Friday 30 July 2021

The Sin Of Cheapness.

Commodities, Commodities, Everywhere - And None Of Them Are Cheap! No less an authority than the Commerce Commission has determined that New Zealanders are paying too much for their food and groceries. An apparent aversion to aggressive competition has led the dominant players to match one another’s’ prices rather than better them. This is not the way a “healthy” market is supposed to work. Ergo, the whole industry needs a shake-up. 

IS THE EDITOR of The Daily Blog correct? Would New Zealanders benefit from the creation a state-owned supermarket chain? Unburdened by the obligation to return a healthy dividend to private shareholders, would “KiwiShop” really be free to supply the highest quality food and groceries to the public at the lowest possible prices?

Let’s see.

The rationale for this level of state intervention is, presumably, to break up the cosy duopoly of Woolworths and Foodstuffs. No less an authority than the Commerce Commission has determined that New Zealanders are paying too much for their food and groceries. An apparent aversion to aggressive competition has led the dominant players to match one another’s’ prices rather than better them. This is not the way a “healthy” market is supposed to work. Ergo, the whole industry needs a shake-up.

The first question, naturally, is whether or not the present government possesses the will to involve the state directly in the distribution of such crucial commodities. Given that the Minister in charge of the process is David Clark, the chances seem slim. This former Treasury boffin remains firmly wedded to the Neoliberal economic model. It is, therefore, difficult to see him pushing such a democratic-socialist project through Cabinet. Nor, if we’re being truthful, is it very likely that the Minister of Finance, Grant Robertson, would give such a project his blessing. Both Labour politicians still subscribe to David Lange’s famous taunt: “You can’t run a country like a Polish shipyard!” (Or, they would probably add, a Soviet supermarket.)

It would be easy to stop at this point, and simply close the argument with a terse: “It’s not going to happen.” But, let’s not do that. Let’s assume, instead, that the entire Cabinet, after a special screening of “Reds”, decides to embrace the “cheap food for the people” proposition with both arms. Let’s follow the idea through to some sort of conclusion.

The first point to make under this scenario is that Woolworths and Foodstuffs will continue to trade. KiwiShop is there to compete with all the New Worlds, Pak n Saves and Countdowns – not replace them.

Hmmmmm. Tricky.

Part of KiwiShop’s remit is to give the growers and suppliers of food products a fair price for their offerings. Presumably, this would be a higher price that the price offered by either Foodstuffs or Woolworths? But, if they’re paying their suppliers more, wouldn’t they be required to charge their customers more? That would not be a very good way to start: with the private supermarkets offering their customers cheaper fruit and vegetables than the state-owned store. People would laugh. Right-wingers would crow. Jacinda would not be impressed.

The situation would not be improved if the private supermarkets embarked on a policy of driving up the wholesale prices of everything the state supermarket needed to purchase in order to remain competitive. If successful, this strategy would also lead to KiwiShop’s prices displaying no appreciable advantage over those of the private distributors.

The pressure would be on KiwiShop’s management to undercut their competitors’ prices – even at a loss to its public owners. It’s easy to imagine the Opposition parties demanding to know the cost to the taxpayer of this expensive counter-strategy. The luckless Minister would soon be inundated with Official Information Act requests. Jacinda would be even less impressed.

One way out of this rapidly deteriorating situation would be to announce that staple items – bread, cereals, rice, milk, cheese, meat, fruit and vegetables – would be significantly subsidised in KiwiShop supermarkets. Subsidies not available in privately-owned supermarkets.

Problem solved? Well, no, not really. The private supermarket owners would immediately file a complaint with the Commerce Commission, quite rightly asserting that the Government was screwing the scrum.

Moreover, Woolworths and Foodstuffs would not be the only complainants. New Zealand has puts its signature to a host of international agreements outlawing the state subsidisation of commodities – especially subsidies intended to disadvantage private sector suppliers. The Commerce Commission wouldn’t be the only body telling the Government to cease and desist. By now, one suspects, Jacinda would be getting really pissed-off.

At this point the NZCTU might well suggest that an even better way to run Foodstuffs and Woolworths out of the market would be to start paying KiwiShop workers much higher wages. Failure to match the state’s wage-rates would spark a major worker push-back. On the other hand, conceding wage parity with KiwiShop employees would slash the supermarket owners’ profits.

You know, that strategy just might work.

Or, it might not. It is difficult to see the Opposition parties – let alone the employers’ representative bodies – sitting back and doing nothing in the face of such a blatant attack on the capitalist system. If the Labour Government was allowed to get away with rendering the privately-owned distribution sector unprofitable, then what was to stop it from doing the same to any other sector it fancied taking over? Faced with what they would undoubtedly interpret as an existential threat, the capitalist ruling-class would start gearing-up for a God Almighty fight.

It always ends up here. Deploy the full resources of the state against one profitable capitalist player, and very soon you’ll be faced with the necessity of deploying its resources against them all. The capitalist class has no objection to the state taking over businesses which cannot provide a return on their owners’ investment. (It’s called “socialising the losses”.) But the state attempting to muscle in on money-making enterprises, well, that’s a whole different ball-game. A ball-game called Socialism. A ball-game which capitalism cannot afford to let the state, or anybody else, play – let alone win!

Which means that even a project as benign and necessary as providing affordable food and groceries to the poorest New Zealanders will, in the end, require a full-scale revolution. Now, I’m confident that Comrade-Editor Martyn “Bomber” Bradbury is more than willing to mount the barricades for social and economic justice. But can anyone see Jacinda, Grant Robertson, the Cabinet, or the rest of the Labour caucus, joining him in the violent overthrow of New Zealand’s capitalist system? Why not? Because the bosses cannot be defeated with kindness.

The basic necessities of life are sold as expensively as possible, because the capitalists owe it to their shareholders not to commit the unpardonable sin of selling them cheap.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 30 July 2021.

Should We Trust The Science – Or Ourselves?

Pure” Science: The lesson to be drawn from the history of science, however, is that knowledge is always and everywhere embedded in culture. That the one cannot be separated from the other. Culture can empower knowledge, or suppress it; advance it or divert it to the utmost wickedness. Knowledge goes where it’s told.  

“TRUST THE SCIENCE” – those three words have become the mantra of the global fight against Covid-19. That the population must be exhorted to trust the advice of scientists, however, speaks directly to humanity’s diminishing faith in the scientific ethos. There was a time when politicians didn’t have to ask.

Nowhere has this loss of faith been demonstrated more dramatically that on the streets of London, Paris and, closer to home, Sydney. Once revered as a secular priesthood, scientists are now depicted as the willing accomplices of tyrants hellbent on the elimination of all human freedoms. One utterly deranged London protester breathlessly recalled that doctors and nurses had faced the judges at Nuremberg – “and they were hung!”

Leaving aside the absurdity of equating NHS doctors and nurses with Joseph Mengele and his entourage, the reference to the Nazi era is curiously apposite. Scientists of every kind flocked to the new Nazi regime. From rocketeer Werner von Braun, to atomic scientist Werner Heisenberg, scientists embraced Hitler’s new order as the invincible vector of rational modernity. The intellectual promoters of “scientific racism” and eugenics looked forward to working at the cutting edge of a ruthless, ultra-radical, technological society; unburdened by sentiment and driven exclusively by unfettered science.

So, what does this tell us about “the science”? The lesson to be drawn is that knowledge is always and everywhere embedded in culture. That the one cannot be separated from the other. Culture can empower knowledge, or suppress it; advance it or divert it to the utmost wickedness. Knowledge goes where it’s told.

In the guise of scientists, the holders and manipulators of knowledge often pretend to a status entirely independent of the inexactitude of cultural impulses and individual prejudices. But, as the horrific history of the Third Reich bears witness, those calling themselves scientists proved no less susceptible to the ethno-nationalist culture of Nazism than the most thuggish stormtrooper.

Unsurprisingly, scientists resist these assertions with considerable energy. Here in New Zealand, battle has recently been joined between those who argue that “Matauranga Maori”, the Maori way of knowledge, is no less deserving of respect and inculcation than “Western Science”; and those who insist that science and the scientific method transcend all indigenous understandings of the way the world works.

The seven highly respected scientists who penned a letter to the New Zealand Listener (31/7/21) expressing similar reservations, were particularly perturbed by an NCEA working group’s claim that “science is a Western European invention and itself evidence of European dominance over Maori and other indigenous peoples.”

From an historical perspective, however, the seven letter-writers’ objection to this characterisation of science is extremely difficult to uphold. The relationship between race and science in the history of Western imperialism is simply too strong; and the brutal uses to which the fruits of scientific inquiry were put, too irrefutable. Science both enabled – and justified – the European conquest of the world.

By contrast, Matauranga Maori recognises the wisdom of knowledge and culture working together: each one both tempering and expanding the other. Or, as the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor, Dame Juliet Gerrard, wrote back in 2019:

“[Matauranga Maori’s] approach of embedding practice in society and grounding the project in a community of acceptance before it starts is the very model of ensuring impact and connectivity. Often those trained in Western traditions, however fine, struggle to grasp this until it is perhaps too late. How many technologies will be developed in isolation before we learn that we need to engage our publics sooner, not later, to make sure there is cultural license to proceed?”

