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.

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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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US Supreme Court Justice Scalia’s Valentine’s Gift

Is it a gift to New Zealand ?

If we like it or not the US Supreme Court matters to us in New Zealand as much as the rest of the “Western” world. We just signed the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA). If it gets ratified – which is doubtful in the US – we will get even more immeshed in the US legal, commercial and political system. We ignore it at our peril. Think of patents, copyright, civil liberties, spying on our own citizens, climate change, democracy, you name it. Think of the appointment of George W Bush as president over Al Gore and the resulting disastrous wars in the Middle East. All are greatly influenced or direct results of decisions of the US Supreme Court.

Scalia the Man

US Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia gave the world a parting gift or rather the gift of parting. He suddenly died on Valentine’s day (New Zealand time).

By all accounts he was an affable witty man with a big loving family and many friends who will be deeply mourning his passing. The last thing anyone would want to do is to further hurt the feelings of all those who suffered a great personal loss.

Scalia’s Supreme Court

The justices of the U.S. Supreme Court gather for a group portrait in the East Conference Room at the Supreme Court Building in Washington, October 8, 2010. Seated from left to right in front row are: Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, and Chief Justice John G. Roberts. Standing from left to right are: Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor and Associate Justice Stephen Breyer. REUTERS/Larry Downing (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS CRIME LAW) - RTXT71C

US Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia

However, from afar I can only deal with Scalia the Justice of the US Supreme Court.
He was supposedly the “intellectual” leader of the conservative 5:4 majority. He was the most radical right wing conservative Justice of the court who shaped the judicial landscape of a generation. By opposing any gun control he gave Americans the guns to kill each other in mind blowing numbers. As a staunch supporter of the death penalty he gave America the judicial killings, which affect mostly black Americans and other minorities and inevitably a certain percentage (some estimates say 5%) of innocent people on death row. Life was not sacred to him other than that of a foetus in the womb of any woman including rape and incest victims. He (in Citizens United) gave American corporations human rights specifically the right of free speech. This allows them to spend unlimited amounts of their shareholders’ money – if they like it or not – on political causes, funding political parties and buying political and judicial candidates. He thereby undermined the very democracy America pretends to be so proud of, which should be based on humans being citizens and voters and on the principle of “one man one vote”. Corporations after all don’t vote.
And he gave the world US President George W. Bush – not elected democratically but appointed by the Supreme Court.

Scalia was praised by his supporters for his great constitutional legal mind. If he was indeed the greatest legal mind on the conservative side of the bench what does that say about the rest of the justices ? He in support of the right of free speech for corporations for instance resorted to the distinction between free speaker and free speech in the constitution. You really have to wonder that this sort of meaningless sophistry is deployed to undermine the American democracy.
Scalia was generally known as interpreting the constitution literally and trying to base it on the thinking of the founding fathers almost 250 years ago. As a legal scholar I regard that as plainly ridiculous.

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Republican Supreme Court

The US Republican Party has owned the Supreme Court since the demented days of Ronald Reagan. And they are saying as much. President Bush senior called the appointment of Justice Scalia the greatest legacy Reagan left America. Republican presidential hopeful and Texas Senator Ted Cruz called for the blocking of any Obama nominee for the Supreme Court saying that the Republicans in the Senate should not allow Obama to take the Supreme Court away from them. And he is right. The stakes could not be higher.

It is worth remembering the US constitutional situation in the case of a vacancy on the Supreme Court. The president alone has the right and duty to nominate a replacement who then needs to be confirmed by the US Senate. Neither can just sit on their hands and do nothing. The present Supreme Court is now balanced with four conservative and four liberal leaning justices. There is no casting vote but deadlock if a new justice is not appointed.

Obama has already appointed two Supreme Court Justices without any fuzz as he was only replacing liberal leaning justices and therefore not changing the power balance of the court. This time it is different and the Republicans know it. They and their corporate backers will do everything in their power by kook or by crook to prevent loosing their grip on the court, which has in the past enabled their neoliberal agenda in many crucial 5:4 decisions. They already openly announced that they will not play by the rules of the constitution.

Crucial Timing

Scalia’s death is a gift in two ways.

During a democratic presidency it presents a chance to change the balance of power on the court from conservative, neoliberal pro-corporation and anti abortion to liberal, pro-citizens and women’s rights.

During an election year it presents a chance to draw the attention of the American people and voters to the corruption of the whole system of government in the US. They will plainly see over the campaign period that the Supreme Court is not about the rule of law but corporate interests. And these corporate interests, which are already pouring billions of dollars into the 2016 US presidential and congressional election campaigns have now all the more reason to pull out all the stops. After all the replacement of a Supreme Court  Justice with a lifetime tenure is more important than even the presidency. We can expect it to get very ugly indeed. We already saw the beginning of it at the last Republican debate when the corpse was not even cold.

On the other hand Scalia’s timing presents a unique opportunity for the American voter to actually directly influence the future direction of their Supreme Court.
Will they accept their Valentine’s gift and make the best out of it ?
Will the corporations and their billionaire owners win, again ?
Or will the people, the 99.9%, prevail ?
We’ll know in November.

