Monday, June 25, 2018

US Withdrawal From UN Human Rights Council Is Cold War Caricature



The US having issues around 'inconvenient truths' on human rights being brought up at the UN is not exactly a new phenomenon. This cartoon from the height of the Cold War depicts then-US President John F. Kennedy facing off against then-Premier/First Secretary of the Soviet Union, Nikita Khrushchev.

It depicts a pretty common sort of exchange in those days - wherein the United States would issue some strident declamation of human rights abuses supposedly occurring within the Soviet Union ... and the Soviets would respond along the lines of "...and you are lynching black people".

In the early part of the 1960s, this was very much a factual statement. And it does disrupt somewhat both the then-current and more recent contemporary 'idyllic' self-image Americans have historically harboured of their own position as an upholder and champion of international human rights.

Although it is not exactly a new thing. After all, almost two hundred years beforehand, no less a personage than Dr. Samuel Johnson had proclaimed of the sentiments underpinning the American Revolution - "How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of negroes?"

Another somewhat regular skirmish between the Superpowers is illustrated (literally, in this case, I suppose) via the other two 'cards' in Khrushchev's hand. Namely, the habitual Soviet response to allegations of the USSR propping up certain autocratic or otherwise 'nasty' regimes with poor human rights records ... through pointing out the American practice of doing exactly this for a range of international pariahs, where and as geopolitically convenient.

Indeed, while somewhat indicative of the sorts of regimes being countenanced as endorsable by the Americans at that point (and it is, perhaps, an open question as to whether things have gotten better or worse in more recent years with the ascent of Saudi Arabia et co into that position); if anything, a 'mere' two cards to cover this is a critical under-representation.

I mean, if we want to talk of eschewing sanction upon outright *monstrous* governments at the UN - it is probably rather important to note that the Americans *outright supported* the Khmer Rouge at this forum *for years*. As in, due in large part to geopolitical considerations (in particular a spiteful and needlessly vindictive desire for vengeance against Vietnam for *daring* to not lose their eponymous war of liberation against the Americans), the US actively protected the Khmer Rouge's international recognition and "legitimacy" at the UN - even continuing to do so for nearly a decade [from 1982-1991] following the Khmer Rouge's ouster from Cambodia and transition into the key/dominant part of a Cambodian 'government in exile'.

This is without getting into the US's shameful record both at the UN itself and in support of its allies (hilariously enough, at that point low-key including China) through the same forum in the context of the Bangladeshi Liberation War in 1971, which I've written about capaciously elsewhere. (Cliffnotes version: the Americans attempted to shield Pakistan from first criticism/scrutiny ... and then from an Indian intervention carried out to stop a genocide that killed millions of people, through a multifaceted array of UNGA and UNSC efforts; with US actions in that last arena arguably arcing toward the seeking of sanction for American-led military intervention *against India* (who let's remember - are the unquestionable Good Guys in this situation), before the Pakistani military collapse rendered further American assistance efforts pointless)

Or any of the dozens of other examples, in an ongoing pattern arcing right up through to the present day (and yes, including Israel), which show that this sort of 'deplorable' (indeed - outright hypocritical) conduct has been very much the 'rule' rather than the 'exception' in terms of American (mis/ab)use of the UN when it comes to rights-discourse.

With all of that in mind, we should perhaps be rather unsurprised about the apparent American stance of treating its ongoing participation in this international forum as something of a game - or at best, a pantomime performance in which certain 'motions' (of condemnation or reflexive countering, and suchlike) are gone through in order to deflect and deter from 'deeper' motivations being criticized or exposed.

After all, it has quite some experience at it.

Dr Johnson again: "Men more frequently require to be reminded than informed."

__________________

As a contemporary addendum on this issue:

If the Americans were genuinely concerned about being seen to lend legitimacy to a human-rights body that was hypocritical in its ambit, then I would have expected them to raise this furore a few years back in 2016, when Saudi Arabia secured its ongoing position thereupon. Or its [Saudi's] success the previous year in attaining the chairmanship of the UNHRC panel which does the selection and appointing of independent experts to investigate rights abuses etc. Or perhaps a year later, when it somehow wound up chairing a related UN Commission on the Status of Women. Or its utilizing of its position on the UNHRC to block efforts to investigate the commission of war-crimes committed by a "certain country"'s forces in Yemen.

But, of course, this didn't happen. And as a point of interest, Nikki Haley's statement on the reasoning for the US withdrawal from the UNHRC, despite singling out a number of countries by name which were alleged to be worse than Israel as 'proof' that the whole thing was hopelessly biased .... somehow neglected to mention *at all* this ongoing series of near-farcical blunders as applies the noted American geopolitical ally (both on and off the Council), Saudi Arabia. Indeed, nowhere in the statement is Saudi Arabia even mentioned - presumably because the best tactic when it comes to 'defending the indefensible' is to attempt to distract the attention with something else entirely.

Gosh, it is almost like the US is motivated less by altruistic concern for the state of human rights in international affairs, and more by a combination of political point-scoring and endeavours to shield its friends from scrutiny or significant criticism.


Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Why I'm Not That Concerned About ACT Twerking Its Way To 2020 Victory

It has been said that history occurs twice - the first time, as tragedy ... but the second time as farce.

Although as applies ACT, with the exception of what they've done to the Nation, you can probably ditch the first bit. 

With that in mind, it's probably useful at this point to take a bit of a closer look at the prediction being advanced in certain quarters that David Seymour's efforts on a certain reality tv show of late might somehow singlehandedly revive the ACT Party. As an actual "party", I mean, rather than an entity whose Parliamentary Caucus can currently be counted using the single finger of one hand. 

It may be a matter for the viewer as to precisely *which* finger this is, or whether it's in the direction of the Caucus in question or the general public.

But in some ways, you've got to give it to Seymour. Despite evidently possessing two right feet, and generally all the grace of Roger Douglas in a state-owned china shop, he's managed to hang in there - both in Parliament and, thus far, on Dancing With The Stars - through every reckoning with the tallied votes of the electorate-at-large. 

