Tuesday 30 November 2021

The Simple Thing That’s Hard To Do.

What's Not To Like? There’s a reason why the self-evident benefits of a “one world government” arouse such visceral opposition from those with a vested interest in both the local and the global status quo. A world run for the benefit of all human-beings strikes at the very heart of the idea that there is something both admirable and efficient about an economic and social system which allows individuals and their families to accumulate and pass on great wealth – at the expense of others.

WHAT IS THE REASON people fear a united world in which solidarity, rather than greed, is the driving force? In such a world the Covid-19 Pandemic would have been handled collectively, without regard to either the narrow interests of nation states, or the hunger for corporate profit. In such a world the response to global warming would have been instantaneous, decisive, successful, and set in motion 50 years ago. In such a world no one would be permitted to remain in need, and obscene wealth would be unthinkable. That such a world would be the preference of just about every human-being seems indisputable – and yet it exists only in the imagination of utopian dreamers.

Why is that?

My question is prompted by some of the placards I saw being carried by participants in the recent anti-vaccination protests. Some of these referenced Agenda 21, others Agenda 30. According to Wikipedia, Agenda 21 is “a non-binding action plan of the United Nations with regard to sustainable development. It is a product of the Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 1992.” Agenda 30 is another UN initiative which, similarly, offers a “blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all people and the world by 2030.” What could possibly prompt people to object to these self-evidently beneficial goals?

The answer, of course, is Fear. Fear of in some way being made subordinate to foreigners. No, let’s be honest here. Fear of people with dark skins requiring people with white skins to share the world’s resources more equitably. Fear of losing the last remaining privilege still available to the poorest and most despised of white people: their supposed racial superiority. Fear of no longer belonging to the collectivity of masters. Fear of joining the collectivity of servants and slaves.

How else to explain the extraordinary reaction of the White World to the identification of the Omicron Variant of Covid-19 by South African scientists? Rather than thank the South Africans for alerting the world to this new potential threat to global health, the nations of Europe, North America and Australasia immediately banned all flights from the southern third of the African continent. Never mind that the Omicron Variant had already arrived in locations all over the planet, including Europe, the nations of the West reflexively, almost casually, delivered yet another devastating blow to the fragile economies of South Africa and her neighbours.

Not fair! Cry the governments of the West. We are only doing what is necessary to protect our people from this new Covid threat. Which is true, but which also brings us back to where we began.

In a solidaristic world: one without borders and self-protective nation states; the extraordinary, publicly resourced, scientific effort that created a plethora of Covid-19 vaccines in record time, could not have been privatised by vast pharmaceutical corporations and transformed into super-profits. On the contrary, the resources of the entire planet would have been mobilised to produce sufficient vaccine to inoculate the entire human population in the shortest possible time. The idea of leaving hundreds-of-millions of people unvaccinated – and, by doing so, allowing the virus to mutate at will – would have been dismissed as not only scientifically imbecilic, but also morally indefensible.

A similar regard for global well-being and justice, backed up by a global police force recruited from ethnic and linguistic communities from across the planet, would have brought a swift halt to the indefensible destruction of the Amazonian rain forest by Brazilian farming and mining interests.

That same international police force would long ago have indicted the major oil corporations for conspiring to keep hidden from the global public the deadly threat posed to the planet by rising fossil-fuel pollution. (Always assuming that such dangerous concentrations of private power would even be allowed to exist in a world committed to and driven by the obligations of global solidarity.)

It is here, of course, that we run headlong into the other reason why the self-evident benefits of a “one world government” arouse such visceral opposition from those with a vested interest in both the local and the global status quo. A world run for the benefit of all human-beings strikes at the very heart of the idea that there is something both admirable and efficient about an economic and social system which allows individuals and their families to accumulate and pass on great wealth – at the expense of others.

The very thought that this system might be superseded terrifies even those who do not possess great wealth. For these benighted souls, an indestructible aspiration to somehow join the ranks of the rich and powerful has lighted their way through all the dark vicissitudes of life. Selfish dreamers, their stunted existence at the bottom is made bearable by the (mistaken) assumption that there is always room at the top. Threaten this, their most precious dream, and their reaction will be as vigorous as it is vicious.

Paradoxically, the only effective evolutionary responses to a global pandemic – collectivism and solidarity – are also the most effective means of inspiring ferocious resistance to all the measures required to give them practical effect. The same is true of the economic, social and political policies required to eliminate poverty, racism and sexism. Indeed, all the evils which beset human societies may ultimately be traced to a common hatred of anything and everything that draws people together in freely-given love and trust.

Nowhere is the natural inclination of human-beings to come together in friendship and confidence illustrated more vividly than in the story about the first Christmas of World War I. How the German and English soldiers, hearing the carol-singing of their enemies drifting across no-man’s land, climbed cautiously out of their trenches and met them halfway. Alcohol, cigarettes and Christmas rations were exchanged, along with the soldiers’ low opinion of the war. Shocked and alarmed, their officers soon put an end to this unauthorised fraternisation. Within hours, these ordinary Germans and Englishmen were back in their trenches and doing their best to kill one another. It was the one and only “Christmas Truce” of the war.

How close those soldiers came to the essential truth of the tragedy in which they were all submerged: that it simply didn’t have to be that way. Abandon the mythologies of race and nationality, and embrace the reality of our common humanity, and war is only one of the evils that will disappear.

As the German poet, playwright, and communist, Bertolt Brecht, put it:

It is reasonable. You can grasp it. It’s simple.
You’re no exploiter, so you’ll understand.
It is good for you. Look into it.
Stupid men call it stupid, and the dirty call it dirty.
It is against dirt and against stupidity.
The exploiters call it a crime.
But we know:
It is the end of all crime.
It is not madness but
The end of madness.
It is not chaos,
But order.
It is the simple thing
That’s hard to do.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Tuesday, 30 November 2021.

Monday 29 November 2021

Rating The Contenders.

There Can Be Only One: Some might ask why National MPs would install yet another “successful business person” at the helm of their party? Isn’t one Todd Muller enough? Especially when Simon Bridges could become the first National politician of Māori descent to become Prime Minister.

LET’S GET SOMETHING out of the way from the get-go. There is nothing unprecedented about a former leader of the National Party reclaiming that position some years after losing it. Those “pundits” who blithely dismiss the likelihood of New Zealand following in the footsteps of Australia’s political parties, really don’t merit the description. Was it not Bill English who led the National Party to the worst defeat in its history in 2002? And was it not the same Bill English who succeeded John Key as National Party leader – and Prime Minister – in 2016? That established, I hope readers will find the prospect of Simon Bridges Redux (if that is the final outcome of this contest) just a little bit easier to accept.

Whether Bridges is the right person for the job is, obviously, a very different question. One worthy of just as much careful consideration as the putative candidacy of Christopher Luxon. Given the general agreement among National Party watchers that one of these two contenders will be the next Leader of the Opposition, it seems only sensible to weigh the pros and cons attached to both men.

Bridges first.

That Simon Bridges could become the first National politician of Māori descent to become Prime Minister is, potentially, a very big deal.

Though very few people engaged in mainstream politics are prepared to admit it, the future of Māori, and the future of Aotearoa-New Zealand, are becoming ever more closely entwined. The country’s politics cannot escape being caught up in this uncomfortable fact. The young people of 2021 – as the bitter recriminations surrounding the Pfizer vaccine roll-out attest – are disproportionately Māori. Far too many of these youngsters are inadequately prepared to shoulder the burden of preserving their country’s economic and social well-being in the years ahead.

The aforementioned Bill English understood the frightening dimensions of Māori underperformance better than most of his parliamentary colleagues. It was one of the primary drivers of his “social investment” strategy – an imaginative policy initiative that was, sadly, allowed to falter under Bridges 1.0, Todd Muller and Judith Collins. If he proves successful in his bid to reclaim the National Party leadership, Bridges 2.0 could do a lot worse than to take English’s idea and run with it.

Dramatic policy changes in education, health, housing and corrections cannot be avoided in the years ahead if Aotearoa-New Zealand is to avoid crippling skill deficiencies in its national workforce. A country that becomes dependent on imported skills cannot hope to exercise a decisive influence over its future development. Were Bridges to put himself at the forefront of this debate, and give his party the ideological space to develop new and innovative solutions to the problem of Māori underperformance, then National could steal an election-winning march on Labour.

