Monday, 18 October 2021

Too Much Say, Not Enough Do.

When The Green Party Co-Leader Speaks, Does He Make Any Sound? James Shaw must know that neither New Zealanders, nor the rest of humanity, will ever take the urgent and transformative action that Science now deems necessary to stave-off climate catastrophe.

POOR JAMES SHAW: He’s the man this government sends out to tell us that the news is still bad. Worse still, he’s the man whose job it is to bring us, if not exactly good news, then at least some reassurance that it’s not getting worse. Notwithstanding the fact that he is New Zealand’s Climate Change Minister, however, poor James Shaw can’t even do that.

Do his colleagues from the Labour Party care? Not enough, apparently, to make the Climate Change Minister a full member of Cabinet. That decision, alone, strongly suggests that not only does Labour not care about the public credibility of the male co-leader of the Greens, but also that it doesn’t really care about Climate Change – full stop.

Why else would they be sending him off to Glasgow with next-to-nothing to show the world from New Zealand? Could it be because they know that whatever the major contributors to Climate Change may say, they’re not intending to actually  very much either? In spite of the Queen’s “irritation” at “too much say, not enough do” from world leaders. In spite of Greta Thunberg’s caustic refrain of “blah, blah, blah”. Our leaders know that the world’s leading nations cannot afford anything more expensive than “blah, blah, blah” without crippling their economies and/or (if they’re democracies) being thrown out of office – and neither can New Zealand’s.

So, off James will go with nothing in his attaché case but promises to do better – which neither he, nor the Labour Government, are in any position to keep.

Will anybody, apart from the environmental NGOs and a few Climate Change swots, pay much attention to New Zealand’s dereliction? Well, the mainstream news media will certainly huff and puff for a few days. They’ll run Greenpeace’s media releases. They’ll commission plenty of op-ed commentary from the usual suspects. Then they’ll go back to publishing advertisements for SUVs and double-cab utes, and agitating for the “smug hermit kingdom” to re-join the world – especially by air.

“Will nobody think of the planet?!” For those deeply involved in the science of Climate Change, elevated anxiety levels will more than match the rise in Earth’s mean surface temperature. Their concern, however, is not really for the planet, it is for their own benighted species, and its apparent inability to recognise the enormous dangers bearing down upon it.

As scientists, they know “The Planet” has absolutely no thoughts on the matter.

Among under-graduates, the tree falling in the forest conundrum has always been a favourite. Everyone of a philosophical bent has heard it: “If a tree falls in the forest, and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?”

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

A tall tree falling through the air and striking the ground with considerable force will indeed produce the physical effects that the human ear delivers to the human brain as “sound”. And not only the human ear and brain. A timber wolf, whose hearing is vastly more sensitive than any human’s, will similarly register the tree’s fall.

The point, however, is that (as far as we know) only the human brain is capable of formulating the original question. Moreover, only the human brain is remotely interested in the answer.

Planet Earth, which is, of course, our creation – since a ball of rock whirling around its star lacks the self-awareness required to name itself – has undergone numerous and massive changes in its four billion year history. Science tells us that the planet was at one time covered with ice from pole to pole. At other times it had a surface temperature equal to that of the hottest of hothouses, with an atmosphere so full of oxygen that dragonflies were able to grow as big as seagulls, and lizards larger than a double-decker bus. And, when an asteroid the size of Manhattan struck its surface – leaving a crater as deep as Mt Everest is tall – killing-off the dominant dinosaur species (along with just about every other species of animal life) the ball of rock was shaken, but not stirred. It had withstood bigger blows. There had been other extinctions. Life always found its way back.

Which is where we, the clever apes, enter the story. Or, rather, where the clever apes come up with the peculiar idea – unique to themselves – that they, other creatures, and even the material world in which they find themselves, have a story to tell.

An evolutionary adaptation of enormous utility, it would seem, this ability to insert oneself into an ongoing narrative. The past experiences of one’s long-dead ancestors become preservable – and, therefore, recallable – to the evident benefit of those living in the present. Did the human-beings who lived through the last ice age, when ice-sheets more than a kilometre high extended past the Canadian border, comfort themselves with the inherited memory of a warmer world? Did they pray for climate change?

Did Ice-Age humans pray for climate change?

Telling stories about the future, however, suffers from the considerable disadvantage that, unlike stories concerning the past, no one can be entirely certain how – or even if – they will turn out. Human-beings are capable of being motivated by promises of better things to come. They are less prone, however, to invest too much emotional energy in stories foretelling doom and gloom. The phenomenon of confirmation bias leads us to suppose that human-beings believe more readily in stories that have a happy ending.

Unfortunately, climate scientists seem less and less inclined to predict such an ending to the Climate Change story. This is, of course, a problem, since evolution has only equipped human-beings to respond to imminent threats that are within their power to meet and defeat. The howling of wolves will draw the hunters to the perimeter of the firelight. Hitler’s depredations will set the arms factories humming. Far-off threats, decades distant, are much harder to get people excited about.

In the dark watches of the night, James Shaw must know that this baked-in human weakness is more than likely to overwhelm all his plans. That neither New Zealanders, nor the rest of humanity, will ever take the urgent and transformative action Science now deems necessary to stave-off climate catastrophe. Perhaps he comforts himself with thoughts of some last-minute technological fix. Or, perhaps, he simply imagines the last surviving human-being looking up into a night sky awash with stars, and weeping, because, in his absence, the whirling ball of rock will not know, or care, how beautiful human eyes had made it.

Or how silently the trees will fall – when he has gone.

This essay was originally posted on the website of Monday, 18 October 2021.

Friday, 15 October 2021

Invasion Of The (Covid) Body Snatchers.

It's Here! They're Here! We're Here! Help! It’s as if we’re all living through a Covid version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. What has become of Jacinda? Where have they taken her closest Cabinet colleagues? The people on the stage of the Beehive Theatrette look the same, but they no longer feel the same. As he rejects the advice of his scientific advisers, telling us that there will be no return to Level 4, Chris Hipkin’s boyish grin looks more and more like a contemptuous Wellington smirk.

AM I THE ONLY AUCKLANDER feeling let down today? (14/10/21) Seventy-one new community cases detected – with that number set to double in the next fortnight. The prospect looms of New Zealand’s largest city being awash with the Delta Variant of Covid-19 by Christmas.

In a few months’ time we are being told to expect up to 5,000 new cases per week. When interviewed, those on the Covid frontline sound like the commanders of a beleaguered army, just waiting for the enemy’s vastly superior formations to come marching over the hill.

To be honest, it’s bloody frightening.

Like so many other Aucklanders, I’ve been waiting to hear the Government’s rescue plan. Unfortunately, they don’t appear to have one – other than sealing Auckland’s borders and letting 1.6 million New Zealanders stew in their own Covid juices until the virus burns itself out.

This is not the Labour Government that New Zealanders flocked to support exactly one year ago this Sunday. That government would never have dreamed of abandoning Auckland to its fate. That Jacinda Ardern told all of us to be kind to one another and gave us her promise to stamp the virus out. She kept her word, and Labour was rewarded with 50.1 percent of the Party Vote.

Where has that Prime Minister gone?

It’s as if we’re all living through a Covid version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. What has become of the Jacinda who built the Team of Five Million? Where have they taken her closest Cabinet colleagues? Grant Robertson, who kept the economy going? Chris Hipkins, who reassured us that New Zealand was at the front of the queue for the Pfizer vaccine? The people on the stage of the Beehive Theatrette look the same, but they no longer feel the same. As he rejects the advice of his scientific advisers, telling us that there will be no return to Level 4, Chippy’s boyish grin looks more and more like a contemptuous Wellington smirk.

The Body Snatchers have been busy here in Auckland, too. Many of the Aucklanders who had borne the earlier lockdowns stoically and with good humour also seem to have been replaced. They, too, look the same, but their behaviour during the Delta Lockdown has been very different.

These Aucklanders are more reckless of the rules, and more contemptuous of those who follow them. Reference to Jacinda’s Team of Five Million provokes only scorn and derision. If they think they can get away with it, these Aucklanders will happily break all the Level 4 and Level 3 rules.

It’s enough to make you believe that the Anti-Vaxxers might be on to something: that the Pfizer vaccine just might contain a virulent social toxin capable of transforming hitherto kind and compassionate citizens into vicious, self-centred arseholes. Anti-socials, whose meagre stocks of care and concern might just extend to their families and friends, show scant social solidarity for their fellow Aucklanders – especially those trapped in communities where the vaccination rates are low.

In the Asian and Pakeha communities, where vaccination rates are high, the scope for a racially-charged absence of empathy is considerable. Such indifference is made all the easier by the careless conceptual conflation of the unvaccinated, Maori and Pasifika, drug addicts and the criminal gangs who supply them. Eugenicist quips, laced with racism, such as “Let Darwin take care of the problem!”, show just how busy the Body Snatchers have been in Auckland’s leafy suburbs.

