Archive for category 2. Politics

If "cycleway" was the answer, what was the question again?

As we conclude the second decade of the 21st century, let me review Dunedin’s major project of the decade, the great cycleway network. 

Background: In line with a national and international trend, increased use of bicycling was being strongly promoted by the cycling fraternity in Dunedin as a preferable alternative mode of transport to private motor vehicles.

The rationale behind the cycleway project was in three parts: a) Increasing cycling in Dunedin will help reduce the levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) pollution as our contribution to the global fight against the greenhouse effect and sea rise.

b) That the existing situation which integrates cyclists and motorists is so dangerous for cyclists that it discourages recreational cyclists from using their bikes for commuting. A safer cycleway would, in the DCC calculation, lead to 10% of residents (13,000) choosing cycling as their primary means of commuting.

c) The central SH1 carriageway should be for the passage of traffic, not for stationary parked cars. Removing the parked cars on one side of the SH1 provides ample space for a cycleway thereby safely accommodating all moving traffic. Car park buildings are a far more efficient design for parking than along the SH1 route.

I am not a cyclist (hills and weather) and consistently challenged the logic behind the project but, in the end, the politicians managed to get their ‘public consultancy’ process to agree with them and they did what they always intended to do. Now that the cycleways are well up and running right through the centre of the city it is appropriate to review. So as I recall :

In Dunedin city, the elected councillors began with a cycleway network around the southern suburbs of Dunedin city. The objective being that within ten years, 10% of residents would choose cycling as their primary mode of travel.

The next priority of this plan was to create a separated cycleway along both of the one way streets in Dunedin which are also the State Highway 1 bypass for heavy transport vehicles and cars avoiding the main street. This is now done and as a bonus the recently introduced e-scooters were allowed to share this space, a privilege denied to the mobility scooter users.

At the completion of the project (at least I hope it is the end) I would like to review the situation:

a) It is far too simplistic to put forward cycling as a solution to pollution. The Netherlands is the planet’s poster-country for cycling with a total of 16,500,000 bikes representing an exceptionally impressive 98% of population. And yet on Yale University’s 2014 Environmental Performance Index ranking  for average exposure to PM2.5 (dangerous fine particles in the air) the Netherlands ranked 152nd worst out of the 178 countries; New Zealand ranked #1 for clean air in the same survey. If our cycleway logic was based on being a contribution to the planet’s reduction in carbon in the atmosphere, then it was a pathetic gesture in the true sense of the word.

b) The need for investment in cyclist safety quoted the three cyclist deaths over the last 16 years which have occurred on the State Highway 1. Two were in collision with large trucks, one of which was at the intersection of Anzac Ave with SH1 another was a cyclist swerving to avoid a collision and the third was when a motorist mistakenly turned the wrong way at an intersection. The cycleway was proposed as the solution to avoid accidents. Three fatal accidents in sixteen years, while tragic for those involved, is hardly an epidemic; and nothing will ever prevent genuine accidents.

Subsequent to the completion of the city inner city cycleways, a 2019 survey published in the ODT 14/12/19 showed that cyclists are the largest source of vehicle accidents presenting at Dunedin Hospital ED, with e-scooters, the other user of cycleways as the second highest category. If safety was the objective, the cycleway solution has been a failure and the reason was always obvious. As with the Dunedin experience, the national statistics show that over 70% of cycling accidents occur at intersections where safety is dependent on all road users obeying the road rules.

As for the assumption that the cycleway would result in 10% of commuters (13,000 people) adopting cycling for commuting, that is as wrong as it could be. The official NZTA cycleway statistics, published in August 2019 showed: a) Great King St,  the jewel in the cycleway crown running through the heart of the university precinct, recorded a zero increase. b) The Victoria Rd cycleway, the ‘visionary’ concept of linking south Dunedin to the city by cycleway: a 7% decrease. c) Daily average cycle count in July was 130 from six different counters around the city; that of course does not account for the same cyclist being recorded on two or more of the six counters on the same day. And with all cyclists at least making a return journey, lets be generous and say there were 65 cyclists on average a day during that month.

c) The DCC observation that car park buildings are a more efficient parking option than roadside parking on SH1 may be valid, but that is purely academic since they have not built, nor do they have even preliminary plans to build, any car park buildings to replace the parking space conceded to the cycleway. The impact has only being to push commuter parking further out from the city and create a new residential parking problem. 

