From Greece to Germany. When will we focus on the elephant in the room ?

We are living in interesting times. The last few weeks were especially fascinating to watch. We are witnessing history in the making

First all eyes were on Greece. The narrative was all about the Greeks bringing their dire plight all upon themselves. They – we were told rightly or wrongly – are lazy and receive their pensions at 55 but refuse to pay taxes for their European first world education, health and social systems. All this being paid for by cheap loans from their European partners without any possibility to ever pay them back.
The culprit and disease were identified. The bitter pill austerity was administered over the last few years. Unfortunately the problem was not solved but made worse. The economy contracted by 25%. Unemployment especially for the young skyrocketed. Many were forced to leave their homeland to seek a future abroad. Many desperate victims of the situation killed themselves. Others died preventable death because of the collapsing health service. Even the IMF had to admit that their policies had made the situation worse not better.

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Blunder: The IMF has admitted mishandling the Greek debt crisis, leading to violent anti-austerity protests like this demonstration in Athens last November

Then just a couple of weeks ago the focus began to shift. The EU leaders went into one of their usual crisis- stop the clock at midnight- deadline- meetings to sort out Greece. Even if the Germans were not the only hardliners in the Euro zone it became very clear that chancellor Angela Merkel and finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble were leading the charge.
What the Greeks had not been able to do before by shining the torch on Nazi Germany’s occupation and atrocities in Greece during WWII and the fact the Greece was among the nations giving Germany debt relief in 1953

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the Germans with brutal efficiency managed over night. The focus shifted to Germany.

The New York Times under the headline “Germany Risks Its Reputation With Idea of Greece Exiting Eurozone” reported:
One could argue, as many have, about the correctness of the German prescription of austerity in a time of recession. But the brutality of the negotiations over Greece in Brussels has damaged Germany’s reputation inside the European Union, said François Heisbourg, a French analyst.
“I think the Germans have crossed a line,” he said, “and it will be very difficult for them to walk it back.”
Jürgen Habermas, a pro-European German intellectual, said that Ms. Merkel and her coalition government, including the center-left Social Democratic Party, “have gambled away in one night all the political capital that a better Germany had accumulated in half a century.

And it came thick and fast. In the UK Guardian under the headline “The euro ‘family’ has shown it is capable of real cruelty” we could read “This “bailout”, which will be sold as being a cruel-to-be-kind deal is nothing of the sort. It is simply being cruel to be cruel.”
The Huffington Post headline “Deutschland Deathgrip” lead to a Washington Post article with the following image:

Angela-Lecter
Even the German News Magazine Spiegel Online called the terms imposed on Greece “The Catalogue of Cruelty”.

And the Germans don’t understand what hit them. They feel the misunderstood victims. Everyone especially the English speaking world is picking on them. And they don’t like to be reminded of the past if it doesn’t fit their picture. With the European Union project the Germans are led to believe that they are just the paymasters for other mostly southern European countries’ frivolities. That they as the biggest economic power are also the greatest beneficiaries from the market of 500 million people is often forgotten. They just visit Spain and see a perfect roading infrastructure. They visit Lecce a beautiful restored Baroque town in Southern Italy. And they see the signs “Financed with the help of the EU” and feel that they personally paid for it.
If you remind them of the debt conference in London 1953, which made the German “Wirtschaftswunder” (economic miracle) possible they either weren’t told or don’t want to know. Unlike the earlier Holocaust they accepted as drummed into them and accordingly still slip Israel little presents like nuclear capable submarines no mercy is shown to Greece, which years later had forgiven Germany’s debt.

Another problem is that many if not a majority of Germans see the problem in a moral dimension. It has something to do with the fact that the German language has the same word for debt and guilt. Debt has to be paid. Otherwise rules would be broken, which is another anathema to most Germans. Again conveniently forgetting that Germany also broke European rules even if not with the disastrous consequences as Greece.

It was interesting for me that some of my ex-German friends here even after more than 30 years in New Zealand were feeling the same as some friends in Germany. One wrote that Greece needs a Hercules to clean out the pigsty. Germany should be thanked for showing the wayward child the right (German) way of order and paying taxes.

Economic historian Jacob Soll a few weeks ago attended a conference on Greek sovereign debt in Munich. He describes his experience in the New York Times. After long scholarly discussions the mood changed.
When the German economists spoke at the final session, a completely different tone took over the room. Within the economic theories and numbers came a moral message: The Germans were honest dupes and the Greeks corrupt, unreliable and incompetent. Both parties were reduced to caricatures of themselves. We’ve heard this story throughout the negotiations, but in that room, it was clear how much resentment shapes the views of German economists.
When I noted that no matter how badly the Greeks had handled their economy, German demands and the possible chaos of a Grexit risked political populism, unrest and social misery, they were unmoved. Debtors who default, they explained, would simply have to suffer, no matter how rough and even unfair the terms of the loans. There were those who handled their economies well, and took their suffering silently, like Finland and Latvia, they said. In contrast, a country like Greece, where many people don’t pay their taxes, did not seem to merit empathy.

And here we come to the crux of the matter. The issue is not about lazy Greeks and angry Germans. It is not even about design faults of the Euro or the European Union. All these are sideshows. Nobody talks about the elephant in the room.

The elephant is the neoliberal capitalist system dominated by the finance industry. A system, which is built on debt. Private banks legally print money out of thin air to lend to governments for the taxpayer to pay interest. A system, which needs ever increasing debt to “grow” the economy, which in reality means grow the interest burden on the rest of us for the benefit of the private banks. A system, which inherently staggers from crisis to crisis. An economic dogma, which does not allow for empathy with the suffering of real people. Money over people. A dogma, which hates democracy. Remember the outrage of the European power brokers and international institutions, when Greece dared to have a referendum on austerity.

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The good thing is that the Greek suffering and struggle is becoming more and more visible beamed into our living rooms for everybody to see. I watched recent German TV reports from Greece. It reminds me of the Vietnam war. There TV footage of the reality of that war were broadcast into US living rooms and brought an end to it. The people couldn’t stomach it anymore.