By the same token, the blank refusal of the woman who carried Covid into Northland to co-operate with the authorities, forcing the entire region into Level 3 Lockdown, strongly suggests that the viciously anti-social behaviour of the Snatchers’ substitutions crosses all boundaries of class, race and gender.

As the hero of the original 1956 version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Dr Miles Bennell, observes:

“In my practice, I’ve seen how people have allowed their humanity to drain away. Only it happened slowly instead of all at once. They didn’t seem to mind... All of us – a little bit – we harden our hearts, grow callous. Only when we have to fight to stay human do we realize how precious it is to us, how dear.”

Well, it’s not happening slowly here. In Auckland it is happening all at once. Far too many people in this city – and in Wellington! – are allowing their humanity to drain away. Exactly what it is that has hardened the hearts of our political leaders – most especially our Queen of Hearts – and caused so many Aucklanders to become callous rule-breakers is hard to determine.

If you can think of something alien and heartless; something determined to stamp out those precious qualities that make us human; something that’s been here for a while, never missing an opportunity to swell the ranks of its robotic army of unfeeling followers; then could you please drop me a line.

Before the rest of us are snatched away.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 15 October 2021.

Missing From The Anti-Covid Action.

The Invisible Man: Where has the NZ Council of Trade Unions been during the Covid-19 Pandemic? Why hasn’t its current president, Richard Wagstaff (above) become a household name during the pandemic? Up there with Ashley Bloomfield, Michael Baker, Shaun Hendy and Siouxsie Wiles? 

WHERE HAVE THE UNIONS BEEN during the Covid-19 Pandemic? That the question can even be posed suggests that something is very wrong with the New Zealand labour movement. After all, the answer should be all around us.

At its high-point, under the late, and sorely missed, Helen Kelly, the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions (CTU) liked to present itself as the largest democratic organisation in New Zealand. With upwards of 300,000 affiliated members, that claim was no idle boast. As Kelly proved, the CTU has always possessed the potential to do an enormous amount of good.

So, where has it been? Why hasn’t its current president, Richard Wagstaff, become a household name during the pandemic? Up there with Ashley Bloomfield, Michael Baker, Shaun Hendy and Siouxsie Wiles? Where was the tireless advocacy for essential workers: the people who stood at the check-out counters, drove the trucks and operated the warehouses? When supermarket workers came under attack from the stupid and the selfish, why were they defended with more passion by their bosses, than by the CTU?

Which is not to imply that, down at the coalface, union organisers have not been fighting the good fight for their members. The “sergeants” and “corporals” of the movement have, indeed, been working tirelessly. Some of them have even managed to attract the attention of the news media. Unions like FIRST and Unite – affiliates of the CTU – have stood loyal right through this pandemic: speaking-up and fighting-back; making it very clear to anyone with ears to hear, exactly which side they are on.

But these are the “grunts”, the frontline fighters, the ones who, when the question arises: “Who ya gonna call?”, answer: “Us. You call us. You call your union.” There just aren’t enough hours in the day for these battlers to meet even half the need that’s out there. They certainly don’t have the time or the resources to plan and fund nationwide campaigns; issue media releases; and appear on programmes like AM, Breakfast, Newshub Nation and Q+A. That’s why they send money, collected from thousands of ordinary working people, to the CTU in Wellington.

This is where you might expect to find the “generals” and the “colonels” of the labour movement. The men and women who run the unions’ union. This is where you might expect to hear the national voice of organised labour in New Zealand – speaking up loud and proud for this country’s working-class.

So why haven’t we heard anything remotely like this coming from the CTU? All that money: taken from the pockets of ordinary working men and women so their voices can be heard and their interests defended; what has it been spent on?

This country has been subjected to a veritable blizzard of propaganda from those whose profits have been put at risk. The lobbying of the tourism and hospitality industries was so unrelenting they were gifted their precious Trans-Tasman Bubble – and workers ended up with the Delta variant.

Workers might have expected the CTU to lead the charge for “No Jab. No Job”. Because how else can employees be protected from the enormous risk posed by the stupid and the selfish? The great union motto has always been: “An injury to one is an injury to all!” Not, “The injury of all – by one.” What greater priority could the labour movement have than throwing its entire weight behind the drive for universal inoculation against Covid-19?

Well, according to the veteran political journalist, Richard Harman, the priority of the CTU has been ever-so-slightly different:

“Businesses are caught in a legal tangle if they try to enforce ‘no jab no job’ policies. Up until yesterday, business leaders were convinced the Government would not move on “no jab no job”, in part because it is opposed by the Combined Trade Unions.”

Yep, that’s what he said: “because it is opposed” by the CTU. Opposed!

Rather than defend the health of ordinary working people, the CTU has been slowing the vaccination roll-out by defending the “rights” of the stupid and the selfish. Permitting the injury of all – by anti-vaxxers.

How wonderful that, at last, Jacinda Ardern and her Labour colleagues have finally seen sense and set the “No Jab. No Job” ball rolling. But, how ironic, that they had to do it over the objections of the CTU.

This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 15 October 2021.

Thursday, 14 October 2021

Don't Blame James.

Emissions Impossible! So, don’t be too hard on poor James Shaw. His pathetic little To-Do list is, indeed, totally inadequate to the crisis. But, you know what? He’ll be lucky to get half of the items ticked-off. There’s just too many entrenched interests – not the least of whom are consumers like you and me – standing in the way.

TO SAY that environmentalists are underwhelmed by James Shaw’s latest Climate Change announcements, would understate their feelings considerably. With every policy release, Shaw takes another downward step into the shadowland of political ignominy. Pretty soon we won’t be able to see or hear him at all.

In all fairness, to the Minister for Climate Change, he can’t do much else – except, maybe, resign. Even if this government were not so utterly distracted by the deepening Covid-19 crisis, it would have no inclination to take Climate Change seriously.

Jacinda Ardern, Grant Robertson, Chris Hipkins, Andrew Little, David Parker and Megan Woods are not heterodox thinkers. When it comes to running the country, they all adhere pretty faithfully to economic and political orthodoxy. Such skills as they do possess are mostly devoted to giving their very conventional views just enough spin to render them electorally palatable. It is dawning on them only slowly that this strategy has a limited lifespan. If you promise to do something, then – eventually – you have to do something.

They certainly do not appear to have fully grasped the reason for their extraordinary electoral success in 2020. In a nutshell, Labour was rewarded for actually doing something about Covid-19. Nobody was really sure if the Elimination Strategy would work. The idea of locking-down an entire country was certainly not an orthodox solution – as a great many business leaders and neoliberal ideologues nervously/furiously pointed out. The thing was, the Government didn’t really have time to think about whether or not their chosen course of action conformed to the rule-book. They had to do something – right now! So, they closed their eyes and pulled the lever. And, wonder-of-wonders, it worked.

But Climate Change isn’t like Covid-19. The need to take urgent action is unquestionably the same, but the consequences of this, or any, government not taking urgent action are unlikely to show up as corpses in a matter of days and weeks. Not following the science (the reason why Auckland is rapidly descending into the same Delta Disaster as New South Wales and Victoria) is definitely going to end badly, but not tomorrow, or next week, or even in a few months, or years. And something that is going to end badly in a few years, doesn’t really leave a very deep impression on a politician’s mind. A few years equals forever in electoral time.

Besides, the sort of changes a government would have to make, to produce the slightest difference to this country’s greenhouse gas emissions are so huge, would inflict so much economic damage, that the resulting political resistance simply could not be withstood.

Just recall the relentless fightback against the Government’s Elimination Strategy. “Plan B”, and the unceasing cacophony of voices demanding the creation of the Trans-Tasman Bubble. Not even the Strategy’s outstanding success: in saving lives; in recovering the economy; was enough to shut up the doubters and nay-sayers.

And they won, didn’t they? It’s important to keep that in mind. Jacinda couldn’t do it twice. Even with the number of cases in steady decline, the Big End of Town bounced our orthodox Prime Minister out of Level 4. Two people have already died of this Delta Outbreak – many more (most of them Māori and Pasifika) will follow.

With the power of the Big End of Town in mind, try to imagine the sheer ferocity of the opposition to measures requiring the owners of SUVs and double-cab utes to take their vehicles off the road. Contemplate the size of the “Groundswell” in response to the compulsory slaughter of a quarter of this country’s dairy herd. Or, the seizure of factories found to be greenhouse-gassing in defiance of cease-and-desist orders.

Is our Police Force – heck, is our Army! – large enough and reliable enough to force New Zealanders to kick the emissions habit? If Jacinda and her colleagues were persuaded that remaining at Level 4 could lead to serious civil unrest, then how hard do you think it would be for their officials to convince them that any meaningful – i.e. radical – action to meet our Climate Change commitments would spark a civil war?

Democracy is not really equipped to deal with a crisis on the global scale of Climate Change. But then, neither is the sort of authoritarian regime we see in China. Xi Jinping is one of the few world leaders taking Climate Change seriously, but just look where that has got him – and the globalised capitalist system.