Now, I don't mean to suggest that Seymour is therefore twerking proof that Democracy Does Not Work, anywhere outside of a coat-tail slithering southward from Epsom. Although it is interesting to observe that his psephological efforts both on and off television have made capacious use of the frivolous to attempt to reach a younger audience in a desperate bid to hoover up potential party votes ... or txt-in votes on one's cellphone ... to keep the whole thing going another round. 

During the 2014 General Election, for instance, he effectively turned himself into a meme with the whole "Hi! Hi! Hi! Hi! Hi!" thing. It was .. odd, it was awkward, and it provoked no end of parody. But in the end, it was memorable; it was (apparently) relatable; and to quote the old military adage - "if it's stupid, but it works, then it's not stupid". It certainly drew a rather stark line under the previous ACT-flavouring of John Banks Lite. 

In 2017, he effectively abandoned the previous Parliamentary Term's attempts at being a perhaps-unexpected liberal-amenable Mister Sensible on social-conscience issues like euthanasia and abortion law reform ... to instead push a re-run of ACT's "greatest hits" [there's an 's' missing from that phrase, you may have noticed] around "fiscal responsibility" etc, along with headline-grabbing profanity in an official context directed at a fellow Parliamentarian. I was rather disappointed by that, and feel he made the wrong decision - as the potential vote for "practical applications of principled libertarianism", so to speak (which would also include his advocacy around compensation for wrongfully convicted figures, and other such things) , would *surely* be larger in scope than that for yet another round of effectively ineffectual-posturing warmed over 1990s rhetoric. 

But in any case, it's all rather academic - as this "super serious" (while being more than a touch supercilious) approach actually saw ACT's vote *decrease* in both percentage and absolute terms. 

I suppose this makes Seymour's Stars run rather more obviously understandable. People have said that a politician going onto a show such as this risks losing any gravitas in the eyes of the general public, and thus comprehensively ruining further shots at re-election. These people have, of course, not accounted for Tim Shadbolt (whose run on the show, in a similar manner  to Seymour, seemed to consist of a long-running series of his outlasting better dancers thanks to the oft-curious whims of Democracy ... aided and availed, if I recall correctly, by Shadbolt announcing that persons issued with parking tickets in Invercargill could pay them by voting for him via txt in the contest). 

They also possibly haven't reckoned with the notion that when you're preciously low in the "gravitas" stakes anyway - to the point of quite possibly being turfed out in the next electoral cycle and therefore winding up with all the lack of stature of a failed politician (no disrespect to Marama Fox in this regard) - that it may very well seem like there's little, other than one's electorate seat, left to lose with the only way from there being up. 

Provided one is neither Rodney Hide's partner in 2006, nor Rodney Hide in the hands of *his* partner [i.e. the National Party] in 2011 - in which case, the downward trajectory, via dropping, is also a possibility. 

But I digress. 

If it is, indeed, the case that Seymour is deploying a *deliberate* attempt at "ridiculing his way to victory", so to speak, then while there *is* a certain chance that this might work (presuming he doesn't unduly alienate the grandee burghers of the leafy boughs of Epsom, upon whom his and his party's survival effectively depends) ... there is *also* a chance - and one of escalating magnitude in direct proportion to his relative success at the former endeavour - that once again attaining a plurality of seats (for the first time in what - a decade?) leads to serious harm for the ACT Party overall. 

I would have said "a mortal blow", but at this point in the game, it almost seems like the sand in ACT's hourglass is occasionally prone to actually flowing *sideways* (to the right, naturally) rather than running out in any sensible, predictable fashion.

How am I suggesting that success at the ballot box might actually *harm* rather than *help* ACT? 

Well, it's simple. The trouble with a 'reductio ad absurdum' approach is that absurdity pretty much inevitably results. David Seymour managing David Seymour is, for the most part, probably not too difficult. David Seymour managing two to five (being rather generous, and assuming that Simon Bridges doing odd things for a National leader like supporting a nurses' strike leads to some blue votes going yellow a la 1999/2002) ACT MPs may be quite a different matter. 

After all - consider just what happened to ACT in 2008. 

Then, whether you wish to attribute a substantive causative role to Rodney Hide on Stars for this or not, ACT somehow attained sufficient votes for five MPs. The four List MPs were drawn from the assembled ranks of ACT's List [I hesitate to term it a "talent pool" - as this presumably implies a body of water with a greater depth than that of the pre-Markle Windsor gene-pool .. although I suppose it's still deep enough to drown in, either way]; and within the space of about two years had seemingly made ACT virtually unelectable through a series of escapades I would have described as "singularly bizarre" but for their ongoing recurrence. 

A full accounting of these (I'm not sure that a full accounting *for* them would even be possible) is beyond the scope of this piece. Although suffice to say that over the course of the 2008-2011 Parliamentary Term, pretty much every single one of ACT's MPs, whether part of the initial 2008 intake or brought in from the bench following the ignominious exits of same, managed to cover themselves in a substance not quite akin to "glory". 

However in John Boscawen's case, that substance actually turned out to be "lamington"

The first signs of trouble, chronologically speaking, were the succession of coup attempts against Rodney Hide authored by pretty much half the non-Hide Caucus and back-room people besides. Because obviously - attempting to politically assassinate the one man whose political success your entire party quite literally depends on, for being insufficiently ideologically puritan for the tastes of Roger Douglas, is a seriously *smart* thing to do. 

To be fair, as applies Heather Roy's role(s) in the above, it does appear that she also was in receipt of a certain degree of fire from Rodney; with it being something of an open question I have no desire to attempt to answer as to which directions blame ought be apportioned in that particular internecine quagmire. Although Hide's own take on events seemed to suggest that Roy was under the 'improper influence' of an allegedly drug-distributing aide with whom she may or may not have been having an affair ... probably didn't help things.

