Tuesday, March 24, 2020

It's Almost Like The Neoliberals Don't WANT To Survive The Crisis - On Brazen Talk Of "Acceptable Losses" To Re-Grease Wheels Of Economy

There is a quotation often attributed to Lenin, in which it is said that when it comes time to hang the capitalists - they will fall over each other to attempt to sell their executioners the rope.

Now, I do not invoke this axiom to attempt to urge a death-sentence against this Texan. Going by his own words, he seems more than eager to initiate such a thing upon himself, in order to secure the delusory promise of a few days of scrounged together economic 'stabilization'.

For that is all that would likely eventuate were America to turn upon the proverbial dime and ditch physical/social distancing and lockdown protocols to go back to "business as usual" (as Trump appears now keen to do) ... isn't even a temporary uptick in economic activity - it's just a brief arrest of the ongoing crisis-pandemic furthered decline.

Followed by an even more dramatic medium-to-long-term negative impact as the directly attributable result of heightened pressure upon their healthcare system and their workforce through illnesses, disorder, and deaths.

Some Americans in the political and financial spheres, are more afraid of the malaise of a significant downturn in economic activity (or even doing things differently when it comes to economic activity all up), that it is preferable to talk of quite literally "sacrificing" an entire generation in pursuit of its desperate avoidance.

They love largely illusory money (for that is, ultimately, what so much of their stock-market, with its one point five trillion dollar devouring snackatite, actually is), and are prepared to fight to the death to defend it. Human blood and human deaths, in exchange for filthy, filthy lucre.

To be fair and sure, Lt. Gov. Patrick deserves some minimal modicum of 'credit' for being prepared to place himself - rhetorically at least - upon the chopping block.

And the issue is not his own willingness in principle to do something daft for his grand-children; because there is something instinctual in the desire to protect one's progeny and future lineage.

Dependent upon your personal ethical position, you may or may not also have a problem with his endeavouring to force his personal choice in this matter upon every OTHER grandparent in the nation.

But for me, it is quite simple. Doing as these economic right-lemming kinds would wish, does not offer "sacrifice" in exchange for meaningful improvement in circumstances - either for their own generation, or for ours. It shall not leave their country better off a week, three weeks, ten weeks, or twenty eight weeks later from now.

On the contrary, it shall almost certainly extend the misery. Because 'delayed gratification' rather than degraded prefrontal cortex critical-thinking-child seeking pseudoconomic sugar-rush-'stimulus', is not how their minds appear to work in practice.

This, presumably, is a large part of how we seem to *keep* finding ourselves, every few years, crushed under the weight of "too big to fail" billion-dollar outfits and operators who can't seem to keep themselves ticking over between largely self-authored crises sans massive government intervention upon their behalf. A variable that requires no globe-spanning contagion other than the ideological one to repeatedly ensue!

And lest this seem like an anti-American beatup ... it is important to note that many Americans find all of the above absolutely and axiomatically abhorrent. And, perhaps more concerningly, that it is not only an American 'disease' of the mind of which we are speaking.

It was just a week ago that the European Union's leadership was speaking about the necessity of a balancing act between preventing deaths on the one hand (assumedly also encompassing to a certain extent deaths particularly amidst the older and less wealthy or physically hearty - you know, those for whom the capitalist mill has increasingly less use for as time goes on ... both their time in a personal sense, and the general time of the advancement of the economic epoch we presently endure) ... and preserving "The Market" and its accompanying actions and profits on the other.

It may be undeniably true that on a long enough time-line, everybody's survival rate drops to zero ... yet these kinds of "acceptable losses" wherein the time-lines of many are foreshortened considerably in order to secure temporary reprieve for the stock-portfolios of the few, is not so much "natural selection" as it is "utterly inhuman".

Perhaps, in the not too distant and nightmarishly, overbearingly close future, it may be possible for finance-capitalism to exist sans humans. It already seems to do largely well enough with just computers and the hive-like inhabitants of Wall Street, so some might suggest it's endemically close enough.

Yet until that happens - and, indeed *especially* should that happen, it makes no sense whatsoever to value dollars above lives in the manner these demons are proposing.

If there is to be a "sacrifice", turn it around - sacrifice a certain modicum of financier-cheque-book, to support the lives and the quality of lives of many ordinary and older people.

Except most peculiar, curious thing - it never seems to get offered like that, does it. It's always just the other way around.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Trump's Covid-19 Programme: Crisis Response, Turning Tables, and Corona-tion

One of the curious concepts in a crisis is the way in which the 'old rules' don't so much not apply, as seem actively turned upon their head.