Xi decreed that China must begin transitioning away from coal-fired power stations by shutting-down the dirtiest coal mines and most polluting power plants. Great! That’s the way to save the world! Umm, no, not really. As you read these words, millions of Chinese shiver in the dark and cold of electricity black-outs. Worse still, the great factories upon which the whole world now depends for its “just-in-time” manufacturing and distribution systems have also gone dark. Supply-chain snarl-ups are rapidly becoming a fact of twenty-first century life – and they’re only going to get worse. Those gaps in the supermarket shelves are not going away.

So, don’t be too hard on poor James Shaw. His pathetic little To-Do list is, indeed, totally inadequate to the crisis. But, you know what? He’ll be lucky to get half of the items ticked-off. There’s just too many entrenched interests – not the least of whom are consumers like you and me – standing in the way.

You don’t believe me? Well, consider this. For New Zealand to escape the clutches of the Delta Variant of Covid-19, all its citizens have to do is roll up their sleeves and accept a couple of jabs of Pfizer vaccine. Pretty simple, huh? And yet, upwards of 10 percent of the population, more than enough to keep Auckland in Lockdown for months, refuse to take two for the Team of Five Million.

So, ask yourself, if people can’t see clearly enough to grasp freedom via vaccination, is it reasonable to suppose that they will willingly wave good-bye to their fossil-fuelled lifestyles?

In the immortal words of Walt Kelly’s cartoon hero, Pogo: “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Thursday, 14 October 2021.

Tuesday, 12 October 2021

Looking Forward To 2022.

Future Tense? Okay, so that’s where we are in 2022. Living in a New Zealand where all the usual rules of politics once again apply. And, guess what? Jacinda’s government, once again, isn’t doing very well – not very well at all.

LET’S PLAY A GAME. Let’s pretend we’re half-way through 2022. Covid-19 isn’t exactly a memory, people still get it, but hardly anyone ends up in hospital and almost nobody dies. So politics has returned to all the normal settings. The Government is no longer being judged on how well it kept us all safe from Covid. Now it’s all about what it’s doing; how well it’s doing it; and whether it should be doing it at all.

Now, those of us with good memories, will recall that this is exactly where the Labour-NZ First-Green Government was at in the weeks before the global pandemic swept politics-as-usual from the stage. Back when Simon Bridges was leading National, and National was leading Labour in the polls. Back when Jacinda Ardern had Winston Peters to protect her and Labour from their worst woke instincts. Back when, Winston’s presence notwithstanding, things weren’t looking so good for the Left.

Okay, so that’s where we are in 2022. Living in a New Zealand where all the usual rules of politics once again apply. And, guess what? Jacinda’s government, once again, isn’t doing very well – not very well at all.

What is the cause of the Government’s worrying slide in the polls? Most people would agree that it is Nanaia Mahuta’s “Three Waters” programme. With the local government elections fast approaching, a nationwide political movement is taking shape dedicated to rolling back what is now being quite openly presented as a Māori power grab for the nation’s water. Tickets are being organised all over the country of candidates pledged to resist the state’s confiscation of municipally owned water resources and infrastructure. Already ratepayer groups are pledging to engage in civil disobedience to prevent the Three Waters programme going ahead.

Why haven’t Jacinda and her colleagues simply cancelled the programme and gone back to the drawing-board? The answer lies in the disproportionate death-toll of Māori Covid victims. When the Delta outbreak turned deadly in the last few weeks of 2021, it was in unvaccinated Māori communities that it really went to work.

The anguish and anger of Māori is easily imagined, and almost all of it was directed at the Labour Party. It was, after all, Labour which had presented itself as the Māori people’s best friend back in 2017. And it was Jacinda Ardern who went to Waitangi in 2018 and asked Māori to hold her and her Government accountable for their actions. In vain did reasonable people point out that it was Covid-19 that had killed Māori – not Labour. But, after the trauma of 2021, Māori weren’t in a very reasonable frame of mind.

So, the Labour leadership felt obliged to back their own Māori caucus’s agenda without reservation. Anticipating the massive resistance Nanaia’s Three Waters programme was bound to inspire, they steeled themselves for the inevitable racist backlash and told them to press on regardless – the Government had their back.

This was why Labour had forced through the Three Waters reforms, legislating right over the top of an overwhelming majority of local authorities’ objections. And why, faced with the prospect of a clean right-wing sweep through the nation’s district, city and regional councils, the Government was seriously considering using its Covid Emergency Powers to postpone the local government elections for at least another year.

To say this idea was going down like a cup of cold sick with a majority of the electorate was to understate the position considerably. Following his generous settlement with Harry Tam, Winston Peters was now roaring back into electoral contention on the back of the racist beast unleashed by the Three Waters reforms. The votes that weren’t surging towards NZ First were being gratefully received by National and Act. Small wonder Labour was shedding support.

Although, not that much support. Thanks to the sterling efforts of the mainstream news media in explaining/justifying Mahuta’s scheme, a crucial chunk of the Pakeha population was refusing to jump on the anti-Three Waters bandwagon. Educated voters were sticking with Labour, even as principled conservatives, disgusted by the overtly racist narrative of the right-wing parties, were gritting their teeth and shifting their support to the Left.

Labour was looking at the fast-growing support for the Māori Party, calculating that the Greens would remain above the 5 percent threshold, and factoring-in the likely consequences of making it easier for Māori voters to switch from the General to the Māori Roll – coupled with lowering the voting age to sixteen. With the election still a year away, there just might be a narrow – very narrow – pathway to power.

Covid or no Covid, in this political game, there was still everything to play for.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Tuesday, 12 October 2021.

Monday, 11 October 2021

Delta’s Week Of Doom.

Classic Shot: Are the Prime Minister’s formidable communication skills equal to the task of getting her government’s anti-Covid campaign back on track?

IF JACINDA ARDERN thought last week was bad, the week ahead promises to be even worse. Sixty community cases of Covid-19, one of the highest daily totals so far recorded in this Delta outbreak, certainly made for a grim beginning.

Making everything worse, is the extraordinary tangle into which the Government has gotten itself. Gone are the days of simple, but inspired, messaging: “Go hard. Go early.” “Stay home. Stay safe.” “Stamp out the virus.” In “To pee or not to pee: A full timeline of the confusing level three bathroom rule”, The Spinoff’s Madeleine Chapman makes excruciating fun of the Government’s messaging disasters.

People hating a government is one thing. What some people hate, other people are almost certain to love. But people laughing derisively at a government, that is something else entirely. Politically, it’s very hard to come back from derisive laughter.

But what other option, apart from derisive laughter, is left for New Zealanders? Except, perhaps, angry tears? And how did it get to this point? From OECD poster-child, to international laughing stock? What was it that caused this Government’s stunning reversal-of-fortune?

The easy answer is, of course, The Delta Variant. Jacinda Ardern’s government was well-armed against the Covid-19 virus of 2020. New Zealand had beaten it back in spectacular fashion, suffering only a tiny fraction of the casualties experienced in other countries. Sadly, the Elimination Strategy, this government’s very own Maginot Line, could not stop the Panzer divisions of Delta. The strategy of the first Covid war, proved inadequate to the second.

Also inadequate, was the administrative rigidity of New Zealand’s state apparatus. This country’s people are famous for their “No. 8 Wire”, can-do improvisation, and for their willingness to give anything a decent try – and to hell with the hierarchies! Indeed, we are told it is precisely this attitude that makes Kiwis so highly-prized by foreign employers. But, if such attitudes were ever acceptable to New Zealand’s public servants, they are pure Kryptonite to the current generation of bureaucratic mandarins.

Highly centralised, intolerant of independent thought, fearful of error (and, therefore, of experimentation) the state bureaucracy very early-on convinced the Prime Minister and her closest confidants that they were going to have to carry much of the performative burden on their own shoulders. The key decision-making circle was, accordingly, drawn very tight around the Prime Minister. The bureaucratic hierarchy most relied upon being neither the Ministry of Health nor MBIE, but the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.

That this tight circle of decision-making got so much right in the first phase of the Pandemic encouraged an unfortunate surfeit of self-confidence among the Prime Minister’s principal advisers. Spectacular success isn’t always a blessing. “We got this!” can be a dangerous motto.

With the benefit of hindsight, it is very clear that, if the bureaucracy could not be relied upon to act with speed and imagination, then the Labour leadership’s most sensible response was not to try and do it all themselves, but to appeal over the heads of the public servants to the public itself. As we have seen, DHBs, businesses, iwi authorities, non-profits, unions, and community groups can come to the aid of a government with impressive amounts of energy and flexibility.