The Government, urged on by its large Māori caucus, clearly grasps the urgency of indigenous underperformance. Its solutions, however, are of a race-based radicalism that many Pakeha (and not a few Māori) reject as constitutionally objectionable. If Labour proceeds along the lines suggested in the He Puapua Report, considerable political division seems inevitable. A National Party led by a Māori politician no less seized of the importance of indigenous underperformance, but promoting policies intended to benefit all underperforming citizens equally, could position itself as a force for unity and progress.

There is strong evidence in Bridges’ autobiography that he has given considerable thought to what it means to be a New Zealander in the twenty-first century. National is not the party most people think of when it comes to these sort of questions – especially those touching upon the future of Māori. It is, nevertheless, the party which, under Jim Bolger and Doug Graham, got the Treaty Settlement ball rolling. Nor should it be forgotten that it was John Key who sent Pita Sharples off to New York to sign the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

In the chapter on race in Bridge’s National Identity, he contrasts his own way of being Māori with that of the Māori Party MP, Rawiri Waititi – with whom he went to school:

“Today Rawiri has a full face moko, which is beautiful and fierce and which I am in awe of. But you couldn’t pay me a billion dollars to get that done to myself. The pain would be one reason; the other is that it would change who I am – it’s not me. Rawiri’s tikanga is not a daily part of my life and never will be. Nevertheless, New Zealand needs to realise that I am just as Māori as Rawiri. Let’s not look down on him, and let’s not look down on me. He’s not too Māori and I’m not too Pākehā. Let’s celebrate [New Zealand’s] diverse garden.”

Is it really that difficult to see Bridges offering National its own “Nixon recognises Red China” moment?

Meanwhile, the other half of the National caucus will be asking themselves whether the former Air NZ CEO, Christopher Luxon, can give the party another John Key moment.

Those of a more ruthless mindset will demand to know how any intelligent right-wing politician could possibly entertain the idea of installing yet another “successful business person” at the helm of the National Party? Isn’t one Todd Muller enough?

When is the National Party finally going to understand that John Key didn’t become one of its most successful leaders on account of his career in business, but because he had an unerring instinct for where “Average Kiwis” positioned themselves politically. That, and a flair for institutional politics that could just as easily have made him head of the CTU as the Nats.

To put it bluntly: Christopher Luxon is no John Key.

Then there’s the question of Luxon’s religious beliefs. Obviously, he’s not the only member of National’s caucus who professes the Christian religion. Bridges, himself, is a pastor’s son who, like Luxon and a not inconsiderable number of his caucus colleagues, proclaims himself to be an evangelical Christian.

Therein, lies the problem. What sort of evangelical is Luxon?

Essentially, there are only two kinds of evangelical. The first (and the most faithful to the biblical injunctions) is the evangelical who proclaims the “good news” of Jesus Christ to the whole world, unceasingly. The second kind of evangelical sees the hand of God at work in society and, in the case of far too many evangelical politicians (especially in the United States) feels the Almighty’s hand guiding them into preordained leadership roles. New Zealanders, a secular bunch for the most part, soon grow weary of the first kind of evangelical, and are profoundly wary of the second.

Now, Luxon is at pains to reassure New Zealanders that he regards his religion as a private matter, not to rammed down people’s throats, or enshrined in their country’s laws. All well and good, but if that really is his position, then he cannot truly call himself an evangelical. Ramming righteousness down the sinner’s throat is the noisy evangelical’s Christian duty. A quiet evangelical, on the other hand, is almost certainly convinced that God has a special plan for him – and the country. Something which should give both his colleagues, and the voters, pause.

On the other hand, Christopher Luxon strikes just about everyone who meets him, or watches him on television, as an intelligent, diligent and resourceful individual. His newness, seen by some as a distinct handicap, is just as easily construed as a recommendation. No, he doesn’t have parliamentary dirt under his fingernails, but neither does he have fratricidal blood on his hands.

By all accounts, Luxon was a very capable CEO. It is entirely possible that, by 2023, that is all most New Zealanders will be looking for.

This essay was originally posted on the Interest.co.nz website of Monday, 29 November 2021.

Friday 26 November 2021

Judith's Last Stand.

Going Out With All Guns Blazing: Why didn’t Judith Collins stick with the strategy that had kept her, National’s most improbable of leaders, in power for more than a year? One might just as well ask why Rob Muldoon (that other unforgiving right-wing populist National Party leader) got drunk and called the snap-election that would destroy him, way back in June 1984. Or, demand to know why Jim Anderton suddenly abandoned the leadership of the Alliance in November 1994.

WHAT JUST HAPPENED? Seriously. What on earth possessed Judith Collins to move against Simon Bridges so maladroitly, and with so little prospect of success? It’s baffling.

The tactic employed, resurrecting a five-year-old incident that had been resolved, um, five years ago, was just so incredibly dumb. Honestly, I thought Judith Collins was a whole lot smarter than that. To take such a huge risk, she must have believed Bridges had a lock on the caucus that was unbreakable and that he intended to move against her sooner, rather than later.

Presumably, that is why Collins refused to call caucus together yesterday evening (24/11/21) as Bridges, quite understandably, demanded. She must have calculated that the move she was intending to make against her principal contender would not be approved.

As a lawyer, Collins should have known that even Bridges’ caucus enemies would require a proper process to be followed, and the rules of natural justice observed. So, according to her own testimony, she took the matter to the National Party Board instead. With their (alleged) full support, Collins then issued a media release banishing Bridges to the back-benches. His crime? Telling a dirty joke in the earshot of Waitaki MP, Jacqui Dean.

Except, that makes no sense at all. By refusing to take the matter to caucus, and beheading Bridges without their consent, all Collins did was make sure that, when the National Caucus next convened, her own head would be on the block. One had only to listen to the pure, cold, fury in the voices of National MPs as they made their way to the caucus room this morning (25/11/21) to appreciate just how hopeless Collins’ position had become.

The peculiar thing is, it could all have been done so differently – and with a much greater chance of success. Had Collins caused the information, and the precise wording of Bridges’ dirty joke, to end up in the hands of the relentless Furies of the news media, his progress towards a caucus showdown would, at the very least, have been slowed. Indeed, with the right handling, Bridges could have been “exposed” as a nasty, sexist, sleaze-bag. To paraphrase the inimitable Lyndon Johnson: Collins wouldn’t be calling her rival a “nasty, sexist, sleaze-bag”, she would be forcing him to deny it.

Surely, that would have been the smart move? She could have knifed Bridges good and proper, while leaving no fingerprints on the blade.

Collins huge advantage – before she committed “political suicide by caucus” – was that National’s caucus was split into what, from the outside, looked like four factions.

There was her own faction, of course, not that big, but not that small either. Then there were Bridges’ people, who were said to constitute a bare majority. Impressive, but also inadequate. Bridges needed to come roaring home in any contest. Just squeaking in would only leave a roughly equal number of National MPs seething and fuming behind his back. Christopher Luxon’s people were also numerous, just not as numerous as Bridges’. Finally, there were the so-called “liberals”. A small faction, but potentially crucial to securing a decisive vote for Unity and Change.

The trick was to keep all the factions in favour of a leadership change off-balance and mistrustful of each other. Let their numbers people work away, drawing up lists of “Definites” “Possibles” and “Don’t Bother Askings”. Just make sure that while they’re doing that, you’re doing everything in your power to keep the tallies inadequate to the challenge of achieving Unity and Change.

It isn’t an heroic strategy, but you’d be surprised how often in history it has succeeded. The Romans called in divide et impera – divide and rule. What it had given Collins – and was continuing to give her – was time. Time in which all manner of unpredictable things can happen. What sort of things? The sort of things which the 1960s Tory leader, Harold Macmillan, famously reduced to: “Events, dear boy, events.”

Why didn’t Collins stick with the strategy that had kept her, National’s most improbable of leaders, in power for more than a year? One might just as well ask why Rob Muldoon (that other unforgiving right-wing populist National Party leader) got drunk and called the snap-election that would destroy him, way back in June 1984. Or, demand to know why Jim Anderton suddenly abandoned the leadership of the Alliance in November 1994.

“Events, dear boy, events.” Something you didn’t expect, and can’t fix, happens, and it all just gets too much. All the plotting and scheming. All the arm-twisting and political assassinating. Suddenly, the whole shitty business no longer seems worth the effort, and the all people around you start looking too hopelessly fucked-up to bother with.

And. You. Snap.

No other explanation seems to fit. Wednesday, 24 November 2021, will go down as the day Collins simply stopped fighting. Not because she was beaten, but because she could no longer remember the point of trying so hard to win.