We've seen this, just these past few days, in the European Union - wherein Germany's pirouetted from being the most trenchant possible supporter of the (Common) Market Uber Alles for much of the past decade, and particularly as applies Mediterranean members of the Union and the borderless movement of peoples within the Schengen area ... through to its more recent enthusiasm for locking down its borders and endeavouring to prohibit German private enterprise from exporting vitally needed medical products to Italy.

Yet European Union hypocrisy is nothing new nor especially remarkable. An escalating crisis was always going to place some considerable strain upon the ideological adherence to principles which didn't make sense for many member nations and their populaces even in the 'peace-time' of relative calm.

What's rather more interesting are recent happenings within American politics - wherein we've witnessed an almost lightning-speed enactment of that famed maxim so often misattributed to Gandhi : "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win".

Consider the case of Andrew Yang. A year ago, he was virtually unknown even inside politihack/beltway circles. He'd gathered a small but enthusiastic following in the memeosphere thanks in no small part to his UBI concept - the so-called "Bag" of a thousand dollars a month to every ordinary American adult.

For the first year and a half of his candidacy (he filed to run on the 6th of November 2017), both he and his signature policy were either ignored or just flat-out derided. As he made his way further into the secondary-shade of the side-of-stage spotlight, the mockery only intensified. It didn't matter that he'd put together a frankly impressive case for his vision in book form or via a string of alt-media appearances. What he was selling was too far outside the 'acceptable' and the reasoning for his cause - while intellectually understandable by anybody capable of thinking a few decades into the future - seemed too remote, so far abstract in concept as to basically be science-fantasy for many.

A situation deliberately not helped by various political commentators and candidates going out of their way to vocally disparage or more subtly insinuate against him and his Bag as he gradually began to gain more prominence.

In fact, he wasn't even just derided as an also-ran by a number of his fellow Democrats. He began to be presented as almost actively dangerous in a not entirely dissimilar manner to the DNC Establishment's take on Bernie Sanders - somebody pushing an ideological platform that the Republicans would rip apart come November as barely-reconstructed post-Soviet "socialism". Or something.

But, like I say - in a crisis, the 'old rules' don't so much cease to apply as they quite rapidly appear to be turned outright upon their collective head.

It was therefore only slightly surprising to hear that some on the American right wing of politics had started to see the sense in Yang's UBI proposal once the threat of Covid-19 became more pronouncedly apparent. To be fair, they were simply picking up upon something that Democratic Congresswoman (and fellow Democratic Presidential aspirant) Tulsi Gabbard had put into her proposal for a Corona virus response package - a UBI to assist ordinary Americans through the crisis, rather than simply shoveling money into top-down stockbroker-caste oriented 'stimulus' in the vague hopes that the rising tide of customary platitudes would somehow lift all boats.

That didn't necessarily mean that the entire spectrum of American politics had suddenly shifted upon the issue, however - and it was frankly astonishing to see GoP guys like Mitt Romney come out in favour of the full-scale UBI proposal (at least for the duration of the crisis), and find themselves effectively opposed by Democratic darlings like Kamala Harris (who belatedly wound up engaged in a bidding-war of a sort, attempting to argue DOWN the level of the benefit should it be put through).

Yet the real head-turning was still to come.

Donald Trump, the same man who just a few days before had been castigating Bernie Sanders as 'crazy' for being a "socialist" [or, in rest-of-the-world terms, a relatively moderate social democrat] put forward his support for ... well, let me put it this way. He hasn't just supported the rollout of a short-term UBI (something I'm suspecting even a few weeks ago many Republicans would have castigated as "far left" "failed economics" "welfare dependency" or something had anyone else done it), a suspension of housing evictions and foreclosures, or a notable expansion in leave entitlements and other workers' rights as a result of the crisis ...

... he's actively invoked the Defense Production Act, a piece of Korean War era legislation itself consciously enacted as a resurrection/continuation of the FDR-era full-scale Government-directed mobilization of the American economy and society in order to establish and maintain a war footing. As in, a total-war footing, not the general war-for-fun-and-profit skirmish-level stuff by comparison that America treats, quite literally, as "business as usual".

What does this mean? To put it quite simply, the President is now in Command of the U.S. Economy.

