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Wednesday, 25 April 2018

War... what is it good for?

I'm writing this post on ANZAC day, the most mawkish of days in NZ.

I did'nt attend any dawn service this morning, as I have done more than my fair share of those over the years, and I pay my respects to those who fought whenever I visit my grandparents at the cemetery*.

And on this most revered of days in the mythos of New Zealand its seems more than appropriate to discuss the fire from which one of the pillars of Kiwi culture was forged; that of war.

And for starters consider that just over 100 years ago most of this country responded with enthusiasm for the prospect of going off to fight in World War One and that it was there in places like Gallipoli and Passchendaele where some believe that that the identity of this nation was born.

But while we are feeling all warm and snugly with that thought make space for the grim fact that of the 100,000 young men that went to fight over 18,000 died and many more were wounded meaning that from a population of just over one million at the time one in four of those men that fought was either killed or wounded.

Put in context today that would mean if some war in a foreign clime was declared New Zealand would not only have to respond with the same level of fervor we now display only for an All Blacks game or the latest episode of the The Block followed by 400,000 men of age being shipped off to fight and that of that 400,000 roughly 80,000 would have to die or be wounded.

So if you ever wanted to know why NZ is littered with memorials to World War One from the small cenotaphs and memorials that every rural town and hamlet has to the Pukeahu National War Memorial in Wellington (looking like something out of Flash Gordon) you now have a big part of your answer.

Contrast that with today where the NZDF is mired in scandals over Iraq and Afghanistan and Defence is a political backwater for muppet MPs (like Gerry Brownlee), those with some background in it (Like ex soldier Ron Mark) or those wishing to make a buck (like National MP Mark Mitchell) and you get an idea of the scale and scope of change in not just how Kiwis view war but also about how we conceive our identity in relation to war.

But unlike 100 years ago when it was fervent enthusiasm for going off to fight in what many perceived as a great adventure today what allows the NZDF to waste time and money chasing "terrorists" in the Middle East and lying about what its actually doing and who its actually killing is a deeply rooted apathy that the public has both conflict and war in general due to the horrors of the First and Second World Wars but also the immense defensive barrier that our physical isolation in the South Pacific gives and allows us to retain such views.

For most of the planet war is a much more direct and tangible reality with no immense barrier to attacking forces that our surrounding seas give us. For many nations their neighbor is immediately physical on their border and unlike our views of our biggest neighbor, Australia, can have a hostile history and military posture to boot and that is something Kiwis fail to grasp.

We piss and moan about Syria and why killing children with chemical weapons is terrible rather than why killing children (or for that matter anyone) in Syria is terrible. We think North Korea is a threat but spent decades trying to appease the beast until Donald Trump spoke to the North in a language that they can truly understand (that of one crazy strongman to another) and suddenly they are talking about officially ending the war (rather than the hyper tense armistice that has existed since 1953) and even possible de-nuclearisation**.

Kiwis view war always through the lens of distance and its an almost unique perspective in the world today. We are in words of Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now dilettantes in war with our views of war shaped more by movies like Saving Private Ryan, video games and what I consider to be an unhealthy strain of pacifism running through this country. We can afford to be against war because we have the luxury of choosing if an when we fight where most nations do not.

The last generation to experience war in any tangible manner (that of WW2 generation) is almost all gone and our views today more reflect that of the Baby-Boomers and those who came after. For those who fought in the Pacific and Europe the threat was real and tangible and the result of failure the destruction or enslavement of not just their nations but also of their political and social systems (liberal democracy and free markets). In short it was a war worth fighting.

So, with this blog post am I explicitly arguing for more military spending and NZ declaring war on some nation just so we can "know what war is really like"?

The answer is no I am not BUT what I am arguing for, and so have others, is that we have enjoyed the fruits of a political and economic system without having to pay the true cost for a long time and it shows in our apathy and how we approach this day. It shows in how we have allowed our physical isolation to also create a mental isolation from the rest of the world and the problems it faces.

But most dangerously of all its allowed us to avoid choosing sides and making a commitment towards preserving what we cherish and that sentiment has spread well beyond our views of war and conflict to our failure to defend our near pristine environment, to be lax in guarding our once excellent health, education and social welfare systems, to watching like sheep while we sell our country out from under us and set aside our values so we can trade with nations which stand in opposition to those values in the belief that we can pick them up again later and they will be untarnished.

Its not that I think that the system we live in is all perfect and we are as bad as other parts of the world (places referred to by Trump as "s**t-holes"); I criticize not to tear down our democratic system or maintain our plutocratic elite but to promote the change we need to keep our system strong and able to avoid being like those places which are infected with war and which we so happily ignore by changing the channel or bury under a false consciousness attained by once a year getting up early and going to a dawn service.

ANZAC day to us is an exciting exhibition at Te Papa and maybe some thoughts about our grandparents (or great grandparents) generation without realizing that war is not ancient history but alive and thriving today; just not here.

ANZAC day should not be something we attend to once a year like visiting an elderly relative or some obligatory social occasion but a 365 days of the year attitude to defending what we think is worth fighting and dying for, and that attitude includes in its lexicon a view of conflict (in whatever form) as an evil thing but sometimes a necessary evil in order to preserve something greater than our mortgage.

Back when I was doing my Masters degree I read Chris Hedges excellent book War is a force that gives us meaning and came away agreeing with much of what he said but also with a sharp splinter of doubt lodged deep in my mind at concept contained within the book.

Of course the general view of war; articulated through popular culture in songs such as in the title of this post by Edwin Starr, Black Sabbath's War Pigs and World Order's highly entertaining Lets Start World War III is easy and has an essential truth to it but as much as I love these songs and the sentiment found so prevalent today I just could not accept it.

For a long time I wondered why I often found myself of the view that war is bad but  still found myself accepting of the mechanics and circumstances of war; was it all those John Wayne movies I grew up watching, was it my own families military background (four generations and counting) or my own experiences as a soldier (in peacetime) that left me unable to accept absolutely the seemingly unavoidable concept that war is a scourge.

