USA/facebook conundrum : Nudity and fake news

Nudity not ok

I have been banned from posting on facebook for 24 hours. I re-posted a political cartoon critical of exploitation including sexual exploitation and hypocrisy.

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I self censored the image above so you are not blinded by two cartoon nipples and facebook will allow this blog to be posted. You still might be offended if you fantasise about what you can’t see behind the bar. I bet that your fantasy will be so much more vivid and therefore offensive than the actual hidden detail of the image. As they say ‘radio is better than TV because the pictures are better’.

Just to make sure that the censor at facebook understands the meaning of the objectionable image let me give you my interpretation of what the artist depicted. It shows a privileged white male sitting comfortably being served all sorts of conveniences like lab top computers, smartphones, chocolate, toiletries and even marihuana by crouching poor mostly dark third world figures. The one blond female figure is even exposing her bare breasts. All this while the privileged white male is ironically wearing a Che Guevara T-shirt.
In one image we get the whole story of exploitation including sexual exploitation and hypocrisy.

The Problems with Censorship

The main problem with censorship has always been with the dirty minds of the censors. To prove this point famous 19th century Austrian satirist Karl Kraus once wrote a little piece where he left spaces blank. The story was designed so that the missing words could either be innocent fitting a harmless storyline or dirty fitting a naughty storyline. The dirty mind of the censor at every turn inevitably supposed the naughty version and the piece was banned even if not one objectionable word was uttered. The satirist had made his point brilliantly.

In the case of the facebook bare breast/nipple policy the question is : What is the reason for the blanket ban ? Is it that the sexual exploitation of women is objectionable ? In this case I would wholeheartedly support the policy and for that very reason I posted the image in the first place.
Or is it that Mark Zuckerberg thinks that nudity per se is objectionable and that the human body is dirty and somehow pornographic ? I do not want to open up the whole breastfeeding debate at this point. However I am reminded of the actor Hugh Laurie on a recent US comedy show. When discussing Donald Trump’s obsession with women’s appearances and walking in on naked beauty contestants his therapy recommendation was breast feeding. It had to be consenting adults, which needed to be emphasised in the case of Trump. And I would wholeheartedly agree with that approach as well.

In any case the image should not have been banned by facebook. If it was for an anti sexual exploitation stance it should have been welcomed. If it would be for an anti nudity stance it should not have been banned as many of the old masters in the great art galleries of the world should not be banned. Instead Mark Zuckerberg and his censors should book some breastfeeding therapy.

Fake News ok

Fake news stories on the internet have become a real problem. Facebook as the main player has come more and more into focus. It is claimed with some good reason that it might have had a decisive influence on this years US elections.

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Even if Mark Zuckerberg dismissed as “pretty crazy” the idea that fake news spread on his site could have affected the presidential election facebook is now taking the issue a bit more seriously. Reputable PewResearch found that 44% of US adults get news from facebook, which is a staggering reach. If you are responsible for the news of so many people you cannot just wash your hands off the problem.

More and more governments around the world are increasingly concerned about the power of social media to control the “news” content. The German government for instance is demanding access to the algorithm behind the “news” selection the users are fed.

Most of the fake news stories are so blatantly false as the one above that any sensible half educated person would check the date of the publication if it was not the 1st of April. Which brings us of course to the level of education of many including Donald Trump who believe things because they have seen it on the internet. As a product of decades of neo-liberal cuts to education they lack the basic knowledge to asses if a news story is even close to the realm of reality.

Word of the year 2016 “Post-truth”

The Oxford Dictionary has named “Post-truth” the word of the year 2016. It could as well be the description of the state of the US society and politics where the term was used to characterise the election campaign. Observers already call the incoming administration the most anti truth – as in science, as in climate change – ever. Up to 40% of US citizens don’t even care about the truth of climate change as they believe that the world is going to end anyway on judgment day in the next 30 to 40 years during their lifetime.

Instead they care about nipples. Remember the infamous wardrobe malfunction during a Super Bowl performance when Janet Jackson’s breast was exposed for about half a second showing her breast covered with a nipple shield. People went bananas and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) tried to impose a record fine of $500,000.- on the broadcaster. A case which got all the way to the Supreme Court.

Please excuse my generalisation. Many friends and family are Americans and I apologise to them. But as this year’s election has proved Americans do not care about the truth while if facebook is anything to go by are being obsessed with female nipples. They just elected the president to suit.

Donald Trump, an unabashed pathological lier with a lifelong obsession with the shape and appearance of women in urgent need of some breast feeding therapy.

 

 

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“Scary Movie 16” – US Election

I am utterly sick of the US election and can’t wait it to be over. It has become so incredibly ugly and the downward spiral seems to have no end. And I am scared. I don’t want to be held “in suspense” any longer.
The choice for the American voter should be easy even if each appears to have a sour taste.
In any case the outcome has grave consequences for everyone connected to this world. Think of gradual devastation by climate change or sudden by (at worst) nuclear war.

