Friday, 29 July 2011

Something Else

Right-wing Terrorist: Before the world learned that the Oslo bomb had been detonated by Anders Behring Breivik the global news media correctly described the event as a terrorist attack. But, once it became clear the perpetrator was a Norwegian national, his carefully planned military mission suddenly became something else. Breivik himself became "the gunman", while his Labour Youth targets became the "teenage" victims of a "shooting spree" or "deadly rampage". Why does the Western media find it so hard to call Breivik's actions by their proper name: terrorism?

HOW EASILY WE ACCEPT the peculiar moral alchemy of our masters. Their effortless, almost magical power to transmute the Norwegian tragedy into something else; something quite distinct from a terrible and despicable act of political terrorism.

Anders Behring Breivik is indisputably a political terrorist, and the Norwegian authorities have treated him as such. He is being tried for terrorism.

So, why have governments and newspaper editors around the world shied away from using the words “terrorism” and “terrorist” to describe the murderous acts of this 32-year-old ultra-nationalist, anti-socialist, cultural exclusionist?

Over and over again we hear and read about Breivik as “the gunman” who went on a shooting “rampage” or “spree”.

Breivik’s victims have been similarly misrepresented. These young people weren’t gunned down for being “teenagers”, and Utoya Island wasn’t chosen simply because it was a “summer camp”. Breivik’s target was the annual gathering of the youth wing of the Norwegian Labour Party – the dominant partner in Norway’s left-wing coalition government.

In court, Breivik calmly explained that he had targeted the Utoya Island gathering quite deliberately. Partly to punish the Labour-led government for its promotion of multiculturalism. Partly to wipe out the next generation of Labour Party leaders and impede the recruitment of replacements.

And yet, all over the English-speaking world, these decisive facts of Breivik’s terrorism are blurred, smudged – even erased. Politicians and journalists ask us instead to focus on “the gunman’s” singularity. They speculate about his mental state, emphasise the extreme or “fantastic” character of his beliefs, and do everything within their power to distance Breivik from what they consider to be “normal” political activity.

HOW DIFFERENT things were in that confused hour before the terrorist’s Norwegian ethnicity was confirmed.

Prior to this crucial confirmation, all the talk had been about “Islamist terrorism”. Experts from far away countries effortlessly detected Al Qaida’s “signature” among the Oslo rubble. In the fog of war, well before all the facts were known, nobody seemed in any doubt that they were looking at an act of terrorism.

So, why did the language and the ontological perspective change when the world discovered that Norway wasn’t Al Qaida’s latest victim after all, but that it was, in fact, dealing with an act of home-grown terrorism?

Why do the Western World’s opinion-shapers feel so uncomfortable applying the word “terrorism” to anything other than the deadly acts of Islamist extremists?

THE MOST OBVIOUS ANSWER is that it is difficult to wage a “Global War on Terror” (GWOT) if the terroristic “them” have not been clearly, unequivocally, culturally and religiously distinguished from the innocent “us”.

Terrorists are supposed to come from hot desert countries, have brown skins and shout “Allahu Akbar!” They are not supposed to be blond-haired, blue-eyed, and, like the medieval Knights Templar, make war in the absolute certainty that “God wills it!”

Our masters become distinctly uncomfortable when they realise that Anders Breivik clearly considers himself a co-belligerent in GWOT. While Norway’s soldiers fight the Taliban alongside their American, British and New Zealand comrades in Afghanistan, Breivik’s new Knights Templar are pledged to unleash death and destruction on Islam’s treacherous fifth-columnists back home.

In the eyes of this uncompromising nationalist, Norway’s Labour prime-minister, Jens Stoltenberg, is indistinguishable from Vidkun Quisling – the infamous fifth-columnist who headed-up the Norwegian puppet-government imposed by the Nazis in 1940.

We are repelled by his moral insouciance, but wouldn’t our own special forces personnel, after a night of carnage in the streets and alleyways of Kabul, wearily concede that their actions had been, to use Breivik’s own words, “atrocious – but necessary”.

THE NEED to label Breivik’s home-grown terrorism “something else” is explained by the painful fact that about the only thing that distinguishes his massacre from the West’s is authority and geography.

Like the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, Breivik set out on a military mission to achieve a number of clear political objectives. The horror he unleashed on Utoya Island appalled the world. So, why is the world not equally appalled when an American drone obliterates a Pakistani compound? Or a Nato gunship cuts down 68 Afghan wedding guests in Helmand province?

Significantly, Breivik asked his police captors if he could wear a uniform to his arraignment. It’s as if he was challenging us to admit that, when shielded by the emblems of authority, terrorism is always “something else”.

This essay was originally published in The Timaru Herald, The Taranaki Daily News, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 29 July 2011.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Old Lies

Hard Man: The traditional warrior virtues which the Waiariki MP, Te Ururoa Flavell, so obviously prizes make no allowances for the mental frailties to which all human-beings are heir. Suicide cannot be shaken out of society. Mr Flavell's proposed "hard stance" can only make the problem of youth suicide worse.

THE VENEER of modernity which covers New Zealand is very thin. Well-educated bureaucrats in government ministries, and well-meaning volunteers in NGOs strive to enlighten the general public on everything from the rudiments of safe driving and safe sex, to the complexities of competing electoral systems and the maintenance of mental health. And then, just when they’re certain the country is making progress, along comes somebody like the MP for Waiariki, Te Ururoa Flavell, and proves them wrong.

To say that Mr Flavell’s column in the Rotorua Daily Post was wilfully ignorant, socially destructive and deeply wounding to the families and friends of suicide victims does scant justice to its general offensiveness.

Responding to the suicides of ten young people in Kawerau over the past year, and two more in the Bay of Plenty this past week, Mr Flavell wrote:

“I say we are at a point where we say, ‘that’s it, no more. No more suicides.”

This statement would have been inane enough in its own right – akin to saying: “That’s it, no more. No more rain.” But Flavell went on to suggest a solution which was much, much worse.

“Perhaps we should make a very hard stand with this”, wrote Flavell. “If a child commits suicide, let us consider not celebrating their lives on our marae; perhaps bury them at the entrance of the cemetery so their deaths will be condemned by the people.”

But why stop there, Mr Flavell? Why not bury them at the cross-roads with a wooden stake through their heart?

How the more educated and progressive members of the Maori community must have recoiled from Mr Flavell’s statements. Not only because they were so mind-bogglingly ill-informed, cruel and counter-productive, but because they pushed into the unforgiving sunlight an aspect of Maori culture that most Pakeha knew nothing about: the powerful belief that suicide is “hara” – sinful – and a cause for shame among whanau and hapu.

European culture held very similar views about suicide well into the 20th Century. Indeed, it is only in the last 50-60 years that the act of suicide ceased to be a crime. It is also a relatively simple matter to locate graveyards in New Zealand where the tombstones of suicides stand outside the walls – testimony to the church’s refusal to bury their bodies in hallowed ground.

