Search This Blog

Friday, 28 April 2017

Don't kid yourself Gerry, its a demotion not a promotion!

I suppose you could file this under catty but if NZ Politics has shown me anything its that there are different types of politicians.

Some are well meaning but ineffectual (like Andrew Little); some are dynamic but dangerous (like John Key and Winston Peters); some are purely predatory (Judith Collins); some are seat warming drones (many of them) and some are bumblers (walking disasters which always do more damage than good and bump from one crisis to the next leaving a trail of damage behind them).

Let’s not mince words here.

Murray McCully was a bumbler of a politician.

He was put in the ministerial backwater of Foreign Affairs to keep him out of harm’s way (and out of the country as much as possible) and yet he still managed to muck things up.
His term at MFAT lead to a revolt among the diplomats and shady things like the Saudi Sheep deal showed McCully doing the best to pull the wool (pun intended) over the eyes of his cabinet colleagues to NZ being conned.

And these are his contribution to NZ politics and these are what he will be remembered for.
30 years of warming a seat and collecting a pay check and his legacy was to bring the normally duplicitous but always genteel diplomats of NZ to behave in the most undiplomatic of ways and to be outmaneuvered by some foreign shakedown crew.

And even now after eight years as foreign minister, his face and diplomatic passport are not enough to prevent him from being searched at the border in Auckland. My guess is that the "administrative error" was more likely a deliberate and well timed reminder of his position in the real world and not whatever bubble he has been living in.

Bumble, bumble and bumble some more.

And now with McCully being put out to pasture and from what I hear not a moment too soon. He was like one of those characters out of Yes Minister or Reggie Perrin, all pomp and circumstance and with shades of Colonel Blimp about him.

But now we have another human cartoon character, Gerry Brownlee, taking over from Duffer McCully.

And again let’s not mince words here either.

Brownlee IS a bumbler par excellence, from trying to start a war with Finland to mucking up the Christchurch Rebuild, to corruption at CERA and, like McCully, behaving as if he was some pompous ass whenever anyone says anything which is not down with his majesties narrow view of things.

And Brownlee has been such a bumbler that he was moved to the dead end policy backwater of Defence as a means to keep him out of sight and busy (and like McCully out of the country as much as possible) and now with the SFO sniffing around CERA and the rebuild still grinding along, the most hated man in Christchurch is being moved to Foreign Affairs to minimize his actions and behaviors with the coming election.

It’s not a promotion; it’s a demotion, clear and simple. Gerry is being put under wraps until the heat has died down and maybe, just maybe, if National wins the election, he might be allowed back out.

I always found it disturbingly ironic that such a disaster of a politician would be made the minister of Civil Defence but then perhaps John Key did have a sense of humor.

And with world affairs being so tense lately, I am counting the days until Gerry’s mouth says something that will either offend some nation or just utter another of his grossly atavistic remarks when his corpulent bulk is offended by the intrusion of reality.

Because Brownlee is Colonel Blimp in not just character but also in form and while I would normally refrain from digs about one’s physical form whenever I see Gerry booming through Wellington Airport like a Spanish treasure galleon in full sail I am always reminded of a comment shouted at him when he fronted up to a protest at Canterbury University in 1999.

It was the day after the students rioted and kicked off the occupation of the Registry building, they were angry about the rise in student fees and a massive rally was being held in the library quad.

Several politicians had been invited to speak (including Gerry Brownlee). Gerry stepped up, took the mic and opened his mouth but before any words could come out some wag in the crowd shouted “Who ate all the pies!” and the crowd roared with laughter.

Had it ended there things might not have gone the way they did Brownlee ploughed on and started to speak. Nothing he said made sense and by the end of it the light relief that had come from mocking him was replaced by a growing mood of fury and he was soon drowned out by the angry shouting of the crowd*.

He bumbled his way in and bumbled his way out.

In the safe confines of the debating chamber he can attempt to be glib and make a few snide remarks during question time but out in public he is political dog food when he speaks and his move to foreign affairs is Bill English doing pre-election damage control by putting Bumbler Brownlee somewhere he can inflict the least political damage (far away from issues like water, housing, corruption, immigration and the economy) with his mouth or his actions.

So let’s not fool ourselves, this is not a promotion for him it’s a demotion or at best a “promotion upstairs” (as they say in the world of business) to get this political disaster of a man out of the way and out of the public eye before the he remind the voting public about all the very worst things that National stands for.

Both McCully and Brownlee are cut from the same cloth, political deadwood which, once in office, cannot be removed and like some wafting stench from across the fence that won’t go away quickly.

And people worry about North Korea having nukes.

*-Including a particularly vocal segment who had taken to chanting "Who ate all the pies!" again and again.

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Meanwhile on the Korean Peninsula

Apologies in advance for the length (nearly 4000 words) but its not a topic that can be condensed without losing the important info or its context.

Also apologies for the some of the links or lack thereof as this could have been the most link heavy post I had ever written but I culled a lot due to the sheer number. If your interested I encourage you to go out and read up on this yourself.

Everyone’s favorite international bogeyman, North Korea, has been back in the media over the last few weeks as international tensions raise and the drum beat for war grows ever more strident.

In the media the discussion has ranged from invasions, targeted strikes, regime change, further sanctions to speculative, and often salacious, articles about the current ruler of North Korea, the baby faced Kim Jong Un, and his family but almost all of this discussion boils down to the geo-political version of shouting “wont someone think of the children!