Matters then got worse when we were treated to the "Day of the Jackarse" scandal, starring David Garrett and one dead baby. A frankly bizarre scenario which was rendered all the more distasteful by Garrett's holding of his party's law and order portfolio, and pretty harsh positions in opposition to 

Garrett's replacement, one Hilary Calvert, didn't so far as I know manage to break any laws; but while politicians up and down the country may frequently have their faces plastered on billboards or buildings in order to sell themselves to the electorate ... it is perhaps a bit of an odd look to lend one's visage to a brothel with the presumable intention of assisting in the attraction of clientele

And on and on it went. 

WIth all of this considered, National's rather heavy-handed decision to intervene in the erstwhile free market ... party in 2011, by replacing Hide with a Statler & Waldorf combo of Don Brash & John Banks, seems perhaps less inexplicable than it might otherwise have been. I still think that the otherwise comedic pairing of Brash (a .. curiously principled, if occasionally ignorant Libertarian - c.f his comments on drug-law reform later that year) and Banks (pretty much the exact opposite in terms of both principles and the possession of them) was pretty much doomed from the start in the long term; and that it speaks to an inherent contradiction festering at what used to be the heart of the ACT Party between both 'conservative' and 'liberal', as well as 'realpolitik how do we win Epsom' vs 'what're we in politics to do anyway' wings. 

But again, I digress.

My core point is thus:

ACT found itself in such sufficient dire straits that it might very well have requested a custom kitchen delivery ... in large measure because it "outran its supply-lines" with the perhaps somewhat unexpected growth it experienced as a result of the 2008 General Election. Maybe it genuinely thought everybody in the upper tier of its List was actually worthwhile for Parliament - and, more importantly from the perspective of the Party, capable of actually functioning together as a team (perhaps ironic for a bunch of atomized individualists). 

Except as fine as all of that might have been in theory .. in reality it proved untenable. 

A common complaint, to be sure, with much of what ACT has historically said and done, in a number of forums.

The nature of the personalities involved, the way in which pre-existing conflicts within ACT found themselves *growing* in stature rather than fading into the background with a larger Parliamentary Caucus, coupled with the additional pressures of being in - or at least relatively "near" - Government ... well, ACT began to tear itself apart.

And odds are, it either wouldn't have happened, or at the very least wouldn't have been *nearly* as bad, had ACT only possessed a Caucus of a single MP. I nearly wrote "or perhaps two or three" - but then remembered what happened to United Future a few years earlier when it turned out that having a Caucus of three people provides ample opportunity for not just a three-way split in Parliament .. but the fragmentation of one's party into at least three disparate and irreconcilable parties by the next Election.

I guess what I'm trying to say is - I'm not too terribly worried about David Seymour quite literally twerking ACT's way to victory come 2020; as in the questionably likely event that it somehow nets him a few additional MPs, it seems stunningly plausible that ACT will once again become a "victim of their own success". And in a manner perhaps reminiscent of the British Empire ... collapse at first very gradually, and then all at once.

The "problem", in other words, looks set to be largely self-correcting, in the fullness of time.

Now to be fair, other than economic policy, I have nothing against David Seymour personally. In point of fact, he's actually either directly helped me out a few times, or offered to do so, and in all cases off his own bat (I respect him quite a bit for that - it'd be easy enough to just conclude somebody's an adversary and leave the hand unextended as a result); and like I said above, there's certain areas of what he was banging on about circa 2014-2017 that were arguably not just agreeable but *necessary* from a reasonably liberal left-wing perspective.

I also think that it takes some pretty respectable boldness to both front up as leader of a .. somewhat flagging political party year in and year out - but also, and perhaps more especially, to be willing to subject yourself to the travails and turgidities of reality television. Particularly when it seems abundantly clear to pretty much everyone that you're not one of the better acts on show in the context. Either context, arguably, come to think of it.

So none of what I've written above should necessarily be taken as any form of broadside in his specific direction. Indeed, in parts arguably quite the opposite.

But in the perhaps unlikely event that Seymour manages to increase his numbers in Parliament without the usage of a mirror, it still seems pretty inevitable that the further down ACT's Greasy Pole one gets, the greater the chance that what we might encounter thereupon is significantly more grease yet considerably less pole.

Indeed, to end with a dancing metaphor [thankfully, and despite the twerking incident, not *also* involving the pole] - Seymour may find himself in a similar position to Hide before him.

Not the dropping your partner bit, I mean (although potential for droppery by National  should perhaps never be ruled out); but rather that of presiding over a Parliamentary Caucus with all the gravitas of Morris Dancing - and the rough forward momentum of a drunken conga-line, on rollerskates, with knives forming a not-infrequent mechanism of attachment to the figure in front.

Friday, May 11, 2018

"If This Is Marxism Then I Am Not A Marxist" - What Would Karl Think Of The PRC Claiming His 200th Birthday?



It kinda amuses me, kinda infuriates me how much of a big deal the People's Republic of China's been making in relation to Marx's birthday over the weekend.

I mean, even leaving aside Marx's own thoughts about how the "Asiatic Mode of Production" didn't really fit into his model of historical-economic-political progression ... and therefore was *extra* inapplicable for dialectical materialism leading to communism therein ....

the plain fact of the matter is that the PRC *consciously and deliberately* jettisoned Marxist dogma and Marx's own thought at a number of points in its relatively short history.

I forget the precise date, but at some point in the iirc mid-1950s, Marxism [admitedy in Soviet-esque inflection for official purposes] was pointedly replaced by "Mao-Thought" ... which, some might argue, bore about as much resemblance to the Marxist theory it claimed to be derived from as Nu Metal does to Black Sabbath.

The reasons for this movement are multifaceted, and do include "political" considerations related to the escalating Sino-Soviet Split ... but at their core, boil down to a combination of it being blatantly obvious just how inapplicable Marx's own thinking was to the ongoing "progress" of the Maoist "revolution" and presumably a certain helping of Mao's own overblown ego-ism.