As in, subject to the conditions of the Act, the President now has the legal power (and, in fact, legal duty) to direct the allocation of resources in relevant sectors, and under terms dictated by the state. To be sure, the bits which would enable the institution of price and wage controls are rather less available for use than they were in 1950 (as they're no longer a Presidential auto-power under the Act, but require Congressional approval); and similar legislative lapsing has meant that the previous ability to nationalize businesses and even entire industries, is now commuted down to the mere ability to make them offers they are literally (with the exception of the production of biological or chemical weaponry, except if the President specifically demands it) not allowed to refuse.

Or, phrased another way ... all of that "crazy" "Socialism" which the Republicans have been up in arms about all these years, has just in legal principle come back out of the Cold [storage].

If you were being coy about it, slash you were in the unenviable position of being a Trump-associated or Fox-appearing spin-doctor, you'd counter-claim that the state having the ability to command (not just regulate - command) economic activity and dictate to private enterprise isn't "socialism", with the maintenance of contract and private exchange meaning that capitalism is still in force in Corporate America. And this is not incorrect, in much the same way that notionally private enterprise in post-Deng People's Republic of China makes it a somewhat pantomime market economy.

Although given the way the Trump Administration's taken to using the word "China" over the past few years, they'd probably not appreciate that as a talking point.

In any case, in their hearts of hearts (insofar as they may have them - probably in jars on shelves in their crypts/offices somewhere), the right-wingers of America who're fundamentally OK with what's just happened because it's Trump doing it rather than an openly centre, centre-left, or *gasp* self-declared "socialist" ... are probably psychologically adjusting to it because they never really believed in the downright libertarian "free markets and free men" claptrap anyway. [I've often, as an aside, noted that that's exactly the wrong way around as a statement of priority - free markets and then, almost as an after-thought, free men; but, then, with some Hannah Arendt in head and positive freedom as a concept in mind, I'd probably argue that "free markets and free men" is a contradiction in terms anyway. But then I digress]

Instead, the same mouths which so aggressively decry the American equivalent to the "Nanny-state", are actually quite enthused about all manner of social and economic control elsewhere. They'd like to think of it, no doubt, as the Stern Father State instead.

Although the typology for most of them that instead comes to mind - for me, anyway - is what somebody once declared to be the "Rich Uncle State" [as in, more removed and less compassionate or caring than a direct parent, and mostly concerned with moralizing at you except where it benefits them personally. The example given being regulating and shaming the sexual conduct of young women via a combination of direct laws and related constraint of funding for medical elements that might be thought of as relating to same ... except when said Rich Uncle State-eers are the personal beneficiaries of the conduct in question, of course].

So how does this pertain to Trump? Well, while he'd previously seemed at least vaguely amenable to Steve Bannon's proposition to recongeal the Republican Party as a Workers' Party (seriously - that was his vision. Maybe Republicans as gun-toting "socialists" isn't just something from the Spanish Civil War after all), following the latter's ouster, a lot of that seemed to be on the back-slide; sacrificed 'pon the altar of "progress" for measures more popular with the business class.

That created something of an 'opening' over on the relative (and I stress the relative) left of the American political spectrum, for the Democrats to try and reconnect with the ordinary people they theoretically already represent; which was largely, predictably, squandered in earnest in favour of chasing after other priorities - but nevertheless DID manage to further empower a formerly fringe candidate by the name of Bernie Sanders, amongst others.

This may or may not have amounted to anything come November, but then this sudden onset of Crisis emerged; and Trump found himself in the ineluctable position of having spent the past few weeks conspiciously talking down as a non-issue and non-event, something that had just swallowed most of the stock market gains made during the course of his presidency in a matter of hours, and devoured a $1.5 trillion dollar directly-aimed Wall St rescue package for a between-courses additional-appetizer.

What could he do? What should he do? Avoid at all costs being known as a Herbert Hoover in the early phases of the Depression, or more pointedly perhaps - a Nero at the Fire of Rome.

Net result? We now have Trump taking the concept of the "Imperial Presidency" to a whole 'nother level and openly pushing policy-planks that the Democratic establishment (ever mind the Republicans) would have (in fact, were) attacked as absurdly left, just a week or two ago.

And being actively cheered for it by much of 'right wing' America, because at the end of the day, everything in their (and most other) politics is made up and only the sports-team branding actually seems to matter. It's probably not even a case of "only Nixon could go to China" anymore.

It has been suggested that for many a key narrative player in public life - you either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain. In Trump's case, pending how well the rest of the Corona / Covid-19 response goes of course, it's possible that he's avoided (politically) dying a Nero - and may yet see himself live long enough to become a Patrician.