I am not to hopeful that “The end of capitalism has begun” as the headline of a recent article in the UK Guardian suggests.

However looking at the misery not only in Greece but all around us even in little New Zealand I am hopeful that we at last will start to focus on the elephant in the room.

 

PS: Recommended reading my previous blog about the Greek tragedy http://zealandiablog.net.nz/greek-tragedy-dont-piss-off-the-gods/

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Racism in Real Estate ?

First the facts :

1.     The Auckland housing market has gone crazy over the last few years making it all but impossible for first home buyers on average incomes to buy a house. The situation has become so bad that a piece by Peter Calder in yesterday’s NZ Herald was titled “House rage – we’re right to be angry“.

2.     As a result of the neoliberal reforms of the 1980-ies and 90-ies New Zealand has one of the most open (to foreign investors) real estate markets among civilised countries. Our government unlike overseas jurisdictions has steadfastly refused to gather specific data on overseas investors in the overheated Auckland housing market. As a result anybody interested in property in Auckland is making up his own mind from observations at auctions and other anecdotal evidence of what the reasons for the price explosion are.

3.     The Auckland housing crisis has become a major problem for the government. They are blaming everything and everybody else but themselves for the problem like their favourite for all things the Resource Management Act and of course the Auckland Council.

4.     In this situation the recent quarterly sales figures for Auckland residential property were leaked from a major real estate firm. The names of the buyers were correlated with the electoral role and analysed by statisticians. The indisputable result points to one ethnic group buying four times as many houses compared to their representation in the population of Auckland even if the average income of that ethnic group of Auckland residents is well below the overall average.

So far so good. Everyone can draw his own conclusion as the Labour Party did and the NZ Herald running the story, which is that the discrepancy can only be explained by non-resident overseas members of that ethnic group buying residential property in Auckland as investment.

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As I have so far not named the ethnic group nobody will call me racist (yet) for stating the above facts.

What am I going to do if I want to keep it that way ? Call the Chinese our tangata whenua, the ethnic group our own Maori people came from thousands of years ago according to DNA evidence. Winston Peters already years back defended himself this way against the accusations of racism when he pointed at the Chinese immigration, investment or in whatever context ?

winston-peters-at-sir-wilson-whineray-s-funeral-getty-images                                      Is Winston Peters allowed to say “I told you so”?

It was interesting to watch the reaction from certain quarters against Labour alerting us to the above facts. Not surprisingly “Racism” was the battle cry.

Also a lot of little straw-men were built to be beaten down. The fact that you cannot individually be sure that a Chinese sounding surname means Chinese ethnicity, which my wife of pure anglo-saxon-norman heritage can attest too having a Chinese sounding maiden name. Or the fact that Chinese ethnicity does not distinguish between Chinese New Zealanders living here for generations or recent immigrants and residents and overseas Chinese investors. The published data clearly acknowledged that problem without changing its conclusions. So there was nothing really to criticise.

The Racism outcry is nothing but a red herring or as it is often called “the dead cat trick” by its Crosby-Textor practitioners when you pull out a dead cat and put it on the table and everybody forgets the serious subject they were discussing and all are talking about the dead cat.

The serious issues we should keep discussing, of which the Auckland housing market is only a part is the neoliberal dogma of globalisation with its effects on our sovereignty, our economy, our environment and even our education and health services. Look out for the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) currently negotiated in secret ! We should be discussing if our local consumers really want to compete with the prices of the Tokyo fish market for tuna or snapper or with the price for milk and cheese our producers get overseas. Or if our first home buyers in Auckland should compete with mainland Chinese who are looking for a safe haven for their abundant cash some of it even being laundered according to Chinese government concerns.

We also have to look at the usual suspects crying foul in this case “racism” when the failings of this National Party government’s policies to even collect reliable data come under attack.
We have the real estate industry, which of course thrives on the skyrocketing house prices.
We have Chinese community leaders who must by now own the National Party if the donation figures are anything to go by.
And we have the plainly ridiculous like
When asked about non-resident people from China buying houses her, Mr Li criticised New Zealanders’ spending habits.”Why do you spend $100 on beer while you can save it and spend it on your house one day?” Mr Li asked. According to the NZ Herald.
And we have the government and the National Party itself crying “Racism”. The same people who ran a recent election campaign like this :

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Most disappointing is that some members of the “Liberal Intelligentsia” (Chris Trotter) have also fallen for the dead cat and chimed in. Bryce Edwards headlining his latest blog “Labour’s dangerous racial politics ” reporting that some old Labour Party members and staffers have resigned quoting one resignation letter :
In light of Labour’s calculated decision over the weekend to deploy racial profiling as a political tactic, I resign my membership of the party. I am stunned that Labour, as a matter of conscious political strategy, would trawl through a dubiously­ acquired list of property buyers to identify Chinese ­sounding names”. He adds, “I cannot, however, belong to an organization that considers racial profiling fair sport”.

Of course nothing is further from the truth as all the data showed and Labour pointed out was the huge discrepancy between the number of Chinese New Zealanders and residents in Auckland and house purchases. This leaves the most obvious conclusion that these houses are bought by overseas based (Chinese) investors/speculators. This is much needed information the government and the real estate industry do not want us to have.

The emphasis is on overseas investors/speculators who could come from any country. Russian oligarchs laundering their money would get the same attention if we had the numbers to prove that they might be distorting the Auckland housing market.

Chris Trotter in his blog on the subject “Perilous Whites: Labour, China and the Liberal Intelligentsia” writes :
If racism is at work in this matter, then it is not in the Labour Party. No, the racism at work here is born of the towering arrogance and ignorance of the Liberal Intelligentsia itself.

All this does not mean that there is no racism in New Zealand directed against the Chinese and any other ethnic minority even our own. Comedian Raybon Kan who also wrote an excellent piece used to make jokes out of it “You are Chinese wearing glasses, you must be good at math.” However this deserves another blog.

To answer the question if there is racism in real estate I would say yes if I heard from one vendor who wouldn’t accept an extra $100,000.- over the value of his house because the buyer is Chinese. Please let us all know if you find one !