Another way of describing this approach might be “the democratisation of science”. Certainly, the tradition of citizen scientists, operating independently of big business and the state, and applying their scientific discoveries in ways that brought obvious benefits to ordinary people, goes a long way towards explaining why Europeans initially embraced the achievements of science.

It was what Churchill called “perverted science” that sowed the seeds of popular doubt and scepticism. Science without scruple or sanction; science driven by national self-aggrandisement and/or private profit.

Dame Juliet suggests that: “To turn the tide on anti-science sentiment, we need to reframe our science as ‘here to serve’ and ‘here to listen’.”

This is all Matauranga Maori asks. Not that we “trust the science”, but that we trust ourselves.

This essay was originally published by The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 30 July 2021.

Thursday 29 July 2021

Holes in the Tundra: Why Burping Cows Are the Least of Our Worries.

The Great Escape: If the Eurasian permafrost mantle melts, then the gigatons of stored Methane released will trigger runaway global warming. Basically, we – and just about all the other animals on the planet – will be cooked. And, guess what? The permafrost is melting: at an alarming rate and in the most spectacular fashion. For more than a decade now, huge holes in the tundra have been appearing all across Siberia – evidence of massive methane eruptions.

THE GREENS would like to see New Zealand’s dairy herd diminished … substantially. Not only would this go a long way to reducing the farming sector’s excessive methane emissions, but it would also assist mightily in cleaning up New Zealand’s waterways. Fair enough. Just so long as those same Greens are willing to tell the voters that a policy of reducing the number of cows is, at the same time, a policy of reducing their living standards. Now, it’s possible that upwards of 10 percent of Kiwis are happy to wear that – for the planet. Much more likely, however, is that upwards of 50 percent are not.

New Zealand’s dairy herd has increased substantially for a very good reason. More dairy cows were needed to compensate for the falling revenues from meat and wool. The year-on-year increases in New Zealand’s dairy production bear testimony to the energy and skill of her dairy farmers who, in the space of barely 25 years, have transformed the New Zealand countryside to accommodate their industry’s phenomenal expansion.

Did they know this would come at a huge environmental cost? You bet your life! As did successive governments. Did they go ahead anyway? Of course! Had they not, this country would be a lot poorer, and its people considerably unhappier. Unhappy voters may be acceptable to the Greens, but as far as the other political parties are concerned, courting the voters’ displeasure is a less-than-optimal election strategy.

Herein lies the problem with Climate Change. Everyone knows it should have been stopped. Everyone knows it could have been stopped. Everyone knows it’s not going to be stopped. Or, rather, no one’s going to make a serious effort to stop Climate Change until its far too late. And it’s already far too late.

In Norway, just a few days ago, in a little town well north of the Arctic Circle, the temperature topped 30 degrees Celsius. Temperatures even more extreme have been recorded in Northern Siberia. What’s that drip-drip-dripping sound? Well, yes, it’s what’s left of the Arctic ice shelf melting away. More ominously, however, it’s the sound of the Eurasian mantle of permafrost turning to slush. Now if you think cows pose a methane problem, then the methane problem arising from melting permafrost is just going to ruin your whole day.

Not to put too fine a point upon it, if the Eurasian permafrost mantle melts, then the gigatons of stored Methane released will trigger runaway global warming. Basically, we – and just about all the other animals on the planet – will be cooked. The melting of the permafrost would, therefore, constitute an extinction level event – essentially, it would be unsurvivable. And, guess what? The permafrost is melting: at an alarming rate and in the most spectacular fashion. For more than a decade now, huge holes in the tundra have been appearing all across Siberia – evidence of massive methane eruptions. And that’s just for starters! Eurasia has barely begun to belch!

So, please forgive my guffaws when the likes of Andrea Vance start lecturing New Zealand’s farmers on Climate Change. As if the burps of our cows are in any way comparable to the vast methane burps already wafting up from the Siberian tundra. Do these folk not realise that we could slaughter every last dairy cow in New Zealand and the world’s climate scientists would struggle to measure the effect? Don’t they know that New Zealand contributes just 0.17 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions? Are they unable to grasp that the ever-increasing frequency of extreme weather events is proof that humanity is already in the grip of a planetary crisis from which it cannot extract itself? Certainly not by purchasing electric cars and embracing a vegan lifestyle? Why do we applaud this kind of empty virtue-signalling? It’s nuts.

Just how nuts is demonstrated by the fact that New Zealand is now importing dirty Indonesian coal to keep the Huntly Power Station’s furnaces glowing. Yes, that’s right, having shut down our own coal mines, we are reduced to loading the stuff onto huge ships and sailing it across the ocean. When, finally, it reaches our shores we transfer it into specially designed railway wagons and transport it to the Waikato, where Genesis Energy sends the fatal by-product of its combustion up two mighty chimneys and into the atmosphere. According to the hapless Energy Minister, Meagan Woods, we are going to have to keep on doing this for at least the next ten years – by which time a vast hydro project in the South Island will apparently be ready to take up the slack.

Not good enough for Forest and Bird. Its Director, Kevin Hague (a former Green MP) is insisting that burning coal is just plain immoral, and that Huntly be decommissioned immediately. New Zealanders, he says, will just have to make do with less electricity.

Huh! That means when the hydro lakes are too low; when there’s insufficient sunlight to power-up the solar panels; and when the wind’s not blowing hard enough to turn the big turbines; the lights will go out. The stove won’t work. And, if we’re in the grip of a heatwave like the one frying western Canada and the United States, the air-conditioning will stop keeping us cool. Since keeping the lights on, and the air cool, is the very least we expect from our politicians, those deemed responsible for plunging us into an overheated darkness are bound to get a real electoral kicking.

Which pretty much brings us back to where we started. Coming to terms with the fact that Climate Change is a bit like Heaven. Everybody wants to get there, but nobody wants to die. We know the planet must be saved, but we are unwilling to make the sacrifices necessary to save it. When the American Vice-President, Dick Cheney, fresh from his secret 2001 conclave with the big oil companies, declared: “The American way of life is not negotiable.” He knew what he was talking about. It would be foolish to think that New Zealanders are any different.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Tuesday, 27 July 2021.

Monday 26 July 2021

A Conversation That Never Happened.

Attribution Error: “Well, Sir, the Ministry of State Security has absolutely nothing to gain by going after Microsoft Exchange. It’s not its style – way too public. The MSS would never draw attention to its activities in so dramatic a fashion. I mean, there is absolutely nothing in it for them to have the world believing Beijing is reading its e-mails. The motto of the MSS has always been: ‘Nobody knows that we went in, and nobody knows what we took out’. I just don’t believe it was them.”

WELLINGTON HARBOUR was always worth looking at. Sipping thoughtfully at his cup of Earl Grey, Adam Freeman took in the comforting vista. He was in need of comfort, he told himself, after what he could only describe as a very odd meeting. Bamboozling the public was one thing, the preservation of national security more or less required a certain amount of economy with the truth. But bamboozling ourselves, he thought, not to mention our Minister, that’s dangerous. Seeing things clearly, he had always assumed, was the Alpha and the Omega of keeping the nation secure.

A gentle knock on his office door, interrupted these uneasy musings. He looked up to see the youthful countenance of Matthew Stubbs. Youthful but full of care, Adam thought to himself. The young IT wizard looked as worried as he felt.

“Come in, Matthew,” he said placing his teacup carefully on its saucer. “What can I do for you?”

“Forgive the interruption, Sir,” the young man replied, “but I was wondering if I could share some thoughts with you in confidence.”

“Depends on the thoughts, Matthew. Depends on the thoughts.”

The young man smiled wanly. “I suppose it does, Sir, yes.”

“Sit down, boy, and let’s find out.”

Matthew seated himself in the nearest of the comfortable leather chairs positioned to one side of his superior’s desk. Adam swung round to face him.

“Well then, let’s have it. What are these thoughts that require my confidence and discretion?”

“All that stuff about the Microsoft Exchange hack being sponsored by the Chinese Ministry of State Security that we fed to the Minister.”


“Well, I just don’t think it’s true, Sir. I mean, I don’t see how it could possibly be true.”

“Go on.” Inwardly, Adam breathed a huge sigh of relief. He wasn’t the only one who thought this intel was dodgy.

“Well, Sir, the MSS has absolutely nothing to gain by going after Microsoft Exchange. It’s not its style – way too public. The MSS would never draw attention to its activities in so dramatic a fashion. I mean, there is absolutely nothing in it for them to have the world believing Beijing is reading its e-mails. The motto of the MSS has always been: ‘Nobody knows that we went in, and nobody knows what we took out’. I just don’t believe it was them.”

“You’re not buying the ‘Advanced Persistent Threat 40’ linkage, Matthew?”

“APT 40? No, Sir. They’re just a bunch of varsity students, MSS interns probably, looking to earn brownie points with their future bosses. They’d never dream of hacking Microsoft without the express backing of the highest military and party authorities. And, as I said, the highest authorities would never expose the PRC to the sort of global outrage that the disclosure of such an operation would inevitably entail.”

Adam leaned forward, fixing the young man with his best basilisk glare. “So, if it wasn’t the MSS, and it wasn’t APT 40, then who was it?”