And I am posting this on ANZAC day because if there is any day where it’s appropriate to honor those who fought and died in war but to also remember exactly what they fought and died for then this is the day.

But don’t be mistaken that this post is going to stupidly glorify war or make some limp argument for peace; I will be just setting out my thoughts on the situation and let you make up your own mind.

So like my previous geo-political post on the South China Sea I am going to try and unpack the issues and lay out the facts so that instead of everyone chanting “North Korea Bad! USA Good! War, War, War!” in unison we can discuss this with a little more balance and perspective.

And the best place to start is with the history of the region itself, North East Asia, because trying to focus on the situation today without understanding how we got to the Korean peninsula being one big armed camp leaves vital pieces out of the puzzle.

Some History

The two Korea's we have today were once one Korea (a Korea with a long and proud history and distinct language and culture – despite what the POTUS says) and in the late 19th century Korea, and the surrounding region of Manchuria, was invaded, occupied and annexed by Imperial Japan (just like Russia has done in the Ukraine and Crimea today).

Japan had risen to prominence in the mid-19th century (ending 200 years of self-imposed isolation) after the US, under Commodore Perry, forced Japan to open itsborders to the world (and US trade) by sailing a warship into Tokyo Bay (in a classic case of gunboat diplomacy).

The Japanese responded to the threat of modernity by deciding to go whole hog on westernization (including military systems and weapons) and rapidly changed the face of Japanese society by industrializing and adopting many western ideas and practices (like a parliament, a constitution, factories, electricity and some western cultural practices).

But it did not stop there as Japan decided to get into the colonial game as well (just like Europe and the US was doing around the world) and after Japan claimed Korea and Manchuria, by defeating Russia in the Russo/Japanese war of 1905 (the first time a western power was defeated by an Asian power), Japan then invaded China and by the 1930s had entered what the Japanese referred to as the Kurai Tanima or Dark Valley of militarism.

So with Japan occupying large parts of Asia, fighting in China and aggressively expanding its naval capacity the US took steps to stop it (trade sanctions etc) which lead to the Pacific War and split of Korea into two states between the US and the Russians (in much the same way that Germany was split by the occupying powers) when Japan was eventually defeated in 1945*.

Two Koreas One War

This artificial split of one nation into two was never going to go down well and in 1950, after five uneasy years North Korea (backed by the Russians) invaded the South and kicked off the Korean War (1950-1953).

The war was the first major conflict of the post World War Two era and the real large scale conventional war, as the US and Russia used the North and South as proxies to fight it out.

But there is more to this conflict than just the US and Russia as major players. In 1950, with the North Koreans almost beaten and the US close to Chinese border, China intervened on the side of the North and drove the US back, leading to two more years of bitter fighting before the armistice in 1953.

The reason the Chinese got involved has more than one factor but in short came down to being very unhappy about having US military forces right on its border which (if you know your Chinese history) had a lot to do with just having thrown off 100 years of European domination (including the Opium Wars where the British acted as the world’s first drug cartel by flooding China with Cheap opium), then battling the Japanese occupiers and finally ending its protracted civil war (caused in part by Western powers weakening an already fragile Chinese state) which had raged until 1949.

So from 1950 to 1953 the Korean War seesawed back and forth and ended in stalemate, no official peace treaty, no real peace, the world most heavily militarized border and two well-armed nations (supported by their Cold War backers) who hated each other and were now diametrically opposed to each other’s way of life (Communism vrs Capitalism).

And unlike that other famous Cold War border, between East and West Germany, this one was not always that cold, in fact it was often very hot with continual flare ups, shootings, shelling and occasional incursions, by the North, into the South (North Korean Death Commandos, midget submarines etc) just to keep things on edge.

The Korean War had devastated both Korea's (but specially the North which had been subjected to a US carpet bombing campaign that killed up to 20% of the population) and made China and the US bitter enemies, until Nixon started the thaw in relations in 1972. It also proved that the US high tech military machine could be stopped, if not beaten (it took the North Vietnamese to do that in the Vietnam War) and intensified Cold War hostility to the levels we all know and love (proxy wars, spies, defectors, espionage galore, spy planes and spy ships, military build-ups, client states, “we start bombing in five minutes” etc).

And that state of affairs continued after the rest of the Cold War ended, when the Soviet Union collapsed and the Berlin Wall came down (bringing about the reunification of the two Germany's back into one) and continues to this day which is why the situation on the Korean peninsula remains so tense.

What did change in the last 50 years is that North Korea stopped being a client of the Russians and became a client state of China; South Korea was run by a military junta from the early 1960s to the mid-1980s** (that’s right the southern half) before finally converting to an east Asian style democracy. It’s also worth noting North Korea was economically and materially better off for the first 25 years following the end of the war before the South finally caught up and then surpassed it.

Then in the mid-90s North Korea nearly collapsed during a series of famines where, it has been estimated, that up to two million people starved to death and the survivors had to resort to measures like eating grass, bark and sometimes even each other and from which it has never really recovered (malnourishment and stunted growth of the North Koreans) and remains dependent on food aid to this very day.

Meanwhile South Korea thrived during the 1980s and 90s and emerged as one of the Tiger economies of Asia during the 2000s and now enjoys a high standards of living and food for all.

