Monday, November 28, 2016

Fidel Castro - A Brief Eulogy

I'm really not quite sure what to say about Fidel Castro's death. The man was an absolute titan of modern politics and the modern world. He not only comprehensively reshaped his home nation from Mafia-run, economically colonized backwater to a vanguard liberation state with enviable first-world healthcare (because to simply say that that's what he did would be almost to imply that it was done in a vacuum); but he also managed to do so despite the might of a superpower breathing both strenuously and semi-literally down his neck, and under the weight of a crippling international embargo. 

Before we had the jokes about the "Curse of Assad" (wherein pretty much every Western politician who's insisted "Assad must go" has, themselves, wound up deposed or otherwise dethroned) ... it was a running sport to tally up the number of US Presidents he'd outlasted (particularly those who'd attempted to have him assassinated - the CIA's Operation Mongoose racking up more than six hundred attempts against his life and featuring everything from exploding seashells to LSD-filled missiles).

And regardless of how you might feel about the man .. that sort of tenacity and indefatigability is certainly worthy of respect. As are, to my mind, the results which Castro's regime achieved in comparison to many of its (still foreign-dominated) Carribean neighbours. Certainly, squaring up outcomes and quality of life for Cubans against the ordinary inhabitants of other (capitalist) countries of the Carribean does not necessarily cast Castroist Cuba in a particularly bad comparative light. (Although for reasons I'll never quite understand, the default point of comparison for many commentators is, instead, living-standards in the US - and never, for that matter, the impoverished parts like Detroit)

But as with any 'great man', whatever he might have been and achieved in life, the serious intellectualizing of what he stood for almost inevitably comes predominantly after his death. This will be particularly the case with Castro, as there were simply so many sides to his political life - so many 'fingers in pies', if you will. I've already touched upon his specific role within the Cuban Revolution; and any serious student of the history of Latin America will also know of his incredibly broad-spanning role influencing and supporting the political developments of his neighbours (including considerable humanitarian assistance to Grenada, military aid to the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, an attempt to help Salvador Allende in Chile, the ill-starred Cuban efforts in Bolivia which martyred Che Guevara, and 
longstanding and active comradeship and material support with the Bolivarians of Venezuela).

In addition to these, we also have his tireless advocacy for other marginalized and subaltern peoples (for example, with the ongoing crisis of third world foreign debt); and a broader military participation by Cuba in the overseas struggles of a bewildering array of other nations further afield.

This particular element of Castro's contribution has been overlooked by many of the media accounts of his life which I've read over the past 36 hours; but it is no exaggeration to say that the massive scale of Cuban military intervention in southern Africa (with, at its height, somewhere around 55,000 Cuban troops plus air assets and other military hardware deployed in Angola) contributed to the ending of Apartheid in South Africa. It also occurs, on that note, that this is another mark of the success of Castro's leadership - as over a three-decade period, Cuba had been transformed from a quasi-colonial island backwater 'playground for the American rich' into a regional powerhouse capable of projecting force to the other side of the world.

Still, it would be an exercise in hagiography (which is perhaps, at this early stage, somewhat unwarranted) to pretend that Castro's reign was perfect. A number of commentators have pointed out the reality of prison camps in Cuba (although curiously, often without noting by way of context that the largest such camp on Cuba is, in fact, the Guantanamo Bay facility run by the Americans). And it is certainly true that in the 1960s, internment camps were set up for homosexuals on the island. Although those invoking this reprehensible part of his history rarely also deign to mention that it was Castro himself who shut down those same camps in 1968 (after visiting them incognito to see what conditions were actually like); or that homosexuality's legalization there in 1979 beat us here in progressive New Zealand by nearly a decade.

With all of those facets to consider, we shall no doubt be continuing to debate what Castro's contribution was to human history for many decades to come. (Indeed, the ripple-effects are such that one is put in the mind of Zhou Enlai's famous rejoinder to a question asked by Richard Nixon in 1972 about the impact of the French Revolution nearly two centuries earlier - "it's too soon to say")

Many political traditions, groups and movements will seek to claim both Castro and his legacy. This is understandable. Any figure which exerts such an impressive weight upon both the popular imagination and the very fabric of our global politics will, of course, have an almost gravitic attraction for all manner of figures and currents out there in the firmament.

But to my mind, the first and most enduring conceptualization of Castro's politics are
those of a Nationalist. We often obscure this when we focus upon the Cuban Revolution's ensuing alliance with the Soviet Union, and attempts at 'exporting revolution' over the subsequent decades (although I'm not entirely sure why either of these factoids are thought to be in contravention of Nationalist proclivity - both are eminently defensible as the sustained participation in causes affiliated and acting in influence upon with national liberation struggles). But looking at what Castro said, did, and wrote in his early years, this Nationalist orientation is fairly incontrovertible (even down to his early attempts to seek peaceful coexistence with and work productively with the United States, until the latter made such a thing deliberately unworkable). Even looking ahead for the next thirty or so years, his record appears very much as a man interested in both Cuban and other nations' self-determination. 

In any case, I am not Castro. I cannot speak on his behalf. But if I were ... I have little doubt that that's what I'd wish for my legacy to be - acting as an ever-living and eternal (albeit supernal) beacon of both illumination and inspiration to those seeking to better the lot of their fellow man through national liberation struggles even far afield from Castro's own island homeland.

As we say here in New Zealand: "A Mighty Totara Has Fallen".

The serious question now is what grows up in its former shade - and, for that matter, what form of canoe is adzed out of its fallen trunk.