And who knows. I'm a little surprised to find myself saying this - but if it leads to a genuine and maintained shift away from the neoliberal economic perversity of modern American socio-financial life, particularly as applies the beginnings of a genuine UBI ... maybe that's not an entirely terrible thing. Certainly, his continuing to do worse-than-nothing could hardly be something to be welcomed.

Oh, and speaking of "heroes" and complexly curving narrative arcs ... where is Andrew Yang now?

Being requested by the White House to go along and help them with the rollout of their UBI effort.

It's not how he intended to get there, of course; yet less than six weeks after he suspended his Presidential campaign, Yang might yet find himself and his concept the 'hero we need' right now, all the same. 

Bridges' Response To Government Corona Package Case Of Ideological Shiver Looking For Spine To Run Up

I must say, I'm a little surprised at Simon Bridges' response to the Government's Covid-19 package.

Not because it's petty opposition-for-the-sake-of-opposition-alism during a time of ostensible national crisis. After all, presenting himself as the self-appointed and self-important prevaricating poodle perambulating upon the pant-leg of our democracy has basically been his modus operandi since he took over as leader of the National Party.

But rather due to the main thrust of his attack: that the Government's response-package is hopelessly 'ideological'. Because it includes a not insignificant amount of money for beneficiaries, and he feels that this means 'medium-sized Kiwi businesses' have been shut out.

In fact, the Government is provisioning exactly the same amount of money for beneficiaries - $2.8 billion - that it is for changes to business tax. Perhaps this is what Bridges is alluding to when he calls the Government's response a case of "confuse priorities" - attempting to do two things at once (and more besides - such as the $5.1 billion in wage subsidies to affected employers) in a bid to look after both business and those no longer employed by same, rather than only corporates of an appropriately middling-and-up magnitude.

Now, there are two reasons I find it perplexing that Bridges is castigating this as "ideologically" oriented.

The first is that it's pretty non-ideological to look at a situation of sustained global economic turmoil, featuring specific impairments for industries and nations whose activity is primarily contingent upon long-distance travel and/or tourism ... and conclude that this is going to lead to job-losses. You don't even have to think about it as a theoretical. You just have to read the news going back over the past several weeks and follow the headlines. Three thousand jobs from Air New Zealand just a few days ago, haemorrhaging work-crews from the primary sector employers like forestry for some time before that. A situation which has already persisted, and is inordinately likely to persist, for some time.

That axiomatically means there are GOING to be greater numbers of New Zealanders who are not just out of work for the moment, but are likely to be out of work for the reasonable, and perhaps even foreseeable future. Because it's the nature of this kind of crisis. It doesn't just take out one employer or one industry - it affects, directly or otherwise, almost everything. It's pointless (in the short and potentially medium term) expecting newly-unemployed Kiwis to just go off and find a job somewhere else or retrain for vacancies that haven't come back yet.

Even despite the aforementioned multi-billion dollar package for employers - both in terms of tax-code alterations, and direct subsidies to keep people in work - that have already been announced, we are quite simply going to have thousands more Kiwis unemployed. They must be provisioned for.

What would be "ideological" in this situation, I suspect, would be pretending that this isn't going to occur; or, as was done during Ruthanasia and its aftermath, ratcheting down benefits and their accessibility in a futile bid to force New Zealanders to go out and get into employment that simply wasn't there (and, in the process, further weakening those remaining domestic operations that DID still have some viability by removing the income-streams of much of their clientele).

What would also be "ideological", would be insisting upon putting as much Corona money as possible into already-reasonably sized businesses and then hoping that the benefits would trickle down to those who'll otherwise now be on benefits. Various experiences with bailouts and absolutely cyclopean-scale interventions by governments overseas during times of recession, have amply demonstrated that this doesn't tend to either especially work, or be particularly good value-for-money.

I also think it would be rather "ideological" to be demanding significant further subsidies for private sector entities - which doesn't mean I'm intrinsically opposed to this in all cases - just that after so much apparently empty rhetoric about "picking winners" and "Polish ship-yards" and "corporate welfare", it seems a bit curious that all that, and ONLY that, has ceased having the ring of truth to it for National's speechwriters.

But the second reason I find it a bit perplexing that Bridges is seeking to attack as "ideological" the Government for putting cash in the hands of ordinary people rather than just their corporate overlords ... is due to the lack of issue other (right-wing) political entities which Bridges usually quite likes have had with doing exactly the same thing. Providing payments to now-unemployed workers, I mean - not the incendiary claims of "ideological" non-responses for doing so, that is. Strange times, eh?