And it was not until several years later, when I was reading about the battles in Burma during WW2, that I discovered what it was that prevented me from condemning wholesale the act of war.

It was at the battles of Kohima and Imphal on the Burma/India border in fighting that was dubbed "The Stalingrad of the East" that the Japanese advance through Burma was finally stopped and driven back (much like Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands) and written on the memorial itself, located today in Kohima in India, is the following inscription:

Here in this one sentence is the articulation of what stops me from condemning war as a scourge and leaving it at that because packed inside that single sentence are three very important ideas: consideration of the future, cognizance of a greater good and the idea of self sacrifice.

Many people today can understand the first two but its the third in conjunction with the other two that makes this phrase so resonant and allows it to echo down through history.

Today many of us do we do what we do because we expect to get something out of it and cant rationalize the idea of sacrifice to a greater good, yet it exists.

To the men locked in struggle during those (and all) battles such a sentiment was as probably as far from their minds as could possibly be, their real conflict at the time in trying to stay alive by killing the person who was seeking to do the same to them yet the outcomes of many of those battles turned out to be decisive moments in the history of their country, nation or civilization and had those battles gone the other way history would have written a different chapter.

The greater good in that sense was, for want of a better term, the fate of nations but not in any jingoistic or nationalistic sense but rather in the sense that war, as we know it, lurks in the hearts of all people and this is why despite periods of peace the world so often finds itself at war yet to simply always avoid fighting or profess a desire for peace is not enough to deter all aggressors.

For example, the people fighting for their freedom today in Syria don't always have the option to just walk away or discount fighting because such acts were what brought them to the point where they had to fight in the face of aggression by the Assad regime. Sometimes you have to fight, not for what you believe in but for your life or the lives of future generations rather than just try and survive another day.

Psychologically its the flight or fight response that all life seems to have writ large, its the parent making the ultimate sacrifice to save their child on a national scale or the more intellectual expression of love for something greater than the self.

Also its worth understanding that in past times war was not the portent to the Apocalypse that it often is today and all those young Kiwi men who enthusiastically went off to fight for Dominion and Empire in WW1 had that love of something greater.

Some readers might argue that its nothing more than patriotic delusion but I would ask them how they behaved the last time they were driving and had to swerve to avoid a crash or stepped in to stop a fight or did something above and beyond the impulse of their own insular self.

In New Zealand today, like much of the West we have retreated into the comforting delusion that we will never have to make that choice or take a stand on something bigger than which Marvel movie is better yet the tides of history have turned and those delusions may not last much longer.

ANZAC day as we articulate it today has lost that sentiment because we have the luxury of believing that we are safe in our little corner of the world and outside of war the only thing which has yet to pose a similar level of existential threat is climate change and we still cant agree, or take real action on that.

War is the only thing which does what its does and that is because it presents the clear choice of survival in a situation with few other options. Had World War One and Two not ended with such horrific slaughter would our attitude to war be the same today?

But lest people think I am advocating still for war as we know it I stress that its not war as in tanks, bombs, guns and the like but the need to struggle in situations where its clear that something needs to be done and moral ambiguity no longer exists.

So what are you giving up today for someone else's tomorrow?

*-or pop into the local RSA for a beer
**-and as much as many people love to hate on Trump for the things he does wrong they are strangely silent in regards to this outcome because even if it comes to naught he has had more of an effect on the Korean situation than any other president since Eisenhower

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Eat all your vegetables or Donald J Trump will get you!

Well munchkin’s, I’m back, from outer space.

Here we do our annual review of US politics and follow up on from our post last year on the “extent of dissent” there.

I have had a month off from blogging and I needed it but all good things have to end so let’s kick this off by checking in with the world’s favorite reality TV experience: Amerika!*

This season has seen the introduction of a new character onto the show in the form of Donald J Trump, the man you love to hate. In fact hating on Trump is such a popular pastime that it’s become one of those gaudy flash in the pan fads like fidget spinners, Dub-Step or Mike Hoskings*2.

Not since the Middle Ages has uttering a name been so able to produce such a fearful result in so many people. Back then it was enough to say the name of Satan or Lucifer and people would cross themselves utter a prayer and make signs to ward off the evil.

Today all you have to do is say “Trump” and see a similar reaction with predictable screeds on social media and the mask of social nicety being ripped away to hear all sorts of vile statements about the man and “what they would like to do” to him.

In many ways it’s a stark reminder of exactly how thin the veneer of civilisation is and that lurking just beneath the placid, genteel surface is the same murderous atavistic fury that would see most people seriously consider killing and eating their neighbours three days into the apocalypse, after the food has run out.

A range of my friends and colleagues, most of whom cannot articulate anything specific about why they dislike the man so much beyond the kind pabulum that the media feeds them, have voiced, in public and with great detail, the kind of violent sadistic fantasies that you find in torture porn and all with seemingly no cognizance of what they are actually saying.

“But he is evil!” one excessively liberal SJW friend moaned to me when I asked about what exactly she did not like about the man; “He boats about grabbing pu**y and look what he has done to America”.

Yes let’s look what he has done to Amerika shall we because Trump has produced such a visceral reaction in the public consciousness that in an age of endless media scandal and dodgy behavior by politicians (just think about the last nine years of the National party for starters) it has to be more than just the man himself but more what he represents.

Donald J Trump is, and represents, the final evolution of 100 plus years of US imperialism and power politics. He is the what lies beneath the warm fleshy mask of all US presidents, he is the bastard lovechild of G W Bush and Barack Obama (with possibly some sloppy seconds from Bill Clinton) stripped of any rational pretense; he is the naked leering face of raw greed and unbridled power in thrall to an inflamed Id and ego with little or no restraint.