In the midst of a global pandemic. Facing a Labour Party whose leadership is younger, nimbler, and more attuned to the zeitgeist. In charge of a party too ideologically and socially constipated to re-join the political fray as a competitive player. Judith Collins, eyebrow raised, quietly picked up her rifle, climbed out of the trench, and started walking across no-man’s land towards the enemy. Predictably she was shot to pieces before she’d taken 100 paces.

It wasn’t pretty. But it was, at least, over.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 26 November 2021.

Act’s Precarious Ascendancy.

On The Lookout: It is easy to imagine how closely Seymour has been watching the National Opposition for the slightest sign of a Clark figure emerging. A respected politician, who enjoys broad support across the party and, much more importantly, who impresses the ordinary centre-right voter as having what it takes to be an effective Prime Minister. From Seymour’s perspective, Judith Collins was the perfect Opposition Leader – for Act.

THE PROBLEM which the Act Party faces for the next two years, is the same problem that plagued the Alliance. Jim Anderton’s coalition of anti-establishment parties thrived while the official Opposition, Labour, languished. But, for every percentage point Labour recovered in the opinion polls, the Alliance was forced to contemplate the deflation of its political hopes and dreams. Now that National stands poised to elect a new leader, Act’s own leader, David Seymour, will be praying that he or she proves to be no better than the last.

The only glimmer of hope for Act, and Seymour, is that National’s fractured caucus currently contains no one even remotely like Helen Clark.

The Alliance’s fortunes were never more promising than when the Labour Party was led by Mike Moore. For all his undoubted strengths as a politician, Moore’s inescapable weakness was that he was part of the cabal of Labour politicians responsible for what came to be known as “Rogernomics”.

The famous photograph of Roger Douglas, Michael Bassett, David Lange and Moore guiltily enjoying a feed of fish-and-chips following their first (unsuccessful) attempt to roll Bill Rowling, was to haunt Moore for the rest of his life. For those many thousands of former Labour voters who experienced Rogernomics as an unforgiveable betrayal, Moore would always be one of the “Fish-and-Chip Brigade”. It made him Jim Anderton’s best recruiting sergeant.

Helen Clark was a different story altogether. Among those who knew her (and that was pretty much every Labour Party activist of the 1980s) Clark was never going to be condemned as a “Rogernome”. By the same token, she was determined not to be branded an “Andertonista”. The title she relished, and never ceased to cultivate, was “pragmatist”. In practical terms, that meant Clark was willing to be a good social-democrat, if possible; and a reluctant custodian of Roger Douglas’s legacy, if necessary. It was a fine, but vital, distinction. It made her what Anderton never managed to be – prime-ministerial.

It is easy to imagine how closely Seymour has been watching the National Opposition for the slightest sign of a Clark figure emerging. A respected politician, who enjoys broad support across the party and, much more importantly, who impresses the ordinary centre-right voter as having what it takes to be an effective Prime Minister. From Seymour’s perspective, Judith Collins was the perfect Opposition Leader – for Act. How fervently he must be praying that her successor turns out to be as big a liability. Because Seymour knows that if National’s caucus chooses wisely, then Act’s poll numbers will tumble and its electoral support crumble.

That is, of course, a very big “if”. Since 2018, all of National’s choices have gone awry. Even so, someone must be chosen to lead the party. Who?

His sterling efforts at re-branding himself, notwithstanding, former leader (and off-colour jokester) Simon Bridges still fails to impress. Frankly, the man’s a puzzle. Pre-Covid, Bridges was handsomely repaying his colleagues’ confidence with positive poll results. Why, then, did the public never take to him? Perhaps, as Bridges’ autobiography suggests, his perception of himself as an outsider was simply too strong to hide.

Helen Clark never doubted that she was Labour through-and-through. Bridges, however, seems convinced that he’ll never cut the mustard as a “genuine” Nat: never be welcomed as “One of Us” by the Tory toffs. Entrenched racism? Class prejudice? Whatever the explanation, Bridges appears to suffer badly from the “Imposter Syndrome”. The problem being that, in politics, if you don’t believe in yourself, then neither will anybody else.

What about Christopher Luxon? Does he cut the mustard? Until Judith Collins’ self-immolation, the answer to that question was: “Not quite yet.” Parliamentary politics, Luxon’s backers argued, cannot be comprehensively mastered in the space of a year. Better to wait for the politics of the situation to “mature”. Well, the Collins vintage has “matured” alright – and National’s caucus has the shattered wine bottles to prove it. Ready, or not, Mr Luxon has a “tide in the affairs of men” to catch.

Then again, it’s always possible that we are all looking at – but not seeing – the person fated to relegate Seymour to the Reserves Bench. After all, how many people saw the young MP for Mt Albert as a future Prime Minister? And, isn’t that Act’s worst nightmare? National’s very own “Jacinda”?

This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 26 November 2021.

Labour’s Eyes Wide Shut To “Unruly Tenants”.

Not Seeing The Problem: They say there are none so blind as those who will not see. And, right now, Kāinga Ora is studiously not looking. It is clear to everyone that the Minister responsible, Poto Williams, has (like so many of her colleagues) been entirely captured by her officials. Their moral blindness appears to be highly infectious, and Williams has caught it. This is very much a case of ministerial eyes “wide shut”.

HOW LONG before Labour’s senior ministers realise how much damage Kāinga Ora is doing to their Government? Because it is difficult to overstate just how bad the optics of the Crown entity’s “unruly tenants” have become. As story after shocking story is picked up by the news media, public disbelief and disgust is growing exponentially. What’s preventing Labour from cauterising this self-inflicted political wound?

The answer would seem to involve the peculiar moral blindness that afflicts so much of the state bureaucracy. Partly, the result of an unrelenting focus on the “challenges” faced by criminal and dysfunctional individuals – challenges that are permitted to obscure, almost entirely, the consequences of their criminality and dysfunction. Partly, the result of the impulse to offer protection to those deemed “beyond the pale” by the rest of society. And, partly, the result of an ingrained bureaucratic reluctance to have any state agency’s shortcomings exposed to public and political scrutiny. Bring all these together, and the chances of the responsible bureaucrats seeing either the bigger picture, or the even bigger problem, are slim.

From the perspective of Kāinga Ora, gang members harassing and intimidating their neighbours is seen as a symptom of a problem, rather than a problem in its own right. What it tells the caring bureaucrat is something very different from what it would tell just about everybody else – i.e. that it’s time to evict these tenants. On the contrary, such profoundly anti-social behaviour indicates clearly that these individuals are in need of more “wrap-around” assistance. Knee-jerk responses are simply inappropriate in situations of such “extreme complexity”.

Part of that complexity is likely to be the presence of children in the unruly tenants’ household. In the current bureaucratic playbook, the primary objective must be to keep children and their parents together. The object lesson of Oranga Tamariki is there for all state agencies to absorb: don’t allow the world to see Pakeha public servants ripping Māori children from the arms of their mums and dads. Just about anything is preferable to that – up to and including paying-off the unruly tenants’ aggrieved neighbours with large wads of taxpayer cash.

To the rest of the world, of course, the idea of allowing young children to remain in the custody of individuals who abuse and threaten their neighbours, is unthinkable. With that sort of parental example, they would argue, what chance do these kids have of growing into anything other than another generation of violent and uncaring thugs? “Get them out of there! Now!” Would be the immediate response of the average New Zealander. “And then evict their parents!”

In the eyes of the bureaucrats, however, this is exactly what must be avoided. Years of experience have taught them that breaking-up the family unit is only likely to make things worse. They insist that all these allegedly “common sense” solutions end up creating are more unruly citizens. Far from reducing the number of problematic individuals in state houses, you end up multiplying them. (Overlooked, or downplayed, is the fact that equally dire outcomes tend to flow from families in which unpunished violence, intimidation and harassment are part of everyday existence.)

Reflexively, the attention of the bureaucrats returns to the circumstances of the perpetrators. The complaints of the victims are not assessed on their merits, but in terms of how the incidents cited may have further contributed to the inappropriate behaviour of the offenders. Subtly and, all-to-often, not-so-subtly, it is inferred that the victims have contributed to their own misfortunes. That, somehow, the violence and intimidation experienced by the unruly tenants’ neighbours is their own fault. So fixated have the bureaucrats become with “managing” the perpetrators of what in many cases are criminal offences, that the harassed and terrified people on the receiving end of those offences are simply forgotten.