In fact, the measures that've been put into force by each of Australia's Scott Morrison-lead Government, and the Trump-presided-upon Republican Party of America, are actually, if anything, more generous than what we've seen put forward thus far under Labour here. Perhaps, as the old political illumination/rummination has it, "Only Nixon Could Go To China."

Now I certainly think that ScoMo and the Notorious GoP act with "confused priorities that do not deal, non-ideologically, with the issues" of their respective countries, on a basis so regular that you can't set your watch by it because it's a present-continuous now. I.e. ALL THE TIME. [Trump, for what it's worth, I don't think really acts ideologically - but instead, slathers himself with an ideological-like substance as he feels like, to present a false veneer of consistency or coherency to ... whatever somebody told him to do that morning, up to and including authorizing missile-strikes on Syria because of a photo his daughter saw on Twitter]. But that's not the point.

It's also not the case that simply because several other countries do something, that somehow makes it 'non-ideological'. It may just mean that it's a new ideological consensus. Which is not necessarily a good or a bad thing, either. If compassion and greater economic self-reliance are some kind of new ideological trend, then it's one that should heartily be encouraged. We might even get a sort of post-modern Post-War Economic Consensus out of this. Somehow.

Yet the idea that the Jacinda-lead government (we really are all operating on a first-name basis these days in Kiwi politics) is committing some sort of cardinal sin of "IDEOLOGY" [*sniff*] because it's proposed to look after those who are soon to be jobless, as well as those who had formerly employed them ... rather than focusing more exclusively upon corporations and hoping that all shall be well ...

It isn't even "let them eat cake". It's "let their bosses eat cake,  how DARE we have a community food-bank!"

We're in an Election Year, and it is often alleged that parties engage in a lolly-scramble to attempt to buy themselves a constituency and consequent support. National's attack upon Labour is that. Both in terms of the nature of the charge - which comes with the familiar smack of "Labour bribes beneficiaries for their support" and somehow extorts the business and upper classes to do so.

But also with the implicit promise that under National, things would be the other way around - i.e. if you're from a sector of society that feels it's under-served by several billion dollars of corporate tax code alterations and could do with Tiwai Point Rio Tinto levels of Government support for your medium (and up) sized business, then blow Blue.

Yet in times such as these, I don't think it's a "lolly-scramble" to try and support either business or beneficiaries. Or, as Labour/NZF/Greens have done - attempt to support both groups, and keep thousands more still in work as well.

I think it's those rare combinations of virtues in politics - compassion, consideration, and vision.

It's incredibly unfortunate that it takes a crisis and the shadow of looming, oncoming disaster to afford space for some 'rebalancing' of our economy and our society toward something potentially more just.

But if each Election is something of a referendum upon the direction of our ship of nation, and a plebiscite upon the values which we wish to see represented in our government and its leadership ... then a response-package to a calamity which emphasizes compassion, care, and comprehension - well, taking that into account when we vote later this year isn't being bribed.

It's declaring what ethos we see in ourselves, in our society as it could and should be, and as we want it to be lead by on into our post-2020 future.

But, then, maybe I'm being "Ideological".

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

"Are you OK, Boomer?" Countering The Chronophobic Malaise That's Grown Up Around Covid-19

This is rather important.

I've been pretty disquieted about some of the rhetoric that's been going around the place along with Covid-19. Yes, we know that the health impacts are disproportionately severe for people over sixty. Yes, we know that in many Anglosphere countries, there is an occasionally pretty understandable annoyance on the part of younger people against the regrettably not-always-that-imaginary stereotype of Der Boomer.

And yes, there is an ongoing politico-economic reshaping that has already begun, both of the world that the generation of our parents is bequeathing to us - and, in some areas, being actively pushed back against by some persons including those of a similar age range to them [c.f current debates in the US Democratic Primary around public healthcare - wherein, as somebody put it, the preponderance of boomer-aged voters *against* public reform, versus the preponderance of millennial aged voters *for* such reform, may look like the latter desperately endeavouring to hold back the former from jumping headlong over a cliff of its own ultimate devising through its previous several decades of political choices ... insofar as you actually have "choice" in a system as hidebound by health-insurance money as the US Political one].

But frankly, eagerly cheering on, or being amusedly indifferent to the plight of anybody retirement-aged and up during these present circumstances is reprehensible.

