Barbie & Ken – America’s Choice 2016

US Elections 2016

Anybody who does not live in a cave and has contact with any media at all cannot avoid being exposed to the circus of the US election campaign 2016. However this year’s spectacle is unlike any other we have witnessed in living memory. The rule book has been tossed out the window. There is only one certainty, which is that there is no more certainty. The situation America finds itself in today nobody predicted only twelve months ago.

Especially the political elite did not see it coming.

The Republican Party (GOP) has been hijacked by a crass narcissistic buffoon easily demolishing a bunch of dismal and/or even scarier contenders.

The Democrats had to resort to cheating and electoral fraud which kept the heads of the highest officials’ rolling just to keep out an ‘independent’ and self-declared “democratic socialist” senator from the tiny state of Vermont from stealing the nomination from the anointed one. The candidate backed by Wall Street and the party elite. She who happens to have lived in the White House already for two terms.

Which as an aside brings me back to comedian Raybon Kan‘s observation and questions:
It doesn’t surprise me that the first woman to run for US President is a former First Lady.
This is American feminism.
Would it have been possible for another woman to become the candidate ? Would it have been possible for a woman who hasn’t already lived in the White House for eight years ? Would it have been possible for a woman who had to climb the political ladder herself, without having a two-term President-husband as a sherpa ?

The party conventions

Everything seemed to be wrong with the party conventions this year. It was the reverse from what we would usually expect from the two parties and their traditional bases.

The GOP (Grand Old Party) conference is supposed to showcase it’s glorious history and represent the rich and famous Americans, the decedents of the plantation (and slave) owners, Wall Street banksters, old money industrialists and old boys from the ivy league universities like Harvard, Princeton and Yale. After all the GOP is the conservative right wing Tory party of privilege and power in American politics.
What we saw instead was a mostly older blue collar, downtrodden and deprived, frustrated and angry mob. Their only privilege left after suffering 35 years of Neo-liberalism other than being mostly male was the colour of their skin, white and too often red-neck.

The Democrats on the other hand are supposed to be the “left wing” party of the working people, trade unions and lesser educated and privileged. What we saw instead were the young college kids from the Sanders camp and the glorious multi millionaire stars from Hollywood and the music industry. It was their convention, which had class and style.

However both conventions created their own if totally different excitement and probably high ratings for the commercial TV channels.

Cleveland

The GOP met first in Cleveland to formally seal the nomination of non-politician Donald Trump. And this is the most benign and still accurate attribute I can find for him.

This convention was extraordinary by the almost total absence of GOP political bigwigs like the prominent leading national politicians or former presidents. The list of speakers and appearances from the entertainment industry was distinctly second rate. Instead we saw and heard a lot from the Trump family.

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A political junkie friend of mine who has fast internet and was watching proceeding live ringing me three time a day got all exited about what he described as the Trump Barbie Dolls on stage. He is however convinced that the American electorate would not buy it/them.
And then there was the speech of the candidate’s present model wife and First Lady hopeful Slovenian born Melania. They let her blatantly plagiarise passages from a 2008 speech by the present First Lady. And to make matters worse they let her be recorded claiming that she had written the speech all by herself. How cruel was that ?

The whole thing was a gloomy apocalyptic affair. Scare the bejesus out of America to make them vote for the only candidate to save them and “Make America Great Again“.

Philadelphia

The Democrats had the advantage of going second, which they almost blew with an e-mail scandal, which on the eve of the convention claimed the scalp of party chair Wassermann Schultz .

However they recovered from initial dissent by emotional aggrieved Sanders supporters. Bernie himself came to the rescue with his speech. For me the best speech of the whole convention happened already on then opening day by the real First Lady Michelle Obama.

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One could only feel sorry for the rest of the party grandees who had to follow her. Unlike the week before at the GOP the Democrats were all there and held rousing speeches that sounded even more positive in contrast with what had gone the week before.

One other most powerful moment of the convention attracted much coverage mainly because trump in response again put his foot in big time by attacking a gold star family, which used to be sacrosanct. A Pakistani immigrant lawyer who had lost his US army captain son in Iraq gave Trump in the words of John Oliver the middle finger with a pocket edition of the American constitution.

Khizr Khan, whose son, Humayun S. M. Khan was one of 14 American Muslims who died serving in the U.S. Army in the 10 years after the 9/11 attacks, offers to loan his copy of the Constitution to Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump, as he speaks while a relative looks on during the last night of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S. July 28, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar

Khizr Khan

It only got worse for Trump claiming in a TV interview with George Stephanopoulos that he also made sacrifices by working very very hard being a “successful” businessman.

Under normal circumstances this should all add up to a slam-dunk victory for Hillary in November.

On Reflection

On reflection I’m still scared about the possibility of president Trump in the White House.

The warning from Noam Chomsky rings in my mind.
I’m just old enough to have heard a number of Hitler’s speeches on the radio,” he said, “and I have a memory of the texture and the tone of the cheering mobs, and I have the dread sense of the dark clouds of fascism gathering” here at home.
He remembers the mood in 1930s, where after harsh reparations and the great depression  the people in Germany turned to Hitler as their saviour. Chomsky says that he has never seen the level of anger and fear in his lifetime after the country suffered 35 years of Neo-liberalism. This left people with two alternatives either to turn to some radical progressive solutions on the left or turn to demagogues and fascism on the right.

The pass to radical progressive change as represented by Bernie Sanders has been blocked by the machinations of the Democratic Party establishment.  Now the turn to the right and strong man authoritarianism/fascism might be the even more tempting option. Will we see history repeat itself ?

Then I listened to Chris Trotter in a left – right discussion on the radio waxing lyrically about Bill Clinton’s excellent “I met a girl ” convention speech, which reminded him of the great US novel “To kill a Mockingbird”. His right wing neo-liberal opponent mocked him and implicitly Clinton by expressing his disdain for having had to study that novel at school. If government ministers hold such a dismissive attitude towards intellectual mastery and appreciation of culture and history what will ordinary voters be capable of doing ?

Whatever happens in November the fact that Donald Trump in the latest polls is scoring in the 40s % is scary in itself. The highest vote Hitler ever got in democratic elections  was in July 1932 with 37.27 %.

But my concern lies on a more basic or profane level. May be the American people actually go for the Trump Barbie Dolls. After all the makers of the iconic toy have spend millions in developing that product exactly tailored to the American taste.

Republican-National-Convention-Day-Two

 Barbie & Ken – America’s Choice 2016

 

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The world gone mad or is it just me ?

A mad world out there where ever we look

The year 2016 is shaping up as one of the craziest in living memory. And mine goes back to World War II.

images-1Bristol Mural

That was the opening sentence of this blog a week back, which seems like a very long time ago. Since then I repeatedly had to take a breath to watch another madness unfold. First (Theresa) May-Day in London with the appointment of Boris Johnson as foreign secretary. Then the terrible deadly truck attack on Bastille Day in Nice and for the end of the week the attempted coup in Turkey as the overture and excuse (“gift of god”) for the full blown fascist takeover of that formerly democratic country ruled by law.

But for now back to my original line of thought observing the events of the year.

Politics in the USA

2016 saw so far the most remarkable presidential election campaign anybody can remember. In the Democratic Party primaries an unknown self declared “socialist” – in fact just a traditional New Deal social democrat – Senator from the tiny state of Vermont gave the shoe-in establishment candidate with the Clinton name recognition a run for her money. He pulled enthusiastic crowds and filled stadiums with mostly young people being the oldest candidate in the field.
On the Republican side we will this week witness the nomination of a narcissistic buffoon reality TV star and self declared billionaire who never was anywhere near government or political office. He succeeded with xenophobic policies like building a wall and Mexico paying for it, banning all Muslims from the US and registering the ones already there and the slogan “Making America great again”.