However the only difference between Trump and what came before is that Trump is the raw product of the forces that have shaped Amerika for over a century and the US Empire is now in clear decline so the post WW2 consensus and Cold War ideology which shielded and often was used as justification for US predation no longer exists. Trump is just another puffed-up political strongman in a suit and tie in a world where global leadership seems to have a preponderance of such people (Putin, Xi, Erdogan, Duterte, Burlusconi etc).

In better times those same forces would have produced a president with more polish and a thicker veneer of civility but what was behind them all is the same as what Trump proudly displays today but with US predominance squandered after the cold war and in places like Iraq and Afghanistan this raw hubris (the greatest strength and paradoxically the Achilles heel of all empires) is all that’s left and it scares people to see it.

But I am not here to discuss the collapse of the US reality tunnel (go see my post on that) or the fact that it’s easy to kick a cancer laden petrochemical racist dinosaur when they are down to their last trillion.

No lets discuss why you, the reader, have elevated Trump to the same status as Adolf Hitler (the bogeyman of the 20th Century) in your collective consciousness and let’s put aside your general ignorance of US politics and presidents (as bad presidents go he is on par with Warren G Harding but he’s no Richard Nixon), your limited worldview based on you being manipulated by push button media (how many of you got outraged by the chemical attack in Syria last week because the media told you so?) and take a personal look at what’s really pulling your strings.

And to find that out I have spent the last month asking people exactly why Trump turns them into frothing, rancorous, spittle flecked acolytes of the Donald Trump hate cult.

The answers were not surprising.

Some (like my friend Hardley of the Crank and Loon blog*3) do it because (in their words) it’s a rebellious act that feels good while others like my excessively liberal SJW friend it is because “it’s the right thing to do”.

For certain other of the partisan persuasion (into which Pablo from KP would fall into) it’s due to a political bias (in their case being for the Democrats) which equates one side as good and the other side as bad and where the horrid reality of a failing empire is being ignored.

People know they have to be in opposition such an obvious monster but the extent of that opposition is slathered with a layer of apathy that prevents any real opposition and twists the debate into a liberal version of Two Minutes of Hate.

“But he is in league with the Russians” I hear you wail “they hacked the elections” they state with authority (ignoring the irony given how many elections the US has “hacked in the last 70 years), “he and his cabinet picks are corrupt (ignoring all the other corrupt US presidents and cabinets)” they thunder, “he cheats on his wife” (forgetting who Monica Lewinski is) the words now coming almost mechanically like a religious chant, “he has small hands” voice rising in tone and becoming more hysterical, “he’s evvvviiillllllllll” finally collapsing sobbing to the floor.

See what I mean.

Some of these points are undoubtedly true, some are not and others remain unclear but it’s not so much that this president is worse than the last but that Trump flaunting the power so avariciously destroys the whole illusion that so many people want to have about the US and US power.

Thus hating on Trump is easy, like emotional junk food; it’s a cathartic release in an age where civil society is being swamped by the toxic waste products of corporatism (be it the hollowing out of democratic systems and social welfare or actual toxic waste and environmental destruction) and rather than doing anything concrete it’s easier to send out a tweet, post a meme on social media and simply close your eyes and start chanting “Trump is bad, Trump is bad, Trump is bad” in the hope that it will go away.

Trump is undoubtedly a bad president but he is the symptom not the cause and yet the discourse never makes it out of first gear because the focus is always on Trump and the “bad” things he has done.

So what has changed from over a year ago when I first posted about this curious phenomenon?

To be honest little has changed and I could have just reposted from last year and all of what I said would still be relevant but its good exercise to get the mental muscles moving again with something light and easy to blog about.

The biggest changes in the last 12 months have been that there is now defined “legal-limit” to Trump hate (thanks to “comedian” Kathy Griffin) and that many artists, entertainers and comedians have managed to stave off poverty by using Trump as their muse.

However it’s a sad reflection on what’s left of the humanist project and the liberal agenda when the muscles of the “vox populi” are so atrophied that all they can lift is pseudo therapeutic debate covered in a lightweight froth of sarcasm ridden ranting (and I include myself in this camp) rather than heavier things such as honest self-examination.

But it’s clear that as bad as Trump becomes and as active as the artists, comedians and talk show hosts get in playing the “Trump” card it’s going to take more than just jabbering about it like the bunch of stereotypical bitchy schoolgirls in a chick-flick to remove him.

It would help if the Democrats had an alternative to Trump which is not a Clinton or a Clintonoid but US politics is the “swamp”, as Trump defined it (the fact that he promised to drain it but instead just pumped in more slime notwithstanding) and remains as corrupt as ever so there is no guarantee that what replaces him will substantially be any better except that they will have been told to dial down the hubris.

And even if Trump is removed, then what? Will getting rid of Trump fix the sucking bog that US politics has become or just allow the comfortable delusion to slip back into place while we still slowly track towards the grim acceptance that the US (and by extension the West) is not number one anymore and our moral hegemony is no longer absolute (again a topic from a previous blog post).

I end here with my warning from my post last year on this subject which is:

Realize also that there are times when it’s not enough just to voice dissent sometimes you have to act it out as well and that is not ever an easy thing.

That remains true then as it now and hence why I am back blogging*4

*-Or should that be AmeriKKKa
*2 – Who recently proved the existence of God by saying it’s not speed that kills but the idiots behind the wheel and then promptly went and crashed his expensive sports car, bravo Mike!
*3-nice to see you back up and blogging again
*4-You can decide if this is ironic or not

Thursday, 1 March 2018

Burning Simon Bridges

Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it!

So, congratulations to Simon Bridges for winning the second round of ballots (I would love to know who got knocked out first; I must remember to ask T next time I see them) to get what is without a doubt the most difficult job in politics: leader of the opposition*.

And while Bridges was not my first choice he was certainly not my last (that goes to a tie-off between Joyce and Mitchell) as given the field of candidates the caucus could have done a lot worse than choose bridges. However the choice to retain Paula Bennett as deputy I do think is a serious mistake as she is part of the Gang of Five clique and little more than a heavily soiled receptacle of political gibberish and atavistic greed.