In the last 40 years, however, medical science has driven legal persecution and religious superstition out of the context in which suicide is considered. In all but the most benighted of communities, Pakeha New Zealanders have learned to view suicide as the ultimate manifestation of acute clinical depression. Considerable effort and a great deal of money has been invested in lifting the age-old social stigma from depression sufferers. We are encouraged to look for the danger signs in our loved ones, to talk with them openly and honestly about their illness, and to seek out professional help.

Clearly, only a little of this enlightened attitude towards suicide and clinical depression has filtered through to the Maori community. Whether the suicide stigma predates European contact, or is just one more of the pernicious legacies of the Christian missionaries, there is in Maoridom a woeful lack of understanding about the causes and cures for suicidal behaviour.

Woeful, and in the case of Mr Flavell himself, wilful.

This, after all, is the MP who announced to the readers of the Rotorua Daily Post that he had, only a week before, attended a forum on suicide, where he listened to the “insights” of “some experts in this field”. He was also aware of the National Conference on Suicide that had taken place the week before that. Notwithstanding these opportunities to listen and learn, Mr Flavell informed his readers that:

“From what I have heard, one is almost wasting time asking why this happens.”

Really, Mr Flavell? And was that because the answers provided were complex and difficult? Did they point you in the direction of families in which the free sharing of personal feelings and problems was discouraged? Was it because there was much discussion in those forums about the crucial contribution such social evils as educational failure, joblessness, alcohol, drug addiction and domestic violence make to the suicide statistics? Did the “experts in this field” refuse to provide you with the simple/simplistic solutions you were demanding? Is that why you retreated – as your Maori Party leader, Tariana Turia, so often does – back into the old Maori world of mysticism and magic? A world in which suicide victims and their whanau were cursed, cast out and denied the spiritual protection of the urupa?

Seldom has the redeeming power of science and education been so urgently required than in those Maori communities where the stigma of suicide still casts its dark shadow. In spite of Mr Flavell’s obvious convictions to the contrary, suicide is not something that can be shaken or shamed out of a person. Nor is clinical depression a condition that can be cured by a brusque, emotionally-stunted man grabbing the sufferer by the shoulders and ordering him to “toughen-up”.

Traditional Maori society placed enormous stock by the manly virtues of the warrior. Stoicism, courage, coolness under fire and the ability to bounce back – these were the qualities the elders looked for among the rising generation. And they are admirable qualities. But, sadly, not everyone is lucky enough to be blessed with them. In every society there are those who cannot simply bounce back. That does not make them less valuable or less needful of their community’s understanding and assistance.

Taking a “hard stance” on suicide, Mr Flavell, will bring only more misery – not less.

This essay is exclusive to the Bowalley Road blogsite.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011


Utoya Island, Norway, Friday, 22 July 2011: A calculated act of political terror. 

SIXTY-EIGHT idealistic young Norwegians shot to death with chilling efficiency. Eight of their compatriots blown to pieces by a massive car-bomb in the Norwegian capital. What other question can there be but: “Why?”

The answer is frighteningly straight-forward: both the bombing and the shootings were carefully calculated acts of political terror.

The man Norwegian authorities have charged with these atrocities, a 32-year-old businessman named Anders Behring Breivik, is a self-confessed Christian and an ardent Norwegian nationalist. Between 1999 and 2005 he was a “youth member” of the Norwegian Progress Party – a party whose principles and policies closely align with those of America’s “tea partiers” and New Zealand’s Act Party.

Breivik’s resignation from the Progress Party was in reaction to the severe internal stresses brought on by the often bitter debates over how far the party should go to curb the influx of Muslim immigrants to Norway.

Throughout the 1990s the Progress Party was torn apart by splits and divisions over the immigration issue. Breivik was a supporter of those he described as the “idealistic” faction of the party: hardliners who despised the “multiculturalism” preached by the Norwegian Left, and who were committed to restoring the racially homogeneous Norwegian society of the 1950s and 60s.

It was the Progress Party’s radical ideas on race, and the extreme positions adopted by some of the leading protagonists of the anti-immigration faction, which led Norway’s other political parties to declare it persona non grata in that country’s generally tolerant and liberal political culture.

Opposition to the Progress Party’s racial and religious prejudice was most pronounced among the left-leaning Labour and Green parties – both of whom strongly promoted the ideal of multicultural tolerance. But even Norway’s centrist and conservative parties were put off by the Progress Party’s extremism and excluded it from the real and potential governing coalitions of the centre-right.

Essentially, the entire Norwegian political class (aided by the news media) came together to mount an effective political boycott of the Progress Party.

The only problem with this strategy of exclusion was that the Progress Party was not simply an anti-immigration party. In Norway’s still very strong social-democratic political culture the Progress Party stood out as the only mass political movement whole-heartedly committed to introducing the policies of “free market” neo-liberalism.

By bringing together rural and provincial Norwegians antagonistic to the influx of non-white, non-Christian immigrants, with the growing number of young, urban-dwelling Norwegians chafing under the benign collectivism of Norway’s social-democratic institutions, the Progress Party had grown rapidly to become Norway’s second-largest political party after Labour.

The result has given rise to what writer and social-critic, Dr Chris Harris, has aptly described as a “civil cold war or cold civil war” in which upwards of one quarter of the population found its political beliefs and aspirations deliberately excluded from government.

Paradoxically, it may have been the Progress Party’s incremental movements towards the political centre (and thus towards participation in a future centre-right government) which set Breivik on his path towards political terrorism and mass murder.

IN SPITE OF looking like the healthy, blond-haired, blue-eyed young man any Norwegian mother would have been delighted to have as a son-in-law, Breivik had not made a conspicuous success of his life.

Aspiring to be part of Norway’s entrepreneurial elite, he’d tried his hand at several businesses but all had ended in failure. Refusing to abandon his dreams, he’d talked himself into “The Pillars” – one of Oslo’s leading masonic lodges. But even here, among the rich and the powerful, he could find no backers for the right-wing newspaper he’d hoped to launch. Lonely, frustrated and increasingly marginalised, Breivik was reduced to venting his spleen on right-wing social-media sites, and chatting on-line with the dark denizens of Europe’s neo-Nazi underworld.

And after them – who?

What triggered the final descent into practical planning: the amassing of fertiliser; the stockpiling of ammunition; the acquisition of a policeman’s uniform; we’ve yet to discover.

Did he find himself in an Oslo bar one evening, locked in conversation with a pretty young student attracted to his buffed six-foot frame and cute, cupid-bow smile? Did he feel the pangs of sexual yearning? Wonder if this girl might be the one? Only to ruin it all by getting into an argument about politics. Was it before or after she’d called him a racist pig that he noticed the Labour Youth logo on her T-shirt?

Did he imagine them all on Utoya Island? All those happy little Marxists rutting in their pup tents. Mocking a vengeful god with their easy fornication and treacherous tolerance of the filthy defilers of Norwegian purity.

Did he imagine all their Labour Party mentors, beavering away in their downtown Oslo offices, plotting yet more ruin for the Fatherland?