^The image above is, of course, of Fidel's fallen comrade Hugo Chavez. But I do wonder if it also encapsulates the right feeling for the weekend's post-mortem as well.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Multinationals Not Paying Tax Is A Legal, Fiscal & Ethical Issue - Not Just 'Bad PR'

I nearly fell out of my chair yesterday evening when Newshub opened an item with a declaration that the Prime Minister was finally talking about multinationals dodging their fair share of Kiwi tax.

My disbelief was understandable. National has spent quite some years now basically attempting to pretend that this problem doesn't exist. When they're queried about this in Parliament, and just straight-up asked whether they think it's an issue that ten billion dollars of sales generates only $1.8 MILLION dollars in taxes for the top twenty multinationals operating here ... they just waffle away - and, at best, suggest that this is an international problem (which, to be fair, it is) which isn't really solvable by New Zealand.

It's always seemed a bit peculiar to me that our comparatively tiny country on the far side of the globe can do mighty things like bringing to a halt French nuclear testing, or thumbing our nose (and actually getting our way) when it comes to the defence policy of a superpower in our backyard ... yet we apparently balk when confronted with slightly tricky issues involving medium-large corporations. It isn't just a matter of taxation or offshore interests, either - consider the ongoing omnishambles we had attempting to wrangle Telecom to properly provide national communications infrastructure (rather than fat dividends for its shareholders) in the early 2000s.

Maybe it's an issue of our Government lacking the requisite willpower and vision to properly deal with corporates. Perhaps they just simply don't care.

In any case, if National WERE actually genuinely interested in getting foreign multinationals to pay their fair share of tax here, I'd be over the moon and singing their praises.

Except they're not.

You see, what actually happened over the weekend at APEC, was John Key took Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg aside and told him he had a "PR problem". Not, you understand, a legal problem. Not a fiscal/monetary problem. Not even, quelle surprised, an ETHICAL problem.

No, what the Government believes Facebook's ongoing flouting of our laws and our good natured hospitality is ... is a PR problem.

This is a distinction that's presumably quite instructive. When you have legal problems ... you sue (and, in the post-TPPA National Party, perhaps they've altogether forgotten that it's states who can sue corporations ... rather than exclusively the other way around thanks to ISDS). When you have fiscal/monetary problems, you regulate. And when you have ethical problems ... you intervene.

But when you have PR problems - well, that's different. That simply means you've been caught out via the spotlight of the public gaze. And, more importantly, that it's perfectly fine to keep doing whatever it is that you were snapped for - just make sure it's where the filthy proles can't see you doing it.

PR issues, in other words, are the sort of 'problems' which exist to be 'managed' and 'massaged', rather than actually 'solved'.

John Key, by talking to Zuckerberg one on one, can thus claim to actually be 'doing' something about this issue - while in actual fact doing precious little (other than flapping his lips and garnering another successful-person photo-op). It means he's worked out that his Government has started to look decidedly weak in this area.

If he were serious about sorting this issue, there are a number of potential paths he could pursue. Many of us will remember, at the more harshly punitive end of the spectrum, Labour's David Clark floating the idea of a ban on companies such as Facebook operating here in New Zealand if they can't abide by our laws. Personally, I agree with the spirit of this motion - but given how inextricably important the social media platform has become for so much of our personal lives and daily communications, I question whether I'd support such a measure actually being put into practice.

Cooler heads like New Zealand First's Fletcher Tabuteau, meanwhile, have long been making the case for properly tightening up and toughening up our nation's taxation laws so that foreign corporates like Facebook can't continue to flagrantly get away with this kind of pernicious and parsimonious behavior.

If National genuinely want to see Facebook et co. start to pay their proper taxes (rather than just genuinely no longer wanting to be seen as on the back foot on this issue) ... perhaps they ought to hit Fletcher up, and see what the New Zealand First proposal to fairly tax foreign corporates looks like.

I'm sure we'd only be too happy to help.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

A Sea-Change On Government Attitudes To Protesting

[Author's Note: This piece originally appeared in a September edition of my Sex, Drugs & Electoral Rolls column for Craccum Magazine. In light of the planned Protest Flotilla actions this week timed to coincide with the US Navy's ship-visit for our own Navy's anniversary celebrations, I've chosen to reprint it here for a broader audience]

In 1973, New Zealand Prime Minister Norman Kirk sent our frigate, the HMNZS Otago, to the French nuclear testing site of Mururoa Atoll. On board was the Kiwi Cabinet Minister Fraser Coleman. The stated - and, indeed, officially mandated - purpose of those two hundred and forty three men was to put themselves in the path of foreign military activity, on a ship, as a protest action.

This was a pretty proud moment in New Zealand history - a real David vs Goliath sort of sentiment pervaded domestic remembrance of that time a small group of Kiwis took on the military (and, earlier that year, legislative) might of an Old World nuclear-armed former colonial power.

I open this piece by referencing the exploits of the HMNZS Otago (and, immediately subsequent to this the HMNZS Canterbury) not simply because it is an incident worth remembering in these modern days of our Government tiptoeing around the internationally expressed wills of the Great Powers. But instead, because there is a clear, present, and utterly immense difference in terms of both principle and courage between what the Kirk Government sought to do 43 years ago, versus what the Key Government seeks to do today.

In case you missed it, the Nats are presently attempting to push through legislation which would criminalize protesting at sea. In fact, it's worse than that. With the bill as presently drafted, you would be liable to be labeled a "terrorist" if you disrupted the actions and activities of a foreign military vessel.

You know, like we used to rightly celebrate and lionize doing in both the 1970s and 80s.