This is the moral blindness that drives the victims of such behaviour, and all who read about it, to utter distraction. They begin to feel like lab rats in some dark behavioural science experiment. Their terrible experiences are simply incidental to the pathology of the experimental subjects. The quality of the victims’ lives is not the point of the exercise. The agency’s only concern is how successful their interventions are at rendering unruly tenants less unruly.

Yes, of course they could evict these people. Indeed, the law requires their eviction. But evicting them would bring Kāinga Ora’s important social experiment to a premature close. With so much still to learn about how best to manage these criminal and dysfunctional individuals, that would be a tragedy. Hence the agency’s policy of not evicting even the most horrendous of its tenants.

They say there are none so blind as those who will not see. And, right now, Kāinga Ora is studiously not looking. The same cannot be said of the rest of New Zealand, which is looking at this unfolding scandal very hard, with rising incredulity – and fury. It is clear to everyone that the Minister responsible, Poto Williams, has (like so many of her colleagues) been entirely captured by her officials. Their moral blindness appears to be highly infectious, and Williams has caught it. This is very much a case of ministerial eyes “wide shut”.

Somebody needs to take charge of this debacle – and soon. The stories flooding into the news media feature the sort of copy editors die for. They’ll publish/broadcast everything they get for as long as they keep on getting it.

More ominously, the longer the Labour Government delays intervening decisively to end this scandal, the more credence voters are likely to give to Opposition claims that Labour’s Māori Caucus is responsible for allowing it to continue. The perception will be fed that Labour is “soft” on gangs, and perversely determined to foster one law for Pakeha and another for Māori. This racist narrative is already gaining traction in the wider electorate. Labour needs to shut it down – now.

If law-abiding citizens’ faith in the state’s willingness to protect its citizens from violence, intimidation and harassment is not rewarded with swift and decisive action, then people will look elsewhere, and to others, for protection.

Official inertia and vigilantism are not unrelated.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Thursday, 25 November 2021.

Wednesday 24 November 2021

A Strange Defeat: Guest Post By Dr. Chris Harris.

They Did Things Differently Then: And we might still be doing things differently, if the world these "Country Lads" were fighting for, and which endured for nearly 30 years after World War II, had not been supplanted by the world we inhabit now. In spite of its reality, New Zealand's past has taken on the jarring quality of a parallel universe. A "strange defeat" indeed.

LIKE THE FLICKERING NEWSREELS in The Man in the High Castle, which depict an Allied victory in a universe parallel to that ruled by a victorious fascism, so it seems that our National Film Unit documentaries, now online, also depict a universe parallel to the one we inhabit.

A parallel universe in which the military campaign against fascism—the subject of the very first NFU documentary, 1941’s Country Lads, and a success in our timeline—was accompanied, as the war wound down, by a further campaign against giant evils on the home front.

The Five Giant Evils of unemployment, poverty, preventable ill-health, ignorance, and slum conditions, as they were identified in the United Kingdom’s landmark 1942 Beveridge Report.

Beveridge's 'Five Giants': Idleness, Want, Disease, Ignorance and Squalor.

It was no coincidence that the report came out in 1942. For there was, indeed, such a war for the home front, though it has often been overshadowed by the military history of the same era.

The soldiers, fighting against fascism, demanded that they also be given a better future to fight for.

There was to be no return to ‘business as usual’ in the way that there had been after the First World War.

No return to unemployment of the kind that had stalked 1920s Britain.

Or, in this country, to the real estate gazumping that fills the first scene of John Mulgan’s Man Alone. A scene in which Anzacs in a 1919 Auckland pub complain bitterly about how wartime prosperity (that strange paradox!) has driven land prices through the roof and murdered their hopes while they were off defending the “soft stay-at-homes” who made the capital gains.

The cover of a book published in London in 1918. Captain Richard Reiss would go on to become a leading British town planner, heaped with honours when he died in 1959.

In New Zealand, these radicalised veterans would go on to vote Labour in 1935: a more constructive outlet for their frustrations than in some other countries.

A feeling that the Second World War was likely to be followed, like the First, by a dangerous revolutionary era that could go either way was undoubtedly a factor in the framing of the Beveridge Report. In the words of the report’s lead author, Sir William Beveridge, “A revolutionary moment in the world’s history is a time for revolutions, not for patching.”

Adding to the sense of revolution was the idea that a speculative form of capitalism, running rampant in areas such as real estate and the stockmarket during the so-called ‘roaring twenties’, had destabilised society and the productive economy. Rampant speculation had led to the Great Depression, the rise of fascism, and the imminent Second World War. All of which was, in effect, the bill for a big party that a few speculators had indulged in.

Never again, was the prevalent mood. A mood that was only lent further militancy and determination by the actual outbreak of the War.

A sketch by a prominent cartoonist of the day, Leslie Illingworth, depicts a British soldier raising a tankard, a play on Beveridge’s name, with the words “Here’s to the brave new world!”

"Here's to the brave new world!" - Leslie Illingworth 1942

The very success with which revolutionary impulses were channelled into a welfare state has led us to forget that both world wars, and not merely the first, were indeed accompanied by revolutionary social change. Change driven from below and accommodated from above. And more successfully so, the second time around.

The result is captured in those newsreels I mentioned. For instance, in ways that were typical for the post-World War II era, but sadly not so typical for our own, a 1954 NFU newsreel urges the public to put their spare cash into long-term government bonds, to underwrite things like roads, dams, schools and state houses, because:

Only an intensive building programme now can provide for the future! Children, the citizens of tomorrow, must also have their chance!

In 1959, The New Zealanders declares that:

Education’s almost wholly state-administered and free. All New Zealanders attend the same sort of schools and most talk with the same sort of accent. . . . There are universities in all the main centres. Varsity education is also free to all who pass the entrance examination. . . . Having a baby brings no financial worries . . . The best medical attention is free in the hospitals. Medicine is also distributed free of charge. With health care right through life we’ve come to believe that the people’s welfare is the government’s responsibility. . . . New Zealand’s a wonderfully healthy country, a great place for bringing up children. . . All workpeople must belong to unions . . .

Ten years later, in 1969, the split-screen epic This is New Zealand depicted a go-ahead sort of a country, to a strikingly upbeat musical accompaniment.

In print, the historian David Hamer referred, in 1963, to New Zealand’s agreement with Australia to jointly combat the giant evils on both sides of the Tasman after World War II, and to our lobbying for similar declarations to be included in the founding charters of the United Nations:

The most distinctive contemporary feature of New Zealand as a ‘small democracy’ is probably our insistence, proclaimed to the world in no uncertain terms in the Canberra Pact and at the founding of the United Nations, that the state must maintain full employment. That this problem of employment should have come to figure so prominently in our politics reflects the exceptionally wide variance between our basic economic situation and the human needs of our society. In a country whose economic well-being is dependent on primary production for export and whose economy is therefore founded on commercial farming, people do seem very superfluous. . . . This situation of superfluousness and precariousness with regard to employment has been felt all the more keenly because we are a small and isolated country. And, because we are a democracy, these feelings have become the material of political pressure and political action, so that, after the bitter experience of two depressions, ‘full employment’ and ‘social security’ became basic principles of our government’s policy.

This important passage comes from Hamer’s contribution to Studies of a Small Democracy, a classic collection of essays on the politics of the New Zealand welfare state as it was then. A collection known to generations of students as Chapman and Sinclair after its two editors, the political scientist Bob Chapman and the historian Keith, later Sir Keith, Sinclair.

At this point, it is impossible not to think of the novelist L. P. Hartley’s famous line that “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.”

Very foreign, when we consider the pessimistic mood of today’s New Zealand, pessimism born of the way that the giant evils have returned. And when we consider the way that present-day governments seem to be paralytic in the face of these evils and the things that are causing them to return, such as our “morally bankrupt housing market.”

In short, the old mid-century newsreels depict a political universe that is now foreign to us—indeed, a parallel universe in which we won the war on the home front as well as the war overseas—to a New Zealand where the five giant evils have staged a comeback and now hold our cities under brutal occupation, much as they also do in today’s Britain.

On the home front, in both countries, the most resonant slogan of the 1945 era—Never Again!—turned into ‘never say never’.

How did we come to snatch social defeat from the jaws of victory? To suffer such a strange defeat, in view of our greater productivity and average wealth today?

Social investments to overcome the giant evils are never unaffordable in a modern society. They are investments, after all. But these investments are more affordable to us today than they were fifty, sixty or seventy years ago. So, what changed to make us think that we can’t afford them? That’s an issue I will explore in a follow-up post.

