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.