Some decades later, it happened again as a part of the Deng-ist shift towards the entirely oxymoronical "Socialism with Chinese Characteristics" - which, while it might very well have been Chinese, had and has precious little to do with "Socialism" .. and even *less* to do with Marx.

This all results in a modern state of affairs wherein the Chinese state somewhat breathlessly claiming in gifts of statuary etc. to be Marx's ideological heirs ... is instead operating its system as pretty much the *opposite* of what Marx would have approved of - a paradigm of pretty seriously repressive capitalism buttressed by constant outbursts of jingoism and militant imperialism that keeps inexorably arching towards #FullNeoliberalism #InOurTime.

I mean seriously. If you want to do the intellectual contortionisms required to try and say that the modern PRC is Marxist ... then you're basically left concluding that anything which intentionally presides over economic growth and development is "Marxist".

And, to be fair, that's kinda how *some* of the thinking behind the Great Leap Forward supposedly went. When it wasn't a shoddy-steel dick-measuring contest with Great Britain or carrying out mass-purges of Mao's despised natural enemy .. the sparrow.

But the trouble is that while you *can* argue that advancing economic conditions from feudalism through to capitalism [or, if we're disregarding the whole "Asiatic Mode of Production" thing ... from whatever to Capitalism], and from thence to *higher* capitalism, according to Marx's own schema *might* make the "inevitable" revolution more plausible coz advancing internal contradictions and suchlike driving the whole thing to breaking point ...

... the slight issue here is that if the authority [I hesitate to call it a "revolutionary body"] propelling the economic shifts is *also* brutally repressing any actual attempt to turn the popular harm and discontent of these economic "advancements" into an actual political movement to overturn them and seize the means of production etc. (which are handily now often in a number of wealthy groups and individuals' hands rather than being even "nationalized" much less "socialized" over there), then it is pretty difficult ot meaningfully claim that what you're doing is somehow "Marxist" rather than "Get-Rich-Quick-Ist" - or simply "Capitalism with Marxist MSG-ing" or something.

This is particularly the case given a) the huge over-emphasis upon Cults of Personality (and one in particular) that have characterized the Chinese political experience for a pretty big swathe of the past century; b) the aforementioned uber-strong emphasis upon regime security and political repression - things anathema to Marx's own life, as it happens, even notwithstanding the vital necessity of either an open space for dissension or an escalating ineffectiveness of repression for a Revolution to actually forment and occur; and c) the fact that the overarching 'outcome' of all of this appears very much to *not* be a universal uprising of Proletariat - but instead, a resurrection of the old Confucian concept of the "Mandate of Heaven", and the gradual expansion of this sphere (possibly a "co-prosperity" one) to encompass a pretty broad swathe of the globe under either direct Chinese suzerainty (c.f their territorial claims on India, for instance), or indirect economic neo-colonialism (c.f their relations with a number of less-well-off and less-independent countries including to a certain extent our own New Zealand). Something that is part and parcel bound up with d) a strenuous effort to manufacture what an older generation of Marxists would have rightfully termed "false class consciousness" in order to stave *off* any deposing of the capitalist-coercive regime in power in Beijing or elsewhere; which is e) itself not a "dictatorship of the proletariat", still less even a Lenninist "Vanguard Party" - but rather an establishment network of technocratic managerialist damn well mandarins ... that represent the *actual* salient force and engine in Chinese politics and political economy rather than the vague and impersonal "class struggle" - and that's without even getting into how f) the "class" dimension has moved from "let's build an industrial proletariat or something" through to "let's get a middle class and some seriously well off people happening" instead [there's another discursion somewhere about Marx's failure to properly predict "The Middle Class" as a thing .. but THAT IS ANOTHER STORY FOR ANOTHER TIME]

Now don't get me wrong - there's much to look at in China's last few decades of history and self-authored economic development which is ... pretty impressive. Particularly if you don't really care about any human costs that might have been borne in the process.

And from a certain perspective, it would be perhaps difficult to fault the PRC from acting in its own self-interest and managing to take China from the decaying post-Qing quasi-colonized ruins of the early half of the 20th century ... through to an emergent Great Power fully capable of carrying out many of the same antics which the (predominantly) European metropoles wrought upon the world at large (and China in particular, funnily enough) over the previous three hundred years or so.

Ironic, arguably, but that's the nature of history and international relations. A bitter joke from the perspective of the less-powerful and a richly rewarding punch-line for the Ascendent among the assembled chorus of states.

But whatever its relative merits or shortcomings as a system and a project, I do not believe that it is in any meaningful way "Marxist" - so much as almost the opposite, a "mirror image" say (hence why everything is *exactly the wrong way round* while still possessing similar shape to the passive observer).

In fact, it seems rather hard to escape the supposition that we know very well how Marx himself would have reacted and responded to the PRC attempting to claim his legacy as their own.

In 1883, not long before his death, Karl Marx penned a missive to two French socialists who claimed to be acting in his ideology's name ... first calling them out for "revolutionary phrase-mongering" in lieu of actual, meaningful pro-Worker activity (a charge which seems peculiarly relevant to the People's Republic of China whenever it chooses to LARP as a "revolutionary front" or whatever - although this aptness of a phrase is perhaps somewhat ironic given what Marx was actually critiquing Guesde and Lafargue on at the time was their opposition to "reformism" within a capitalist context), and then bluntly stating that if what these guys were doing was Marxism, then "what is certain is that I myself am not a Marxist".

Good thing, too.

Because i'm *pretty sure* that being a dissident journalist slash philosopher publishing frequent and passionate exhortations to building a better and more just society ... is the sort of thing that gets you placed under indefinite house-arrest or in several peoples' bodies one organ at a time over in the PRC these days.

And it would be *quite* a shame to lose him!

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Juchee Vs McWorld - On The Perhaps Surprising Twilight Of The Idols Commencing In North Korea



So North Korea might be getting a McDonalds. Gosh, the bonanza of boons as a result of this nuclear climb-down just keep proliferating!