Nowhere was this more evident than in the tortuous roll-out of the official vaccination effort. Cumbersome, time-consuming, inefficient and ineffective, the official process generated enormous public frustration. If the People themselves had not taken the task in hand, New Zealand’s vaccination rates would be even worse than they are. Only when anxious communities swung into action alongside their GPs and other local health providers did the numbers getting the jab rise to something approaching an acceptable level. Vaccination busses with names like “Shot, Bro” and “Jabba the Hutt” exemplified the tremendous energy and creativity obtainable from the nation’s flax-roots.

Also with hindsight, it is possible to recognise how unwise it was of the Labour Government to allow the impression to grow that the “We” in “We got this!” did not include the business community. In a capitalist society, it is never a good idea to let the Devil find work for idle businesspersons’ hands. Those who own the world, perhaps not surprisingly, tend to think they should also play a significant part in running it.

Seeking to establish some sort of timetable for “re-opening New Zealand to the world” was by no means an unreasonable boon for the business community to ask of the Government. Especially if the business in question was a small one, and its owner was watching it die. No matter how attentive the Prime Minister and her colleagues may have been to some business leaders behind the scenes, the front-of-house optics were not encouraging. To many businesspeople, the spectacle of “Queen Jacinda” and “Saint Ashley” standing behind their “powerful podiums of truth” had a decidedly anti-business aspect. What did politicians and public servants know about running a profitable business?

Experienced and knowledgeable business leaders also understood that Delta was different. The swift elimination of Covid-19, leading to a swift return to business as usual, made lockdowns irksome, but bearable – especially with the government wage subsidy. If lockdowns proved unequal to the challenge of the Delta variant, however, only near-universal vaccination would suffice. If the Government wasn’t prepared to make “opening up” and mass immunisation amount to the same thing, then “the big end of town” would. John Key’s op-ed intervention made good the threat.

These, then, were the components of the “perfect storm” which engulfed the Prime Minister and her government: first and foremost, there was the Delta variant itself; then, an arrogant, secretive, unimaginative and intolerably sluggish state bureaucracy; not forgetting the “We got this!” hubris of the PM’s tight decision-making circle; leading to the government’s tardiness in encouraging a “bottom up” roll-out of the Pfizer vaccine; and finally to its failure to prevent the business community, and its compliant news media, operating as a subversive “fifth column” in the Covid war.

Are the Prime Minister’s formidable communication skills equal to the task of getting her government’s anti-Covid campaign back on track? Is her health bureaucracy nimble enough to encircle the rampaging Panzer divisions of the Delta variant? Is there enough heart still left in her “Team of Five Million” for them to reassure their captain: “Don’t worry, Jacinda, we got this!” Is the business community willing to go head-to-head with the Team of Five Million if they rally to the PM’s side? Is the criminal underworld (making a late appearance in this drama) sufficiently patriotic to stay safe at home? Is the daily total of Covid community cases about to go exponential?

A lot of questions, demanding a lot of answers. And not a lot of time to provide them. Still, as Harold Wilson wryly observed, and Jacinda Ardern is only too aware: “A week is a long time in politics.”

This essay was originally posted on the of Monday, 11 October 2021.

Saturday, 9 October 2021

Why Is Labour So Frightened Of "Mr Stick"?

Force Multiplier: Why are Ardern and her ministers so loathe to put a bit of stick about? The “emergency” legislation eventually enacted to authorise the measures needed to combat the Covid-19 pandemic failed to confer upon the New Zealand Government the unequivocal authority that subsequent events showed to be so operationally necessary. It was almost as if Ardern and her colleagues are frightened of wielding power – even when the safety of the people depends upon it.

WHEN HITLER AND STALIN confirmed their Non-Aggression Pact in August 1939, war in Europe became inevitable. The scales of Appeasement having fallen from his eyes, the British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, introduced the Emergency Powers (Defence) Bill, which the House of Commons duly and swiftly passed into law. The legislation provided the British Government with the all the powers necessary to fight a modern war.

Here is a sample of the wording:

His Majesty may by Order in Council make such Regulations […] as appear to him to be necessary or expedient for securing the public safety, the defence of the realm, the maintenance of public order and the efficient prosecution of any war [in which] His Majesty may be engaged, and for maintaining supplies and services essential to the life of the community.

The reference to “His Majesty” should be read as “The Government of the United Kingdom”. An “Order in Council” is pretty much the same as a decision arrived at in Cabinet. What the Act empowered, in its essence, was a Government that could do whatever it considered necessary for the safety of the people, the life of the community, and the defence of the realm.

If you are wondering just what powers the Crown’s “Defence Regulations” conferred upon the Government, then the following should provide some clarity:

Defence Regulations may, so far as appears to His Majesty in Council to be necessary or expedient for any of the purposes mentioned in that subsection:

(a) Make provision for the apprehension, trial, and punishment of persons offending against the Regulations and for the detention of persons whose detention appears to the Secretary of State to be expedient in the interests of the public safety or the defence of the realm;

(b) authorise -

(i) the taking of possession or control, on behalf of His Majesty, of any property or undertaking;

(ii) the acquisition, on behalf of His Majesty, of any property other than land;

(c) authorise the entering and searching of any premises; and

(d) provide for amending any enactment, for suspending the operation of any enactment, and for applying any enactment with or without modification.

More than enough power to get the job done, and quite enough to “put a bit of stick about” – if necessary.

* * * * *

WHEN THE WORLD HEALTH ORGANISATION declared a global Covid-19 pandemic on 11 March 2020, it should have been as clear to Jacinda Ardern’s Government as it was to Neville Chamberlain’s when the Non-Aggression Pact was signed, that the state would have to arm itself with virtually unlimited powers if it was to meet the challenges of the coming emergency.

When fighting Covid-19, the last thing Ardern and her ministers needed was the threat of legal pedants and anti-social elements tossing endless spanners into the anti-Covid works. One piece of legislation, before which all other pieces of legislation – The Bill of Rights Act, The Privacy Act, The Employment Relations Act, The Resource Management Act, etc, etc, etc – were required to give way, would be an essential weapon in the war against the virus.

So, why didn’t we get our own version of the Emergency Powers (Defence) Act? Why were Ardern and her ministers so loathe to put a bit of stick about? The “emergency” legislation that was eventually enacted to authorise the measures needed to combat the pandemic failed to confer upon the New Zealand Government the unequivocal authority that subsequent events have shown to be so operationally necessary. It was almost as if Ardern and her colleagues were frightened of wielding power – even when the safety of the people depended upon it.

Why was that?

Part of the answer lies in the Labour Party’s ingrained antipathy to state-wielded “emergency powers” of all kinds. Whether it be the laws that permitted the enrolment of “Special Constables” in the Great Strike of 1913 – the infamous “Massey’s Cossacks”: or, the Public Safety Conservation Act, which was passed by the right-wing Reform-United Coalition Government following the Unemployment Riots of 1932, and used to devastating effect by the First National Government of Sid Holland against the Waterside Workers Union in 1951; Labour was convinced such powers would only ever be deployed against the labour movement. Fuelled by this historical antipathy (and also by the libertarian spirit animating the Rogernomics Revolution) Labour’s Attorney-General, Geoffrey Palmer, repealed the Public Safety Conservation Act in 1987.

In the 34 years since 1987 that libertarian spirit has only grown stronger. Strongly influenced by the neoliberal hatred of any and all manifestations of decisive state intervention, the libertarian instincts of younger New Zealanders cause them to recoil from the very idea of the state “putting a bit of stick about”. (Unless, of course, it’s dealing with the purveyors of “hate speech”, or women who insist that a man cannot become a woman just by saying so, in which case, the more stick the better!) “Jacinda’s” generation doesn’t issue orders, it has “conversations”. Viewed from an anti-authoritarian perspective, this “light-handed” approach is admirable. From a public safety perspective, however, this political refusal to both demand and enforce compliance is extremely dangerous.

How, for example, is the goal of vaccinating 95 percent of the adult population against Covid-19 to be reached if employers are not given the unassailable legal authority to say “No Jab. No Job”? How is the long-awaited Vaccination Certificate to be made effective if legal pedants are free to test the meaning of “mandatory” in the courts? How would London have fared in the Blitz if vexatious litigants had been free to challenge the Blackout Order as an unreasonable infringement of the fundamental human right to let the enemy know exactly where to drop his bombs?

It is the Ardern-led Government’s unwillingness to follow the Ciceronian legal principle of “salus populi suprema lex esto” – the safety of the people shall be the highest law – that lies at the heart of New Zealand’s rapidly deepening Covid-19 crisis. The generation now in power is, quite simply, politically allergic to adopting the hard-line policies required to rescue both themselves – and the New Zealand people – from disaster. Even when Ms Carrot’s “kindness” is so obviously failing, this Labour Government refuses to reach for Mr Stick.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 8 October 2021.

Friday, 8 October 2021

Introducing Mr Stick.

MR STICK: You media types think the people of this country have changed, but you’re wrong. We’re the same tough bastards we’ve always been. Put a bit of stick about – and listen to us cheer!