“Best guess, Sir? It wasn’t the Chinese at all. My money, as always, would be on the Russians. Oh, I know, I know, it’s possible that the hack could have been the work of a Chinese criminal operation. Thing is, Sir, crime gangs like that don’t really exist in the PRC. Security and surveillance is just too all-enveloping. Which isn’t to say that corruption isn’t rampant throughout Chinese society. But acquiring and selling real estate by illegal means is one thing; endangering the security of the state by going after a software giant like Microsoft, well, that’s something else altogether. Get caught doing something like that, and it’s bullet-in-the-back-of-the-head time – no mucking ‘round.”

Adam, nodded grimly.

“But, Russia’s different.” Matthew continued – warming to his subject. “In Russia, corruption isn’t a bug – it’s a feature. Where the Chinese still believe in the possibility of a perfected world, the Russians have embraced chaos as their friend. Russian nationalists know that with the break-up of the Soviet Union, the geopolitical heft required to claim – let alone maintain – great power status just isn’t there anymore. The people who matter in the Russian Federation know their country is getting weaker, and that there’s not a lot they can do to stop it. So, they have, quite correctly, concluded that the only viable geopolitical strategy available to them is to make their principal rivals even weaker. To tip them into an even tighter spiral of decline.”

“Am I to take from that, Matthew, that you buy into the ‘Trump As Russian Trojan Horse’ argument?”

“To a certain extent, Sir. But, honestly, I don’t think Putin and the FSB are all that interested in complex plans. Their strategy is much more one of manufacturing as many dragon’s teeth as they can, and sowing them wherever they can. That’s why it’s so difficult to separate the Russian state from the Russian criminal fraternity. The Kremlin likes – and needs – a revolving-door of plausibly deniable cut-outs. If a plan works, they’ll claim it as their own. If it fails, then those involved will either be made examples of in a courtroom cage, or buried in a lonely forest clearing.

“So, if you’re ‘Chaos Theory’ is correct, Matthew, then the Russians wouldn’t hesitate to penetrate and disable Microsoft Exchange. The more mayhem the merrier?”

“Exactly, Sir.”

“And the same strategy isn’t available to the Chinese?”

“Not really, Sir. Above all else, the Chinese prize order. Chaos terrifies them. Chaos is what follows when the Mandate of Heaven is withdrawn. Chaos is proof that you’ve failed. And, from what I’ve observed over the past few years, the Communist Party of China doesn’t really ‘do’ failure. Which is why I was so surprised to hear the Director-General attribute the Microsoft hack to the Chinese Government with such certainty – to the Minister, of all people! I mean we don’t really ‘do’ certainty – do we Sir?”

Adam leaned back in his chair and chuckled. He’d picked Matthew Stubbs as a high-flyer from the day he joined the Bureau, and he was congratulating himself heartily for his perspicacity. Had he not been feeling quite so pleased with himself, then perhaps he would not have responded to Matthew’s question so fulsomely.

“No, Matthew, you’re quite right, we don’t ‘do’ certainty – not in matters of national security – not unless we’re told.”

Matthew’s brow furrowed theatrically. “I’m sorry, Sir?”

“Oh come on, Matthew, join the dots?” Truth to tell, Adam was only just joining the dots himself. Even so, he was quite sure he’s solved the puzzle that had been confusing him and his young protégé.”

“ Think, Matthew, think! The news about the ‘Pegasus’ intercepts hits the front pages all over North America and Europe. The whole world is treated to a cautionary tale involving the Israelis, one of their plausibly deniable cut-outs – the mysterious NSO Group – and a piece of spyware that allows all manner of dubious regimes to take over the cellphones of political and/or journalistic irritants and transform them into more-or-less continuous transmitters of high-grade, and potentially fatal, intelligence.”

“Fatal, Sir?”

“Fatal, Matthew. How do you think the Saudi Crown Prince knew exactly where to send his team of assassins to chop up poor old Jamal Khashoggi? Pegasus, Matthew, Pegasus. Not the sort of story that reflects too well upon our Five Eyes friends and their friends – is it? Especially when all of us are using Pegasus – or something as close to it as makes little difference – to keep tabs on our own ‘irritants’. Besides, start people thinking about Western-sponsored hacking, and pretty soon they’ll be remembering Stuxnet and all the fun the Israelis and Americans had wrecking the Iranians’ centrifuges.”


“Yes, Mathew, ‘Ah.’ Ah, with bells on! So, what is the standard operating procedure when the misdeeds of the West’s intelligence gathering agencies start making headlines?”

“Distraction by way of Projection, Sir. We immediately accuse our enemies of doing exactly what we’ve been doing. Nothing resonates so forcefully with the mainstream news media like an accusation packed with the raw emotional power of psychological projection. Lay a trail using that as bait and the newshounds are off like foxhounds.”

“Matthew, I am supremely confident that you have a very bright future with the Bureau – providing you remember one thing.”

“What’s that, Sir?”

“Conversations like this one never happen.”

“What conversation, Sir?”

This short story was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 23 July 2021.

Engineering A Miracle: Can Judith Collins Reprise Rob Muldoon?

Miracle Worker? But Judith Collins and National cannot regain power by simply hoping for the worst. Elections are won by politicians like Rob Muldoon, who persuade the voters that the incumbent government is the worst choice.

WAITING FOR THE MIRACLE, as Leonard Cohen observed, is an agonising test. Especially if its arrival is far from certain. Judith Collins is living through that test right now. Convinced that political disquiet is taking hold of more and more New Zealanders, she waits for evidence of its existence outside National’s rural heartlands. Collins’ “Demand the Debate” campaign has undoubtedly stirred the latter, but is her caucus capable of holding its nerve until those former National supporters who voted Labour in 2020 start showing similar signs of feeling “left out”?

The “Groundswell” protests of 16 July 2021 were generated primarily by the Government’s unrelenting imposition of regulatory responsibilities on an already stressed rural sector. Farmer anger and impatience was readily mobilised because rural dwellers still enjoy a significant degree of effective political representation and are well-used to participating in decision-making forums. Federated Farmers, in particular, reaches into every wool- and milking-shed in the country. The Fonterra co-operative is run by and for its highly engaged farmer members. Farmers are used to having their say – and being heeded.

Collins’ problem is that the rest of New Zealand has become decidedly rusty at defending its interests. Gone are the days when working-class Kiwis could rely upon their peak trade union body, the Federation of Labour, to flex its industrial and political muscle on their behalf. The current peak union body, the NZ Council of Trade Unions, is overwhelmingly a middle-class institution dominated by the Public Service Association, the teacher unions and the Nurses Organisation. Since its formation in 1987, the NZCTU has operated as a “top-down” organisation. Recent historical experience suggests that middle-class unions don’t ask their members – they tell them. (That Labour and Green activists are drawn disproportionately from this social layer and its representative structures is no accident – a point we shall return to presently.)

That the National Party lacks the ability to raise Cain in either the working-class or the professional middle-class with the same swift effectiveness that it rouses the ire of rural New Zealand is a truism of New Zealand politics. Only Rob Muldoon demonstrated any facility for breaching the electoral and cultural defences of the working-class, and even then, his infamous “Rob’s Mob” encompassed only a small fraction of New Zealand workers.

National’s grasp upon the professional middle-class first began to weaken in the 1970s, but it was the Springbok Tour of 1981 that generated the first really significant migration of professional support from National to Labour, where – with a worrying wobble-or-two under John Key – it largely remains. Poor performance by Labour may send some of this social-liberal support leftward to the Greens, but only rarely does it flow rightward to National.

Among the conventionally wise, National’s “Demand the Debate” campaign is dismissed as dangerously mistargeted. By their reckoning, Covid-19 and its economic fallout remains the central issue of New Zealand politics. A serious misstep on the part of Jacinda Ardern’s government in relation to the Coronavirus – most especially an outbreak of its highly infectious Delta variant in the community – is seen as the eventuality most likely to move the needle decisively in National’s direction.

While it is hard to argue that a Delta variant outbreak would not, indeed, rebound to National’s electoral advantage, that does not free the main Opposition party from its obligation to take the political fight to the Government on other issues of public concern. After all, the Delta variant may not break through the border. By the end of the year, most adult New Zealanders may have received both jabs of the Pfizer vaccine. As predicted, inflationary pressures may prove to be temporary. New Zealand’s economic growth may continue to surge ahead of forecasts. National cannot regain power by simply hoping for the worst.

While massive and widespread economic dislocation remains the principal reason for Governments being hustled out of office, the same result may befall political leaders for whom a sudden loss of public faith has been engineered. The fates of Richard Nixon, Gough Whitlam, Bill Rowling and Donald Trump bear testimony to how rapidly political fortunes can change when a decisive majority of the voting public gives up on you in disgust. Engineering such a reversal is never easy, but Collins could learn something by studying Muldoon’s demolition of Labour’s Bill Rowling in 1975.

At the heart of Muldoon’s campaign was fear. The First Oil Crisis of 1973 had raised well-justified fears of impending economic dislocation. Rowling’s decision to borrow his way through the crisis was attacked to great effect by the National Party’s “Economic Wizard”. With his in/famous “Dancing Cossacks” political ad’, which characterised the Labour Government’s newly-established Superannuation Fund as an anti-Capitalist Trojan Horse, Muldoon also exploited New Zealanders’ Cold War-stoked fear of socialism.