But then I thought .. what if this is actually a shrewd move by Kim Jong-Un to take advantage of the "law" of liberal international relations - the so-called "Golden Arches Peace Theory" - whereby apparently, if you've got a McDonalds in your country, another nation with a McDonalds isn't supposed to attack you (like, normatively speaking, obviously).

[Depressingly [DPRK-ingly?], this is a more recent outgrowth of what's known as "democratic peace theory" - the idea that democracies apparently don't or shouldn't (theoretically speaking) go to war with one another; although as it turns out, this older formulation is arguably less reliable than the thing with the french fries ... make of that what you will]

The slight issue with the "theory", though, is that it's fairly blatantly not true. A rather common critique, to be sure, of much of Thomas Friedman's output.

You see - only a year or so after Friedman first propounded it, cresting the wave of the '90s "HOPE" "NEOLIBERALISM" "END OF HISTORY" zeitgeist-vibe ... NATO started bombing Serbia. A country which at the time had a few McDonalds outlets to its name.

I say "had". Shortly after the bombing started, Belgradians took it upon themselves to demolish them. (They were eventually rebuilt once NATO ceased combat operations - which, somewhat perplexingly, Friedman appeared to take as a vindication of his theory's practical value).

And there have, of course, been a few other rather prominent counter-examples since such as the 2008 conflict between Russia and Georgia, or the 1999 Kargil War between India and Pakistan. All of which had McDonalds in operation within their borders at the time.

Although as some pundits noted with amusement, Russia appeared to be shutting down a number of prominent McDonalds restaurants in 2014, about the same time that the Donetsk seceded from Ukraine with Russian support.

Still, despite the obvious unreality of its core tenet - that it's engagement with the globalized capitalist economic system, rather than, say, cautious and careful diplomacy based upon mutual respect and understanding (insofar as such things are possible between states (operating) within a realist context/set of assumptions) which leads to enduring peace - it's worth revisiting Golden Arches Peace Theory in the present day.

Not least because I have absolutely no doubt that somewhere in Washington, policy-wonks and think-tankers will be gleefully propounding the idea that the setting up of fast-food chains and other 'soft power' proponderances of the "American Way Of Life" in the DPRK will first infiltrate and then assimilate North Korea into the Atlanticist-authored vision for geopolitical order under a certain unipolar hegemon.

And yeah, sure, in the *short term*, it's certainly possible to postulate that the 'novelty value' of being able to eat questionably nutritious food of an entirely different nature and all the other things that go alongside Amerika setting up (literal) shop in your neighbourhood *may* actually have an impact on some people.

I just don't see this offering any lasting nor serious guarantee of peace.

If the USA decides to make good on John Bolton's proffered proposal of doing to the DPRK what the Obama Administration did to Libya (i.e. suddenly turning on a dime and effectively ousting said country's leader whom they'd previously been getting on relatively reasonably with in a pointlessly destructive "intervention") - I really do somehow doubt whether the presence of a single 'underutilized' McDonalds in PyongYang is seriously going to stop them.

Meanwhile, there's also no guarantee that simply putting up some Golden Arches in a country in a manner not entirely unakin to a lower-key flag of conquest for a socio-economic system ... will actually lead to the "host" population in question all uniformly and unanimously electing to just casually become slightly-cosmetically-different Americans [or, i suppose, South Koreans] overnight.

In fact, there's - once again - quite some evidence and theoretical spade work to suggest that, if anything, the *opposite* can very readily be true.

This is detailed in another article (and subsequent book) which came out a few years before the publication of Friedman's original piece on the rather surprising alleged connection between having Hamburglar active in your nation's capital and being at peace - Benjamin Barber's "Jihad vs McWorld".

As you can probably guess from the title, it details the notion that "globalization" - and particularly the cultural elements of same - do not simply occur in a vacuum, imposed upon passive mannequins rather than men. But instead, invite skepticism, scrutiny, and somewhat more often than pro-Globalism forces care to admit .. outright opposition or even surprisingly successful push-back.

In its place, an exaltation of 'older' ways of doing things - traditional values and understandings - may grow up; militantly or gently-but-firmly re-asserting themselves against the mono-cultural and rather tacky .. flaccid, even? .. 'universalizing' paradigm of 'McWorld'.

At which point, no doubt, we'll get to see just how genuinely committed the various Atlanticist-consensus countries which presently exist 'neath the "Golden Arches" are to *not* attempting to impose their world-view by force upon the North Korean - or any other - population.

In some ways, it's interesting to directly compare and contrast the mindsets that went into both the Golden Arches Peace Theory and Jihad Vs Mcworld.

The latter was a the product of an 'age of uncertainty' - a period in between dominant zeitgeists if you like, wherein many reasonable people were refreshingly reluctant to take for granted the possibility of teleology or Eschaton-Immanentization in geopolitics. Where it wasn't just blithely assumed that because the Cold War was seemingly ending, that this meant the Nation-State pretty much would be (in its post-Westphalian nature and significance/salience, at any rate) too.

In short, where *actual thinking* was taking place about what might transpire in the future and how best to navigate continuously evolving circumstances in such a way as to *avoid* the potential fall-back into strife-riven paradigms of the past (whichever past and whenever we might be referring to with that).

The former, meanwhile, is huffed up on its own triumphalism - confident (even, going by later reprints and new editions, following subsequent events which ought surely to have disproven its core ethos) well beyond the point of arrogance that the End of History hadn't just come ... but that the author's views were both riding the wave of causality and powering it.

Even though Friedman didn't mean it in that sense, I always found it telling that he attempted to pooh-pooh his critics on the concept by referring to them as "realists" :P

Sitting here in the closing years of the 2010s, I feel it pretty uncontentious to state that we, too, are very much in "uncharted waters". We've witnessed the decay and if not outright collapse of a number of epochs and their accompanying meta-narratives over the span of the last quarter century or so. And out with them have, by necessity rather than choice (for a depressingly large number of foreign policy actors, at least), gone many of the comfortable assumptions-into-assertions which have governed what "should" happen in politics - whether local-/national- or of the "geo-" variety.