JOSEPHINE MUCH-ADOO: Kia ora, everyone, and welcome to “Introducing”. Today we are very pleased to have with us Mr Stick. Our guest has been the subject of much speculation over the past few weeks as the efforts of his colleague, Ms Carrot, have been subjected to more and more criticism.

Not to put too fine a point upon it, many people are openly declaring Ms Carrot a failure, and suggesting that the time has come for the nationwide struggle to bring Covid-19’s Delta variant under control to be bolstered by the sort of policies only Mr Stick can deliver.

So, let’s put that question directly to our guest. Is it, indeed, time to put a bit of Stick about?

MR STICK: It certainly is Josephine! I have watched with mounting horror over the past few weeks, as Ms Carrot’s increasingly fruitless entreaties to her preposterous “Team of Five Million” to “vaccinate, vaccinate, vaccinate”, fell upon the deaf ears of the sort of people who don’t listen to carrots.

Intelligent people: people who know what has to be done; have been calling for me ever more stridently for days now. They can see that the Delta variant is about to break through our anti-Covid defences – if it hasn’t broken through already. They know that sterner measures are urgently needed to get ahead of this thing. So, damn right, it most certainly is time to put a bit of Stick about.

JOSEPHINE MUCH-ADOO: Alright. But what would that look like? Give us some idea of how Mr Stick’s methods would differ from Ms Carrot’s?

MR STICK: Gladly, Josephine. It would involve concentrating all our efforts on getting New Zealand’s vaccination rate to 95 percent. All the scientific evidence points to achieving near universal immunity as the only effective method of getting ahead of a viral variant as deadly as Delta. Now, the only way to achieve that level of vaccination compliance is to make not having the jab as painful as possible.

JOSEPHINE MUCH-ADOO: So you would be advocating mandatory vaccination? Would that include administering the vaccine by force?

MR STICK: What? Strap ‘em down on a table and whack the needle into their forearm? I must say, Josephine, it’s tempting! But no, there’s no need to go to those lengths. All that’s required is a blanket refusal to allow the unvaccinated into our daily lives.

It really is that simple. They can make their little stand, that’s their right. But, they needn’t think they can also free ride on the good citizenship of others. If they want to participate in society, then they will need a Vaccination Certificate. And, to get a Vaccination Certificate they will first have to? That’s right, Josephine – get vaccinated!

JOSEPHINE MUCH-ADOO: But how far do you go, Mr Stick, in excluding them from society? Ms Carrot has said that denying them food and medical care would be a bridge too far.

MR STICK: Yes, I heard. Pathetic! Exactly the sort of namby-pamby, focus-group-driven dithering that has got us into this mess.

Let me tell you a little story from our history, Josephine. It dates back to the infamous Waterfront Strike of 1951. New Zealand was placed under a State of Emergency by the Prime Minister, and a set of Emergency Regulations were promulgated.

One of those regulations made it an offence to offer any form of assistance to a striking worker – or his family. And that included food! Just think about that. In an emergency far less severe than the one we are in now, the state said: “If you’re on strike, not only will you starve – but so will your family.”


MR STICK: Did it work? Of course it bloody worked! In just a few weeks the strike was broken and the waterside workers crept back to the wharves with their tails between their legs. No mucking around in those days, Josephine. If the Government said “Go back to work!” Then back to work you went.

JOSEPHINE MUCH-ADOO: And do you think New Zealanders would stand for that today?

MR STICK: Too bloody right they would, Josephine! You media types think the people of this country have changed, but you’re wrong. We’re the same tough bastards we’ve always been. Put a bit of stick about – and listen to us cheer!

This satirical script was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 8 October 2021.

Thursday, 7 October 2021

Will Jacinda Stand? Or, Has She Already Fallen?

Free Falling? New Zealanders needed to hear Jacinda take a firm line on vaccination, issuing stern warnings to those who declared their intention to refuse. Kiwis just weren’t in the mood to let lockdown evaders and anti-vaxxers free ride on their good citizenship. Google’s IT wizards confirmed that Kiwis were, overwhelmingly, staying in their bubbles. The lockdown was holding. They were keeping the Covid faith. It wasn’t New Zealand who blinked, it was Jacinda.

MATTHEW HOOTON has raised the possibility of Jacinda Ardern being gone by Christmas. He puts forward the scenario (Paywalled) of New Zealand becoming as debilitated and beleaguered by Delta as New South Wales and Victoria. With the number of community cases surging above a thousand every day, the hospitals overwhelmed, and people dying for lack of ICU beds, Hooton insists that not only would Jacinda be obliged to go, but also, being a fundamentally decent person, she would want to go. The unfolding Covid disaster being of her making, the Prime Minister would see it as her moral duty to resign.

Sadly, Hooton’s scenario is by no means preposterous. Were New Zealand to be overwhelmed by the Delta variant of Covid-19, the Prime Minister and her government would have to accept that the disaster occurred on their watch. Jacinda and Chris Hipkins, her Covid Response Minister, would have no choice but to resign. The Right would, of course, be delighted at this turn of events, and the Left devastated. New Zealand would be in an ugly, truculent, mood. Many people would be very frightened. The future would be bleak.

How did it come to this? At what point did Jacinda’s extraordinary saga of Covid success suddenly pivot towards failure?

Most New Zealanders would identify the Trans-Tasman Bubble as the culprit. The whole idea was fraught with the most awful potential for disaster. Opening our borders, even to the Australians, was seen (by what the pollsters told us was a majority of the population) as an unnecessarily risky proposition.

Most Kiwis saw the Bubble as the product of incessant lobbying by the tourism and hospitality industries – egged-on relentlessly by the news media. Put to a vote, the proposition would, almost certainly, have been defeated. That Jacinda and her colleagues scorned the backing of the people, and succumbed to the pressure of vested interests, was taken, by her followers, as a very bad sign.

To some degree, the edge was taken off their disquiet by the Government’s repeated warning to those determined to take advantage of the Bubble that they were doing so against its advice and at their own risk. If the Bubble burst, and they found themselves trapped, then they would be on their own. The New Zealand state would not be sending planes to rescue them.

Why the Government didn’t stick to its guns when, inevitably, the Bubble did burst, is perplexing. Once again the majority wanted Jacinda to show the travel-gamblers some “tough love”. And, once again, she ignored them, and allowed herself to be pressured into sending rescue aircraft by the news media.

It was a fatal error. By refusing to stand firm, the Prime Minister had effectively invited the media and business groups to keep her and her government under constant pressure. If a politician shows that she can be moved, then she will be moved.

Inevitably, and as a huge number of Kiwis had predicted from the outset, those two decisions: to establish the Bubble; and then to bring the travel-gamblers home; brought the Delta variant of Covid-19 into New Zealand.

At first, Jacinda still appeared to know exactly what to do: Go hard. Go early. The world laughed at New Zealand: hurling itself into a draconian lockdown in response to just one community case seemed wildly excessive. But its citizens were quietly proud of their leader’s decisiveness. This was their country’s extraordinarily successful “elimination strategy” at work. This was how you “stamped-out” the virus – by staying home and staying safe.

It was at this point that the business community and the news media, confident that the Prime Minister and her colleagues could be spooked into doing exactly the wrong thing, unleashed a no-holds-barred campaign to abandon the elimination strategy. By “learning to live with the virus”, said the business community (ably assisted by their political and media mouthpieces) New Zealand could once again open itself up to the world. As soon as 90 percent of Kiwis got themselves vaccinated, the whole country would be able to relax and settle into a new normal.

It was dangerous nonsense, of course. Moving out of Level 4 before 95 percent of the country had been vaccinated, or, before the number of community cases had fallen back to zero, was asking for trouble – and the scientific community urged the Government to keep the country locked down tight. Tragically, Jacinda and her government were no longer being guided by “the science”. Somewhere along the way, Jacinda had lost faith in her “Team of Five Million’s” ability to stay the course. Somehow, a virus of political doubt and indecision had started spreading amongst her ministers and advisers. Fatally, she allowed herself to be persuaded to move New Zealand out of Level 4.

And the rest we know.

Yes, yes, yes! People were weary of lockdown. That is true. But they were also very wary of relaxing their grip. What they wanted, what they needed, was the sort of clear, calm leadership Jacinda had provided during the first nationwide lockdown.

New Zealanders needed to hear Jacinda take a firm line on vaccination, issuing stern warnings to those who threatened to refuse. Kiwis just weren’t in the mood to let lockdown evaders and anti-vaxxers free ride on their good citizenship. Google’s IT wizards confirmed that Kiwis were, overwhelmingly, staying in their bubbles. The lockdown was holding. They were keeping the Covid faith.

It wasn’t New Zealand who blinked, it was Jacinda.

In his vast epic poem, Paradise Lost, John Milton described humankind as “sufficient to have stood, but free to fall”. Those words may yet serve as the epitaph of Jacinda Ardern’s career. In 2020, the whole country witnessed the extraordinary sufficiency of her leadership, and how it allowed her country to stand against the Covid-19 virus. How tragic it would be if 2021 is remembered – as Hooton clearly hopes – as the year she freely chose to fall.