Well, he had a surprise for them.

And afterwards, Norway would never be the same.

This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 26 July 2011.

In Memoriam (For The Victims Of The Terrorist Attack Aganist The Norwegian Labour Party)

A Calculated Blow Against Norway's Future: Young Norwegians mourn the loss of their friends and comrades on Utoya Island. Anders Behring Breivik targeted the Norwegian Labour Party for its "treacherous" championing of multicultural tolerance.

I Think Continually Of Those Who Were Truly Great

I think continually of those who were truly great.
Who, from the womb, remembered the soul's history
Through corridors of light where the hours are suns
Endless and singing. Whose lovely ambition
Was that their lips, still touched with fire,
Should tell of the Spirit clothed from head to foot in song.
And who hoarded from the Spring branches
The desires falling across their bodies like blossoms.

What is precious is never to forget
The essential delight of the blood drawn from ageless springs
Breaking through rocks in worlds before our earth.
Never to deny its pleasure in the morning simple light
Nor its grave evening demand for love.
Never to allow gradually the traffic to smother
With noise and fog the flowering of the spirit.

Near the snow, near the sun, in the highest fields
See how these names are feted by the waving grass
And by the streamers of white cloud
And whispers of wind in the listening sky.
The names of those who in their lives fought for life
Who wore at their hearts the fire's centre.
Born of the sun they travelled a short while towards the sun,
And left the vivid air signed with their honour.

Stephen Spender

Friday, 22 July 2011

Poll Axed

Going Down?: Labour morale, boosted by the generally positive critical reception given to its proposed Capital Gains Tax, sustained a crushing blow when the One News Colmar Brunton poll showed the party plummeting seven percentage points to its worst result in a decade. But are the opinion polls methodologically sound? And, if they're not, who benefits most from the news media's failure to correct them?

TWENTY-SEVEN PERCENT: the results from the One News Colmar Brunton Poll fell upon Labour’s hopes like a sledge-hammer. Party members and supporters who, just days before, had been feeling proud and confident stared at the numbers in blank amazement. Everything they’d experienced since last Thursday’s tax-policy launch had reassured them that the Party’s plans were being well-received by the public. And yet, there they were, those wretched numbers: the worst in a decade.

It was all so demoralising. Why go on fighting? What was the point? When, in spite of most experts hailing Labour’s Capital Gains Tax (CGT) as not only a courageous and much-needed fillip to economic development, but also as a statement of basic fairness, the voting public simply turned their backs.

Such a savage rejection must surely mean that Labour and its supporters constitute an eccentric – almost cultish – subset of the New Zealand electorate? A sort of political Amish, whose beliefs and policies appear as outlandish to “Mainstream New Zealand” as the Amish’s horse-drawn carts and buggies?

That is certainly what Labour’s opponents would like its supporters to think. Which gives rise to the very troubling question: “Are opinion polls being used, quite deliberately, to demoralise the Government’s opponents?”

Prior to the events of the past fortnight in the United Kingdom, such a question would have reeked of the political paranoia usually associated with conspiracy theorists. But, after the revelations exposing the corruption and collusion which has for decades defined the relationship between Britain’s news media and her politicians, it is a question that merits some sort of answer.

Let’s begin with Colmar Brunton. Since at least 2004 there has been persuasive academic evidence that a statistical bias in Colmar Brunton’s sampling methods causes it to consistently overstate the support of the political Right.

The company’s telephone survey is conducted Saturday to Thursday evenings (inclusive). But, by conducting its polling mostly on weeknights, Colmar Brunton’s academic critics (Rob Salmond, Keith Rankin) argue that the company is much more likely to make contact with higher income-earners – men and women whose electoral choices traditionally favour the more conservative political parties.

This statistical bias could be eliminated if Colmar Brunton’s data was weighted to overcome the preponderance of higher income earners among its respondents. But, although Colmar Brunton weights its results to match Statistics New Zealand’s population data on age, gender, household size and ethnic origin, it does not weight them to match the income-spread of New Zealand’s voters.

And neither, it appears, do the other major polling agencies: Reid Research, DigiPoll and Roy Morgan.

There is, however, one polling agency that does weight its data for income – with startling results. The latest HorizonPoll, taken shortly after the Budget (24/5/11) presents a picture of the New Zealand political scene that is radically different from the picture presented by its competitors.

In HorizonPoll’s survey, support for the “Left Bloc” (Labour, Greens, NZ First,) stands at 43 percent; with the “Right Bloc” (National, Act, United Future, Maori Party) only just behind them on 42.7 percent support.

Admittedly, there are more differences in the HorizonPoll’s methodology than simply allowing for voter income. Even so, a news media motivated by a genuine desire to obtain the most accurate description of the electorate’s mood would surely be concerned by the startling discrepancies between the HorizonPoll’s results and the findings obtained using “standard”  methodologies.

Indeed, the only plausible explanation for not being concerned is that, from the perspective of this country’s largest media corporations, the “standard methodologies” are exerting a consistent and positive influence over the public’s political perceptions and voting intentions.

By portraying the contest between Right and Left blocs as a hopelessly one-sided horse-race, the “standard methodologies” obviate the need for a more detailed examination of, and a more even-handed debate about, the political alternatives currently on offer.

But surely, if opinion polls possess the power to alter our perceptions (and they do) then the methodologies sanctioned by their sponsors must be above suspicion?

This essay was originally published in The Dominion Post, The Timaru Herald, The Taranaki Daily News, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 22 July 2011.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Trick Questions

She'd Swear No Oath To An English King: Constance Markiewicz was the first woman elected to the British Parliament but was never seated because, in line with the nationalist and republican principles of the Sinn Fein Party, she refused to swear allegiance to the monarchy which had oppressed the Irish people since the 12th Century. The New Zealand Speaker's recent refusal to seat Hone Harawira until he swore allegiance to Queen Elizabeth II shows that the feudal traditions of our parliament still have teeth.

IT’S ONE of those trick trivia questions that always catches the pub-quiz whiz-kids off balance.

“Who was the first woman elected to the British House of Commons?”

Quick as a flash, all the amateur historians chime in with “Nancy Astor!” (the American-born Vicountess who famously declared: “Mr Churchill, if you were my husband I’d put poison in your tea.” To which Winston Churchill, even more famously, replied: “Madam, if you were my wife, I’d drink it.”)

The amateur historians would, however, be wrong.

Lady Astor was indeed the first woman to take up a seat in the House of Commons (she won her husband’s old constituency of Plymouth Sutton in a by-election in 1919) but she was not the first woman to win one.

That honour belongs to Constance Markiewicz, the Irish nationalist revolutionary, who won the constituency of Dublin St Patrick’s for the Irish nationalist party, Sinn Féin, in the British General Election of 1918.

That Constance Markiewicz never took her seat in the House of Commons was due entirely to her nationalist and revolutionary republican beliefs. As a champion of Irish independence from Great Britain and a staunch republican, she was not about to swear allegiance to an English king, or a monarchy which had oppressed her people since the 12th Century.