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David Attenborough: Don’t mention Climate Change

Like most I have been a admirer of David Attenborough ever since I first got to watch the BBC Our World series with my children who were as mesmerised as I to see the wonders of nature in our living room.

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You can imagine my excitement when TV One advertised the prime time screening of President Obama interviewing Attenborough on his 89th birthday in the White House, which was billed as “Barack Obama interviews David Attenborough on climate change …”

Just before the broadcast I rang a good friend of mine and environmental lawyer to alert him not to miss the programme. To my surprise he was a little bit dismissive saying that Attenborough doesn’t mention climate change. I could not believe this even if I didn’t immediately remember the BBC documentary “The Truth about Climate Change“. I had read an interview in the UK Independent titled “David Attenborough: Leaders are in denial about climate change where Attenborough said about the upcoming climate conference in Paris :
Never in the history of humanity in the last 10 million years have all human beings got together to face one danger that threatens us – never.”

Minutes later the “Obama interviews Attenborough” programme started and my wife and I were interested to see if our friend was right that Attenborough doesn’t mention climate change at least not in a BBC production.

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Towards the end we were on edge as even if the subject was Climate Change Attenborough did not utter the words. It became almost painful to watch how he avoided the words. For instance when asked about changes to the Great Barrier Reef in the 60 years since he dived there first going back in a submersible recently he talked about acidification and warming of the ocean.

I couldn’t believe it and went back to again watch the interview on Youtube and counted how often climate change was mentioned. The voice over mentioned climate change and global warming. Obama said the words “Climate Change” five times and Attenborough not once over the 34 minute programme.

Which brings us to the question: Why ?
Why did Attenborough not utter the words “Climate Change” on that programme”? What is a possible or likely explanation ?

I am not a conspiracy theorist. I am old enough to have seen most of my assertions of what some might have considered as conspiracy theories at the time being proved correct and true over the last 50 years. Why did the world’s most prominent environmentalist not speak the words “Climate Change” when with Obama ?

For me it looks like either deliberate clever editing or an obligation on the BBC’s  greatest star, who’s voice alone is worth millions of Pounds, on this occasion not to say the words “Climate Change”.

We know that the BBC is under increasing pressure from the Tory government. Probably most of their corporate backers don’t like to be reminded of what they are doing not to the planet but the human race.
Lets face it planet Earth couldn’t care less if the temperature on her surface rises by two, five or ten degrees. She will still be circling the Sun in another billion years when we humans – like some parasites on her skin – are long gone.

Nobody else might have noticed this conundrum and we wouldn’t have either if not alerted to look out for the words. We were left with suspicion.

However we hope that it isn’t true that David Attenborough is not allowed to mention Climate Change on BBC !

 


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Yanis Varoufakis – What a man !

Since my last post the Greek tragedy has entered its next act.
The referendum produced a surprisingly clear result on the bailout terms :
NO  –  61%
Yes  – 39%
As the play will have a few more acts to go and the tragic (or happy) ending is not decided yet I did not expect to write about the subject again so soon.

However two aspects of the referendum and its aftermath already deserve comment.

One is the fact that – as far as I can see – the Greek referendum was the first opportunity for any electorate anywhere in the world to give its democratic verdict on austerity as one of the cornerstones on the leading economic ideology of Neoliberalism.

The main points of neo-liberalism include:

THE RULE OF THE MARKET. Liberating “free” enterprise or private enterprise from any bonds imposed by the government (the state) no matter how much social damage this causes. Greater openness to international trade and investment, as in NAFTA. Reduce wages by de-unionising workers and eliminating workers’ rights that had been won over many years of struggle. No more price controls. All in all, total freedom of movement for capital, goods and services. To convince us this is good for us, they say “an unregulated market is the best way to increase economic growth, which will ultimately benefit everyone.” It’s like Reagan’s “supply-side” and “trickle-down” economics — but somehow the wealth didn’t trickle down very much.

CUTTING PUBLIC EXPENDITURE FOR SOCIAL SERVICES like education and health care. REDUCING THE SAFETY-NET FOR THE POOR, (Austerityand even maintenance of roads, bridges, water supply — again in the name of reducing government’s role. 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 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. Although usually done in the name of greater efficiency, which is often needed, privatisation has mainly had 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 — then blaming them, if they fail, as “lazy.” (What is Neoliberalism?)

Never before had the people a chance to say no this neoliberal gospel. And the people grabbed it with both hands delivering an almost 2:1 result against the ideology the world is enslaved to since Reagan, Thatcher and our own Rogernomics.

And it was not just extremists on the lefty or right of Greek politics but a vast majority of the Greek heartland, which voted no. Just watch Paul Mason on Channel 4 News.

The importance of the referendum is twofold. One that it happened at all. This is threatening to the ruling elites, which fear democracy as much as the heresy against their religion. They already are threatening savage retaliation in a new “Class War” (Chomsky).
The other is the resounding result. If the Greeks also manage to resist the other part of the poisoned chalice on offer: Privatisation it will cost a lot of banksters and hedge funds on Wall Street a lot of money. They have been betting heavily on Greece having to flog off their assets and will be losing big time missing out on a bargain.

The Greeks have given the world hope. We all collectively can say NO. Yes we can.

The greeks over the last five years were pushed too far. They were not only by these economically totally senseless policies driven to despair (GDP down 25%, more than 50% of the educated young forced to leave the country looking for a better future, suicide rate skyrocketing and more) but humiliated, called children and treated as such by their tormentors i.e. creditors. They were left with no other honourable choice than to vote NO.

The positive outcome so far is that the nastiness, ugliness, viciousness and general inhumanity of our neoliberal economic system is exposed for all willing to see.

The corporate media response was predictable. I couldn’t put it better than Chris Trotter:

“The global news media lost no time in launching vicious attacks against the Syriza leadership – especially Varoufakis – and redoubled their blatantly racist denigration of the Greek people as a whole. Cast as indolent Mediterranean grasshoppers (so unlike the hard-working Teutonic ants, whose borrowed Euros they had fecklessly frittered away) the Greek victims of neoliberal extremism were told that they had no one to blame but themselves.

