no cloven hooves, no whiff of sulphur. Life would be so much easier if there were! No, if you really want to know what evil looks like, then examine the faces of the people who live next door; the people on the bus; the people in the lunchroom at work. But don’t stop there. If you truly want to examine the face of evil – just take a look in the mirror.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Tuesday, 14 August 2018.

Sunday, 12 August 2018

Checkmate In Two Years?

Checkmate: The impending political crisis over free speech threatens at least two of the multiple players currently engaged on New Zealand’s political chessboard. For Labour and the Greens it may already be too late to protect themselves from the moves of their opponents. For National and NZ First, however, a path to electoral victory in 2020 beckons.

A CHESS GRAND-MASTER can discern the future direction of the game from the way the pieces on the board are configured. He is thus able to predict the moves of his opponent with considerable accuracy. In some instances, he will be able to identify a path to victory that cannot be blocked. When both players see this path, the doomed King is laid flat and the game is over.

The impending political crisis over free speech threatens at least two of the multiple players currently engaged on New Zealand’s political chessboard. For Labour and the Greens it may already be too late to protect themselves from the moves of their opponents. For National and NZ First, however, a path to electoral victory in 2020 beckons.

The passions aroused by the recent visit of two Canadian right-wing provocateurs, Lauren Southern and Stefan Molyneux, are evidence of deep cultural tensions within New Zealand society.

Superficially, these tensions appear to be generated by powerful disagreements over what freedom of speech actually means. Those who regard free speech as an indispensable precondition for any functioning democracy pit themselves against those who consider the whole concept to be a mere rhetorical flourish: a principle promoted by dominant groups for no better reason than to maintain their economic, social and cultural privilege.

At a deeper level, however, the controversy threw into sharp relief the ideological contours of twenty-first century New Zealand. Multiculturalism was exposed as something much more than an academic buzzword. What Southern and Molyneux made clear, by opposing it so openly and aggressively, is that multiculturalism has become our official state ideology.

There’s a saying, often attributed to Voltaire, which declares: “To learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticise.” The free speech controversy, by identifying multiculturalism as the concept Kiwis are not allowed to critique without drawing down the unrelenting wrath of its state-sanctioned and supported defenders, has caused many citizens to wonder when and how “nationalism” and “biculturalism” became dirty words.

The answer is bound up with New Zealand’s – or, at least “official” New Zealand’s – wholesale embrace of neoliberalism and globalisation. A country whose elites have signed-up to an economic philosophy based on the free movement of goods, capital and labour: the three fundamental drivers of globalisation; is more or less obliged to adopt multiculturalism as it core social philosophy.

Old fashioned New Zealand nationalism, and its more recent offshoot “biculturalism”, were products of a country which saw itself as offering something uniquely and positively its own to the rest of the world. It is probable that a substantial majority of Kiwis still subscribe to this notion (although a significant minority still struggle with the concept of biculturalism).

What the free speech controversy of the past four weeks revealed to New Zealanders was that too forthright an expression of cultural nationalism can result in the persons advocating such notions being branded xenophobic or racist – and even to accusations of being a white supremacist, fascist or Nazi.

The battle for free speech cannot, therefore, be prevented from extending out into a broader discussion over whether or not New Zealanders have the right to reject the downsides of neoliberalism, globalisation and multiculturalism. Is it any longer possible to advance the radically nationalistic idea that the nature and future of New Zealand is a matter which New Zealanders alone must decide, without finding oneself pilloried on Twitter or banned from the nation’s universities?

Returning to our chess analogy, it is possible to foresee that in the months ahead NZ First will find itself feeling more and more alienated from the radical multiculturalists in Labour and the Greens. The sharper the free speech debate becomes, the more likely it is that Winston Peters and his fellow “fetishizers of New Zealandness” will find themselves branded purveyors of “hate speech” by the Red and Green pieces on the political chessboard.

If National refuses to take the lead role in upholding free speech, then the chances are high that a new political party dedicated to defending New Zealanders’ rights and freedoms will start placing additional pieces on the chessboard. The sheer venom (and violent protests) such a party would be bound to attract from the Ctrl-Left would very soon lift its support above the 5 percent MMP threshold.

Checkmate in two years.

This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 10 August 2018.

The Government v. The Business Community: Playing Chicken Over Employment Law Reform

But Has Grant Got His Leather Jacket Caught In The Handle? Declining business confidence and how the government should respond to it is fast developing into a game of political and economic ‘chicken’. Both sides know they are being challenged. They also know that the longer they delay responding the greater the risk of a tragic outcome. (Screen shot from Rebel Without A Cause) 

EVERY TIME the Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance address the “Business Community” I wince. It’s painful to watch them abase themselves in the way they do. As if their endless protestations of good will and their oft-repeated promise to “listen” will make the slightest difference. The Business Community is acutely aware that there is nothing with more potential to cause them harm than a left-wing government. If it cannot be tamed, then it must be broken.

At the moment the attention of the government’s business opponents is focused on its reaction to the evidence of plummeting business confidence. This is fast developing into a game of political and economic ‘chicken’. Both sides know they are being challenged. They also know that the longer they delay responding the greater the risk of a tragic outcome. The Business Community is, however, convinced that, on the basis of its previous experience with left-wing governments, Jacinda Ardern and Grant Robertson will swerve first.

By “swerving” they mean backing away (if not actually backing down) from their proposed employment law reforms. The more intelligent members of the business community are only too aware of the head of steam that is building up in the workforce for a decisive shift in the power relationships prevailing in the workplace. Any reform that makes it easier for workers in the private sector to be organised into unions – let alone aggregated into the occupational collectivities of the pre-Employment Contracts Act era – has the potential to set off a wave of unionisation that could fundamentally disadvantage shareholders of all sizes.

Such a “revolution of rising expectations” has, however, been on the cards from the moment Jacinda began scattering her stardust hither and yon in the run-up to last year’s election. That stardust poses a huge problem for Labour. Without it, there was – and is – no possibility of the party winning anything like enough support to form a government. In deploying her politics of hope and kindness, however, Jacinda has raised New Zealanders hopes and dreams to dangerous new heights.

New Zealanders are expecting the Labour-led government to usher-in real and positive changes in the way they live their lives. Failure to meet these expectations will, almost certainly, result in the fall of the Labour-NZF-Green Government.

Jacinda and her team know this. They may have bought themselves some time by setting up scores of working-groups and inquiries, but at some point before the 2020 general election they are going to have to start delivering real gains to the people who voted for them. Being seen to back away, albeit under fierce business pressure, from restoring a modicum of fairness to the workplace will be seen by many traditional Labour supporters (especially the present and former members of trade unions) as a betrayal.

And yet, as the wage campaigns of public sector workers (the only groups who have been able to retain a credible measure of union density) are rolled out and resolved in settlements involving double-figures, the restiveness of the largely un-unionised private sector workforce can only grow. The Business Community do not need to have the consequences of this restiveness spelled out for them. Employment law reform could quite easily result in an unprecedented and largely unorganised strike-wave sweeping across the country.