Bread and Circuses

For a long time I have seen parallels between our period in history and the end of the Roman Empire. I even encouraged my son to become a professional in the wider entertainment industry to have job prospects for life. The bread and circuses of the Romans were the last device to keep the masses in the crumbling empire docile.
Looking around us today we see the same things happening. Serious discourse about serious issues like the economy, the environment, politics are displaced by entertainment. You only have to look at New Zealand’s two main TV channels where narcissistic ignorant clowns are hosting current affairs programmes. The ratings indicate that the great unwashed crowd is loving it.

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This is the result of a deliberate policy by neoliberal elites. In the US and other countries following the neoliberal doctrine like New Zealand the public education system has been gradually defunded. Underpaid teachers are under constant attack not the least as they are still unionised. The result is a lesser and lesser educated citizenry, that for instance does not know history and therefore does not understand the context of the problems facing us.
Another example of our neo-liberal government dumbing down public discourse was the scrapping of the state broadcaster’s charter as one of it’s first acts after coming to power. The public broadcaster was turned fully commercial with no more obligation to true in depth journalism and informing the public.
The ultimate result of creating an uneducated ignorant citizenry can be observed by the regression of US presidents from Reagan to Bush junior to now Trump. The trajectory points even lower.

While we are distracted by the media and other circuses the serious problems are festering on.

Climate Change

To start with the big one with the most serious consequence for us all. A Trump presidency would set back the global effort by years. This is of the gravest concern as time is of the essence. Other more localised environmental issues fair no better.
Again the widely uneducated uninformed masses don’t seem to care. How else can a climate change denier who threatens to rip up all the international climate treaties come close to winning the US presidency? And again the media are not doing their job to thoroughly research and report on the issue affecting all of us.

World Economy

The burning economic and political problem of neo-liberalism is never mentioned by name during the campaign. However one of the leading candidates, Bernie Sanders, with his policies on closing the growing rich-poor gap, free public education and globalisation raised awareness and shifted the positions of the finalists.
Like on climate change there seems to be a stark choice on globalisation between the candidates. The outcome will affect all trading nations.

War and international Conflicts

It seems that Hillary Clinton poses a greater risk to world peace than her counterpart. This is explainable by the fact that as a woman in a men’s world she cannot possibly be seen as weak. From her record she rather seeks confrontation than walk away from a dangerous situation.
We have seen 25 years of US led Western aggression against Russia. After the end of the Soviet Union and their dream of world revolution there was hope for co-operation and a so called ‘peace dividend’. We meant to save on military spending as the “communist threat” had disappeared. However the Western military/industrial complex or arms industry did not want a bar of it. Against all promises made when Gorbatsjov allowed German re-unification Nato expanded eastward right to the Russian border. New weapon systems directed at Russia were deployed. Former Soviet republics were enticed to join or align with anti Russian alliances. And right now we are in the midst of an anti Russian/Putin propaganda war.

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In Georgia and Ukraine where Russia was defending it’s self-interest direct confrontation between the two nuclear superpowers was avoided. Now in the Syrian war where both US and Russian airforces are operating on opposite sites there is a risk of direct confrontation and military exchange. Even more so as Clinton threatens to impose a no-fly zone.
The threat of a nuclear war is real. Remember at the last direct confrontation during the Cuban missile crisis only the cool heads in Moscow saved us from nuclear armageddon.

Candidate Trump’s approach to international security seems be more isolationist more like the Mafia business model. If you want protection you have to pay for it. Otherwise the US are not interested.

US government & political System

For a very long time the US political system has moved away from a democracy. As former US president Jimmy Carter noted ‘The U.S. Isn’t A Democracy, It’s An Oligarchy’.

Former President Jimmy Carter speaks during a forum at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston, Thursday, Nov. 20, 2014. Among other topics, Carter discussed his new book, "A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence, and Power." (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

Former President Jimmy Carter

A system that declares corporations to be persons to be allowed to influence the political process when they are not allowed to vote is deeply flawed.
One candidate claims that the elections are rigged and he is correct on so many levels from  election finance to voter suppression in many federal states to blatant gerrymandering. All of which generally favour the Republicans.

The US neo-liberal political system is broken, not fit for purpose, kaputt. Against all evidence to the contrary it relies on the fiction that there is an informed rational electorate able to make decisions in their interest. I have been saying all along that not Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton are the problem but the American electorate, which in great part has gone crazy with justified anger. Filmmaker Michael Moore in TrumpLand (last night on TV One) explains it well. Democracy cannot work if you use you vote as an “anger management tool”. 

We should not even be talking about Trump in political terms but instead in medical terms like in Narcissism named after the Greek mythological figure Narcissus.
Imagine the day after the election a crazed candidate unable to accept that he lost is arrested running down New Yorks’s 5th Avenue trying to shoot someone to prove his prediction that he will not lose even one vote by shooting someone in broad daylight. Then the term “Trumpism” will be coined for people suffering from the mental disorder that they are “winners” who cannot ever accept losing. Think of Monty Python’s Black Knight.

Imagine the very real prospect of a man in the oval office influencing the world economy and climate  with his finger on the nuclear button  who is not able to believe that he could ever lose.
We must be in “Scary Movie 16”.