But as we seemingly see every time John Bolton, Nikki Haley, Hillary Clinton, Theresa May etc. etc. etc. open their mouths .. old habits die hard.

It's worth critically evaluating things like "Golden Arches Peace Theory" in the context of what's looking set to happen in North Korea over the next few years [the opening up to Western economic operations, I mean - not so much the "Libya-fication" .. hopefully] precisely because of that fact.

As otherwise ... who wants to be left stranded high and dry - "beached as, bro" - when the much-vaunted "tide of history" actually turns out to have been going the other way this whole time, regardless of what the "model" "thinks".

Monday, April 30, 2018

On A Potential Future For The Commonwealth



Slightly odd thought (which requires further development): The Commonwealth is at something of a crossroads at present, and understandably so. After all, it's never truly made a 'proper' transition from a sort of vestigial "ashes of empire" into a properly multi-national bloc on any but a talking-shop level.

Something which is going to be rather interesting, though, is how the Commonwealth chooses to re-organize itself in light of the changed geopolitical realities of the 21st century - and in particular, which member-states [present .. or even, perhaps, future] are likely to emerge as both leaders *within* the Commonwealth sphere, as well as the incipient 'axials' around which the future structure and impetus of the Commonwealth are likely to gestate or gel.

For the time-being at least, British dominance of the whole thing seems an arguable fait accompli. This is particularly the case as a result of #Brexitplacing far more emphasis upon the imperative vitality of non-European foreign relations for the UK (something which, as I have capaciously argued previously, renders that particular development quite the win for us down here in New Zealand!).

Yet for an array of reasons, it seems very plausible to prophesy that this state of affairs will be unlikely to continue indefinitely.

Obviously, the 'future shape' of the Commonwealth, and the relative apportions or agglomerations of 'power' therein, will be significantly impacted by which principles and objectives the Commonwealth structure winds up prioritizing.

If it reconvens as a 'trade-bloc', then nations with considerable economic cloud will become more prominent, for instance. While if it (instead - it is always a bit iffy attempting to do this in harmony with economic motives) chooses to emphasize the nebulous notions of 'shared values', democracy, and Anglospheric conceptions of 'human rights' .. then the virtue-signalling states will undoubtedly have the most to say - whether or not anyone's actually listening.

But while certain polities such as Canada and Australia look set to loom large in the Commonwealth's future constellation of aspirations almost regardless of which direction it chooses to go, due to their reasonably sized populations and markets and the relative influence of their political systems ... I found myself pondering an altogether different angle.

Namely whether, as what will undoubtedly be the single most significant state within the Commonwealth in almost any term one chooses to mention given sufficient time, whether we might actually see a most intriguing development of the Commonwealth pertaining to India.

It would, to be sure, be an ironic state of affairs to see the vestigial remnants of the empire which so iniquitously subjugated the Subcontinent in centuries previous ... eventually evolve into a community of influence built around the emergent Great Power grown up in its wake. Although as Mark Twain (iirc) once allegedly observed - history doesn't "repeat" so much as it "rhymes".

Still, it would be a most interesting historical and geopolitical development; as while India has done stirling work at shoring up diplomatic ties in various parts of the world in recent years, its perceived 'pivot' away from Russia and accompanying improvement in relations with the Americans, has not necessarily significantly improved its relative power position given the increasing competitiveness the Chinese have displayed in both India's own neighbourhood/friend-circles as well as the potential areas for Indian diplomatic expansion.

With all of this in mind, the Commonwealth represents as a potential natural 'longer term' avenue for drawing together a worthwhile array of economic and political partners for India, who also in many cases have pre-existing reasons to share important elements of the Indian geopolitical vision RE Her northern neighbour.

There are some putative 'sticking points', of course. For one thing, Pakistan retains its Commonwealth membership. For another, following this month's CHOGM meeting, Prince Charles looks set to continue the Royalist tradition of an unelected (sort-of) English sovereign presiding over the organization.

Yet who knows how things may differ in twenty to thirty years.

Indeed, about the only thing that can be said with any certainty at this point (other than India's increasing salience for matters geopolitical), is that if properly managed, the Commonwealth's ongoing post-War transition looks set to provide a bountiful opportunity for member-states in the years to come.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Nothing Sensible Nor To Trust In Garth McVicar's Sentence On Shooting

One of the big problems with Garth McVicar's idiotic statement on the police shooting which took place Saturday is that it helps to colour perceptions around the actions and habitual demeanour of *Police* with regard to firearms and shootings.

I *seriously* doubt whether any of the officers involved in the incident would have thought anything even vaguely reminiscent of "one less to clog the prisons" when attempting to remonstrate with the machete-wielding man, or for that matter when sighting him up or pulling the trigger.

Quite the opposite, most likely.


And yet, by shooting his mouth off in the way he has, McVicar has inadvertently provided a soundbite, a talking point for anybody who wishes to subjunctively tarr our Police as basically being the Americans, due to the impression that his views might have some currency amidst people generally concerned about law and order - including, most especially, its chartered upholders, the Police.


If McVicar's a genuine enthusiast for summary executions in lieu of judicial process [and I'm *not* sayiing that that's what yesterday's occurrence was, by any stretch of the imagination - simply that that appears to be the logical next step to McVicar's public advocacy], then that's his business.


And a sorry business it is, too.


But by attempting to connect this to the New Zealand Police - and by stating that his "thoughts are with the officer" - he can only be seen to be using this unfortunate incidence to attempt to push a pre-determined political agenda.

And worse ... far worse ... one which he seemingly wants the Police to take on board.

The Police don't need "advocacy" like this; and in many cases, I would respectfully suggest .. neither do the victims of crime.