But, is “freely” really the right word? How long can any politician be expected to stand against the sort of political and media pressure our Prime Minister has been forced to endure? How strong can she be if her own colleagues are counselling her to take the path of least resistance? How would our wartime leaders have fared if they had been required to endure the same lies and half-truths; the same reckless appeals to base emotion; and the same shameful absence of patriotic restraint; as Jacinda Ardern? These are questions which the National and Act parties, along with the solipsistic show-ponies of the mainstream media, should be required to answer.

Because it is possible that, until very recently, Jacinda remained sufficient to have stood. Which means that, if all Covid hell does break loose, and she is forced (not least by her own conscience) to resign, then we should all ask ourselves: Did she freely fall – or was she pushed?

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Thursday, 7 October 2021.

Tuesday, 5 October 2021

Vaccination NOW! No Citizen Left behind.

At The End Of The Covid Road: The task for Labour’s Māori Caucus, now, is to move heaven and earth to convince their Pakeha colleagues to pass the reins of the next critical phases of the vaccine roll-out into Māori hands. To supply all the resources required to let Māori convince Māori to get the double-jab. Artwork by Ruby Jones.

IF EVER Labour’s Māori Caucus had a duty to speak up for the people they represent, it was during  this past week. There is a viciousness abroad in New Zealand that would happily abandon unvaccinated Māori to their fate. Rejecting out-of-hand the many explanations for the markedly lower vaccination rate among Māori, those lusting to slip the bonds of Covid will insist that the rest of New Zealand (by which they mean Pakeha New Zealand) should not be denied their “freedom” because of the resistance of an ill-informed minority.

This ruthless racism will be turbo-charged by the suppressed resentment of many Pakeha at what they consider to be the Labour Government’s “Maorification” of New Zealand society and culture. What these people would not express publicly in relation to issues like the country’s name, they will happily give voice to under the cover of fighting the good fight against Covid-19. Regardless of their misgivings about the Opposition parties plans for “opening up” New Zealand, they will seize the opportunity to pressure Jacinda Ardern’s Government into adopting National’s and Act’s policies.

These, as always, are informed by the racism of the Right’s electoral base. Not overtly, of course, those days are gone, but covertly, in measures which will inevitably impact with maximum force upon Māori, Pasifika and other “brown” New Zealanders.

The window dressing of National’s support for the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, itself the product of John Key’s symbolic coalition agreement with the Māori Party, hid his government’s deliberate and persistent neglect of education, health and housing. That the negative consequences of that neglect would impact Māori most forcefully was always known to National’s policy-makers. Also known, however, was how closely Pakeha well-being and Māori deprivation remain interwoven: how important it is for Pakeha to know that they will always be doing better than their Māori compatriots.

This racial advantage must not only be statistically evident, it must also be driven home at practically every location where the Pakeha-dominated state, and disadvantaged Māori, interface. Not only when stopped by the Police, but also at the courts, schools, hospitals, Housing New Zealand, and, with special and refined viciousness, at Work and Income and Corrections. National had no need to court controversy by giving public voice to the deeply racist sentiments of its members and supporters. They knew that Pakeha public servants would be right there, every day of the working week, inflicting the necessary pain and humiliation on their behalf.

It was under the National Government of John Key that a further refinement to the growing racial cruelty of New Zealand society was effected. While property speculation and rack-renting have always been ugly features of New Zealand society, the rapid expansion in landlordism that accompanied the twenty-first century property investment boom brought the Pakeha owners of multiple rental properties into dramatically unequal relationships with Māori, Pasifika and a host of other disadvantaged and marginalised communities. Such relationships are practically feudal in their deeply embedded inequalities.

The pale face of this new vector of racial exploitation could not remain forever in the shadows – but it was willing to try. The rapid rise in the number of “property managers” showed the lengths to which wealthy Pakeha would go to mask their cruelty and greed, not only from their hapless tenants, but also – and more importantly – from themselves.

One suspects that a great deal of the Ardern-led Labour Government’s rhetorical support for all things Māori, which has been such a feature of their time in office, is driven by the awareness of how little it has done to destroy National’s malign legacy. Certainly, there is no escaping the fact of Labour’s abject failure to address in any meaningful (let alone “transformational”) way, the displaced Pakeha racism so deeply embedded in New Zealand’s legal, educational, health, housing and welfare systems.

Promising to make a compulsory, highly revisionist, version of New Zealand history available to all schoolchildren will in no way address the fact that, on any given day, as many as 50 percent of all Māori students are absent from their places of learning. Or that, with every passing year, Māori fall further behind their Asian, European and Pasifika co-learners. Nor will a rapid expansion in the number of Māori health bureaucrats necessarily put an end to the third-world diseases afflicting Māori children, or the epidemic of Type 2 Diabetes debilitating Māori adults.

Compounding all of these failures is, of course, the crowning disappointment of the Ardern Government: its inability to get on top of the devastating housing crisis that is destroying any chance of bringing stability or hope to working-class Māori families.

But just as, in the memorable language of the Prime Minister, “the virus is literally finding unvaccinated people”, it is also seeking out all the weaknesses and injustices inherent in New Zealand society. Every street in which 15 people are crowded into a single dwelling. Every family from which an exhausted human-being sets off every day to do the essential work that keeps New Zealand society going, for a wage that is too low to keep her family going.

The virus is finding Māori and Pasifika people where we have herded them, exploited them, humiliated and alienated them. If they are fearful of and/or refuse vaccination, then who gave them the best reasons for feeling frightened and mistrustful? Who insisted upon a country in which its original inhabitants always have to come second to the people who took it from them?

That sudden darkening of the Pakeha sky is caused by millions and millions of chickens coming home to roost.

What we heard from the Beehive Theatrette on Monday afternoon (4/10/21) indicates that Labour’s Māori Caucus has held the line – for now. There will be no sudden introduction of vaccine passports – a move which would instantly transform the many thousands of unvaccinated Māori into an acutely vulnerable pariah class. A move which, by alienating Māori even further from Pakeha, would expose far too many of the tangata whenua to the deadly effects of Covid-19’s Delta variant.

The task for Labour’s Māori Caucus, now, is to move heaven and earth to convince their Pakeha colleagues to pass the reins of the next critical phases of the vaccine roll-out into Māori hands. To supply all the resources required to let Māori convince Māori to get the double-jab.

Not the least of these resources would be an iron-clad promise from Jacinda and her Cabinet that, when Covid is finally beaten, the work of building an Aotearoa-New Zealand in which no virus can ever again seed itself amongst racial injustice and economic exploitation, will, at long last, begin.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Tuesday, 5 October 2021.

Monday, 4 October 2021

Queen's Pawns Take Bishop.

Suppose They Declared An Apocalypse And Nobody Came: There is much more evidence of Christian faith, hope and charity in Jacinda’s “Team of Five Million”, than there is in any number of false prophets, “Gotcha!” journalists, and “Let the Devil take the hindmost!” business leaders.
BRIAN TAMAKI’s feelings of disappointment must have been overwhelming. Looking down from the steps of the Auckland Museum at the 800-1,000 people who turned up to his anti-lockdown rally, the would-be national messiah’s most vivid impression could only have been one of empty space. Where were they? The tens-of-thousands of angry Auckland citizens he had felt quite certain would answer his call? Where was the great sea of human-beings whose roars of support he’d imagined washing over him like the love of God? What had gone wrong?

It is important to remember when dealing with Tamaki that his political instincts are, like his Destiny Church, strong, few and poor. This is, after all, the same man who, in the run-up to the 2005 General Election, was absolutely convinced that his newly-founded Destiny NZ Party would receive hundreds-of-thousands of votes. In vain did more seasoned observers of politics warn him that anything over 1 percent of the Party Vote would be a small miracle. He was having none of it. God was on his side. What God gave him, however, was 0.62 of the Party Vote.

Most people would have drawn the obvious lesson from such a debacle – and quit while they were behind. But Brian Tamaki is not most people. After fifteen years, he and his wife, Hannah, were ready to try again. Predictably, to everyone except Mr and Mrs Tamaki, Vision NZ fared even worse than Destiny NZ at the ballot box. Its share of the Party Vote was just 0.15 percent. Across the entire country fewer than 5,000 people were willing to give Hannah and her visionaries the tick. God’s messages are nothing if not clear!

And still “Bishop” Tamaki perseveres. Still, the visions come of the masses answering his clarion call to rise in rebellion against the manifest sins of this fallen, godless world. (Of course, if the world truly is fallen and godless, then expecting a big turnout against its sinfulness is straining Christian hopefulness to its limits!)

It has yet to dawn on Tamaki that his eschatology is all wrong. If the gospels make anything at all clear, it is that, on the highway to Hell, the traffic is always bumper-to-bumper. In Christian theology, however, the off-road track to salvation has always required a spiritual four-wheel-drive – “and few there be that find it”. Rather than inspiring him, Tamaki’s dreams of huge crowds shouting his name should terrify him. Theologically, they are likely to hail (heil?) from a location well to the south of the Pearly Gates!

