Thursday, 31 July 2014

God Save The People!

THE WORDS to When Wilt Thou Save The People? were written in 1827 by the "Corn Law Rhymer", Ebenezer Elliott. The refrain, "God Save the People!", is, of course, the radical working-class agitator's rejoinder to "God Save the King!"

Elliott's song became the anthem of the Chartist movement, the mass working-class movement for universal manhood suffrage and other political reforms that was active in the United Kingdom between 1838 and 1848.

I have been unable to locate on YouTube a performance of the song set to the music of Josiah Booth, which is quite beautiful. If anyone knows of such a  version capable of being uploaded to Bowalley Road - please get in touch. In the meantime here is Stephen Schwartz's adaptation of the song which he slipped into his 1971 musical "Godspell". Enjoy!

This posting is exclusive to the Bowalley Road blogsite.

The 40 Percent Solution.

Challenging The Conventional Wisdom: The Labour Right believes the party can only succeed by conforming to the prevailing political and socioeconomic orthodoxy; the Labour Left understands that the whole point of the party is to challenge and change it.

PHIL QUIN writes a mean political column. His long-standing connections to the right of the New Zealand Labour Party are extensive and strong. When he writes about politics, especially electoral politics, it is from personal experience and with considerable authority. His contribution to the Dialogue Page in this morning’s (30/7/14) NZ Herald is a case in point.
Under the heading “Inept Labour needs to aim higher” Quin argues strongly that “Labour’s strategists are misguided in their conviction that fewer than 30 percent of the vote is sufficient to form a viable government.” Ranging himself alongside fellow dissidents, Shane Jones and Josie Pagani, he urges Labour to “lift its sights to become a 40 percent party, capable of winning a broad spectrum of voters from all parts of the country.”
For a history graduate from Vic’ this is a pretty disappointing analysis. Between 1990 and 2011 Labour has managed to be a “40 percent party” only twice (2002 and 2005) and on both occasions Labour’s success owed more to the condition of the National Party than it did to its own.
In 2002 the National Opposition was in more-or-less total disarray and slumped to its lowest ever result of 20.9 percent of the Party Vote. Just three years later, however, National’s new leader, Don Brash, stood at the head of a no-holds-barred, far-right crusade to re-ignite the neoliberal bonfire of everything Labour voters hold dear. Unsurprisingly, its core supporters flocked to the polling-booths in pure self-defence.
Even with these “advantages” Labour only just made it over the 40 percent line, winning 41.2 percent in 2002 and 41.1 percent in 2005. The average level of support for Labour since 1990 is, however, much lower. In the eight general elections since that year it has won, on average, just 35 percent of the popular vote.
In other words, Rogernomics long ago put paid to the “40 percent party”. Labour ceased to be “a credible party capable of winning a broad spectrum of support from all parts of the country” the moment its parliamentary leadership succumbed to (in Phil’s own words) “corporate interests and right-wing politicians”. The very same people whose “fierce determination to defend the prevailing political and socioeconomic orthodoxy that shapes New Zealand’s capitalist system and delivers its beneficiaries ever-expanding wealth, power and privilege” split the party, put an end to FPP, and opened up the political space to Labour’s left for all manner of radical challengers.
An historian ought to know this sort of thing. Just as he ought to realise that Labour itself, by steadfastly advancing what were regarded, in the 1930s and 40s, as extremely radical policies, constructed a new social and economic order which the National Party, in order to be elected, was required to preserve intact. Labour’s social-democratic state had become “the prevailing political and socioeconomic orthodoxy”. To remain electorally competitive National had to accept the role of the “other” social-democratic party.
Roger Douglas’s singular achievement was to effect a transformation of the social and economic order every bit as radical as Mickey Savage’s and Peter Fraser’s – but in the opposite ideological direction. Neoliberalism was now the new orthodoxy which the leaders of both major parties, under threat of severe economic sanctions from the international financial markets, were obliged to preserve intact. So strong was the grip of the neoliberal “Washington Consensus” that even when Helen Clark was in command of a “40 percent party” she did not dare to challenge it.
And it is right about here in the discussion that Phil’s argument for Labour to become a “40 percent party” begins to fall apart. What he is actually saying is that, just as National in the 1950s, 60s and 70s was forced to become the “other” social-democratic party, Labour in the twenty-first century must accept the role of the “other” neoliberal party.
What’s more, a closer examination of the Labour Right’s constant exhortations to Labour to embrace “the centre” reveal them to be cruelly disingenuous. What Phil and his comrades are really urging Labour to do is pitch its primary appeal to those New Zealanders who are still holding their own (or even prospering) under the prevailing neoliberal regime. The people whose precarious position of privilege vis-a-vis the working poor and beneficiaries renders them unashamedly reluctant to redistribute even a little of the wealth they have “worked so hard for”. Beneath a superficial “concern” for the disadvantaged, these voters conceal a visceral contempt for the poor. They are terrified of being forced to share their resources with the “undeserving” and will have absolutely no truck with any political party which suggests that, as citizens, they have a moral obligation to put an end to inequality and poverty.
It was to placate these citizens that David Shearer waxed eloquent about “the beneficiary on the roof”, and why even David Cunliffe forbears from speaking out too forcefully about the lives of the poor and what Labour proposes to do to improve them.
Unfortunately for Phil and his ilk, Labour’s rank-and-file have no desire to become a “40 percent party” if, as part of the process, they are required to give up all hope of ever again becoming an organisation brave enough to challenge and transform the existing economic and social order.
The Labour Right regards this stubborn refusal to abandon principle in the name of power as evidence of utter fuckwittedness. So much so that he concludes his column with a frank call for heads to roll down at Party HQ.
“If Labour fails to break well into the 30s, the party president and general secretary should resign and party council members should convene urgently to consider their own positions.”
Back in the old Soviet Union this would have been called a purge.
And don’t for a moment think that Phil has forgotten the party leader.
“As for David Cunliffe, he should resign with grace and alacrity as soon as it becomes apparent he is unable to form a government, which might be far earlier on the evening of September 20 than any Labour voter would wish to contemplate.”
Clearly, the Labour Right, utterly inadequate to the task of slaying the party’s dominant left-wing faction itself, is resorting instead to demanding its collective suicide. What Phil refuses to contemplate, however, is that the Labour Left, having concluded that the long and difficult journey towards social justice might proceed more efficiently without the constant nay-saying of those unshakably committed to the “prevailing political and socioeconomic orthodoxy”, might decide to engage in a little blood-letting of their own.
The proposition that Labour would be much improved by losing the 40 percent of its membership who no longer believe that radical change is either possible or desirable may yet be tested.
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Wednesday, 30 July 2014.