That’s enough to shake the confidence of even the most unflappable CEO.

Unfortunately, it is also more than enough to unsettle the nerves of a social-democratic government that would (to paraphrase the shrewd observation of an old trade unionist pal of mine) retain control of the losing side in an argument about employment law reform than lose control of the winning side.

In spite of its name, the last thing Labour wants is the New Zealand working-class taking matters into its own hands.

Those who have put their money on Jacinda and Grant swerving at the last minute have, if history is any guide, made a pretty safe bet.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 10 August 2018.

Saturday, 11 August 2018

Better Health & Safety Laws Could Have Stopped The 1981 Tour!

People Could Get Hurt Here! If we’d had the same health and safety rules back in 1981 as we have now, then the Springboks wouldn’t have got to play a single game!

IF ONLY the New Zealand of 1981 had possessed health and safety legislation to match the laws of 2018. It took Pat McQuarrie, at the controls of the light aircraft he had stolen from Taupo airport, and his threat to fly it into the grandstand of Hamilton’s Rugby Park, to persuade the Police Commissioner, Bob Walton, that it might be in the interests of the health and safety of the spectators gathered to watch the Springbok-Waikato Rugby match on 25 July 1981 to cancel the fixture.

Fast-forward 37 years and just think how easy it would be to achieve the same result today. No need for the likes of Pat McQuarrie in 2018. A few hundred raggle-taggle left-wing gypsies threatening to “confront” Rugby patrons if they attempted to enter the ground is all it would take to convince the New Zealand Rugby Union that the game would have to be called-off.

Crikey! If we’d had the same health and safety rules back then as we have now, then the Springboks wouldn’t have got to play a single game. The anti-tour movement was just so huge in 1981 that its entirely credible threat to organise major disruptions of air travel, the railways and the motorways would have been more than enough to induce Rob Muldoon to instruct the Rugby Union to withdraw their invitation to the South Africans.

Certainly, the state television network would have required little more than the threat of interference with its super-expensive transmission equipment to announce its determination to boycott the Springbok Tour altogether. Of course, without television coverage of the matches it would hardly have been worth the Rugby Union proceeding.

Such a shame that in 1981 the authorities cared so little for the health and safety of New Zealanders that they were prepared to deploy thousands of Police and employ the armed forces to lay thousands of metres of barbed-wire to ensure that the rights of Rugby players and spectators were not infringed. Not only that, but if any protester attempted to prevent the Rugby matches from proceeding then they could expect to be cracked over the head with a Policeman’s baton.

Yep. The consequences for exercising your right to free expression back in 1981 could be severe. When the Springbok-Waikato game was called-off, the protesters who had made it onto the field were lucky to escape with their lives. Bottles and beer-cans rained down upon their heads leaving many of them bloodied and bruised. Spectators pouring out of the park then attacked the first-aid station treating the injured.

New Zealanders back then were horrified at the level of violence unleashed on the protesters. But that’s only because people were much less aware in 1981 that if people “talked shit” then they deserved to “get bashed”. It was nowhere near as well understood in those days that speaking-out against the prevailing ideas of the day constituted nothing less than an open invitation to everybody who subscribed to those ideas to have at the dissidents with fist and boot.

The 1980s were such unenlightened times. The appalling events  of that era could never happen in the Aotearoa-New Zealand of 2018. Our health and safety laws simply wouldn’t permit it!

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Thursday, 9 August 2018.

Friday, 10 August 2018

The “Over-65 Vote” May Be “Funkier” That National Expects.

We Didn't Die Before We Grew Old: It is sobering to realise that by 2020 roughly half of the Baby Boom Generation will be drawing a pension. The “Over-65 Vote” will no longer be composed overwhelmingly of what Colin James dubbed “The RSA Generation”. More and more of these older voters will cherish youthful memories of sex, drugs and rock-n-roll.

PICTURE THIS. It’s a just a few weeks before the 2020 general election and social media is smoking. A superb piece of digital fakery has the National Party leader, Simon Bridges, inhaling enthusiastically. Over a Pink Floydesque soundtrack, Bridges exhales an impressive cloud of marijuana smoke. “My party is opposed to legalising pot” he explains, grinning broadly and winking knowingly. “But, if the people of New Zealand vote yes to dope in the forthcoming referendum, then a new National Party government will honour their decision and end cannabis prohibition within its first 100 days.” The clip ends with a rather glassy-eyed Bridges flashing his viewers the peace sign. The video’s tag line flashes up on the screen: Simon says, VOTE YES – AND NATIONAL.

Now, the prospect of a “funky” National Party mobilising the “Head Vote” will no doubt  strike many readers as a most unlikely proposition. For a start, the staunchly conservative Mr Bridges would certainly not take kindly to being portrayed as some sort of peace, love and mungbeans hippie. Less certain, however, is whether his campaign team would be all that bothered by such a clever piece of guerrilla advertising. Not all fake news is bad news.

It is, similarly, important to realise that by 2020 roughly half of the Baby Boom Generation will be drawing a pension. The “Over-65 Vote” will no longer be composed overwhelmingly of what Colin James dubbed “The RSA Generation”.

More and more of these older voters will cherish youthful memories of sex, drugs and rock-n-roll.

On a darker note, their personal experience will have confirmed over and over again the brute reality that alcohol is capable of inflicting immeasurably more harm on families, friends and workmates than cannabis sativa.

Their children will point out the absurdity of preserving the market for increasingly deadly iterations of synthetic cannabis by prohibiting the cultivation and use of the real thing – a substance with no known fatalities to its credit.

The idea that the careers of their grandchildren may be jeopardised by engaging in what is, essentially, a harmless habit, will fill them with a mixture of exasperation and dread.

What’s more, as the Baby Boomers’ bodies begin to fail them and the aches and pains of old age make themselves known with ever-increasing intensity, the analgesic and stress-relieving qualities of cannabis will recommend themselves with ever-increasing force. Why should the law be interested in the consumption of a slice of hashish-infused chocolate-cake to relieve arthritis?

These are the considerations that National’s campaign strategists will be inviting Simon Bridges and his conservative colleagues to consider. Active Christian worship is now very much a minority sport. Likewise the misogyny and homophobia of those involuntarily celibate keyboard warriors who daily defile the Internet. The overwhelming majority of New Zealanders are men and women of good will and good humour. Those responsible for developing National’s election manifesto would do well to remember that.

Good will and good humour does not, however, signal soft-headedness. Sixty-five years and more on this earth has a habit of exposing the weaknesses of youthful propositions concerning human nature. Monty Python mercilessly satirised the notion that all individual failings could be laid at the door of “Society” by offering to “book them too”.

The explanation for the rock-solid character of National’s massive electoral support owes a great deal to older New Zealanders’ reluctant acceptance that many of the wounds which their less fortunate fellow citizens are expecting them to heal have almost certainly been self-inflicted. For the past forty years, doubt has been growing steadily in “Middle New Zealand” about the Welfare State’s capacity to improve the lives of either its “clients” or the society in which they live.

