Sunday 28 January 2018

Unreliable Sources.

Alarmist Images: As part of the Australian Government's effort to undermine Jacinda Ardern's outreach to Manus Island refugees, Australian Intelligence (oxymoron?) sources claim to have recorded a "spike" in people smugglers' attempts to land asylum seekers on Australian shores. These claims have been illustrated with images of boat-people headed for "Newsland". Few of those absorbing these images will realise they are 7 years old!

IS IT REAL NEWS, or fake news? In the end, it all comes down to sources. The people and the institutions we most trust, are the people and the institutions we most believe.

For those who lived through the Second World War, the words “London calling! London calling!”, which prefaced the BBC World Service’s news broadcasts, signalled accuracy, reliability and dignity in a world awash with bombastic propaganda.

President Donald Trump’s followers place their faith in the “fair and balanced” reporting of Fox News. His opponents rely on the Washington Post, whose intrepid reporters, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, covered the Watergate break-in and contributed to the fall of President Richard Nixon.

Why were Woodward and Bernstein so sure of their ground? Because their most valuable anonymous source – “Deep Throat” – was none other than Mark Felt, the Associate-Director of the FBI! Good sources make for good stories. The rule is as old as journalism.

What, then, should we make of the latest stories, sourced to “Australian Intelligence”, of a “spike” in the number of “boat people” intercepted en route to Australia and, allegedly, New Zealand? Are such reports to be taken seriously? And should the National Party Opposition really be using them as a stick against Jacinda Ardern’s handling of the Manus Island refugee crisis? Just how good a look is it to rely upon leaks from a foreign government, in order to have a crack at your own?

The first thing to observe about these “intelligence” leaks is that they shouldn’t be happening. Just recall the repeated, blank-faced refusals of Helen Clark and John Key to share even the tiniest scraps of “operational” intelligence with the New Zealand news media. Even when the details of New Zealand’s involvement in special forces operations overseas were published in foreign newspapers, the politicians remained tight-lipped. As for the directors of our own intelligence agencies: the SIS and the GCSB; their mouths appear to have been sewn shut!

Which can only mean that “Australian Intelligence” is leaking information to the Australian and New Zealand news media under instruction and on purpose. Which immediately raises the question: What can that purpose be?

Before we attempt to answer that question, however, there are one or two other things to note about these Australian Intelligence-sourced stories. The most important of these is a disturbing lack of detail. Apart from the improbably precise figure of 164 intercepted asylum seekers, New Zealanders have been given precious little in the way of incontrovertible evidence.

The Royal Australian Navy and its Coast Guard are equipped with multiple video cameras to record any and every interception in Australian waters. If a small flotilla of “boat people” had indeed put to sea, inspired by Jacinda Ardern’s international displays of compassion, then it would be a straightforward matter to release the video recordings of its interception to the news media. What better way to make the Aussie Immigration Minister Peter Dutton’s case, than to record an asylum seeker naming New Zealand’s prime minister as the reason she and her children are risking their lives in a leaky boat?

What we have been shown, instead, is a seven-year-old photograph showing Sri Lankan refugees displaying a sign which reads: “We like to go to NEWSLAND.” Interesting, but hardly relevant to the situation in 2018!

This promiscuous mixing of dated imagery, emotive language, and uncorroborated assertion is almost always evidence of an unreliable source. Which raises, once again, the question of whether or not there is any method to the Australians’ madness? Why is the Turnbull Government persisting in its attacks on New Zealand’s new prime minister?

The most probable cause of this spike in Australian pique is the deteriorating situation on Manus Island. There, the already deplorable conditions into which hundreds of male asylum-seekers were pitched, following the forcible closure of the New Guinea government-owned (but Australian government-controlled) detention centre, have continued to deteriorate.

The Turnbull Government’s latest leaks would, therefore, appear to be pre-emptive in intent. If Manus erupts in riotous violence, attracting global scrutiny and condemnation, as well as a reiteration of New Zealand’s willingness to take at least 150 of the refugees trapped on the island, then the Liberal-National Government has primed its trans-Tasman soulmates in the National Party to step forward and entertain Kiwi voters with “Australian Intelligence’s” grim fairy tales.

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, 26 January 2018.

Tuesday 23 January 2018

Smiling For Jacinda - And Democracy!

Prime Ministers Can Do Anything! Jacinda’s pregnancy not only constitutes a bold redefinition of gender roles, but also a radical redefinition of representative democracy itself. Overnight the highest office in the land has been made both more representative of, and more relatable to, hundreds-of-thousands of female voters. Quite suddenly, the Prime Minister has become a person much more like themselves.

"JACINDA’S PREGNANT!" For once, the exclamation mark was merited. There isn’t much that takes us by surprise these days, but the announcement that the prime minister and her partner were having a baby caught New Zealanders off-guard in the nicest possible way.

For younger New Zealanders, the news brought confirmation that the torch really has been passed to a new generation of leaders. For Kiwis under 40, it offered proof that the difference between political life and normal life continues to narrow, and that the House of Representatives is, at last, living up to its name.

For older New Zealanders, especially those who came of age to the strains of Helen Reddy’s “I am Woman”, Jacinda’s announcement was a kind of vindication.