Being over a certain age doesn't automatically make you a villain outside of the circumstances of Logan's Run. Being under a certain age, and/or finding yourself lucky and well-placed enough to avoid the virus's ravages ... does not axiomatically render one a saint, either. [although being a saint, may for obvious reasons, help in such circumstances as we currently find ourselves embroiled in]

It must be scary as hell being an older person in Italy right now - a fear that can only escalate as you move up the age-brackets, past the "Boomer" generation and into the Greatest. Even if you've got some sort of semi-justified ill-feeling toward your parents' generation in abstract (if not necessarily, or perhaps necessarily, your specific parents themselves) ... have a thought for Grandma.

I'm a little biased about this, perhaps - my parents are older than many others of my generation, and seemingly quite different to the stereotypes that often seem to accrue for persons across the Anglosphere of their age. I also spent the formative years of my adulthood working with quite a number of older citizens, who were militantly in favour of the kind of economically just policies that are quite popular with many young voters today - not through a hopeful idealism, so much as having the actual, tangible recollection of them being in force some decades before.

... although the instances I ran into of older New Zealanders opposed to animal testing of synthetic cannabinoids and other party drugs, and instead volunteering themselves for it, was ... a little unexpected, to say the least.

These days, in my theological line of life, many of the people I engage with are also older. In no small part because they're the ones who can *remember* old ways, who have the wisdom of grandparents and are so eager to see it passed on - even if it has to skip their own children's generation through lack of interest, to be passed on more directly to their grandkids.

To be sure, I *do* think that an array of the stopping and tacking stock of our politico-economic situation as a result of what's going on with the Corona virus, is a necessary thing, and something that's been quite a long while coming. I have reasonable hope that the world we wind up with as a result of some of this, some three to five years down the track (after which, if history has proven to be a guide, we'll probably have started forgetting the lessons again, in earnest) shall be a more resilient and rational(ized) one in some ways, also, as a result. Paying more attention to looking after people and less to just-in-time buckled bottom lines and empty, pointless, performative "work"; for a start.

But I don't think that means we start celebrating a human cost to changing direction like this. I think it means, more than anything, that we are to be motivated to make damn sure that obvious problems with obvious solutions are *sorted* so that unnecessary deaths, weeks of worry, and lifetimes of lingering impairment *don't take place* in the first place.

So that the grief of a preventable and systemically avoidable spate of familial bereavements, as this virus and the milieu which has supported and enabled its promulgation and spread ... is spared as far as possible not only to us - but also to the generations that come after us, and which will, most certainly and without a doubt, be thinking of us "millennials" or "zoomers" or whatever it is that we are these days, in similar terms to how many seem to think of "Boomers" and the Greatest Generation today.

Now is not, for obvious reasons, the time to hug your parents, your grandparents, physically closer for fear of losing them prematurely.

Yet metaphorically, I think that's *exactly* what is required - closer mental and emotional engagement, mutual support .. from a physical distance .. and ensuring that contra to the memery flying around the place at the moment, that they are not only not forgotten, but not painfully, shamefully derided into the bargain as well.

"As you are, we once were. As we are, you shall be", indeed.

Perhaps, instead of the "Ok, Boomer" that has become such popular (and occasionally quite apt) parlance these days, "Are you OK [boomer]?" might be the better ethos du jour.

Friday, March 6, 2020

On Trump's Nixonian "Peace With Honour" In Afghanistan

So over the past few days in Afghanistan, there've been more than six dozen Taliban attacks and the US has resumed airstrikes against them. Yet I seem to keep running across people hailing Trump as some kind of visionary diplomatic savant (as opposed to the *other* kind of savant) who's scored some kind of history-diverting coup in securing a sort of 'peace with honour' deal in Afghanistan.

"Peace with Honour", now *there's* a historically resonant phrase. Trump is often compared to Nixon, for reasons that should probably be obvious (although with the people making the comparisons generally forgetting that Nixon won re-election despite the allegations against him being well-publicized all throughout the electorate quite some time before polling-day); yet it's that particular 'promise' of Nixon's that springs to mind now.

Facing an arguably unwinnable war in Vietnam, the American public had understandably soured upon its continued prosecution. Yet a simple cut-and-run would have been substantively politically unpalatable. So instead, Nixon ran for the Presidency on a "pledge" (as he put it) of "honourable peace", which some might have noted was a subtle yet important distinction from his earlier declaration of intent to secure a "victorious peace". Not that either ambition came with an actual detailed stratagem for its attainment; prior to winning the White House, the closest he seemed to come to one was vague braggadocio about implicitly threatening via supporting parties the North Vietnamese et co til they stopped gaining ground.