Government MP David Bennett supplied the rationale for deeming maritime protesters to be terrorists:

"This is a foreign power's vessel - a military vessel. You're getting in the way of it - so it's a terrorist act on a foreign country, isn't it."

That's a pretty pithy piece of legal reasoning. In the botanical sense of the term 'pith', of course, wherein it refers to the significantly less desirable bit under the rind of a fruit which surrounds the morsels you actually want to eat. Sounds like David Bennett all up.

Now here in New Zealand, we know a thing or two about nautical acts of terrorism committed against foreign countries. 21 years ago, the French carried out exactly such an act in our waters against the Greenpeace flagship, the Rainbow Warrior. (As a point of historical trivia, it had been preparing to depart for Mururoa, to once again continue the mission of observation and disruption against illegal French nuclear testing begun twelve years before by our very own Navy)

What this bill therefore seeks to do, by apparent conscious design, is place legitimate protest actions such as those carried out in New Zealand waters against American naval vessels in the eighties upon the same opprobium-heaped pedestal that we customarily reserve for craven and cowardly acts of actual terrorism like the Rainbow Warrior bombing.

And while this is a singularly egregious situation, it's not entirely accurate to state that the criminalization of potentially significant dissent is an exclusively National-produced phenomenon. The Terrorism Suppression Act brought into force by Labour in 2002 also has some problematic provisions, including 5 (3) (d), which in concert with 5 (2) (b), could effectively have rendered something as innocuous as the anti-TPPA road and motorway blockade action which took place earlier this year an apparent act of terror.

Even though the Terrorism Suppression Act contains a dedicated subsection (5 (5)) which seeks to clarify that the mere fact of an action being protest-motivated is not, itself, grounds to call something a terrorist act ... the fact that such a clause was necessary in the first place goes some ways to illustrate just how problematic previous New Zealand Government efforts at legislating against terrorism (or, more accurately, to punish 'terrorism' post-facto) have been.

Some cynics might even conclude that exploitable 'flaws' in the legislation such as that outlined above would constitute, as an IT professional would say, "a feature, not a bug".

And lest we think that the New Zealand security apparatus, police, courts, and other arms of state are far too 'benevolent' or 'Kiwi-casual' to want to do dodgy things with the powers we give them ... consider the illegal spying which was carried out on Kim DotCom at the behest of what amounts to an ineluctable combination of a foreign government and big-name overseas corporate interests. We literally had our foreign intelligence service using military-grade hardware to stake out an eccentric German tech-magnate over a case of copyright infringement of all things.

The miscellaneous miscreantery of the NZ Deep State doesn't stop there, either.

I still vividly remember in 2013 getting a visit from the detective who'd been second in command of the Urewera Raids, accompanied by an intelligence service spook. Apparently, the fine boys down at the counter-terrorism unit of the New Zealand Police had had me under wiretap surveillance for the previous eighteen or so months. The reason why? We think they were trying to get Winston for something which they thought I was involved in (in connection to the 2011 Tea Tapes scandal) - and they thought that monitoring my communications would prove it. The *official* reason why? I was allegedly a "threat to national security".

My first thought afterwards was wondering whether there was supposed to be an apostraphe and an S after the word "National".

Followed swiftly after by a sense of mounting horror as I realized that pretty much everything I'd said over the last year and a half via facebook messenger, or through txt had quite possibly crossed the desk of at lest one nameless analyst somewhere in the New Zealand security apparatus and/or Police. An acrimonious breakup with a girlfriend (and the resultant emotional fallout), personal secrets confided in close mates ... all of it was now in the databanks of the state and subject to easy, at-will persual by those with the right security clearance.

And all because I just happened to be in the right place at the right time outside a cafe in late 2011.

(Also, if you're wondering just why I got a housecall - the previous relevant legislation governing search and surveillance mandated a duty to report to the target what had happened once the surveillance was lifted - something which is still somewhat present in the 2012 act which replaced it at 61 (1) (c).

This is apparently a check and/or balance for their power - knowing that some judge, somewhere, will force them to front up to explain to the person under surveillance that all their deep dark secret-communications are now Official Knowledge. I guess the idea is that the (potentially mutual) embarrassment of getting the wrong guy and then having to look them in the eye and TELL THEM that, is supposed to keep our security intelligence services in line. Riiiiight.)

The reason why I cite this incident is because it handily demonstrates that i) laws put in place to protect us from terrorism can and have been misused even very recently in the past; ii) that the specific forms of that misuse very quickly cross over into the realms of the political; and iii) that even seemingly innocuous or rather small-scale acts of potential dissent (like standing outside of a cafe in the presence of a few TV cameras) can quite quickly conjure the Heavy Hammer of the State coming down upon you.

When we talk about not just criminalizing - but 'terrorizing' - protests, we go rather beyond the simple maintenance of public order.

We instead send chilling messages with chilling effects upon certain aspects of public participation in the hallowed apparatus of our democracy.