This was the generation, after all, who had heard the dominant political figure of their day, Prime Minister Robert Muldoon, declare:

“Could we contemplate the situation where a woman getting equal pay is the bread-winner, and the husband stays at home and looks after the children? I don’t think we could.”

It was these same “Baby Boomers” who accepted, albeit reluctantly, the hard-nosed decision of their own generation’s pre-eminent politician, Helen Clark, to forego the experience of motherhood as the unavoidable price of achieving high public office.

These New Zealanders told their daughters that “Girls Can Do Anything!” – not as a description of the day-to-day realities of the 1980s and 90s, but as a statement of their abiding faith in feminism’s power to shape the future.

So, if a smile lingered on my lips all the way through last Friday, there was good reason. It lingered because I was thinking back to the time when, as a young married couple, we were refused a bank-loan because: “Your wife might get pregnant and have to give up her job – and how would you pay the mortgage then?” Or, recalling the expressions of scorn on the faces of “real” men when they discovered I was a stay-at-home dad, looking after our daughter while my bread-winning wife went back to work. Now, I could say to myself: “Those days are gone.”

How could anyone who had grown up amidst the debilitating sexism of “old” New Zealand not smile, and feel immense pride, when presented with two such brilliant role models as Jacinda Ardern and Clarke Gayford?

There will be some, of course, who look at this couple and frown. The unreconstructed sexists will whip themselves into a froth of rage at Jacinda’s repudiation of traditional gender roles. They will not, however, be the only ones made uneasy by her announcement.

The more “normal” our Parliament becomes, the more its elitist lustre will fade. To those who regard the cultivation of that lustre as an important feature of our Westminster system of representative government, the maintenance of its specialness is no small matter. For traditionalists, investing Parliament with pomp, ceremony and just a whiff of mystery, is all part of separating its deliberations from the ordinary and the everyday. Its members are, after all, invested with the power to upend the lives of ordinary, everyday citizens. For those who believe in our system of “managed democracy”, preserving a certain measure of distance between the people and their representatives is vital.

Jacinda’s pregnancy, therefore, not only constitutes a bold redefinition of gender roles, but also a radical redefinition of representative democracy itself. Never before in New Zealand’s political history have women been able to contemplate a pregnant prime minister. Overnight the highest office in the land has been made both more representative of, and more relatable to, hundreds-of-thousands of female voters. Quite suddenly, the Prime Minister has become a person much more like themselves.

Certainly, there have been many politicians who entered Parliament with young families. Overwhelmingly, however, these were men, whose domestic and child-rearing arrangements, far from challenging “normal” gender roles, actually reinforced them. The handful of women MPs who decided to combine raising babies with raising points-of-order encountered an institution determinedly reluctant to make itself child-friendly.

Thankfully, those days, too, have gone. The image of Trevor Mallard dandling an infant on his knee while seated in the Speaker’s Chair served as a delightful precursor to Jacinda and Clarke’s announcement. His message: The House of Representatives has become a place for everyone; fathers, mothers, children; the People’s House.

What began as a remote chamber, filled with wealthy, privileged men, has progressively been forced to open its ornate doors: first to Maori, then to propertyless men; and, finally, to the majority of the human species. With every dilution of its elitism, the number of citizens who could reasonably aspire to “do anything” has expanded. From the tangata whenua, to the working-class, to the people who hold up half the sky.

So, yes, I’m smiling. Not just for Jacinda and Clarke – but for democracy!

This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 23 January 2018.

Monday 22 January 2018

Vision And Creation – Or Fiscal Restraint?

Fatal Obsession: It was Gough Whitlams' Minister for Minerals and Energy, Rex Connor, whose lifelong dream of "buying back the farm" (nationalising Australia's mineral and energy resources) led him into the coils of an American-inspired conspiracy featuring the shady Pakistani banker, Tirath Khemlani, that precipitated the infamous dismissal of his Labor government on 11 November 1975. Every reforming Labour government should have Connor's name tattooed over its heart - as a warning.

THERE’S ONE NAME that should be tattooed over the heart of every Labour Party politician: Rex Connor. It was Connor’s determination to “buy back the farm” – i.e. deliver Australia’s mineral wealth into public ownership – that set in motion the sequence of events which persuaded the Australian Governor-General, Sir John Kerr, to dismiss Gough Whitlam’s Labor government on 11 November 1975. The lesson for all subsequent Labor (and Labour) governments was clear: never let the policy commitments of a single minister deepen to the point where they drag an entire government down to defeat.

Connor was an old-time Labour socialist and economic nationalist who was fond of quoting the American poet, Sam Walter Foss:

Give me men to match my mountains,
Give me men to match my plains,
Men with freedom in their visions
And creation in their veins.

When the Australian Treasury persuaded Connor’s Labor colleagues that his plans to borrow $4 billion (a colossal sum in 1974!) were economically and legally reckless, the bluff old socialist went behind their backs and attempted to borrow the money from Middle Eastern potentates, who, following the dramatic oil price-hikes precipitated by the 1973 Yom Kippur War between Israel and its Arab neighbours, were awash with “petro-dollars”.