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

The Changing Priorities Of Protest

The Changing Face Of Protest: In marked contrast to the theologically- and ideologically-driven protest movements of the 1960s, 70s and 80s, contemporary protest, like this demonstration against the latest Israeli assault on Gaza, tends to be led by those whose stake in the identified violation of individual and/or collective identity is perceived to be the greatest. Photograph by GPJA.

PROTESTS against Israel’s latest invasion of Gaza are gathering momentum. In Auckland the rallies and marches of the last two Saturdays have drawn thousands to Aotea Square and Queen Street. Hundreds more have marched in Wellington. More action is planned. The protest organisers are now vowing to rally and march every Saturday until the Israeli Defence Force ceases its assault upon the beleaguered Palestinian enclave.
Viewed from an historical perspective these protests would appear, at least superficially, to conform to the templates laid down by the protest movements of the 1960s, 70s and 80s. Like the current movement in support of the Palestinian people, the movements against sporting contacts with Apartheid South Africa, nuclear weapons, and the war in Vietnam grew out of New Zealanders’ conscientious objection to conflicts flaring far beyond their country’s shores.
The prime movers of these earlier protests were drawn, overwhelmingly, from the churches, the trade unions and the universities. For the most part their motivation was straightforward moral revulsion. The Sharpeville Massacre of 1960; the nuclear war-gamers’ apocalyptic doctrine of Mutual Assured Destruction; the technology-driven carnage being visited upon the Vietnamese; all of these horrors stirred into action the muscular Christian ideals which, ever since the days of the Church Missionary Society, have played such an influential role in shaping New Zealand society.
Inevitably there was an element of smug condescension in these demonstrations of Christian charity. In the warm glow of the post-war boom many New Zealanders believed their little country came about as close to social perfection as it was possible to get in an imperfect world. With its “exemplary” race relations, its cradle-to-grave welfare state and its convenient amnesia concerning the nation’s disgraceful colonial conduct in Samoa, “progressive” New Zealand felt entirely justified in protesting against the rest of the world’s moral delinquency. How could “God’s Own Country” do less?
Playing the part of yeast in all this liberal Christian white-bread were the tiny communist parties. To the worthy moralism of the churches these Marxist missionaries added the sharp-edged arguments of socialist anti-imperialism. Though they were careful never to say so directly, implicit in their criticism of New Zealand’s diplomatic and military allegiances was the clear suggestion that we had taken up our position on the wrong side – not just of the Cold War but of History itself.
Wielding influence out of all proportion to their numbers, the communists would have been even more persuasive if their loyalties had not been divided between the gospels of Lenin, Mao and Leon Trotsky. The intensity of the struggles waged by the Communist Party of New Zealand (Beijing) against the Socialist Unity Party (Moscow) and by the Workers Communist League (Mao) against the Socialist Action League (Trotsky) rivalled that directed against the running-dogs of Capitalism themselves!
But regardless of whether the deities they worshipped were religious or secular, the leaders of New Zealand’s protest movements shared a common assumption that their respective doctrines were universally applicable. Black or White, Male or Female – everyone was welcome in God’s Kingdom/the Proletarian Paradise. What united human-beings was more important than what divided them.
It was only after the most convulsive protests in New Zealand history: the Springbok Tour Protests of 1981; that these universalist assumptions began to be challenged. Maori demanded to know what middle-class Pakehas could possibly know about racial and colonial oppression. Women wondered how men who preached racial equality could be so blind to inequality between the sexes. Gays struggled to make the straight world understand how oppressive a universal definition of sexuality could be.
The things that divided human-beings were important too. The new left-wing catechism now held that people define themselves less by the qualities they share with everybody else than by the attributes peculiar to themselves and those similarly identified: gender; ethnicity; sexuality; nationality; religion.
In this, the age of identity politics, protest activity operates according to a very different set of rules. The idea that New Zealanders per se might launch a series of nationwide protests inspired simply by Israel’s abrogation of universal moral values would quickly be challenged by persons and groups representative of the people most directly involved. In the case of Gaza and in descending order: by Palestinians; fellow Arabs and Muslims; people similarly victimised by imperialist oppression; and only then by “ordinary” New Zealanders – who must, of course, acknowledge the leadership and political objectives of those at the summit of the identity hierarchy.
And so the anti-Israeli protesters chant “Palestine will be free – from the river to the sea!” And no one who expects to be invited back dreams of asking: “Free in what way? Do you mean two free and independent states living side-by-side in peace? Or, do you mean that from the River Jordan to the Mediterranean, Palestine will be free of Jews?”
Because there’s a big difference.
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 29 July 2014.

Monday, 28 July 2014

Something Fishy About Nick Smith's Game

Intimidator-in-Chief: For eight years Dr Nick Smith has worked hard to convince voters that he is the National Party's chief point of environmental resistance; the one brave voice raised in opposition to the milk-before-water lobbyists of Fonterra and Federated Farmers. Now we know that it isn't true.