In summary, the Dunedin cycleway ‘project of the decade’ has made zero impact on both local and global carbon levels; has not increased use of cycling nor made it a safer option; and it has not provided more efficient parking solutions for motorists. All of these outcomes were predictable and publicly predicted at the time that we were being ‘consulted’. So as we sign off the decade, we can only ask,’if cycleway was the answer, what on earth was the question?”

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Faith moves mountains (of garbage)

In indignation at the snide disrespect being shown to my generation (via the ‘ok Boomer’ social media catch-cry), I published my previous blog stating at the outset that I did not want to take the bait and fuel the animosity and then I proceeded to swallow the bait whole and throw gasoline on the debate (if you will excuse the awfully clumsy mixing of metaphors) with graphs, pictures and commentary.

In reflection, when my indignation was appeased, I did have to accept that the millennial generation is not too dissimilar to we baby boomers in our youth. They are genuinely frightened of catastrophic pollution and the impact on their generation just as we were equally genuinely frightened of catastrophic nuclear war and the impact on our generation.

Of course we are not the only two generations to have our demons of fear. The generations prior to ours had the terror of another world war or another global depression or another global pandemic like the Spanish flu. And on and on it goes back in time right to about 12,000 years ago when the biblical flood, which is gaining increasing geological support, engulfed the known world and almost entirely wiped out humanity. Fear is the one common challenge that all humans have had to deal with throughout the generations.

We use the phrases ‘love’ and ‘hate’ so loosely that it becomes difficult to sit down and define exactly what we mean when we use them. In practical terms the states of love and hate are rooted in ‘faith’ and ‘fear’. The greater our fear is, the closer we come to this state we refer to as ‘hate’. And on the other side of the coin, the greater our faith is, the closer we come to the state of ‘love’.

When we have a fear of someone or something we move from a state of disliking that thing or person progressively through to a point where we are in terror and that is when we reach the state of hate. At the ultimate point of fear, we are facing our primal demon and we feel absolutely dispirited.

On the reverse side of the coin, when we have faith and trust in a person, an organisation, place or situation we grow in our love for that place, situation, organisation or person. At the peak of our love scale we feel a connection which we describe as spiritual.

The nuclear threat today is no less than it was fifty years ago, so why do we no longer angst so much about it? Why is it not first item on the agenda of every UN meeting, the lead story in all media? Quite simply because we no longer fear it. The threat technically is still as real as it ever was, the President of the USA even recently threatened it, but still we do not fear it. We have, over time, developed moderate to strong faith that no nation would ever use nuclear weapons on another because it would mean mutual destruction. That no one person would ever truly have complete control over a decision to actually launch global nuclear war.

Faith in human ingenuity, human survival instinct, human spirit or in a greater cosmic power that intervenes in the affairs of men all contribute to reducing the state of communal fear and allowing humans to embrace a cooperative and creative approach to global problem solving. For it is this very essential gene unique to homo sapiens that has distinguished us from our close cousins the great apes and the rest of earth’s animal kingdom, to which we fundamentally belong. 

Possibly the most authenticated case of a contemporary near-death experience is that of Anita Moorjani. In February 2006 Anita recovered from an end-of-life coma, during which all her organs were shutting down, and recalled her experience in that state of receiving a message to ‘go back and live your life fearlessly’. Within five weeks her stage 4 cancer had completely vanished. Anita now leads a full, positive and energetic life and appears to have attracted to herself tens of thousands of positive, life-affirming people; Anita has complete faith that all is unfolding as it should. A successful and joyful life is totally dependent on our decisions as to how to relate to others. We cannot help people who are living in a state of fear by joining them in that state. That only feeds the fear and accelerates the path to despair. The only help we can give is to be a living beacon for the other path. The path of faith leading to a state of love of life.

And today, even when ecological fear permeates the environment, there is a beacon of hope; and hope brings faith. A young man who is as fearless and creative as Greta Thunberg is frightened and helpless. His name is Boyan Slat and he was born in 1994, so he is a millennial, but just click here see what this young man has done. He established this “Ocean Cleanup” enterprise when he was just 18 years old and got it started with a $2million crowd funding effort. 