As I've said earlier, these increasingly seem to be "a feature, not a bug", in the minds of many of our august policy-makers. With the Key Government preparing to lionize itself for effectively normalizing military relations with the US, sanctified by a potentially nuclear-armed ship-visit (you know ... EXACTLY the sort of thing we rose up in (maritime) protest against back in the '80s) - it's not hard to see just whom this new kind of "terrorism"-fighting legislation might be aimed at to please.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Secessionists, Demonstrationists, and Defenestrationists: The Unchanging Character Of US Responses To Their New Presidents

I'm now old enough to properly remember three Presidents (Bush, Obama, and Trump. I have vague, hazy memories of Bill Clinton - but that's mostly just bombing Yugoslavia and a sex scandal). And you know what I've realized? There's some remarkable consistencies in how EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM gets reacted to in office.
Each one of these men has been called Hitler. Every one of them's been talked about as some sort of irascible warmonger who's inching us closer to the broad-spanning extinction of the Human Race. They were all #NotMyPresident. All of these Presidencies either have or will preside over a fundamentally racist justice system, and repugnant foreign & trade policies. The only main difference between Trump advocating for targeted killings of terrorists' families ... and Obama's drone-strike program, or Bush's invade-an-entire-country program, is that Trump was straight-up and honest about what he was trying to achieve (and also isn't talking about 'regime change' enforced at bayonet-point) - a theme which presumably applies to pretty much every other area of core contention that most people have against a Trump Presidency based upon what he's said on the campaign trail.
Hell, even the broad, sweeping reactions to a President people don't like are overtly similar. For the last few days, we've had Californians talking about secession from the Union - and, more darkly, outraged arch-liberals suggesting somebody ought to go John Hinckley and assassinate Trump (apparently heedless of the fact that the man who'd replace him as President - Mike Pence - is inarguably worse on EVERY front, being an anti-gay and pro-TPPA classic modern Republican). This is nothing new. Under Obama, it was Texas that was allegedly going to secede, and Tea Partiers and militiamen talking about assassination. Under Bush ... well, it was the "People's Republic of Vermont" [maybe THEY'D have had the good sense to make Bernie Sanders President], and any number of fantasizing books, comics, movies and polemic pieces arguing that the world'd be better off with one less President Bush. 
So what's changed? What's actually different here?
Well, for one thing, this much outrage, this quickly is pretty striking. I don't even think after Bush Jr. got re-elected in 2004 (amidst allegations of *actual stealing of the election* via rigged e-voting machines, systematic disenfranchisement etc.) that there was seemingly this much heat on the street. We're less than FOUR DAYS into President-Elect Donald Trump, and it already looks from afar as if America's starting to unravel (it isn't - starting, that is - but these things often look so much more dramatic from far away).
There's also probably an easy distinction to be made between that outrage and this. In the former case, there was something really big, really abhorrent and really reified which that President had *already* done (namely, invading a foreign country under a false pretext while top officials *lied* about it) to galvanize public support for his popular opposition.
In this case, nothing like that has yet eventuated.
The only thing people can seem to object to is the mere fact of his election itself. (something which, to be honest - albeit from entirely different reasons - was pretty much what the Tea Party people were doing in 2008 with Obama)
There is, of course, a counter-argument - that this Presidential outcome is so singularly sui-generis in sadness and in suicidality that some radical actions are more called for now than they were previously. In that light, I don't think I've ever before seen outright demands for the Electoral College *not* to represent the votes of the people of the states before in order to pick and anoint a preferred candidate.
But in any case, I can't help but wonder whether the scale and the vitriol of the liberal/leftist/democratic-malcontent response to the looming and increasingly corporeal specter of President Trump is actually motivated by this.
Or, instead, whether so many are so bitter precisely because this is a decidedly unexpected turn of events; and because they were all geared up to think that they, Clinton, "had it in the bag" - and that we'd all be ganging up to ridicule and vituperate those silly Trump supporters with their Orange-Meme Nominee for being stupid enough to lose.
Well, we sure aren't laughing now.
And because we can't deal with it - whether rightly or wrongly - we're lashing out in anger and in protest (at just about anybody who fits the bill of "might have helped Trump get elected", into the bargain).
It will certainly be interesting to see whether this wave of semi-popular discontent simmers down or sizzles up with increasing verbosity over the coming days and weeks.
But one thing's for sure: no matter whom the next President is - and whether we see them first in 2020 or 2024 ... they'll presumably face EXACTLY the same wave of Reductio-Ad-Godwinning, street-protests, and pre-emptive criticisms as the last one.
Truly, as that Bible verse goes, "there is nothing new under the sun".

Why Clintonistas Desperately Want You To Stop Talking About Bernie

It's been interesting watching the shift in discourse about Bernie Sanders from some of the local #ImWithHer crowd (and, presumably, those further afield/closer to the action).
Immediately after the loss, a lot of them were (partially, at least) blaming him for Hillary Clinton's defeat. Because apparently, the idea that your candidate can be seriously derailed by a septuagenarian 'Socialist' is his fault for being too er .. electable, rather than your anointed one's error for being a seriously flawed candidate.
But now, something different is happening. I've seen a number of pro-Clinton people make the case that "we need to stop talking about Sanders".
And, to be fair, one of the cornerstones of this analysis - that just because we had quite a run of (older) polls suggesting that Sanders would absolutely crush Donald Trump in the actual Election, doesn't necessarily mean that he would have won - is actually pretty accurate. We genuinely don't know whether Trump's style of campaigning would have found similar purchase upon the scandal-free and principled Senator Sanders; or, for that matter, whether Sanders' message of economic fairness, anti-corruption, and fundamentally fixing the US 'system' to give ordinary working people a fair go ... would have resonated with the less-well-off voters in key battleground states who actually handed Trump the election.
But these are interesting questions to consider.
So when centrist types insist that "we've got to stop talking about Bernie" because, it appears, they want to work out how they could have made Hillary - *their* preferred brand of warmed-over neoliberal-in-more-egalitarian-language politics - "win", when it comes to the fight for the future ... it tells me something important.
Namely, that a not insignificant number of folks out there in the wider political sphere haven't actually learned the lesson from Nov. 8 and actually fundamentally think that 'business as usual', sufficiently tweaked, poked and prodded (but only rhetorically and in the packaging, of course) ... can actually be meaningfully useful in service of the pursuit of power for the next few elections to come.
They are, in other words, eagerly anxious to shut down dialogue about the alternative path which Sanders might have represented (now that they've worked out that simply, insipidly blaming him for their own failures) ... because they don't really *want* thinking from 'outside the paradigm' which they, personally, represent.
It's not even about admitting (or covering up for) failure anymore.
It's their hack-futures on the line, and they'd rather quite desperately cling to the idea that they can just keep doing what they've always done rather than actually recognize that the neoliberal consensus for which they stand is dying ... and that we're right now in a "go under the tracks or get outta the way!" phase of political-economic-history as applies that doctrine.
So don't do what they tell ya.
Keep positing left-wing alternatives that aren't simply (queasily) crushed by 'orthodox-establishment' politicians and politicos insisting that they 'know better' and are 'more electable' precisely because they dare to refuse to dream.