Even New Zealand’s neoliberal journalists and commentators have been working hard to maintain the two central arguments for neoliberalism’s assault on Greece. That the Syriza Government’s position is economically untenable; and that, in any case, the Greek people had it coming and richly deserve everything they have got. To pull this off they have had to studiously ignore the highly critical contributions of leading economists, while attempting to preserve the fiction that Greece has no alternative except to swallow still more of the commitment to speak truth to power.

The most disturbing aspect of the mainstream news media’s adherence to the neoliberal line has been its willingness to go along with ethnic defamation. Just substitute the word “Maori” for “Greeks” in these neoliberal tirades and the full racist character of the attacks becomes clear. Newspapers and networks that would never allow contributors to get away with calling Maori lazy, good-for-nothing, ne’er-do-wells with no one to blame for their poverty but themselves, were quite happy to have it said of the Greeks.”

The other aspect is that after the for him triumphant referendum result Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis has resigned.

Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis delivers a press conference in Athens on July 5, 2015, after early results showed those who rejected further austerity measures in a Greek crucial bailout referendum were poised to win. Over 61 percent of Greek voters on July 5 rejected fresh austerity demands by the country's EU-IMF creditors in a historic referendum, official results from 50 percent of polling stations showed. AFP PHOTO / ANDREAS SOLARO

According to the report in the UK Independent he had said before that his greatest fear was that he “may turn into a politician“. “As an antidote to that virus I intend to write my resignation letter and keep it in my inside pocket, ready to submit it the moment I sense signs of losing the commitment to speak truth to power.”
He said Sunday’s referendum, where the Greek public voted overwhelming to reject a bailout deal proposed by the country’s creditors, would “stay in history as a unique moment when a small European nation rose up against debt-bondage.”

He added that he would wear the creditors’ “loathing with pride.

What a man !

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Greek Tragedy : Don’t piss off the Gods !

What is happening to Greece is a tragedy of epic proportions and it has all the qualities of the classical period. There are many parts where the old chorus has reason to wail and lament.

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As I write we are of course in the middle of the play and there are still different outcomes possible. However I have been saying for some time that the prospect for economic and political sanity is slim.

The main point of contention between Greece and the international institutions like the European Union (EU), International Monetary Fund (IMF), central and private banks is the prescribed medicine of austerity.

Austerity has a human face we must not forget. In an article “WHERE IS MY EUROPEAN UNION?” Alex Andreou reports:
Last winter in Athens, I was approached by a well-dressed and immaculately groomed elderly lady. She asked me for a few euros because she was hungry. I took her to dinner and, in generous and unsolicited exchange, she told me her story.
Her name was Magda and she was in her mid-seventies. She had worked as a teacher all her life. Her husband had been a college professor and died “mercifully long before we were reduced to this state”, as she put it. They paid their tax, national insurance and pension contributions straight out of the salary, like most people. They never cheated the state. They never took risks. They saved. They lived modestly in a two bedroom flat.
In the first year of the crisis her widow’s pension top-up stopped. In the second and third her own pension was slashed in half. Downsizing was not an option – house prices had collapsed and there were no buyers. In the third year things got worse. “First, I sold my jewellery. Except this ring”, she said, stroking her wedding ring with her thumb. “Then, I sold the pictures and rugs. Then the good crockery and silver. Then most of the furniture. Now there is nothing left that anyone wants. Last month the super came and removed the radiators from my flat, because I hadn’t paid for communal fuel in so long. I feel so ashamed.

Austerity as part of the neoliberal gospel has been tried before in South America, Asia and now in Europe. It has been widely criticised by most leading economists like Nobel Prize winners Paul Krugman writing today in the New York Times and Joseph Stiglitz formerly chief economist of World Bank, a position he had to give up when challenging neoliberal orthodoxy, today in a piece titled “Europe’s Attack on Greek Democracy”.

Krugman:
Most of what you’ve heard about Greek profligacy and irresponsibility is false. Yes, the Greek government was spending beyond its means in the late 2000s. But since then it has repeatedly slashed spending and raised taxes. Government employment has fallen more than 25 percent, and pensions (which were indeed much too generous) have been cut sharply. If you add up all the austerity measures, they have been more than enough to eliminate the original deficit and turn it into a large surplus.
So why didn’t this (the crisis) happen? Because the Greek economy collapsed, largely as a result of those very austerity measures, dragging revenues down with it.
Finally, acceding to the troika’s ultimatum would represent the final abandonment of any pretense of Greek independence. Don’t be taken in by claims that troika officials are just technocrats explaining to the ignorant Greeks what must be done. These supposed technocrats are in fact fantasists who have disregarded everything we know about macroeconomics, and have been wrong every step of the way. This isn’t about analysis, it’s about power.

Even one of the main proponents of austerity, the IMF, has itself admitted that austerity was a mistake and did rather harm than help the different patients it was tried on. Even in the case of Greece the IMF admitted this as the Guardian reported under the headline “IMF admits: we failed to realise the damage austerity would do to Greece“.

IMF-chief-Christine-Lagar-010
Still true to form the Gods of neoliberal capitalism still demand more of the failed policies hoping for a different outcome. The classic definition of insanity.

Don’t get me wrong. I am the first who noticed visiting Greece a couple of years ago that avoiding taxes appears to be a national pastime. I am all for a tax reform to make the rich, some of them billionaires, pay their fair share for the first time in their lives. I am all for frugality in government spending, which the Greeks did not exercise when they squandered billion on the 2004 Olympics to international applause. I understand that the Greek government at the time fiddled the books with the help of Wall Street banksters Goldman Sachs, to get into the Euro zone.

However it is not only morally wrong to punish the most vulnerable who bear the least responsibility for the mess, it is also economically totally counterproductive to try to squeeze blood out of a stone. There is no economist with half a brain who thinks Greece will be able to pay back the 240 billion dollars or so it owes. I have been keeping an eye on the international media over the last years of the unfolding crisis and noticed the difference between the political sections where you see the inflammatory stories about the Greeks being lazy and retiring at 55 and the business/economic sections where everyone agrees that Greece will not be able to pay its creditors and the sooner they accept the inevitable, bite the bullet, accept the ‘haircut’ and get on with it the better.