Bill English recognised this growing doubt and attempted to address it by means of his “Social Investment” initiatives. Much more work on these is required before they are ready to be rolled-out as the replacement for the First Labour Government’s “Social Security” model. There is, however, the whiff of the future about English’s ideas, so, if Simon Bridges is as wise as he is ambitious, then social investment will be the project into which he and his caucus colleagues hurl themselves in the run-up to 2020.

Bridges simple message to Middle New Zealand could be: “National’s not hard-hearted – just clear-headed”.

Except, of course, when it’s stoned.

This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 3 August 2018.

How The New Zealand Left Transformed Southern And Molyneux From Unknown Rightists Into Free Speech Heroes.

From Right-Wing Moles To Free Speech Mountains: Lauren Southern and Stefan Molyneux were confident that all they needed to do to spread their ideas in New Zealand was announce their intention of staging an event. The Left could be relied upon to do the rest.

WHAT A PITY there is no “Politburo” of the New Zealand Left. A central committee of knowledgeable and experienced left-wing strategists and organisers who could make decisions on behalf of the wider progressive movement. Had such a body existed when the news of the impending visit of Lauren Southern and Stefan Molyneux broke, then what happened next would have been very different.

The Politburo would have perused the available information on the Canadian duo and very quickly realised that the best course of action for the New Zealand Left was to do absolutely nothing. No media releases. No posters. No protests. Certainly no threats to disrupt the speakers’ public meetings. In response to Southern and Molyneux, the New Zealand Left would do precisely zero, zip, nada, nothing.

Why? Because even a cursory glance at Southern’s and Molyneux’s modus operandi would have alerted the Politburo to the fact that protests and threats of disruption were absolutely indispensable to the success of the pair’s political touring. 

Without the threats of disruption from Peace Action Auckland, the Auckland Council would have had no grounds for denying Southern and Molyneux access to the Bruce Mason Theatre in Takapuna (along with every other council venue in Auckland!) on health and safety grounds. The meeting would have taken place and, if the Canadians were lucky, they might have merited a few brief paragraphs in the NZ Herald. Most Kiwis would have remained blissfully unaware that Lauren Southern and Stefan Molyneux even existed.

If provocateurs fail to provoke, do they make any sound at all?

We’ll never know. Because, of course, the New Zealand Left does not have a Politburo to provide it with sagacious strategic advice. It is a wild, anarchic melange of individuals and groups, united only by the fierce conviction that all those who challenge the phantasmagoria of sectional sensitivities which constitute the contemporary “progressive” movement must ipso facto be fascists whose every public utterance, being “hate speech”, must be suppressed – by any means necessary.

Knowing this, Southern and Molyneux would have been confident that all they needed to do to spread their ideas in New Zealand was announce their intention to hold a meeting. The Left could be relied upon to do the rest.

That the Canadians’ first infusion of power came from the Mayor of New Zealand’s largest city must, however, have struck them as more than usually fortuitous. Phil Goff’s naked assertion of the right to determine what the citizens of Auckland could and could not hear was bound to rouse the defenders of free expression to action. Better and better! Southern and Molyneux could now count on tens-of-thousands of New Zealanders googling their names and watching their YouTube channels.

The next step was to begin the game of “will they or won’t they be able to secure a private venue?”. With social media crackling with ideological thrust and counter-thrust and “anti-fascist” coalitions being announced, the next phase of the propaganda operation was ready to unfold.

It was a phase Southern and Molyneux could hardly lose. Either the secured venue would stand firm against the inevitable threats and the meeting would go ahead. Or, the venue’s owners would be subjected to such intolerable pressure that the meeting was cancelled. If the former eventuated, then it would inevitably attract hundreds, if not thousands, of screaming left-wing protesters. If it was cancelled, the Canadians could present themselves as the victims of left-wing intimidation. Either way, the mainstream news media would feel obligated to step into the story.

Which, with the Powerstation’s decision to first hire out, and then deny, its facilities to the duo, is exactly what happened.

Had the proposed meeting at the Bruce Mason Theatre gone ahead without incident, Southern and Molyneux would have been able to preach to, at most, 800 already converted enthusiasts. As they wing their way back to Canada, however, they will be congratulating themselves on being presented to the tens-of-thousands of Kiwis watching the television current affairs programme “Sunday” in prime-time.

Many socially-conservative New Zealanders, seeing the Canadians for the first time, will doubtless have wondered how anyone could be offended by two such telegenic and articulate individuals. The stridency of their opponents, by contrast, must have appeared strange – even slightly sinister.

Had it ever been the intention of the Left and its kindred souls in the Human Rights Commission to extend and strengthen New Zealand’s laws against “hate speech”, then its fruitless attempts to suppress the views of Southern and Molyneux can only have rendered such an exercise significantly more difficult.

The debate stirred up by the repeated denial of both public and private stages to the pair on account of threats and intimidation has placed the issue of free speech squarely on New Zealand’s political agenda. The Left will find it much harder, now, to sell its arguments in favour of limiting New Zealanders right to free expression that would have been the case if Southern and Molyneux had simply been allowed to come and go without incident.

The Powerstation, Auckland, graffitied.

The person who sprayed graffiti on the Powerstation’s walls over the weekend described Southern’s and Molyneux’s foray into New Zealand politics as the “FREE SPEECH - EULOGY TOUR”. Given that eulogies are only pronounced over the dead, the graffitist is clearly someone who believes the Left has either already killed free speech, or is intending to do so in the near future.

He, or she, is wrong on both counts.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Tuesday, 7 August 2018.

Wednesday, 8 August 2018

“Who Are You Calling ‘Mate’, Mate?”

Newspeak? It is Washington’s new “Indo-Pacific” strategy, that is driving the current “Century of Mateship” propaganda exercise out of Canberra. Australia’s foundation and development as a collection of British colonies is being barefacedly elided in favour of the Orwellian contention that: “Australia and the United States are mates. Australia and the United States have been mates for 100 years. Australia and the United States will always be mates.”

NEW ZEALAND’S RELATIONSHIP with Australia is under considerable strain. Though they have yet to state their position openly, Australia’s leaders are clearly less than enthusiastic about the tradition of “automatic entry” for New Zealand’s economic migrants. It is certainly difficult to read the Australian Government’s denial of non-emergency health care, higher education and social welfare benefits to Kiwi citizens as anything other than a pretty strong signal of Australia’s rising impatience with the ANZAC myth of eternal “mateship”.

Indeed, if the programmes currently featuring on Sky TV’s “History Channel” are anything to go by, there is a concerted effort underway to attach the “mateship” label to Australia’s relationship with the United States. Under the rubric of “One Hundred Years of Mateship” Australian documentary-makers are advancing the far-from-convincing argument that the Commonwealth of Australia – one of the British Empire’s most important economic and strategic “dominions across the seas” – and the United States of America have been bosom buddies from the moment they clapped eyes on each other across the battlefields of the Western Front in 1918.