Bridges, to his credit, has come out of the situation talking conciliatory talk and even making a few political admissions (like regarding the Housing Hernia and tax cuts) which show that he (or Mathew Hooton) knows better than to crow it up and strut around in the wake of a five way leadership contest and instead opt for a period of healing rather than brutal consolidation (that will come later).

Also, there has been talk of a reshuffle of roles in the shadow cabinet (there is that consolidation we noted) and some murmuring of a policy re-set (although I will believe that when I see it) and even bridges “discovering” his Maori background so you can’t say that he is not doing his best to keep things on an even keel in this time of transition for National.

But in the current political climate such things do not go without comment and nobody was wasting any time on having their say.

From the left side of the spectrum comment on Bridges win has been predictable with the Daily Blog summing up the winners and losers accurately but top points go to Gordon Campbell for beating me to the punch in noting the eerie similarities to now and 2002, with the then anointment of Bill English to leader and his being sent on the “suicide mission” of trying to win the up-coming election, to Bridges and the pending 2020 election.

However if there were some negative and catty comments from the Left about Bridges that pales to the either mute (possibly stunned) silence or outright vitriol from the Right.

Who would have thought it but its seems that Bridges may not have to worry about getting fried like a crispy chicken in the house over Nationals (and his) links to the Shane Jones “slush fund” scandal but instead may need a fire retardant suit to deal with the backlash from conservative commentators and his own party.

Picture the scene: Bridges has just moved his box of stuff into his new office, passing a dejected looking Bill English in the hall and, on entering, notes that Bill has not emptied his rubbish bin (now overflowing with used tissue and treasury papers) like he said he would. Then Simon unpacks and places his feet up on the desk, taking a moment to savor the view and the scent of the air so close to the apex of political power while figuring out if he can get access to the “secret menu” for leaders that Bellamy’s is rumored to have when he is interrupted by his secretary alerting him to Barry Soper’s negative review of him in the NZ Herald.

Less than 24 hours into Bridges job as leader and the knives were out and Soper was first cab off the rank in the attack by saying that National, under Bridges, “were counting themselves out of the next election” only to follow up later by calling his first full day as leader “rubbish”. Of course it’s clear that Bridges was not Soper's first choice for taking over National but even I don’t feel that cruel to kick a man on his first day on the job. Jeeze Barry, way to be a bitch!

And for the record its completely wrong to say that electing Bridges was going to lose National the 2020 election as any of the five candidates would have had a herculean task ahead of them and, as already noted, be more than likely heading out on a suicide mission in trying to beat Jacinda first time around.

But wait there is more with well-known John Key fetishist and Right wing aficionado Mike Hosking getting the boot in followed by his media parasite partner Kate Hawkesby, stating the obvious (and as already noted incorrect) view that the 2020 election is a bust under Bridges. Neither of these two dimwits knows what they are talking about and are just parroting the same tired message, of sticking with the Gang of Five (ie no change) as well as echoing what the blue bloods in Remuera think, rather than considering the bigger situation.

And there is more than just a hint of snobbery at play from Hoskings and Hawkesbury, as with Bridges and Bennett (the new B Team) at the helm of National NZ has its first fully Westie political leadership, so it’s not going to be hard to see how the older and patrician elements in National are going to feel about leopard skin d├ęcor and Holden burnouts on the Beehive lawn.

Having mixed and mingled with them (the National party) before I am very aware that it’s important to have been to the right (or possibly Right) school and have an appropriate ancestry (ie nice and WASP) to be accepted**. Bridges and Bennett will be working hard to make friends in those circles but it’s well known that Bennett is already despised due to her background and given the reaction so far it seems that Simon has his work cut out for him.

Even the normally vocal Kiwiblog has been rather silent on Bridges ascension with nary but this one post about who the blogs readers think should have been leader (hint: it’s not Bridges). Maybe David is taking his time and seeing whats what before giving his opinion but its rather unlike him to not fire off at least a quick post on such a subject quick smart.

My take on all of this is to wish Bridges well and the best of luck as while he has made it to the top it’s clear that the struggle has only just begun and he will have to get the house of National in order before he even starts taking Labour to task (and with the TPPA and Shane Jones slush fund scandal there is work for the opposition to do).

Also I am willing to give Bridges kudos for taking the risk in a role he must know is not safe or secure given the political climate and for making even minor deviations from the long held National party line but as I said at the start of this post, being opposition leader is the most difficult job in politics and Simons difficulties have already begun.

Finally I must admit that when I heard of Bridges winning the job the first thing that popped into my head was this I Dream of Jeanie skit from Robot Chicken. I am not sure why but with time (and help from my therapist, psychic and accountant) I am sure we will know.


*-In some countries you can be jailed, tortured or even killed for being an opposition leader
**-And for those wondering about mine, I did go to an acceptable school but lied outright about my heritage as I have a mixed background and am a failed catholic to boot

Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Parting or Opening shots? Vote on National Party leadership today

I have been asked by a few friends and associates to weigh in on who I think will win todays leadership vote for the National Party.

However, while I do have a preference* I honestly don't know the outcome but I do know that today's winner may not actually be around to lead the party to electoral victory if previous history (of both National and Labour) is anything to go by.

So, in lieu of any real wisdom lets fire off a few links to others who have had their thoughts about how things will go.

First up is Winston Peters, from late last year, when he publicly speculated about the chances of any who wish to wear the crown. Its full of the usual Winstonisims and for that alone makes for entertaining reading.

Next is Secret diary of the National leadership race by Steve Braunias which is about par for the course but only covers Adams, Collins and Bridges, so we can only speculate about what he thinks of Joyce and Mitchell.

And keeping with the decent into absurdity is pop star Robbie Williams recent views on who would win where he judges the candidates chances based on their photos. I am not sure but I think that Mr Williams thinks Simon Bridges might be gay, given his comments, and that Nikki Kaye is in with a chance**

Meanwhile, we veer back on course with Stacy Kirk's article from Stuff which is worth reading for her take on the situation and the videos of the candidates doing their best to sell themselves to the public.