But that is not what it is about anymore. Since the election of the left wing Tsipras government in Greece

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there is much more at stake than the fallout from the global financial crisis like a 240 billion dollar debt, structural problems and economic recovery. In the past the international institutions had to deal with compliant right wing neoliberal governments in Greece with which they were doing deals to prolong the suffering without facing the reality.

This has all changed with the new left wing government elected on a anti-austerity platform with a brilliant and therefore often described as arrogant English university economics professor and finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis challenging neoliberal orthodoxy. To challenge austerity is sacrilege is blasphemy. No ideology or religion can let heretics get away with it. Greece must be punished and banished from the union of right thinking more or less neoliberal countries of Europe.

The irony is that in 20 years time Greece will be still there, while the same is now becoming more doubtful by the day for the Euro, the IMF and even the European Union.

The neoliberal gods in Washington, New York, Brussels, Frankfurt and Berlin are seriously pissed off. They openly insult their Greek counterparts by calling them children and treating them like children who dare to ask quite legitimate questions like “Why do we need to do this ? Because we say so !”

This modern Greek tragedy has already claimed thousands of lives by suicide and reduction in medical care.

I am reminded of the ancient Greek mythology where lesser beings who defied the gods were severely punished. Prometheus springs to mind. He was punished by being chained to a rock for eternity to be attacked by an eagle every day picking out his liver, which regrew only to be picked again the next day. Among his ‘crimes’ was that he tricked Zeus into eternally claiming the inedible parts of cows and bulls for the sacrificial ceremonies of the gods, while conceding the nourishing parts to humans for the eternal benefit of humankind. He also stole fire from the olympus to give it to humanity. From the perspective of us humans not a reason for punishment, really.

The sad moral of the tragedy : When dealing with the gods – be it from the ancient Olympus or today’s neoliberal capitalist nirvana – if you don’t want to be severely punished whatever you do :

Don’t piss off the gods !

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Beneficiaries shovelling shit : Priceless

Last weekend’s record floods in Whanganui are not an isolated local event.The event itself and our government’s reaction are part of a bigger picture. The devastating rainfall didn’t come out of nowhere and the government’s response is part of our general political thinking and ideology.

Extreme weather events like this are part of the predicted consequences of climate change. The connection is quite simple for anyone who learned basic physics at school. Warmer air has the capacity to carry more water. The warming atmosphere can store more moisture, which when released can make for more catastrophic rainfall.

I have seen the hill country around Whanganui and have driven up the river and even in a normal year you see all the slips and can only draw one conclusion. These hills should never have been cleared of their native bush vegetation and broken in for pastoral farming. These poor farmers of today are paying for the environmental sins of their forefathers.

We learned or should have learned this lesson before when Cyclone Bola hit the Gisborne  area in 1988. There winds forced warm moist air up and over the hills, increasing the rainfall. In places, more than 900 mm of rain fell in 72 hours, and one area had 514 mm in a single day. The downpours triggered innumerable landslides on the region’s hillside pastures. The only difference that in 1988 it took a tropical cyclone to cause all the devastation. In 2015 it was just a very rainy day.

The government’s response also told us more about their general attitude on other matters than the actual crisis. Following the progressing news my wicked mind went into overdrive connecting the dots.

First I heard our neoliberal Prime Minister having to utter the words “Climate Change”.
I saw him running to the bathroom afterwards washing out his mouth.

Researching this post I put “Whanganui floods” into the NZ Herald article search engine. To my pleasant surprise a Whanganui Chronicle article titled “Pope’s unpalatable truths” about his latest encyclical dealing with climate change and related issues like capitalism pops up. Isn’t it interesting that a newspaper search engine seems to have more understanding of New Zealand’s latest extreme weather event than our Prime Minister.

Then I watched the evening news. We saw the devastation and learned that people could not go back into the affected areas and their houses as the deep sludge was contaminated with raw sewage basically diluted shit. In front of it we saw Civil Defence minister Nikki Kaye telling us that “beneficiaries” would be used to clean it up.

Beneficiaries Flood Cleanup

Flood Cleanup

In New Zealand the term “beneficiary” includes a wide range of people from single mothers on a domestic purposes benefit to the mentally or otherwise chronically ill or injured on a sickness benefit to the unemployed and some even include pensioners on superannuation. They are all dealt with by the same Department for Work and Income (WINZ). All have legal rights and entitlements to the support they are getting. All have contributed to the coffers they now get their entitlement from. They do not receive their payment as a form of charity.
Still beneficiaries are looked down upon as the undeserving poor or needy. Beneficiary bashing has long become a New Zealand national past time and the media uncritically repeated that “beneficiaries” would be cleaning up the mess.

The minister didn’t say that the government would employ people looking for work or send in the Taskforce Green. She said beneficiaries and you could see the glee in her eyes. I had the distinct feeling that this amounted to just another form of beneficiary bashing. Standing in front of the toxic sludge telling us that beneficiaries would clean it up made her glee, her “Schadenfreude”, palpable.

The government will put the costs of the disaster on it’s MasterCard and gleefully give the credit card company another sequence to their ad campaign.

The 2015 Whanganui Flood:

Repairing the roads :                          $60 million
Repairing riverbanks :                        $10 million
Repairing fences :                                 $ 2 million

Beneficiaries shovelling shit :    Priceless.

 

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Climate: Will New Zealand fight alongside the elves or the orcs ?

Following the militaristic culture and thinking of our ally and only remaining superpower America we frame all our problems in terms of war. War on drugs, war on terror, war on weeds and the list goes on. I am desperately waiting for the war on war.

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At present war is fought over climate change as the headline of the feature article in the Business Herald of 12 June < Climate change the next battle > suggests. Climate change has been going on for over 200 years without us first understanding it. Since it dawned on humanity how grave the consequences are for everyone and every side the battle line has been drawn. Even if the details of how climate change will affect the planet and everyone of us are still sketchy the big picture is clear and does not look good. The consequences of our actions or non-actions will potentially be fatal to millions of our fellow men and all other living beings on our planet.