Pick your police state

But until South Korea became a full democracy there was little to distinguish between North Korea (ruled by absolute dictator Kim Il Sung) and South Korea (ruled by a succession of authoritarian Junta leaders***) and watching military parades in either country from the period look very similar, with lines of tanks, marching troops, rockets and those human LCD displays which look amazing but seem to have just a touch of police state conformity about them.

Also both countries had nuclear weapons programs and while the North eventually developed nuclear weapons the South conducted a range of research before deciding (or being pushed) to go under the US nuclear umbrella.

And while a lot is made of North Korea's nuclear weapons program few people know that it was begun in response to the US placing nuclear weapons in South Korea as a means of bolstering its troops stationed there as well as threats by the US to use them if the North ever invaded the South.

Meanwhile both states developed large military forces (with the North getting theirs from the Soviets and later the Chinese and the South primarily from the US) and which, to this day, both still retain military conscription which gives you an idea of exactly how serious both sides are about their current neighbor across the DMZ.

And while there have been attempts to patch things up with the Sunshine Policy (10 years of slightly less strained relations from 1998 to 2008) and cross border visits for separated families there is just too much history between them to really fix things and the positions too intractable to really make any progress.

People in power

Then there are the personalities and if there is anything which makes the whole North Korea/South Korea thing worse it’s the personalities.

In the North it’s been the dynastic family of the Kim’s**** with the current iteration of Kim Jong Un who is the grandson of the original North Korean crazy man Kim Jong Il and son of Kim Jong Il (he of Team America fame). All of the absolute dictators with the power of life and death over the citizenry, who have been indoctrinated to treat them like gods who can do no wrong and who protect the country from Imperialist America.

But the South has had its share of such behavior also, from the first leader of South Korea (the Authoritarian Syngman Rhee), to “President Park” (he of military junta fame) and the father of the recent President Park who was impeached and convicted for corruption as well as letting her astronomer run the country (just like Nancy Regan did in the 1980s for the US) as well as other strongman leaders.

With such leadership, and the US, Russia and China hovering in the background, it’s easy to see why things might have remained tense on the peninsula for the last 65 years.

So let’s recap the current history and situation before going onto the possible futures of the region.

Divided nation, superpower backers, military conflict and Cold War escalation, threats from both sides, devastating war, authoritarian governments, dictatorial leaders, heavily armed (and mined) border region, history of occupation as well as proud history of independence (check out this clip), nuclear weapons (or the threat thereof) and just a dash of crazy.

All of these factors is what has created the situation we have today and while North Korea is definitely the worse of the two now it has not always been so and as we now look at future options it pays to keep that in mind*5.

Media Histrionics

But first a brief word about the media coverage.

The current view of the media on the situation shows that either they don’t know the history of the region and situation, or more likely, are happy playing the panic card by trying to appear responsible journalists but instead write articles like this which just make the worry worse by feeding a stream of manipulative factoids (ala most mainstream US journalism on the issue) and say one thing on the surface but have another (more panicky message) underneath.

Which is why most coverage and commentary comes off like the previously mentioned “concern for the children” comment which is using one small part of the situation as justification for a whole lot more.

The net result is a rather sleazy replay of the lead up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq with lots of diagrams of nuclear weapons, cruise missiles, damage tables and all the “technical” jargon one can handle before vomiting up the barium meal.

Risk and reward?

But North Korea is not Iraq and an invasion or any other form of military measure comes with an incredible range of risks.

But to fully understand those risks we have to understand the rationality or security stance of the players in the game and each has a different stance than the others.

North Korea, is an international pariah state, it’s also a dictatorship with a small ruling elite attached. For such an nation, leader and elite, maintaining its security (ie the security of the ruler and the elite) is paramount and given the fact that it still remembers what happened to it in the Korean War, as well as previous US threats of retaliation, it’s understandable that such a state would seek to build and maintain the ultimate deterrent (nuclear weapons).

But nuclear weapons only work as a deterrent if its backed by a credible threat (ie that of their use) but paradoxically that threat is useless if the North were ever to use them.

Why? Because if they did they know they would be starting a conflict they could not and would not win and that such use would invite their total and utter destruction as a response.

Therefore using nuclear weapons as a form of security only works if you are still in power and if you are pile of radioactive ash or have been forcefully invaded, deposed, tried and hung by the rest of the planet in response to your using nuclear weapons, then they have not done their job.

North Korea wants to be seen as a mad dog threat, this has been its position for the past 30 years or so and it remains that today. The threat of them having nukes and being just “craaaaazy” enough to use them means they can (and have in the past) wrought concessions out of the South Korea, The US and China.

Kim and Co want to maintain their lives and their lifestyles (because he and North Korean elite live very very well while the rest of the North lives in near starvation and poverty (as well as death camps, secret police knocking on your door in the middle of the night and all that fun police state stuff) and as such they are fully rational about what they are doing and why they do it.

What would not be rational would be them just handing over power and giving up their easy lives and as such they seek to protect that.

Imagine if Bill “why aren’t you John key” English and Co suddenly decided that they were socialists after all and were going to reverse all of their policies which were taking NZ down the dark road we are currently going as well as give up their cushy jobs in parliament and have to go out and do some real work and actually not just live off the rest of us.