However both surprisingly successful candidates tapped into a deep widespread anger and frustration about an American reality after almost 40 years of neo-liberal ideology ruling the country. The foremost US intellectual and activist Noam Chomsky, who in his own words is old enough to remember the Great Depression has never seen so many people so angry. He sees two alternatives for these left behind, frustrated angry people of either turning to progressive policy solutions of the “Left” or to seductive propaganda slogans of the “Right” and again Fascism. The later is a very scary prospect after the experience of the last century, which unfortunately too many have forgotten.

Britain and Europe

This headline we never stopped using during the decades of Britain’s membership in the European Union (EU) really says it all. The British always went to Europe when they crossed the Channel while the French, Dutch and Germans never left it when they went the other way.
The most hilariously accurate depiction of the British government’s attitude towards the EU stems already from the eighties’ sitcom “Yes Minister“.

I do not want to argue about the economic merits of the “Remain” or “Leave” campaigns. I do not dispute the many shortcomings of the EU edifice where the Neoliberals have also taken over for the benefit of the big corporations. Just last week a BBC headline reads “Ex-European Commission head Barroso under fire over Goldman Sachs job” covering the usual revolving door scenario between top politicians and big business.
However the EU won the Nobel Peace Price a couple of years back for a very good reason keeping the peace between European nations for over 70 years unprecedented in history.
Now in the UK a majority instead of seeing some rational way out of their predicament under Neoliberalism have in their anger and frustration also fallen for the lies of the demagogues and the slogans like “Independence Day” to give the elites the fingers and shooting themselves in the foot. We must not call the 52% majority racists but the xenophobic undertones are unmistakable. Just look at the Brexiters’ new best friends on the nationalistic far right all over Europe. Chomsky’s worst case scenario seems to come true in Europe as well.

Refugees, Middle East, Terrorism

The European nations are struggling with the arrival of millions of refugees from Africa and the Middle East. They don’t seem to make the connection between this crisis and their own actions in those regions like bombing the shit out of Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya and others for years and years. Why are the Europeans surprised by the tsunami they caused. The mostly Muslim new arrivals of course lead to an ever more xenophobic reaction by the people struggling economically fearing competition for jobs and resources. These fears are nurtured and exploited by the far “Right”.

To top it all off the world is now witnessing more and more terrorist attacks from Florida to France from Turkey to the rest of the Middle East.
These attacks are one thing. Even more worrying is the default knee-jerk reaction of the Western governments. At a time when not much more was known about the attacker in Nice than his name Mohamed born in Tunisia a French government minister declared that in reaction they would step up the bombing of Syria and Libya. As no evidence of religious fervour or political radicalisation was found it was claimed that it must have happened very quickly. May be it happened on the run-up to the attack when the truck picked up speed before hitting the crowds. Almost a week later we read in the paper that prosecutors admit that for the moment there is no evidence of ideological motivation.
But the damage is done and the bombing will all but guarantee rather more than less terrorist attacks to come.

The fear of terrorism now permeates many aspect of our lives.
I am planning a trip to Europe and from one agent was offered reasonable airfares with Turkish Airlines, which he tried to sell me as the best European airline of 2015 with an excellent lounge at Istanbul.  I declined saying that I would not go near it as I would think that any terrorist would have the repressive Turkish regime on top of their to-do-list. A week later the attack on Istanbul airport happened and now the attempted coup. The travel agent is not dismissive of my concerns anymore.

Climate

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Since the Climate Summit last year in Paris month by month all previous heat records have been broken. This was not unexpected for anyone who takes climate science and science in general seriously. The crazy thing is that nobody who should be dealing with the crisis like our governments seems to take it seriously and start doing something about it. There are either the ‘science sceptics don’t trust experts’ brigade. Or the ‘we don’t want to face the facts and stuff the future generations’ cynics.

Either way nothing is happening on the climate front other than vague promises of future technologies and the magical invisible hand of the market to fix the problem. Some still have the unshakable believe that with our superior brain we will find a solution to the problem just created by that very same brain.

Among all this I got the news that my very first grandchild is on the way. It will be born into this crazy world. Still I am over the moon.

The world gone mad or is it just me ?

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Brexit : “Without a single shot being fired”

Brexit: The unthinkable has happened

One of the most amazing facts of the whole Brexit story is that the political and business elites and the so called “market” did not see it coming. Or rather they would not believe that it could be coming. Even after ample notice by the polls that there was a good chance that the worst case scenario for the elites would actually materialise. It was not a case of ‘seeing is believing’ but rather ‘believing is seeing’. As long as they didn’t believe that it could ever happen they were unable to see the signs. When the polls showed the final result within the margin of error the bookmakers still gave odds of 75 to 25 for staying in.

Most of all it shows how disconnected the elites, who normally make all the decisions, are from the ordinary citizen, who in this case – as the exception to the rule – actually were called to make the decision.
This is a serious crisis when the elites lose control over the uneducated and unwashed masses.

Nigel Farage, the leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), makes a statement after Britain voted to leave on the European Union in London, Britain, June 24, 2016. REUTERS/Toby Melville TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

Nigel Farage, the leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), makes a statement after Britain voted to leave on the European Union in London, Britain, June 24, 2016. REUTERS/Toby Melville

Brexit not about Economics

The mistake the elites made was that they believed that the question of membership of the European Union (EU) was mainly about economics. Accordingly they tried to sell the EU with the argument that staying in would be for the economic benefit of Britain. They overlooked the fact that the majority of the voters had over the past 30 years lost out under the present neoliberal system and had not much more to lose. They did not feel the  deep frustration and anger of the people still waiting for the ‘trickle down effect’. If the Brexit result told us anything about economics it was the anger of the suffering working classes with the failed neoliberal policies especially Britain’s austerity policy since the global financial crisis of 2008. The map of the detailed results shows that the formerly Labour voters who were not responsible for the crisis but are suffering the most finally found  a way to express their anger. They did not understand that their suffering was not inflicted by the EU and they did not care. All they saw the Eaton toff of a Prime Minister, the financial district/the City of London and the bosses of big business urging them to stay. That was enough for them to put their cross in the “leave” box.

Brexit not even about the EU

Most voters making the fateful decision didn’t have a clue about the European Union. Google searches in the UK on the morning after revealed that record numbers went on the web to ask ‘What does a Brexit mean?’ and ‘ What is the EU?’
It was for many just a protest vote they regretted the next morning when they woke up with the biggest hangover ever. Already well over 2 million people – more than the winning margin – who voted to leave have been actively calling for another vote in an official petition to Parliament. Twenty times more than enough for Parliament to have to at least consider a debate.

Tottenham Labour MP David Lammy is demanding on Twitter
Wake up. We do not have to do this. We can stop this madness and bring this nightmare to an end through a vote in Parliament. Our sovereign Parliament needs to now vote on wether we should exit the EU.
The referendum was an advisory, non-binding referendum. The Leave campaign’s platform has already unravelled and some people wish they hadn’t voted to Leave. Parliament now needs to decide whether we should go forward with Brexit, and there should be a vote in Parliament next week. Let us not destroy our economy on the basis of lies and the hubris of Boris Johnson.

Brexit, the real economic reasons

For over thirty years we have been fed the bullshit lies of Neoliberalism especially in the Anglo-American Western world like ‘public-bad, private-good’ or ‘trickle down effect’, which we are still waiting for while the rich get ever richer and the poor ever poorer. The ideology destroyed not only our economies culminating with the global financial crisis, which won’t be the last. What generations had built like public transport, water supply, power generation and supply systems, public education and healthcare are under threat or have been already privatised and sold off to great benefit for the rich buying the assets and disastrous results for the rest of us relying on those services.
Neoliberalism is also soul destroying for our people and societies. Margret Thatcher famously said the there was no such thing as ‘society’. The ideology allows the rich to feel entitled to their mostly ill-gotten riches. They claim against all the evidence that they have ‘earned’ their fortunes and are actually virtues as the “job creators”. While the unfortunate poor, who’s jobs have been exported to China and Bangladesh, have learned to accept their station in live because they are allegedly stupid and lazy and lacking ‘self-responsibility’.