Once in office, he attempted to make good upon this approach through escalating bombings (including of sites in officially neutral Cambodia, carried out in secret; a gambit Trump has also tried, including thermobaric-style) and blustering bombast about massively increased pressure in other areas. But he also pressed forward with another much more important strand of his strategy - "Vietnamization". Or, phrased another way, making the war on the ground and its unstaunchable flow of casualties effectively somebody else's problem.

If it had any meaning, Nixon's dictum of an "honourable peace" probably just meant attempting to give the South Vietnamese military an allegedly "fighting chance" as far as the 'honourable' component went - and when it came to the "peace" bit, one could quote the worlds of Ronald Reagan (ironically, speaking about the then-brewing Vietnam War in 1964) - "Do they mean peace, or do they mean we just want to be left in peace?"

Much of the American public did, indeed, "want to be left in peace" by the Nixon presidency, and understandably so. Nixon's inability to actually *deliver* on his previous pledge of "peace" - "victorious", "honourable", or "otherwise" - over the four years of his first term in office, didn't seem to significantly harm his electoral prospects in 1972; with the run-up to the November election featuring a steady stream of announcements as to the ongoing 'progress' of peace negotiations, in any case.

These eventually culminated with the Paris Peace Accords signed some four and a half months later, that secured the near-total withdrawal of US and allied forces from Vietnam. That's where Nixon's iconically famous phrase of "Peace With Honour" actually comes from - his trumpeting of the eventual 'success' of his Administration's negotiation (and negotiation-from-30,000-feet) in late January 1973 a few days before the Acccords' signing.

On January 27 1973, the Paris Peace Accords came into effect.

The ceasefire held for, it appears, less than 24 hours.

However, within two weeks the US Senate would begin its formal investigation of Watergate; and as the increasingly disconcerting revelations from *that* particular low-light of the Nixon Era began to take over the headlines in earnest, the failure of both the War nobody wanted to care about anymore, as well as the Peace With Honour which was supposed to end it with something resembling "integrity", edged ever further out of the public-political consciousness.

Lies, atrocities, and illegal acts carried out far away across the Pacific Ocean seemed far less significant, somehow, than those purportedly engaged in against the American People at home, by their own ruling caste.

Within two years, South Vietnam had effectively ceased to exist; the Fall of Saigon in late April 1975 also encompassing the last US combat deaths of the War.

Now lest I be misinterpreted ... I am not for a moment seeking to draw the more immediately obvious parallel that so often gets trotted out pertaining to Trump and Nixon. Both men faced Impeachment. One is still standing afterward; and it would seem unutterably foolhardy to presume that, barring some seismic shift in American politics, there shall be any more successful foreshortening of Trump's time in office via legal means, and with it being only slightly more probable at this late stage that electoral means shall prove any greater or more successful in this endeavour.

Instead, I simply seek to suggest to the various sorts of people I've seen hailing Trump's 'peace with honour' in Afghanistan - that what is likely to ensue there is probably not entirely far removed from what Nixon "achieved" in Paris with regard to Vietnam.

That is to say, a great flurry of headlines, a certain upswing in cautious optimism from some of those who (understandably) want the American (involving) war effort there to be at an end, and a much more pronounced positivity from those ... enthusiastic sorts for whom Their President Can Do No Wrong.

In real terms? Just as with Vietnam - official involvement and boots-on-the-ground will dramatically decrease. Actual American involvement, in the form of longer-range efforts that don't create so many *American* casualties like drone-strikes and aerial sorties, shall likely continue (a 'Linebacker', you might call it); as will the under-the-table and downright dodgy efforts and illicit activities that are part and parcel of the Entanglements of Empire in the Back of Beyond. "The Great Game", it was once called - perhaps this is the Great Videogame, with occasional hints of Minesweeper.

But Trump will be able to proclaim to his public that he (finally) fulfilled a campaign pledge, and brought American troops home - he may even ill-fittingly over-inflate his own achievements in Afghanistan to place him on a par with Ranjit Singh (look him up, one of the only rulers to ever win a war there).

He'll be able to say - rightly or wrongly - that Americans shall now be "left in peace" by the conflict. Because that's what this was really about. They don't want a "cease-fire" - they just want to cease being fired upon. An ambition common, also, to just about everybody involved. Even if it means simply deferring and/or duplicating some of the more active conflict down the road and via the continuation of warfare via any other means in the local political arenas.