You can imagine that situation all you like but it won’t happen because inside the framework of the power relations and situation that Bill and Co exist it would not be “rational” and in their minds simply not an option.

This is the same as how North Korea thinks. If they push the button and try and start the big one by lobbing a nuclear missile on anyone they will be gone and they know it BUT if they wave the missile around and keep up their aggressive stance they get things for their bad behavior. It’s not a nice way to behave but its works and in the context of the situation has been very profitable.

The Chinese Puzzle

Then there is China. If it was just North Korea they would probably have collapsed by now but China has propped them up and supported them for 50 plus years now, why?

Again go back to the security stance of the Chinese. Not fond of being invaded or foreign aggression, not happy with having the US military camped out on its borders (or its anti-missile missiles stationed in South Korea) and as such keeping North Korea as both a buffer state as well as a piece on the geo-political board is preferable to having the two Korea's become one and then being stuck with a US allied state right on its border (because if the two were ever to merge its hard to imagine anyone would be choosing the “lets live like the North” option).

And as in my South China Sea post the attempts by the US at containing a rising China require China to secure its position and North Korea is at that than a unified Korea.

Of course China has its limits and the behavior of the North Korea's has been both vexing and not always in line with China’s goals at times but again when viewed their the Chinese security lens it makes sense.

The one caveat here is that even China has its limits and if North Korea outlived its usefulness or pushed things too far then I do expect the Chinese to take action but the question is what action and what effect would it have. At the end of the day China has the most sway with the north and if any nation can get North Korea to ease off with its belligerent actions then it is China.

Price of reunification for the South

For the South Koreans, now a prosperous global economy a unified Korea looks good on paper but who is going to pay for all that modernization for the crappy third world derelict just across the border? What about all those economic refugees that would come flooding across looking for better jobs and lives? Who would pay for all of that? How would the South deal with it?

And given now that the two Korea's are now somewhat distinct (with even their language becoming different in dialect) could these two even reintegrate without further conflict and issue?

Another Quagmire for the US

Then there is the US of A. Ol Sherrif Donald and his military sure would like to take out the North but at what cost?

The odds of an invasion going any better than Iraq did is zero and probably worse. To be sure the US would definitely succeed in invading North Korea and probably even deposing Kim and the regime but, like Iraq, it’s winning the peace after that is the issue.

Then there is the fact that South Korea would very likely suffer some collateral damage not to mention god knows what kind of violent aftermath (or global economic dislocation) if the US was to go by the Iraq playbook (which by the way was an actual copy of the playbook from the invasion and occupation of Germany in 1945) and the US would certainly cop the blame.

Finally let’s not forget that while wars are fabulous for sagging presidential (or prime ministerial popularity) the US is still getting over the invasion and occupation of both Iraq and Afghanistan and Donald Trump may be crazy but the pentagon is not (it’s just evil, but rational).

Recently the US has been trying to get China to let it go in or at least for China to do the dirty work for the US but given the current climate between the two it’s hard to imagine that China is going to want a fractured North Korea or all those North Koreans pouring over its border (it has issues with North Koreans in China at the moment).

Also think about Pakistan (the US never wanted them to have nukes) and since they developed them the US has been forced to live with the fact that they do and that they have a belligerent relationship with India (a close second to the Korean peninsula when it comes to armed borders, hostilities and long running history of rancor) because the cost of doing anything to actually remove them would have higher costs than letting them keep them.

The costs of the US doing something to remove North Korea's nuclear capability are more than likely just as high if not higher than letting them keep them.

And this, in a nutshell, is the dynamic of the international security situation for two Korea's and their friends and while it’s easy to call for some sort of military action (if you like showing your ignorance) it’s akin to throwing a lighted match onto a bonfire (made with guns, explosives and all the hate you can imagine). In a word it would be the ultimate blowback.

Maybe, Maybe Not

But that’s not to say that someone won’t do something stupid or make a mistake but this is a high stakes game and as anyone who has ever played no limit poker can tell you an all in call has just as much risk as reward when you can’t see all the cards and as I have noted there is a rational thread connecting all the players and their actions.

Which is why calls for an invasion, or a targeted strike or anything else (such as a new leader*6) looks good on paper but when weighed up with all the facts and history a different picture emerges and it is one where barring a freak move we won’t have to worry about North Korean nuclear missiles raining down on us any time soon.

And on ANZAC day that’s a comforting thought because my own military history, family and background means that while I retain a lifelong fascination and interest in the study of all things war and military related I don’t have any wish to go off and die in a pointless conflict for any empire, king or country.

I pay my respects to those who fought and fell every year but I never have and never will support the wars they fought or the arguments that saw them go. Just wars are few and far between and the First World War was not one of them and nor would a further war on the Korean peninsula.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.

*-This is obviously a gross simplification but unless someone really wants my “abridged” history of the Pacific War that is all your getting in this post.
**-And given that the first “democratically elected” president was a member of the previous military junta real democracy did not emerge until the early 90s.
***-Complete with dinner table assassinations of one junta leader in 1979
****-I would add a joke about she of the Kardashian fame but one family of monstrosities is enough for this post.
*5-Also, again, this is the abridged version of the history and the events of the region as I have omitted a range of people, events and situations for the sake of space.

*6-Which is why the North Koreans killed Kim Jong Un’s half-brother recently, so that there would be no other legitimate heirs to the throne.