And remember: they're now only trying to stifle left-wing dissent ... because they're afraid we'll start to work out that we don't actually need them to win :P


On Dawkins' "New Athens" Proposal - Unclean, Algal-Green, And Anti-Intellectualism

On Friday, word reached us that the world's foremost obstreperous atheist, Richard Dawkins, appears to be advocating we open our borders to the world's "creative intellectuals" in a bid to make New Zealand a 'new Athens' for the 'Trump era'.

This seemed to be a singularly curious proposition to come from Dawkins, for any number of reasons.

Leaving aside the fact that a man who works himself into a fit of apoplexy when asked to surrender his jar of honey at airport security is presumably going to have some degree of difficulty adapting to our rather strict biosecurity regimen ... it also occurs that the rather famed 'anti-intellectual' default tenor of our national character (which acts entwined with 'tall poppy syndrome') may not render us the most welcoming of harbours for a future large-scale influxion of literati immigration.

Further, when it comes to the passion for ecological preservation which Dawkins has apparently identified in our people and our polis from afar as a core reason for suggesting his intellectual fellows move here ... I can only suggest that they'll probably be rather dismally disappointed when they eventually arrive upon our allegedly verdant shores (the shorelines of many of our inland lakes and waterways are, indeed, green - but that's mostly due to the build-up of toxic algae as the result of farm-runoff).

Probably the best example of this antipathy of our political class towards the serious environmental challenges facing our nation remains the conduct of our Prime Minister on BBC's HardTalk five years ago. The contents of this interview have now entered into the realms of local political legend - but in summary, Key was faced with expert evidence which proved how bad the state of our local waterways were under his government (in reaction to the "100% Pure" slogan we were then pushing for tourism branding) and responded by stating that the evidence of scientists was much like the advice of lawyers (or, presumably, atheistic quasi-philosophers): in specia, that if you didn't like what one said, then it was perfectly acceptable to pass the proverbial brown paper envelope of cash at another one and request a different report more to your liking.

Now, I cite this incident not merely because it handly counters the unabashed (albeit favourable) propaganda contained in Dawkins' open letter to the scientific/"creative intellectual" community.

Instead, it's worth bringing up in this context, because it's a fairly DIRECT demonstration that the sort of "post-Truth politics" which Dawkins is railing against and so concerned about in both post-Brexit Britain and Trump-Era America as to be advocating en-masse emigration for the above from theres to here.

Congratulations, New Zealand! We were once more a world pioneer!

So I think we've fairly conclusively established that Dawkins is perhaps being fairly over-optimistic if he thinks that Auckland (or anywhere else in the country, for that matter) will provide especially fertile grounding as his Athens.

And this is presumably BEFORE he finds out how important and integrated various elements of Maori metaphysics which he'd probably dismiss as 'baseless superstition' are in our ways of doing things.

But these were not the first things which sprang to my mind when I initially became aware of his somewhat breathless proposal.

Instead, it was the perhaps rather amusing dissonance between Dawkins' own vituperatively advocated views on religion (particularly in public life), as compared to the role and importance which public religion actually played in historical Athens - to the point, in fact, that they executed a number of prominent intellectuals (including a rather famous chap you may have heard of known as Socrates) for the crime of asebeia - impiety.

And, following on from that (albeit further back in time by a few years), the way in which in the final years of the 5th century BC, Athens found itself bedevilled by a remarkable problem of intellectual types arguably attempting to subvert its democracy, traditions and governance-structures in favour of dictatorship and deplorable suzerainty.
Now, this might not sound immediately familiar. But consider this - here in New Zealand ... we've been down that road before. From the early years of the 1970s through apparently to the present day, economists - trenchant, neoliberal economists - operating in Treasury and elsewhere further afield have attempted to do pretty much exactly what I've outlined above to our once prosperous and positive society.

They wrought a damage to our economy which University of Auckland economist Tim Hazledine asserted could only be accurately measured in terms of the agglomerated effects of a number of Canterbury Earthquakes. And we still haven't recovered from them yet.

This might seem something of a tangent - but it's probably worth noting that there's a fairly direct tie back to "Athens" in what I'm speaking about. It is, after all, much the state of economic ruination which the present, modern city of Athens has languished in for almost a decade now as the directly attributable result of flawed, failing, flailing arch-neoliberal economic policies of austerity imposed by the European iterations of our own dear economists right here in Treasury; and those who've previously staffed the ranks of the ACT, National and Labour Parties.