Now in Britain the downtrodden found an outlet to vent their anger and frustration in the form of the Brexit referendum. The force-fed lies most of all “There is no Alternative” were vomited back into the elites’ faces. Even if totally irrational the “Alternative” nobody thought possible was Brexit.

Brexit, the dangerous undertones

Unfortunately the Brexit campaign exploited dangerous xenophobic and racist sentiments too many voters have expressed. These centre around immigration. Many people coached their angst with observations and experiences like waiting times at hospitals or problems at the local school. They have been brainwashed for over thirty years not to blame the funding cuts to the National Health Service (NHS) or underfunding of public schools but found the scapegoat in immigrants.

These sentiments would only be ignored at our peril. As long as liberal do-gooders defend the right of asylum seekers and promote the positives of immigration in general and dump the new arrivals into the already most deprived areas we will have a growing problem.

A good old school mate from Germany gave me an idea with his experience of refugees. We all know the enormous challenge Germany faces with the arrival of over a million refugees mostly from the Middle East over the last year alone. We have seen the pictures of the working poor protesters and the electoral gains of the Neo-nazis in regional parliaments. However this friend lives in an affluent leafy suburb of Cologne and now has a refugee camp on school grounds right next to his house. The amazing result is a lot of support for the arrivals ‘breaking bread’ with them, having barbecues together sharing meals and learning about their cuisine and culture. The affluent don’t see the newcomers   as a threat, someone in front in the cue or competing for the scares resources of a school. The see them as maids, gardeners or someone who might do a good job of fixing their plumbing at a reasonable price.
So my advice would be to put refugees into the West end of London into Remuera and the North Shore in Auckland to avoid a racist backlash.

Noam Chomsky the foremost intellectual, commentator and activist who as he says is old enough to remember the thirties warns us. The anger at Neoliberalism could turn the people instead of to the left (Bernie Sanders) to the right i.e. Fascism. Then it was the Jews now it is Muslims. We only have to look at Nigel Farage and the people who congratulated him. Donald Trump, the National Front in France, the neo-nazi AfD in Germany and the list of anti-immigration, anti-Islam racists goes on.

However Farage takes the cake a week after anti-Brexit campaigner and British Labour MP and young mother of two Jo Cox was shot dead in a clearly Brexit motivated terrorist attack saying :

Brexit : “Without a single shot being fired”.

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Labour – Green : Was that so hard ?

Memorandum of Understanding (MOU)

A couple of weeks back I got the heads up from a Green Party insider to look out for an announcement / press conference that afternoon, which would make the news that day. And did it ever. Not just for that day but days to come. The news announced by the leaders of the Labour Party and the Green Party in a joint press conference was that they had signed a memorandum of understanding about how they would work co-operatively together in the lead-up to the 2017 general election.
Big deal I thought. Why make a fuss about something everyone politically interested thought such an obvious and sensible thing to do. After the experience of the last election when Labour and the Greens attacked each other and cannibalised each others vote it was assumed that they would not make the same mistake again and hand John Key another easy win.

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Media “Storm”

I use the word “storm” with some hesitation as it does not really compute with the New Zealand media, which are not known for passionate reporting and debate. Nevertheless a fuss was made.
To my surprise the commentariat was more often than not negative and not only from the usual suspects. Chris Trotter on morning TV created the biggest storm when he seemed to be agreeing with an ex-president of the National Party. Chris, how dare you not to do your job properly being invited on the show to counterbalance the the radical neoliberal positions usually dispensed by the National Party.

What struck me most about the criticism from other than the usual subjects, which I want to ignore at this point, was twofold.

One was that the Green Party is still being portrayed as a electoral liability. This strategy is unlikely to bear the required electoral fruit, however, because neither National nor NZ First voters will embrace a government-in-waiting which includes the ‘weird and wacky’, ‘Far Left’, Greens.  Even if in this example Trotter puts it in inverted commas.

Two was the criticism of Labour acting out of a position of weakness raising the white flag of surrender. Giving up on the goal of beating National on it’s own.
The later just tells us that even after 20 years of MMP many still live in the pre-proportional dark ages of the last millennium.

However let me deal with the two points separately.

The ‘weird and wacky’ Greens

Name-calling the Greens has a long tradition also going back to the last millennium. And the Greens gave a lot of easy ammunition. Remember the main stream media reporting of the Green Party conferences with serious political discussions and policies. The focus was inevitable on the line dancing, the vegetarian or – shock horror – even vegan lunch menu, the Kiwi fruit wine and the bearded, dreadlocked hairy leg brigade.
Our present Prime Minister raised the name-calling to a new level as he is of course bereft of any rational argument. Remember John Key calling the Greens’ suggestion after the global financial crisis to print money (quantitative easing) rather than borrowing it from the banks just bailed out by the taxpayer as crazy, lunatic and so on. Even if he as the professional money changer knew better as at the time the ‘lunatic’ US Federal Reserve, the ‘lunatic’ Bank of England, the ‘lunatic’ European Central Bank and the ‘lunatic’ Swiss Central Bank to name just a few were doing exactly that: printing money. The actual lunatic was John Key himself slavishly holding on steadfast to the extremist neoliberal textbook.
As most New Zealanders are financially illiterate the name-calling worked over rational argument and international example and the shellshocked Greens gave up a perfectly sensible policy suggestion.

Name calling the Greens and their ‘wacky and lunatic’ policies like for example wanting New Zealand’s rivers to be again swimmable reminds me of a cartoon I saw many years ago. And here I show my age. It comes from a time when I used to pick up any Playboy magazine I could lay my hands just to look at the cartoons. This Playboy cartoon showed an industrial/office building with the cigar smoking bosses looking out the window. From the site a big outlet pipe discharges black sludge into the river/sewer. At the river bank by the pipe sits the bucolic figure of a “greenie”.  The speech bubble between the bosses reads “I wonder what devilish plan he is hatching?” The thought bubble of the “greenie” shows a a river with fish in it and children happily splashing and swimming.
This prophetic cartoon probably from the sixties or seventies shows in one image today’s National Party attitude and policies towards the environment. The sad thing is that portraying the Greens as lunatics with horns still seems to work.

Labour is indeed bankrupt

If the Labour Party would be an American corporation it would have filed for bankruptcy protection some time ago to get a break and hope to trade out of it’s difficulties. It has not much more left than a 100 year old brand.
By all accounts Labour is bankrupt financially, bankrupt as far as the organisational strength and falling membership numbers go, bankrupt politically by not offering any really alternative policies and most of all morally bankrupt.

Labour unleashed Neoliberalism (Rogernomics) on the unsuspecting country in 1984. David Lange, who himself obviously didn’t realise at the time what his government was doing, called for a “cuppa” in 1989. However the Labour Party and subsequent Labour government under Helen Clark did not reverse any of the extremist neoliberal policies they introduced. They even left it to National to give beneficiaries this year the first increase after the devastating “mother of all budgets” in 1991. Labour never acknowledged and apologised for the damage they have inflicted on the country and the New Zealand society and people.  Michael Joseph Savage who’s picture many Labour politicians have on their office walls must be turning in his grave. Labour politicians who still cannot bring themselves to denounce Neoliberalism remind me of holocaust deniers. The painful lesson not learned is that there is no way forward without owning up to your past.