Ironically, it is precisely this Christian conviction that “many are called, but few are chosen” that salves the consciences of religiously-inspired anti-vaxxers.

As anyone familiar with the Book of Revelation knows, the imminence of Christ’s second coming is attested to by the rise and rise of an all-powerful totalitarian regime presided over by the Antichrist. More and more will be demanded of the Antichrist’s hapless victims – until they are wholly corrupted and damned. Only a tiny handful of believers will find the moral courage to resist Satan’s lies. Persecuted and martyred for their faith, they will be God’s chosen few. His soul survivors.

So, you see, it really isn’t that big a jump from the Book of Revelation to Facebook. From defying the Antichrist, to refusing to submit to Jacinda’s jabs. Especially when being a member of a tiny, irksome minority is not seen as proof of ethical imbecility, but of moral superiority. If only more people would “do their own research” then they, too, could be saved.

For those who prefer to stay out of rabbit-holes, however, Tamaki and his ilk pose some particularly thorny problems.

A great many Aucklanders watched their television screens with mounting fury on Saturday evening (2/10/21). Why were these people being allowed to break the Covid regulations with seeming impunity? What was the point of following the rules, and being a decent, conscientious citizen, when these fools were flouting the law under the very noses of the Police – and getting away with it? Why were people being allowed to protest in a time of Covid?

The simple answer to that question may well be that, in a time of Covid, the Police are too thinly-stretched to shut down a large protest. Faced with the prospect of mass illegality, the usual Police practice is to bolster local numbers with officers drawn from other parts of the country. In a time of Covid, however, moving large numbers of people around the country is fraught with considerable epidemiological risk. With regional borders closed, the call on Police resources is further amplified by the need to maintain effective check-points. The Auckland Police were also required to maintain their presence at the city’s MIQ facilities.

Police Commissioner Andy Coster may have had no choice except to “negotiate” with Tamaki. Rather than open confrontation, he may have opted for shrewd calculation. If he could extract promises from Tamaki (such as maintaining social distancing and wearing face-masks) which his ill-disciplined followers subsequently failed to honour, it would play out much better for the Police than supplying protest organisers with disturbing images of Police officers forcibly detaining Tamaki, and others, which the “Bishop” and his backers could later exploit for propaganda purposes. After all, the public’s initial shock and dismay at Police inaction could easily be assuaged if, as soon as Tamaki’s followers were safely dispersed, the man himself was very publicly arrested and charged.

That barely 24 hours after his first, Tamaki was publicly promising to hold more rallies, strongly suggests that he and his advisers were, indeed, thoroughly disappointed with the outcome of Saturday’s effort. The low turnout (remove Tamaki’s loyal congregation, and the number of non-Destiny protesters plummets to around the 200 mark) indicates a population which, in spite of his own, and the Right’s, best efforts to stir-up mass dissatisfaction with the Government’s handling of the pandemic, remains steadfast in its determination to keep the Covid faith.

Bruised and battered by events though Aucklanders (and now the people of the Waikato) may be. Frightened by the Delta variant’s stubborn refusal to lie down and die, though the rest of the country has become, there is much more evidence of Christian faith, hope and charity in Jacinda’s “Team of Five Million”, than there is in any number of false prophets, “Gotcha!” journalists, and “Let the Devil take the hindmost!” business leaders.

In the end, Tamaki’s disappointing rally was, curiously reassuring. Let’s not forget that the last time the Auckland Domain hosted a mass political gathering, it saw 20,000 Aucklanders turn out to reaffirm their Prime Minister’s “They Are Us” defence of New Zealand’s devastated Muslim community. While the latest Census figures confirm that New Zealand is no longer a Christian nation, its citizens’ refusal to be moved by sly political sophistry and cheap religious theatrics proves that they have not forgotten its founder’s redemptive message.

This essay was originally posted on the website on Monday, 4 October 2021.

Sunday, 3 October 2021

Extraordinary Lengths: Social Solidarity versus Death-Cult Capitalism

Taking Care Of Bus-Iness: The success of the Pasifika vaccination effort has no doubt reassured Jacinda and her government that they are on the right track. Clearly, they are doing all they can to replicate their success in Māori communities. There is no reason to suppose that the state’s outreach strategies here will not prove equally successful. When they are, the national vaccination rate will be nudging 85 percent.

JACINDA ARDERN has clearly decided to do all she can to persuade New Zealanders to get vaccinated. Her Government is going to extraordinary lengths to reach out to the “vaccine hesitant”; to engage with them in positive conversations about the benefits of getting the jab.

Celebrities and sports heroes are being asked to provide “social proof” of the vaccine’s efficacy. Trusted figures like church pastors and community organisers are reassuring doubters that vaccination against Covid-19 will not only protect them, but also their friends and whanau. The Prime Minister, herself, is constantly reiterating the message that the fastest route to freedom is through New Zealanders’ upper arms.

No one can accuse the state of not walking its talk. Testers and vaccinators are going door-to-door in some suburbs. Special busses are cruising the streets. Taxi cabs are being paid by the tax-payer to take carless families to the vaccination centres. That the New Zealand state is pulling out all the stops in the persuasion department is incontrovertible.

For the overwhelming majority of Kiwis this massive effort simply isn’t necessary. Most of them trust their government to do everything within its power to keep them safe. That it may not do these things particularly well on occasion is irksome and frustrating, but it is not proof of official mendacity – let alone of a diabolical conspiracy. They are also pre-disposed to accept the advice of scientific experts, and reassured to learn that their political leaders are doing the same. They follow the rules of lockdown and are moved by the feelings of solidarity which their own – and their fellow citizens’ – compliance evokes.

These are the people who have lifted New Zealand’s vaccination rate effortlessly towards the 70 percent mark. Well-educated, well-housed, well-remunerated – they are not the problem. The “problem” – if that is the right word – lies with those who are poorly educated, poorly-housed, and/or just plain poor. The very people for whom all these over-and-above efforts are being made, and among whom they are proving to be highly successful.

Pasifika communities are leading the way in this respect. Vaccine hesitant, and plagued by all kinds of misinformation and conspiracy theories, these Covid-struck communities swiftly mobilised their considerable social and religious resources, driving up the vaccination rates of Pasifika people to the point where, in some parts of the country they are now well ahead of Māori and Pakeha alike.

The Pasifika example has no doubt reassured Jacinda and her government that they are on the right track. Clearly, they are doing all they can to replicate their success in Māori communities. There is no reason to suppose that the state’s outreach strategies here will not prove equally successful. When they are, the national vaccination rate will be nudging 85 percent.

Which leaves only the diehard anti-vaxxers, and those The Daily Blog Editor Martyn Bradbury colourfully calls “Death-Cult Capitalists”.

It is by no means certain that any kind of “outreach” will prove effective against those who, for whatever reason, have convinced themselves that the Covid-19 vaccines are part of a vast global conspiracy to enslave what remains of the world’s free-thinking and freedom-loving people. Against such individuals the techniques of persuasion have proved to be depressingly ineffective. The more sophisticated and evidence-based the arguments in favour of vaccination, the more the anti-vaxxers are convinced that they are dealing with forces of the most diabolical cunning. Attempts to use friends and family members to expose the delusional nature of their thinking have proved equally unsuccessful. Though deeply upset, they are not convinced. Discovering that their loved ones have succumbed to the mind-control of the global puppet-masters, only makes them more determined to hold out and fight on.

Against these folk the only reasonable means of defence is the Vaccination Passport. Denied access to all the usual locations of friendly and productive human interaction may not convince the anti-vaxxers that they are wrong about the vaccine, but, over time, it just might wear them down. There is very little in this world that is harder for human-beings to bear than being shunned by society and excluded from its benefits. What’s more, at no more than 5 percent of the population, their recalcitrance may very soon cease to be a problem. In saving themselves, the “pro-social” may end up saving the “anti-social” as well.

When it comes to the Death-Cult Capitalists, however, New Zealand faces a much more serious threat.

This vicious minority of the population isn’t against vaccination, it’s against the whole idea of society in general, and the state in particular, going to such lengths to protect the weak and the vulnerable. They regard the very idea of locking down a whole country, or even an entire city, as abhorrent.

Imposing costs upon businesses, and constraining free-market forces, is seen as far more damaging in the longer-term than losing a few hundred, or even a few thousand, of society’s weakest links. They chafe at the restrictions imposed upon them – especially those impeding their freedom of movement. That mere politicians are daring to tell them what they can do, and where they can go, is experienced by these people as the worst kind of tyranny – the “North Korean option”.

Rather than celebrate their government, and their fellow citizens, engaging in the practical application of social solidarity, kindness and love; they look at their country and see only a “smug hermit kingdom”.