With the benefit of hindsight, it is clear that the United States government, alerted to Connor’s intentions, laid a trap for him. A shadowy Pakistani banker by the name of Tirath Khemlani was able to ensnare Connor by promising to arrange a loan large enough to make all of the Minister for Minerals and Energy’s dreams come true. It was the Liberal Opposition’s exposure (undoubtedly with American assistance) of the “Loans Affair” which sparked the political crisis culminating in Whitlam’s dismissal.

Why are political events which occurred in Australia more than 40 years ago being rehearsed in New Zealand in 2018?

The memory trigger, in this case, was pulled by the National Party Opposition’s Transport spokesperson, Judith Collins. In a media release issued on Tuesday, 16 January, Collins castigates the Minister of Transport, Phil Twyford, for raising the possibility of diverting motorist-derived revenues from the National Land Transport Fund for the purposes of developing Auckland’s light-rail network.

“This desperate grab for more taxes is the result of this free-spending Government realising how much it’s going to cost to build its pet rail line from Auckland’s CBD to the Airport”, argued Collins, “so it’s looking to divert funding from regional roads as a result.”

Collin’s criticisms were echoed in a release from the right-wing lobby group, The Taxpayers’ Union, which enjoined Twyford to keep his “hands off motorists’ piggy bank”.

Now, this is a very long way from Khemlani’s false promise to provide Rex Connor with the wherewithal to “buy back the farm”, but every doomed journey begins with a single step.

Phil Twyford has staked his own reputation – and that of the Labour-NZF-Green Government – on fulfilling not only their commitment to end Auckland’s traffic gridlock, but also, and more importantly, to have Labour’s “KiwiBuild” affordable housing initiative well underway by the 2020 election.

The $4 billion question is: are there sufficient financial resources available to permit the government to meet these (and many other) policy commitments? The answer, of course, is yes. All governments have the power to beg, borrow or steal whatever resources are needed to implement their plans. In the case of this government, however, the matter is more complicated.

Jacinda Ardern’s Cabinet contains many men and women with “freedom in their visions” and “creation in their veins” but, unfortunately, on his performance to date, her Minister of Finance isn’t one of them. Grant Robertson’s determination to keep his government within its self-imposed “Budget Responsibility Rules” is presently on a collision course with ministers’ determination to keep their promises.

If the Prime Minister allows that collision to occur, then the chances of someone doing a Rex Connor will increase spectacularly. Whitlam’s fatal error was to refuse to make a choice between vision and creation, and the budgetary restraint necessary to keep the confidence of the Australian people. Ardern’s challenge is to decide what sort of government she intends to lead. Will it be a government of vision and creativity? Or, a government which refuses to abandon its commitment to fiscal rectitude.

If it’s the latter, then Jacinda needs to sack her Rex Connors – now.

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, 19 January 2018.

Tuesday 16 January 2018

The Last Left-Wing Mohican.

Indefatigable Campaigner: Murray Horton has been fighting the good fight on the left of New Zealand politics for nearly fifty years. On Saturday, 27 January 2018, outside the Waihopai Spy Base, he and his comrades will launch the Aotearoa Independence Movement. “It’s time for this country to pull the plug, to finish the business started in the 1980s which saw NZ both nuclear free and out of ANZUS; and to break the chains – military, intelligence, economic and cultural – that continue to bind us to the American Empire.”

MURRAY HORTON really is the last of the Mohicans. I know this because, at one time, I was a member of his tribe. For fourteen years I was the editor and publisher of a left-of-centre periodical, NZ Political Review. Alas, it has been nearly thirteen years since the final issue of that publication appeared on the newsstands. In 2018, the title of “the last man standing” in left-wing publishing belongs, unquestionably, to Murray Horton.

It was not always so. Thirty-five years ago, there were at least a dozen left-wing periodicals published in New Zealand. From the independent, left social-democratic, NZ Monthly Review, to the Workers’ Communist League’s newspaper, Unity, political parties and activist groups to the left of the Labour Party maintained a lively presence on the New Zealand media stage.

Thirty-five years on, only Murray Horton’s Foreign Control Watchdog remains. Officially, the journal of the Christchurch-based Campaign Against Foreign Control in Aotearoa (CAFCA), the Watchdog offers the last substantial paper and ink forum for left-wing commentary and analysis on the vexed question: “Who owns New Zealand – and why?”

Since the first appearance of Watchdog in the mid-1970s, however, the answer to that question has been the same. New Zealanders control less and less of their own country – for the very simple reason that they keep selling off large chunks of it to foreigners.

Perhaps it’s because the answers to the questions CAFCA and the Watchdog were set up to investigate have not changed in more than 40 years, that Murray Horton and his comrades will next week, outside the Waihopai Spy Base in Marlborough, be launching the Aotearoa Independence Movement (AIM).

“It’s time for this country to pull the plug,” says the Horton-penned pamphlet announcing AIM’s launch, “to finish the business started in the 1980s which saw NZ both nuclear free and out of ANZUS; and to break the chains – military, intelligence, economic and cultural – that continue to bind us to the American Empire.”