Unfortunately we do not hear the Greens either loudly debunking the neoliberal bullshit slogans like ‘public bad – private good’, ‘trickle down’, ‘personal responsibility’ instead of helping the most vulnerable, ‘privatisation of state assets to increase efficiency’ and the most annoying of them all that ‘there is no alternative’. When are enlightened politicians shouting from the rooftops that the neoliberal emperor John Key wears no clothes ?

New Beginning of Co-operation ?

Still the MOU with the Greens might signal the first tentative step of a new beginning for New Zealand politics. The one page MOU has mostly been criticised for what it is not like for instance a coalition agreement as it ends with the 2017 election. It is rather more like an non-agression pact. However the past has shown that mere non-agression pacts can have huge significance changing the course of history.

The most important development signalled by the signing of the MOU is the fact that the Labour Party seems to be finally getting over the old first-past-the-post electoral mind set. They finally realise that it doesn’t matter to beat National – at present an unrealistic goal anyway – but to form a credible coalition. Instead of nurturing their potential partners as National did with Act, Dunne and most of all the Maori Party Labour did everything to alienate them and in the process losing winnable elections. Hopefully the slow learner learned the lesson this time around.

Was that so hard ?

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Leicester City : What took you so long ?

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Depressing World Affairs

I had to take a break writing about local and world affairs because they are so depressing.

Just the day of writing our own Mini-Trump aka John Key declared before his trip to Fiji that “their democracy was not perfect but it was time for top level contact“. Just to remind you, the last election the first after the military coup legitimising it’s leader were declared fair and democratic by the international observers despite the voting papers looking more like a Sudoko puzzle.

On the same day when no voting took place the US media had already declared Hillary Clinton the winner of the hotly contested Democratic Party nomination race just the day before the crucial final primaries and thus undermining and manipulating the result. Just to remind you of the facts of the American democracy Uncle Sam tries to export to the Fiji-like countries of the world :
The loss of faith in the political system and neoliberal ideology is widespread (in the US). The corporate elites are pouring $5 billion into the carnival of presidential electoral politics in a desperate bid to keep us mesmerized and controlled. Democracy is endlessly invoked on the airwaves to legitimize the corporate and political forces that have destroyed it. Congress has an approval rating of 11 percent. Half of qualified voters are not registered to vote, and half of registered voters do not go to the polls. A little more than half of 25 percent—no more than 15 percent—of the electorate determines who becomes president. And this is the way the elites want it. (Chris Hedges)

Try to imagine our Prime Minister on his next visit to Washington after the inauguration of the new US President saying that their democracy was not perfect but it was time for top level contact.
The double standard and hypocritical arrogance of the white man judging the brown man’s Fiji political system is mind blowing.

And how depressing is the upcoming Trump vs Clinton US presidential race. The two most hated candidates ever by a country mile, Trump #1 closely followed by Clinton #2. Poor Americans having to chose between the pest and cholera.

Then Europe with the ongoing refugee crisis driving the people to fear and ever more irrational decisions. Austria just seems to have dodged the bullet of an extreme right wing president. Britain seems to be heading for the (Br)exit and the small England option with the likelihood of the Scots heading for the exit from Great Britain.

If that is not enough to get you down just look at the ongoing violence in the Middle East either by civil war, ruthless dictatorial regimes or occupation and repression of a whole people in Gaza and the West Bank all supported by the old colonial powers of the West.

Is the Earth trying to tell us something ?

If you are not depressed enough by examples of human follies fueled by Neoliberalism listen to what nature is telling us in a year of month by month broken heat records.

In Alberta / Canada we witnessed devastating wildfires going on for weeks, which lead to the evacuation of whole towns. Ironically or rather appropriately the most destructive and green house gas polluting tar sand mining industry and its support structure were hit. The arsonists of Fort McMurray have a name :
These arsonists have a name and they’re hiding in plain view—because their actions, at the moment, are still considered legal. They’re the companies that helped turn the boreal forest into a flammable tinder-box. The same companies that have undermined attempts to rein in carbon emissions. The same companies that, by their very design, chase profits with no mind for the ecological and human consequences.

Then last weekend we saw some of Sydney’s highly priced beach front properties washed away by a big storm. According to climate scientist a totally predictable outcome of global warming. This is happening to Australia, which just censored an UN climate report warning of the imminent death of the Great Barrier Reef as a result of global warming. It is now the only continent not mentioned at all in the world climate report while nature just send them a little reminder.

However I found some good news story for all of us and especially for old Sid at my gym.

Leicester City Fairytale

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Leicester City’s win of the English Premier League championship 2016 is the greatest Cinderella fairytale story in the history of English football (soccer). At the beginning of the season the bookmakers put the odds of Leicester winning the championship at 5000:1 and making a few punters very happy. This are the same odds paid for Elvis being spotted living happily ever after in a Swiss sanatorium. Andy Murray naming his first born “Novak” after his tennis arch-rival nemesis is ten times more likely.

Not being from British descend and therefor not ferociously tribal of “my” football club I followed the story only out of the corner of my eye. The excitement grew and even our New Zealand media were ever increasing the coverage of the final matches of the season. Then in the week before the championship decider the story became human and personal for me.

Sid

At my gym there is a “Never too old” group exercising around the same time as me. It was the end of the week before the championship decider and it had become increasingly clear that Leicester would win it. One of the oldest members of the group was walking around lost or so it seemed. I asked him if I could help him as he was wearing a batch alerting you that he was visually and hearing impaired. And he told me.

He had lost and was looking for his Leicester City hat just when they were about to win the championship. “I would never get over it. I have waited for this for 87 years. Last time they were close (second) I was 4 months old. I would never get over losing that hat.” With that he shuffled off after I had promised to look out for his hat.
This brief encounter was the first time I had spoken to him and it left me sad for Sid but with a smile on my face.
I met him again a week later congratulated him on the championship and he was beaming  as he had also found his hat. This time we talked a little more about his life story. He was not actually born in Leicester just 50 miles away but had gone to school there becoming a fan. Sid had come to New Zealand in 1956 and in the sixty years had only been back twice finding it worse every time.

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His life seem to be fulfilled with grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He lost his wife seven years ago and had given up on finding someone else even if one of his activities is dancing. He told me that at the last dance he didn’t leave the dance floor for the entire one and a half hours. What a lovely man.

When the championship was sealed actually by a match between two other teams his sister rang him from the UK very early in the morning to give him the news and make him a happy man.

Leicester City with fans like this what took you so long ?

 

 

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Neoliberalism: The Beast Thou shall not name

Neoliberalism – the ideology at the root of all our problems

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One of the most interesting pieces I read recently was by George Monbiot in The Guardian about Neoliberalism – the ideology at the root of all our problems
It opened with the line :
Imagine if the people of the Soviet Union had never heard of communism.
The ideology that dominates our lives has, for most of us, no name. Mention it in conversation and you’ll be rewarded with a shrug. Even if your listeners have heard the term before, they will struggle to define it.
I was intrigued and have since conducted an experiment talking to people about some of its facets like private prisons, charter schools and generally privatisation of state assets and functions they all disliked. I then asked if they had heard of Neoliberalism and got the above mentioned shrug.