NOTE: How do I know all this stuff? Studying Asian politics as an undergrad, living in and across Asia for 10 years, getting paid to watch North Korea (plus other countries) and doing counter proliferation while working at INZ, a Masters in Strat Studies and a lifelong interest in Asia and Asian cultures, that's how.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Elections 2017: National Party embiggend by cromulent election victory!*

I have been beating up on Andrew Little and Labour a lot lately so its time to even things up a bit because nothing brings the bile to my throat more than the goons that inhabit the National Party and now with John Key no longer there to protect them its clobbering time!
There has been a certain stench of smugness around Wellington lately which is emanating from National regarding its political fortunes come September 2017.
The smugness itself is that brand particular to National which is a turgid mix of born to rule arrogance of those who believe themselves to be New Zealand’s governing elite and the bug eyed ideological certainty that only a foaming at the mouth rabid zealot can exhibit.
And to give the greedy little munchkins, that squat around the cabinet table, their due there is a reason to be upbeat about September but most of that is not due to anything they are doing but rather Labours sad attempts to get its house in order which mostly come off as the kind of blunders one would expect to see from an adult giraffe (complete with bathing cap and goggles) attempting to swim in a child size inflatable paddling pool (full of jelly!).
Yes, in this autumn of discontent, this season of the slug, National can peer forward with their beady little eyes and see the golden gates of electoral success opening and the party being ushered forward into a mythical fourth term as voters anoint them the chosen.
But I did not come here to praise Bill “why aren’t you John Key” English and the rest of misanthropes that are now congealing around him as National gear up for the big showdown in September, I came here to bury him.
And to help get the spade swinging let us put on our magical time traveling pants, click our heels together, say “there is no place like a neoliberal free market paradise” three times and with glittering trails of fairy dust wafting behind us journey forwards to somewhere in the year 2019.
As we land in the fantastical year of 2019 what do our eyes spy?
To start Bill English has been replaced by a highly animated sock puppet which looks suspiciously like John Key because no-one was fooled by English’s desperate attempts in 2017 to try and emulate his dark mentor in the media friendly stakes by cooking up a spaghetti and pineapple pizza, as a means to distract the public from a string of public relations bungles (Superannuation, Fresh Water, immigration tweaks and the drug crazed unemployed terrorizing honest employers).
So at first it was a few subtle cloning’s of JKs behavior and mannerisms but that did not work and so it was off to the plastic surgeon and tailors (possibly the same who do Judith Collins) for a “makeover”.
English decided to get a personality transplant (one of those “bland white man in a suit” but still a guy who would mock his crappy cooking on social media types), morality injections (he is a compassionate “Catlick”, honest!) and was scheduled to appeared in a series of articles in women’s magazines (to show that he is not a flesh eating reptiliod: at least not in public).
But there were complication in the surgery as the deeper the spin doctors cut the more hollow they found the patient to be, it was if the Bill had been sucked empty of all his character and integrity by some dark force in the prevailing 20 years.
And so with the beeps of the EKG showing that they were losing credibility they opted for a radical new procedure to save the situation.
The result: a human sock puppet modeled to look and sound like John Key and dancing to the dictate of the hand (or hands) up its backside.
And the rest of National has not turned out any better.
Paula “product of the welfare state” Bennett has decorated large swathes of the Beehive and Bowen House in Leopard skin and channeling her inner Dolores Umbridge, has anointed herself with the title of “High Inquisitor” and declared a Jihad on “the drug addled scourge of the human unemployed that threaten our glorious new prosperity” by having all people on a benefit submit to mandatory urine testing on a daily basis. Truly her work has set her free.
Judith “unhinged jaw” Collins finally succumbed to the beast within and went on a rampage down Lampton Quay in a scene eerily similar to that in An American Werewolf in London and was only brought to heel by the brave efforts of the public, who, using a combination of dog biscuits and a rolled up newspaper, managed to contain her in the back of the Old Bailey moments before the AOS were due to charge in, Taser guns blazing. She is now recovering in an exclusive rest home in China.
Jerry “The Brown Eminence” Brownlee knighted himself Lord of Christchurch and set about denying that there were ever any problems with the rebuild whenever there was problem with the rebuild (all that CERA and insurance corruption for starters) and then trying to shout down and belittle any dissent from the beleaguered citizens. He was last seen being chased by a horde of rats into one of the abandoned buildings which still line Cathedral Square. The body was never found but the rat population doubled overnight.
And the list goes on: Nick Smith disappeared while swimming in a perfectly safe swimmable river, presumed drowned but recently sightings of a humanoid creature the locals call “Scummy McScumface” have caused people to think again; Nathan Guy was made unemployed when a cheap offshore clone of himself was was found to replace him; Stephen Joyce was discovered a be controlled by a six meter long tape worm living inside him which had been slowly taking over his mind and personality since 2003 and which had somehow laid eggs inside most of the senior management in MBIE.
And so on and so forth.
In New Zealand itself the housing hernia had swollen into a cancerous tumor and had metastasized its way across the land; Cars had been banned for all citizens so that tourists could have the right of way, any way or any time they wanted and the speed limit had been reduced to 30 kilometers an hour so that they could take as many pictures as they needed without stopping; Fonterra had merged with the SIS and GCSB and was run by Peter Theil which had created a new range of milk, called Soma, which made you libertarian when you drank it and to happily give over all your meta-data to any foreign power or shady intelligence agency which was asking for it; and Queenstown is now a gated community, off limits to anyone with less than a million dollars or a foreign passport.
Finally there were the Prosperity Riots of 2018 when people, who did not realize that unaffordable housing, child poverty, declining healthcare and policing were “problems of success” and went on a rampage up Queen Street in Auckland which then touched off similar scenes across the country.
Of course the sock puppet and his friends went on social media to do something zany (like making a pizza out of a dead Weka) and then declared a wonderful new policy which would come into effect in the year 2090 that would fix all the issues, but the rioters foolishly did not listen to the "good news" and instead occupied several million dollar ex state houses that had been sold at market rates the year before.
Some people say it was all just bad luck but others (with longer memories) say it was the curse of Jack Marshall and the spirit of 72 come back to haunt them.
So now let’s click our heels three times again, say “time for a change” and be whisked back to April 2017 with all its dreary political nonsense.
As voters, 2017 is going to be an important year to go out and vote.
Not just because it’s time for a change but because the damage another three years of National will do is not worth the cost of being complacent about things or believing National to be the only choice come polling day.
Also my source inside the party tells me that come budget day expect the usual lolly scramble of money to distract the voters from the deadly Smilex gas about to be unleashed.
This election you should vote for whatever party you wish but if I can paraphrase Nietzsche here, whoever votes for monsters should see to it that they do not become monsters themselves. And if you vote long enough for any one party then into the abyss New Zealand will go.