With President Donald Trump doing such a splendid job of alienating the rest of the world from the American Empire, 2018 would certainly rate as a very good year to launch such a radical project. Not since the American invasion of Iraq, nearly 15 years ago, have the United States’ global stocks been so low. Right now, the idea of severing all New Zealand’s ties to US imperialism sounds pretty good.

But, is it?

Murray Horton is old enough to remember what happened to the last two southern hemisphere leaders who dared to break the ties that bound them to the USA. At roughly the same time as the first issue of Watchdog appeared in 1974, Salvador Allende, the left-wing president of Chile, and Gough Whitlam, the left-wing prime-minister of Australia, had either just received, or were in the process of receiving, a sharp lesson in what the American Empire will – and will not – accept from its “colonies”.

The Whitlam case is especially instructive, with Robert Lindsey, author of The Falcon and The Snowman arguing that the act which precipitated the Labor Government’s 1975 dismissal by Governor-General John Kerr was Whitlam’s declared determination to close the US electronic signals interception facility at Pine Gap.

The Pine Gap facility performs exactly the same service to the US global intelligence gathering effort as the Waihopai Spy Base, in front of which Horton proposes to launch his new independence movement.

The Chilean and Australian examples are instructive in another important respect. In both cases the offending governments were overthrown by internal – not external – actors. The US Marines did not come storming ashore on the beaches of either country. Rather, the tasks of first weakening and then toppling Allende and Whitlam were left to the right-wing parties and national security institutions of their respective nation states.

These conservative bodies strongly suspected that any programme which began with a severing of ties to the USA would be unlikely to end there. Breaking free from the global guardian of capitalism was, almost certainly, the preliminary step towards breaking free from capitalism itself.

To his credit, Murray Horton makes no attempt to hide AIM’s anti-capitalist light under a bushel:

“The stated goal of this Government is to ‘put a human face on capitalism’. But AIM sees capitalism as the problem, not the solution, and this needs to be part of the national dialogue.”

AIM’s introductory pamphlet reassures its readers that it is “a campaign, not an organisation. And definitely not a new political party.”

To which I can only reply:

“Well, Murray, it should be. Because foreign policy reorientations and economic transformations on the scale AIM is proposing are beyond the scope of mere “campaigns”. To bring about the sort of changes you’re suggesting requires a mass political party: well-organised and well-funded; and with a great deal more than just one Mohican.”

This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 16 January 2018.

Monday 15 January 2018

'Third Way' No Way To Go: A Reply To Wayne Mapp.

Pragmatic Idealists: When it becomes clear to both our new prime minister and her finance minister that the price they are being asked to pay to keep the neoliberal guard-dogs away from their throats is too high for any discernible good that it is doing, then we must hope that they will dig deep into the collective experience of the New Zealand labour movement and find there not only the courage to speak socialist words, but also to rally the New Zealand people behind socialist deeds.

I FEEL SORRY for Dr Wayne Mapp. He has always struck me as one of those National Party types who want to do good in the world – but not in a left-wing way. The political paradox in which such politicians are trapped, however, is that it is only under the conditions of a significantly modified capitalism – conditions created by the Left – that their benevolent aspirations can be fulfilled. Rather than acknowledge this, however, they are forever trying to convince the electorate that the Left only ever succeeds when it moves to the Right.

This is the fundamental thesis of Mapp’s latest contribution to The Spinoff, “Jacinda Ardern Is No Radical, But The 21st-Century Face Of Blair’s Third Way”. His argument, essentially, is that:

“In the latter part of the second decade of the twenty-first century, 22 years since Blair first became prime minister, his spiritual successors, Justine (sic) Trudeau and Jacinda Ardern, seem to have wholly adopted Third Wayism. The basic tenets of the neo-liberal settlement are accepted, but the state employs its power and resources to assist those who the market does not fully provide for.”

Putting to one side his transgendering of Canada’s prime minister, Justin Trudeau, Mapp’s fundamental misunderstanding of what Tony Blair represents merely confirms his inability to understand the central realities of our recent political history.

The core mission of conservative politicians like Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan was to tear down the Left’s modifications of capitalism and reconfigure it as closely as possible to its original nineteenth century form as was politically feasible. Thatcher and Reagan loathed politicians who, like Mapp, were happy to operate within the parameters of the “kinder, gentler” capitalism that the labour and social-democratic parties had created in the 1930s, 40s and 50s. The New Right project was best summed-up by the American, Grover Norquist, who famously declared: “My goal is to cut government in half in twenty-five years, to get it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.”

Mapp simply does not understand that what we now call “neoliberalism” was a last-ditch and, as things turned out, highly-successful attempt to rescue the western ruling-class from the consequences of what it perceived to be a collection of out-of-control social-democratic governments. What the citizens of those countries: most especially the citizens of the USA, the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand; have been living with for nearly 40 years are the consequences of their rulers’ ongoing counter-revolution.

In the course of that counter-revolution, the world has witnessed, inter alia: the collapse of actually existing socialism in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union; the dramatic expansion of the global proletariat; the general collapse of trade union power and influence; stagnating wages; the privatisation of publicly owned enterprises; an extreme concentration of media control and influence; the imposition of economic austerity; and the obscene enrichment of the owners and managers of the world’s largest corporations and financial institutions.