What a pity Greta Thunberg did not talk about Boyan Slat when she got the chance at the UN. Greta Thunberg’s speechwriters, who made such a big point about her sailing to that conference across the ocean as her ‘save the planet’ contribution, did not once promote Boyan Slat’s impressive entrepreneurial work to clean up the ocean that she had just sailed on. On the contrary she proclaimed, on behalf of the millennial generation, that solutions were nowhere in sight. The fear is turning to terror and that path leads to the gates of hell on earth.

Boyan Slat is a beacon offering the alternative path. He offers faith in the survival instinct and creativity of home sapiens to do what homo sapiens have done for 200,000 years. Solve the problem they face, clean up the oceans, clean up the rivers.

Boyan, from an old boomer, ‘I love you, man.’

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You’re ok, boomers

I watched Greta Thunberg, millennial poster child for the climate alarmists, speaking at the United Nations. What anger and venom was in that face and in the words she spoke. And the new darling set the stage by so publicly promoting that she sailed to the UN Conference on a multi million dollar carbon fibre yacht so that she would not make a carbon contribution to the climate. Oh how they cheered, the irony lost on the cheering audience that they had all flown first class to listen to her. And many of them possibly also numbered among the 28,000, the equivalent of 70 jumbo jets, who had travelled to the Poland climate alarmist conference the previous year and also among the 40,000 alarmists who had travelled to the earlier Paris alarmist conference. But they applauded the example that this child showed us by travelling on a yacht that not even the reasonably wealthy boomer, whose ‘wealth’ they despise, could ever hope to afford.

I didn’t really think there was any significant animosity between the elders of the 1950’s and 60’s and the younger generations, but someone certainly is trying to create a lot of animosity. The “Boomers” seem generally to be very happy with the way Gen X have taken up their responsibilities, despite not understanding their music; but the problems appear to be with an ‘alarmist’ sub-category of the millennial generation; these are 18-34 year olds born from the mid 1980’s to the early 2000’s.

I have started noticing how many of these millennial climate alarmists have started referring to my generation most disrespectfully with the dismissive phrase: ‘ok boomers’, which they see as a more clever version of patting granddad on his deluded head (and I use the word ‘clever’ quite incorrectly). We have apparently earned that disrespect because we are accused of being the generation that has left millennials with the unbearable anxiety and stress of having to inherit ‘our mess’. That we Boomers cannot fathom what it is like for these young people to live with such anxiety. I don’t want to take the bait, wade in and fuel the animosity, but we do need to do a bit of a fact check on the charges made by the alarmists against us as boomers. It seems such a silly attack because generations are not fixed date separations. The generational transfer is quite fluid and while there will be evolving cultural footprints exactly when they started and when they ended is very difficult to define. But let us look at a few key trends over the relevant decades:

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Coal burning, one of the big contributors to C02 in the atmosphere, accelerated dramatically in the decade 2000 to 2010, and primarily in China. This was entirely as a result of China becoming an economic ‘powerhouse’, building massive factories to feed the new breed of “superstores”. The economic powerhouses of the boomer generation were Europe and the USA whose coal consumption was comparatively very modest. The boomers were the ’boutique’ generation, millennials have become the ‘superstore’ generation. Boomers repaired appliances, millennials discard and buy new. And the flow on effect are the landfills and oceans clogged with discarded waste.

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Look at the trend in passenger air travel kilometres graph. No sign of the millennial generation trimming down on demand for air travel. Scheduled services have in fact accelerated 80% in just 8 years from 2004 to 2012. Those planes today are not filled with ‘Boomers.’ The Travel industry have their business antennae set for the the millennial market. A report by industry giant by Travelport says young people ages 18 to 34 are most likely to spend more money on vacations than other age groups. An Expedia poll shows also millennials travel the most; 35 days each year to be exact.

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But it is not just the airline industry that the millennials consume with voracious appetites. By 2010 the average boomer was 50-60 years old and had a limited demand for mobile phones and their contribution to mobile phone use is displayed in the left side of the graph attached. Shift along to 2015 – 2018 and just watch the impact on i-phone consumption by the millennials.

Every i-phone is a handful of rare earth elements (as are the mechanisms of wind power generators and electric motors, but that’s another story for another time). Rare earth elements are separated from the rest of the earth by a highly toxic chemical process. The millennials consider mobile phones to be disposable items to be discarded and replaced every time someone tweaks a camera setting in a new model. The very visible and tangible consequence of this vast consumption of mobile devices is, in a word, Baotou. That is a city in Mongolia that has grown to a population from under 100,000 when the boomers were born, to 2.5 million; based on the mining and processing of rare earth elements to satisfy the demands of the millennial consumers.