In the various videos Bridges looks slightly irked and irritated at the intrusion of the plebeian into his rarefied space as soon to be leader of the National party; Collins tries to hide the sneering Montgomery Burns levels of contempt but fails badly; Adams appears to be peaking on her first (possibly second) extra strong latte of the day; Joyce looks and sounds like a tired old man who needs to go to the toilet and Mitchell clearly needs a media trainer as his hands do all the talking, like a demented Punch and Judy show, and end up distracting from anything he is saying.

And last, and possibly least is Wikipedia with its very own page on the current leadership challenge which consists mostly of listing the various endorsements of MPs and media celebutards for each candidate with little else of value, ugh!

As for me I expect this to be the opening round in a longer struggle which will be discussed further in my next post: Rehabilitating National Part IV: Rebuild, reform or re-brand?

Until then, Vootie!

*-read my last post on the matter and figure it out for yourself
**-of a date with Robbie Williams not leadership of the National party

China turns away from Democracy

While many people have been fixated on the leadership challenge currently going on in the National Party, spare a thought for what has just happened in China where Xi Jinping just became leader for life by removing the two (five year) term limits on his leadership.

While not a democracy in any way shape or form before, the term limits (much in the same vein as those of the US presidency) were at least a brake on attempts at unbridled power by those who would, for all intents and purposes, become the new Emperor of China.

Now, with those gone, Xi Jinping can rule as long as he likes; just like all those other benevolent despots such as Robert Mugabe, Kim Jong Un, Hun Sen and Vladimir Putin and now China looks a lot more like its crazy neighbor, North Korea.

Of course not everyone in China is down with this move, both the public and possibly other factions in the political elite, are unlikely to be fooled by the propaganda and heavy censorship of criticism of the move.

Many people will look at this and say “who cares” but when a significant portion of the planets population is under the rule of one person and one person only you need only scant recourse to history to see what could possibly go wrong.

And anyone with even the most basic shred of knowledge of China need only look back 50 years to see how things were under Mao Tse Tung to know that China under the rule of one can go rabid and dangerous very quick with no recourse to any limits on what madness can transpire (ie the Cultural Revolution).

And National MPs going into the caucus today may wish to keep this information in the back of their heads when choosing who to vote for as the next leader of the National Party as while NZ is a democracy (with limits on power) there is more than one candidate lining up today who looks and sounds like they would rule for life if given half a chance (Judith Collins I am looking at you).

So the mantra for today is: be thankful you live in a democracy where there are limits on power and your leader today may not be leader tomorrow.

Note - If your wondering why the image of Winnie the Poo, click here.

Friday, 23 February 2018

Consider it official: Judith Collins just blew my mind!

Its almost a week old but upon seeing the headline that said Judith Collins considers herself the "fun" candidate I had to click on the link and see for myself.

What I found was the usual low grade journalism from Newshub (hence why I don't usually use them for links in my posts) via Ryan Bridge whose style of "writing" seems to be simply to cut and paste verbatim whatever Collins said to him.

But in his defense the snippets of Collins in the article and this other jewel from Newshub, simply titled "I stab from the front" - Judith Collins is such an astounding combination of truth, humor, delusion and just plain bizarre that if I did not know better I would have assumed it satire written by the likes of the Onion.

For example check these out:
  • "With me there's a real sense of fun. It will be a hell of a ride and so much fun, and you'll enjoy every minute.
  • "My style of fun is slightly more gladiatorial."
  • "It's possibly a little late, but I suppose I could have a miracle, and the baby could be called Miracle Collins Wong Tung. It'd be great [When asked about having a baby to compete with Jacinda]
Or how about this very catty comment
  • "I think Jacinda Ardern is utterly playing to her strengths. The Vogue shoots and all that. It's good for New Zealand. Good on her. She could be a fashion model, frankly."
But wait there is more to come...
  • "I'd go after some of her vote. Not the soft fluffy vote, the red meat. The working people, working in the panel beaters, who don't read Vogue, who go to work, pay their taxes, grind out their life, trying to buy a house."

On one hand its clear that Collins has a sense of humor and I can definitely admire that and its also clear that she was having fun with her interviewers in the same way a cat plays with the mouse before eating it but if there is even a shred of serious in any of the things she is saying then you have got to wonder what she would be like as leader of the opposition or PM.

And there is just so much meat on the bones of those statements (and others in both articles) to leverage off that if one wished that you could write several posts about them without even trying.

But the one thing I whole-heartedly agree with Collins on, is this wisdom nugget:
  • "These are extraordinary times and we need to take quite different steps than what everybody's going to be comfortable with. We're never going to out-Jacinda Jacinda." 
I suspect my idea of what "different steps" is varies from Judith's but that's probably a given.

So, I'm not a fan of Judith Collins as politician but if she was to take her one woman comedy show on the road I would absolutely buy a ticket. Who she reminds me of at this point, for whatever reason, is the late Robert "Piggy" Muldoon with her combination of in your face attitude, naked lust for power and glib flippancy.

And if I pause for a minute and consider the rest of the field she is up against, with the likes of Steven Joyce, Simon Bridges, Amy Adams and Mark Mitchell, none of whom seem to have a sense of humor, maybe she is the fun* candidate after all.

Consider my mind officially blown.

Bravo Judith, bravo!

*-And Collins has now taken that word to the meta level

Thursday, 22 February 2018

National Party Leadership Rumble: We rate the contenders

This is one of my last posts focusing on the National party for the time being but I am looking forward to watching this play out over the next week (and subsequent years).

I recently read Sue Allen’s recent article on Stuff which compared the contenders in the race for the leadership of National to particular makes of cars.

Of course it’s ridiculous to compare politicians to cars. Any leadership contest for a political party is nothing like shopping for a car and every political scientist worth their salt knows that if elections are the Olympics of politics then leadership challenges are the equivalent to the all-star royal rumbles found in professional wrestling.