It is fascinating to read the way in which this counter-revolutionary world order is bowdlerised by Mapp into the innocuousness of: “an open economy with low tariffs, the private sector owning virtually all parts of the competitive economy, relatively modest tax rates so that the size of government is around one third of the total economy.”

The inevitable corollaries of Mapp’s ‘common-sense’ political-economy: rising inequality, precarious employment; poverty; homelessness; collapsing health services; a deteriorating environment; hardly  rate a mention.

What Mapp does make clear, however, and with considerable accuracy, are the sort of policies which Jacinda Ardern and her finance minister, Grant Robertson, would find it extremely dangerous, politically, to adopt. Changing the neoliberal paradigm, he rightly says, would require a different approach:

“The government would not have signed up to the [Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership]. A fund would have been established for the renationalization of at least the electricity companies. The top tax rate would be at least 40% to reverse inequality. Some form of compulsory unionism would be restored, though perhaps the promised industry wide agreements are intended to be exactly that. An economy so deeply regulated that official permission would be required for even the simplest of business transactions.”

What Mapp, rather predictably, doesn’t say, is that the response to such a radical departure from the status-quo, from the upper-echelons of the civil service, the business community, the mainstream news media and, of course, by his own National Party, would be swift and devastating. Neither Ardern, nor Robertson, require any lessons in the effects of such a backlash. The example of the so-called “Winter of Discontent” of 2000 is there in front of them all the time – reminding them of just how little real power governments exercise in the neoliberal order. Neither of them have any wish to be drowned in Norquist’s bathtub!

The “Third Way-ism” that Mapp extols, and which he believes Ardern to be the twenty-first century exponent of, has always been, at best, a pragmatic recognition of the narrowness of the political and economic stage upon which progressive politicians are permitted to operate in the neoliberal era; and, at worst, an ideological manifestation of the “Stockholm Syndrome” in which fearful left-wing politicians start identifying with the terrorists who have taken them hostage.

On one thing, however, Mapp and I are in complete agreement. The creation of the Labour-NZF-Green government has, indeed, excited me and enlivened my hopes that, when it becomes clear to both our new prime minister and her finance minister that the price they are being asked to pay to keep the neoliberal guard-dogs away from their throats is too high for any discernible good that it is doing, then they will dig deep into the collective experience of the New Zealand labour movement and find there not only the courage to speak socialist words, but also to rally the New Zealand people behind socialist deeds.

Neither Tony Blair, nor Bill Clinton, ever believed that such a course of action could lead to anything except electoral catastrophe. And, in their time, the early-1990s, they may well have been correct. But, as Mapp is so keen to remind us, this is the twenty-first century, and the skies are thick with neoliberal chickens flapping home to roost. As both Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn have made clear, to call yourself a socialist in “the latter part of the second decade of the twenty-first century” is not the one-way ticket to political oblivion which Blair and Clinton assumed it to be. With the grim consequences of the neoliberal counter-revolution all around us, the imminent prospect of a peaceful, democratic-socialist, revolution no longer seems so bad.

This posting is exclusive to Bowalley Road.

Friday 12 January 2018

Why Isn’t An Injury To One Sister An Injury To All?

Barred Vision: The problem for western feminists is that, in spite of their cultural and political self-denying ordinances against criticising the treatment of women in other, non-western, societies, the only garden of equality currently showing unequivocal signs of flourishing, is their own. Across vast regions of the planet, not only are women’s rights not flourishing, they are being diminished.

ONE OF THE MOST PERPLEXING political phenomena of the twenty-first century is feminism’s silence in the face of Islamist oppression. For nearly a quarter-of-a-century, as the evidence of weaponised misogyny across the Islamic world has mounted, the absence of globalised feminist resistance has become increasingly difficult to ignore. The contrast between global feminism’s muted response to the oppression of women in the Islamic world, and its ongoing campaign against the sexist excesses of western males, is stark. Why one, and not the other?

To gain some appreciation of the discrepancy’s magnitude, it is instructive to compare the world’s reaction to the imposition of apartheid on South African blacks and the imposition of Islamic fundamentalism on Afghan women.

As news of deliberate and vicious gender discrimination filtered out of Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, western women and men recoiled in shocked disbelief. Girls were being sent home from school. Women professionals: doctors, scientists, engineers, teachers and nurses were being dismissed from their jobs and ordered back behind the doors of enforced domesticity. Any woman found walking the streets unchaperoned, or wearing Western dress, ran the risk of being whipped (or worse) by the Taliban’s religious police. Women found guilty of adultery were being publicly executed in soccer stadiums.

Like something out of The Handmaid's Tale. Women faced public execution under the rule of the Taliban.

There was, of course, some feminist criticism of the Taliban regime, but it was sparse and uncoordinated. Those who waited for the leaders of second-wave feminism to place themselves in the vanguard of an international movement modeled on the global campaign against Apartheid, waited in vain.

When US forces and their Afghan allies finally overthrew the Taliban regime in the aftermath of 9/11, most of the women who openly and unashamedly celebrated its demise – and the liberation of their sisters – came from the Right.