It is rare in the English-speaking nations of the twenty-first century to witness such a blatant attempt to re-write history. Up until the Second World War, elite Australia’s attachment to British imperialism was as fervent as it was unquestioning. The Aussie working-class, much of it Irish and Catholic, may have had little cause to love the English and the Scots-Irish Orangemen from Ulster, but its dangerously radical opinions were vigorously rejected by the “respectable” settlers of New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia. For these sons and daughters of the Empire, “Mother England” was the source of all economic, military and cultural power. The USA and its teeming millions were impertinent upstarts – not “mates”.

That all changed, of course, when a squadron of Japanese navy bombers, almost nonchalantly, sank the two great British battleships, HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse, off the Malaysian coast on 10 December 1941 – just three days after Japan’s surprise attack on the American Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbour. The fall of “impregnable” Singapore, which followed soon after, on 15 February 1942, brought home to Australians just how far away Mother England really was and forced them to shift their strategic gaze eastward to the United States. Every Australian understood that if the Japanese were going to be defeated, it would not be by the British, who had proved to be a busted-flush, but by the Americans. For most Aussies, therefore, the Yanks were more than their “mates” – they were Australia’s bloody saviours!

Post-World War II, however, the case for US-Australian “mateship” grows progressively stronger. The two countries have fought alongside each other in Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq. The view from Canberra is unequivocally that of a steadfast ally upon whom Washington can rely without the slightest hesitation or doubt. The Liberal Party Prime Minister of Australia, John Howard, confirmed this subaltern status by describing his country as America’s “deputy-sheriff”.

Howard’s Liberal successor, Malcolm Turnbull, has developed this relationship to the point where Australia now sees itself as a geostrategic bridge between the Pacific and Indian oceans. The Australian landmass is thus being presented to Washington as not only an unassailable thoroughfare for American power, but also as a barrier against the further extension of Chinese influence into either ocean.

It is this, Washington’s new “Indo-Pacific” strategy, that is, almost certainly, driving Foxtel’s “100 Years of Mateship” propaganda exercise on the History Channel. Australia’s foundation and development as a collection of British colonies is being barefacedly elided in favour of the Orwellian contention that: “Australia and the United States are mates. Australia and the United States have been mates for 100 years. Australia and the United States will always be mates.”

Which just leaves New Zealand, Australia’s former “mate”, positioned strategically off the lucky country’s eastern seaboard like an unsinkable aircraft carrier which has, unaccountably, pushed all its fighter aircraft into the sea. An unreliable aircraft carrier, whose unreliable crew has, for more than 30 years, been bloody rude to Australia’s best mates – the Americans. A crew which insists on taking shore leave in Brisbane and Sydney and Melbourne where it spreads its downright subversive views about the rights of indigenous people and nuclear disarmament and practical feminism and need to do something big and meaningful about climate change among Australia’s dangerously persuadable citizens.

Right-wing Australia would like nothing more than to close its borders to these damned annoying Kiwis. Unfortunately, that would involve tearing up the Australian-New Zealand Closer Economic Relationship and toppling New Zealand into a full-scale economic and social crisis.

Now, there are some Aussies who’d like to say “tough luck, Kiwi” and walk away. Fortunately for New Zealand, however, there are wiser heads in the discussion who warn that a New Zealand in the grip of a life-or-death struggle for survival might feel it had no choice but to extend the hand of “mateship” to its largest remaining trading partner. That if Australia goes on mistreating Kiwis, then it just might wake up one morning to discover that unsinkable aircraft carrier across the Tasman Sea bristling with Chinese bombers.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 3 August 2018.

Thursday, 2 August 2018

The Politics Of Cannabis Law Reform.

Is Cannabis Prohibition About To End? No, the thing that wrong with the current picture of cannabis law reform is that Labour isn’t in it. What? Yep. The Justice Minister, Andrew Little, when questioned about the Government’s likely response to a “Yes” vote in the forthcoming referendum, made it abundantly clear that the straight person at this particular student party is Labour.

OKAY, SO LET’S get this straight. In last year’s post-election negotiations, the Greens asked for – and got – a referendum on ending cannabis prohibition. Which means that if New Zealanders vote “Yes”, then the Greens will sponsor a change in the law to give effect to that result.

So far, so good.

It gets better, though, because NZ First have been keen supporters of referenda forever. (They don’t call them populists for nothing!) So, if New Zealand votes in favour of dope, then the NZ Firsters will 1) let loose a very long sigh, and then 2) call in the law draughtsperson.

Great!

Yes, it is, but you ain’t heard nothing yet. When asked if the National Party would honour the result of the referendum, Simon Bridges replied in the affirmative. Simon says that if pot is what Kiwis want, then pot is what Kiwis will get.

So, that’s game-over, isn’t it? If a majority of Kiwis vote to end cannabis prohibition, then a majority of the House of Representatives is pledged to making it happen. Time to dust-off that old hookah-pipe!

Or, as stoners used to say, way back in the day: “Solid!”

But, wait a minute, aren’t we missing something here?

No, it’s not David Seymour. As a good libertarian, the Act Party’s sole parliamentary representative (assuming he’s still there after the 2020 election) is bound to vote in favour of ending cannabis prohibition. The state, after all, has no business criminalising behaviour which is, to all intents and purposes, victimless.

No, the thing that wrong with this picture is that Labour isn’t in it.

What?

Yep. The Justice Minister, Andrew Little, when questioned about the Government’s likely response to a “Yes” vote in the forthcoming referendum, made it abundantly clear that the straight person at this particular student party is Labour.

Huh?

Oh yes, it’s Labour. And if that surprises you, then you haven’t been paying attention. Labour hasn’t had a progressive position on the issue of cannabis law reform since Noel Rayner persuaded the Otago Regional Council of the Labour Party to vote in favour of legalising marijuana way back in the 1980s. Hell, if Rob Muldoon hadn’t called a snap election in 1984, it’s even possible that Labour’s Annual Conference might have passed Noel’s remit. Labour was a pretty liberal outfit in the early 1980s: anti-nuclear, pro-gay rights, open to all kinds of progressive ideas. So, who knows?

What has become clear in the intervening thirty-five years is that while Labour has remained a progressive champion of LGBTQI rights, it has grown increasingly conservative on the issue of drugs.

Partly, this is a reflection of Labour’s uneasiness with everything Green. Nandor Tanczos’ energetic promotion of cannabis law reform and the response it elicited from the young and the marginalised in the 1999 election seriously freaked Labour out.

These were not the sort of people Helen Clark, Michael Cullen and Phil Goff wanted to be associated with. The slow but relentless pushback against Tanczos from the conservative establishment – especially secondary-school principals – further convinced Labour that, when it came to legalising pot, political discretion was the better part of principled valour.

Labour’s ultra-cautious approach was confirmed by the Greens themselves when, in election after election, cannabis law reform was allowed to slip down the party’s list of priorities.

The other explanation for Labour’s conservative line on drugs emerges from the party’s dramatically changed relationship with the poor and the marginalised. Where once the Labour Party had been the sword and shield of the disadvantaged in New Zealand society, by the turn of the twentieth century it had become, in effect, their case-worker.

The poor and the marginalised were now a client-class to be monitored and managed: the responsibility of precisely the same managers and professionals who had come to dominate the NZ Labour Party. Drug-taking was just one among many dysfunctional behaviours in need of middle-class intervention.