And therein lies the insurmountable problem – as New Zealanders, witnessing the aborted swearing-in of a member of their own House of Representatives  93 years later, have discovered.

The Oath of Allegiance, like so many of the other feudal relics that still clutter this country’s constitutional arrangements, may seem to be nothing more than a harmless anachronism, but, when challenged, turns out to have a cutting edge as keen as any medieval broadsword.

LIKE IRELAND’S SINN FÉIN (“Ourselves Alone”), the newly-formed Mana Party is a revolutionary nationalist political movement seeking to bring about fundamental social, economic and political change within the framework of a constitutional monarchy.

To get around this central contradiction at the heart of Mana’s political project, it’s leader, Hone Harawira, is required to swear an oath, or make an affirmation, which he has no intention of honouring. Or, to put it more bluntly: before Mr Harawira can take up his parliamentary seat, the Speaker of the House, Dr Lockwood Smith, is requiring him to perjure himself.

The Mana Party leader is committed to establishing a bi-cultural Aotearoan republic, with the Treaty of Waitangi enshrined at the heart of its constitution.

Why, then, should he be required to “solemnly swear” to: “… be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, Her heirs and successors, according to law. So help me God.”

The legal experts, like the Speaker, will argue that “the law is the law”. It’s a fair point, but it is also a profoundly hypocritical objection.

For many years, now, Members of Parliament who have not been able, in good conscience, to swear an oath before God, have been able to make an affirmation instead. Why then, if our legislators are willing to make provision for the tender consciences of atheists, have they not extended the same courtesy to republicans?

We know how swiftly the House of Representatives can act when it wants to (just ask the executives of Warner Bros.) so why doesn’t it allow Mr Harawira to swear to:

“ … [B]e faithful and bear true allegiance to Te Tiriti o Waitangi, that I will be honest and forthright in my efforts to advance the rights of the people of Tai Tokerau, that I will do my utmost to help all Maori people become full empowered citizens of this land and that I will do whatever I can to reduce inequalities in this country, so that all may one day be proud to call Aotearoa home.”

THE SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE, in deciding to stand firm on the Oath of Allegiance, has brought the evolving tradition of MPs swearing or affirming allegiance to Treaty, Nation, Democracy and Queen to an abrupt halt.

This is regrettable. Because, by re-infusing the Oath with all of its ancient, feudatory power, Dr Smith may end up driving the Mana Party to adopt the tactics of Sinn Féin in 1918.

Rather than take up her seat in the King’s parliament, Countess Markiewicz, along with dozens of other Irish MPs elected under Sinn Féin’s banner, unilaterally constituted themselves as the Dáil Éireann – the first parliament of the Irish Republic.

Thus began the Irish War of Independence.

JUST AS POWERFUL CURRENTS of water have carved out the courses of Canterbury’s rivers, powerful currents of history are carving out the future contours of the New Zealand state.

It will indeed be ironic if future pub-quiz whiz-kids identify Dr Lockwood Smith as the man whose neo-colonialist actions sparked the birth of the Bicultural Republic of Aotearoa.

This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 19 July 2011.

Friday, 15 July 2011

The Price We Pay For Civilisation

A Winning Team?: Phil Goff and David Cunliffe (with a great deal of help from David Parker) have seized the high moral ground on fiscal policy. The 2011 General Election has finally become a genuine contest.

LABOUR’S TAX POLICY is as much a moral declaration as it is an economic statement. It speaks to our notions of fairness and equal treatment every bit as directly as it addresses the investor’s love affair with real estate.

This re-focusing of the electorate’s attention on the revenue-gathering aspects of fiscal policy is as timely as it is necessary. For far too long politicians of conservative mien have pretended that the only good tax is a dead one. That governments can go on blithely emptying-out the revenue side of the public ledger, (or, as they prefer to characterise it: “putting money back in the tax-payer’s pocket”) with impunity.

Not that they believed a word of their own propaganda. Even the densest conservative politician must have been aware that drastic cuts in revenue would, eventually, have to be balanced by equally drastic cuts in expenditure.

Nor were the more conservative sorts of politicians ever truly averse to a fiscal policy of slash and burn. Indeed, there are many on the Right who regard slashing and burning as the whole point of the exercise.

MY GOAL”, boasted the far-Right American lobbyist, Grover Norquist, “is to cut government in half in twenty-five years, to get it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.”

Nor was this idle rhetoric on Norquist’s part.

As anyone who follows American politics knows only too well, Norquist and his corporate sponsors have been as good as their eliminationist word. All over the United States, federal and state expenditures are being slashed, and tens-of-thousands of public servants laid-off.

And, in America, these firings have moved way beyond “the back office”. The United States’ once proud system of public education is being systematically starved of funds while massive sums are being voted to the corporate providers of private education in so-called “charter schools”.

To undercut the inevitable resistance from aggrieved public-sector workers, Republican Party governors have stripped the public-sector unions of the right to organise, strike, or engage in any effective form of collective bargaining.

So crazed has the American Right become since the onset of the global financial crisis, that the Republican majority in the House of Representatives is threatening to pull the plug on the US Government’s ability to pay its bills. Unmoved by the warnings of Wall Street that such a move would cause the United States to default on its debt – plunging the world into a new and exponentially more serious global crisis – the far-right “Tea Party” faction of the Republican Party refuses to be swayed.

Unless President Obama agrees to reduce federal expenditures by more than a trillion dollars, congressional permission for his administration to exceed the “debt ceiling” – i.e. honour America’s debts – will be refused.

That expenditure cuts on this scale would effectively dismantle what remains of the United States’ anaemic social-welfare system, far from restraining the Tea Partiers, explains why they have so far rejected every one of the President’s attempts at reaching a compromise. As one American pundit put it: “The Republicans are refusing to take ‘Yes’ for an answer!” 

THIS, THEN, is the logical end-point of the tax-cutting, expenditure-slashing, “austerity” mania currently gripping the Right – not just in the US but also here in New Zealand.

That’s why Labour’s embrace of a Capital Gains Tax is so important. It signals that a line in the sand has been drawn by the Labour caucus.

On one side stand all the democratic achievements of the New Zealand people: the public provision of health, education and welfare services; the State’s active engagement in the provision and maintenance of New Zealand’s basic infrastructure; it’s guardianship of our natural environment; its stewardship of our culture.

On the other side stand all those commercial interests slavering to turn these collective achievements into opportunities for private gain. The ideologues who would drown our state – along with all that it stands for and protects – in Mr Norquist’s bathtub.

The Norquists of this world see the welfare state as an unnecessary evil. But, in its place they would raise something even more malign: plutocracy. A state in which a citizen's worth is measured exclusively by their wealth, and where the only truly punishable crime is poverty.

It was the US Supreme Court Justice, Oliver Wendell Holmes, who said: “Taxes are the price we pay for civilisation.”

Labour agrees.