It was, however, a much more diffused fear that Muldoon exploited most effectively. The fear that the New Zealand in which most of the voting public had grown up was under insidious attack. The moral and political certainties of the post-war years, he asserted, were being undermined by liberals and radicals who held the “traditional values” of the majority in ill-disguised contempt.

Muldoon’s stroke of political genius was to implant the suspicion that these revolutionary ideas had found a home in the upper echelons of the Labour Party. Ideas which had received short shrift when “Big Norm” Kirk was alive, Muldoon insinuated, were now tolerated – even encouraged. The ill-conceived “Citizens for Rowling” campaign was portrayed by National’s leader as a bunch of academics and liberals pouring scorn on a humble champion of the “Ordinary Bloke”. It was out of this febrile political atmosphere that Muldoon distilled National’s winning election slogan of 1975: “New Zealand the way YOU want it.”

If Collins can pull off a reprise of Muldoon’s political miracle, then she, too, can win. For that to happen, however, the normal electoral order of things must be reversed. In 1975, for example, it was not uncommon to see eager young university students waving placards celebrating Labour’s promise of “A New Society” being shouted down by young working-class adults chanting “We Want Rob!” Those young workers had jobs they feared losing, and mortgages they feared being unable to pay. They interpreted Labour’s new society as a threat – not a promise.

Collins must blend together the twin challenges of responding to Climate Change and fighting racial injustice into a single, frightening, threat to the way of life of New Zealand’s comfortable majority. If she can persuade voters that getting rid of their prized SUV’s, sending people to jail for “Hate Speech”, and setting up a separate Maori justice system for the Mongrel Mob, are all illustrative of Labour’s and the Greens’ determination to change everything – irrespective of the wishes of the majority – then there is every chance the electorate will respond negatively.

Should Collins further lace her political concoction with the idea that the Labour/Green “social revolution” is being driven by a new priesthood of public servants, academics, journalists and “woke” members of the helping professions – all of whom have come to regard their less-enlightened (deplorable?) fellow citizens as “suitable cases for treatment” – then she will lead the National Party to an election result as dramatic as Muldoon’s miraculous reversal of fortune.

The only questions that remain to be answered are whether Collins possesses Muldoon’s ruthless and unwavering political aggression; and whether or not her caucus is as terrified of her as Muldoon’s caucus was of him. If the answer to both questions is ‘No’; and Covid-19 can be kept at bay; then in 2023 Jacinda Ardern and Labour will ensure that National remains left out of the debate. Still waiting for the miracle to come.

This essay was originally posted on the website of Monday, 26 July 2021.

Friday 23 July 2021

The Greatest Cyber-Weapon May Be The Truth.

Who's Hacking Who? So, let’s be clear: the very same Western powers who were voicing their alarm at China’s alleged outsourcing of its cyber-attack capabilities to private actors, are the identical Western powers who, for years, have winked at their friends in Jerusalem outsourcing their intelligence gathering to a shadowy Tel Aviv outfit known simply as the NSO Group.

JUST ONCE, wouldn’t it be nice to hear a government give voice to the bleeding-bloody-obvious? To see a Prime Minister, just once, drop the pretense that her “official version” of events, and the truth, are anything other than very distant relations. If nothing else, it would be an extremely interesting experiment. How would the world react?

Such were the thoughts that passed through my head on Tuesday morning when I heard the news about the US-led criticism of the so-called “Chinese Hackers”. Characterised as a shot across China’s bow by the fed-up Western powers – and New Zealand – this ultimatum masquerading as a missive called upon the Chinese Government to rein-in its errant cyber-warriors, or face something considerably worse than a warning being directed at Beijing.

Meanwhile, in the capitals of those Western powers, highly respected newspapers such as The Washington Post and The Guardian were running a horror story about a cyber-weapon called “Pegasus”. Developed by the Israelis, and marketed to a veritable rogues’ gallery of authoritarian nation states, Pegasus allows its purchaser to take over the cellphones of political and/or journalistic irritants and transform them into more-or-less continuous transmitters of high-grade (and potentially fatal) intelligence.

So, let’s be clear: the very same Western powers who were voicing their alarm at China’s alleged outsourcing of its cyber-attack capabilities to private actors, are the identical Western powers who, for years, have winked at their friends in Jerusalem outsourcing their intelligence gathering to a shadowy Tel Aviv outfit known simply as the NSO Group. What’s more, these same powers are expecting us to believe that only “baddies” like the Saudi Arabians and the right-wing populist Hungarians are availing themselves of this state-of-the-art surveillance technology. That the USA, Britain, Canada, Australia (and New Zealand?) would never dream of using Pegasus (or something very like it) to spy on their own “irritants”.

That’s why it would have been so incredibly refreshing to hear Andrew Little, the cabinet minister responsible for the GCSB, call a media conference to announce that the cyber-attack capabilities of the Chinese Government and their arms-length surrogates had now reached the point where effective retaliation against Western penetration of Chinese cyber-space has been demonstrated in the most practical and potentially destructive fashion.

At the very least, such an admission would clear the air of all the smoke which the “Five Eyes” intelligence gathering partnership has been blowing in New Zealanders’ faces for so long. It would also relieve us of the Orwellian obligation to go on believing the unbelievable. Namely, that we and our Five Eyes partners are not constantly engaged in probing and penetrating the cyber-defences of the Chinese, the Russians, and anyone else who pisses off our big mates. That we are not constantly seeking to discover how much they know about what we know; and to, whenever possible, use our own cyber-weapons to degrade, disable and destroy any competitive economic, military and technological edge these “enemy” countries might possess.

With the air thus cleared, we could, perhaps, be spared the sort of rhetoric spouted by one commentator who, on Tuesday morning, compared a recent Chinese hack attack to a “ram raid”. This colourful metaphor casts the United States and its allies in the role of the innocent shopkeeper whose front window is smashed-in, and merchandise stolen, by a car-load of delinquent Orientals. Talk about psychological projection! As if that same innocent shopkeeper, in March 2003, had not, in complete violation of the UN Charter and contrary to International Law, ram-raided his way into a shop called Iraq – and laid it waste.

How much more liberating it would be – for the whole world – if Jacinda Ardern delivered a speech to the United Nations in which she pledged to do all within her power to persuade the great powers of the world that cyber-warfare, like nuclear warfare, can only end in the mutual and assured destruction of the contending powers. That computer viruses, no less than biological viruses, have the potential to bring our intricately interconnected and acutely vulnerable world to its knees.

Imagine her pledging before the UN General Assembly that, henceforth, New Zealand would maintain an exclusively defensive cyber posture, and, paraphrasing Lincoln, declare: “With malice toward none, with kindness to all, let us strive to do everything we can to achieve a just and lasting cyber-peace between nations.”

This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 23 July 2021.

Morbid Symptoms: Why Are Māori Vaccination Rates Plummeting?

Not Enough Shots In The Arm: The percentage of 8-month-old Māori babies in Counties Manukau receiving their primary course of immunisation on time has fallen from 85 percent in May 2020 to 68 percent in May 2021. A report prepared for the Counties Manukau DHB attributes this startling drop-off to: “Cultural microaggressions, white privilege, stereotyping and prejudice.” This is not, however, the only explanation.

MĀORI VACCINATION RATES are plummeting. The percentage of 8-month-old Māori babies in Counties Manukau receiving their primary course of immunisation on time has fallen from 85 percent in May 2020 to 68 percent in May 2021. The data for Pasifika also shows a fall-off in timely immunisation. From 93 percent of babies receiving their primary course on time in October 2020, to 82 percent in May 2021. Those New Zealanders who do not fall into the Māori, Pasifika or Asian categories – presumably the Pakeha population – also registered a slight fall-off. From around 92 percent in 2020 to just under 90 percent in 2021. Only Asian New Zealanders immunised their children in numbers above the 95 percent target rate. Fully 98 percent of their 8-month-olds are receiving their jab on time.

These statistics are grim. Clearly, something important has happened over the course of the past 18 months to discourage Māori parents from immunising their children on time. The most obvious suspect is, of course, the Covid-19 Pandemic. Its disruptive effects tend to be concentrated among the poorest sections of any given population: African-Americans in the USA; peasants and slum-dwellers in India. After the elderly and the chronically-ill, it is the poorly-paid, the poorly-housed and the poorly-educated members of society that Covid-19 strikes down.

An evaluation of the immunisation services provided to the Counties Manukau DHB does not, however, blame Covid-19 for the sudden drop-off in the Māori vaccination rate. The failure to maintain the pre-Covid percentage is, instead, attributed to: “Cultural microaggressions, white privilege, stereotyping and prejudice.” The authors of this evaluation identified “a failing and culturally incompetent system” as the culprit. “Whānau were in a constant state of stress forced to engage in a system that is inherently racist. Implicit and explicit biases, as forms of racism, were present in both whānau and staff interviews.”

The NZ Herald (whose investigative efforts are responsible for bringing the report of the Counties Manukau DHB’s innovation and improvement centre, “Ko Awatea”, to the public’s attention) suggests that its authors are firmly of the view that the racism identified can only be remedied by setting up a framework for radical cultural change within the institution:

“This should aim to decolonise dominant discourse and biases … Understanding of the journey from historical trauma to the manifestation of Māori health status today is integral for staff to increase cultural competency and responsiveness.”