The Taliban, meanwhile, are presumably looking forward to a re-run of the chaotic sequence of events following the withdrawal of Soviet troops in the late 1980s; that is to say, taking advantage of an increasingly fractious internal situation that they themselves are going to be doing their darndest in many cases to fracture further - to rebuild their rulership back to something approaching pre-2001 levels.

And The World at large shall move on.

We've got other "Peaces" to turn into mere "Honorifics".

Almost puts one in the mind of a favourite quotation of mine; from a much earlier cynical Joaquin Phoenix movie -

"'When there is peace, the warlike man attacks himself.' That's Nietzsche, and his point is that there really is no peace. There's always some war, somewhere, with someone. And there are no winners or losers either. Just those who are still around to fight another day."

That seems to be Afghanistan these days - in much the same way that Pakistan is not, as other countries are, a state with a military ... but rather, a military with a state; Afghanistan seems less a country having a civil war, than a civil war having a country.

Trump's "Peace With Honour" then, is a "Peace Agreement" lacking in that most fundamental ingredient: a potentially viable prospect for "Peace".

What it has instead is a commodity in conspicuously hot demand in recent weeks - a vast quantity of hand sanitizzer, for the vigorous Washing Hands Of This. With a similarly vocal cry of "Out Damned Spot!"

As applies the ineluctable comparison between Nixon's crab-(rave-)scuttle out of Vietnam, and Trump's "dealmaking" to leave Afghanistan, it is once again abundently clear that while History may not, strictly speaking, repeat - it sure does rhyme.

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

So When Shane Jones Claims Wealthy Donors Are Influencing Immigration Decisions ...

Shane Jones says you can't trust the National Party on immigration, because they're "funded by certain very rich overseas donors" with a vested interest in the matter.

On this particular matter, I shall have to defer to the superior experience of Jones - after all, I seem to recall an Associate Immigration Minister also by the name of Shane Jones who personally intervened against a mountain of official advice (including from Interpol), to get Kiwi citizenship for a foreign criminal festooned with fraudulent passports and other documents. Who had, as it happened, donated and otherwise fraternized pretty extensively with both Labour and National.

It seems like Jones' outrage about supposedly suspect immigration is seriously selective. If it's "Indian", he's against it. If it's "Chinese", he seems rather more circumspect (as in "silent"); and I mention this because I'm pretty sure that many of the shifts in our export education sector from the early-mid 2000s onward (or, as Jones calls it, the "ruining" thereof) were the result of a significant expansion in Chinese student visa numbers over that period.

This doesn't mean it's morally right to blame said students, of whatever nation of origin, either. As a country, we apparently decided we wanted Export Education to be a cornerstone of our growth and development strategy; and started energetically pushing the 'recruitment' for this in various target markets including India, the People's Republic of China, and other such places.

This appears to have included sotto-voce 'sweeteners' about how long-term study in New Zealand would offer an easy pathway to Work-Visas and then eventually Residency.

And while an array of that is down to unscrupulous immigration brokers and sketchy education providers looking to make a quick buck by mass-importing fee-paying foreign students (I don't just mean fly-by-night language schools, either - from my time in  the tertiary education sector, it seemed that even some of New Zealand's more 'reputable' universities were quite intentionally in on it) ...

... the manifest fact is that these policy decisions were made by *our* Government. Including, as it happens, two that Jones was personally part of.

I've previously covered in some detail how Jones' bloviating references to "Butter Chicken" and "Bollywood Overreaction" when castigating immigration, appears to be an effort at setting a narrative, making a name for himself - getting 'known' as a guy against immigration via the specific, spurious, and repeated targeting of one stereotypable set of migrant demographics.

Yet now I think I'll go further. Jones is patently aware that whenever the issue of immigration numbers or the sorts of immigration taking place comes up - that it's *his own* record (or lack thereof) in Government that is effectively under scrutiny. Not the rambunctious rhetoric. The actual facts of what he and his have - or, more pointedly - have not done upon the matter.

That's a losing wicket; so instead of allowing attention to be cast upon it, he's attempting to redirect your attention to somebody .. anybody else.

So don't look at his actual record, personally enabling *actual* dodgy immigration to New Zealand in a Ministerial capacity ... instead keep your eye on the spectral shadow-puppet he's projecting on that wall over there yonder: "3 million people [coming] here from New Delhi."

To do anything else is, apparently, some kind of Greek Chorus "Overreaction".