DR NICK SMITH’S crude intimidation of the Fish and Game Council points to the bleakest of environmental futures should National be re-elected on 20 September. It is now considerably clearer than 60 percent of New Zealand’s lakes, rivers and streams that there are no serious points of environmental resistance in John Key’s Cabinet. For eight years Smith has worked hard to convince voters that he is, indeed, one such point of resistance, the one brave voice raised in opposition to the milk-before-water lobbyists of Fonterra and Federated Farmers. Now we know that it isn't true.
Smith’s threats to “tweak” the legislation establishing the Fish and Game Council is of a piece with this Government’s proven impatience with all forms of institutional dissent. It will not, it seems, be happy until every official check and balance against unbridled executive power has been neutralised.
Unless it is absolutely forced to (as in the case of Environment Canterbury) the Government’s strategy is not to make this suppression of dissenting voices explicit. Its preference is rather to intimidate these legislatively mandated watchdogs into silence. This can be effected in two ways. Either by appointing new and more malleable individuals to quasi-governmental boards and councils, or, by stripping those not subject to ministerial manipulation (like Fish and Game) of all their effective regulatory and/or advisory powers.
To casual observers it will appear as though nothing has changed because all the institutions created to permit democratic participation in the management of irreplaceable public resources will still be in place. But they will be looking at a regulatory ghost town. Behind the fading signage, nobody will be home.
A succession of National Party ministers have perfected this process by using the Department of Conservation as their guinea-pig. Since 2008 John Key’s government has systematically starved the "DoC" of the resources needed to properly manage and protect the vast estate it administers on the public’s behalf. Constant restructuring has allowed the Minister’s hand-picked managers to purge the Department of its experts and visionaries, wipe clean its institutional memory and leave in place only those willing to make the best of a situation which long ago made the transition from bad to worse.
Smith calls Key’s administration a “Blue-Green Government”. But the veteran conservationists, Guy Salmon and Gary Taylor, who established the original blue-green political party, the Progressive Greens, would almost certainly disagree. Much has changed since the early 1990s when Nick Smith and his fellow “Brat Packers”, Bill English, Roger Sowry and Tony Ryall, first entered Parliament.
Back then it was still possible for a National Party Environment Minister, Simon Upton, to seriously pursue the idea of a Carbon Tax. Over the past twenty years, however, the ideological and political consolidation of Neoliberalism has downgraded the natural environment to the status of a mere sub-set of the economy when, in reality, it is the other way round. 
Neoliberals quickly grasped the deadly threat the science of ecology posed to the re-emergence of laissez-faire capitalism. In Marxist terms, the planet’s finite capacity to absorb the deadly externalities of carbon-based industrial civilisation constituted “the final contradiction”. Capitalism must either be tamed or it and the civilisation which created it will perish.
Rather than accept this last, irrefutable, existential challenge to Capitalism its defenders have opted instead for the politics of outright denial. But climate change “scepticism” is only the tip of the rapidly melting iceberg when it comes to the political and cultural consequences of Neoliberalism’s refusal to face the facts of anthropogenic global warming.
Resisting “the final contradiction” requires neoliberalism to destroy the rationalist and scientific foundations of the industrial civilisation upon which it stands. This can only be accomplished by undermining the public’s faith in the scientific method and investing all opinions – no matter how absurd – with a spurious equivalence. Evidence-based decision-making, which former National politicians like Simon Upton accepted as the sine qua non of competent and rational governance, is being supplanted by ‘evidence’ commissioned and purchased on the open market from ‘experts’ who specialise in telling Capitalism and its political agents exactly what they want to hear. (Alister Barry’s documentary film, Hot Air, shows how the Carbon Lobby and Federated Farmers utilised this technique to delay and/or defeat every attempt by successive New Zealand governments to combat climate change.)
The politics of denial also requires the complete hollowing out of those state institutions deliberately constructed to collect evidence from individuals and groups best placed to provide it. Institutions – like Fish and Game – whose democratic composition protects the processes of gathering evidence from those with a vested interest in suppressing information antithetical to their purposes.
When it comes to the Department of Conservation, Nick Smith and his colleagues know they have nothing to fear – as the censoring of the evidence DoC's scientists had gathered about the ecological effects of the proposed Ruataniwha Dam made clear. But Fish and Game and uncooperative Regional Councils still have an evidential sword to draw in defence of Mother Nature.
Shut them down.
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Monday, 28 July 2014.

Saturday, 26 July 2014

French Lessons

Aux Armes Citoyens! Exacerbating Labour's current difficulties is the unfinished character of the rank-and-file's 2012 revolution. It was as if the revolutionary crowds of Paris, having torn down the Bastille, then decided to build it back up again!

“APRÈS MOI, LE DÉLUGE.” These famous words are attributed to King Louis XV of France. He saw the waters of discontent rising behind the straining dykes of royal absolutism and sensed that when he had gone the barriers to change would finally burst. “After me, the flood.” is what he said. What he meant was: “After me, revolution becomes inevitable.” Swept away by the French Revolution, the luckless Louis XVI could hardly disagree.
Observing the hapless Labour Party: watching it struggle in the coils of its own contradictions; I cannot help but be reminded of Louis XV’s ominous quip.
The last successful Labour leader, Helen Clark, with what can only be described as a royal absolutist grip, contrived to keep her party’s factional mongrels in their kennels. Indeed, with her Chief-of-Staff, Heather Simpson, playing Cardinal Fleury to Clark’s Louis XV, scarcely a mouse dared move in Labour’s Versailles without the permission of at least one of these all-powerful duumvirs.
With Clark’s departure, however, the party’s absolutist era came to an abrupt end. Labour’s grandees did everything they could to protect the monarchical style of leadership that Clark had perfected, even though, as is now painfully apparent, none of them possessed the requisite political stature to occupy her vacant throne for very long.
Besides, at the base of the Labour Party, in the branches and affiliates from whence the aristocrats of Labour’s caucus drew the deliverers-of-pamphlets and erectors-of-hoardings needed to win elections, revolution was afoot. Clark and Simpson may have ruled Labour’s members with an iron fist, but at least they had given them victories. The pretenders to Labour’s Iron Throne – Phil Goff and David Shearer – brought the rank-and-file nothing but defeat and humiliation. A caucus aristocracy incapable of supplying Labour with a credible king or queen wasn’t worth keeping. Henceforth the peasants would elect their own leader.
Unfortunately, Labour’s rank-and-file neglected to first elect themselves a Robespierre: someone to oversee the ruthless beheading of the ancien regime. Poor dears! Far from introducing Labour’s electorate-based aristocracy to Madame Guillotine, the members generously acquiesced in their re-selection! It was as if the revolutionary crowds of Paris, having torn down the Bastille, then decided to build it back up again.
Two months out from the General Election we are thus presented with the absurd spectacle of the Labour peasantry’s elected king, David Cunliffe, holed-up in the Opposition leader’s office and surrounded by a caucus aristocracy seething with thwarted ambition and regicidal intent. Many of King David’s courtiers would happily drive a rapier through his guts. And rather than carry the fight to the National Party foe, his sworn enemies vie with one another to make the first thrust.
There are only two ways out of this impasse. Either Labour’s peasantry make good on their revolutionary promise and utterly destroy those caucus aristocrats who would restore Helen Clark’s royal absolutism. Or, one of those aristocrats finds the courage to crush the peasants’ revolt, seize the throne, and restore the ancien regime.
Then again, if we’re following the grand arc of French history, perhaps, somewhere in Labour’s ranks, there exists a young commander of artillery with vaunting ambitions and inordinate strategic skills. Someone ready to deploy the rhetoric of the revolution to secure the absolute power of the throne. Not for the peasantry, who lack the will to lead. Nor yet for the corrupt aristocracy, who don’t deserve it. But for him – or herself – alone.
Just where this Napoleonic figure lies in waiting is difficult to say. Not in the unions, whose opportunity to grasp the brass ring of power came and went 23 years ago when they refused to fight Bill Birch’s Employment Contracts Bill. Not in the careerist warrens funded by the tax-payer through Parliamentary Services and the DPMC. Not among the horse-traders on Labour’s Party List. Not even among the rank-and-file who still refuse to accept the consequences of their revolution.
No, if there is a Napoleon out there in the Labour Party my best guess is that you will find him or her toiling away in the corridors of local government. It will be someone who understands what it takes to get elected by your fellow citizens – without the benefit of party colours.
If Helen Clark’s departure unleashed the flood, perhaps this new, Napoleonic, Labour leader can drain the swamp.
This essay was originally published in The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 25 July 2014.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

From Here To There: How Did Labour Become So Hopelessly Lost?