One can only assume that, in this instance, the “dominant discourse and biases” in need of decolonisation is medical science itself. The obvious implication being that the whole notion of “medical science” is a white supremacist construct which arrogantly denies the possibility of any other rational system for understanding and managing the health of human beings.

The scientific method does not, however, acknowledge a place for this kind of relativistic thinking. Quite correctly, scientists warn that if we say that vaccination is just one way among many of successfully controlling potentially fatal communicable diseases, then we are effectively giving anti-vaxxers carte blanche to spread their dangerous lies far and wide. Indeed, one could argue that it would be a particularly pernicious form of racism that pretended to acknowledge the efficacy of indigenous medicines while quietly ensuring that those who placed their trust in “White Medicine” enjoyed measurably better health outcomes than those who were encouraged to believe otherwise.

One might further speculate that the attribution of all Māori misfortunes to the effects of ‘colonisation’, up to and including the transmission of colonial-era trauma (presumably genetically) through successive generations of the colonised, is almost certain to foster a deep-seated mistrust of the colonialists’ descendants. That being the case, there is scant reason for any Māori accepting this explanation to trust a single word the Pakeha Plunket nurses/vaccinators, contracted by the Counties Manukau DHB to lift the level of Māori immunisation, might say.

If so, then the consequences can only have been made more serious by the contemporaneous global upsurge in anti-racist activism driven by the Black Lives Matter movement following the murder of George Floyd by a White American police officer in May 2020. These protests intensified dramatically the conviction (among Whites as well as Blacks) that the evils of White Supremacy were both universal and irreversible. The Day of Jubilee would only come when People of Colour took their futures into their own hands. As that unfolds, they advised, the best thing Whites can do is shut up and get out of their way.

Though essentially unrelated to the anti-racist upsurge, the rapid spread of outlandish conspiracy theories which accompanied the intensification of the global Covid-19 Pandemic contributed hugely to a growing loss of faith in all forms of authority. Not only scientists were challenged, but so, too, were mainstream politicians and journalists. Social-media-generated conspiracies filled the vacuum which this widespread rejection of “the system” had created – especially among those who felt excluded from the good life so many others seemed to enjoy.

Overlay these deep-seated feelings of social inferiority and rejection with ethnicity, and you have the makings of a perfect storm.

That the very health-sector groups most likely to benefit from the Labour Government’s radical plans to restructure the New Zealand health service, might seize upon this opportunity to offer up yet more evidence of the urgent need to create a health service run by Māori, for Māori, within an aggressively decolonised co-governance structure, is hardly surprising.

Most of all, it was important for the decolonisers to keep at bay the most obvious socio-economic explanations for the sudden drop-off in Māori vaccinations. Any notion that the failure to vaccinate their kids on time might have less to do with the fact that they were brown, and a lot more to do with the fact that they were poor, had to be excluded from the explanatory framework.

Certainly, the contribution of Dr Nikki Turner, director of the Immunisation Advisory Centre, would not have been welcomed by the ‘It’s All the Fault of Colonisation’ brigade. In this respect, the final paragraph of Nicholas Jones’ Herald article is the clincher:

“There were many factors behind the drop off, Turner said, including badly stretched health services, the need for more cultural sensitivity, and increasing poverty and stress on families, who move more because of the housing crisis.”

Tragically, the interests tied up in the transformation of the New Zealand health system have little incentive to alienate the economic elites with whom they are, for the moment, collaborating. Māori-Pakeha co-governance may be possible under Capitalism, but the elimination of social and economic injustice is not. The system change we need is not the one foreshadowed in He Puapua.

It was the Italian socialist, Antonio Gramsci, who said it best:

“The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.”

Like plummeting Maori vaccination rates.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Tuesday, 20 July 2021.

Monday 19 July 2021

Free Speech vs Hate Speech – By Numbers.

We Can Stop Guessing: New Zealand owes the newly-formed Free Speech Union (FSU) a debt of gratitude for commissioning Curia Research to find out exactly where the country stands on the Government’s Hate Speech proposals. 

JACINDA ARDERN faces a considerably less daunting task in selling her Hate Speech laws than many of her opponents anticipated. Yes, a clear plurality of New Zealanders either strongly or somewhat oppose the Government’s proposals – 43 percent in total. But, the number of eligible voters who somewhat or strongly support the proposed measures, at 31 percent, represents an extremely solid minority. With 15 percent of voters currently taking a “neutral” stance, the Prime Minister still has everything to play for.

New Zealand owes the newly-formed Free Speech Union (FSU) a debt of gratitude for commissioning Curia Research to find out exactly where the country stands on the Government’s Hate Speech proposals. Prior to this survey, carried out from Monday, 5 July to Thursday, 8 July 2021, those with an interest in this issue were relying upon the responses of 9,000 AM Show viewers, approximately 80 percent of whom declared themselves opposed to the PM’s proposals. While these numbers may have cheered the supporters of Free Speech, they were not reliable. Curia’s scientific poll of 1,000 randomly selected respondents, carefully weighted to reflect the overall voting adult population in terms of gender, age and area, offers a much more accurate snap-shot of public opinion on this issue.

Ardern will be encouraged to discover that 49 percent of those giving their Party Vote to Labour support her Hate Speech proposals, with only 17 percent registering their opposition. This net support figure of 34 percentage points is further bolstered by the Green Party’s net support figure of 55 percentage points. Support for outlawing Hate Speech is clearly emerging as an issue dear to the hearts of left-wing voters.

Significantly, the obverse is even more strongly indicated by right-wing voters. The net corresponding figure for National’s Party Vote shows opponents of the PM’s proposals are leading their supporters by a very solid 47 percentage points. Fully 63 percent of National’s backers are either strongly or somewhat opposed to outlawing Hate Speech. Only 16 percent are prepared to back the proposed measures. Predictably, the Act Party is as strongly opposed to the Hate Speech laws as the Green Party is supportive. 74 percent of Act voters are either strongly or somewhat opposed, with a paltry 9 percent in favour. Act voters’ opposition to the proposed Hate Speech laws outstrips their support by a whopping 65 percentage points!

The Hate Speech issue doesn’t just expose a yawning ideological gap between Left and Right, but a significant gender gap between women and men. Curia Research reveals support for the Prime Minister’s proposed law changes skews heavily in favour of women. 51 percent of men either strongly or somewhat oppose the legislation, compared to 34 percent of women. Women’s support for the measures stands at 35 percent, men’s at 24 percent. As Curia itself noted: “Women’s net support is +1% and men are –27% – a huge gender gap.”

Only in two parts of New Zealand does support for the proposed Hate Speech laws outstrip the opposition. Unsurprisingly, it is in Christchurch – the scene of the deadly mosque shootings – that Curia recorded the highest level of support. Cantabrians in favour of curbing Hate Speech are 13 percentage points ahead of those opposed. In Wellington, the most politicised of New Zealand’s major cities, the positive margin – 5 percentage points – is considerably narrower. In Auckland City, opponents outnumber supporters by 10 percentage points. In the provincial cities the negative margin is narrower, just 2 percentage points. Tellingly, respondents’ negativity soars in New Zealand’s small towns and rural communities, registering 26 percentage points and 32 percentage points respectively.

Only among New Zealanders under the age of 30 does the Curia survey throw up a clear preference for legislative action on Hate Speech. Voters over the age of 30 are not convinced of the need for the imposition of criminal sanctions. The negative margin is narrow for the 31-45 age-group, but it opens up spectacularly for those aged 46-60 years. In this age-group the opponents of Hate Speech laws outnumber supporters by 22 percentage points. This is higher than the negative margin of the over-60s, which Curia measured at just 14 percent.

These results will be of particular concern to the Labour Party and their Green allies. Middle-aged and elderly New Zealanders are by far the most reliable participants in the electoral process. If the FSU [of which it is only fair that I acknowledge my membership to the reader] is successful at turning the Hate Speech legislation into a defining issue of the 2023 General Election, then the votes of its staunchest opponents in the upper age-groups could prove decisive. All the more reason for Labour and the Greens to do everything within their power to mobilise the Youth Vote. Easy to say, of course, but notoriously difficult to do.

Could Labour be rescued on this issue by socio-economic factors? Curia’s results indicate that support for the proposed Hate Speech laws is highest among the wealthiest third of the population, where it stands at 33 percent. The next most supportive are the poorest third, at 30 percent. Least supportive are the middle third, with just 29 percent in favour – and 45 percent against – the Government’s Hate Speech proposals. Overall, however, negativity reigns across all socio-economic groups.

Once again, there is little in the way of good news for Labour and the Greens in these numbers. Socio-economic status and ethnicity in contemporary New Zealand tend to be very closely associated. With Maori, Pasifika and Immigrant communities among the poorest in the country, it might be supposed that support for Hate Speech legislation would have been at its highest. After all, it is people of colour and religious minorities who are the principal targets of Hate Speech. That 41 percent of the poorest third of New Zealanders are either somewhat or strongly opposed to the proposed law changes is surprising – to say the least.