This essay was originally published in The Timaru Herald, The Taranaki Daily News, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 15 July 2011.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

News From The Dark Side

Sustained Moral Outrage: Comedian, Steve Coogan, confronts the former Deputy Features Editor of the News of the World, Paul McMullan, on the BBC's Newsnight programme: "You're not a journalist! You know you're not!"

YOU HAVE TO WONDER why he did it. The British people were aghast: disgust rising like bile in their throats at the gross moral turpitude of the News of the World. And yet, there he was: Paul McMullan, Deputy Features Editor of the News of the World from 1994-2001, defending the indefensible on Friday’s BBC Newsnight programme.

The casting could hardly have been better, because physically, intellectually and emotionally McMullan was the perfect representative of that doomed newspaper and the morally compromised corporate culture in which it operated.

Slack-limbed, loose-jawed, lank-haired and dead-eyed: speaking in the weak, reedy accents of East London, McMullan’s every self-justifying syllable sounded as if it had been pre-smeared with the mud of the Thames. The man would have done credit to Dickens himself.

Challenged by Newsnight’s Emily Maitlis to defend the News of the World’s hacking into the cell-phones of politicians, celebrities, the families of soldiers killed in Afghanistan, and most egregiously, the “In-Box” of murdered teenager, Milly Dowler, McMullan’s response was eerily offhand.

“I’ve always said that I just tried to write articles in a truthful way. And – you know – what better source [for] getting the truth than listening to someone’s messages.”

In those jarring, self-contradictory sentences, McMullan not only lays bare the extraordinary strangeness of the story he tells himself, but the extraordinary lack of moral scruple that has come to characterise the British tabloid press.

In McMullan’s moral universe it is important to write articles in “a truthful way”, but not, apparently, to gather information for those articles in ways that avoid the gross violation of an individual’s right to privacy.

What McMullan simply doesn’t appear to understand is that the casual resort to immoral means inevitably contaminates, and corrupts, even the most noble of ends.

The News of the World’s use of private detectives to dig out the sort of information that would otherwise have remained hidden represented, in essence, a kind of moral and professional short-cut. The newspaper’s editors had obviously decided that the patient, laborious – but ethical – techniques of acquiring information were far too time-consuming. To get the scoop – and thus sell more newspapers than their rivals – they told themselves that their employers’ worthy objectives fully justified pressuring their journalists into adopting unethical (and, ultimately, illegal) methods of news-gathering.

True investigative journalism is not concerned with which celebrity is sleeping with which celebrity’s wife; or snorting cocaine; or watching porn. Nor does it rely on the efforts of “Bennie the Binman” riffling through rock-stars’ and news-readers’ rubbish for titillating tittle-tattle.

True investigative journalism concerns itself with the probity of our political leaders, the efficacy of government policy and the integrity of our institutions. It’s goal is not the revelation of private human frailties, but the righting of wrongs and the exposure of public malfeasance.

And the true investigative journalist gets his story not by trickery, deception or illegality, but by patient inquiry; by laborious (and often dangerous) amassing of evidence, and, most importantly, by persuading those in possession of crucial information to do the right thing, pro bono publico – for the public good.

It is this that makes true investigative journalism a genuinely noble enterprise. Not simply for informing the public about matters of great importance, but for reminding those in possession of crucial information that they have a democratic duty to keep their fellow citizens “in the loop”.

It’s what makes “Bennie the Binman” and all his ilk moneygrubbing sleaze-merchants; and William Mark Felt – No. 2 at the FBI and “Deep Throat” of Watergate fame – a genuine American hero.

For Paul McMullan, however, these ideas might just as well have come from Mars. Although, it’s fair to say that, to the two other guests on Newsnight, the comedian Steve Coogan, and the former Director-General of the BBC, Greg Dyke, McMullan himself might just as easily have been a visitor from the red planet.

Regarding him with an expression that blended loathing and contempt in equal measure, Coogan unleashed one of the most splendid examples of sustained moral outrage I have ever heard.

“You come across as a sort of risible individual”, said Coogan, eyes narrowed, nostrils flared, “who is symptomatic of everything that’s wrong with the tabloids.”

And when McMullan again tried to justify himself by thrusting forward his journalistic obligations, the grand-fatherly Mr Dyke cut him short:

“Can I just say,” he said, appealing to Maitlis and Coogan, “I’ve spent most of my life being a journalist, and I’m nothing to do with him – and nor are most working journalists.”

You’re not a journalist!”, seconded Coogan, “You know you’re not!”

And still McMullan failed to grasp how far he was from the light.

“Oh yes I am”, he objected. “I just keep the journal of the day.”

No, Mr McMullan. Your news is from the dark side.

This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 12 July 2011.

Monday, 11 July 2011

Wake-Up Calls

Revolutionary And Master Propagandist: John Ansell understands that to be effective an insurgent party's propaganda not only has to be bold, it also has to be cruel. The destruction of a government isn't a job for reasonable, fair-minded people.

JOHN ANSELL doesn’t give a rat’s arse what liberal New Zealand thinks – and that’s his strength. Don Brash’s and John Boscawen’s weakness is that, deep down, they still value the good opinion of their well-educated, middle-class peers. It’s what prevents them from embracing the sort of “fuck you” revolutionary politics that neoliberalism in extremis demands.

Mr Ansell also understands that in the current political climate (i.e. where the National Party is credited with attracting 55 percent of the popular vote) a revolutionary insurgent party, like Act, has only two immediate objectives.

First: it must find a way of cutting-through the “mainstream” news media’s ideological sound-proofing. If voters cannot hear Act’s alternative ideas, then National’s overwhelming electoral advantage cannot be challenged.

Second: Act’s messages must be as polarising as possible and framed in such a way that the voting public is instantly divided into strong supporters and (ideally) even stronger opponents. This is because many politically unsophisticated voters judge the worth and/or strength of an idea not only by how forcefully it is advocated, but also by how vehemently it is opposed.

The Act Party leadership’s decision to “tone down” Mr Ansell’s propaganda was all the proof he needed that his creative pearls were being cast before reformist swine. He might, however, have drawn some small comfort from the furore which even his bowdlerised newspaper advertisement had ignited. Mr Ansell’s strategic thinking has been vindicated in ways that Dr Brash and Mr Boscawen cannot refute.

Mr Ansell’s revolutionary temperament is also demonstrated in his conviction that, when it comes to winning power, Act should “go for broke”. Rather than accept a supporting role in what is essentially a National Party drama, he argues that Act should reject it’s traditional part as “National’s little helper” and pursue power on its own terms. Until such time as it has the numbers to form its own government, says Mr Ansell, Act should stay out of government.

Mr Ansell’s judgement as a propagandist is formidable. He is, after all, the man whose inspired “Iwi/Kiwi” billboards brought the Brash-led National Party to within an ace of winning the 2005 general election.

Central to his understanding of the Kiwi electorate is what he believes to be its profound indifference to the bland background noise of New Zealand’s mainstream parties. It’s this, the voters’ lack of political engagement, which confers such a tremendous advantage upon the incumbent party. Providing the Government of the day does nothing to really piss people off, it can be reasonably confident of re-election.