Chris Harris
4 November 2021

This essay is exclusive to Bowalley Road.

Tuesday 23 November 2021

Dissing The Farmers.

Neale vs The Revolting Farmers: One has to admire the way Capital Government Relations CEO, Neale Jones, covers-off all the bases of the current political zeitgeist. In a masterfully composed tweet, he lambasts the Groundswell protesters as sexists, racists and reactionaries, clinging for dear life to “a purely extractive economic model: pollute, emit, exploit, and let someone else bear the cost.” As if all capitalists don’t fit that description.

THERE’S NO DISPUTING that Neale Jones is very good at what he does. As a public relations practitioner working in Jacinda Ardern’s Wellington, he has an instinctive feel for the lines that will be remembered and re-tweeted enthusiastically by the Ardernian establishment. Jones’ tweet of this morning (22/11/21) offers an excellent example of the CEO of Capital Government Relations’ craft.

Responding to the self-styled “Mother of All Protests” organised by Groundswell, Jones tweeted:

“Aside from the casual racism and sexism, Groundswell represents a reactionary attempt to cling to a purely extractive economic model: pollute, emit, exploit, and let someone else bear the cost.”

One has to admire the way Jones covers-off all the bases of the current political zeitgeist. Right up front there is the reference to the opponent’s “casual” racism and sexism. The use of the word “casual” is instructive in this context.

That all men are sexists, and all White people racists, are core axioms of the Identity Politics that dominates all aspects of official life in the capital city. No Pakeha male operating in this environment would be so foolish (or career limiting) as to deny either his sexism or his racism. Were he to do so he would be denying the systemic character of these entrenched structures of privilege. Instead, he would offer his assurance that he was “working” on his sexism and racism. Not with any real expectation of becoming a better person, you understand, but in hopes of not becoming a worse one.

That’s why the word “casual” is so important. Jones’ charge is that the farmers behind the Groundswell protests are so antediluvian, so Neanderthalic, that they are either unaware of the gender and ethnic privileges they enjoy – enabling them to engage in sexist and racist behaviour quite unconsciously. Or, that the social milieu in which they operate is so saturated with misogyny, homophobia and racism, that they have grown accustomed to voicing their prejudices “casually” – without the slightest fear of reproof.

Having successfully consigned these moral ingrates to the ninth circle of Woke Hell (in an admirably economical seven words) Jones then moves on to the central charge of his tweet. Groundswell, he asserts, represents “a reactionary attempt to cling to a purely extractive economic model: pollute, emit, exploit, and let someone else bear the cost.”

Let’s unpick this statement forensically.

The first thing to note is that it is phrased in the language of classical socialism, as well as the rhetoric of classical environmentalism. The importance of this mix will become clear presently.

The first thing to note, however, is that the farmers organising the Groundswell protests aren’t just sexists and racists, they are “reactionaries”. The choice of epithet is important, because “reactionary” grounds the word’s user in the political landscape of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

According to Wikipedia, a Reactionary “is a person who holds political views that favour a return to the status quo ante, the previous political state of society, which that person believes possessed positive characteristics absent from contemporary society.” Synonyms for reactionary include: archconservative, die-hard, hidebound, traditional and unprogressive.

Historically-speaking, “reactionary” described the politics of the dynastic regimes which did all within their power to extirpate the ideas and institutions spawned by the French Revolution, and then spread across Europe by the armies of Napoleon Bonaparte. In the first half of the twentieth century, however, “Reaction” became a catch-all term, applied to those who stood against the forces unleashed by the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia.

So, it is a very heavy word to use in a political conversation. To be a “reactionary” is to set your face not only against the future, but also against the present – making you a very dangerous person (or group of people) indeed.

The danger is lessened, however, when Jones describes these farmer reactionaries as “clinging” to the expectations and practices of the past. Now, who “clings”? Frightened children – to their mother’s skirts. Mountain-climbers – for dear life on a vertiginous cliff-face. Lovers – desperate not to lose the object of their affections. All rather pathetic, all rather desperate. Anybody, or anything, that clings is not strong, or, at least, not in a strong position. In this instance the “cling-ee” is the “purely extractive economic model” which, because the “cling-ers” are reactionaries, must be a thing of the past.

And, just to make sure that Jones’ readers understand how very bad that past was, the elements of the “purely extractive economic model” are spat out like bullets to remind them: “pollute, emit, exploit, and let someone else bear the cost.”

This is the classic formula of old-school environmentalism. Of the Values Party – forerunner of the Greens. Of the many activist conservation movements of the 1970s and 80s, which condemned the “rip-in, rip-out, rip-off” mentality of miners, loggers, fishing companies and, yes, farmers. You’ve got to hand it to Jones, this is a truly masterful evocation. These sexist, racist, cockies aren’t just the backward-looking enemies of social progress, they are, Jones implies, the foes of Mother Earth herself.

If you were commissioned to lay the groundwork for a full-scale assault upon the New Zealand farming sector, launched in the name of Aotearoa “meeting its responsibilities” in the global effort against Climate Change, you could hardly have made a better start. Small wonder that the people organising the Groundswell protests are driving Federated Farmers and Dairy NZ to distraction. With “friends” like these blokes, the farming industry doesn’t really need enemies!

The genuinely inspired quality of Jones’ tweet is, of course, the way it appears to banish the “purely extractive economic model” to the dark recesses of history. Like the Divine Right of Kings, the ideas of these “reactionary” farmers are relics of a bygone era. The forces of social and economic progress are moving onwards and upwards. Those who refuse to join them in their heroic ascent towards the light, must resign themselves to living in the shadows.

Except, of course, it is all misdirection and disinformation. The “purely extractive economic model”, far from being a relic of the past, is still the driving force behind the entire capitalist system. “[P]ollute, emit, exploit, and let someone else bear the cost.” That isn’t just the disgraceful formula of colonial-era farmers who clear-felled the forests and drained the wetlands, it is the purest contemporary essence of actually existing capitalism the world over.

New Zealand’s farmers are not reactionary throwbacks, yearning for a world that has gone forever, they are stressed-out twenty-first century capitalists, some of whom came to town last Sunday (21/11/21) to remind the very capitalist government of this very capitalist country, that if it intends to go on monetizing her golden eggs, then it should remove its choking regulatory fingers from around the neck of the Golden Rural Goose.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Tuesday, 23 November 2021.

Monday 22 November 2021

The Real Interests Of The Country.

Off Message: Into the extremely fraught relationship between Town and Country, the Groundswell organisers have blundered like an Aberdeen-Angus steer in an organic vege-shop. Unreasonably proud of their rural economic virtues, and dangerously forthright in their enumeration of the cities’ political vices, these Kiwi equivalents of America’s “good ole boys” have presented a portrait of rural New Zealand from which many urban Kiwis have recoiled in disgust. 

WAS IT “THE MOTHER OF ALL PROTESTS”? Of course not. By virtue of their sheer material bulk, convoys of tractors, utes and trucks are required to compensate for a serious deficiency in human numbers. Yes, a convoy of 100-200 vehicles looks very impressive as it passes under a motorway overbridge. But a crowd composed of the 200-500 individuals travelling in those vehicles doesn’t look very impressive at all. Quite the reverse. Assuming that the advertised individual “Groundswell” protest hubs did indeed number 60, and that the number of farmers and their hangers-on at each one of them averaged 300, then across the country, we are talking about a protest of around 18,000 individuals.

Compare that to what is still the largest demonstration in New Zealand history: the 70,000 Labour Party supporters and trade unionists who rallied in the Auckland Domain on the eve of the 1938 General Election; and the Groundswell organisers’ claims are thrown into risible relief.

The Groundswell organisers have a similar problem when the co-ordinated protests against the Employment Contracts Bill are set alongside their own. According to the research of US labour jurist and academic, Dr Ellen Dannin, who was teaching at Massey University during 1990, the anti-ECB “Week of Action” (3-10 April, 1991) “included strikes, stopwork meetings, rallies, and marches involving 300,000 to 500,000 New Zealanders.”

So, did Sunday, 21 November 2021, witness the “Mother Of All Protests”? Nope. Not even close.

These glaring discrepancies in terms of mass political support, point to the problem the New Zealand “farming community” has faced for more than 100 years. Its economic importance is out of all proportion to its numbers. In terms of democratic politics, this places farmers in an invidious position. How do they protect themselves from the designs of non-farmers, whose numerical preponderance positions them as the ultimate arbiters of farming fortunes?