We are lucky to live in a (for the most part) reasonably sane and often humane society, wherein our law enforcement neither goes into every potential encounter armed - nor undertake decisions about when and how to use those parts of their equipment lightly.

Our judicial system is most definitely not perfect; and for all his asinine bluster, even McVicar's comment on this issue appears to implicitly acknowledge that our groaning and wildly over-full prisons are a key part of the problem rather than the solution when it comes to reducing offending.

But the conversation around ameliorating the size of New Zealand's population behind bars is NOT one which ought to include the advocacy for death as an 'easy' means to 'thin the herd'.

And especially not in the absence of proper due process (the provision of which, as we can see from any number of American states, actually leads to various inmates languishing in prison for *longer* as they exhaust their appeals process).

Instead, an ideal place to start would be the reversal of National's [and more specifically, Judith Collins'] alterations to our nation's bail- and remand- laws; which presently see up to three thousand New Zealanders, who haven't (yet) been convicted of any crime, forced into the same brutalizing environment as actual hardened criminals.

Even Bill English, while still Prime Minister (and in addition to his "moral and fiscal failure" comments about our incarceration system some years earlier while Deputy), agreed that the then-National Government's law-changes in this area had resulted in unintended consequences due to their harshness.

Yet for Garth McVicar, the only answer - in EVERY single offender's case (other than, apparently, David Garrett - the one offender I think I can ever recall McVicar going into bat for and arguing that he'd been rehabilitated etc.) - is to get more harsh, more punitive, more 'knee-jerk' in terms of sanction.

McVicar knows that this is not a sustainable option - to wheel out an incipient return to England's "Bloody Code" at each and every possible opportunity.

People get tired of it. Start to see through it. The tides of public opinion go out somewhat on the dual vipers of "throw away the key" and the anti-biblical demands for a pound of flesh or an eye in recompense for an eye.

The self-styled baying voices in the wilderness who somehow simultaneously conceive of themselves as speaking somewhat-bidden upon the behalves of a "silent majority" ... suddenly find, to their horror, that they actually *are* now enfolded and enfiladed by relative obscurity for their person and occasionally even their agenda (assuming that younger, brighter sparks haven't turned up to claim the standard for same).

These remarks apply capaciously to just about any political cause - and more especially for the attempted-populist ones and the Conservative Moral Panic types of salient.

In the case of criminal justice, such a shift has become clearly visible over a reasonable period of time - a significant proof of which being the softly emergent moral consensus comprised of everybody from 'compassionate conservatives' [think Bill English's comments in a previous life] on outward, who've begun to openly ponder if there might not be a "better way" than just continually tightening the thumb-screws upon an ever-expanding prison population in the hope that something miraculously changes other than the proportion of the tax-bill which goes thence.

Whether and how "smart on crime" might begin to supplant "tough on crime" as the magic metre for law-and-order policy debate.

In fact, as applies McVicar, I dare say that the relatively diminishing media and public attention he's been getting over the past few years is at least partially symptomatic of that. Possibly mixed with the fallout-radius tarnishment of having cast aside his veneer of "political neutrality" to stand for the CCCP [Colin Craig's Conservative Party - to distinguish it from the subsequent, and in matters of sentencing policy, occasionally perhaps surprisingly more enlightened Leighton Baker iteration]; and probably infused with the customary de-emphasis upon one which accompanies an ever advancing age and crank-sounding "advocacy".

However it's happened, it seems like a fairly safe bet to conclude that in the manner of a petulant toddler who's hell-bent upon not being ignored as a response to his previous antics, that McVicar's gone for Shock Value in lieu of substance or sense.

Shouting loudly and offensively because it's vaguely guaranteed to get a headline and a spot on the 6 o'clock news.

Deliberately saying something inflammatory and highly insensitive to pretty much everyone actually involved; on grounds that it's "easier" than actually coming up with a statement worthwhile to utter. And fully cognisant that, in any case, his own ongoing marginalization makes it inordinately likely that nothing else he'd say would plausibly smoulder brightly enough to draw a watchful media eye.

Oh well.

That's the thing about these kinds of "inflammatory remarks". Sooner or later, you find yourself with so much pitch on your hands, and be-laden by self-set sparks, that the straw-men one sought to tarry with have instead trapped you in your very own Wicker Man.

At which point the choice effectively becomes one of whether you wish to bow out 'gracefully' from public life [insofar as such a thing might be possible for one such as he]; or whether you take a leaf from Aristophanes' book [The Wasps, to be precise - funnily enough, a play with *much* rather direct relevance to what's going on here, now that I think about it ...], and "learn from Theramenes, that shrewd politician - to move with the times, and improve your position!'

The chances of a semi-ambulatory briar patch like McVicar actually taking heed of this, and electing to soften his stance and moderate or modulate his views in light of changing conditions out here in the Court of Public Opinion as applies acceptable conduct for a self-appointed Prosecutor from the viewing gallery ... are perhaps only adequately expressible as a mathematical function of the sort used to assess the outputs of alternate universe theory

Which leaves the final option ... burn yourself and any credibility you might once have had out, upon a self-constructed pyre.

A few more of these such outbursts, particularly in light of his former Deputy, Ruth Money choosing to go public in castigation of him on Newshub last night (what did I say earlier about the standard being claimed by others of a newer vintage?); and there may prove to be little left of McVicar but a guttering candle, suffocated - metaphorically, of course - upon the auto-generated smoke produced in lieu of any *actual* illumination.

Good riddance.

For what it's worth, my thoughts are also (albeit not exclusively) with the officers involved in the weekend's incident. It cannot have been an easy thing to make the determination to pull the trigger; and I have no doubt whatsoever that the officer responsible will also be mulling events over in his mind, particularly given the several inquiries into the matter that are now presently underway - in addition to the inevitable trial-by-media that always seems to grow up following these things even in the apparent absence of half the facts.

But they are also with the family of the chap who lost his life this Easter Weekend just gone. And, for that matter, with the dead man himself. We don't know, at this stage, what combination of demeanour, drink, drugs, debilitating mental illness, or other factors entirely might have lead to his regrettable decision to come at police whilst wielding a machete.