Undoubtedly, left-wing western feminists were also thrilled to see the back of the hateful Taliban government and its religious police, but they were hesitant to say so too loudly for fear of giving the impression that they in any way supported the military adventurism of President George W. Bush. The presence of US forces in Afghanistan, regardless of its collateral benefits, was proof that western imperialism was alive and well. In the Left’s hierarchy of oppression, white people lording it over brown people was considered a more egregious sin than brown men lording it over brown women.

Correcting the violent sexism of brown men was not the responsibility of privileged white women. The only people who could, legitimately, liberate the women of the Third World, were Third World women. If white women were looking for sexist male dragons to slay, then they need look no further than their own workplaces – and homes.

Western Feminism checks its privilege.

Furthermore, the whole notion of there being a universal definition of right and wrong, by which the many and diverse peoples of the world could be judged, had itself fallen under left-wing suspicion.

Westerners might be entitled to judge other westerners by how closely they adhered to the moral precepts of their common culture. Much less certain, however, was their entitlement to judge the behaviour of people from other, non-western, cultures.

Among western leftists, morality had become culture-specific. If imperialism’s victims asked for support, then they would be given it, unquestioningly. If not, then they would tend to their own political gardens exclusively.

The problem for western feminists is that, in spite of these cultural and political self-denying ordinances, the only garden currently showing unequivocal signs of flourishing, is their own. Across vast regions of the planet, not only are women’s rights not flourishing, they are being diminished.

In the patriarchal cultures the western left consistently refuses to condemn, the misogynists look on with a combination of scorn and fear as powerful western men are forced to account for their past and present abuse of women. “There but for the grace of God, and our own unyielding adherence to His laws”, they mutter, “goes our own religious and political power.”

Just because western leftists turn a blind eye to the depredations of their brothers in the Islamic world does not mean that Muslim fundamentalists are similarly blind to the consequences of treating women as equal human-beings.

Prior to the American Civil War, the southern states argued for continued tolerance of their “peculiar institution”. Northern abolitionists rejected utterly the slave-owners’ self-serving cultural relativism.

Western feminists owe their Islamic sisters nothing less.

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, 12 January 2018.

Tuesday 9 January 2018

Jim Anderton: An Unlikely Left-Wing Hero.

1984 And All That: Jim Anderton chairs Labour's Victory Conference in August 1984. His reforms had made the Labour win possible, but the so-called "Free Market" policies of Roger Douglas and his Cabinet colleagues would set Anderton and hundreds of his fellow party members on a collision course with their own government.

MY FIRST, and most vivid, memory of Jim Anderton is of him striding towards me carrying a crate of beer. It was 1982, and he’d been sent south by the Labour Leader, Bill Rowling, to quieten down a bunch of rambunctious Labour dissidents.

There’s an irony there, somewhere, because Jim Anderton stands second only to John A. Lee among Labour dissidents. Even so, he had made the trip south to Dunedin to ensure that there was no more public criticism of Bill Rowling for backing Rob Muldoon’s emergency legislation overturning the Privy Council’s decision conferring New Zealand citizenship on Western Samoans born after 1924.

The way he did this always struck me as impressive. Instead of browbeating the young idealists gathered around his rapidly emptying beer crate, he told them, instead, the story of his own doomed attempt to correct what he saw as a great wrong in the Labour Party.

Anderton had joined the Labour Party in 1963 and was immediately struck by how completely it was dominated by the affiliated trade unions. These grim, trench-coated men held the party in an iron grip, ruthlessly wielding their infamous “card vote” to crush any policy remits considered, by themselves, to be excessively radical. Against this frank tyranny of the affiliated union majority, the progressive branch membership of the Labour Party stood little chance.

With all the impetuosity of youth, Jim told us, he’d determined to open-up and democratise the Labour Party. Authoring a comprehensive reform programme (immediately dubbed “Anderton’s Little Red Book”) he attempted to place it on the floor of the 1967 Labour Party Conference for debate.

Unfortunately, Jim had failed to secure anything like the support necessary to realise his plans. Having delivered an impassioned speech in favour of democratic change, he was astounded to discover that the “top table” had made certain his would be a lone voice crying in the wilderness. Outmanoeuvred and humiliated, Jim undertook the long, slow walk to the exit.

“If you’re determined to go over the top,” he told us, “just make sure that you don’t turn around in the middle of No Man’s Land to discover that there’s no one following you. Because, if you’re out there on your own, the enemy’s going to shoot you to pieces.”

It was a lesson in the importance of political organisation that Anderton never forgot. It would take him more than a decade to build the support necessary to take over the party organisation. But when, in 1979, he finally won the Labour Presidency, his long-prepared modernisation programme transformed the party. Under his leadership, Labour’s branch membership rose spectacularly to more than 85,000. The trench-coated union bosses had met their match.

We all knew what he was saying. Having a crack at the leadership may make you feel better, but unless you take the party with you, all that you’re going to achieve is your own marginalisation and defeat.

Six years on, as the tens-of-thousands of members Anderton had recruited between 1979 and 1984 voted with their feet against the comprehensive betrayal of Labour principles that was Rogernomics, the man himself was hard at work laying the groundwork for what would, less than a year later, in May 1989, become the NewLabour Party. This time, when Anderton went over the top he was not alone: thousands followed him.