It’s why Mr Ansell emphasises “boldness” as the prime political virtue. Only by being bold can a politician and/or a political party hope to wake up the dozing colossus that is the Kiwi electorate. New Zealanders like a chancer and they appreciate plain-speaking. In their own, idiosyncratic, passive-aggressive, way Kiwis will quietly admire (and, at a pinch, even give their vote to) any politician bold and canny enough to tune them in to his or her political message.

How else to explain the phenomenon that is Winston Peters?

Or, for that matter, John Key?

The secret to the current Prime Minister’s extraordinary popularity lies, I believe, in his bold assertion that, with him in charge, Kiwi voters could quite safely forget about politics altogether.

Key’s “All New Zealand Boy” persona reinforces this. He comes across as a very ordinary person – at least in the way he thinks and talks, the way he chooses to enjoy himself, and the way in which he interacts with family and friends.

So, if you believe that New Zealand politics is fundamentally bland and unexciting, who better than a bland and unexciting politician to place in charge? (Of course, Key’s millions mark him out as someone just a little bit different, but that’s alright, because the unorthodoxy of financial success is one of the very few manifestations of non-conformity conservative Kiwis are prepared to accept.)

Even among working-class New Zealanders, Key’s ordinariness somehow manages to trump his millionaire status. He fits effortlessly into the classic Kiwi stereotype of “the good employer”, whose ownership of the shop or factory, and a big house up on the hill, in no way inhibits him from taking his coffee-break in the staffroom, “mucking-in” when things get busy, or wearing a silly apron at the end-of-year barbecue.

Crucially, this is the sort of Prime Minister that Phil Goff aspires to be: the genuinely liked, non-threatening Everyman who watches over the nation while its people get on with the things that really matter like pursuing their careers, raising their families, tending their gardens and minding the grand-children.

Phil’s (and Labour’s) problem is that there can only be one such leader at a time. The electorate seldom swaps one “Mr Nice Guy” for another. What would be the point?

“What indeed!” chuckles Mr Ansell who understands that the destruction of a government is no job for “nice”, reasonable, fair-minded men and women.

It’s what makes him so effective – and so dangerous. Not giving a rat’s arse for the opinion of reasonable, fair-minded people is just the beginning. As a revolutionary master-propagandist, Mr Ansell knows that an insurgent party’s message must not only be bold, it must also be cruel.

It must identify the source of all the frustrations and irritations of those not yet comfortable enough to tune-out of politics. And around the designated scapegoats (Jews, “Welfare Queens”, Maori Radicals) the revolutionary party must group their worthless, “women-thinking” enablers – the ones who want you to believe that “nothing’s wrong”, and that “everything’s just fine”, while all the time undermining everything you: the excluded, the over-ruled, the under-valued – hold dear.

Perhaps we should be glad that Dr Brash and Mr Boscawen are anxious to keep a foot in the reasonable and fair-minded New Zealanders’ camp. Because the day they decide to fall in step with Mr Ansell’s revolutionaries we are all in serious trouble.

This essay is exclusive to the Bowalley Road blogsite.

Friday, 8 July 2011

Dr Edwards' Beguiling Diagnosis

But Somebody Rules: Dr Bryce Edwards argues that New Zealand has become an anti-ideological, anti-political nation, but what he doesn't tell us is why. His political sociology offers a reasonable description of our situation, but for a credible explanation we must interogate our history.

IT’S A BEGUILING DIAGNOSIS. According to Dr Bryce Edwards, we live in an “anti-political, anti-ideological age”. What’s more, this condition of near universal political scepticism, is one which New Zealand’s current prime minister, Mr John Key, “almost perfectly personifies”.

Dr Edwards, whose pithy commentaries on current affairs are regularly featured in the news media, is a lecturer in Political Studies at the University of Otago. His expert testimony on New Zealand’s political condition should not, therefore, be dismissed out-of-hand.

But, is Dr Edwards right? Has the very mention of “ideology” – a term which he claims “used to have positive connotations” – now become “almost abhorrent” to many New Zealanders?

TO BEGIN WITH, I must challenge Dr Edwards’ contention that the term “ideology” ever resonated positively in the minds of most New Zealanders.

It was following a visit to Australia and New Zealand in 1899 that the young French socialist, André Métin, coined his memorable description of Australasian politics as “socialism without doctrines”.

“Australasia”, he said, “has contributed little to social philosophy, but she has gone further than any other land along the road to social experimentation.”

Monsieur Métin’s observations strongly suggest that New Zealanders’ political pragmatism (not to mention their impatience with “social philosophy) is part of a cultural tradition extending back more than a century into our history.

The late Bruce Jesson explained this impatience with theory, and our general reluctance to think ideologically,  in terms of colonial New Zealand society’s essential artificiality:

“New Zealand was a state-created society in that the state did not emerge from some already-existing social order, some civil society, but instead created it. The state was responsible for creating the infrastructure of the country – a social infrastructure, as well as an economic infrastructure. And while this was unavoidable, it meant New Zealand was a society without texture. New Zealand might without exaggeration be thought of as a hollow society.”

To which I would add the chilling effect of the Cold War on such fragile ideological flowers as had, somehow, managed to find a way through the concrete, brick and Bakelite shell of the First Labour Government.

As Bill Pearson’s seminal 1952 essay, Fretful Sleepers, makes depressingly clear, it was a very brave Kiwi indeed who was prepared, in the oppressive political and cultural atmosphere which settled over New Zealand in the aftermath of the 1951 Waterfront Lockout, to own up to ideological tendencies of any sort.

It is to this ideologically inert society that Greg McGee’s hero addresses his last excoriating soliloquy in the 1981 stage-play Foreskin’s Lament:

“Whaddarya? Whaddarya! Whaddarya!!!”

New Zealanders lack of interest in all things ideological is, therefore, very far from being a recent, or a new, phenomenon.

HOW THEN, are we to explain Dr Edwards insistence that we are living in an “anti-political, anti-ideological age”?

Paradoxically, New Zealanders allergic reaction to what might be called “ideological politics” is actually a manifestation of that same doctrinally-uninflected socialism which Monsieur Métin observed 112 years ago.

It was the vicious, right-wing ideology driving Rogernomics and Ruthanasia, and the cynical devaluation of “politics” (as in people voting for “A” but getting “Z”) which accompanied it, that made the term so “abhorrent” to so many New Zealanders.

The Right then counter-attacked with increasingly shrill condemnations of what it called “political correctness gone mad”.

The result is a form of political discourse whose vituperative content is only exceeded by the volume of its expression.

Small wonder people shy away.

Nor should we be surprised that Mr Key’s easy-going personality, and his ability to channel the public’s weariness of “big ideas”, have made him one of this country’s most popular political leaders. Bruce Jesson’s “hollow society” has embraced Nicky Hager’s “hollow man”.

That’s why only practical actions will undo John Key: privatisation; attacking the vulnerable; gutting state housing.