And unlike many other commentators who rushed out their various articles and posts in the days immediately after Bill English was led sobbing from the podium (excuse me: when he “stepped down” from being the leader) I decided to bide my time, see what I could find out from the various people I know in Wellington and wait until all the contenders showed their hands.

So now Steven Joyce (or more likely the six meter long, intelligent tape worm, called Floyd, that lives in his stomach*) has announced his run for the top job, I have decided that the time was Right (pun fully intended) to write this post.

Ground Rules

There are a host of things you need to know when seeking to be the leader of a political party and its likely that many of our current crop of contenders have yet to take these into account so now is the perfect time to make sure they do.

And I fully admit that I am drawing much of this wisdom from the last nine years of Labour leadership and the previous generations of National internal wrangling, both of which provided a host of maxims.

It’s not a sprint it’s a marathon!

Just because you won this round of the leadership challenge does not mean that all other challengers are vanquished. For example if Judith Collins is not successful this time it’s unlikely that she will be extinguishing her obvious desire to be the boss so don’t spend all your political capital in one go, keep some in reserve and watch your back.

Just because the MPs like you does not mean they will vote for you.

Leadership challenges are one of the few time deadwood backbench MPs will get any attention from their more dynamic colleagues inside cabinet/caucus so it goes without saying that while flattered at the obvious, and sudden, attention; they are either going to use their head and vote strategically (ie whichever way the wind is blowing) or make sure you pay their price upfront. No MP worth their salt is going to peddle their ass for peanuts. It’s not personal, it’s just business.

Just because the MPs like you does not mean the public will.

Congratulations, you have managed to woo over sufficient numbers of MPs to your side and have gotten the top job but the public perception of you is so negative that you’re doing more damage than good by being the face/leader of the party. Labour repeated this mistake time and time again when supposedly popular MPs kept on trying to ram their hairy oversized feet into the glass slipper of public perception after becoming leader and failing miserably.

Just because the public likes you does not mean the MPs will.

Congratulations you’re the darling of the voters in your electorate but your fellow MPs treat you like you have a serious BO problem and stay upwind of you at all times. You’re going to have to get them on your side to swing the leadership vote then you had better start with a new and improved deodorant before figuring out if you have enough to pay the pipers when they come calling.

Context, context, context!

Being popular with the public and MPs alike may still not be enough if the situation surrounding you, and your party, is just not grooving and leadership in opposition is never a fun job. Right now National is on the downward slope of the electoral cycle and no matter who becomes leader they may be faced with declining vote share until the time is right and things start to come back round.

The Measures

As leadership challenges are similar to the antics of professional wrestling so it’s only appropriate that we assess the current crop of candidates along the same lines as wrestling with its hero’s (called Baby faces or Faces) and villains (known as Heels), scripted drama and assorted hijinks to jack up the crowd (think cage matches, Texas death matches, ladder matches etc).

And unlike boxing, with its tale of the tape that focuses on pure measurements like weight, length and height, wrestling focuses more on intangible factors like audience appeal, finishing moves, wrestling style (brawler, technician, outright loon) and acting ability; all of which are qualities similar to those which MPs need to operate in politics.

Let’s Get Ready to Rumble!

So ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, liberals and conservatives without further ado welcome to the 2018 National leadership rumble. Allow me to introduce, in alphabetical order, your contenders:

Amy “The Quiet Achiever” Adams

Type - Face
Style - Technician
Finishing Move – The “Silent but deadly” sleeper hold
Appeal – mid to high
MP since – 2008

Word around the water cooler in Wellington is that Adams is a person who gets things done and this view was echoed by political rag the Trans-Tasman in 2016 when it gave her the title of best MP of the year in its annual review of NZ MPs and described her as someone who “gets the job done”.

She has held a range of ministerial portfolios when in government (Internal Affairs, Environment, Courts and Justice, Broadcasting as well as Communications and IT) and the general comments from those I spoke to about her echoed the sentiments noted above. No Minister is universally popular among civil servants but when I did hear something negative about Adams it was always caveated with a comment about her good work in her various roles as minister.

And there is little dirt out there on Adams either, with a general media sweep turning up little to really smear her with which is amazing when you consider how prolific members of National have been in the last decade at getting caught doing dirty and dodgy things.

But there is this one stain from 2014, and her time as environment minister, from The Standard and reaffirms my faith that even the cleanest in National still have some dirt in their souls.

Adams is a significant landowner in Canterbury and appears to have acted directly in her role as Environment minister in a decision to which she would have profited from (via her owning land). Still, compared to the out and out criminal behaviour of others in National, Adams still appears relatively untainted.

Amy does not immediately stand out as a possible PM but then again neither did John Key when he first entered politics. She is popular in her electorate and in the greater National Party space and has risen steadily on the party list since she started (52 to 7 in 10 years) so she ticks those boxes as well.

My own personal feeling is that Adams is an operator in the same mould as John Key in his heyday, and getting things done “quietly” sounds like a euphemism for the nickname Key had (the “smiling assassin”). Add in her legal background (and the majority of the leadership candidates have one) and you have a quiet but capable candidate with good popular appeal and no major flaws to exploit.

She also is part of the new blood of National but also has been around long enough and is experienced enough to know how to play the game so she could act as a contemporary, and foil, to Jacinda (who entered parliament at the same time). Best of all she is not one of the gang of Five (Collins, Brownlee, Joyce, Bennett and Smith) and therefore does not have any of the negative connotations that these rascals have.

Don’t expect her to fight her dirty in public, she is a face after all, and has already avoided the first public barrage by Judith Collins but don’t underestimate her either, a definite contender.

Simon “No” Bridges

Type - Heel
Style - Technician
Finishing Move – The “OIA Block” flying tackle
Appeal – mid to middling
MP since – 2008

I admit that Simon Bridges stayed off my radar for most of the last few years as he was always overshadowed by the Antics of Key and English et al, so when I started making enquiries about him I was rather surprised at the results I got.