The main points of Neoliberalism include :
THE RULE OF THE MARKET. Liberating private enterprise from any bonds  by the government no matter how much social damage this causes. Greater openness to international trade and investment. Reduce wages by de-unionizing workers and eliminating workers’ rights. Total freedom of movement for capital, goods and services. 
CUTTING PUBLIC EXPENDITURE FOR SOCIAL SERVICES like education and health care. REDUCING THE SAFETY-NET FOR THE POOR. Of course, they don’t oppose government subsidies and tax benefits for business.
DEREGULATION. Reduce government regulation of everything that could diminish profits, including protecting the environment and safety on the job.
PRIVATISATION. Sell state-owned enterprises, goods and services to private investors. This includes banks, key industries, railroads, toll highways, electricity, schools, hospitals and even fresh water, which mainly has the effect of concentrating wealth even more in a few hands and making the public pay even more for its needs.
ELIMINATING THE CONCEPT OF “THE PUBLIC GOOD” or “COMMUNITY” and replacing it with “individual responsibility.” Pressuring the poorest people in a society to find solutions to their lack of health care, education and social security all by themselves. (CorpWatch)

Under the reign of the poster boys/girl of Neoliberalism Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan and in New Zealand Roger Douglas the recipes of the secret cult were implemented:
Massive tax cuts for the rich, the crushing of trade unions, deregulation, privatisation, outsourcing and competition in public services. Through the IMF, the World Bank, the Maastricht treaty and the World Trade Organisation, neoliberal policies were imposed – often without democratic consent – on much of the world. Neoliberalism might not have been conceived as a self-serving racket, but it rapidly became one.

The most hideous aspect of Neoliberalism is that it allows the rich to persuade themselves that they acquired their wealth through merit, ignoring the advantages – such as education, inheritance and class – that may have helped to secure it. The poor begin to blame themselves for their failures, even when they can do little to change their circumstances. (Monbiot)

Neoliberalism takes us back to the deserving poor of the Victorian age with one difference. Then it meant the distinction between the drunkards and lazy poor and the poor fallen on hard times without their fault. Only the later were deserving of our charity. Now it means that market forces have created the divide and the poor are deserving of their lot, full stop.

Neoliberalism – the great deception

Why is it that most have never heard of Neoliberalism as an ideology when we all suffer under it ?

The answer must lie in the fact that the prophets and beneficiaries of this ideology in cahoots with the mainstream corporate media are acting by stealth. They know that the vast majority – the 99% – would reject the neoliberal dogma if given a chance. Put to a vote every aspect would be rejected like the part privatisation of the New Zealand electricity companies was rejected in a referendum, which in turn was duly ignored by the Neoliberals in power.

Neoliberalism had never any democratic legitimacy anywhere.
If neoliberalism was not introduced by stealth and deception it was forced on the people by the barrel of the gun as in Chile under Pinochet or Russia under Yeltsin. The best account of how Neoliberalism spread across the globe we find in one of Naomi Klein‘s groundbreaking Books Shock Doctrine. “Klein may well have revealed the master narrative of our time. And because the pattern she exposes could govern our future as well, The Shock Doctrine could turn out to be among the most important books of the decade.”– William S. Kowinski, San Francisco Chronicle

Naomi Klein Shock Doctrine

The tactic of the Neoliberals is to use any great shock, which has stunned the people and made them disorientated and defenceless. Be it manmade events like an armed coup or a natural disaster like Hurricane Katrina or the Christchurch earthquake to push through an agenda people would never accept under normal circumstances. In the later case it was the school system. New Orleans pushed through the privatisation of their schools and in Christchurch it is the creation of mega monster schools the communities do not want. The neoliberal motto is : We must not let a good crisis go to waste.

Neoliberalism has not only caused great damage to the fabric of society but also left millions of casualties in it’s wake. We can compare the numbers of the victims in the name of other ideologies like Fascism under Hitler (6 million Jews not to mention the victims of WWII), Communism under Stalin (20 million perished in the gulag) or under Mao (30 million in the great famine). The victims of  Neoliberalism are likely to outnumber those of the most destructive ideologies of the 20th century. In Chile thousands of opponents were murdered by the Pinochet regime or in Argentina were dropped from helicopters into the sea by the Generals. In Russia after the introduction of Neoliberalism life expectancy dropped like a stone. In India it created a tsunami of farmer suicides. In Africa millions of AIDS sufferers perished denied affordable treatment. And the list goes on.

Information is Shock Resistance – Arm Yourself !

First we have to understand that Neoliberalism is just a believe system like a religious cult, which is not susceptible to any empirical evidence. From the very beginning when it’s policies were introduced we were told that There is No Alternative. This always drives me mad as Neoliberalism is a man made economic theory/doctrine and as such there is always an alternative. It is not a law of nature as the tide or evolution as much as the prophets like to portray it as such. For instance Neoliberalism famously claims that by making the rich ever richer their wealth will somehow “trickle down” to the rest of us like water, which follows the law of nature called gravity. Again the pretence of a law of nature. Wealth is however not like water trickling down. The evidence over the last 30 years proves the opposite. Under Neoliberalism wealth behaves rather like cream rising to the top. The rich getting richer while the poor are getting poorer.

Anybody not blind and with half a brain looking at the evidence will conclude that as an economic theory Neoliberalism has utterly failed. Anybody still holding on to it at least since the global financial crisis of 2007/8 must be just one of the beneficiaries enriching himself at the expense of the rest of us. The foremost American thinker Noam Chomsky stated that it is not new and it is not liberal equating it with propaganda masking “old-fashioned” class war and imperialism. Also listen to him on today’s  Nine to Noon RNZ program.

In other words Neoliberalism is a believe system, which it’s proponents have immunised against all evidence to it’s failings. If reality does not match expectation or promise this is never accepted as evidence against the ideology. Instead we are told that the reason for the different reality is that we have not gone out hard enough to get the promised result. The greater the failure, the more extreme the ideology becomes. The rich have to get even richer for the trickle-down-effect to finally kick in. Like medieval medicine where the standard treatment for any ailment was bleeding. And if that did not work even more bleeding.

Next we have to recognise Neoliberalism where ever we see it.
Selling state assets for the benefit of rich investors mostly from overseas. Privatising schools as in charter schools not for the sake of the children as all evidence points to them doing a poorer job but for the financial benefit of the operators. Anti-union legislation. Competition among state schools down to the poaching of sporting talent. Allowing farming and industry to pollute our rivers to make most of them un-swimmable. Deregulation of school tuck shops, which were for an all to brief period required to serve healthy food in the face of an obesity crisis. Refusing to tax fizzy sugar drinks. Refusing to introduce health standards for rental accommodation despite rising hospitalisation of sick and asthmatic children from damp and cold houses. John Key flogging the apocalyptic horse of so called “free” trade agreements like TPPA, which are anything but free and destructive to our health and safety and the environment just to allow international corporations to extort more profits. The resistance to rail and public transport. I could go on forever.

After we armed ourselves with the knowledge we shall name the Beast and shout “NEOLIBERALISM” from the roof tops where ever we see it. And there is plenty of shouting to do so people can finally connect the dots and see the evil dogma behind all the little policy mosaic stones forming the big picture.

I have been an activist in a few campaigns. Some more successful (MMP) than others like the Economic Myth Busters website for the 1999 APEC conference in Auckland and my fight against a toll road up to the Court of Appeal. I have no regrets other than not having named the Beast and shouting Neoliberalism at every turn.


PS : 
I agree with Monbiot’s excellent article with reservations about the last paragraph.
“What the history of both Keynesianism and neoliberalism show is that it’s not enough to oppose a broken system. A coherent alternative has to be proposed. For Labour, the Democrats and the wider left, the central task should be to develop an economic Apollo programme, a conscious attempt to design a new system, tailored to the demands of the 21st century.”

After Capitalism, Communism, Neoliberalism we do not need another -ism another system or ideology where we look at the textbook or manual of how the economy and society should work. All we need are evidence based policies, which can be changed if they don’t work in practice. Lets try an holistic approach with trial and error and common sense and most of all flexibility. Lets resist the urge to replace one system or ideology with just another.
Our guidance should not come from a book like the Bible, the Koran, Karl Marx’ Das Kapital or of Keynes’ and Friedman’s textbooks but from empirical evidence and evidence alone.