Far from promoting the liberalisation of drug laws, Labour contributed significantly to the dramatic expansion of the state’s powers of intervention in the lives of those Kiwis deemed to have deviated from the “caring” agencies’ expectations.

No surprise, then, that Labour is resisting the popular movement in favour of liberalising New Zealand’s drug laws – especially those relating to cannabis. The dog’s breakfast that is the coalition’s bill on medical marijuana is not the fault of NZ First, it’s a reflection of the impulse to control that grips so many members of the Labour caucus. National’s bill is better than Labour’s because its MPs are not so deeply enmeshed in the professional-managerial norms of the welfare state’s bureaucratic machinery.

Cannabis law reformers should, therefore, be on the their guard against any attempt to bring the referendum forward. Such a move would be an admission by Labour that it wants no part of the mobilising effect a well organised reform campaign could unleash. An effect which would very likely increase the Green vote in ways prejudicial to Labour remaining the dominant partner in the next progressive government.

Similar vigilance will be necessary when it comes to determining the nature of any public “education” campaign prior to the referendum. Much will turn on who is given the job of overseeing the debate between prohibitionists and reformers. Whoever is given this job must be able to resist the subtle and not-so-subtle pressures of the forces seeking to uphold the status quo.

That it should be Labour standing in the way of cannabis law reform tells us much about the political forces currently shaping our society. Lenin argued that all politics could be reduced to just two words: Who? Whom? On this particular issue it is vital to keep as clear as possible the distinction between those parties determined to exercise control over people’s private pleasures and those who are intensely relaxed about New Zealanders having fun.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Thursday, 2 August 2018.

Tuesday, 31 July 2018

Whoever The Greens Have Sold Their Soul To – It Isn’t Winston.

"Have I Got A Deal For You!" If, in the course of debating the Waka-Jumping Bill, the Greens really have forfeited their soul, then it is to a considerably more daunting entity than Winston Peters!

TO HEAR THE National Party and other assorted right-wing beasts tell the story, the Greens have just sold their soul to the Devil. By whom they mean, presumably, that double-breasted Lucifer, Winston Peters, and his attendant pandemonium – NZ First. The Devil’s price, allegedly, is Green Party support for Winston’s “Waka-Jumping Bill”.

The constitutional devilry of a piece of legislation intended to preserve the proportionality of our MMP Parliament is, if our top constitutional lawyers are to be believed, huge. The will of the people, as expressed at the ballot-box, we are told, is a second-order issue. What really matters, say the academics, is the right of individual Members of Parliament to spit in the faces of their party comrades and traduce the solemn personal undertakings given on the day they joined themselves to a political collectivity.

Now, this tells us a great deal about New Zealand’s constitutional lawyers. The most important piece of information vouchsafed being just how much they hate the whole idea of collectivism. The idea of entering, voluntarily, into a compact with like-minded people to contest (and hopefully win) seats in Parliament in order to implement a mutually agreed programme of reform – i.e. of becoming a member of a political party – clearly strikes them as an insufferable limitation of their freedom. The claim that they are morally obligated to abide by the decisions and policies of their party is reckoned to be totalitarian in inspiration and politically oppressive in effect.

The rights of the poor old voters are, of course, almost entirely disregarded by these upright constitutional guardians. The electorate’s assumption that the undertakings given to it by political parties immediately prior to the general election will remain viable for the full three years of the parliamentary term is dismissed as quaintly na├»ve. Much more important is the right of an individual MP to decide, unilaterally, that their party and their caucus colleagues have in some way departed from the straight and narrow path of political rectitude, and that he or she is, therefore, morally obligated to abrogate all former undertakings and, should their conscience require it, violate the proportionality of Parliament.

That the citizens of New Zealand are represented in Parliament in proportion to the size of their preferred party’s Party Vote, and that this constitutes the underlying principle of our MMP electoral system, is not deemed worthy of the explicit legal protection which Winston Peters’ bill provides. Democracy is expected to take second place to the tenderness of MPs’ individual consciences.

Would that this country had constitutional “experts” willing to uphold the notion that, if an individual MP no longer feels comfortable with his or her party’s political direction, then he or she should, first of all, attempt to change that direction by utilising the organisation’s internal democratic machinery. Or, if this proves impossible, by making one of only two morally acceptable choices. Either, submitting to the will of the majority; or, if that is felt to be unconscionable, resigning from Parliament.

In the case of an Electorate MP, that could mean seeking a renewed mandate from local electors by standing in the subsequent by-election as either an independent or as the representative of a new political party. For a List MP, it could mean re-joining the party rank-and-file and organising for a change of direction. Or, in the absence of meaningful rank-and-file support, leaving the party altogether.

That this has not been the position of New Zealand’s constitutional experts bears testimony to the rampant individualism and narcissism of this country’s professionally “gifted” elites. The whole idea that an individual, having voluntarily conceded the right of the majority to determine their party’s direction, cannot subsequently repudiate that concession without resigning, clearly horrifies them. They simply will not concede that it is immoral for an MP to continue to occupy a party’s seat in Parliament in defiance of the wishes of its duly-elected leader and with complete disregard for the collective judgement of its caucus. Nor will they concede that the renegade MP’s immorality is compounded ten-fold if he or she goes on to vote in a way that consistently weakens the party’s voting strength in Parliament.

Sadly, the Greens themselves are no better than the so-called “experts” on these issues. Though they have agreed to vote for the Waka-Jumping Bill, they have made it very clear that they would rather not. In other words, they have exactly the same contempt for the electoral judgement of Green Party voters as the academics!

Those same voters should probably recall that contempt when next they step into a polling booth. Clearly, there is no guarantee that what they see promised to them on the Green Party’s website offers any reliable indication as to what they will get once its MPs are comfortably ensconced in the big leather chairs.

If the Greens really have forfeited their soul, then it is to a considerably more daunting entity than Winston Peters.

A version of this essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Tuesday, 31 July 2018.

Sunday, 29 July 2018

The Neoliberal State Defended By, Of All People, The Left.

Unusual Packaging: The most piquant irony of the ongoing free speech controversy is the role being played by the extremities of the New Zealand Left. In their determination to fight “fascism” they have allowed themselves to fall into the precise role of Mussolini’s fascisti and Hitler’s sturmabteilung: front-line defenders of ruling-class interests.

FASCISM IS CAPITALISM’S response to significant demonstrations of disruptive political strength – especially those challenging prevailing social hierarchies and property relations. The historical record could hardly be clearer in this regard. Mussolini’s fascisti gained significant ruling-class backing following the post-World War One factory and land occupations organised by Italy’s radicalised workers and peasants. Hitler’s Munich-based Nazi Party grew out of the short-lived Bavarian Soviet Republic, itself a part of the broader German Revolution of 1918-19. General Francisco Franco’s military coup was launched in response to the Left’s electoral successes of 1936 and the related anarchist attacks on Spain’s reactionary aristocracy and church. Essentially, fascism is capitalism in full self-defence mode.