No Direction Home: Has Labour ever been so lost? Has the path to electoral victory ever been so obscured? Starting from where they are now, how can they possibly get to where they need to be on 20 September?

WRITING ABOUT the Labour Party these days puts me in mind of the joke about the American tourist and the Irish farmer.
Seems there was this American tourist driving down a narrow lane in the heart of Ireland. He needed to get back to Dublin in a hurry but even with the assistance of a detailed road-map was finally forced to admit that he was hopelessly lost. Just then, at the side of the lane, he saw an Irish farmer leaning over a wooden gate in the hedgerow. “Excuse me, Sir,” inquired the exasperated American, “but could you tell me how to get to Dublin?” “Is it lost you are, Sir,” inquired the farmer. “I’m afraid so”, the tourist replied. “And you’re wanting to get to Dublin?” The American nodded. “Ah, well,” said the farmer, taking off his cap and scratching his head, “if I was wanting to get to there, I’d never be starting from here.”
Has Labour ever been so hopelessly lost? Has the path to electoral victory ever been so obscured? Starting from where it is now, how can Labour possibly get to where it needs to be on 20 September?
What is it? What is making it so hard for David Cunliffe and his party to get any sort of political traction?
The answer lies in Labour’s caucus. Not only is a majority of the caucus profoundly unhappy with Cunliffe as their leader, it is also profoundly at odds with the Labour Party members who elected him. Labour’s MPs are torn between their desire to occupy the Treasury benches – and thus be free of the Party’s influence – and the realisation that even by becoming the government they would only be postponing the confrontation with the party that Cunliffe’s election made inevitable.
Expressing the problem with maximum brutality: most of Labour’s present crop of MPs are not fit for purpose. A handful are holdovers from the Rogernomics Era – and thus reminders of the very worst period in Labour’s history. More are the products of Helen Clark’s personal intervention in the candidate selection process; followers of a career-path that began in the student unions (or MFAT) and ended in the ministerial suites of the Beehive. The remainder are what emerges from the deeply compromised horse-trading that assembles Labour’s Party List – burnt out trade unionists, media stars and identity politicians.
Cunliffe himself is a product of Clark’s shoulder-tapping (albeit via her confidants Jonathan Hunt, Judith Tizard and Chris Carter). What made him Party Leader, however, was his understanding that Labour, both ideologically and organisationally, needed to be made fit for purpose as a credible twenty-first century contender for political power. What made him a bad Party Leader was his failure to grasp that to become a credible contender Labour not only needed to become much more representative of New Zealand at large, but that this would necessitate a wholesale clean-out of its caucus.
The sort of government Cunliffe wanted to lead simply could not be constructed from the human material in Labour’s caucus. Rather than confront this reality, however, Cunliffe defaulted to his deep personal and religious belief that all people and all points of view are ultimately reconcilable in the spirit of compromise and goodwill. Psychologically, he simply cannot accept that at least half of his caucus colleagues would happily dance on his grave. Moreover, this fruitless quest for caucus consensus has required Cunliffe to divest himself of the mandate for change entrusted to him by the party's rank-and-file members and trade union affiliates.
The public perception of Cunliffe’s willingness to compromise is one of profound weakness. This has not been helped by his habit of attempting to ingratiate himself with individuals and groups he perceives to be actually or potentially hostile.
There is, of course, a paradox here. The very qualities that make Cunliffe a poor Leader of the Opposition would also make him an excellent Prime Minister - especially of the complicated MMP coalition government he'd be required to lead. Had Cunliffe been surrounded by a caucus who believed in him and understood the paradoxical qualities of his leadership-style, they could have provided him with a measure of protection – in much the same way that Roger Douglas, Richard Prebble, Michael Basset and Mike Moore ran interference for David Lange. Instead, he has been surrounded by caucus colleagues willing him to fall at every hurdle (and happy to make sure he did).
To arrive at the electoral finish-line first from such a parlous position, Cunliffe is going to need more than a road-map. He’s going to need a miracle.
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Wednesday, 23 July 2014.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Who Shot Down MH17?

Killing Fields: The tragedy of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 is amplified by the Western news medias' refusal to either contextualise the airliner's destruction, or provide its global audience with any explanation other than Russian guilt and perfidy. As if historical events have no historical causes.

WHO SHOT DOWN MH17? While there is currently insufficient evidence to declare “Pro-Russian Separatists” guilty beyond reasonable doubt, the balance of probability strongly suggests that Russian-speaking militiamen were indeed responsible for blowing Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 out of the sky.
Unfortunately, this is the point at which our shock and outrage at the destruction of nearly 300 innocent civilian lives causes our thought processes to stop.
For those who grew up during the Cold War, that single word, “Russian”, is enough. Of course “the Russians” are responsible. The Russians are always responsible.
For younger New Zealanders, “Russia” means “Putin”. He’s the dead-eyed, bare-chested, gay-bashing gargoyle who threw Pussy Riot and Greenpeace into prison. The President whose gun-toting, balaclava-wearing Spetsnaz stole Crimea from Ukraine. Of course Putin did it!
It is vitally important, however, to keep on thinking about the fate of MH17.
Is it really credible to suppose that either the armed supporters of the self-proclaimed Peoples Republic of Donetsk (PRD) or their military advisers from just across the border in the Russian Federation, deliberately targeted a civilian airliner? What motive could the PRD and its principal ally possibly have for bringing down upon their own heads the righteous wrath of the entire international community?
Isn’t it much more likely that the poorly-trained, fearful (and hence trigger-happy) operators of a surface-to-air missile battery mistook MH17 for a military transport plane belonging to the Ukrainian Air Force and treated it as a legitimate military target? It is certainly true that in the days immediately preceding the MH17 tragedy a PRD missile had brought down just such an aircraft flying above Donetsk at 21,000 feet.
And why were the armed forces of the PRD launching surface-to-air missiles at the Ukrainian Air Force in the first place? Could it be because the Ukrainian armed forces have, for several weeks, been bombing and shelling the rebel towns and cities of eastern Ukraine? Hundreds of civilians have been killed in these attacks. Something which the rest of the world, its eyes on the World Cup, failed to register.
Nor was the Western news media – whose blanket coverage of the MH17 tragedy is currently drawing the eyes of the world to the body-strewn fields of Donetsk – at all disposed to alert its global audience to the pain and suffering inflicted upon people the Ukrainian Government still insists upon calling its own citizens. Then again, considering the role the Western media played in bringing that government into being, its unwillingness to report the Ukrainian army’s butchery in cities like Slavyansk is understandable.
Cast your mind back to January of this year; to the deadly riots in the heart of the Ukrainian capital, Kiev. Supported by both the United States and the European Union, the rioters (many of them outright fascists) were targeting the democratically-elected government of Victor Yanukovich. The ultimate success of their “revolution” was hailed by Western media as yet another victory for “freedom”. It was not perceived so in Ukraine’s Russian-speaking eastern provinces. The presence of fascists in the new government brought back bitter memories of the Second World War, when Ukrainian nationalists had fought alongside the Nazi invaders.
Context is everything in tragedies like the downing of Flight MH17.
Would it have happened if the cease-fire negotiated by President Vladimir Putin and the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, had been renewed by the Ukrainian Government?
Had the Ukrainian Air Force not been engaged in bombing “Russian Separatist Terrorists” and their civilian compatriots, would the operators of that rogue surface-to-air missile battery have been so quick to mistakenly identify a civilian airliner as a military transport plane?
If the Americans and the Europeans were not so eager to extend NATO’s reach to the very borders of the Russian Federation, would the latter’s intelligence officers and special forces now be moving back and forth across Ukraine’s borders with such deadly purpose?
And had the Ukrainian constitution not been shredded in Kiev’s Independence Square, and had President Yanukovich been allowed to serve out his term and stand for re-election in May, would there now even be a self-proclaimed People’s Republic of Donetsk – with airspace to defend?
Context is everything.
The victims of the USS Vincennes' surface-to-air missile strike which brought down an Iranian civilian airliner in July 1988. All 290 passengers were killed.
In July 1988, when Captain Will Rogers III of the USS Vincennes, fearing that his vessel was under attack from an Iranian fighter-aircraft, ordered the launch of the surface-to-air missile which sent Iran Air Flight 655 plummeting out of the sky, killing all of its 290 passengers, we in the West were remarkably restrained in our response.
In the fog of war, our editorialists opined, terrible things happen. Captain Rogers was responding to a perceived threat. He was, after all, operating in a war zone.
We grieve for the passengers of MH17 and their loved ones. Those responsible must be held accountable for their deaths.
All of those responsible.
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 22 July 2014.