Not that those of us drinking beer with him in that little house above Otago Harbour saw any of the trials and tragedies that loomed ahead of James Patrick Anderton. Of the damage his extraordinary efforts to keep Labour’s principles alive – both philosophically and electorally – were destined to inflict upon him and his family we knew nothing.

The mission required a person of towering egotism and inflexible will. It was, therefore, inevitable that in fighting the dragon of Rogernomics, Jim would become something of a dragon himself. And yet, what else but a dragon could have rescued the Labour Party from itself?

Jim Anderton was an unlikely left-wing hero. Successful manufacturer; devout Catholic; staunch opponent of trade union obduracy: he certainly did not meet the early-80s Labour Youth expectations of a revolutionary leader. And yet, like all genuine revolutionaries, Anderton understood that the essence of true left-wing leadership is the willingness to be guided by the need of the many, not the greed of the few.

It was the Fourth Labour Government’s inversion of this principle that so enraged Anderton. The point-blank refusal of David Lange, Roger Douglas and the rest, to accept that their New Right economic policies had received no mandate from those New Zealanders whose votes had put them into office.

“Always build your footpaths where the people walk”, he told us in 1982.

I have never forgotten his simple political aphorism. The Labour Party he rescued would do well to remember it.

This obituary was originally posted on the Stuff website on Monday, 8 January, and published in The Press of Tuesday 9 January 2018.

Monday 8 January 2018

Lorde: Turning The Green Light Red.

Between A Rock And A Hard Place: What possessed Lorde to include Tel Aviv on her 2018 touring schedule? If there is one shark school a young performing artist should avoid at all costs – it’s the Middle East. Put your foot into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and you may be sure of only one thing: you will be bitten. The smartest move is always to give Israel/Palestine a very wide berth.

“THOSE GREAT WHITES, they have big teeth”, sings Ella Yelich-O’Connor (Lorde) in “Green Light”. Her decisions to play – and then not to play – Tel Aviv are showing how much damage those teeth can inflict. Right now, there’s a lot of blood in the water and, unfortunately, most of it is hers.

How did it come to this? What possessed Lorde to include Tel Aviv on her 2018 touring schedule? If there is one shark school a young performing artist should avoid at all costs – it’s the Middle East. Put your foot into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and you may be sure of only one thing: you will be bitten. The smartest move is always to give Israel/Palestine a very wide berth.

That’s not so easy, however, when Lucian Grainge, the CEO of your record label, the Universal Music Group (UMG) is the 2013 recipient of the Foundation For Ethnic Understanding’s (FFEU) 2013 Humanitarian Award.

The FFEU was established in 1989 by Rabbi Marc Schneier to promote understanding and reconciliation between Muslims and Jews. Presumably, the decisions of the UMG’s chief executive were seen as contributing significantly to that worthy objective. Presumably, that’s why they honoured him. Presumably, that’s also why building bridges between Israelis and Palestinians is seen as “a good thing” in Lucien Grainge’s UMG.

Did Lorde know about this? When she saw Tel Aviv on her 2018 touring schedule, did her interior moral traffic light flash green or red? Was she reassured that playing Tel Aviv was “a good thing” because it promoted understanding between Muslims and Jews? Did her “people” tell her that the boss of UMG believed very strongly in the power of music to bring people together? Is that why, like that other big UMG star, Elton John, she agreed to perform in Israel?

Standing back from all this, it is difficult not to see Lorde as a pawn in a whole host of people’s games.

As a propaganda tool, the music industry is every bit as effective as the film and television industries – maybe more so. It would be na├»ve in the extreme to think that the Israeli Government and its “assets” in the Jewish diaspora were ignorant of the effect Lorde’s playing Tel Aviv would have had on global opinion. How else to explain their reaction to her green light switching to red?

But, if Lorde has been treated as a pawn by Israel’s friends in the global music industry, her treatment by the ‘Boycott, Disinvest, Sanctions’ (BDS) movement hasn’t been much better.

When the BDS movement discovered Lorde was scheduled to play Tel Aviv, it must have whooped with delight. Here, at the mercy of the social media platforms it has learned to manipulate so ruthlessly, was a young singer-songwriter earnestly committed to doing good in the world. How long would she be able to resist the orchestrated pressures of Twitter, Facebook and Instagram? Not long – as it turned out.

The Great White Sharks are not confined to corporate waters exclusively. The Left have teeth of their own.

Pity is an emotion all-too-easily evoked: and the situation of Palestinians living on the West Bank and Gaza is pitiable in the extreme. That the BDS movement exploits their pitiable circumstances is unsurprising – Public Relations 101.

Beseeching Lorde and her fans to boycott “Apartheid Israel” offers them the opportunity to strike a blow without firing a shot. What young entertainer anxious to prove her progressive credentials is going to turn down an offer to become the John Minto of her generation?