In relation to contemporary New Zealand, the question must surely be: “Is Kiwi Capitalism under serious threat of disruption?” Equally surely, the answer is: “Not really.” With a Finance Minister determined to keep both public debt and public spending at ridiculously low levels, the New Zealand business community must be finding it difficult to believe its luck. Their anguished bleating over largely cosmetic changes to the Employment Relations Act notwithstanding, employers face nothing even remotely resembling an angry and organised working-class. Such industrial action as there is remains well-corralled within the public sector – which makes it the State’s problem, not theirs.

If there is no credible threat to New Zealand capitalism’s property and profits, then what about its social hierarchy? After all, it was the election of a Black President which set in motion the white racist backlash that carried Donald Trump into the White House?

Nothing so viscerally disconcerting has yet happened here. Jacinda Ardern’s friendly feminism threatens no one and Labour’s uniquely large Maori caucus has yet to say “Boo!” to a single Pakeha goose. Trans-gender issues may figure prominently on the left-wing blogs and Twitter, but such a tiny minority is unlikely to cause the ruling-class too many sleepless nights.

Only one issue has the potential to fundamentally disrupt the existing regime: immigration. For those New Zealanders who believe themselves to be living in a fundamentally “white” society, the recent influx of immigrants from East and South Asia has been deeply disconcerting. The New Zealand capitalist “establishment” cannot, however, allow this sort of low-level xenophobic grousing to gain significant political traction. Asia’s contribution to New Zealand’s capitalism’s well-being is simply too substantial.

Far from aggravating the dominant Kiwi culture’s relationships with New Zealand’s diverse immigrant communities, it is in the interests of the established order to keep these as harmonious as possible. Like Singapore’s authoritarian capitalist regime, New Zealand’s neoliberal establishment has nothing to gain by either encouraging or tolerating communal strife. Champions of neoliberalism and globalisation must also be champions of multiculturalism.

For the foreseeable future, therefore, it is in the interests of the ruling-class to keep the majority culture as quiescent as possible. In the New Zealand context, Pakeha nationalism is the enemy of the state – not its ally. Even Maori nationalism poses potential risks. The prospect of seeing their Treaty Partner status overtaken (at least numerically) by Asian New Zealanders is unlikely to fill the tangata whenua with joy!

Herein lies the irony of the ongoing “free speech” controversy. As vociferous opponents of what they characterise as existential threats to traditional Anglo-Saxon culture, Lauren Southern’s and Stefan Molyneux’s looming visit to New Zealand is intended to persuade ordinary Kiwis to look to their own defence against the twin scourges of multiculturalism and identity politics.

In the United States, such a mission would immediately identify them as allies of the Trump Administration: divide-and-conquer veterans of the United States’ seemingly endless culture wars. In New Zealand, however, their hyper-nationalistic, racially-charged ideas are subject to official condemnation as potentially subversive of New Zealand’s multicultural status-quo. A solid wall of opposition has been raised against their visit by such champions of diversity as the Vice-Chancellor of Massey University and the Mayor of Auckland.

The most piquant irony of them all, however, is the role being played by the extremities of the New Zealand Left. In their determination to fight “fascism” they have allowed themselves to fall into the precise role of Mussolini’s fascisti and Hitler’s sturmabteilung: front-line defenders of ruling-class interests and mortal opponents of those social forces (predominantly conservative in this instance) whose successful political mobilisation might threaten their future prospects among the ruling social, economic and cultural elites – to whose defence they have sprung so aggressively.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Sunday, 29 July 2018.

America Is Not Experiencing A "Trial Run" For Fascism.

Is Trump A Demagogue? Yes. Is He A Fascist? No. The defining ideological objective of fascism is the wholesale substitution of the rights of the “national community” for the rights of the individual. Or, as Mussolini put it: “Everything within the state; nothing against the state; nothing outside the state.” Anybody who knows anything about Americans – especially conservative Americans – also knows that Mussolini’s dictum runs counter to everything they believe in.

A FLURRY OF SOCIAL MEDIA interest has greeted a recent op-ed column by Irish Times journalist, Fintan O’Toole, on the subject of fascism. The article, entitled “Trial runs for fascism are in full flow”, was published on 26 June, but has been “liked” and “shared” innumerable times since then. Its most grateful recipients appear to be those young, self-styled “progressives” who find it next-to-impossible to distinguish the rhetorical provocations of media-savvy conservative activists from the all-too-real fists and boots of genuine fascists.

This confusion is not in any way dispelled by O’Toole’s think-piece, which seems to imply the existence of some vast Fascist International masterminding the steady advance of fascist regimes across the Western World with diabolical precision.

The most oft-quoted passage of his article is certainly chilling:

“Fascism doesn’t arise suddenly in an existing democracy. It is not easy to get people to give up their ideas of freedom and civility. You have to do trial runs that, if they are done well, serve two purposes. They get people used to something they may initially recoil from; and they allow you to refine and calibrate. This is what is happening now and we would be fools not to see it.”

Compelling prose – not least because it contains a grain of truth. Testing the public’s stomach for brutality and injustice is, indeed, part-and-parcel of the fascist story. What O’Toole fails to appreciate, however, is that such testing occurs only after fascism has come to power – not before.

There are numerous examples of both the Italian and German fascist regimes of the 1920s and 30s tempering their policies in the face of public outrage; or, alternatively, intensifying their repression in the face of public indifference. But, these examples all took place in the period subsequent to Benito Mussolini’s and Adolf Hitler’s seizure of power.

O’Toole’s article reverses the historical sequencing of fascist repression. Why?

The answer would appear to lie in his completely understandable rage at the images of young children being separated from their parents at the US-Mexico border by officers of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), an agency of the US Department of Homeland Security. Though heart-wrenching, these images and the actions they recorded, cannot be represented as evidence that the American electorate is being “groomed” by some shadowy fascist cabal.

Because, for that to be true, President Barack Obama would have to be a member-in-good-standing of this evil fascist brotherhood. It was, after all, under President Obama that ICE began to acquire its now thoroughly fearsome reputation for detaining and deporting undocumented Central American migrants. President Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy may have intensified ICE’s hard-line stance, but it did not invent it.

O’Toole’s intense dislike of President Donald Trump lies at the heart of his slipshod history. So keen is he to paint the Trump Administration as an incipient fascist regime that he is wilfully blind to the mountainous pile of evidence confirming it as anything but.

Trump’s Republican Party, for example, does not seek the support of the American people for a programme which calls openly and without equivocation for the abrogation of the US Constitution and the elimination of American democracy. If it did, then O’Toole’s suggestion that the USA is being groomed for a fascist takeover would be more persuasive. Fortunately, it doesn’t.

The defining ideological objective of fascism is the wholesale substitution of the rights of the “national community” for the rights of the individual. Or, as Mussolini put it: “Everything within the state; nothing against the state; nothing outside the state.” Anybody who knows anything about Americans – especially conservative Americans – also knows that Mussolini’s dictum runs counter to everything they believe in.