At first many of the things said about him sounded like compliments, until the punchline was dropped and they were turned into compliments of the backhanded kind.

“Smart, very smart…” or “Clever…” were words first associated with Bridges but followed by gems like “too smart for his own good” or “that b*****d would sell a drowning man a life preserver” and my favourite “you know why sharks don’t attack lawyers? Professional courtesy!” which made no sense to me until it was pointed out that Bridges (like Adams and Collins) was a lawyer before entering politics.

So it seems that while no one doubts that Bridges knows his way around parliament there is a barrel load of doubt about his ethics, integrity and his ability to get the job done without leaving a mess.

His behavior as Transport Minister in the 2015 Northland By-Election (with the bridges scandal) helped hand the previously safe National seat to Winston Peters and in effect paved the way (pun definitely intended) for NZ First getting back into politics and thereby setting up the current coalition government**.

But that’s not all, his more recent attempts to block OIAs made about Kiwirail, his “accidentally” opening up a national park for oil and gas exploration and his links to dirty politics show that if Adams can keep her nose generally clean Bridges cannot and this puts him on the back foot as soon as his past record is on display where Adams has already had public (and professional if the Trans-Tasman is to be believed) praise for her work as a MP and Minister.

However let’s not write Bridges off just yet as it’s clear that he is being cast in the conservative media (like NBR via Bryce Edwards recent glamour piece on him) as something in the mold of a young lion, like an early John Key (with his down to earth and relaxed nature) who will lead National to Victory in 2020 if only his opponents would stop focusing on his “real” kiwi accent.

Bridges is an operator no doubt but he is also a political lightweight who folds under pressure from the media (as his previous and recent meltdowns show) and this is where the Key comparison ends with a hideous screech of brakes as Keys unflappability and blokey ways was what made him both popular and untouchable.

Bridges on the other hand is clearly comfortable within the rule bound confines of parliament or a court room (where he can score points on technical matters) but not so once out of these safe confines and that combined with his skid marked past means that he is a prime target for both the public and the media as anything thrown has a large chance of sticking.

Bridges, as leader, would be a short term win for him and any party clique which supports him but otherwise its little more than a bald faced attempt to replicate the Key magic a second time around and a bigger loss for the party and any genuine attempts at reform as Bridges would be a clear signal that nothing in National has changed.

However as Mark Hamill recently remarked lighting does not strike twice and if the party could not clone Key’s success via Bill English what makes them think they can compete against Jacinda with Bridges?

Judith “Crusher” Collins

Type - Heel (with a heart of gold?)
Style - Brawler
Finishing Move – “The Crusher” figure four leg lock
Appeal – All or nothing
MP since – 2002

If Simon Bridges has been off my political radar for most of his time in politics Judith Collins has most certainly been on it but not, as some might expect, for all the wrong reasons.

In Wellington there is a surprisingly high amount of genuine praise (not just backhanded compliments like Bridges gets) for Collins abilities as a Minister, no matter her portfolio.

Over time I have heard her described as “able to get things done”, “knows what is going on” and “she may not make a decision you like but she will make a decision”. All of these, and others, show a definite level of loyalty among some civil servants and staff in her previous offices towards Judith as a Crown Minister, which, like Peter Dunne in his time, goes a long way in certain circles.

However what also goes a long way is the other side of Collins reputation which is accurately reflected in comments like “the b***h has balls” or “she walked into the room, said nothing to no-one, gave her speech and walked out without saying a thing” and this rather personal observation from a previous Ministerial office staffer; “when the scandal [Orivida] was going on she never once too it out on us [her staff] but she sure took it out on other people, never get in her way!”

Collins is a bully, a brawler and a beast. She takes no prisoners and asks for no quarter which has made her very effective in her role as attack dog for National under John Key.

Even after the Orivida scandal broke and the rumors of Judith’s attempt to get Key’s job were circulating JK never got rid of her as all that would have done is cut her loose and give her every reason to stir up trouble. Instead he banished her for just enough time for the public to forget and then brought her back, which, as I noted at the time is because “you keep your friends close and your enemies closer”. In the immortal words of Tyler Durden, Judith Collins is “a predator posing as a house pet”.

Collin’s links to dirty politics via Cameron Slater and numerous scandals are just a Google search away and I have linked them so many times I am not going to do it again but Judith has spent her 16 years in politics actively caught up in dodgy dealings and while she may thirst for the role of PM she would have so many targets on her back and weak links in her armour that electing her as leader would be gifting the opposition with all the free runs they can handle.

Also, let’s address the incredible nonsense drifting round in the media that Judith Collins as leader, and the subsequent lurch to the Right that her appointment would represent, is the best bet for National in its time in opposition.

Collins as the face of National for the next three, six or nine years, in opposition would be confirming all the negative things the public knows about National and the idea that her “attack dog” approach to Labour would be just the tonic for “holding Labour to account” or wooing Winston away from the Coalition is scorched earth thinking at best and Gotterdammerung bunker mentality at worst.

All it would confirm is that National, bitter from its election loss, can’t be bothered to fix its problems and would be willing to let its baser instincts take over in an angry orgy of atavistic political violence such as to give Trump a run for this money.

It’s well known that the more right wing elements of the party have never been down with the moderate bent of Key and his disciples and they want Collins as the no nonsense face of their planed return to power under the mechanism of FukYoo politics, just as Trump did, and blitzkrieg the opposition via angry and emotive appeals to those who feel that NZ is no longer theirs (read the Hobsons Pledge crowd).

Judith Collins, for all her ministerial strengths, is not leading lady material. Casting her in the role of PM is like casting daffy duck as the serious romantic lead in the next 50 shades of Grey movie, its wrong on so many levels.

However if Judith somehow does get the job you will have a clear indication of what faction is in charge of National and it would send a very clear message to the “compassionate conservatives” in National that now might be the time to form their own party or join NZ First.