In other words, while we are yet to produce something as bloody and tumultuous as the Reign of the Thirty Tyrants (you may remember Critias - one of their number - as the interlocutor in several of Plato's dialogues, including one in which he is eponymous) ... the fact remains that we have much reason to be skeptical of folk of the brain who believe they 'know best' and who may wish to undermine or cast out our egalitarian traditions and fetter our democracy - you know, more than they've already attempted to do for much of the previous forty years.

It's probably important to note at this juncture that I'm not inimically or even incidentally opposed to attempting to increase our nation's intellectual capital 'the quick way' via allowing in folk of demonstrable intelligence and critical capacity. All in all, it would be pretty hard to disagree that this seems, on the face of it at least, to be a pretty decent idea.

But Dawkins' slightly wide-eyed plan betrays a number of key (and untenable) assumptions about who and what we are, here in New Zealand.

In much of the coverage I've seen of what he's advocating here, these don't appear to have been brought to the fore.

There are, of course, also intellectual contrafibularities with his decidedly mixed metaphor about "Athens" in light of his own, vocally expressed beliefs; but, as ever, concerns about where we're going as a nation (and, for that matter, as an ecology - whether verdant- or knowledge-) must come first.

Still, it would be rather grand if we could actually live up to some of the plaudits which Dawkins has put forward in our name.

Best get thinking about how to do that, then.

Maybe some of those "creative intellectual" types might be able to help...

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

President Trump - Rebirths & Reflections

So it finally happened. American Democracy, dependent upon your relative vantage point and biases, either 'jumped the shark', or reached its apotheosis. Possibly both at once.

By an incredible margin - whether the incredibly Yuuuge 276-215 in the Electoral College, or the incredibly tight mere million votes between the two candidates - Trump has now become the implicit leader of the 'Free World'.

Some might view this as a fairly calamitous if not outright catastrophic outcome - certainly, the impending migration flows of would-be Democrats leaving their homeland in earnest have already been sufficient to crash Canada's immigration department website.

But for those of us a little farther removed (say, on the other side of the world's largest ocean) from the chaos ... a different perspective is starting to become clear.

Hillary Clinton was the Washington Consensus personified, reified and embodied.

Whether on trade policy or NeoCon foreign policy bayonet-stances, she represented exactly what America has been doing, broadly speaking, for the last thirty years.

Trump, presuming he sticks to what he campaigned on (always a fraught risk with politician-types (which Trump apparently now is) - particularly if they're successful), ran on an outright and umbrage-laden repudiation of all of the above.

For those of us who've spent their entire political lives since attaining 'political consciousness' during the fervent opposition to the American-led War in Iraq, and who've more recently devoted much time and effort to attempting to block the #TPPA, you may perhaps forgive us for letting out a small sigh of relief at Trump's victory.

We now may be living in a world - a WORLD, mind you ... not a singular country, no matter how important - wherein these progressive causes: opposing militant American hegemony and the expansion of dastardly neoliberal economics which it often accompanies ... are now hopefully much easier to advance.

This is no small accomplishment. And yet, amidst all the bemoaning about how America allegedly "couldn't bring itself to elect a female president" (as Newshub's Samantha Hayes claimed as part of last night's coverage), it's something which many coming from the nominally progressive wing of politics have curiously overlooked.

I get that there will be many folks still left in America - where, according to some, the lunatic has taken over the asylum (although recall the quote about whom to look to in an Age of Madness to show the way, in a manner akin to a blind guide in total blackness) - who are now seriously disquieted about this result. Given the escalating tone of political violence which has taken place in America over the past year, and what a number of Trump's more extreme supporters may now do, I can well understand a goodly number of Americans not feeling safe in their own country.

But I can equally understand folk located elsewhere and in less privileged areas about the globe who're fundamentally relieved at the idea that the Age of American Suzerainty Secured Through Superior Firepower and rampantly oppressive 'trade' negotiations (which often seem to have precious little to do with actual trade, and far more to do with a cession of sovereignty from their economic targets) now appears to be coming - or sputtering - to an end.

Still, we are now very much in a Political Aeon of Uncertainty.

The only sure thing from now, going forward - is that we are, indeed, living in Interesting Times.

(Which, I note, is supposedly a Chinese curse :P )

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Fear And Loathing Of A Democratic Presidency: Where To For The American Left

[Author's Note: This piece originally appeared as the sixteenth installment of my Sex, Drugs & Electoral Rolls column for Craccum Magazine, in early August. However, events unfolding later this week - and their potential ramifications - have once more pushed this topic to the forefront of my mind. Also, I noted with some interest and amusement that noted postmodern 'superstar' political philosopher Slavoj Zizek appeared to reason himself to pretty much the same conclusion last week in his 'endorsement' of Trump. I've therefore chosen to republish my column here for a broader audience.]

At the time of writing, we've just had a week of absolute and utter chaos at each and both of the Republican and Democratic National Conventions. Predictably, this has lead to the usual profusion of armchair pundits and paid political "experts" pontificating en-masse as to what's about to happen - and, perhaps more importantly, what should happen next in the long run. Obviously, Trump's sensational and salacious dangling of the threat of an onslaught of Russian hackers in the general direction of Hillary Clinton makes for stimulating reading - but this is a sideshow, and we all know it. 

The REAL issue of serious importance for us to be debating is the future nature of the Democratic Party, and left-wing politics in general in the U.S. of A, for both the rest of this electoral cycle - and for the foreseeable future.