America under Trump is no more teetering on the brink of fascism than it was when 30,000 robed Ku-Klux-Klansmen marched up Pennsylvania Avenue during the presidency of Calvin Coolidge. Racism, nativism, antisemitism and populist demagoguery have been an integral feature of American electoral politics since the early decades of the nineteenth century. Within the memory of people still alive today, American Blacks have been dragged from their jail cells and lynched in front of admiring crowds. The struggle between the better and the evil angels of the American soul is as old as America itself – and yet, the republic still stands.

Fintan O’Toole needs to read his history books more carefully.

This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 27 July 2018.

Sunday, 22 July 2018

Large American Pot, Meet Small Chinese Kettle.

Disharmonious Fists: China: the country which, unlike the United States, has been willing to open her markets to New Zealand’s agricultural exports on a truly massive scale. The country which, more than any other, kept New Zealand afloat during the Global Financial Crisis. The country which, in return for keeping our economy healthy, asks of us only two things: equal access to our markets; and tangible evidence of our respect.

IRONICALLY, THE CONCERN over Chinese influence in New Zealand is being raised against a backdrop of unchallenged American hegemony. Extending across the whole width of the nation’s political stage, this American backdrop has become so much a part of the play’s scenery that most Kiwis no longer notice it. The inclusion of a few Chinese props, however, is enough to induce something close to panic among New Zealand’s political class.

That this country remains enmeshed in the intelligence gathering networks of the United States National Security Agency, for example, is considered problematic by only a very small minority of New Zealanders. Between the Battle of the Coral Sea in 1942 and the passage of New Zealand’s anti-nuclear legislation in 1985, most Kiwis simply assumed that the United States would always be their country’s principal military protector. America’s strategic planners seemed to agree, because they never for a moment considered suspending New Zealand from the so-called “Five Eyes” intelligence-gathering alliance. Dropping us out of the ANZUS Pact was considered punishment enough.

Moreover, as Nicky Hager’s book “Other People’s Wars” make clear, from the moment New Zealand was suspended from the ANZUS Pact, elements of what passes for this country’s “deep state” undertook to rebuild this country’s damaged relationship with the United States. Senior civil servants like Gerald Hensley simply refused to accept the Fourth Labour Government’s foreign and defence policies.

With the Wellington Declaration of 2010, and the Washington Declaration of 2012, the rift between the United States and New Zealand became a thing of the past. It had taken Hensley and his successors 25 years, but the anti-nuclear rebel was finally back in what Prime Minister John Key called “The Club”.

For those of you wondering what the Wellington Declaration (signed by Hillary Clinton and Murray McCully) entails – here’s the guts of it:

“The United States-New Zealand strategic partnership is to have two fundamental elements: a new focus on practical cooperation in the Pacific region; and enhanced political and subject-matter dialogue — including regular Foreign Ministers’ meetings and political-military discussions.”

The content of the Labour-NZF Coalition government’s Defence White Paper, far from being a departure from existing policy, is clearly a reaffirmation of the previous National-led government’s re-commitment to the United States.

These diplomatic and military links are merely the most formal manifestations of US hegemony in New Zealand. Beyond and beneath them extends an intricate network of personal, cultural and economic relationships that binds together inextricably the American and New Zealand political classes.

So many Kiwis have studied and worked in the United States. So many exchange students have come and gone. So many of our military and police officers have been seconded to serve alongside their American counterparts. So many of our best and brightest graduates have been shoulder-tapped for a stint in Washington or New York.

So numerous are these relationships that they could be said to constitute a veritable “fifth column” of American power in New Zealand society. Even if Kiwis elected a government committed to breaking free from the tutelage of the USA, the resistance from these US “assets” in our foreign affairs, military, business and media bureaucracies would be formidable.

Also to be considered is the all-pervasive influence of American “soft power” on New Zealand society. So much of the digital information we receive, the movies and television shows we watch, the music we listen to, the clothes we wear and the vocabulary we use in our everyday speech hails from the United States. Our directors and screenwriters head for Los Angeles and New York. Young Maori and Pasifika from South Auckland emulate the musical and dance styles of Black and Hispanic Americans. Even our news and current-affairs shows formats are borrowed from the US. How much of New Zealand culture is genuinely indigenous? Three-quarters? Half? A quarter? Less? Living in the shadow of a great power can be a profoundly disintegrative experience.

We have been here before, of course. Back in the days of “Mother England” when New Zealand made a fetish of being the most loyal of the British Empire’s “dominions across the sea”. British hegemony in the century between the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi and the Battle of the Coral Sea was no less all-encompassing than the hegemonic networks of the United States.

There was, however, one important difference between British and American rule. Up until 1973, the United Kingdom was happy to assign New Zealand the highly remunerative role of the Mother Country’s South Seas farm. The Americans, however, have never expressed the slightest interest in taking all the agricultural produce New Zealanders would be only too delighted to send them – quite the reverse, in fact. American farmers have worked tirelessly to keep the highly-efficient Kiwis primary exports out of their markets.

Which brings us to China: the one country which has been willing to open her markets to New Zealand’s agricultural exports on a truly massive scale. The country which, more than any other, kept New Zealand afloat during the Global Financial Crisis. The country which, in return for keeping our economy afloat, asks of us only two things: equal access to our markets; and tangible evidence of our respect.

To secure this reciprocation, China is doing no more than any other powerful state will do to achieve its national objectives. It is building relationships with its trading partner’s political and economic elites; and, it is projecting its soft power as far as possible into their society. In other words, behaving exactly as the British and Americans have behaved in relation to New Zealanders – albeit on a much, much smaller scale.

If New Zealand’s American “friends” are so anxious to have us remove the handful of Chinese props from our political stage, then perhaps it is time for us to replace their all-American backdrop with something Kiwi-made.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 20 July 2018.

Saturday, 21 July 2018

Balancing Fake American Friends Against Real Chinese Interests.

Interesting Times: Henry Kissinger warned that the United States had no friends – only interests. Attempting to curry America’s friendship at the expense of New Zealand’s vital interest in preserving productive diplomatic and economic relationships with China is exceptionally poor foreign policy.

WHAT HAS CHINA DONE to warrant such a public and insulting shift in the tone of New Zealand diplomacy? Well, according to our foreign and defence ministries, she has outstripped New Zealand and Australia in the delivery of aid and investment to the nations of the South Pacific. A heinous crime, obviously. But that is not all China has done. In the South China Sea she has reclaimed land, constructed an airfield and built other facilities on islands she has long claimed as her own. Outrageous!

It is on account of these “crimes” that New Zealand’s hitherto excellent diplomatic relationship with the Peoples Republic of China has been put at risk. Diplomacy is not, however, the only relationship facing disruption. The Labour-NZF coalition government is also testing the tolerance of New Zealand’s largest trading partner. (That’s China by the way.)

Putting at risk their country’s diplomatic and economic relationship with the rising global power. What (or who) could have persuaded our Acting Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, Winston Peters, to behave in so reckless a fashion? Were Federated Farmers, whose members’ primary products are exported mostly to China, consulted prior to the release of New Zealand’s new defence strategy? Were the importers of the goods that make it possible for New Zealand’s notoriously low-paid workers to make ends meet? Were the unions who represent those workers? Doubtful.