Dr Edwards needs to remember, and National should never forget, that although New Zealanders have never been socialists of the head; we remain socialists of the heart.

This essay was originally published in The Dominion Post, The Timaru Herald, The Taranaki Daily News, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 8 July 2011.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

New Zealand Troops In Afghanistan: "Mentoring" What?

The Point Of The Spear: Far from "mentoring" (such a wonderfully un-military term) Afghan policemen from a safe distance, the New Zealand SAS always seems to be in the thick of the action. And, sometimes (as happened in the Tiger International raid of 24/12/10) the point of our spear gets driven into the wrong targets.

SOMEWHERE in the city of Kabul, the parents and siblings of two slain security guards, Mubin and Sadiq, still mourn the loss of their sons and brothers.

They died at the hands of New Zealanders: SAS troopers; acting in our name.

Local officials called the killings “murder”. It’s not hard to see why.

On Christmas Eve, 2010, Mubin, Sadiq and their co-workers, Hamid and Barialy, were keeping watch over the property of Tiger Group International – a local company contracted to supply logistical equipment to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). Hardly surprising, then, that when the security team encountered bearded figures in the Tiger Group car-park, they assumed they were under Taliban attack, and challenged the intruders to identify themselves.

But, the intruders weren’t Afghans, they were Kiwis. And when the security guards challenged them the New Zealand SAS troopers opened fire on them at close range – killing Mubin and Sadiq, and wounding Hamid and Barialy.

The raid on Tiger International was a botch-up from beginning to end. The operation was launched on the basis of bad intelligence, and the required co-ordination between the ISAF, the Afghan authorities and the NZSAS was deficient. Our troopers killed Mubin and Sadiq for doing no more than their job.

To date, the New Zealand Government refuses to say whether it has formally apologised to the families of the slain security guards, or made any offer of compensation.

This refusal to accept responsibility for our soldiers’ mistakes will undoubtedly encourage ordinary Afghans to lump our SAS in with the rest of the ISAF. Little distinction will be made between New Zealand’s special forces and all the other Nato contingents operating in Afghanistan. The deaths of Mubin and Sadiq will be attributed to the same lack of care that sees village wedding parties decimated by US missiles and helicopter gunships.

The Afghan people will, once again, hear the loss of innocent civilian lives described as “collateral damage” – and the foreign perpetrators will be reviled for their indifference.

NOT THAT our armed forces chiefs will admit to any of this. Following the most recent Taliban attack in Kabul, during which two SAS troopers sustained minor injuries, the Prime Minister, John Key, spoke approvingly of the “mentoring” role our special forces were playing in relation to the Afghan Government’s Crisis Response Unit.

“Mentoring”: it’s such a reassuring – and decidedly non-military – expression.

In the New Zealand context we tend to associate the word “mentor” with those public-spirited individuals who help young people, and young businesses, grow and mature. No doubt the public relations staffers who dreamed up the idea of calling military advisers “mentors” were well aware of such connotations.

It is, however, becoming increasingly clear that whether our SAS troopers are engaged in operations initiated by ISAF, or the Taliban, the role they play is very far from that of the passive advisor.

 On the contrary, all the evidence emerging from Afghanistan suggests that our SAS leads from the front, and that such Afghan Government support as may be found in these operations  is located (how to say this politely?) at some distance from the action.

In other words, when the Taliban come a-calling, our special forces are regularly being deployed as “the point of the spear”.

Spear-points don’t “mentor” anything: spear-points strike hard, and they strike to kill.

And, sometimes, as we have seen, they kill the wrong people.

WE SHOULD TRY to imagine how we would feel if those slain security guards had been called Bruce and Wiremu, instead of Mubin and Sadiq. How we would react if our nation’s skies were filled with helicopter gunships, and our city streets with foreign soldiers?

What, exactly, would we make of a prime-minister telling his people that their special forces were “mentoring” the security police of a corrupt government?

Mentoring them to do what? Rely on the same bad intelligence that our SAS relied on before unleashing the deadly force that killed Mubin and Sadiq? Trust the same people who unleashed the raid on the hitherto loyal village of Band E Timur on 24 May 2002?

Three civilians, including the village head-man and a six-year-old girl, died that day. Fifty-five were handed over to US personnel who no longer considered themselves bound by the Geneva conventions.

Our SAS spear-pointed that operation as well.

THE ONLY “MENTORING” the NZSAS is doing in Afghanistan is in how to kill. But, after more than thirty years of war, there is little we can teach the Afghans about death and misery.

My heart goes out to the families of Mubin and Sadiq.

If I could, I would tell them that their boys did not die at my bidding.

Not in my name.

This essay, originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 5 July 2011, could not have been written without the investigative efforts of journalists Jon Stephenson and David Beatson.

Friday, 1 July 2011

National's Nightmare Scenario

The Stuff Of (National Party) Nightmares: The bloody red dawn of Bolshevism has haunted the dreams of conservative New Zealanders since 1917. The National Party was founded in 1936 to make sure it never happened here. Seventy-five years later the Nats are still frightening us with red-in-tooth-and-claw bogeymen. The Mana Party leader, Hone Harawira, has just become the latest personification of the Right's fear of revolution.

THE NATIONAL PARTY, Act, the Maori Party and Peter Dunne have a nightmare they’d like to sell you.

Let me summarise it for you.

It’s November 27th 2011. Less than twelve hours ago, the New Zealand electorate delivered up a result that has sent the New Zealand Dollar into free-fall.

Instead of returning Prime Minister John Key’s unprecedentedly popular National-led government to office – as all of the mainstream media’s pundits were confidently predicting  – the electorate has (surely unwittingly?) supplied Labour with all the necessary components for a left-wing coalition.

Though Labour polled just 32 percent of the Party Vote (12 percentage points fewer than National’s 44 percent) the leader of the Opposition, Phil Goff, has been gifted a set of allies who, between them, attracted 18 percent of the Party Vote.

Theoretically, Mr Goff can become Prime Minister.

His most “acceptable” ally, the Green Party, with 10 percent of the Party Vote, brings twelve MPs into the House of Representatives – its largest parliamentary contingent to date.

The veteran campaigner, Winston Peters, in spite of (or, perhaps, because of) the viciousness of the media campaign waged against him, has gleaned 5.2 percent of the Party Vote and is ready to return six NZ First MPs to the chamber.

But the man who has well and truly spooked the financial markets isn’t Mr Peters – it’s Hone Harawira.

On the receiving end of even more political vitriol than the NZ First leader, the leader of the newly-formed Mana Party has, nevertheless, not only held his Te Tai Tokerau seat, he’s led his party to a 3.5 percent share of the Party Vote, and five MPs.

Even worse, Mana’s Co-leader, Annette Sykes, has taken the Maori seat of Waiariki from the Maori Party’s Te Ururoa Flavell.

Indeed, the aggressive campaigning of Mana’s candidates in all seven of the Maori seats has allowed Labour’s candidates to come through the middle everywhere except Tariana Turia’s seat of Te Tai Hauauru.