Historically, farmers relied upon New Zealand’s First-Past-The-Post electoral system (FPP) to blunt the numerical advantage of town and city dwellers. FPP, by concentrating working-class votes in urban electorates, allowed farmers and their economic allies to win electorates where, in terms of class and occupation, the voting population was much less homogeneous. When the growth of New Zealand’s urban population threatened to undermine this critical advantage, the farmers political representatives created what came to be known as “The Country Quota” – whereby rural votes were artificially weighted so as to offset the numerical advantage of urban voters. (This outrageous piece of gerrymandering remained in force until 1945!)

With the introduction of Mixed Member Proportional Representation (MMP) in 1996, however, the farming community was stripped of all its electoral advantages. Nothing now stood between the overwhelming majority of New Zealanders who lived in the nation’s major cities, and the dwindling number of Kiwis who lived in rural and provincial New Zealand, except the enduring cultural mythology of “the heartland”, and the “cocky” as the “backbone of the nation”. Preserving these myths is crucial to the wellbeing of the farming community – both economically and politically.

Achieving this critical objective entails the farming sector clearing some formidable cultural hurdles. How are farmers to preserve the goodwill of urban New Zealand when, for more than a century, they have looked upon the cities as the breeding grounds for all manner of moral and political evils? This alienating motif of Rural Virtue vs Urban Vice has been a recurring feature of New Zealand history. From “Massey’s Cossacks”, to Jenny Shipley’s “Benefit Cuts”, rural New Zealand has seen it as both its right and its duty to put the cities in their place.

John Mulgan, in his celebrated novel, Man Alone (1939) captures this desiccated rural culture and its hard-baked prejudices:

It was not long before Johnson was at home in this country. He talked as they all talked. He got to know the dates of the race meetings and where to go for a beer in town at most times, and the story of the 1905 match when Wales beat the All Blacks by one try to nil, and why it was necessary to have a farmers’ government to protect the real interests of the country.

And those “real interests of the country” are no figment of rural New Zealand’s imagination. This country’s agricultural exports still constitute the backbone of its economy – especially in these Covid-afflicted times. It is absolutely vital, therefore, that the nation’s farmers keep farming with all the productivity and efficiency for which they are internationally renowned.

Not that their key lobbying organisations need any instruction in this regard. Federated Farmers, in particular, has long understood the necessity of keeping urban New Zealand’s faith in the cockies of the heartland topped-up. It’s problem, however, is that the behaviour of its members all-too-often contradicts the carefully-crafted image of the farmer as steward of the land, sensitive innovator, and patriotic economic contributor. It is surely no accident that the pre-eminent contributor to New Zealand’s rural mythology, Country Calendar, has less and less to say about the industrial farming laying waste the rural environment, preferring, instead, to concentrate on those conscientized farmers at the margin: all of them doing their bit to save the planet.

Into this extremely delicate situation, the Groundswell organisers have blundered like an Aberdeen-Angus steer in an organic vege-shop. Unreasonably proud of their rural economic virtues, and dangerously forthright in their enumeration of the cities’ political vices, these Kiwi equivalents of America’s “good ole boys” have presented a portrait of rural New Zealand from which many urban Kiwis have recoiled in disgust. Well might the National Party and Federated Farmers rail against Labour Cabinet Minister Stuart Nash’s “racists and anti-vaxxers” comment. They knew exactly who he was talking about.

The irony of all this “She’s a pretty communist” antipathy towards the Labour Party and its Leader, is that, historically, it was the Labour Party that did the most to restore order to New Zealand’s depression-ravaged rural economy. For 50 years, Labour’s reforms made it possible for Kiwi farmers to worry about little more than droughts, floods and how to get more ewes/cows to the acre. Also forgotten is the fact that when Roger Douglas put all of these support structures to the torch, back in the 1980s, Federated Farmers was not there with a hose to douse the flames. Nor, when it came right down to the tin-tacks of the free market, was National.

The survival of New Zealand farming – and farmers – will turn on how fulsomely they embrace the virtues deemed essential to the survival of civilisation as we know it. Climate Change does not distinguish between urban and rural, cocky and townie. It will take both to bring New Zealand safely through the dangerous twenty-first century. In the process, it can only be to the benefit of both sides of the rural/urban divide if they become a whole lot more like each other.

Because, as the poet Denis Glover (1912-1980) who knew a thing or two about the country and the town, put it in his wistful poem, “Thistledown”:

Dream and doubt and the deed
Dissolve like a cloud
On the hills of time
Be a man never so proud
    Sings Harry
He is only thistledown planted on the wind.

This essay was originally posted on the Interest.co.nz website of Monday, 22 November 2021.

Sunday 21 November 2021

Delta Rocks Gibraltar: Lessons to be learned from Covid-19’s global resurgence.

Hard To Beat: Perhaps the most important lesson to be drawn from what is happening in Gibraltar is that vaccination is not a magic bullet. Yes, it makes it harder to contract the virus, and significantly ameliorates its worst effects, but it does not confer absolute immunity to Covid-19 – especially if you received your second jab four or five months back.

WHAT ARE WE TO MAKE of what Delta is doing in Gibraltar? This tiny British toe-hold at the very tip of the Iberian Peninsula has the distinction of being the most Covid-19 vaccinated community on Earth. Thanks to the fact that many of the people who work in Gibraltar every day, return to their homes in Spain every night, fully 118 percent of Gibraltar’s 32,000 inhabitants have been inoculated. That’s pretty impressive – or, so you might think. But the truth is that Covid-19 is once again surging through the tiny Crown colony. Its daily count of community cases is about the same as ours, which, given its size, is pretty damn scary.

Also frightening are the obvious domestic implications of Covid-19’s global resurgence. For months now, we’ve been told that getting vaccinated is they very best thing New Zealanders can do to defeat the virus. But, if a vaccination rate of 118 percent can’t stop Delta in its tracks – then what can? What lessons we are supposed to draw from Gibraltar’s experience?

The first lesson to learn is that statistics should never be taken at face value. That figure of 118 percent, for example, is derived from the number of Gibraltans aged over 16 who have received a full dose of the vaccine. The true percentage of fully vaccinated Gibraltans must, therefore, be considerably less than 118 percent. While children and teenagers under the age of 16 remain unvaccinated, Covid will always have plenty of vulnerable human-beings to prey on.

Another lesson to be drawn from Gibraltar’s experience is that booster shots of the vaccine are essential. The waning effectiveness of the initial jab/s means that those particularly vulnerable to infection will need to be vaccinated again. If we’re talking about the Pfizer vaccine, that means giving the elderly and those suffering from chronic illnesses a third jab as soon as they approach six months since their second injection – maybe even sooner. Like the flu, Covid-19 is shaping-up to be one of those viruses that must be battled constantly. Getting your Covid shot seems likely to become an annual event.

It would also seem prudent to inoculate the nation’s children. The United States Centre for Disease Control has found that inoculating the over-5s would be both prudent and safe. Reducing sharply the number of potential Covid targets is, obviously, a key strategy for curbing its spread. New Zealand should, therefore, start protecting its children – and the families they live with – as soon as possible.

Perhaps the most important lesson to be drawn from the Gibraltan experience, however, is that vaccination is not a magic bullet. Yes, it makes it harder to contract the virus, and significantly ameliorates its worst effects, but it does not confer absolute immunity to Covid-19 – especially if you received your second jab four or five months back.

What’s happening in Gibraltar – and the Netherlands – and Singapore – and South Korea – is a timely reminder that all those other anti-Covid measures: social distancing; strictly limiting your indoor human interactions; and, most importantly, wearing a mask whenever random human contact is likely; remain vitally important weapons for keeping the virus at bay.

Unsurprisingly, New Zealanders (and Aucklanders especially) are looking forward to enjoying a kick-ass summer holiday. It has, after all, been a bloody awful year! Unfortunately, in facilitating this heartfelt wish, the Labour Government has set up the conditions for Delta’s rapid spread across the country. Undoubtedly, a number – perhaps quite a large number – of the vaccinated will, nevertheless, contract the virus. Some of them – hopefully a very small number – will get quite sick.

Just because you have printed-off your Vaccine Pass and/or downloaded it to your phone, does not mean you are now officially bulletproof. All those other instructions about wearing your mask, sanitising your hands, and keeping 2m distant from your fellow citizens, offer vital additional protection – alongside the Pfizer vaccine. They should not be treated as afterthoughts.