But whatever it was, it seems hard not to think of him, too, as a person. Not least because that's presumably how those near and dear to him will be conceptualizing him at present.

That's something that all too often seems to fall by the wayside for these "tough on crime" 'advocacy' types. The fact that everyone involved in the situation - whether offender or policeman or victim - is actually a human being.

Rather than a mere political prop to be wheeled out and drawn upon and puppeteered via press-release til they are no longer useful for that *particular* day's attempted headline-grab.

In any case, good on the policeman who took McVicar to task over this latest outburst.

Police don't usually advertise their vocation on social media, and with good reason. To do so can invite unwelcome interactions from the public such as torrid torrents of unwarranted and unasked for abuse.

Yet the trouble with silence (the official position of the NZ Police on McVicar's utterance - presumably to avoid dignifying it with a response) is that it can leave such reprehensibilities to fester unchallenged.

It is presumably a mark of just how significantly McVicar's stunt has 'crossed the line' [in this case, the thin, blue one] that it resulted in an officer choosing to front up and voice a broadly felt condemnation of same.

Who knows - it might even potentially dissuade McVicar from continuing into the future with his own ballistics-related habitual pastime ... that of frequent and potent discharges (of his mouth) into his own foot.


Thursday, March 29, 2018

For NZ First De Nile Is A River That Runs Through Warkworth



Two brief thoughts on this imbroglio presently embroiling New Zealand First up in Rodney.

The first is that Simon Bridges is engaging in a fulsome rewrite of reality when he claims that MPs (and potentially Ministers of the Crown) threatening to withhold funding for projects for political gain is "not the way we do things", particularly in the New Zealand National Party.

After all, it was only a few months ago that National's then-Associate Housing Minister, Alfred Ngaro, was publicly stating through the media that National would deny funding to organizations which criticized it - in particular, singling out Willie Jackson and the Manukau Urban Maori Authority as targets for losing funding and a charter school application thanks to their trenchant criticism of the then-Government over housing policy and other areas.

Ngaro also directly claimed that he'd paid Jackson a personal visit to outline this rather brusque diktat that "bagging" National for alleged political gain or otherwise would lead to funding and approval for programmes championed by the critical figures and foundations in question being "off the table"; although Jackson disputes this.

I mention those last details because they sound eerily familiar to what is alleged to have occurred up at the Orewa Surf Club over the weekend between newly minted NZ First MP Jenny Marcroft and former National Defence Minister slash present local Rodney Electorate MP Mark Mitchell.

In specia, Marcroft is supposed to have asked for a meeting with Mitchell, turned up, and bluntly laid out that Mitchell was to cease his support for a particular river restoration project if he wanted it to see funding from the Government.

She reportedly stated she was there at the instruction of an unnamed Minister of the Crown.

This is allegedly supposed to have occurred due to Mitchell's previous attacks on current Defence Minister (and present NZ First MP) Ron Mark. However, while that might be what Marcroft *claimed* was the underlying causation for her somewhat dubious actions, for various reasons partially related to internal NZ First politics [e.g. what Marcroft's patron appeared to say about that incident when it turned up in the media], I'm not buying it.

An obvious line of suspicion would be to ponder the role of Shane Jones in all of this. After all, the Provincial Growth Fund falls squarely under his Ministerial Portfolios, and Marcroft is supposed to have directly sought an assurance from Mitchell that Jones would not be questioned in Parliament about any decision to award cash to the Mahurangi River project, particularly by National's Regional Development spokesperson Paul Goldsmith [and given Goldsmith's record in other areas, I would have been stunningly surprised if he could even locate the Mahurangi River on a map, let alone single it out in Parliamentary Question Time unbidden].

However, Jones has stated that he is not the Minister being referred to by Marcroft - and for what it's worth, even though I have previously levelled quite some criticisms against him, I actually do believe him on this score.

Besides which, for all his faults, Jones tends to possess a certain degree of political cunning and a much more subtle selection of political underlings ['tools'] with which to execute his will. I doubt he would have been stupid enough to engineer something as crystal-china-sledgehammer-operated-without-safety-goggles as all of this.

Instead, I cannot help but suspect that the age-old question - Cui Bono? ['Who Benefits?'] - proposes a rather immediate answer here as to precisely *which* Minister of the Crown may be overtly responsible for what appears to have occurred.

The Mahurangi River lies in Rodney, and more specifically, runs directly through the town of Warkworth.

There is a particular MP, recently elevated to the ranks of Cabinet as a Minister, who lives in Warkworth and who has previously unsuccessfully contested the Rodney Electorate on quite a number of occasions.

This particular Minister has also had a bit of a history of using Marcroft as a mouthpiece - including, in an instance in which I was personally involved in (as the target), when it comes to perhaps morally dubious undertakings.

It is understandable why Marcroft would be employed in such a manner by this Minister - according to my information, they went to school together way back when.

It is also understandable why said Minister would wish to claw back any advantage possible from incumbent MP Mark Mitchell over the next two and a half years before they contest the Rodney Electorate again.

And that apparently includes endeavouring to deny Mitchell the ability to positively associate himself with a river restoration project.

Although personally, considering it has taken now some nine long years to get *any* National Party MP to even *acknowledge* there's a problem with at least one of our more significant rivers, I probably would just have let him get on with it instead were I in the relevant decision-making position.

Still, all of this brought to mind a quotation occasionally attributed to Sun Tzu [although also cited by Umberto Eco as being of Indian origin]:

"If you wait by the river long enough, you will see the body of your enemy floating by".

Unlikely, perhaps, in this case (as the river in question appears to be in need of some restoration work); but nevertheless, my penchant for purviewing political pop-corn aside, it might be good if the Minister in question would just get on with the job they're nominally there for - rather than attempting to re-enact select scenes from House of Cards every two to six months with an approximately 50-50 win rate.