Monday, 21 July 2014

"Hot Air" Delivers The Cold Hard Facts About New Zealand's Response To Climate Change

Watch It And Weep: Alister Barry's Hot Air documents the losing battle, waged since 1990, between the politicians of good-will from both sides of the House who attempted to do something to mitigate the effects of climate change and the ruthless representatives of New Zealand's largest industries who opposed them.

IF YOU SEE only one film in the 2014 NZ International Film Festival see Alister Barry's feature-length documentary, Hot Air.
This chilling exposé of the strategy and tactics adopted by New Zealand's largest industries to ensure that no effective action to combat climate change is ever undertaken in this country should be viewed by every voter.
Hot Air constitutes one of the most persuasive arguments for radical, ruthless and rapid policy implementation on behalf of people and planet I have ever encountered.
The documentary proves conclusively that if a government opts for “business as usual” politics, then it is “business” that usually always wins.
Hot Air screens on the following dates at the following locations:
Friday 1 August  1:00 p.m.  Sky City Cinema
Saturday 2 August  3:30 p.m. Sky City Cinema
Thursday 31 July  6:15 p.m.  Paramount Cinema (World Premiere)
Wednesday 6 August 11.00 a.m.  Paramount Cinema
Friday  8 August  1:00 pm  Rialto
Sunday 10 August  1:15pm  Rialto
Monday  11 Aug  6.00pm  Hoyts Northlands 3
Tuesday  12 August 11.00am  Hoyts Northlands 3
This posting is exclusive to the Bowalley Road blogsite.


T Minus Five ... And Counting: Kim Dotcom has promised to prove the Prime Minister a liar at a meeting in the Auckland Town Hall on 15/9/14 - just five days before the General Election. It promises to be a night to remember.

IT IS THE EVENING of Monday, 15 September 2014. The General Election is just five days away and the Auckland Town Hall is full-to-bursting. The Internet Party has made certain that every one of the 1,250 seats is occupied by making free tickets available to people online on a first-come, first-served basis. Many hundreds more are packing the rooms adjoining the chamber and, outside, Aotea Square is rapidly filling with people eager to follow proceedings on the giant video screen supplied by the man of the hour – Kim Dotcom.
The unprecedented public interest has been carefully nourished by the Internet Party’s constant drip-feeding of information to the news media. Week-after-week Laila Harre and her team have told the story of a small but proud Pacific nation transformed into the willing lap-dog of an overbearing super-power. At the centre of the narrative stands the Prime Minister of that nation: a man accused of turning over to that super-power not only his country’s national security apparatus but its police force as well. Not simply to curry favour with the super-power, the United States, but to expedite the commercial agenda of the giant media corporations making up the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA).
As the story has unfolded, other individuals and organisations have been drawn into the action. In the light of everything that happened afterwards, New Zealanders have been invited to examine afresh the events of late October 2010. The anti-union hysteria whipped up by Sir Peter Jackson and his movie industry allies over alleged “threats” to The Hobbit, and the way in which this was used to justify Government legislation (rushed through under urgency) effectively de-unionising the entire Kiwi movie industry, has come under particular scrutiny.
There are representatives of Actors’ Equity in the Town Hall tonight. They will be demanding to know whether Prime Minister John Key’s willingness to oblige Hollywood in the matter of The Hobbit is in any way linked to his willingness to oblige the MPAA in the matter of Kim Dotcom.
Fair Trade spokespeople and representatives from the New Zealand Council for Civil Liberties are also in the Hall. They will draw the linkages between John Key’s willingness to let the core institutions of his country be used to the advantage of foreign corporations and the dramatic erosion of New Zealanders’ civil rights. They mean to show how transforming New Zealand into a desirable destination for foreign direct investment necessarily entails the elimination of every civil institution and law capable of challenging investor priorities.
But it is Kim Dotcom himself that thousands of Auckland voters have come to hear (and that many more thousands are following on the Internet).
The Internet Party leader, Laila Harre, pulls no punches in her introduction. She does not ignore Dotcom’s past convictions and pokes gentle fun at his childlike delight in spending money. But then, having acknowledged his faults, Harré turns to his unlooked for and unwanted role as the symbol of what can happen to an individual when all the malignant powers of big business and the state are ranged against him. What he proposes to tell New Zealanders, she warns, may sound like a grudge-match between two men, but it is much more than that.
If the Prime Minister of New Zealand regards telling his people the Truth as a mere option, as just one more weapon in the arsenal of political spin, to be used whenever it serves his purposes and which possesses no greater or lesser moral weight than a more politically convenient lie, then New Zealand’s democracy is at profound risk. And what does “National Security” really mean if it can only be defended by such duplicity and falsehood? What could possibly require such ethical surrender to keep safe? If Kim Dotcom is able to convince this gathering that John Key has lied to the New Zealand people, Harré concludes, then in five days’ time the New Zealand people must use the Ballot Box to inform John Key that his services as Prime Minister are no longer required.
The Town Hall and the now overflowing Square outside erupt in thunderous applause.
Kim Dotcom rises from his seat and walks towards the microphone …
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Wednesday, 16 July 2014.
AFTERWORD: Since the original posting of this essay, Kim Dotcom has announced that Glenn Greenwald, the journalist who brought the CIA whistle-blower, Edward Snowden’s, revelations to the world, will be in attendance in the Auckland Town Hall on Monday, 15 September. And he may not be the only “special guest”. All-in-all, the evening of 15/9/14 is shaping up as an event not to be missed.