*-And if you’re wondering where those words come from, click here.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

A short thanks to YOU, the reader!

I have been blogging for just over a year now.

First it was for six months on KP and since September its been here.

I cant say I have been a success or set the world on fire (despite the blogs title) but here are some stats.

Since September I have written 50 posts with a rough total of 125,000 words; my most popular post is here.

Slightly more statistical are the number about where the readership is coming from as while its mostly NZ I also have small but significant readerships in the US, Germany and the UK.

Also the most popular browser is Chrome (49%), followed by Firefox (31%) and Safari (13%) and then IE (3%) while the rest are mobile.

Last month I had 3712 hits on the blog and on a good day I get between 150 and 200 hits after spending a quite first few months at about 30 to 50 a day.

Based on the traffic from referring sites my readership is slightly more Right Wing than Left Wing (a 60/40 split) but it depends on what I post in many cases.

The only real stat that remains low and does not change are the number of comments (123) which is low and as half of those are mine means that while I get readers few have anything to say (possibly because, as my Grandmother used to say, readers are "not dignifying absurdities" by commenting - please let me know in the comments).

In that time I have learnt a lot about blogging and writing in general and while I think my style has mellowed a bit I think I will be keeping a lot of that piss and vinegar ranting style that I enjoy so much as while its nice to get readers I also write as an outlet for myself (as my therapist keeps telling me to do).

Also I have some ideas for the next 365 in terms of my focus after starting out trying to be international but never getting the time I will be taking a more internationalist approach as well as continuing to focus on kiwi politics and related issues.

Finally thanks to YOU, the readers (who ever you are) for reading what I post (be it gibberish or not) and for those who take time to comment (on said gibberish), it would have been a lot less fun without you.

Many thanks.

Monday, 17 April 2017

KP Repost: I Wanna Be Dirty: James Shaw and Greens

So here is the fourth of our series of reposts on political parties in NZ as we head towards the election (just under five months now).
My feeling about James Shaw and his stated direction for the party (to make it more appealing to voters) remain split as it seems to have given no tangible benefits so far and to be frank I just cant put out of my mind the unease I feel at this course the party is now steering.
And Shaw is a likeable leader with impeccable Green credentials, or so it seems till you remember his 10 years of corporate servitude and its then it becomes clear that there is a fundamental contradiction in terms not just with Shaw but with the Greens.
If National is corruption given physical form, and Labour a party desperately in need of redemption but just too lost to find it then the Greens are a better promise for a world we will never get if they decide to "play the game" and cast their net wider just in an effort to get more votes.
The promise of the Greens is definitely not being the same as National or Labour and a large part of their appeal is by being idealistic but as I note in my post below they are caught between their ideals and the need to "play the game" and there is probably no safe middle ground.
So again I can see what Shaw might be doing by trying to sound more economically friendly (their budget responsibility pledge) and by restocking the front franks with fresh new faced MPs but if thats the case they then become Labour-lite and they, dare I say it, cease to be less Green.
And then there is the fact that NZ First is no friend of the Greens (and vice versa) and as such the possibility of a NZ First/Labour/Green coalition govt is a long shot on the most optimistic of days.
Add in the daunting prospect of another three years of National if the current numbers hold and all of that re-branding will have been for naught.
So if a party like Labour is its own worst enemy when it comes to polling its the opposite for the Greens and despite all their best efforts things may just end up running against them no matter what and that's what stings for me as I have voted Green in the past and I see their promise.
But when I see them trying to be more mainstream when the mainstream is so resolutely un-Green (given the current polling for National and how the public just cant seem to give up the housing hernia) I also see the danger lurking as well as the harsh reality of how the votes may pile up on election day.
And in that sense what I wrote a year ago still has that tragic note, like Brad and Janet did, of ending up used, confused and bewildered, having given over to their passions and been then swept up in the events for little result.