For the unvaccinated, however, the nationwide spread of the Delta Variant is promising the Summer from Hell. While the immune systems of those who are double-jabbed are fighting off the virus’s invasion force, unprotected immune systems will soon find themselves overwhelmed. In communities where the vaccination rate is low, the results are not likely to be pretty. The Delta Variant of Covid-19 is a killer. Many unvaccinated New Zealanders are going to die of it before Autumn.

If not for their own sake, then for the sake of those who love them, and rely upon them, I implore the vaccine resistant to give themselves a fighting chance.

The fate of heavily vaccinated Gibraltar should not be taken as proof of the inefficacy of the vaccine, but of the deadly efficiency of the Delta Variant. This thing is a Terminator every bit as deadly as Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Cyborg assassin. Remember Kyle Reese’s chilling words from the movie:

“Listen, and understand! That Terminator 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... ever, until you are dead!”

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 19 November 2021.

Friday 19 November 2021

Hell To Pay: The alarming similarities between the Anti-Vaccination Movement and the creators of the Jim Crow South.

Never Let Go: If the violent prejudices of the Jim Crow South, echoing through contemporary struggles, teach us anything, it is that the defence of rationality, science and progressivism must never be allowed to falter. Those pre-modern night-riders, filled with unrelenting hate, are still out there. If the troops of Reason and Justice are withdrawn; if Liberty’s bayonets are sheathed; there will be Hell to pay.

FOR WEEKS NOW, I’ve been racking my brains over why the anti-vaccination movement feels so very, very creepy. I’ve sought reassurance in Jess Berentson-Shaw’s gentle enjoinders to engage empathically and constructively with the vaccine resistant, but without success.

Jess reminds me of those naïve souls who argue that non-violent tactics could have brought the Third Reich to its knees. These folk always forget that non-violent tactics only work against a government that is still capable of feeling shame, or, at the very least, fears being despised in the eyes of the world. Regimes fully armoured in self-justifying ideological extremism cannot be successfully challenged by the tactics of Gandhi and Martin Luther King.

Jess’s humanistic faith did, however, set off a train of thought. It caused me to review the history of the Black civil rights movement through the prism of non-violence. Was it the key element in the movement’s success, or was there something else at work that caused the segregationist regimes of the southern states to step back and take stock? While there is no doubt that the imagery of the civil-rights struggle: of fire-hoses and Billy-clubs; savage Alsatian dogs and tear-gas; deployed for the world to see against unresisting, non-violent youngsters; was more than successive US administrations were willing to tolerate; it was not enough, on its own, to bring victory.

What effectively ended the official administration of Jim Crow was the Federal Government’s clear willingness to pick up where it left off in 1877. That was the year in which the last remaining garrisons of Federal troops were withdrawn from the South. The year when Washington effectively told Southern Whites that nothing would be done to prevent them from constructing violently racist regimes throughout the states of the defeated Confederacy. It was the 1957 decision of the Republican President, Dwight Eisenhower, to dispatch paratroopers from the 101st Airborne Division to Little Rock, Arkansas, to enforce the Supreme Court’s desegregation orders, that made it clear that “Reconstruction”, deferred for 80 years, was back.

After 1957, more and more of the heavy-lifting in defence of Jim Crow was taken up by the openly terrorist Ku Klux Klan. But the violence unleashed by the Klan, and the non-violent response of Black and White civil rights activists, only made the Federal authorities’ responsibility to uphold the Constitution more urgent. The FBI’s ruthless counter-intelligence tactics made the Klan’s terrorism increasingly ineffectual. The violence at Selma, the Jim Crow South’s last stand, merely ensured that the crucial 1965 Voting Rights Act was passed – sealing its fate.

Of what relevance is this to the anti-vaccination movement of 2021? Simply, the anti-vaccination movement draws its power from the same mental machinery that constructed the Jim Crow South nearly a century-and-a-half ago.

What enraged Southerners in the aftermath of the American Civil War was not simply that they had been defeated militarily, but that the racist ideological edifice that had sustained slavery was being demolished. The progressive view of humankind espoused by the Abolitionists had prevailed. In contemporary language, the old software no longer worked in USA 2.0.

Something very similar happened in the US, and New Zealand, with the arrival of Covid-19. Dangerous ideas and attitudes, which had been permitted to guide a minority of the population, were suddenly and unequivocally declared erroneous and unsafe by the State. The majority strongly concurred. Anti-scientific twaddle could no longer be ignored. In the context of a deadly viral pandemic, such ideas posed a direct threat to society’s well-being.

For those who saw science, and the progressive political and social ideas it underpinned, as the root of all evil, this was an intolerable situation. With some justification, they saw the war against Covid-19 as a war against their own, essentially pre-modern, world-view. Accordingly, the demands being made of them by the State were received as an existential threat – to be resisted at all costs, by any means necessary.

Exactly the same feelings of desperation and outrage gripped Southern Whites as they saw the triumphant principle of racial equality being given practical application in the 1870s. Under the protection of Federal bayonets, Black Southerners founded schools, established businesses and stood for public office. It was not to be borne.

An utterly uncompromising determination to destroy this new regime, and to obliterate the progressive ideology that inspired it, seized an unrelenting majority of White citizens across the Southern states. They would not rest until their version of reality was reinstated. Those who opposed them were shown no mercy. When the political weariness of the Northern states offered them the opportunity to reclaim political control, they grabbed it with both hands. Racist terror became the means of restoring calm to White Southern souls – for the next 80 years.

Peruse the Southerners’ “Lost Cause” propaganda of the Reconstruction Era (1869-1877) and you will find there the same unhinged extremism that throngs the dark recesses of the anti-vaxxer Internet. The same “Big Lies” are there. The same dumbfounding claims. The same threats of violence.

A vast international crisis, the Covid-19 Pandemic, has exposed the irrational underbelly of twenty-first century society. Neuroses and delusions that the majority had reluctantly tolerated (if only because the harm they caused was almost exclusively restricted to those who suffered from them) now threaten the general welfare.

If the violent prejudices of the Jim Crow South, echoing through contemporary struggles, teach us anything, it is that the defence of rationality, science and progressivism must never be allowed to falter. Those pre-modern night-riders, filled with unrelenting hate, are still out there. If the troops of Reason and Justice are withdrawn; if Liberty’s bayonets are sheathed; there will be Hell to pay.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Thursday, 18 November 2021.

Buying Back The Whenua.

Dangerous Visionaries: Rex Connor wanted to “buy back the farm” (i.e. nationalise Australia’s mineral wealth) and ended up bringing down the government of Gough Whitlam. Nanaia Mahuta’s Three Waters Project is seen by many as a first step to “buying back the whenua” (repatriating Māori lands and waters). A policy which threatens the longevity of Jacinda Ardern’s government.

REX CONNOR is remembered in Australian political history as the Labor Party minister who wanted to “buy back the farm”. In the rough language of Gough Whitlam’s 1970s Labor Party, “buying back the farm” meant bringing Australia’s phenomenal mineral wealth under public control for the benefit of all Australians – rather than a handful of obscenely profitable mining companies. Unlike the Australian Labor Party of today (or the New Zealand Labour Party, for that matter) the party of Rex Connor, MP for Cunningham, New South Wales, still boasted some honest-to-goodness socialists.

Sadly, Rex Connor is remembered for more than wanting to buy back the farm, he’s remembered for actually trying to do it. Bull-headed and scornful of political compromise, Connor stepped beyond the accepted bounds of Cabinet Government and allowed himself to be duped by a charlatan almost certainly in the employ of the Central Intelligence Agency. In doing so, Connor brought down not only himself, but also the charismatic Labor Treasurer, Jim Cairns, and, ultimately, the government of Gough Whitlam itself.

Connor’s economic nationalism was about as strong as it gets. He was fond of quoting the Australian poet, Sam Walter Foss. These lines in particular:

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

By and large, politics and the poetic temperament do not mix. Had Whitlam paid more attention to the visionary gleam in Connor’s eye, he might have avoided the “dismissal” that brought his stellar career to a sudden and ignominious end. Creativity can be equally dangerous – especially when it extends to swallowing the too-good-to-be-true promises of shadowy “bankers” like Tirath Khemlani.

Connor’s tale is a cautionary one. So much so, that between 1975 and 1984 the lessons to be drawn from the Lands and Minerals Minister’s pig-headed economic nationalism were dinned into our own Labour MPs. Two lessons in particular were emphasised. One: It is impossible for a Cabinet Minister to operate secretly without the tacit support of his officials. Any attempt can only end in disaster. Two: Threatening the core economic interests of your country’s capitalist class is always a bad idea. They will get you long before you get them.