Friday, 18 July 2014

Opening Our Eyes

Threatened Birthright: If our children are to enjoy the rights their parents enjoyed in New Zealand's rivers and streams we must open our eyes to the damage already done and the damage threatened by the commercial exploitation of this country's waterways.\
IT MIGHT HAVE BEEN YESTERDAY, so vivid is the memory. The river was called the Waianakarua. Fresh and clean it tumbled out of the Kakanui Mountains, flowing powerfully through the narrow defile which the district’s Scottish settlers called Glencoe. As it curled and twisted around the great boulders that clogged and blocked the valley, the river collected itself into deep pools. It was into one of these that I leaped as a boy and for the first time in my life opened my eyes underwater. So pure and clean were the waters of the Waianakarua that I could see every pebble. The wonder of it has never left me.
Until a few years ago it never occurred to me that the magic of such moments was anything other than the birthright of all New Zealanders. These islands were so large and we Kiwis so few that the possibility that New Zealand’s rivers and streams could ever be anything other than pure and clean seemed fanciful. The marketing expert who came up with “100% Pure New Zealand” clearly felt the same.
Humanity’s response to the idea that somewhere, far away at the bottom of the world, there is a place where rivers and streams still tumble pure and clean out of snow-capped mountains has been dramatic. The tourist dollar is now a crucial contributor to New Zealand’s economic well-being. The purity and cleanliness of our waterways now possess much, much more than mere aesthetic value.
Indeed, the world’s impression of New Zealand as “clean and green” offers us a perceptual springboard from which we could construct a new and very exciting “green” economy. The world hungers for reassurance that the havoc human-beings have wrought upon the natural environment can be repaired and that it is possible to tread so lightly upon the planet that the wonders they experienced as children will still be there for their grandchildren.
The exports from such a green economy would command a huge premium in world markets. The sheer prestige value of products bearing the Made in New Zealand “brand” (think “Swiss watches”, “French wines”) could make this one of the richest countries on Earth.
None of this is new. Since the late-1950s, when Bill Sutch offered the Second Labour Government his vision of a richly diverse, highly-skilled, value-added and self-sustaining New Zealand economy, it has been obvious to all patriotic Kiwis what needs to be done.
That it hasn’t been done is attributable almost entirely to that wealthy minority of New Zealanders who control our primary production sector, and around whom have gathered a parasitic coterie of importers, retailers and real-estate speculators. These people have always set our nation’s course. The original colonisers. Harvesters of forests. Diggers of mines. Farmers of sheep and cattle. Rip-in, rip-out and rip-off has always been their creed and New Zealand is merely the last in a long line of ravaged and ruined lands they have fallen upon. They remain among us only because there is still some ruin to work here. When the pillaging is complete they will move on.
We have reached the point, however, where the nitrate and phosphate pollution these pillaging cockies are pumping into their farmland is overwhelming the environment’s capacity to neutralise it. Milk powder, the latest example of their extractive mania, has given rise to dairy herds whose weight upon the land is now so great that our rivers and streams are rapidly becoming toxic ditches in which no responsible parent would allow a little boy to swim.
If you doubt this, just consider the new management policy the polluters’ political representatives have set for our waterways. The quality of the water must be such that merely by wading in it New Zealanders can be confident of avoiding illness. But rivers and streams that they can swim in? No, no! That’s too much to expect. Too much to ask for.
It is time all New Zealanders opened their eyes. But, please, not underwater!
This essay was originally published in The Dominion Post, The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 18 July 2014.