Upon closer inspection, however, the BDS movement is nothing more than a sophisticated front organisation in the service of Palestinian nationalism. Just one more weapon in a war that has been raging since 1947. It’s never been a war for two states in the Holy Land. Rather, it’s been a war to determine who inherits the Holy Land – Jews or Arabs? Sometimes the war’s been fought with fighter-bombers, tanks and artillery; sometimes with martyrs on buses wearing explosive vests; and, yes, sometimes with singer-songwriters like Leonard Cohen, Paul Simon, Nick Cave and Elton John.

The BDS movement hasn’t the slightest chance of defeating the State of Israel, nor of liberating the Palestinians. What it can deliver, however, is the occasional, morale-boosting, Palestinian propaganda victory.

On this occasion, that victory’s collateral damage was Ella Yelich-O’Connor.

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, 5 January 2018.

Sunday 7 January 2018

James Patrick Anderton 1938 - 2018

James Patrick Anderton 1938 - 2018

JIM ANDERTON has died, peacefully, at the Cashmere View Hospital in Christchurch, aged 79.

It was Jim's fate to be both the Labour Left's greatest strength - and its greatest weakness.

For all his faults, however, the parties he led in the Alliance, most especially the NewLabour Party which he founded in 1989, carved out a position on the left of New Zealand politics which made it impossible for the Labour Party to drift any further to the right.

The Labour-Alliance Coalition Government 1999-2002, in which he served as Deputy Prime Minister, ushered in a period of important reforms - not least the establishment of his pride and joy, Kiwibank.

More than any other single political leader, he restored the electorate's belief that progressive, centre-left policies were, once again, achievable in New Zealand.

For that feat, alone, he deserves to - and will - be remembered as a political leader of rare ability and significant achievement.

Rest in peace, Jim.

This posting is exclusive to Bowalley Road.

Tuesday 2 January 2018

Carrying The Torch.

Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans – born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage – and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world. 

–  John F. Kennedy

NOTHING IN PRESIDENT KENNEDY’S inaugural address resonated in the hearts of young Americans, and the youth of the world, like the words quoted above. Asking what you can do for your country is all very well, but unless what you’re proposing elicits a sympathetic response from the seat of power; some sign that your motives are understood and your values shared, then your question will be lost on the air. It is from this rejuvenated sense of connection that generational shifts in politics acquire their transformational power.

The big question for 2018, therefore, is: what are the motives and values connecting New Zealand’s 37-year-old prime minister with the generations born after the post-war Baby Boom?

Kennedy was, of course, a member of what some have called “The Greatest Generation”. Raised under the pall of economic depression, and then thrown into the most destructive human conflict of human history, they were nevertheless determined to create the fairest and most prosperous societies the world had ever seen – and in that regard, they’d been spectacularly successful.

The full measure of that success is captured in Kennedy’s proud boast that, thanks to humanity’s technological prowess, “man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty and all forms of human life.”

The Ancient Greeks would have called this hubris – and they would have been right.

But what of the generation for whom Jacinda now speaks? Untempered by war; undisciplined by the existential stakes attached to global ideological competition; unimpressed with their nation’s colonial heritage; and uncommitted to the universal definition of human rights for which Kennedy pledged his country’s all on that chilly January morning in 1961: for what will the Millennial Generation “pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe”?

Well, for a start, they would probably refuse to be bound by such an open-ended and reckless pledge. “Any Price?”, they would respond. “No, not any price. The world has had enough of men who commit the lives of millions to the fulfilment of promises they had no right to make.”

For a great many millennial women, JFK, himself, is a problem. “If #Me Too had been around in 1963,” they ask, “how many women would have come forward to denounce the President?”

No, Jacinda’s millennials are not well disposed to big promises, all-encompassing systems and unyielding ideologies. They have grown up amidst the havoc wrought by a generation far too prone to alternating fits of selfless idealism with bouts of hedonistic excess. That all their Baby Boomer parents’ enthusiasms boiled down to, in the end, was the cold and selfish cynicism of neoliberalism, taught them all they need to know about the malleability of human aspirations. The Labour Leader’s brisk “Let’s Do This” slogan was perfectly pitched to an audience more intent on achieving small dreams than grand visions.

The two great exceptions to this rule are Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn. On the face of it, their ability to draw tens-of-thousands of young people into their campaigns seems counter-intuitive. What could these two, ageing, Baby-Boomer males possibly have to say to the Millennial Voter? They had, after all, spent most of their adult lives achieving sweet-bugger-all: two old leaves swirling aimlessly in the stagnant backwaters of left-wing politics.

But that was the whole point. Unlike so many of their contemporaries, Sanders and Corbyn simply refused to surrender the hopes and dreams of their youth. While all around them lay the jettisoned ideals of former comrades, they had kept on singing the hallelujah song.

Sanders and Corbyn were the proof that growing old did not have to mean growing cynical and cruel. The Millennials looked at the career politicians of their own generation and saw far too much evidence of wholesale generational surrender. How had so many twenty-something minds been taken over by so many hundred-year-old ideas? Sanders’ and Corbyn’s bodies may have been old, but their thinking was as young as the kids who cheered them on.

This, then, is the torch which the Prime Minister is being asked to carry into 2018. The inspirational torch of authenticity which dispels the darkness of hypocrisy. If she truly wishes to change their world, Jacinda must first prove to her generation that the world is not changing her.

This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 2 January 2018.