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Switzerland of the South: The Kim Dotcom Defence

Key’s Vision: Switzerland of the South

In the Weekend Herald of March 26 Fran o’Sullivan wrote about John Key’s Vision for New Zealand. She is known to be comfortable with the present neoliberal economic system. She is close enough to give us valuable insight into the thinking and machinations of the Prime Minister. If he, an ex-bankster, thinks of Switzerland as a favoured destination for the rich he does not think of the Matterhorn or Swiss cheese and watches. He thinks of banking and taxes. He starts by talking about terrorism and global instability making New Zealand more attractive as a safe haven for the mega rich. We New Zealanders can make a living pouring their coffees, washing their luxury cars and shining their shoes. But O’Sullivan comes to the point :

One of Switzerland’s attractions is its taxation environment and its strict secrecy laws, which until recently have enabled rich people’s investments to be squirrelled away in its banks, safe from the reprisals of revenue officials.
New Zealand does not compete on that score. But it is notable that one of the reasons why New Zealand has yet to follow Australia and bring in rigorous laws to clamp down on multinationals which are not paying significant tax here is because this country is competing for investment.
Key won’t be doing anything to destroy that wealth effect.

In other words our government tries to attract “investments” by deliberately keeping very relaxed rules and next to no oversight.

From Switzerland to Panama

Then the story about the Panama papers broke. Over 11 million documents from Mossack Fonseca were leaked. They are one of Panama’s law firms specialising in setting up legal structures for rich people to hide their assets. A team of international investigative journalists has been working on this treasure trove for over a year.

O’Sullivan was wrong about “New Zealand does not compete on that (strict secrecy laws) score“. We are labelled a tax haven and find ourselves in the company of other British tax haven outposts like the Bahamas, the British Virgin and Channel Islands and the Cook Islands.

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Thousands of documents indicate that New Zealand foreign trusts are one of the favourite tools to avoid detection. Everything is foreign other than registration of the trust in New Zealand with a domiciled trustee normally a lawyer or accountant for hire. And this is not only about tax but money laundering, arms and drug dealing, terrorism and all sorts of activities you would want to hide.

An investigative journalists working for years on tax avoidance summed up on RNZ the one attraction these tax haven structures have in commonword: Secrecy.

Moral outrage over the “tax haven” label

The opposition and media worked themselves into a froth about the fact that New Zealand is recognised by international tax (avoidance) experts as a favourite tax haven. It it has not (yet) incurred the attention and wrath of the international community.

Hamish Fletcher’s article In the NZ Herald of April 9 was aptly titled “A stain on our name“. The Green Party’s James Shaw said that New Zealand is building a reputation as a sunny place for shady people. The Prime Minister after a weeklong delay finally announced an “independent” investigation into New Zealand’s foreign trusts. The opposition’s Winston Peters criticised his choice of expert who’s lifelong career was helping his clients to minimised their tax exposure. He is concerned that this appointee might have all the technical legal expertise of a poacher made game keeper but lacks the understanding of the moral and ethical issues.

guy body editorial cartoon april 11 2016 panama papers tax haven

Guy Body editorial cartoon April 11 2016 on Panama papers

This moralistic approach seems to be misguided. The voters supporting our neoliberal government don’t expect rich people to behave ethically. They have the rather cynical view that the rich don’t have morals and that is why they got rich.

The people should not be distracted by the morality of the issues. They should not cynically accept that there is always one law for the rich (1%) and another law for the rest of us (99%).

First, it does not have to be that way. We can change it.

Second, if the rich around the world would pay their fair share of taxes as the rest of us do we would globally according to the Guardian have yearly $200 billion more in the governments’ coffers. We would have free education, no more hospital waiting lists, no child poverty and ill health and so on. The benefits for society would be immense and across all sectors. We all would be better off.

These hard financial facts are what we, the media and politicians should be focussing on. Never forget the damage done by the rich we are enabling and assisting with our foreign trusts.

On planet Key

For Prime Minister Key any moral concern runs off like water of a ducks back. He just doesn’t get it. He is part of super rich 1% who are taking advantage of tax havens. He has spent all his professional life as a Merrill Lynch bankster without moral qualms helping his clients getting richer and helping himself along the way. How can that possibly be wrong. Many New Zealanders admire Key for being rich after growing up in a state house. He – as Donald Trump would say – is a “winner”.
After his initial reaction of just shrugging his shoulders it took him a week of polling to realise that the 99% don’t live on planet Key and that there is outrage out there.

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This untypical serious disconnect with his voters will one day be John Key’s political downfall.
Still Key is not the least concerned about New Zealand’s reputation as a tax haven. That tax haven status is what he wants overseas rich people to know to bring their business here and create the desired “wealth effect”.

Of course every single government on earth will deny that they are a tax haven, which is as credible as Key’s denials.

The Kim Dotcom Defence

In a wonderful twist of irony and hypocrisy the prime minister is using the Kim Dotcom defence to justify New Zealand’s foreign trusts.

The file-sharing website Megaupload was used by millions to legally and legitimately upload and share files like family photos or business documents. Thousands also used it to share material, which was copyrighted by others. The US indicted Dotcom for copyright breaches and shut down his company’s business worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
He argued that he only provided a legitimate service/tool and had no knowledge or control over how it was used by every single user.

John Key uses the same argument defending New Zealand foreign trusts.
On Newstalk ZB on 11 April for instance “Ah, there are legitimate reasons to have a foreign trust in a country, and it could be all sorts of reasons. You believe you’re going to be persecuted, you just don’t trust the system you’re in, you believe there’s corruption in the system.” These are pathetic examples which would apply to just anybody in any country including New Zealand. Some of us might with good reason not trust our system believing there’s corruption in the system. According to Key lets all head for the hills of foreign trusts.

Key’s/Dotcom’s argument is that as long as there is legitimate use of the service it is ok.

There is one problem for Key however. This argument doesn’t work for him that well.

More than 99% of Megaupload’s millions of customers used the service for legitimate purposes.
For New Zealand’s foreign trusts the ratio will be the opposite. Less than 1 % will be using them for legitimate purposes.

Still our prime minister is one of the rich 1% with a background as a bankster and just appointed a ‘poacher as gamekeeper’ to report on the foreign trust system. Don’t hold your breath for any real change.

 

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“Criminal” gang shows more compassion than Government

Dangerous Drug Laws

There is no law more harmful to the common good than the drug laws still enforced in most countries around the world including New Zealand. The hideous thing about it is the fact that they have been deliberately designed to hurt people by being racist and targeting minorities without any scientific justification whatsoever.

It started with opium an ancient medicinal plant still widely used all over the world.
In the USA after their civil war in the 1860s hundreds of thousands of wounded war veterans who had been treated with opium/morphine for pain relieve lived happy and productive lives as regular opium users with no ill effects other than constipation. Still the first drug law was passed in San Francisco in 1875, banning the smoking of opium in opium dens. The reason cited was “many women and young girls, as well as young men of respectable family, were being induced to visit the Chinese opium-smoking dens, where they were ruined morally and otherwise.”
Chinese immigrants tended to smoke it, while it was often included in various kinds of generally liquid medicines often (but not exclusively) used by people of European descent. The laws targeted opium smoking, but not other methods of ingestion  (wikipedia : Prohibition of Drugs)

The Marijuana/Hemp prohibition is as sinister and racist.
We must remember that the hemp plant with its various beneficial properties has been used by man for thousands of years. The British Empire can be said to be based on hemp as her ships would not have sailed without the sails and ropes all made of hemp. The US declaration of independence is written on hemp paper. The medicinal use goes back for thousands of years. Still  in the US hemp was made illegal in 1937.
Shortly before new technologies were developed that made hemp a potential competitor with the newly-founded synthetic fiber and plastics industries. Hemp’s potential for producing paper also posed a threat to the timber industry. Evidence suggests that commercial interests having much to lose from hemp competition helped propagate reefer madness hysteria, and used their influence to lobby for Marijuana Prohibition.

reefer-madness

After Alcohol Prohibition ended in 1933, funding for the Federal Bureau of Narcotics was reduced. The FBN’s own director, Harry J. Anslinger, then became a leading advocate of Marijuana Prohibition. In 1937 Anslinger testified before Congress in favor of Marijuana Prohibition by saying: “Marijuana is the most violence causing drug in the history of mankind.” “Most marijuana smokers are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos and entertainers. Their Satanic music, jazz and swing, result from marijuana usage. Marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes.” (see MARIJUANA/HEMP WAS LEGAL,WHY WAS IT BANNED?)  –  Say no more.
Anybody who has the slightest knowledge about marijuana knows that this is utter nonsense. A common “complaint” of the effect of smoking dope for instance is that it might increase sexual desire in men while having the opposite effect in women. They rather want to drift off to sleep.