Such people are a far cry from the hesitant, the misinformed, and the anti-vaxxers. The worst you can say of these folk is that they are either frightened, deluded or wrong – sometimes all three at once. But for those who see human existence as a pitiless struggle to determine the survival of the fittest; for those who see human-beings as means to an end, never as ends in themselves; for those who would let thousands die rather than see the strong restrained in any way; for these people there is only one word: Evil.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 1 October 2021.

Friday, 1 October 2021

Thoroughly Planned and Carefully Targeted.

The Man With The Plan: As Key the political strategist understands with crystal clarity, the 400,000+ former National voters who defected to Labour in 2020 are the only people who matter. Their sheer numbers represent something pretty close to 20 percent of the electorate. Win them back and National instantly regains electoral competitiveness. Fail to win them back, and National has no viable pathway to power. 

JOHN KEY seldom ventures into the public realm without a plan. He didn’t make his millions, or get to be New Zealand’s prime minister for eight years, on a whim. Certainly, there was nothing whimsical about his now notorious op-ed contribution to last Sunday’s newspapers. His people were setting that up at least three days prior to its publication. What’s more he was primed and ready when, inevitably, the news media came a-calling. As the famous American trade unionist, Joe Hill, might have said: “This didn’t just happen, this was organised!”

But, organised to what end? That is the key question.

Let’s begin with the op-ed piece itself. Essentially, this offhand effort had only one serious purpose – to supply a few hundred words to wrap around a handful of key phrases: “smug hermit kingdom”, “North Korean option”, “ruling by fear”. These were the super-spreaders of the anti-government virus which Key’s op-ed piece seemed so determined to circulate.

And its target, plainly, was the huge number – well over 400,000 – of National Party voters who defected to Labour in last year’s general election. The voters who rewarded Jacinda Ardern for getting them (and the rest of New Zealand) through the worst (or so they thought!) of the Covid-19 Pandemic.

Because, as Key the political strategist understands with crystal clarity, these are the only people who matter to National. Their sheer numbers represent something pretty close to 20 percent of the electorate. Win them back and National instantly regains electoral competitiveness. Fail to win them back, and National has no viable pathway to power. Clearly, Key is of the view that the present leader of the National Party either cannot, or will not, grasp this – the central reality of contemporary New Zealand politics – and he intends to do something about it.

Re-reading Key’s op-ed piece, it is hard to avoid the impression that its most arresting phrases and sentences were not included because they made much sense, or possessed the inestimable advantage of being true, but because they had tested well in a focus-group composed of precisely the sort of voters National needs to regain power: well-educated, independent, middle-class women.

One sentence, in particular, caught my eye:

“The only urgency we’ve seen for months is an enthusiasm to lock down our country, lock up our people and lock out our citizens who are overseas.”

This is a superbly constructed piece of political rhetoric – not least on account of Key’s threefold repetition of the word “lock”: lock down, lock up, lock out. But, if these words tested well, then we must conclude that the enthusiasm of those well-educated, independent, middle-class women is beginning to wane. Not to the point of returning to the National fold. Not, at least, while Judith Collins is minding the store. But enough to smile grimly at “smug hermit kingdom” and nod enthusiastically at lock down, lock up and lock out.

How many of these women have a friend or relative overseas who is desperate to get back home – but can’t? How many are beginning to despair of ever seeing Tuscany, or Melbourne, again? How many of them, though still loyal to “Jacinda”, are fast losing faith in her “strategy”? How many of them would go back to National, if only National had something – or someone – worth going back for?

One of the lessons John Key undoubtedly learned on the currency trading-floor was the towering unwisdom of sending good money after bad. The same, of course, applies in politics. There is absolutely no point in fighting with Act over the ideological red-meat so beloved by National’s rural and provincial voters. If David Seymour wants them – then take them! After all, what’s he going to do with them? Enter into a coalition with Labour? The Greens? Te Paati Māori?

Key knows that those well-educated, independent, middle-class women are never going to vote for a party guided by a bunch of Bible-thumping rural red-necks. Better they all go to Seymour and Act, than hang around stinking-up National so badly all the fine ladies decide to stick with Jacinda and her “progressive” policies. As the Chair of a major bank, Key is keenly aware of how far up the corporate food-chain “wokeness” has percolated.

Oh yes, Key’s op-ed intervention was thoroughly planned, but it was also carefully targeted. And not just at Jacinda!

This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 1 October 2021.

Thursday, 30 September 2021

Blame Games.

The Pathologies Of Poverty: And all this must have been known. In the ministries of Social Development, Health, Education and Corrections. In the Police. Politicians must have known about it, too. How could they not? When, every day, the victims of their “Look markets – no hands!” policies were beating a desperate pathway to their electorate office doors? But knowing something, and doing something aren’t always the closest of neighbours. Often they’re as far apart as Devonport is from Otara, and Remuera from Otahuhu.

AND SO, at last, we understand what building your house on someone else’s home means. It means living on top of those who were here before you. It means doing everything within your power to prevent them from getting out from under your crushing weight – and standing upright. It means always having someone to blame.

It means packing your poorest, your most desperate citizens, into a handful of ramshackle South Auckland suburbs. Requiring them to send their kids to substandard schools. Providing them with hospitals that start falling apart even before they are finished. Denying them an effective system of public transport. Paying them the minimum wage. Crowding them into sub-standard accommodation. Policing them harshly. Imprisoning them in shamefully disproportionate numbers. Offering them little, if any, rehabilitation when they are in jail.

And now, as if all this beneficence wasn’t enough, it means expecting them to co-operate fully with the authorities in the fight against the Delta variant of Covid-19.

And amazingly (given their treatment) most of the Māori and Pasifika residents of South Auckland are doing exactly that – co-operating fully. In spite of being shut in behind a complex motorway system that might almost have been designed for the purpose of keeping South Auckland out of sight and out of mind. In spite of all the evidence indicating that when Covid arrives it heads straight for the poorest part of town. In spite of Māori and Pasifika community workers warning those charged with managing the Covid-19 pandemic that the official messaging was all wrong for their people. In spite of everything the Pakeha powers-that-be did, or, more accurately, failed to do, the Māori and Pasifika residents of South Auckland are getting tested – and vaccinated – in their tens-of-thousands.

And inevitably, it isn’t enough.

Maybe, if successive governments had spent the last thirty years building the sort of state housing that the soon-to-be-dismantled Housing Corporation was perfecting in the early 1980s, then the people of South Auckland would have been sheltered from the Coronavirus in decent, publicly-owned and properly maintained homes.

Maybe, if those same governments had worked co-operatively with South Auckland not-for-profits and cultural institutions to design and support a system of health delivery attuned to the needs and preferences of Māori and Pasifika families, then, when Covid-19 arrived, those same families would not have fallen prey to misinformers and conspiracy theorists.

Maybe, if both National and Labour had entertained the truly radical notion that entrusting local communities with the power and the resources to teach their children in a way that made them proud of their successes, rather than ashamed of their failures, then the talent and entrepreneurial spirit abounding in those same communities might have been invested in something more personally and socially rewarding than criminal gangs.

But, because those past governments didn’t, our present government is continuing the practice of crowding individuals and families into motels and boarding-houses. It is difficult to imagine an environment better suited to the spread of a virus – especially one as infectious as the Delta variant of Covid-19. (Concentrating so many of the gangs’ actual and potential clients in these places must also be acknowledged as extremely helpful – although not to public health, or personal security.)

And all this must have been known. In the ministries of Social Development, Health, Education and Corrections. In the Police. Politicians must have known about it, too. How could they not? When, every day, the victims of their “Look markets – no hands!” policies were beating a desperate pathway to their electorate office doors? But knowing something, and doing something aren’t always the closest of neighbours. Often they’re as far apart as Devonport is from Otara, and Remuera from Otahuhu.

And, truth to tell, all of us living in the House of Middle-Class Pakeha know that our wealth and comfort comes with a hefty price-tag. It’s just that we’ve learnt how to defer calculating the cost by keeping the decaying communities of the poor, rank with the stench of deprivation and discarded dreams, as far away from our leafy suburbs as possible. Out of sight, out of mind, works every bit as well for the “boguns” and the “boofheads” of the Pakeha working-class as it does for Māori and Pasifika communities – better, in a way, since working-class Pakeha lack the conscience-tugging combination of ethnicity and indigeneity.

But, guilty consciences are difficult to live with. Especially when it becomes clear that all the te Reo speaking and name-changing that guilt-ridden Pakeha can be bullied into accepting will not make one South Auckland family richer or better housed. Unfortunately, where consciences turn sour, prejudices tend to flourish. Once the idea takes root that leafy Auckland is being kept from its pleasures by homeless Māori and Pasifika, the demands will not be slow in coming for South Auckland to be locked-down, ring-fenced, and left to stew in its own Covid juices.

It is then we will discover just how securely the House of Pakeha has been built on the home of Māori. How willing tangata whenua truly are to go on carrying its weight – and accepting its blame.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Thursday, 30 September 2021.