What may be speculated upon with considerably more confidence is that the dramatic disruption of New Zealand-Chinese relations has be executed at the behest of the Australians. And, since Canberra does nothing without first seeking the approval of its masters in Washington, this disruption is American-inspired.

Ah, yes, the Americans. The people who have, in the 73 years since the end of World War II, twice dispatched combat troops to the mainland of East Asia (Korea and Vietnam). The people whose military bases extend in a great arc from the Bering Sea to the tiny Pacific island of Guam. Inherited from the Empire of Japan, these bases are situated not hundreds, but thousands, of miles from the continental United States.

Are these island bases stacked high with the most deadly military hardware available to humankind? Of course they are! Much higher than China’s. That being the case, does the Government’s defence white paper raise objections to the USA’s imperialistic power-projection into New Zealand’s Pacific backyard? Does it complain that the East and South China Seas are provocatively patrolled by American aircraft carriers and their accompanying support vessels? No, of course it doesn’t!

And we all know the reason why – don’t we? Because, between 1945 and 1985, New Zealand had been perfectly content to attach itself to the meanest sonofabitch in the imperial valley – the United States. Unsurprising, really, since before World War II we had been the willing colonial accomplices of that other mean imperial sonofabitch, Great Britain. In both instances, our entire defence force was configured to fit seamlessly into our imperial masters’ war machines. New Zealand diplomacy, throughout the period of the Cold War, amounted essentially to asking the Americans exactly how high they would like us to jump.

Then along came David Lange, who took issue with the uranium on America’s breath; and Helen Clark, who looked at China’s expanding middle class and persuaded its government to open China’s borders to the finest agricultural produce on the planet.

And it’s just as well she did. Otherwise, when the global financial crisis struck in 2008, New Zealand’s economy would have suffered much more acutely than it did. Indeed, had the Chinese government not embarked on the most colossal stimulatory spending programme in human history, the entire global economy would probably have collapsed.

That China is being repaid by being vilified and attacked by a faltering American empire and its risible “deputy-sheriff”, Australia, is bad enough. That the New Zealand government is lending its support to this dangerous reassertion of old and bad ideas is unforgiveable. How many tons of milk powder are the Americans offering to take off our hands? How many affordable products can we expect from Uncle Sam’s American-based factories?

Henry Kissinger warned that the United States had no friends – only interests. Attempting to curry America’s friendship at the expense of New Zealand’s vital interest in preserving productive diplomatic and economic relationships with China is exceptionally poor foreign policy.

This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 20 July 2018.

Friday, 20 July 2018

Zionist-Inspired Definition Of Antisemitism Deployed Against Jeremy Corbyn.

Targeted: For more than a year now, charges that Jeremy Corbyn is antisemitic have been driving a debilitating wedge into the British Labour Party. Why are these accusations being made and, more importantly, why are they being taken seriously? The answer is to be found in the efforts of Zionists (an ideology to be carefully differentiated from the beliefs of Jewish people in general) to expand the definition of antisemitism to include any negative references to the origins, policies and actions of the Israeli state.

THE NEW ZEALAND LEFT is not alone in being torn apart by what should and should not be tolerated. Only yesterday (17/7/18) the British Labour Leader, Jeremy Corbyn, was publicly upbraided for being “an antisemitic racist” by Margaret Hodge, a senior British Labour MP. Hodge was furious that Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC) has refused to accept, in full, the definition of antisemitism issued by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA).

For more than a year now, charges of antisemitism have been driving a debilitating wedge into the British Labour Party. Not that very many people around the world find these charges even remotely credible. The British Labour Party has a long and proud history of standing up for the rights of all Jewish people suffering persecution on account of their religious beliefs and/or supposed “racial” identity. Why, then, are these accusations being made and, more importantly, why are they being taken seriously?

The answer is to be found in the efforts of Zionists (an ideology to be carefully differentiated from the beliefs of Jewish people in general) to expand the definition of antisemitism to include any negative references to the origins, policies and actions of the Israeli state.

On these matters, the British Labour Party can speak with some authority. It was, after all, the 1945-1951 Labour Government, led by Clement Attlee, which withdrew the last remaining British troops from Palestine on 14 May 1948 – clearing the way for the creation of the State of Israel on 15 May 1948.

British military forces, who were responsible for enforcing what was known as Great Britain’s “mandatory power” in Palestine, had come under increasingly violent attack from Zionist terror groups, such as Irgun and the notorious Stern Gang, since the end of the Second World War in 1945. In September 1947, war weary and close to insolvency, the British state announced to the world that it was no longer willing or able to carry out its duties to the Arab and Jewish populations of Palestine.

This did not, however, mean that they were blind to the strategies and tactics of their Zionist antagonists. As the party in power at the time, Labour has always known a great deal more about the nature and birth of the State of Israel than its Zionist defenders would like.

Hence the co-ordinated attack upon the Jeremy Corban-led Labour Party. As a principled leftist, Corbyn has always refused to buy into the Zionist characterisation of Israel as a state more sinned against that sinning. He has never stopped caring about the Palestinians who, for a variety of reasons (some good, some bad) were made homeless by the circumstances of Israel’s bloody birth. Corbyn’s empathy for the people whose survival has, for the past 70 years, depended upon the support and concern of the international community has been unwavering.

The prospect of such a man becoming Prime Minister of the United Kingdom is not something the Israeli Government and its supporters are ready to accept without a fight. Corbyn’s contacts with Palestinian leaders have been challenged.

Does he subscribe to their desire to wipe Israel off the map? Is that why he refuses to declare his unequivocal support for the Jewish homeland. Is he providing aid and comfort to his antisemitic supporters among the Labour Party rank-and-file? And, if he is, doesn’t that prove that he is, indeed, “an antisemitic racist”?

Crucial to the success of this campaign has been the refusal of its promoters to draw that all-important distinction between anti-Zionism and antisemitism. They allow their target audience to assume that their charges relate to behaviour conforming to the traditional definition of antisemitism: hostility to or prejudice against Jews; when what they are really talking about is the IHRA definition of antisemitism – which includes inter alia:

Accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations.

Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour.

Applying double standards by requiring of it a behaviour not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.

Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.

Small wonder that the NEC balked at accepting such a tendentious definition “in full”. To do so would render criticism of Israeli policy and Zionist ideology virtually impossible.

Confirmation that proscribing criticism is, indeed, the goal of the campaign against Corbyn and his supporters in the Labour Party has been provided by what the Guardian describes as “a coalition of 36 international Jewish anti-Zionist groups”. The latter have released an open letter in which the definition of antisemitism supplied by the IHRA (an organisation which began as a genuine Pan-European effort to ensure that the lessons of the Holocaust are never forgotten but which has subsequently been hijacked by Zionists and turned towards the protection of Israel) is condemned as a “distorted definition of antisemitism to stifle criticism of Israel”.

Margaret Hodge owes Jeremy Corbyn an apology.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Thursday, 19 July 2018.