The War on Drugs

In 1971 US President Nixon declared the “War on Drugs” by calling drug abuse “public enemy number one”.
We know that Nixon was a criminal who only avoided jail by being pardoned by his successor. We now also know from one of his criminal underlings John Ehrlichman – a German Jewish name, which funnily enough translates into “honest man” – that this was all another lie. He is quoted as saying :
You want to know what this was really all about?” he asked with the bluntness of a man who, after public disgrace and a stretch in federal prison, had little left to protect. “The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.” (Harper’s Magazine April 2016)

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Is there any scientific justification or reason for the criminalisation of so called illegal  drugs over say alcohol, nicotine or even prescription medicine ? The short answer is NO. It is all hypocrisy, racism, corporate financial interests and/or just stubborn ingrained prejudice and stupidity.
As far as marihuana is concerned there is not one case in recorded human history of someone dying of a dope overdose, which is a daily occurrence with alcohol and many prescription drugs. Long term negative side affects are negligible compared with alcohol and nicotine.
As far as opium is concerned the story is very much the same.
I vividly remember an Australian documentary from the late 80s or early 90s called “The devil you know”, which was buried on TV in the 11:30 pm time slot at night. The booze barons seem to have made made sure of that. It compared alcohol and heroin from three different angles. From the users to the emergency services like police, ambulance, A&E departments in hospitals to the scientist like pharmacologists, pathologist and psychiatrist. They even cut open and compared the brains of alcoholics and decade long heroin addicts. The result from every angle was the same that alcohol is far more damaging than heroin to the users and everyone around them. Alcohol being toxic to every single cell in the body showed the alcoholic’s brain literally rotten to the core while the heroin addict’s brain showed no difference to a normal brain.
Even the bogyman addiction as research now shows has more to do with the social environment than the substance itself.

Politicians with Blood on their Hands

In Middle America alone the number of victims of the war on drugs over the years goes into the hundreds of thousands dead. Anslinger and Nixon who started and ramped up the war on drugs for their own personal benefit have blood on their hands.
And so do our New Zealand politicians who followed the US. They rather listen to their mates in the law enforcement and private prison industries and keep turning a blind eye at the facts.
They do not even show compassion to the terminally ill requesting the only thing, which relieves their suffering. Medical Marijuana is now very much the focus of the debate. It needed celebrities (Martin Crowe, Helen Kelly) and a knight of the realm (Sir Paul Holmes) who used or are using dope in their dying days to put politicians under pressure. Still the government is not (yet) relenting.

It will be interesting to see, which position New Zealand will take at the upcoming UN general assembly meeting on international drug policy.

I have been told the story of an Auckland woman dying of cancer. Her husband resorted to producing his own cannabis oil to help her through the excruciating pain. However at the moment there is a draught of the raw material partly caused by the police joyriding in helicopters and spotter planes to pull out every single plant they can spot from the air. So much more fun than doing actual work like solving burglaries. In desperation the middle class white sister entered a gang headquarter and told her story. The gang members showed what they are made of. They gave her 20 ounces of dope at cost.

The patched bros from a so called “criminal” gang show more compassion than the government.

PS. See also my previous blog  http://zealandiablog.net.nz/war-on-drugs-is-war-on-us/
Sorry for re-telling some of the (hi)-story.

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One picture worth a 1000 words

Recently former first lady Nancy Reagan – the one who introduced astrology into all the important White House decision making – has died. At her funeral this photo was taken :

CdeV41iW0AA5s1O.jpg-smallPresident Bush II & Hillary Clinton

If there was ever a photo, which tells the story of Hillary Clinton better than this I still have to find it.

Here are two people cozying up to each other like an old couple. They of course slept in the same bed or at least bedroom for eight years even if not at the same time. The tenants of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC – known as the White House – are members of the most exclusive club and seem to be closely bonded.
However, we must not forget who this affectionate couple in this lovely embrace are.

Bush

George W Bush junior was the 43rd president of the United States and arguably the most disastrous and incompetent president in modern history. You only have to watch him in a Florida class room on 9/11 after receiving the news that America was under attack. Global Research describes it as follows :

At about 9:06, the president’s chief of staff, Andrew Card, came in and whispered in Bush’s ear, telling him, Card later reported, “A second plane hit the second Tower. America is under attack.”
What Happened Next
Thanks to Michael Moore’s film Fahrenheit 9/11 the world knows what happened next: Bush remained sitting there minute after minute after minute after minute.

What followed later was the invasion of Iraq, which had nothing to do with the attack. That war crime – war of aggression –  was justified by Mr Bush and Blair by lying to their people and the world about non-existent weapons of mass destruction. Over 5000 Americans and hundreds of Brits and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis died. Mr Bush gave us Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo.  As a result the Middle East region turned into a sectarian quagmire and breeding ground for groups like ISIS and international terrorism on a unprecedented scale.

The greatest achievement of George W Bush on who’s watch despite ample warnings 9/11 happened was the incredible spin winning him a second term ‘that he kept America safe’.

One positive sign from the photo is the fact that the recovering alcoholic is holding a cup instead of a glass with something stronger than coffee.

Clinton

Hillary Clinton of course as a senator voted for the Iraq war in 2002. As Secretary of State she bears responsibility for the US war against the old Libyan regime of Muammar Gaddafi. She was in the room when Osama Bin Laden was remotely executed in Pakistan.
This has given her the reputation of a hawk and warmonger in Washington. She seems to be comfortable with that image. To be fair as a women she had to keep up with the boys and not allow herself to be seen as “soft”. She is Machiavellian enough to play the game regardless of the costs in human life and misery.

The Picture

The picture of the Bush/Clinton embrace apart from the common bond of the White House tenancy symbolises much more than a closeness in some of their policies.

This image epitomises what is wrong with the US political system. The deterioration of democracy into a system dominated by political dynasties. As if the world greatest power has little other choice to elect a president from hundreds of millions of people born in the USA other than a Bush or a Clinton. Of course all countries democratic or not have always been run by political elites. However, in the US the presidency has been passed on from Bush father to son with the attempt to pass it to brother definitely not based on merit. In the case of Clinton the presidency can now go from husband to wife definitely not because she is the best among 200 million US born Americans. If that is how the succession of power now works in the USA there seems to be not too much difference to North Korea except that they don’t even bother with the expensive charade of elections.

There is of course a need for elites to run things. Any organisation needs Chiefs as well as Indians. All this is fine as long as the Chiefs act in the interests of their community and the Indians have a chance to become chiefs based on merit. This is also known as the American Dream the not just distant hope but distinct possibility to rise from dishwasher to millionaire through hard work and talent. The problem is that the American Dream has over the last 35 years of neoliberal capitalism all but evaporated. The lower and middle classes have gone backwards and the rich-poor-gap has grown exponentially. The elites have over the years become the establishment not acting in the interests of the community but for their own self-preservation. They have been waging a class war against the majority i.e. the working people.