War's Brazen Face

War's Brazen Face: Binyamin Netanyahu's threat to use "all power" to quell the rocket barrage unleashed against Israel by Palestinian fighters was made good when, on Friday, 18 July, infantry and armoured columns of the Israeli Defence Force rolled into Gaza. Photo by Gali Tibbon.
IT IS A FACE that brooks no contradiction. The black eyebrows angled sharply like the wings of an Eagle poised to seize its prey. The lopsided mouth, all curves and creases clutching at a single line, like a snake coiled ‘round a stick. And the expression in those dark, unblinking eyes? How often do we observe lightly, “if looks could kill”? Just study the Israeli photo-journalist, Gali Tibbon’s, most recent photograph of Binyamin Netanyahu and you will know – to a chilling certainty – that they can.
Tibbon’s photograph was taken as the Israeli Prime Minister, disregarding warnings from the United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights and cease-fire appeals from Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin, announced to the world: “No international pressure will prevent us from acting with all power.” This defiance of world opinion came after more than four days of Israeli military strikes against the Palestinian enclave of Gaza. “Operation Protective Edge” is supposedly targeting the individuals and groups responsible for launching a barrage of rockets against Israel.
“Hamas and other terrorist groups in Gaza are firing rockets at cities in the State of Israel,” Mr Netanyahu stated in a video released by his office at the end of last week. “No country on earth”, he said, “would remain passive in the face of hundreds of rockets fired on its cities – and Israel is no exception.”
The tragedy, of course, is that when Israel vows to act with “all power” its military capacity to do so is far beyond anything its Palestinian opponents can deploy. The rockets unleashed against Israel, for example, are crude, essentially unguided, weapons of, at best, haphazard (rather than mass) destruction. Indeed, at the time of writing, not a single Israeli citizen has been killed by the Palestinians’ desperate attacks.
The Israeli Defence Force (IDF), by contrast, is one of the best-trained and best-equipped fighting forces on the planet. It’s fighter jets, armed drones, computer-guided artillery, Merkava battle tanks and navy destroyers can strike Gaza anywhere, anytime and from any direction without the slightest risk of being harried by anything more effective than small arms fire and the occasional mortar round. Small wonder, then, that since the launch of Operation Protective Edge on 8 July 2014 hundreds of Palestinians, many of them women and children, have been killed or wounded in Gaza’s densely-populated streets.
The world has witnessed such tragic and unequal struggles between Israelis and Palestinians many, many times since Israel’s birth in 1948. What’s new and more than usually troubling about this latest eruption of violence, however, is the Israeli Government’s unabashed – almost cavalier – dismissal of the international community’s concern and condemnation.
Binyamin Netanyahu has clearly drawn some lessons from the neighbouring conflicts in Syria and Iraq. He has observed that in spite of the obscene weaponry (up to and including poison gas) deployed by the Syrian antagonists against defenceless civilians, the world has displayed a singular reluctance to intervene on their behalf. Likewise in Iraq, where a full-scale religious war between the Sunni and Shi’ite branches of Islam threatens to descend into unrestrained communal violence.
The Israeli Prime Minister must also have watched, intrigued, as the Russian Federation annexed the Crimean Peninsula – the highly strategic territory belonging to its neighbour, Ukraine – without suffering more than the most superficial of diplomatic wounds. Israel could hardly be blamed for concluding that lopping-off large chunks of one’s neighbour’s territory for strategic purposes, having been done once, and without effective reproof, might well be done again. The long lines of Merkava tanks snaking their way towards Gaza’s borders raise the very real possibility that the IDF may not simply be readying itself to re-occupy the Gaza Strip – but to re-absorb it.
And who will say them nay? Not Egypt – whose leader is still settling into the throne he stole from The Muslim Brotherhood. Not Syria – torn and bloodied by its vicious civil war. Not Jordan – clinging with rising alarm to the sword-arm of its Israeli neighbour. The United States? The European Union? If they were willing to watch President Putin re-absorb Crimea into Mother Russia, then is the re-absorption of Gaza into Greater Israel likely to mobilise anything more than their tongues?
Among the high purposes of the United Nations’ Charter was the determination to “ensure, by the acceptance of principles and the institution of methods, that armed force shall not be used, save in the common interest”. This noble attempt to put a leash upon the dogs of war, always more honoured in the breach than in the observance, now seems poised to follow its predecessors into the same dark place that swallowed the League of Nations.
And before we conclude that abandoned principles and institutions are irrelevant to New Zealand, let us cast our eyes across the Tasman and study the face of Tony Abbott.
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 15 July 2014.
AFTERWORD: In a grim example of how one hand of the God of War washes the other, the downing of a Malaysian airliner in the Eastern Ukraine on 18/7/14 has provided the global news media with a huge distraction - diverting international attention from Israel's decision to finally unleash the ground war against Hamas in Gaza.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Springing The Trap: Did The FBI Turn New Zealand Into Dotcom's Holding Cell?

Right Where They Want Him: It is now clear that New Zealand Government agencies connived with the FBI and other US agencies to trap Kim Dotcom in New Zealand. While the US Department of Justice struggles to get all its legal ducks in a row, his Coatesville mansion has become a luxurious holding-cell.

IT WAS THE EVENING of 25 July 2013, at the anti-GCSB Bill meeting held in the Mt Albert War Memorial Hall, when Kim Dotcom released his information about the SIS. Although the news media was well represented in the hall, his revelations received scant journalistic attention. With intense controversy once again swirling around Dotcom, putting an end to that journalistic neglect seems timely.
Because what Mr Dotcom told New Zealanders on 25 July was profoundly disturbing.
In the course of legal discovery, Dotcom alleges that his defence team discovered that the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service had suddenly and inexplicably reversed its position on whether or not he should be granted permanent residence status in New Zealand. The question that hung in the air as he laid out the sequence of events was: “Why?”
In the months leading up to November 2010, when Dotcom was finally granted permanent residence status, the SIS had consistently advised against it. According to the SIS’s vetting team, the German IT entrepreneur’s past crimes and misdemeanours made him an unsuitable candidate for permanent residence in New Zealand. Then, quite suddenly and without explanation everything changed. The SIS reversed its position, informing Immigration NZ that they no longer had any objections to Dotcom being admitted to the country.
Officially, Dotcom was granted permanent residence under the “Investor Plus” scheme whereby high-net-worth individuals willing to invest more than $10 million in New Zealand’s domestic economy were fast-tracked through the system. In the light of subsequent events, however, the sudden removal of all SIS objections to Dotcom’s entry may have been inspired by considerations that had nothing to do with his investment plans.
Dotcom’s spectacular arrest by the New Zealand Police took place at his Coatesville mansion on 10 January 2012 – just five days after the FBI filed copyright-violation, money laundering and racketeering charges against him in a Virginia court. It is, however, very clear that the operation to secure his apprehension and extradition to the United States had been planned for many months. Equally clear is the more-or-less continuous role the spy agencies of both the United States and New Zealand played in monitoring and gathering evidence against Dotcom, his partners, and their Megaupload business.
Dotcom’s revelations to the public meeting on 25 July 2013 point very clearly to the possibility that the FBI may have advised the New Zealand authorities, including the SIS, that they would be doing the US Government a very big favour if they allowed Dotcom into the country. New Zealand, as part of the now notorious “Five Eyes” intelligence-sharing agreement, was the perfect holding-cell for Dotcom while the months of evidence-gathering (i.e. covert surveillance) required to secure his extradition was organised and executed.
Why would the FBI ask such a favour of a supposedly sovereign state? What reason did they have to suppose that the government of New Zealand would be prepared to connive in an American-driven exercise designed to eliminate an enterprise that was fast becoming a significant threat to the profitability of US media corporations?
Most probably because, in the weeks immediately preceding Dotcom’s permanent residence being granted, the FBI, along with the Hollywood moguls on whose behalf Dotcom was being hunted, had witnessed the New Zealand Government ride to the rescue of Warner Bros.’ production of The Hobbit. In the space of a day the New Zealand Parliament passed legislation which made the unionisation of New Zealand’s film industry a near impossibility. A government that was willing to strip away the employment rights of its own citizens to keep Hollywood happy was unlikely to lose too much sleep over the fate of a German IT entrepreneur who had somehow incurred its wrath. Indeed, it’s entirely possible that Hollywood may have pointed the FBI in John Key’s direction!
If such a request was received, then all the evidence subsequently extracted from the individuals and institutions involved in Dotcom’s surveillance, arrest and extradition suggests that it was granted. Certainly, the ease with which the FBI enlisted the “fraternal” assistance of the NZ Police and the GCSB indicates strongly that ever since the signing of the UKUSA Agreement in 1946 any and every request for assistance from the national security apparatus of the United States has been granted. Why else would Key respond to the New Zealand courts’ determination that the GCSB acted outside the law with legislation making its hitherto illegal activities legal?
In assessing all of this information it is important to bear in mind that the key motivation for Hollywood’s appeal to the Obama Administration for legal intervention against Dotcom was his alleged violation of the studios’ intellectual property rights – i.e. for breaches of copyright.
The studios’ problem is that in just about every civilised country (and that includes New Zealand) breach of copyright is a civil – not a criminal – matter. That makes securing an alleged copyright violator’s extradition next to impossible. It is, therefore, difficult to avoid the conclusion that the charges of racketeering and money laundering were only added to Dotcom’s ticket to ensure that an extradition hearing could take place. One can only speculate about how long such serious felony charges will remain on the ticket should the FBI be successful in getting Dotcom on to American soil.
The law relating to extradition in New Zealand is based on the understanding that since it is a matter involving two or more sovereign states its ultimate resolution will always be political. A Judge may find that the state seeking extradition has presented her with a plausible case, but the final decision is left to a representative of the Government. The Judge’s opinion should be taken into account but it is not determinative. Under Section 30 (3) (d) & (e) of the Extradition Act 1999:
The Minister may determine that the person is not to be surrendered if ...
it appears to the Minister that compelling or extraordinary circumstances of the person including, without limitation, those relating to the age or health of the person, exist that would make it unjust or oppressive to surrender the person; or
for any other reason the Minister considers that the person should not be surrendered.
Among those “other reasons” could be incontrovertible evidence that the applicant state was guilty of entering into a conspiracy to apprehend “the person” on behalf of private commercial interests seeking to nullify the effects of rapid technological change on their enterprises’ ability to protect their intellectual property; and that in seeking to give effect to this conspiracy the applicant state was guilty of inciting illegal acts by agents of the host country’s police and security forces.
In those circumstances, it would be entirely proper for a Justice Minister to refuse to grant an order for extradition. Nor would it be improper for Opposition politicians to indicate that while the facts continue to point to the obvious conclusion that if Dotcom is guilty of anything at all, it is of offences for which no citizen or permanent resident of this country should be extradited.
Hollywood wanted to make an example of Megaupload and the FBI agreed to help. If part of that assistance involved persuading the New Zealand Government to first lure Dotcom within its borders and to then engage in illegal acts of surveillance and evidence-gathering until it was ready to spring the trap, then Dotcom has every right to use whatever legal means necessary to defend his liberty, and New Zealand has every right to tell Hollywood, the FBI and the American Government to go to hell.
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog on Friday, 14 February 2014.
[Author’s Note: Unbeknownst to me at the time of writing this posting, the investigative journalist, David Fisher, in a NZ Herald article dated Monday, 25 March 2013, had already exposed the connivance of the New Zealand authorities in allowing Kim Dotcom to settle in New Zealand . The full credit for the uncovering and breaking of this story belongs to him.]