According to the above mentioned enlightening article by Brian Fallow the main question for New Zealand will be what will we be bringing to the fight?

Shouldn’t we at least be discussing what it is about, what are the objectives, are they worth fighting for and should we join in. However these simple questions seem to be lost in the government’s consultation process.

The government asked economic modellers at Infometrics and Landcare Research to model.
The mind boggles. There is a battle raging and in true neoliberal fashion the government is calling in the accountants!  Instead of engineers and scientist of all fields from climate to agriculture we are looking for economists! Waterloo has been in the news lately. Imagine the Duke of Wellington when the battle was on a knife’s edge calling instead of the cavalry a regiment of accountants to give him victory.

All the focus has been on the financial matter of carbon pricing and how much it is going to cost and who is going to pay and who gets paid by whom for what. Which basically boils the whole existential threat down to a matter of the economy.

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And in true neoliberal fashion all the accounting figures are based on phony theories and consequently equally phony data.

“In recent years New Zealand emitters with obligations under the emissions trading scheme (ETS) have been able to buy those credits for a few cents per tonne of carbon – a far cry from the estimated $25 a tonne when the ETS was designed.”
This means that the theory failed in the real world. The whole purpose of the ETS to actually reduce carbon emission was defeated by making it cheaper to buy credits than to do the right thing by the planet.

And the crazy thing is these people who following their neoliberal theories designed or backed those brilliantly failing carbon credit markets are today still at it coming up with questions like:
“From 2020, however, the modellers were asked to assume that the international carbon price will rise from $25 a tonne in 2020 to $50 by 2030.”
Haven’t we just learned that a ton carbon credit could be bought for a few cents instead of $ 25.- Who in a clear state of mind expects a significant change by having to pay instead of a few cents a few more cents. The market approach has failed so let’s try more market and hope for a different outcome. The classic definition of insanity.

As our neoliberal government worships the “Market” it cannot possibly set the price required to reduce carbon emission or do the only fair and sensible thing of introducing a carbon tax.

But we have to give it to the creators of carbon credit market that they at least achieved one of their goals to create some riches for their mates on the way.

The whole economic discussion is of course a farce and distraction. If there would be a serious economic argument the other side of the ledger needed to be included. The costs of doing something would need to be balanced against the cost of doing nothing. And the cost of a transition towards a low carbon economy would need to be balanced with the benefits of such a transition. Our government does not seem to be interested to ask the right question even if it is economics 101.

So lets not get distracted further. The science is clear. Lets ask the real questions.

What do we like more?
Do we like our planet more and want to keep her for our grandchildren and their grandchildren to enjoy ?
Or do we like more our wasteful capitalist consumer lifestyle, which is designed to never really satisfy us like an addiction ?

Or as Fawzi Ibrahim puts it:
Humanity faces a stark choice: save the planet and ditch capitalism or save capitalism and ditch the planet.

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The government hasn’t answered the above questions yet. It hasn’t made the safe or ditch decision. We don’t know which side we are on.

As we seem to be going into “battle” later this year at the Climate Conference in Paris let me put the battle scenario into a context the majority of us who luckily never experienced war understands. Imagine Lord of the Rings. Imagine us from Hobbit Country joining the battle without having made up our minds if we want to fight alongside the elves

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or alongside the orcs.

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Isn’t it time we decided between the elves and the orcs. It shouldn’t be too difficult, really.

Yet the current government consultation process does not cover this fundamental discussion and decision.

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Media: Neoliberal corporate propaganda or just sloppy journalism ?

One of the features of the Reagan/Thatcher neoliberal revolution over the last 30 plus years – in New Zealand called Rogernomics – is growing inequality. The rich are getting richer at the expense of the poor getting poorer. This is expressed in two measures. The income gap, for example between the lowest paid worker and the highest paid executive of the same company. And the wealth gap, which measures the increase of net wealth at the top (top 1% or top 0.1%) compared to bottom 50% or even 80% who are getting poorer.

On a global scale this inequality has reached such an obscene level that comedian Russel Brand in his book “Revolution” is joking about the one diamond crusted fun-bus the richest 85 billionaires could ride owning as much as 3.5 billion people, half of humanity.

This growing inequality is not only a matter of fairness. It is threatening to wipe out the middle class in the process and is widely seen as a very bad thing. Countries with higher inequality do worse in all sorts of indicators from economic performance to life expectancy, health, educational achievement and social indicators like participation in democracy. This applies across the board for the poor and the better off alike.

Over the 30 plus years of this revolution we have been fed the “trickle down” theory :

trickle down effect

George Orwell would have marvelled at this use of language to manipulate the mind of the ordinary punter. “Trickle down” we know from leaky buildings and we associate it with water, which of course follows the law of nature i.e. gravity. So it sounds all plausible that  money and wealth will follow the law of gravity, which is of course total bollocks.

Money does not follow any law of nature. Our neoliberal economics is an artificial man made system, which favours the people at the top who created it. We should rather talk about the “cream theory” where money and wealth rises to the top like cream in a bottle of full milk.

This week the NZ Herald created a problem for itself publishing surveys following the incomes of New Zealand’s top corporate executives with headlines like this:
Salaries interactive: What CEOs of top NZ companies earn“(16 June) or”CEO Pay Survey: Bosses’ pay up 325pc in decade“(17 June), which is even understating the magnitude of the problem as according to the “marathon men” figures the salary increase in that sample was over 10 years between 228% and a whopping 528%.

The problem for the Herald has become so embarrassing that Monday’s (15 June) front page headline “Meet NZ’s best-paid bosses” and corresponding business section article “Top Bosses pocket 10 per cent pay rises – While average wage earners gain 3 per cent, some executives’ net rises range from 70 to 170 per cent” cannot be found on-line anymore. The corporate media instinct is in full damage control mode.