 

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Waitangi Week with a Happy Ending

Lets not get into the annual Waitangi Day racist redneck rants of the uneducated idiots populating our media. They are just a sad indictment of their barren minds and of their media handlers’ desire to find an ever lower common denominator for the listening and watching public.

Provocation backfired

The serious business of the week was conducted on Thursday with the signing of the highly controversial Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA).
Instead of choosing an iconic beautiful New Zealand setting like Millbrook Resort near Queenstown away from the angry protesters the government opted for maximum provocation with the in the middle of Auckland venue of the seedy Sky City Casino. This casino was one prime example of government corruption cited by an overseas monitoring organisation Transparency International for New Zealand slipping down the corruption ranking.
The government pollsters and spin doctors had told the Prime Minister that nothing would be more effective to detract our minds from the toxic substance of the TPPA and even turn it into support than coverage of ugly and violent protests and hundreds of people arrested.

However, the provocation backfired.

tpp-protest-auckland-1

Not only did the number of protesters by far exceed expectations but they came from all “walks of life” and were good natured and peaceful. Even the police, which in recent times have become a more politicised instrument of the government refused to play ball. After initially intimidating activists by knocking on their doors in the lead-up the police overwhelmed by the sheer numbers and clever peaceful tactics of the protesters did not make one single arrest.

The mainstream media – briefed to drive the neoliberal corporate agenda – were deprived of images of violence and turned instead to show clips of some inarticulate young Maori men who couldn’t quite tell why they were protesting and what was wrong with the signing of the TPPA. If anyone would have asked the same questions of the media on the ground most would have been more articulate but looked even more stupid if confronted with the facts than their interviewees having fun. And don’t get me started on the talk-back radio hosts and callers. You couldn’t get a more opinionated and less informed group of people if you tried.
As the media didn’t have any horror story to tell they made it up. The state broadcaster TVNZ in the prime time news hour reported that the two Labour Party dissenters and TPPA supporters had received death threats. On the late night news when nobody was watching they retracted that story and apologised. Damage done.

Cry-Baby Key

Prime Minister John Key was now desperate to get out of his commitment to attend our national day’s celebrations at the birthplace of our nation in Waitangi. He was scared of more protest as it is tradition on Waitangi Day and his pollsters had told him that his racist redneck constituency was rather in favour of not attending. He tried to cleverly exploit the diversity of opinion within the host tribe about where he was to speak to fabricate an excuse to break his long term commitment.
Former Maori MP and still activist Hone Harawira was spot on calling for the Prime Minister to stop being a cry-baby.
However, John Key again achieved one of his main goals to distract us, the New Zealand public and potential voters, from the real issue, which is the toxic content of the TPPA.

Instead we were treated to the image of a dildo flying across the face of senior government minister Steven Joyce at Waitangi free of charge i.e. the female protester was not charged by the police.

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To add to the hilarity pony-tail pulling hypocrite John Key called it a bad look for New Zealand. No wonder that John Oliver’s “John Key the Ponytail Puller” clip appeared again on my Facebook page.

It looked all up from here starting with some good intelligent conversation with open minded people on Friday night’s jour fix at the pub.

Happy Ending on Sunday

On Sunday I enjoyed the sunny weather and open drive into Auckland without traffic jams. With a friend I went for a walk in the Domain to listen to some live music at the rotunda.

Crossing the sports fields we saw a figure almost colour coordinated with the beautiful tree he was shading under. He was sitting in the Lotus position hands open in his lap as if meditating, looking serene. Only when we came closer we saw the smartphone in his hands. Meditation 2016 style.

People had gathered in front of the rotunda having picnic and enjoying the sunny afternoon under the trees. Some were dancing to the music. Then one tall blond women joined in with a huge belly showing that she was close to giving birth. Her partner was careful not to pump into her just from time to time gently holding her hands. Her dance moves were so beautiful and graceful that it was pure joy to watch. As I am of an age where I can safely approach women without getting punched in the head I talked to her when she sat down. I thanked her for dancing and that it was the loveliest thing I had seen for a long time and that I bet that her baby was having the time of it’s life. I hope that I made her day as she did mine.

Later at Orewa beach I had a swim in the surf being pummelled by the breakers. As an immigrant of over 30 years I still pinch myself how lucky I am to live in this blessed country.

On my drying off walk along the beach I watched to my great enjoyment an as feisty as mad little Jack Russel dog chasing along with the kite surfers and charging into the water to catch them. Being an ideal day for kite surfing with many surfers zipping along there was to be one very tired little dog at the end of it.

Today I am wondering if there was a lesson to be learned.
Shouldn’t we all stop chasing red herrings pulled across our noses like flags, dildos and pony tails.
Shouldn’t we instead keep the eye on the ball, which is the neoliberal corporate takeover of New Zealand and the world.

Still that Sunday and Waitangi week for me had a happy ending.

 

 

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Opotiki – New Zealand’s Colonial Past & Present

Summertime in Opotiki

During the summer break we visited Opotiki for just a couple of hours.  The small Eastern Bay of Plenty town made a deep impression on me.