A final piece of the puzzle fell into place this week with the announcement in the paper that Andrew Campbell, the Green party chief of staff, was leaving to allow “some fresh ideas and new legs” to take over in his role.
The funny thing was that he had been in the job less than a year after replacing Ken Spagnolo, the previous chief of staff for over eight years, in a direct move by co-leader James Shaw, to bring in new blood and ideas in preparation for the expected 2017 election (and probably clear the decks of any not down with Shaw’s new business friendly approach to the environment).
But that comment flies in the face of co-leader Metiria Turei’s statement about Andrew wanting to leave after the 2014 election but agreeing to stay on to help Shaw settle into the role. Has James settled in yet? If so why is Campbell the third senior party staffer to leave in short order? Coms and Policy Director David Cormack (a person some believe to be the actual brains behind the Greens) and Chief Press Secretary Leah Haines both immediately preceded him.
Personality conflicts in politics are not new and party staff generally know not to contradict the leader but when key staff are either removed (as in the case of Spagnolo) or leaving in droves (as with the other three) it takes more than claims of “coincidence” to assuage the growing feeling that something is not right in the good ship Green.
The obvious cause is new male co-leader James Shaw himself, who with his corporate background with HSBC (the money launderers bank of choice) and PriceWaterhouseCoopers (an organisation with so many scandals attached to its name I will not relate them here but encourage any who are interested to have a dig themselves) seems an extremely unusual choice for a party whose charter explicitly states “unlimited material growth is impossible” in two of its four articles.
Shaw won the co-leadership showdown in mid-2015 when Russell Norman moved off to greener pastures (pun intended) to work for Greenpeace NZ. An impressive feat for a first term MP and one, at least in my mind, had shades of the Brash Coup run on National in the 2000’s about it.
Shaw himself is pro-market and believes that it can be reformed to be sustainable, which is a laudable sentiment for a member of the young Nats but not in a party like the Greens. These kind of ideas, Shaw’s background and the recent statements from the party about doing and end run around Labour to work with National on some issues show that the Greens of the past may soon be replaced by the “Greens” of the future.
But perhaps it’s just my paranoia that I see all of these things as being connected, perhaps it’s just me, but somehow I don’t think so as various other in the blog sphere have also noted these changes and the fact that it warranted mention in the mainstream media leads me to think that we are on the cusp of a major change in the Greens.
In my previous “analyses” of Labour, National and NZ First I focused mostly on the failings of the past to illustrate the potential/possible issues in the future but in the case of the Greens I can’t do that.
The Greens currently stand alone in NZ politics as being an actual party of virtue in a parliament full of corruption, incompetence, nepotism and just plain criminality. They are a party which has a genuine political agenda which it has been willing to stand up for, which is why almost every other party in parliament hates them and why several sections of government keep their eye on them.
If any political party has ever been under watch by the SIS; monitored by the GCSB, infiltrated by the SIG, loathed by the Police and hated by Labour it’s the Greens. It’s a party which grew from the Values party in 1972, lived through the tumultuous years of the Alliance in the 90s before going it alone in the 2000s. This is a party that has explicitly argued for the removal of the Security Services as they currently are and our exit from the Five Eyes agreement as well as being an active and persistent thorn in the side of any government which doesn’t prioritize the environment or fails the social contract (Gareth Hughes blistering rebuttal to John Key’s recent parliament commencement speech is a fine example of this).
The Greens are a party which has taken the moral high ground from Labour in the wake of the leadership squabbles after Helen Clark departed (although some say Labour just gave it up when they started the reforms of 1984) and has wielded it ever since, using it like a magic cloak to deflect any criticisms.
And there have been criticisms aplenty over the years from the usual pat dismissals by politicians of their policy or position (often with no actual substance to back up why they don’t agree with them) to the all but outright taunts of being “governmental virgins” to the “bloody hippie tree hugger” comments which spew forth from many regular Kiwis when asked about the Green party or their policies. And that’s not even discussing the hate Labour has for the Greens.
If John Key could have all dissenting views in parliament rounded up and shipped off to a re-education “resort” the Greens would certainly be on that list but it would be “just business, nothing personal” to him. And, with only a small sprinkling of fantasy dust could one imagine members of the Greens and National meeting for a beer in Pickwicks after a “hard day” in the debating chamber. One could not imagine such a picture between the Greens and Labour no matter how much magic dust was going round.
If Labour could have all Greens rounded up it would not be “re-education” that they would receive but low altitude skydiving lessons from Air Force helicopters sans parachute out over Cook Straight at night, if it is business with National its personal with Labour.
The Greens owe a large part of their vote base to disgruntled Labour voters and Labour knows it. Labour has treated the Greens like vassals from the earliest days and given their position on the political spectrum expected them to back Labour no matter what (which is why the Greens extension of the hand of friendship to National, even on minor issues has further enraged Labour and provided a pragmatic, but also very dangerous, way to cut through the Gordian knot of being to the left of looser Labour on the political spectrum.
Worse still, the Greens are almost certainly going to gain at the polls as the 2017 election approaches (current polls have them riding high along with NZ First while Labour sags to 26% and National slips closer to 40%) and have proven to have no concern about exposing Labours (and specifically Helen Clark’s) hypocrisy (as its widely believed that they were responsible for the leaks that led to Seeds of Distrust; Nicky Hagar’s expose of Labours cover up of GE contamination in NZ) to get votes.