Reduced to just a single MP, the Maori Party is no longer in a position to offer the National Party the numbers it needs to govern.

Between them, the Greens, NZ First and Mana hold 23 seats in the House of Representatives. When these are added to Labour’s 40 seats, Mr Goff finds himself (but only just!) in possession of the constitutionally required parliamentary majority. If he can secure an undertaking from the Greens, NZ First and Mana that they will vote with Labour on all confidence and supply motions, then the Governor-General will ask Mr Goff to form a government.

Overseas investors are stunned and confused. American and British observers simply cannot get their heads around the fact that, in spite of being 12 percentage points ahead of their nearest rival, Mr Key and his National Party have actually lost the New Zealand general election.

Further alarmed by the New Zealand media’s lurid descriptions of Labour’s “radical” allies, investors begin dumping their New Zealand holdings for whatever they can get. The value of Kiwi plummets. Interest rates soar.

By Monday morning, every newspaper in the country is screaming “CRISIS!”

This is when National, Act, the Maori Party and Peter Dunne expect you to wake up, shudder, and utter a solemn vow that such terrible things must never be allowed to happen.

BUT, if you’ll go on dreaming just a little longer, you’ll discover that by mid-day on Monday, Mr Goff has told a crowded press conference that only the Green Party will be joining his government as a full coalition partner.

Both Mr Peters and Mr Harawira, says the Labour leader, have opted to sit on the cross-benches, and are making no demands whatsoever on either himself or the Greens.

He reaffirms to the excited journalists that Confidence and Supply has been assured by both Mr Peters and Mr Harawira, and that any private members bills introduced by NZ First or Mana will be responded to by his minority government thoughtfully, responsibly, and according to their merits.

By Tuesday evening the Kiwi is regaining ground against all the major currencies. Large Chinese investors have signalled their interest in meeting with all the leaders of what the media is already calling “The Grand Left Alliance”. Even the NZX shows signs of recovery after 24 hours of frantic trading.

SEE? Not such a scary nightmare after all.

This essay was originally published in The Timaru Herald, The Taranaki Daily News, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 1 July 2011.

The Braying Of The Dames

Necessary Sacrifice?: The European Union - appropriately portrayed as a vengeful harradin - shatters the Greek nation in an attempt to cement what remains of Europe's arranged financial marriage. Workers the world over must understand that Greece is but the first of many sacrifices that will be offered up to appease the gods of  global finance.

IS THERE ANYTHING WORSE than the braying of the upper classes? That awful, asinine, he-haw-ing expelled from the noses of the privileged whenever the lower orders are suspected of enjoying benefits above their station.

That braying was clearly audible on Thursday morning’s Nine To Noon programme. Dame Anne Leslie: oil company executive’s daughter; raised in the twilight of the British Raj; famed foreign correspondent for The Daily Mail; was supposed to be talking to Radio New Zealand’s Kathryn Ryan about events in the UK, but she simply couldn’t forbear putting the boot into the unfortunate Greeks.

What really got her agitated was the idea of Greek pastry-chefs and hairdressers enjoying early retirement, on generous pensions, in recognition of the arduous and/or dangerous nature of their jobs.

Honoured for her services to journalism, and hailed for her “common touch” with “ordinary people”, Dame Anne nevertheless found the whole idea of recognising the contribution of hairdressers and pastry-chefs absurd.

Never mind the hazardous chemicals hairdressers and their staff handle every working-day. Never mind the pastry-chef’s never-ending wrestling-match with fifty different varieties of dough. Early retirement on generous pensions isn’t for the likes of them; it’s for lawyers, doctors, business tycoons: real people who’ve earned it.

This is why the Greeks have to be punished – don’t you know? For voting themselves a living way beyond their means. For demanding an undeserved tribute from the hard-working peoples of the European Union so that they can lounge like Lotus Eaters in the Mediterranean sun.


I wonder if Dame Anne recalls who it was that, by arming the Greek Right against the left-wing resistance fighters who’d fought so heroically against the Nazis, plunged the Greek nation into bloody civil strife at the end of the Second World War?

Who it was that, when the Greek Left showed signs of electoral recovery in the late-1960s, stood back and refused to intervene as a junta of fascist colonels imprisoned Greek democracy without trial?

Who it was that bank-rolled the expansion of the Greek state-sector as the only viable guarantor of civil peace in a land from which it has been conspicuously absent since the same Germans who now pour scorn on the Greek people came a-calling with their tanks and dive-bombers in 1940?


Dame Anne may bray in ignorance against the “absurd” generosity of the Greek welfare state and take vicarious pleasure at the sight of the Greek riot police dishing out an EU, ECB and IMF-endorsed lesson in neo-liberal economic orthodoxy on the streets of Athens, but I suspect that even she might recoil in alarm from the deadly hissing of the Bank of International Settlements.

The BIS, sometimes known as “the central bankers’ bank”, is responsible for keeping the global financial system in good working order. For these, the High Priests of Capitalism, nothing – not even the genocidal destruction of World War II – has ever been permitted to divert the BIS from its oversight and management of the world’s money.

But now, from its lofty Swiss eerie, the BIS finds itself looking down upon a global financial system teetering on the brink of collapse. Not since the darkest days of the Great Depression have the world’s banks confronted such an all-encompassing and potentially devastating economic crisis.

“We should make no mistake here:”, intones the BIS’s Annual Report, “the market turbulence surrounding the fiscal crises in Greece, Ireland and Portugal would pale beside the devastation that would follow a loss of investor confidence in the sovereign debt of a major economy.”

As the left-wing journalist, Nick Beams, writing for the World Socialist Web Site on 28 June, puts it:

“The BIS has called on governments to take ‘swift and credible action’ to bring down debt levels. But this does not mean a return to the pre-crisis situation. So-called ‘structural tasks’ have to be addressed. ‘In many countries … [this] involves facing up to the fact that, with their populations ageing, promised pension schemes and social benefits are simply too costly to sustain.’

“That is, large portions of the social welfare measures enacted in the post-war period must be wiped out to pay off the government debts incurred as a result of the bailout of the banks.”

And it gets worse. According to the BIS Report, the global financial system is so fragile that simply paying off government debt will not be sufficient to restore stability. To underwrite the security of international financial transactions, governments will be required to build up large fiscal surpluses “as buffers that can be used for stabilisation in the future.”

“In other words,” says Beams, “the working class must be made to pay not only for the past crises created by the banks but for future ones as well.”

The bitter struggles taking place on the streets of Athens are, therefore, just the beginning of “a [global] counter-revolution to return social conditions to the level of the 1930s.”

The braying of a ruling class determined to strip hairdressers and pastry-chefs (along with every other kind of worker) of benefits and protections they don’t “deserve” is about to grow much louder.

And how should we respond? Let the poet, Shelly, be our guide:

Rise like Lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number,
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you-
Ye are many — they are few.

This essay is exclusive to the Bowalley Road blog site.