Hunter S. Thompson, in the book I spent a goodly portion of my early twenties straight-out living, Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas, penned a beautiful paean to the lost promise of the counter-cultural revolution of the 1960s. It's often called "the Wave Speech", and I thoroughly encourage you to look it up. In it, he eulogizes the way that a tumultuous series of crises and catastrophes conspired to bring about the end of that particular political dream (and in other of his writings, points a particular finger at another controversial Democratic National Convention - in this case, the 1968 one held in Chicago).

"We had all the momentum, we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave. So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark - that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back."

Sound familiar? For Bernie supporters, it certainly should.

For many of us here in 2016, that elegiac high-water mark is probably Senator Sanders himself nominating Hillary Clinton for the Democratic Candidacy in this year's Presidential election. Certainly, it will be some point scattered around the Democratic Convention itself, if not that precise moment.

Up until then - up until that Convention - it had somehow still seemed possible that Sanders might still, inconceivably either take the Nomination himself ... or nevertheless force the inevitable Clintonite juggernaut to accept such humbling, crippling concessions that the post-Bern beast which thusly arose might bear nothing but a passingly vague resemblance to the pro-TPPA ultra-Hawk candidate that had terrorized our television screens for much of the preceding electoral cycle.

But it wasn't to be.

Whether by the combined might of DNC corruption to 'tip the scales' against Sanders when it came to the delegate-count; the sheer overwhelmingly confounding institutionalized paranoia about what a Trump presidency might bring; or simply, as some have darkly joked, the semi-literal threats of what Clinton et. co might have done to Sanders if he'd held out ... the old man finally decided in the interests of party unity for a party he'd only just joined to sit this one out and apparently adopt a sinecure position as Clinton's cheerleader-in-chief.

And while this was arguably a minor tragedy in and of itself - especially in an emotive sense - I guess a moment like this might still require some sort of justification in order to substantiate the "high-water mark" labeling.

So it's this. The #FeelTheBern campaign represented something fairly unique in the annals of recent Western politics (particularly in the Anglosphere). A genuine attempt to not just put strongly and ardently anti-Neoliberal politics at the direct heart of a modern electoral contest ... but also to engage in what you might term an 'Institutional Revolution', and take back a party of the nominal 'center-left' (which nevertheless, as they are wont to do, frequently seems to behave more as a creature of the 'center-right'). Call it creating a 'safe space for Socialism'.

Whatever. The point is, it didn't work. And for any number of reasons - mostly because the institution true-lefties and young people were seeking to take over ... turned out to be about as hostile to this sort of outside interventionism as one of the Middle Eastern countries so thoughtlessly 'democratized' under Mrs. Clinton's watch as Secretary of State.

This doesn't necessarily mean that such an effort might not work out in the future - but for the moment, just like the Egyptian Deep State rolling Mohamed Morsi in favour of yet another in a long line of more American-amenable dictators, the Powers That Be within the DNC have conspired to head off Hope & Change in favour of going back to the status-quo ante-bellum. A good example of this is the selection of ardently pro-Wall St and TPPA, Tim Kaine as Hillary's VP pick. "Where's your 'Revolution' now?!", indeed.

All of this leads up to some fairly uncomfortable choices for Democrats-left-of-center and more proper Social Democrats going forward.

It would be a bitter pill, indeed, to vote for Hillary Clinton come November. But, so the argument goes, there is no choice. (And I'm sure we all remember that "T.I.N.A." - There Is No Alternative - is a favoured Neoliberal rallying-call to get the skeptical to accept the unpalatable everywhere from Thatcher's England to Douglas's Aotearoa) Trump is apparently too terrifying to risk doing anything other than granting total, blind and unqualified loyalty to Clinton at the ballot. Weathering the four or eight years worth of bad Presidency which Clinton may bring is thought to be far superior an option to taking a gamble on what a Trump-era might entail. "And don't you DARE vote for Jill Stein!"

But here's a thought, and a probably highly controversial opinion.

What if Trump winning made it more likely rather than less for leftists to get organized, field candidates, and win seats in the American political system. What if the stultifying and suffocating influence of the Clinton-machine Democrats had exactly the opposite effect (certainly seems to be working like that already). What if, in short, it was actually desirable from a long-term left-wing perspective that Clinton lost in November?

There's already some precedent for this internationally. Here in New Zealand, for instance, one reason why the true-left wing resistance was so slow and inefficient at organizing and mobilizing against Rogernomics was precisely because it was the nominally left-of-center party carrying out the reforms and the dastardly right-wing economic agenda. Just like Clinton. It took the evils of Ruthanasia carried out under National for parties like The Alliance and New Zealand First to properly coagulate and start winning serious electoral victories.

I don't begrudge people who've made their own personal judgement-call that Trump's over-the-top and abhorrent rhetoric means that he's a bete-noir who absolutely must be beaten at many costs (although I DO most strongly sneer at those who seek to pretend that Hillary is an actually-objectively straight-up Good Option on her own terms and merits).

But if Americans (in whole or most likely in part) were serious about challenging the prevailing conditions of neoliberalism and globalism which have so perniciously ensnared their country - and thus the world at large - for so long, then perhaps a different conversation is needed.

Instead of ringing in the Apocalypse with manic doomsaying about the Republican option ... or celebrating a decidedly false-Messiah (for the purposes of this metaphalagy, perhaps a proper functional Anti-Christ) in the form of the current Democratic nominee ... how about thinking of and discussing the serious business of building up a genuine left-wing alternative option and what might be required for this in the immediate years to come.

That's how we get The Wave to roll back. In, this time.