And the majority knows it. After “Occupy Wall Street” and “We are the 99%” they have found their voice in the 2016 election cycle or rather voices on both sides of the political spectrum in Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump.

In contrast to Clinton both have made the core issues of the class war of the rich against the poor central to their campaigns. These are the influence of Wall Street and corporate money in politics. Sanders does not accept corporate money while Trump boast with his personal wealth thus making him independent from corporate influence. Both oppose the neoliberal trade deals like the TPPA, which are detrimental to jobs and the working classes. Both talk about the most expensive health system in the world where big pharmaceutical corporations enrich themselves at the expense of the most vulnerable patients. And they even want to take on the industrial military complex, which sells crab planes (and other weapon systems) to the government for inflated prices.
These are the things the establishment does not want to hear and the corporate media hardly report.

Of course Sanders and Trump are totally different personalities. One is a decent person who held the same lifelong political believes, which finally are gaining traction and becoming mainstream. The other is a narcissistic buffoon who as a skilled demagogue has learned to tell his angry supporters what they want to hear.
However, they have one thing in common. They are challenging the elites and are rightly seen as the anti-establishment candidates. And they seem to be the only men standing in the way of the self declared proud Goldwater girl Hillary Clinton who is the ultimate  personification of the establishment elite. 

Last year we have seen the election of anti-establishment candidate Jeremy Corbyn as UK Labour Party leader. The grass root membership rose up against the party elite.
Signs are that 2016 might be the year the US electorate rises up against their elites in what Bernie Sanders calls the Revolution. However, he now seems to be unlikely to stop Hillary Clinton as it appears the Democratic Party elite has a much firmer grip on their nomination.

That leaves Donald Trump as the last hope of breaking the picture perfect cozy embrace and stopping the establishment elite of winning. Again.

Not a nice prospect.

And here for the New Zealand connection : If it stops the toxic Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) Trump might as well be worth it.

 

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US Elections : Reality TV with Consequences

Consequences for New Zealand

Even as far removed as we possibly can get from the US election circus we cannot avoid watching it. It is on our TV, radio and in the newspapers. Lets asses if the media got it right force feeding us the US election coverage and if indeed we should care. What difference could the result possibly make for little New Zealand down at the bottom of the earth ?  The answer is actually quite a lot.
Like I pointed out in my previous blog about the vacancy on the US Supreme Court what happens in US politics affects us all. Let me give you just two very important examples.

Climate Change 
If the US for instance elect the conservative religious fanatic Ted Cruz as president we are doomed. He like many others on the religious right seems to believe that global warming and sea level rises must be a hoax because in the Bible God promised Noah after the big flood not to do it again. And this guy from Texas who apparently is hated by all his colleagues in the Senate is at this point the most likeliest candidate with a remote chance to stop Trump from getting the Republican nomination.

If our National government after the recent Paris climate summit declared business as usual trying to buy ourselves out of the crisis with bogus carbon credits mostly from the Ukraine and Russia it does not matter much on a global scale. If however the US as the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases would do the same the consequences for the planet, little New Zealand included, would be very grave indeed.

Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA)
Presently at the so called TPP “road show” we are all told a lot of spin and lies by the government. The fact remains that this agreement was drafted by big international corporations like Hollywood, Pharma and Agribusiness. It was over years negotiated in secret with no other stakeholders around the table. It has nothing to do with “free” trade.  It is instead the corporate takeover of sovereign states where so called democratically elected governments surrender democracy to international corporate interests.

Our government is obviously too weak to withstand corporate pressure or can even be seen as a lackey of big corporations. Remember the by lunchtime labour law change on behest of Hollywood and (Sir) Peter Jackson. Our best hope is that the TPP will be stopped in the US. It has already become a major election issue.

Election as Reality TV Show

The dominant candidate is Donald Trump.

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He is described as a narcissist with a hyper inflated ego, a phoney, a conman who takes the American people for suckers. Even if all these characteristics are true nothing seems to put a dent in his popularity with a large number of (Republican) voters. He himself says that he could go out on New Yorks’s 5th Avenue and shoot somebody without loosing a single vote. His headline grabbing policies – if there are policies in the Republican primaries – are loopy. He is promising to build a wall between the US and Mexico, which gets higher by the day to be paid for by Mexico, deport 10 to 20 million undocumented Latinos and ban all of the more than a billion Muslims in the world from the US. He is a self declared billionaire property tycoon, who inflates his wealth as much as his ego. But most of all he is a reality TV star and not a politician. This is his greatest strength.

The campaign circus has deteriorated accordingly. The rulebook for political discourse has been thrown out and the low point still has to be found. In a recent Republican primary debate headlined by the Huffington Post as the “Cock Fight” the all male panel even discussed the size of their private parts.

Trump, underestimated and ridiculed, leads the Republican field by a country mile. How does he do it ?
He is the outstanding TV performer telling people simple messages they want to hear. He is blaming others i.e. the various minorities for their plight. It always feels good if you are kicked by by your employer, your insurance company, the health system, any government department and your wife/husband to still have somebody other than the dog to kick. But his racist xenophobic rants are only the headline grabbers.

As observed by Thomas Frank in the Guardian

“Trump spends a good part of his time talking about an entirely legitimate issue, one that could even be called left-wing. He talks about trade. It seems to obsess him: the destructive free-trade deals our leaders have made, the many companies that have moved their production facilities to other lands, the phone calls he will make to those companies’ CEOs in order to threaten them with steep tariffs unless they move back to the US.
Trump embellishes this vision with another favourite left-wing idea: under his leadership, the government would “start competitive bidding in the drug industry.” (“We don’t competitively bid!” he marvels – another true fact, a legendary boondoggle brought to you by the George W Bush administration.) Trump extends the critique to the military-industrial complex, describing how the government is forced to buy lousy but expensive airplanes thanks to the power of industry lobbyists.
Thus did he hint at his curious selling proposition: because he is personally so wealthy, a fact about which he loves to boast, Trump himself is unaffected by business lobbyists and donations.
Trade is an issue that polarizes Americans by socio-economic status. To the professional class, which encompasses the vast majority of our media figures, economists, Washington officials and Democratic power brokers, what they call “free trade” is something so obviously good and noble it doesn’t require explanation or inquiry or even thought. Republican and Democratic leaders alike agree on this, and no amount of facts can move them from their Econ 101 dream.
To the remaining 80 or 90% of America, trade means something very different. There is a video of a company moving its jobs to Mexico, courtesy of Nafta. This is what it looks like. The executive talks in that familiar and highly professional HR language about the need to “stay competitive” and “the extremely price-sensitive marketplace.” A worker shouts “Fuck you!”
Trump’s words articulate the populist backlash against liberalism that has been building slowly for decades.

Yet still we cannot admit that neo-liberals “bear the blame for the frustration of the working-class millions, for their blighted cities and their downward spiralling lives. So much easier to scold them for their twisted racist souls, to close our eyes to the obvious reality of which Trump is just a crude and ugly expression:
that neoliberalism has well and truly failed.”

Trump vs Clinton

On the democratic side the frontrunner is still Hillary Clinton struggling along against Bernie Sanders who also holds strong anti-neoliberal views calling himself a democratic socialist. He also taps into the widespread frustration of the 99% working and middle class voters.
Clinton on the other hand, being in the pockets of Wall Street epitomises the ruling neoliberal Washington powerbroker elite. If it came to a showdown between outsider Trump and insider Clinton I would not be surprised if many Sanders supporters would hold their noses and vote for the lesser evil Donald Trump.

When I started this blog I never expected to write the last sentence. However, if we can’t get Sanders to beat him we might have to get used to Trump for the greater good to start putting an end to neoliberalism.

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