Friday, 11 July 2014

We Should All Be Sorry

His Finest Hour: Under pressure from TV3's Patrick Gower, David Cunliffe not only refused to step back from his "I'm sorry I'm a man" speech to the Women's Refuge Symposium, he actually pressed forward with a passionate defence of Labour's plan for reducing domestic and sexual violence. True leadership has nothing to do with following the line of least resistance.

“PLEASE TELL ME I’M DREAMING”, texted a friend of mine. “Please tell me that David Cunliffe didn’t just apologise for being a man.” I stared at my cell-phone in disbelief. Was he joking? Why would the leader of a political party languishing in the opinion polls alienate at least half of the voting public? Why would he hand his opponents such an enormous cudgel? As if his party wasn’t already battered enough?
Later that day, at the pub, the guffaws and the jokes continued. I have to confess, I contributed my fair share of them. I would also point out that although all of my drinking companions were lefties, by no means all of them were men. This was equal opportunity ridicule.
So what was going on here? Why were a tableful of seasoned leftists – male and female – and all of them well-versed in the facts and figures of domestic violence in New Zealand so unanimous in condemning the opening sentences of David Cunliffe’s speech to last Friday’s Women’s Refuge Symposium?
It might be useful, here, to remind ourselves of his actual words:
‘‘Can I begin by saying I’m sorry – I don’t often say it – I’m sorry for being a man, right now. Because family and sexual violence is perpetrated overwhelmingly by men against women and children. So the first message to the men out there is: ‘wake up, stand up, man up and stop this bullshit’.’’
You see? Written down in full and contextualised, Cunliffe’s words don’t look all that silly – do they? Indeed, you might even say they look rather brave.
None of us seated around that table at the pub, and no intelligent person reading Cunliffe’s sentences anywhere else in New Zealand, would dispute them. The perpetration of psychological, physical and sexual violence is overwhelmingly a masculine phenomenon. And while not every male is guilty of assaulting and/or raping women and girls, the violence inflicted upon females by a minority of males does contribute to the maintenance of a patriarchal culture from which all men derive benefit.
Patriarchy and Imperialism are closely related, so perhaps it would help to elucidate the role that violence plays in shoring up our patriarchal culture by elucidating the role it played in shoring up the British Empire.
It is said that the entire Indian sub-continent was kept in the thrall of Great Britain by an imperial administration of fewer than 100,000 men. By no means all of these men were engaged in the brutal business of repression. The majority were well educated, thoroughly decent civil servants who would never have dreamed of flogging a man to death, or presiding over the slow starvation of an entire province. Such dreadful acts were carried out by others: by soldiers and policemen. Deplorable, of course, but necessary – if the British Raj was to survive.
Is that why even we lefties buried our heads in our hands upon hearing Cunliffe’s words? Because we knew, instinctively, just how outraged “ordinary” men would be when they heard them?
Not because these other men were in favour of hurting women and children, but because, however ham-fistedly, Cunliffe had acknowledged all men’s complicity in the myriad acts of violence and intimidation that mandate the equally numerous acts of female-to-male deference and acceptance by which the patriarchal individual defines himself.
The exercise of power and control constitutes the common coinage of both patriarchy and imperialism. And, no matter how thoroughly we attempt to conceal them beneath the draperies of romantic love and the “White Man’s Burden”, the true character of their brutal transactions cannot be hidden.
All men (and, I suspect, an alarmingly large number of women also) learn to both see and not-see the effects of domestic and sexual violence. We recoil in horror from the murdered wives and children but find it next to impossible to recognise the manifest evil in the perpetrators – the men invariably described as “just an ordinary bloke, a good family man”.
But, in portraying these “enforcers” of patriarchy in such chillingly normative terms we confirm (albeit unconsciously) our own participation in the dark secret that Cunliffe shouted to the world.
That these horrors are of our making – men’s making – and will persist until, acknowledging the role violence plays in preserving our patriarchal privilege, we can all say: “I’m sorry for being a man.”
This essay was originally published in The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 11 July 2014.