Ensuring, in other words, that the tide doesn't stay out forever - and that the much-mythologized wave of history one day does in fact roll in up the beach again.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Love Him Or Hate Him - Morgan's Not Like Other Wealthy Men Bursting Into Politics

Every so often, somebody or something comes along which puts a bit of their weight upon our psephological scales, and subtly (or, in this case, probably not-so-subtly) shifts our entire political conversation and course along with it.

Often, when we seek to analyse these figures and these moments, our eyes are first drawn to the boisterous braggarts who want to play political maestro - and hold the fate of governments if not the nation right there in the palm of their hand on election-night by dint of their inexhaustible wallets.

Now, given Friday's announcement one might be forgiven for thinking that the above is how I'd characterize errant economist Gareth Morgan. It's certainly a self-appointed thorn-crown which would seem fittingly adorned for two of the most obvious points of comparison to the author of The Opportunities Party - namely, Colin Craig and Kim DotCom. Or, as they're now known, NZ's most famous defamation litigant and extradition-case, respectively.

But Morgan's different. And in at least two key ways.

If we look at his actual record of political engagement here in New Zealand over the years, it's quite clear that this is someone who's poured in an almost superhuman level of effort to publicizing issues that he cares about ... and, y'know, trying to create change ... for quite an extended period of time without ever once seeking to win public office. His debut on the ballot at the next year's Election, then, contrasts most markedly with Craig staging a fairly well planned two-year 'arc of ascent' from referendum-rally-march-organizer to Mayoral candidate to party leader; or DotCom deciding almost on the spur of the moment to attempt to wreak electoral vengeance upon the backs of the government he first donated to and then was spurned by in his hour of need.

It's probably important at this juncture to note that I haven't always agreed with Morgan. But whichever way you slice it, it's difficult to argue against the notion that this is somebody who has put sustained effort into our politics of a manner and character that is probably unequaled among the ranks of those who aren't doing so with the pursuit of public office in mind.

The results and the reception have occasionally been mixed: while his advocacy for a Universal Basic Income probably had more tangible impact, earlier, than Labour's now-lukewarm picking up of the idea earlier this year ... his de-caturization proposal, on the other hand, appeared to be opposed by an order of magnitude more people than supported it. But either way, there is no denying that we all sat up and took notice - and that for a few weeks in each occasion he's swooped in, we've all found ourselves collectively talking about whatever it is he wants us to ponder.

In other words, politically speaking, Morgan's no 'flash in the pan'. Entering electoral politics directly might be comprehensively new territory for him, but he's been around for awhile and has something of a demonstrable record in this area. I therefore think I believe him when he states that the setting up of TOP has been something of a move of frustration with the continual 'roadblock' of establishment politics from his perspective.

But while there is a perhaps surprisingly strong track-record for wealthy Opinionista-fronted parties in our politics (consider Colin Craig's Conservatives almost grazing the 5% threshold with 3.98% in 2014 - or, further back, Bob Jones' New Zealand Party winning a substantial 12.2% of the vote in 1984) and even better prospects for them if we look offshore (never mind Donald Trump ... does Clive Palmer ring a bell? He should - his eponymous Palmer United Party won three Senate seats plus a Federal Parliament one in the year after its formation in 2013 over in Australia) ... this doesn't necessarily militate either in favour or against Morgan's future political prospects.

Instead, what WILL determine whether The Opportunities Party are in a position to seriously influence our Nation's politics by this time next year, will be the set of steps which Morgan takes as he continues to build his party and campaign machine.

Morgan's main weakness is not in the traditional areas associated with those dipping their toes into the waters of electoral politics for the first time. He's got a demonstrably viable head for policy (and policy detail), as well as a well-established media profile arguably larger than that of some Cabinet Ministers. I also presume that, as the direct result of his previous projects with The Morgan Foundation and its associated outreach attempts, that he has both a pre-existing (professional) staff and some currency out there in the community when it comes to networks he can activate.

But what he needs more than anything right now are i) 'political insiders' who've direct, personal and above all RECENT experience in how 'the game' works in order to direct TOP's immediately ensuing growth; and ii) people able and capable of running political/electoral campaigns and recruiting and directing the manpower to propel same.

I have this vague suspicion that Morgan's Trump comparison was overly revealing of proposed campaign style - and that he might thus attempt to push TOP to 5% largely off the back of his own media presence, without matching this fearsome asset with corresponding spadework on the ground. This will be questionably viable in electoral terms; and will unquestionably make a waste of the formidable force-multiplier he has in his extant politisphere/media persona if there's nothing for it to actually 'multiply' in the first place.

Fortunately, for a man of Morgan's means, the required personnel resources ought not be too hard to come by. There's a not insignificant number of people who worked hard with demonstrable results on 2014 or even 2016 Campaigns who, for whatever reason, are now looking for a new political paymasters. And as we saw from his enlistment for the Morgan Foundation's Treaty Talks project of Hone Harawira's former right hand man Jevan Goulter, Morgan already evidently has at least some connections in these areas which he can draw upon.

Once that is done, he can start upon the serious business of attempting to first demarcate and then carve out a 'core constituency' for his party. A number of proposed areas have been suggested by other commentators, ranging from "somewhere between ACT and the Greens", and "Blue-Greens with a twist" (if we insist upon using other, more established parties as easy yard-sticks for potentially vast and ill-defined segments of the electorate).

In any case, however he chooses to proceed with the above, the course of his party is likely to prove worth watching.

Even if he doesn't succeed in cracking the 5% threshold late next year, there remains every chance that his efforts and his exploits will be strongly positioned to have a pointed influence upon our broader political conversation and thus the other parties.