It started with Liam Dann’s (15 June) piece “Chief executive salaries merely keeping pace with buoyant market“. Under this apologetic headline we find more morsels from the neoliberal prayerbook like :
There will always be outrage from some quarters about the seemingly exponential scale of executive salaries. But we live in a free and global market where supply and demand set the pricing for talent.

Whenever I hear the “market” as an excuse for the exponential scale of executive salaries I want to scream.

If Dann was a serious journalist he would check the facts and find that executive pay has nothing to do with “the market” and nothing with personal performance.

There are countless studies, which show that CEO pay is at best unrelated to the company’s performance. Just one study analysed by Forbes lately carries the headline :

The Highest-Paid CEOs Are The Worst Performers, New Study Says
Professor Cooper (Utah) and two professors, one at Purdue and the other at the University of Cambridge, have studied a large data set of the 1,500 companies with the biggest market caps, supplied by a firm called Execucomp. They also looked at pay and company performance in three-year periods over a relatively long time span, from 1994-2013, and compared what are known as firms’ “abnormal” performance, meaning a company’s revenues and profits as compared with like companies in their fields. They were startled to find that the more CEOs got paid, the worse their companies did.

I could be cynical and say that we may here already have half the explanation for dairy giant Fonterra’s bad performance and negative outlook.

If Dann was a serious journalist he would have debunked the myth that the free global market where supply and demand set the pricing for talent determines executive pay. You only have to look at other professions where there is undersupply of “talent” like specialist medical staff or even foreign construction workers brought into Christchurch and Auckland. If the – “the market” –  would determine their pay it should also rise on the same exponential scale of executive salaries.
But Dann is blinded by his own ideology not to be able to spot the difference. The medical specialists and construction staff do the actual work and their salaries are seen as just an expense to the organisation to be held down at all costs. Their only chance is to band together and go on strike to achieve any pay increases. In their case free and global market only puts downward pressure on their pay and conditions.
The CEOs on the other hand don’t need to band together and go on strike for better pay. They are already institutionally banded together to write their own pay cheques. Unlike with the workers’ pay the people who determine the executive pay – be it company boards or renumeration committees – have the perverse opposite incentive to increase pay as much as they can get away with as they directly benefit. If they increase the CEO’s pay their own pay will in due course increase too. They are not stupid to just play the system.

As Mr. Dann’s effort in damage control was obviously not enough the Herald had to back it up with next day’s editorial (which also is hidden from the on-line edition) under the headline : “Judge bosses on results, not size of salary”
The editorial again perpetuates the myth that the outrageous and widely criticised executive salaries in this case of Theo Spierings of giant dairy co-op Fonterra, which has been doing poorly recently under his leadership could be justified by “results”.

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Rod Emmerson

This cartoon reminds me of another Russel Brand quote of how “are profits hurtled with thoughtless expedience into the pendular pockets, swinging like a velor scrotum, of the thumb-twiddling plutocrat“.

I have to say on all the above evidence that the NZ Herald – as an example for our corporate media – does not just do sloppy journalism but is engaging full bore in neoliberal corporate propaganda.

 

 

 

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Let’s kill a corp – where is the terminator when we need him most ?

You might have missed a disturbing piece in the NZ Herald under the headline “Humans can’t win against US killer robots“.
Two programmes commissioned by the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency are seeking to create drones which can track and kill targets even when out of contact with their handlers.
Writing in the journal Nature, the professor of computer science at the University of California, Berkley, Stuart Russell, said the research could breach the Geneva Convention and leave humanity in the hands of amoral machines.
The robots, called Laws – lethal autonomous weapons systems – are likely to be armed quadcopters or mini-tanks that can decide without human intervention who should live or die.
Professor Russell, said “Laws could violate fundamental principles of human dignity by allowing machines to choose who to kill.”

We are of course familiar with these horror scenarios from Hollywood where our man made machines start disobeying our orders and turn against us. The 1968 classic 2001: A Space Odyssey is one of the finest examples. However the list goes on along the same theme with the revenge of the machines , clones what have you and of course the Terminator franchise.

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The scenario we have been made familiar almost comfortable with is always the same. That we are able to make things, which are more powerful then us and which will turn against us as soon as we lose control over them. There is always a narrow escape and of course happy Hollywood ending when the human manages to pull the plug or in more recent action movies violently fights and kills the machines.

The scary new dimension is that the US military are picking up Hollywood fantasies and turning them into grim realities.

Then it dawned on me that this situation feels all too familiar and as a matter of fact we humans are actually facing the very same grim reality right now with the most powerful man made amoral creation ever. Unfortunately in this 2015 reality the outcome of the struggle does not look good for humanity.
There is only a slim hope that we will get together to fight the common threat and narrowly escape into a happy ending.

To understand I just replaced robot or machine with another human invention : the corporation and the scales fell off my eyes.

Corporations are the most powerful creation man ever invented and they are out of control.
From humble beginnings as a form of organising the building of one project like a dam or a bridge only to be disestablished at the finish we have allowed them to become immortal without expiry date. They are not only in all jurisdictions legal entities, which can sue and be sued in a court of law but in the perverted US legal system have become humanoids like the terminator robot pulling Arnold Schwarzenegger’s face over it’s metal structure.

It started with a decision by the US Supreme Court, which was about a corporation taking part in a legal battle over water rights, which was misquoted as giving the legal entity ‘human rights’. Up to that point most of the US federal states had laws on their books, which prevented corporations from taking part in the political process. CEOs could be jailed if their corporation contributed in any way to a political candidate or campaign. The logic was as simple as compelling. Corporations have no right to take part in the political process as they have no right to vote. After the above misquoted Supreme Court decision these laws were scrapped. The rise of the corporations began. They have now such human rights as the right to free speech or be libelled i.e. seek damages for the hurt of being insulted. And forget the voting since the infamous Supreme Court citizen united decision they don’t even need voting as they have now the right to use their unlimited funds to buy elections, governments and the courts.

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Through the global financial crisis corporations have reached new heights in their power. Many have become ‘to big to fail’ and their executives ‘to big to jail’. Like with the robots/machines in the movies they are now out of human control.