It is important to note that across the Curia survey a pretty consistent figure of around 15 percent of respondents declared themselves to be neutral on the proposed Hate Speech laws. It is for the hearts and minds of these folk that the battle will be entered in earnest. Convince the ”Neutrals” of the need to take decisive action to curb and criminalise Hate Speech, and the Prime Minister will be as close to the magic 50 percent as makes no difference. No Government can afford to go out on a policy limb when 80 percent-plus of the electorate is ranged against it. With voters evenly divided on an issue, however, a Government can go for broke.

As things now stand, the Prime Minister can put considerable faith in a young, well-educated woman from the leafier suburbs of Christchurch or Wellington to cast her vote in favour of a Government committed to fighting Hate Speech. For Judith Collins and David Seymour, however, reliable support for freedom of expression can be expected from a white, male, middle-income earner, nearing retirement and living in a small country town.

Curia’s survey does not make it clear whether this free-speaker drives a double-cab ute, but I wouldn’t bet against it.

This essay was originally posted on the website of Monday, 19 July 2021.

Saturday 17 July 2021

Milley-tary Intervention.

Face Off: Informed that President Donald Trump and his allies were planning to claim victory in the 2020 presidential election and use their control of the federal apparatus to stage what amounted to a coup d’état, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, is said to have responded: “They may try, but they’re not going to fucking succeed. You can’t do this without the military. You can’t do this without the CIA and the FBI. We’re the guys with guns.”

THE SANE HALF of the United States must be breathing a huge sigh of relief. Excerpts from I Alone Can Fix It: Donald J. Trump’s Catastrophic Final Year, by Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker, published today (15/7/21) in The Washington Post, reveal just how important the character of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has become to the fate of the American republic. Confronted with the demands of an out-of-control Donald Trump, a Chairman lacking in General Mark Milley’s determination to defend his country’s constitution may well have buckled. Fortunately, this general was not the buckling kind.

Informed that Trump and his allies were planning to claim victory in the 2020 presidential election and use their control of the federal apparatus to stage what amounted to a coup d’état, Milley is said to have responded:

They may try, but they’re not going to fucking succeed. You can’t do this without the military. You can’t do this without the CIA and the FBI. We’re the guys with guns.

Very true, but in describing the reality of the situation with such uncompromising, gun-metal clarity, Milley was opening up a very large can of worms. The guiding constitutional principle in relation to the armed forces of the United States is that they must, at all times, remain under civilian control. The “Founding Fathers”, most of whom had received a classical education, were only too aware of the role Julius Caesar played in the downfall of the Roman Republic. Generals, they insisted, must be kept on tight civilian leash.

All well and good, but what happens when the civilians in charge (like the Secretary of Defence) are all the carefully selected political creatures of a man intent on making himself President-for-Life – and to hell with the Constitution! – what then?

Well, then it comes down to an unelected military officer deciding, on his own recognisance, that the orders of his Commander-in-Chief (i.e. the President) are unlawful and therefore unconstitutional, and consequently ought not to be obeyed by him, or anybody under his command. Paraphrasing the notorious formula of the US officer in Vietnam: “It would become necessary to destroy the Constitution in order to save it.”

A grim decision. But, the alternative decision: to obey the orders of a Commander-in-Chief who has just invoked the Insurrection Act, or declared a State of National Emergency, in order to steal the election from his opponent and feed the Constitution of the United States into the shredder; would have been even grimmer.

Perhaps word of Milley’s refusal to go along with Trump’s intended autogolpé (the Spanish term for a self-administered coup-d’état) tested the courage of Trump and his supporters to its breaking-point. After all, and as the failure of the attack on the US Capitol Building revealed, any insurrection attempted without the active co-operation of “the guys with guns” is doomed to fail.

Milley’s love of history stood the American people in very good stead during the final, harrowing weeks of 2020 and the first 20 days of 2021. Trump he insisted, was preaching the “Gospel of the Führer” and the USA was facing what he called “a Reichstag moment”. [The destruction of the Reichstag, Germany’s parliament, by a young Communist arsonist, was seized upon by Hitler and his Nazis as proof of an impending Communist uprising requiring the suspension of the German constitution and the authorisation of rule by decree.] A week after the storming of the Capitol Building on 6 January, Milley raged: “These guys are Nazis, they’re boogaloo boys, they’re Proud Boys. These are the same people we fought in World War II”. How Trump must regret his failure to appoint someone other than Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs!

Though America made it through the perilous weeks of Trump’s incipient treachery and celebrated joyously President Joe Biden’s arrival at the White House, the United States military may soon be called upon to rescue the republic a second time.

So wedded has the Republican Party become to Trump’s “Gospel of the Führer” that they have launched an all-out assault on the democratic process in the states it controls. Supposedly convinced by Trump’s “big lie” that the 2020 presidential election was “stolen”, the Republicans are now showing every sign of being willing to steal the 2022 mid-term elections.

If the comprehensive voter suppression laws they have passed allow them to reclaim both the House and the Senate, there are those within the Republican Party’s ranks who would not hesitate to have Congress declare the 2020 presidential election result null-and-void and seek to re-instate Trump in the White House. Were this scenario to unfold, President Biden would have two choices: acquiescence; or, to declare martial law, proscribe the Republican Party, and arrest its leaders, congresspeople and senators. Pending the calling together of a new Constitutional Convention, the drawing up of a new and unequivocally democratic (small ‘d’) constitution, and the holding of new elections, Biden would be required to rule by decree – and the US Military, the FBI and the CIA – the “guys with guns” – would have to let him do it.

In order to save the American republic, they would have to destroy it. Off the wall scenario? Let’s hope so. It would be unwise, however, to ignore President Biden’s impassioned speech, delivered earlier this week to constitutional scholars in Philadelphia, the key sentences of which were heavy with foreboding:

So hear me clearly. There’s an unfolding assault taking place in America today, an attempt to suppress and subvert right to vote in fair and free elections, an assault on democracy, an assault on liberty, an assault on who we are, who we are as Americans. But make no mistake, bullies and merchants of fear, peddlers of lies, are threatening the very foundation of our country ….. We’re facing the most significant test of our democracy since the civil war, That’s not hyperbole. Since the civil war. The Confederates, back then, never breached the Capitol as insurrectionists did on 6 January. I’m not saying this to alarm you. I’m saying this because you should be alarmed.

And who prevented the army of the racist, slave-owning, and profoundly undemocratic Confederate States of America from marching into the US Capitol? The United States armed forces led by General Ulysses S. Grant and their Commander-in-Chief Abraham Lincoln – that’s who.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 16 July 2021.

Friday 16 July 2021

Drawing The Heat.

A Matter Of Signals: What is a government saying about itself when it parlays with known criminals? What is it signalling about its willingness to openly confront them? More to the point, what message does it send to all the decent, law-abiding, charity-workers who struggle every day to convince their neighbours that gangs are a curse upon their community to be resisted and shunned? 

TIME WAS when people observing the transfer of funds from politicians to gangsters knew what they were looking at – graft. The “Five Families” of the New York Mafia were justly notorious for the number of politicians, judges and cops they had “in their pockets”. One suspects, however, that even Lucky Luciano and Joe Bonanno would have raised their eyebrows at a transfer of $2.7 million from the US Government to La Cosa Nostra! Such outlandish behaviour was bound to “draw the heat”.

So what was Jacinda Ardern and Grant Robertson thinking of when they approved a $2.7 million grant to a chapter of the Mongrel Mob? Officially, they were hoping to enlist at least some members of the Mongrel Mob in the fight against methamphetamine abuse and addiction. Working, presumably, on the principle that “it takes a thief to catch a thief”, or, in this case, “it takes the sellers of a dangerous illegal drug to reduce the harm of a dangerous illegal drug”, the Government has clearly decided that there is more to be gained by working with the gangs than against them.

References have even been made to the strong working relationship that developed between the former National Party Prime Minister, Rob Muldoon, and Black Power gangsters back in the early 1980s. But, one might as easily describe the Anglo-Saxons’ payment of the “Danegeld” to the marauding northmen as evidence of their “strong working relationship”. Certainly, Muldoon’s intervention was instrumental in persuading Black Power to keep the peace vis-à-vis Pakeha New Zealand. Such arrangements, however, can only ever be temporary. At some point the “price” of peace becomes too high – even for Rob.

It all boils down to signals. What is a government saying about itself when it parlays with known criminals? What is it signalling about its willingness to openly confront them? More to the point, what message does it send to all the decent, law-abiding, charity-workers who struggle every day to convince their neighbours that gangs are a curse upon their community to be resisted and shunned? What do they tell them when they see millions of dollars handed over to (allegedly) “reformed” gangsters, while charities are forced to jump through endless bureaucratic hoops to secure a few thousand?

In a recent web posting, the veteran left-wing journalist Gordon Campbell wrote: “Engaging with gangs doesn’t mean you’re coddling them or condoning their criminal actions or granting them a legitimacy they otherwise lack. But because they exist, and because they are in contact with other, marginalised members of society, it is worth talking to them, at least.”

I could not disagree more strongly. Those other “marginalised members of society” the gangs are in contact with are their victims: the people upon whom their criminality heaps all manner of pain and sorrow. Dear God! One might just as easily observe that Neville Chamberlain “engaged” with Adolf Hitler at Munich! Not to coddle him, you understand, or condone his criminal actions, or lend his naked gangsterism toward the Czechs a legitimacy it would otherwise have lacked. No. Chamberlain “engaged” with Hitler because he wasn’t ready to fight him. What’s more, Hitler knew it.