Connor’s tragic history therefore contributed in no small way to the readiness of both Antipodean labour parties to be convinced that there were no viable political alternatives to the free-market economic policies urged upon them in the mid-1980s. Rex Connor’s failure to buy back the farm, and Roger Douglas’s eagerness to sell it, are not unrelated.

But what have these fifty-year-old experiences got to do with the New Zealand of 2021? Surely our own government contains no one even remotely like the recklessly quixotic Rex Connor?

Actually, it does. Her name is Nanaia Mahuta.

Labour’s Minister of Internal Affairs is not an economic nationalist, but she is a Māori nationalist. Her mission is not to buy back the farm, but to redeem the whenua out of which New Zealand’s farms were fashioned. And not just the whenua. Mahuta’s sights are firmly set upon Aotearoa’s waters as well.

Though she is extremely guarded about the potential of her controversial Three Waters Project to provide an answer to the question: “Who owns the water?”; the Waitangi Tribunal evinces no such reticence. According to the Tribunal, Aotearoa’s waters do not belong to the Crown. Nor do they belong to “no one” – as Prime Minister John Key insisted, when 50 percent of New Zealand’s hydro-electric assets were being floated on the share market. No, Māori and water cannot be justly separated. Hence the “co-governance” provisions embedded in Mahuta’s Three Waters reform package.

Mahuta does, however, possess advantages Rex Connor lacked. In the Aotearoa of 2021 there is no Rupert Murdoch figure ready to publish devastating leaks from senior bureaucrats outraged by their Minister’s secret manoeuvrings. On the contrary, a great many journalists and public servants share the transformative visions contained in the Mahuta-commissioned He Puapua Report. Nor is it the case that Mahuta’s colleagues are being kept in the dark, as Connor’s were, about the implications of the Minister’s radical plans.

On one thing, however, Mahuta’s colleagues need to be very clear. Her version of “buying back the farm” cannot avoid buying a political fight every bit as consequential as Rex Connor’s.

This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 19 November 2021.

Tuesday 16 November 2021

“Yesterday’s Controversy” – Labour Better Hope So!

Murky Waters: Essentially, what the world’s money-lenders are saying is that, when it comes to financing large infrastructure projects, like Nanaia Mahuta’s Three Waters project, democratic accountability is a deal-breaker. The surprise here is not the Standard & Poor’s credit rating agency’s demand, but this government’s uncritical acceptance of it.

ANDREA VANCE’S CLAIM that: “Beyond 2022’s local government elections, Three Waters will be yesterday’s controversy”, is a bold one. Had the Delta Variant of Covid-19 not made it to New Zealand, and if Jacinda Ardern’s government was still basking in the warm glow of public adulation, then it is just possible that the Three Waters project would, indeed, have become “yesterday’s controversy” by 2023. But Delta did arrive, and the Prime Minister has become the lightning-rod for a noisy political movement dedicated to the utter destruction of both herself and her government. Labour’s Three Waters project can only assume an ever-increasing salience as that anti-government movement grows.

What Vance was careful to sidestep in her Polyanna-ish determination to focus our attention on the good intentions of Nanaia Mahuta and her colleagues, was the rock-solid promises of both the National and Act parties to dismantle the entire scheme the moment they reclaim the Treasury Benches. This is hardly surprising, because the Right’s pledge to repeal Three Waters makes a nonsense of the Government’s key explanation for the undemocratic construction of the four “entities” responsible for delivering the Three Water’s objectives.

We are told, by Vance herself, that the governance structure has been designed according to the specifications of the Standard & Poor’s credit rating agency – now known as S&P Global Ratings. Without it, says S&P, the cheap money required to repair New Zealand’s drinking-, storm-, and waste-water infrastructure will not be forthcoming.

It is worth spending a few moments unpicking this extraordinary intervention from the enforcers of international finance. Essentially, what the world’s money-lenders are saying is that, when it comes to financing large infrastructure projects, democratic accountability is a deal-breaker. The surprise here is not S&P’s demand, but this government’s uncritical acceptance of it. Rarely has the naked power-politics of the neoliberal world order been on such unabashed display. That the Labour Cabinet, Labour’s parliamentary caucus, and the Labour Party organisation, itself, have so meekly rolled-over on this issue is astonishing. That they have then concluded that slitting Democracy’s throat is their sad but necessary duty, is more than astonishing – it’s chilling.

Vance simply passes over this brutal abrogation of New Zealand’s sovereignty, and the political facilitation it has elicited, without comment, exposing with unusual clarity the ideological bankruptcy of “woke” journalism. Vance is eloquent in her description of the racism inherent in local government’s treatment of Māori, but she has nothing at all to say about the derangement of this country’s democratic institutions at the behest of neoliberalism’s international enforcers. The wonder of it all is that Vance and her journalistic colleagues still evince surprise and indignation when they find themselves bracketed with the Left’s politicians as “enemies of the people”.

Returning to S&P’s bottom line, the question arises: How will the world’s lenders react to the pledge of New Zealand’s right-wing parties to dismantle the Three Waters project? Asked to invest money in a venture so subject to the whims of the electorate, it beggars belief to suggest that any lender so disposed would not demand a premium rate of interest. Only a fool would throw cheap money into such a risky enterprise, and whatever else international financiers may be – they are not fools.

This creates an insurmountable problem for Mahuta and her colleagues. If the whole justification for the undemocratic structure of the Three Waters project is that nothing else can guarantee access to the cheap money needed to make it happen. And if it then turns out that the political risk involved with the Three Waters project is so great that the possibility of cheap money must be taken off the table. Well, then the justification the Three Waters project – as presently structured – must also be taken off the table.

That this would be the outcome must have been clear to Mahuta’s economic advisers. So, why is she still proceeding? Without the support of the right-wing parties, the Three Waters project simply cannot assume that the necessary cheap money will be forthcoming. Mahuta’s conduct only makes sense if the cheap money argument is nothing more than a smokescreen for another, much more important, if unstated, set of objectives.

Vance, herself, makes reference to this opaque communications environment:

“Where the Government has failed is in its communication of its intentions, and critics have exploited this weakness. Mahuta is not a natural communicator and has done a poor job of explaining how the asset ownership works, fudging direct questions about royalties.”

As well she might, if “royalties” were included among those important and unstated objectives.

Vance will not, however, entertain for one moment the idea that there may be more to Three Waters than cheap money. With unseemly relish she reaches for that trusty journalistic stand-by: the accusation of conspiracy theorising. So handy whenever the paths of inquiry lead into territory neither editors nor publishers are keen to have their journalists traverse:

“Some critics have drawn a very long bow with a conspiracy theory which links the Three Waters proposals to the question of allocation of water rights.”

A long bow? Really? When the Waitangi Tribunal and a growing number of iwi have made it clear that the question of “Who owns the water?” must be answered soon – and that the correct answer is neither “The Crown”, nor “Nobody/Everybody”. A long bow? When the He Puapua Report, commissioned by Mahuta, makes it clear that by 2040 the restoration of Māori water rights should be an acknowledged and accomplished fact.

Mahuta’s strategic reticence on discussing Three Waters freely and fulsomely, along with Vance’s airy dismissal of any significant reasons for her doing so, are all of a piece. At their heart lies a deep (and not unjustified) fear that the truth will outrage sufficient New Zealanders to kill the project stone dead. This government, and its journalistic bodyguard, no longer trust the democratic system to deliver the “right” answers. Their response: to propose, and defend, a massive centralisation of power in bodies sealed-off from democratic accountability.

This would have been a bad idea in the very best of circumstances. Pursued with the sort of ruthlessness we have witnessed in the case of Nanaia Mahuta’s Three Waters, it has turned out to be much more than a bad idea. In the minds of a growing number of frightened and angry New Zealanders Mahuta’s project is further evidence of a political project of unprecedented scale and ambition. Justified, or unjustified, in the fraught conditions imposed upon New Zealand society by the Delta incursion, the belief is growing that Labour is making plans for New Zealand. Plans that its citizens will have no opportunity to either endorse or reject.

Andrea Vance rejects these people’s fears as conspiracy theories. She remains confident that Three Waters and its political siblings will be “yesterday’s controversies” by the time the next General Election rolls around in 2023. If she’s right, then all will be well for the Labour Government and its media apologists.

But, if she’s wrong …..

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Tuesday, 16 November 2021.