Our friend a local school teacher got his car fixed and we went with him into town not expecting much with the time we had to kill. I was teasing him about Opotiki recently being discovered as the under-age-sex capital of New Zealand. Some overeager righteous parents had complained about some boys over sixteen having sex with girls under sixteen. Oh shock horror ! Poor Opotiki College got into the headlines even if the events had nothing to do with the school other then that some of the youth do or did attend the college. The police would not have (over-) reacted would they not have been under pressure because of a previous mishandling of serious sexual offending against young girls in Auckland, which played out in the social media.

The first thing, which pleased me was the number of little art shops, galleries and the museum I did not expect to find in this poorer part of the country not bristling with tourists. The shops and galleries were full of the works of local artists many of them Maori or in the Maori cultural tradition and design and materials. What a wonderful contrast to the usual op shops full of cheap European nick-nags or made in China rubbish.

Thursday

Walking down the main street I saw a big group of people gathered around  some impressively tattooed men in gang regalia and thought that I’d come across the Mongrel Mob headquarter. Getting closer however, I saw the little historical colonial courthouse and I realised my mistake. As a former lawyer I was interested to see the wheels of justice in motion. I talked to the lovely friendly Maori aunty who’s job it was to call the defendants and usher them into the court room for their appearance before the judge of the day. Taking a seat in the back I noticed that among the about thirty people in the room I was one of only three white faces. All were Maori including the judge.

I watched two cases being dealt with. One a pre-sentencing referral. The judge took great pains to instruct the obviously already convicted defendant in his thirties what he had to do before his next appearance to qualify for home detention. Otherwise the sentencing judge would have no choice but send him to jail. I hope that the man headed the advice as he did not seem to be bothered too much about jail or otherwise giving his supporters in the back a big smile and thumps up as he walked out.
This reminded me of the myth perpetuated by middle class white people calling for more and harsher jail sentences as a deterrent. However, because it would be a deterrent to them does not mean that it is a deterrent to the disadvantaged downtrodden brown offenders as well. Many of them feel at home in prison.

The second case was a traffic offence. The middle aged defendant with a full moko (facial tattoo) was challenging the jurisdiction of what he called this “colonial” court. The judge already had made a determination. It was clear what the outcome would be namely that the district court had jurisdiction in traffic offences even if the offender happened to be Maori. However, because of a clerical error the judge accepted the new submission and would decide on it before the next hearing. The defendant who stood his ground said that the days of martial law were over and he would attend a whanau (family group) meeting and then it would go to some tribal “supreme court” in Tauranga. I must admit that I admired the judge’s patience taking notes for instance of the street address of the supreme court and encouraging the defendant to report the outcome from these what he called “hui” (meetings) to the court. He showed empathy and respect. He did not talk down at the defendant and left his mana (dignity and honour) intact. Even if in the end the outcome will be the same – as I know the argument has been dealt with many times before in New Zealand courts – I was deeply impressed by the dignified way this Maori judge handled the situation. I wonder if a pakeha (European) judge would have done the same.

When I told people of my experience of the Opotiki Mongrel Mob headquarters/court house they all said : Thursday, court day in Opotiki !

Colonial History

About 100 meters across the road stands the well kept colonial Anglican church.

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Part of it’s history is the infamous murder of Anglican missionary Carl Völkner. After a very questionable short “judicial” process Chief Mokomoko among others was hanged for the murder.

“As a result of the murder, the Government sent military troops to Opotiki; the Mokomoko family were reduced to just 30 women and children and 70,000 hectares of land was taken from them. The Mokomoko family have since carried the shame of bringing raupatu (land confiscation) to Opotiki.” (Rotorua Daily Post 2011)
Entering the church you cannot avoid looking at the framed document with the pardon of Mokomoko by the Governor General in 1992. At the back of the church you still find Völkner’s tomb stone where his decapitated corps was buried by the local Maori. His head was never found.
In 2011 further action was taken to rehabilitate Mokomoko.
“In granting the pardon in 1992, the Crown did not consult with the Mokomoko whanau on the wording which implied the pardon was granted because of similar pardons for Mokomoko’s co-accused,” Dr Sharples (Minister of Maori Affairs) said. “And so did not restore the character, mana and reputation of Mokomoko.”
He said, through these actions, the Crown had perpetuated the shame and stigma carried by the whanau of Mokomoko.
“I want to apologise to the whanau and express sincere regret for the way the Crown has acted in the past.”

Result of Colonisation

At the end we went past a group of lovely young late teen Maori girls one of them with a baby in a pram just being able to hold the bottle sucking on the teat. I was aghast to notice the distinct colour of the fizzy drink Fanta the about ten months old baby was drinking. I am sure the young mother wants the best for her baby thinking that a sugary fizzy drink was  better then just water. I was reminded of the anti-obesity campaign featuring Olympic shot put champion Valerie Adams with the catch phrase “Too much Love”.

I could not get that image out of my head especially as I have a grandchild of the same age in my house. I started wondering if this had something to do with what has happened to this community over the period of colonisation. This young mother has lost contact to the the wisdom of her own culture but is not educated enough to be aware of the perils of the Western fizzy drink culture.

Was this the image where colonial past and present came together ?

 

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