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Being British

English – German Friendship

We recently went on a trip back to Europe and my old “Fatherland” Germany.

First we stayed with very good old friends in Düsseldorf. The main topic of political conversation besides the refugee crisis in Europe and especially in Germany was the Brexit. My friend, an ex high-school English teacher, heads the English-German friendship society in this biggest federal state in Germany. Her feelings about the Brexit can best be described as sadness and disbelief.
What so many Germans had worked for after WWII, a united and peaceful Europe, and what Europe got the Nobel Peace Price for only a few years back was discarded by the British voter. In WWI the worst the German propaganda could come up with was calling the English a nation of petty little shopkeepers. And the shopkeepers might even be right that the Brexit might not lead to an economic disaster and some might even be financially better off. And Europe is definitely imperfect and a work in progress. What I however fear for is the idea of a peaceful Europe with open borders. The British gave this a serious blow.

One really has to wonder if this wasn’t the intention of the British all along. The English “Yes Minister” TV series  already suspected it a long time ago with it’s sketch “Why Britain joined the European Union“.

One good reason for Brexit

I follow politics not only in New Zealand but Britain, the USA, Germany and the wider world. We all deal with more or less the same issues and problems. I was very interested in the Brexit debate and had thought that I heard all the arguments. The more surprised I was to hear one single coherent argument for Brexit I hadn’t come across before. We were on the train from Düsseldorf to Berlin in a very lively conversation with a young German woman who spoke excellent English when a man from across the aisle joined in. I could hear that he was English and he told us that he had lived and worked in Germany for quite some time. When I asked him about Brexit I was surprised to hear that he had actually voted for it. And he gave me his reason I could not argue with.
He said that the British politicians and bureaucracy had been bad, inefficient and rotten for a very long time. They had got away with it by always blaming everything going wrong on Bruxelles. So he voted for Brexit to finally take that excuse away. So the British politicians have to take responsibility and be accountable for their own actions.

Anglo-German Club

One beautiful old institution in anglophile Hamburg is it’s iconic Anglo-German Club.

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It is a traditional English club, where the (male) club members rule and ladies are admitted into the club rooms only in the evenings. However since I last visited over three years ago a minor revolution has happened. Members don’t have to wear a tie any longer and ladies are allowed on to the beautiful terrace during the day.
A very good friend had suggested and arranged the club as a venue for a dinner party celebrating a significant birthday. We had an appointment during lunchtime to organise the event. It was one of this year’s hot September days with the temperature at 30 degrees. I was just wearing a kaki safari shirt. A (female) friend was already waiting for us on the terrace. The lady at the reception insisted that I took a jacket she offered, which I did not even have to wear but just put over the chair next to me. There is obviously still a jacket rule, which in true British constitutional tradition on hot summer days is stretched to suit. One might call it ridiculous or charming depending on one’s point of view.

In the event I greeted the – I’m sure mostly republican – guests who were hopefully a little impressed by the various prominent pictures of our majesty and ended with the traditional toast to THE QUEEN. They all joined in in good humour. My wife as a rational person not being able to defend the monarchy found it a bit ridiculous. I told her that I was happy for her to start the revolution. She as a natural born New Zealander had never unlike myself actually sworn an oath of allegiance to our Queen and her heirs.

Being British in the (ex) Colonies

On our way back we stayed for three days in Hong Kong a place I never had visited before.
We had the good fortune to meet with an expat New Zealand friend who has lived there for over 15 years and is now married to a very cosmopolitan professional Hong Kong Chinese lady. They invited us into their home and were able to give us some of the information and history your normal tourist does not get.
It was the weekend of China’s national day celebrated with big fireworks over Victoria Harbour just outside our hotel window. Our hosts told us that only about half the Hong Kong Chinese found the mainland Chinese national day remembering Mao coming to power a cause to celebrate. Even after almost twenty years since Hong Kong returned to China still a special territory under special rules many don’t feel very close to their mainland ‘communist’ brethren. This was confirmed in conversations with some of the hotel staff asking them if they watched the fireworks. Their reply was that they saw it only because they were working that night but otherwise didn’t celebrate ‘their’ national day.
Another interesting piece of information was about all the amazing infrastructure. The new airport, wonderful bridges and tunnels and the train system. We were told that these were the legacy of the colonial rule. The British had obviously decided that before they left they would empty the coffers and spend all the money on these big projects to leave the treasury bare for when the Chinese took over.

When we left for home we had a not unusual little hiccup at the security check-in. Even if we had come via Hong Kong before this time nail scissors and a metal toothpick out of my vanity bag were deemed unsafe and were to be confiscated. However a friendly security officer pointed to the rules and suggested, as we still had time, to check the items in as luggage and got me back quickly to the airline counter.

p1030416Even if I thought this to be ridiculous coming back through security I thanked him for his friendly assistance . His reply was that he was British.
He could have fooled me looking exactly like any other person of (Hong Kong) Chinese ethnicity.

All these different experiences leave me puzzled about what it means Being British.

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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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