What must Hamilton’s Mongrel Mobsters have been thinking as they pocketed the $200 “koha” from Paul Hunt, New Zealand’s Chief Human Rights Commissioner? Were they nodding sagely and silently praising the soft-spoken bureaucrat for his willingness to engage so fulsomely with their organisation? (Unlike the Green co-leader, Marama Davidson, who declined to offer this customary gratuity?) Or, did their lips curl in scorn at Hunt’s pusillanimous naiveté? Were they thinking to themselves: what a funny old world it is when, one week, the cops bust you for distributing “P”, and the next you’re being patronised – and paid! – by the Chief Human Rights Commissioner himself!

Either way, the message conveyed was the same: weakness and confusion.

In addition to the Anglo-Saxons’ silver and gold, the Danes would have carried away a very similar message. Likewise, Lucky Luciano and Joe Bonanno, in their gangster paradise, would have lamented the unbelievable stupidity and cowardice of the authorities. “Saps!”

Jacinda Ardern must understand that organised crime is out there. It can’t be bargained with. It can’t be reasoned with. It doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop – until her Government decides to stop it.

This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 16 July 2021.

Thursday 15 July 2021

Nothing Left – Or Right – To Say.

Or, Better Still, Start It! When did philosophical literacy cease to be a core competence of political leadership? Past New Zealand political leaders managed to explain themselves and their parties with reasonable fluency, why not the present crop?

THE NATIONAL PARTY’s “Demand the Debate” campaign speaks volumes about the Right’s ideological weakness. A more coherent and courageous conservative party would not have demanded a debate, it would, instead, have encouraged one by taking a clear, well-argued position on the issues under scrutiny. The obvious conclusion to be drawn from this failure is that, at present, National is unable to formulate a clear position. One suspects, moreover, that even if it was capable of doing so behind the Caucus Room door, it lacks the confidence to argue it in public.

Not everyone involved in politics needs to be a philosopher, but when the ideological temperature has risen to its current level, a party’s leader must be able to hold their own in any debate about the “whys” of politics. It is easy to accuse Judith Collins of not being equal to this most basic of political responsibilities. But, by any honest assessment, neither is the Prime Minister. Yes, Jacinda Ardern possesses formidable “communication skills”, but that is not quite the same thing as being able to present a coherent defence of one’s policies. Her inability to explain her government’s proposed “Hate Speech” legislation is only the most recent example of this rather significant failing.

When did philosophical literacy cease to be a core competence of political leadership? Past New Zealand political leaders managed to explain themselves and their parties with reasonable fluency, why not the present crop?

A clever post-modernist scholar would, at this point, wax eloquent about the collapse of the metanarratives that underpinned the politics of the twentieth century. Not just the Marxist metanarrative but, at least two decades before the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, the dramatic attenuation of the practical Christian compassion which, for at least two centuries, had blunted the teeth and claws of free-market capitalism. An even cleverer social historian might point to the subversive consequences of the 1960s “counter-culture”, which elevated personal choice above political conviction and turned “you do your thing and I’ll do mine” into the guiding wisdom of an entire generation.

Into this rather barren philosophical landscape rolled the Tiger Tanks of the Neoliberal Wehrmacht. With everybody else’s philosophy reduced to rubble, the Neolibs were able to establish an ideological monopoly of unprecedented durability. Nobody expressed the new reality better than Francis Fukuyama, the US State-Department savant who penned the in/famous 1989 essay entitled “The End of History”. According to Fukuyama, the great battles of ideas that had driven history forward for 2,000 years were over. Liberal-democratic, free-market capitalism had won. It’s ideas weren’t just the ideas of the ruling-class, they were the ideas of every intelligent, well-educated person. Henceforth the only philosophical catechism a political leader needed to master was: “Leave everything to the free play of market forces.” Anything more complicated than that was bound to set their country on the road to serfdom.

But history didn’t end. If anything, the free play of market forces only speeded it up. In their haste to implement the supposedly last great ideology, the Neolibs cast aside the critical post-war stabilisers of a prosperous working-class and a civic-minded middle-class. In the resulting “there is no such thing as society” moral wasteland that resulted, just about everybody became a survivalist of some sort. Investing emotionally in a political ideology, even thinking philosophically, was a mug’s game.

With nothing left to do, political parties became the equivalent of hood ornaments. The voters cared only about how political leaders looked; the social caché they conferred; how they made them feel. Nobody gave two hoots about what they thought!

John Key and Jacinda Ardern provide outstanding examples of this new kind of political leadership. Very early on in their careers, they grasped the key lesson of Neoliberal politics: that leaders didn’t need to be effective as much as they needed to be affective. Providing you engaged the electorate’s emotions in a powerful way – “I feel your pain” – what you actually achieved didn’t really matter. The working proposition was, after all, that “the government that governs least, is the government that governs best”. Politicians weren’t supposed to do much more than smile and wave – and take selfies with their adoring fans.

Meanwhile, behind all this front-of-house flim-flam, the problems of capitalism (which had never gone away) continued to accumulate. The rich got obscenely richer, while more and more previously comfortable citizens became decidedly uncomfortable. Infrastructure, the crucial skeleton of a modern industrial society, was simply left to rot and decay. Not just roads and bridges, but schools, hospitals and universities. If there was demand, there would be supply. Adam Smith’s “Invisible Hand” would build all the houses people needed. If there were no houses for the poor, then clearly that was because the poor preferred to sleep under bridges and in cars. Supply and demand, mate, supply and demand. Stands to reason!

In the end, of course, simply mouthing Neoliberal slogans wasn’t going to cut it. The neoliberal economists could insist all they liked that their discipline was about responding to people’s choices, but they were wrong. Economics, in the end, is about meeting people’s needs. Socialists have always known this, and so too, in their own quiet way, have conservatives. The socialists have positioned themselves across the tracks of history and demanded “Justice!” The conservatives (according to William F. Buckley) have stood athwart history and cried “Stop!” The important thing to remember is that Neoliberalism cannot afford to surrender an inch to either of them.

Judith Collins is demanding a debate because, from somewhere in the back of her mind, a tiny voice is reminding her that if injustice isn’t stopped by politicians constitutionally, then it will be stopped by the people unconstitutionally. Somehow, people must be persuaded to once again put their faith in the political process. Reality engenders ideas that need to be given a voice. If only she could remember how to evaluate and express those ideas. If only she could remember the words. Because then she would not need to demand the debate – she would have one.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Thursday, 15 July 2021.

Tuesday 13 July 2021

Louisa Wall: Rebel In A Wrong Cause

Running The Wrong Way: Brave though she undoubtedly is: and tough as an old Rugby boot; on the crucial issue of China, Louisa Wall is just plain wrong.

I WISH I could like Louisa Wall. I really do. Labour has so few mavericks in its ranks these days. Following the historical contribution of the late, great Jim Anderton, they’ve rather gone out of fashion. And, no, I’m not forgetting the exploits of the hapless David Cunliffe. He did, indeed, show every sign of being a gutsy maverick – right up until he won the Labour leadership and self-destructed. (Albeit more slowly that Todd Muller!) Certainly, Labour’s due a rebel or two. Someone to recall the party to its core principles. Which it needs. Unfortunately, Wall is not that person.

Which is not to suggest for a moment that Wall hasn’t made an important contribution to New Zealand political history. Her Marriage Equality legislation fulfilled a long-standing goal of the LBGTQI community – on whose behalf she has been a tireless fighter.

Wall’s staunch advocacy on these issues has not been without cost. In the South Auckland Pasifika communities she represented there were many who harboured deeply-held religious objections to the causes she espoused. Wall’s outspokenness saw her fall prey to the internal machinations of Labour’s factions. That she faced them down, and forced them to back-off, bears testimony to her courage and resilience. As Jacinda Ardern discovered, Louisa Wall is one tough cookie.

Tough to the point of pig-headedness. It’s the greatest weakness, as well as the greatest strength, of the maverick. Once they get hold of an idea, or attach themselves to a cause, they will not let it go. Neither, sadly, will they suffer anyone to interrogate their adherence. Mavericks are not very good at seeing both sides of the story. They are even worse at admitting that their version of the story might not be the right one.

Hence my unwillingness to join Wall’s fan-club. Brave though she undoubtedly is: and tough as an old Rugby boot; on the crucial issue of China, Louisa Wall is just plain wrong.

If you intend to make your next big stand on the field of foreign affairs, then the very first thing you have master is the art of due diligence. In the fraught field of geopolitics, claims and counter-claims fly back and forth like artillery shells – with almost as much destructive effect. Before committing yourself to one side or the other, it is absolutely imperative to discover who is making those claims – and why.

Nowhere is this more important than on issues relating to China. Under the leadership of Xi Jinping, China is asserting its interests in ways that make the rest of the world – especially the United States – uneasy. For more than a century, China was on the receiving end of Western and Japanese imperialism. Weak, and prey to foreign exploitation and conquest, it had not been in a position to assert very much of anything. The rest of the world is neither accustomed to, nor comfortable with, a powerful China. Predictably, it is resisting its resurgence.