Steven “Dildo” Joyce

Type - Vanilla Midget
Style - creepy crawly
Finishing Move – The Tape Worm sneak 
Appeal – None whatsoever
MP since – 2008

Many people I spoke to did not have much to say about Steven, to be fair, but those who did had little to say outside of things like “good at catching dildos” or “kinda creepy” and “a bit like Gollum from Lord of the Rings” which was apparently in reference to their unbridled thirst for power (their “precious”) and not their similar visages.

In wrestling terms Joyce is a Vanilla Midget (or Lemon) wrestler, too small and boring to succeed in the main event but useful as filler to provide fodder for the real superstars.

For example Joyce is credited as the “mastermind” behind Nationals successful 2008, 2011 and 2011 election campaigns which is ignoring outright the fandabulous personal popularity of John Key as well as Joyce’s blunders, with the National Party theme song in 2014 (that lead to the National Party being sued and losing in court for copyright infringement) springing to mind first.

Also the fact that Joyce clearly had a hand in the failed hit job on Winston Peters over his superannuation, a decision that is more than likely is the crux of why Winston chose not to go into coalition with National, as the single dumbest thing in an election campaign filled with dumb moves and colossal blunders.

Then from failing eight out of 11 economics papers while at university (while getting a degree in Zoolology) Joyce managed to overcome that setback to become Minister of Finance (when Bill stepped up to be PM) and simultaneously found himself in opposition to every economist in New Zealand due to his idiotic comments of about Labours budget “hole”.

Unlike his contemporaries, who have proven popularity on the hustings, Joyce has been on the party-list from day one and has shown no charisma, charm or leadership ability when compared to all other contenders.

Joyce’s political career is a stellar promotion for the idea that you can flunk and fail your way in almost every area and still get by if you happen to have a million dollars to help clean up the mess.

So why is he running for leader? My theory is that Joyce is either acting as a spoiler candidate to suck votes away from another candidate and/or aiming to lose the race but get the number two spot as deputy. Joyce’s star is fading in the wake of the election loss, and he knows it, so he is aiming to shore up support before the knives come out.

Joyce getting the top job would only confirm one thing; that Floyd (the intelligent tape worm that lives inside him) has the incredible ability to charm and manipulate people, situations and events to such a stupendous degree that it has carried Joyce all the way to the threshold of absolute political power in NZ.

Meanwhile, inside the fleshy shell that Floyd manipulates the real Steven Joyce is scratching at the walls of his mind and screaming in abstract terror.

Mark “The Merc” Mitchell

Type – Gimmick
Style – Shoot first, ask questions after payment
Finishing Move – The “cluster-bomb” elbow drop
Appeal – “Classic” conservative
MP since – 2011

Much has been made in the media of Mark Mitchell’s lack of public profile as being a good thing in the current leadership battle, which doesn’t make any sense until you realise the almost entirely negative perception that most of the other candidates, and the National party has from their dodgy past.

So yes, in that sense Mitchell’s relative unknown status does serve him well but it’s also serves to distract from some rather concerning things about Mitchel himself.

First up is the fact that Mitchell turns out to have the stain of Dirty Politics on him as he has previous links to political operative Simon Lusk and blogger Cameron Slater but even worse is that Mitchell owned and operated his own mercenary company (more politely known as a PMC or Private Military Contractor) in Iraq and was made Minister of Defence after Bumbler Brownlee got demoted to Foreign Affairs.

And I am not the only one who is seeing the obvious and extremely concerning conflict of interest that having a man who owns a mercenary company in charge of NZ’s defense poses. Forget Mitchell’s police background and instead focus on the fact that this is a person who, as the Spinoff notes, “pulled the trigger for profit”.

Mark, like Steven Joyce, is another extremely rich individual who has bought their way into NZ politics and as threats to democracy go that’s pretty high. Here is a man that has gotten rich from war running for the highest office in the land in a country with a proud military tradition and indigenous warrior culture. Think about that for a minute, yeah it doesn’t look good at all, does it.

But in focusing on the leadership bid, Mitchel has little to add except the fact that almost every media article about him focuses on his police background, his “hostage negotiation skills” and his lack of experience in government (three minor ministerial posts in a year, no bills or legislation to his name and his vote against gay marriage).

Mark’s star only started rising after John Key left in December 2016 and try as I might there was no word on the street about him in Wellington so I can only assume that Mitchel was not popular with Key as its only when Bill took over that he started getting ministerial posts and moved up the party list (42 in 2014 to 21 in 2017).

And given that the media started talking about Mitchel being in the race well before he actually announced it smells like some carefully orchestrated media manipulation (not that the media is difficult to manipulate these days) on his part to get some free PR and talk his chances up by spinning out his negatives into positives.

If Amy Adams has been a quiet contender and gotten things done while maintaining a low public profile then Mark Mitchel is the exact opposite, a non-performer who has a low public profile because he has done nothing.

In wrestling terms Mitchel is Gimmick, using props and his non-political background to pad out his otherwise lackluster political career. As a leadership candidate he is likely to get side-lined by the more dynamic contenders unless he decides to support one of the bigger fish (like Joyce playing for the deputy position).


So there are your contenders in this potentially multi stage leadership rumble: A mix of good and bad operators all trying to be the first to drink from the poisoned chalice.

I'm not going to give my preference for any candidate but do you think this is how it will turn out? 

NOTE: What I left out was all the possible combinations of challengers that could permeate, the deputy contest and all the other details which could take up another whole post (hey what a great idea!). Also I could not find any good pictures of Mark Mitchell so I went with him and his dog (please let me know if there you know of anything suitable out there).
*-Floyd was identified by Joyce’s proctologist last year after a lengthy rectal examination
**-Ironically Bridges was the person to unseat Winston from his old electorate in Tauranga in 2008 which means that he is responsible for both the death and rebirth of Winston Peters, sheesh!