So in dissecting the Green party at this current time it’s not the past to which I am concerned but the future and to put it simply it looks like the Greens are about to (take a deep breath and say it with me) compromise. In daily use compromise is not a bad term but in politics it almost always means abandoning your principles to reach a short term expediency at the cost of both your long term supporters and policy goals.
For parties like National and Labour compromise (also known as sitting on the fence, seeing which way the wind blows and “flip flopping”) is easy as both have no morals and long since abandoned their core principles in pursuit of power for individual party members and rabid accommodation of whatever orthodoxy is being touted at the time but for the Greens this will not be so easy.
To begin with the Greens capture of the moral high ground is a strategic part of their appeal. They can take positions and advocate issues which would get other parties in hot water; lambaste the government of the day and catch the wind of popular but politically problematic issues (like the TPPA) only because they have this high ground, without it they would be another fringe party which would get whipped senseless with their own past faults and misdeeds if they dared to speak out. Truly they are the hand which can cast the first stone.
Another is that while Shaw himself may be a champagne environmentalist (the 21st century equivalent of Labours champagne socialists) many of the core rank and file are not. Every new voter to the Greens that is merely running from the nitwit antics in Labour will run straight back if either Labour shapes up and flies right (geddit?) or the “sustainable” future Shaw is presenting doesn’t allow people to continue to live their lives under the economic and social model they are accustomed to (for example if rising sea levels did actually require we give up driving cars and banning dairy farms). The core supporters of the greens will likely support the policy measures which reflect the party’s charter but angry voters seeking revenge on Labour or National by voting Green will not.
So the Greens are now at a crucial juncture and with the 2017 election approaching its clear that the Green brain trust has decided get into the game and dispense of the one thing that holds them back which is (pardon my French) governmental virginity. By taking the sandals off, combing the dreadlocks out and with a nice suit or sweater/skinny jeans combo from Hallensteins the Greens will be ready to go to the 2017 Ball and get their cherry popped by that nice Jewish boy from Christchurch or any other potential suitor (perhaps even giving a second chance to that boy next door after his previous sweaty fumbling’s and cloddish behavior).
But there are a few problems with this scenario and Shaw would do well to heed the lessons of history when it comes to playing with fire. The fate of the Lib Dems in the UK, the Maori Party and NZ First should serve as warnings to any minor party leader willing to put short term expediency ahead of long term progress.
Of the three the fate of the Lib Dems is probably the more pertinent. They spent 20 years building up a respectable position in UK politics, under a FPPs system no less, getting 20% of the vote and seats in the house only to piss it all away when in 2010 they supported the Tories in a hung parliament and began to abandon their core principles (as well as break a few key election promises). The voters, predictably, did not like this new direction and the party was slaughtered at the polls in 2015.
In retrospect it probably looked like a bad move to the Lib Dems, but only in retrospect. To everyone else it was clear from the get go that it was a bone headed move and a clear sell out.
Closer to home Winston Peters brainless stunt in 1996 (discussed in my earlier post) and the Maori Parties deal with the devil in 2008 saw both suffer for letting their leadership sell out the voters for a seat at the cabinet table.
It would be unfair though to pin all the blame on Shaw though. He was elected through the Greens relatively fair leadership selection process (one not as convoluted as Labours or as secretive as Nationals) so it appears that he is not the only Champagne environmentalist in the Greens and perhaps many in the party itself want to stop being the wallflower of NZ politics and run naked through the streets singing “Touch-A-Touch-A-Touch-A-Touch Me!”
If this is the case then James Shaw and Metiria Turei are the Brad and Janet of NZ politics while Key is Frank N Furter (with possibly Winston as Riff Raff, Andrew Little as Dr Scott and yours truly as the Narrator). I will leave you to fill in the rest of the cast roles as you see fit.
But the puzzle I referred to at the start of this post has not yet been solved but I think the picture is becoming clearer. If we discount the “coincidence” argument in favour of a more holistic approach we see that new leadership with new ideas, mass changes in key staff and indications of attempts to exit the political corner that the Greens have painted themselves into shows a party on the cusp of a major political shift, a party that is smelling the winds of change and planning to take full advantage of them.
The dangers of this course of action are not always clear and while I personally don’t subscribe to the following rumors (at least not yet) I feel they are worth mention here just to add some zest to an otherwise dull analysis and to indicate just how problematic the issue is.
They are: a) Shaw is a corporate Trojan horse (ala Don Brash in both the National and ACT coups); b) Shaw is an agent provocateur in the pay of the security services (not so astounding once you realize that it’s a known fact that the security services have had paid informants in environmental groups since the 90s; or  c) the Greens have a serious case of political blue balls and are now prepared to do anything (and I mean “anything”) to get into power (this one could be answered a lot easier if we knew who exactly is funding the Greens, not something I have had time to do yet but if anyone wants to let me know I would be grateful).
But at the end of the day the Greens are still a party which is currently fighting the good fight and with an entirely justified moral stance and matching policy prescriptions. When you match up any doubts about the party with the generally disgusting and loathsome behavior of the rest of the rabble in parliament a few potential worries about their direction pale into significance. Only time will tell if it stays that way.
* Its Not Easy Being Green/Bein’ Green.