China’s treatment of political dissidents and ethnic minorities has provided her enemies with extremely useful propaganda targets. Rather than examine the reasons for the Chinese Government’s behaviour, which, in its essence, is indistinguishable from that of all other great powers when confronted with internal challenges to their imperium (think of England’s treatment of the Irish, or the United States’ treatment of Native Americans) China’s enemies accuse her of committing the most appalling atrocities – up to and including genocide.

Wall has proved herself to be an eager consumer of these horror stories. She has been convinced that the Chinese authorities are “farming” political prisoners for their organs. Rather than believe that the Chinese state is willing to use the organs of executed criminals to either save or improve the lives of desperately ill citizens, she has accepted at face value the claim that officials are murderously “harvesting” the organs of innocent civilians for profit. Rather than accept the Chinese authorities’ explanation that it is incarcerating Uighur nationalists and Islamists in re-education-through-labour camps in preference to going after them militarily, Louisa has bought into the USA-driven accusation that the Chinese are engaged in “genocide”. Given that the Uighur population of Xinjiang province is roughly twice as large as it was 50 years ago, one could be forgiven for observing that the Chinese definition of genocide is somewhat different to our own!

At the heart of just about all of these accusations against the Chinese Government one finds the virulently anti-communist cult known as Falun Gong. It is from Falun Gong that supposedly independent groups like End Transplant Abuse in China (ETAC) and The China Tribunal are fed the outrageous and unproven charges of organ farming, crimes against humanity, and genocide.

It is highly instructive that prior to the election of Xi Jinping as China’s head-of-state, Falun Gong’s horror stories were largely received with the international disdain they deserved. It is only since China’s new assertiveness began manifesting itself around the world, that the cult’s claims have been accepted as admissible evidence. The United States has ceased to treat China as a friendly off-shore manufacturing platform, and begun portraying it as a disruptive and increasingly aggressive force in world affairs. In this new endeavour, set in motion by President Barack Obama, the gruesome propaganda of Falun Gong has proved invaluable. So much so, in fact, that one could be forgiven for thinking that it was created for just such a purpose!

Given Louisa Wall’s political achievements, her descent into the murky waters of anti-Chinese propaganda is deeply regrettable. (Especially so, given the Falun Gong cult’s vicious homophobia.) There are already more than enough New Zealanders busying themselves in fomenting the next Cold War, without this hitherto formidable Labour MP joining their ranks.

The well-being of hundreds-of-thousands of New Zealanders depends upon this country’s diplomatic and economic relationship with China remaining strong. China’s enemies will not reward New Zealand for engineering a break with Beijing. Their local helpers will be cast aside with as much dispatch as they were recruited.

It is a great pity that Louisa Wall appears to have forgotten that mavericks are called mavericks precisely because they refuse to be driven in the same direction as the rest of the herd.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Tuesday, 13 July 2021.

Paper Victories.

When Things Turn Nasty: How does a commercial enterprise enforce a legal right against an ever-expanding body of human resistance, without the conflict escalating well beyond its original causes?

WILL THE MARINA at Kennedy Point (Pūtiki Bay) on Waiheke Island ever be completed? On paper, the answer is an emphatic “Yes!” The developer, Kennedy Point Boatharbour Ltd (KPBL) has ticked all the procedural and legal boxes right up to the Supreme Court. On paper, there is nothing to impede the construction of KPBL’s 126-berth marina.

On paper.

But this dispute, which in the week just passed flared into violent confrontation, is no longer taking place on paper. It is unfolding in the waters of Pūtiki Bay. On paper, Fletcher Building was authorised to build at Ihumatao. On the ground, the matter was not so clear-cut. If the images of burly construction workers flinging young Maori women into the sea, now viewable on Facebook and Twitter, bring a surge of supporters to the aid of the Ngāti Paoa protest movement, Protect Pūtiki, then KPBL will be faced with precisely the same dilemma as Fletcher Building. How does a commercial enterprise enforce a legal right against an ever-expanding body of human resistance, without the conflict escalating well beyond its original causes?

At both Ihumatao and Pūtiki Bay, the issues at stake are acutely political. Central to both is a series of increasingly controversial questions: Is the Law neutral? Is the Law colour-blind? Is the Law an instrument of colonial oppression? Is the Law, in any meaningful sense, compatible with the articles of the te Tirit o Waitangi?

In the eyes of tangata whenua, these are questions which the Law itself cannot resolve. How can the Law possibly judge its own legitimacy? Especially in a dispute where one side’s reliance of “the rule of law” is presented as a significant contributing factor to the conflict? A case of “Who guards the guardians?” and no mistake!

If this all sounds like an introduction to “Critical Race Theory” (CRT) the idéologie du jour, currently terrorising Republican Party-controlled legislatures all across the United States (and a number of political commentators here in New Zealand) then that is no accident. According to the University of California at Los Angeles’ Luskin School of Public Affairs, CRT “rejects the traditions of liberalism and meritocracy. Legal discourse says that the law is neutral and colour-blind, however, CRT challenges this legal ‘truth’ by examining liberalism and meritocracy as a vehicle of self-interest, power and privilege.”

The backstory to the Ihumatao stand-off certainly confirms this argument. The land in question was confiscated by the colonial government as it launched its armed invasion of the Waikato in 1863. It was taken from a sub-tribe deemed to be “in rebellion” for not swearing its allegiance to Queen Victoria with sufficient promptitude. That the land was then on-sold to Pakeha farmers certainly smacks of “self-interest, power and privilege”. The farmers’ claims to ownership of the land, while indisputably legal, would struggle to clear the hurdle of justice.

The dispute over who possesses Pūtiki Bay presents an even thornier set of questions. While the area remained in public hands, all the residents of Waiheke Island enjoyed equal access to its amenities, and the kororā (Little Blue Penguins) who nest in the adjoining breakwater stones came and went unmolested. It was only when the Auckland City Council effectively transferred the bay from public to private ownership that the trouble started. Critical race theorists would say that such a transfer was simply par for the course. City officials and regulators will always favour Pakeha business interests over those of the kaitiaki (indigenous guardians) of the “lands, forests, fisheries and other treasures” guaranteed to them under Article Two of te Tiriti o Waitangi. By CRT reckoning, the Law that made the alienation of Pūtiki Bay possible could never be either neutral, or colour-blind. Why? Because it was written by Pakeha, for Pakeha.

The stand-off at Pūtiki Bay, therefore, poses a much more dangerous question to the New Zealand state. It demands to know for how much longer the guarantees embodied in the articles of te Tiriti are expected to languish unheeded and unenforced, while Pakeha law continues to deprive Maori (and other New Zealanders) of what remains of their collective resources and treasures? There are no easy answers to this question because, ultimately, it is not a legal question at all. Ultimately, it is a political and constitutional problem.

It is no accident that the MP with responsibility for Waiheke Island, the Greens’ Chloe Swarbrick, is watching the stand-off at Pūtiki Bay with close attention. Ideologically sympathetic to the Maori campaign for radical constitutional change, she is also, as a committed environmentalist, acutely aware of how badly served Pakeha themselves continue to be at the hands of a legal system which seems irrevocably oriented towards power and privilege.

From all over New Zealand one hears the complaints of conservationists and local communities that the laws of the land are not being enforced by local and regional authorities. That, just as the rights of the indigenous people are overlooked and/or ignored, the rights of the poor, and the poorly-connected, are routinely brushed aside.

The explanation for this inconsistency has stood the test of time: “These decrees of yours are no different from spiders’ webs”, the Sixth Century BC Scythian prince, Anacharsis, is said to have remarked to the celebrated Athenian law-giver, Solon. “They’ll restrain anyone weak and insignificant who gets caught in them, but they’ll be torn to shreds by people with power and wealth.”

What could yet emerge from the Pūtiki Bay protests is something very similar to the convergence that left the Police and the Government so helpless at Ihumatao. Not Maori alone confronting developers and their minions, but younger Pakeha New Zealanders standing alongside them in solidarity against a system that, time and again, has proved itself profoundly deaf to their urgings for a gentler, greener and fairer New Zealand.

Perhaps it is time for a thoroughgoing reassessment of exactly where New Zealand now stands. For how much longer, for example, does the New Zealand state expect to get away with operating a legal and administrative system borrowed holus bolus from the United Kingdom, and used with ruthless efficiency to make permanent the dominance of British settlers and their descendants over these islands? For how much longer does the business community and the agricultural sector expect their interests to be accorded priority? For how much longer are those excluded from the world of the comfortable and the secure expected to remain silent – and peaceful?

The answer, on paper, is what it always has been: forever. On paper, Kennedy Point Marina will be built and return a healthy profit to its investors. On paper, those Ngāti Paoa protesters will be arrested by the Police, and fined by the courts, for trespassing on their people’s ancestral land. On paper, all the avenues of legal redress for what is happening at Pūtiki Bay have been closed-off.

But, although history is written on paper, that is not where it is made. It is made in the world of flesh and blood and human passion, by the sort of people who, when thrown off a developer’s barge, into the water, and kicked in the head, climb right back on. And, by the people who, outraged by what they have witnessed, decide to stand with them.

This essay was originally posted on the website on Monday, 12 July 2021.