And the showdown between corporations and humanity is happening right now in the US Congress with the battle over the secret Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement. The battle is on a knife’s edge. In the movies we would have reached the last five minutes when the humans have to go all out to kill the machines in order to survive. We have reached the point of either them or us.

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As humanity is cornered by our own too powerful creation we seem to have no choice than to start killing them off in their present form. I have some prime candidates in mind.

Phillip Morris on top of the list for killing millions with their tobacco products and their executives lying about it under oath.
Monsanto for killing not only the birds and the bees and therewith threatening our survival but driving thousands of Indian farmers into suicide by selling them seed with the aptly named “terminator” gene.
BP and Exxon not only for destroying the environment in the Mexican Gulf and Alaska with oil spills but destroying the global climate we rely on for our survival.
Goldman Sachs for being the biggest banksters who almost brought the world’s financial system to it’s knees with their criminal actions only to benefit from it being bailed out by the taxpayer.

And I am itching to go on.

Make no mistake these crimes are only possible for the super-human corporations. Any businessman or partnership with the personal responsibility and liability of the owners would not be able to do what corporations do as they would all end up in jail pretty quickly.

There really is no choice between leaving humanity in the hands of amoral machines i.e. corporations to decide who should live or die or fighting back and kill the corporations.

To kill off the TPP would be a good start.

Where is the terminator when we need him most ?

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One cartoon a thousand thoughts

Sad but true.
We are remembering, commemorating, celebrating – call it what you like – 100 years Gallipoli by again sending our young men into the Middle East on a mission impossible.

Ever since the enormous cost of the WWI remembrance industry became apparent I have wondered if and what value we get for the millions of taxpayers money. Instinctively I had  to agree with a visiting Oxford historian who was disappointed that not a greater share of the lavish spending was directed into education around WWI. Among all the pomp and ceremony we did not learn much about why thousands of New Zealanders ended up on the Dardanelles in the first place. Turkey being a country we previously had no angry word with.
And I am not talking about the narrow history of one of the greatest military fuck-ups. I am talking about the political developments leading the world in 1914 into a catastrophe of industrial scale slaughter of millions of men. I am talking about the political situation and climate in New Zealand, which led so many gullible young men to voluntarily join the jolly Great War.

May be if our Prime Minister who’s knowledge of New Zealand history is flaky at the best of times had learned something about that specific period he would not have sent our troops to Iraq invoking the ANZAC spirit and suggesting to serve together with the Australians under a special ANZAC badge. He must have got his ideas from (Sir) Peter Jackson’s monstrous displays at our national museum Te Papa

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and he definitely learned the wrong lesson. These images of pure raw emotions go like all propaganda straight to the gut bypassing the brain, which is fair enough as that is the intention.
John Key must have imagined himself as the above heroic officer when he – while cowardly avoiding a vote in Parliament – yelled at the opposition: “Get some guts” (and don’t engage your brain).

What instead of making me sick in the stomach made me think was another picture.

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Rod Emerson

First of all it reminds us that the most or rather only glorious part of the Gallipoli campaign was at the end of it the mass retreat without loss of life.

I am wondering who got the Victoria Cross for that clever military manoeuvre saving thousands of lives. Or can only acts of “bravery”, which also can be called “stupidity” – the more brave the more stupid or vice versa – be rewarded by giving the survivor or in case not his widow a piece of scrap metal from the Crimean war. I am afraid that the later might be the case as the military runs on stupidity not cleverness. Even our latest VC hero from Afghanistan who was decorated for rescuing a comrade under fire acted not only bravely – and his mate will be thankful for the rest of his life – but also incredibly stupidly. Whoever has done a first aid course has learned as the first lesson that in order to help and rescue people you have to make sure first that you are safe. Otherwise you are of no use to the person in need of help. Luckily no OSH officer was in the field.

Then it makes me think about our alleged mission to “train” Iraqi soldiers who according to the US defence secretary lack the will to fight or as our own ex-army officer and MP Ron Marks puts it more bluntly are cowards.
Not that I agree with that assessment. These men are not cowards they are rather clever, which is of course an enigma to an (ex) army officer. They are clever enough to have realised that this corrupt Iraqi regime engaged in a fractional religious civil war is not worth fighting for.

If our Prime Minister had learned a little bit of WWI history he would know that Turkey was a reluctant entrant into the war. However the other empires Britain and France, our allies, were circling the moribund Ottoman Empire like vultures to get their piece of flesh. And as today that piece can be summed up in one word: Oil.

Another lesson from history would be that the Kurds, a people of 20 million, did not get their own state in the carve-up of the Ottoman Empire. They were left as minorities in five countries, which naturally have ever since opposed Kurdish independence. Now it is the Kurds who after almost one hundred years of discrimination have something to fight for: Kurdish Independence. And they fight fiercely especially their women fighters. These are the guys we should be “training”.

Recent history should have taught us another lesson that you reap what you sow.
I recently spoke with an Iraqi doctor who told me about the reason why the Islamic State is so deadly efficient in their religious war. When the US moved into Iraq they disbanded the Iraqi army and interned their officers. After beating them up for years almost daily in prisons like Abu Ghraib they set them loose. Most of them being Sunnis with no prospect in postwar Iraq now peddle their skills at ISIS. They are highly skilled killers who know how to fly fighter jets, handle modern weaponry, computers, the internet you name it. They have nothing to lose and hate the Americans and their allies. Who can blame them ?

And on “our” side you have the new Iraqi army by all reports crippled by corruption where everyone seems to be in there for his own interest. And in the sectarian divide firmly aligned with the Shia majority. No wonder that they drive out of town rather than defend the Sunni city of Ramadi where they were not welcome anyway.

Good luck Kiwi soldiers with that lot.

But we must not forget that the deployment of New Zealand troops had nothing to do with militarily rational – if there is such thing – but a (five eyes, foreign) political rational. Our membership fees were due. We had to be seen as part of the gang asserting our patch.

All we can hope for now is that the 16 instructors don’t just teach the Iraqis how to do a mass retreat without loss of life but heed that lesson themselves and get out of there in one piece.

They shouldn’t have been put there as pawns in a political game of chess where pawns are sometimes taken.

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