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One of the many waste pipes creating toxic lakes across China and Mongolia
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Baotou rare earth element mine

While Baotou is one of the major sources today of these rare earth minerals, and China has, up until 2013, supplied 90% of the world supply of REE, as demand has grown massively since 2013 other countries are getting in on the market. India, USA, Australia, Malaysia, Vietnam, Russia and Brazil are all now mining rare earth elements. What started hidden away in ‘out of sight out of mind’ Mongolia and Northern China is now coming to a country near you, and all to satisfy the insatiable demand of the millennials to discard a 12 month old phone for the latest model.

The millennials are also the generation that has brought in the Uber Eats mentality because they do not think they should have to cook their own meals. Paying for cars to drive around and around the block, pouring emissions into the atmosphere so a car is always on hand to pick them up a burger when they feel the whim.

The alarmist millennials are spreading anxiety around the world like a virus all because the temperature has warmed by 0.8 degrees C since 1880 and the seas are rising at 1 – 2 mm pa. The reality is that the planet has been warming annually, and sea levels rising, consistently since the last ice age ended. In fact scientific ice core analysis shows that Antarctica warmed about 20 degrees in the years from 20,000 to 10,000 years ago (while the rest of the planet warmed only 4 degrees over that period), the ice age was coming to its natural end. That was a process of nature and processes of nature extend over tens of thousands of years, not over decades. Of course no alarmist is still reading because the official stance of millennia-controlled media is now to refuse to debate the issue. That decision exposes them as propagandists rather than journalists.

If you want to know how to handle global anxiety, you could do worse than talk to a boomer. We boomers grew up knowing that two men who represented two super powers that lived in constant paranoiac fear of each other, each carried a suitcase around with them everywhere they went in which was a button that could launch enough nuclear rockets to destroy the planet several times over in a matter of hours. When I was 12 we had the Cuba standoff crisis between these two nations that had us all just waiting for the minute that life-ending nuclear war started.

Technology development in the previous generation had introduced nuclear power. Nuclear power was seen as a clean and highly effective alternative to fossil-burning coal power. As indeed it is, in theory. The phallic atomic bomb came as a very unwelcome side product driven by the ambitions of Hitler, just as viagra was initially developed as a medicinal treatment for high blood pressure.

So we protested to our elders in our youth, as youth will do. We were the “Make love not war” generation and when we assumed our own democratic influence on the world we actually did something about the situation and we made the changes. The graph shows the dramatic decline in battle deaths from the 1970’s, the decades of the boomers in control.

And if the alarmists want something else to get concerned about, in the decade when boomers were approaching adulthood, well over ten million people had died from famine. Boomers were the “Live Aid” generation. We cared about the plight of the poor people of the world. The dramatic reduction in death by famine during our watch is demonstrated in the attached graph.

But the millennial alarmists, rather than get on and do something about the state of the world, just want to fly around the globe from one conference junket to the next. And they skulk in the background, grooming their “Gen. Z’ children to demand that their grandparents start doling out their life savings, that they believe is their entitlement, to further feed their indulgences. So if you millennial alarmists just keep playing the blame game as the only contribution to humanity you are capable of, and if the 20/20 Generation do experience what your millennial poster child is predicting, either by natural means or as a result of your out of control consumerism, it won’t be the boomers that Gen. 20/20 will be pointing the finger of shame at, it will be the self indulgence of the millennial generation and the impotence of their alarmist sub category.

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Where to Miss? To the stars.

The 2017 “Stars in their Eyes” talent show at the Community hall. Who will forget it? The pre-show favourites were Bill, Paula and Steve, “and tonight Mathew we are going to be the Hues Corporation with: ‘Rock the boat, don’t rock the boat baby.'” A very solid, if uninspiring performance.

Then next onstage came ‘the moment’. Grant and Jacinda stage-whispered the immortal words from Titanic to each other of “where to Miss?” “to the stars”  before launching into their tear-inducing rendition of theme song “My heart will go on”. So patiently rehearsed, secretly over months and so movingly presented on the night that an unexpectedly large number of swinging voters, swung, making it a very close contest.

Finally came the drama of Winston’s solo effort of Englebert Humperdinck’s “After the loving” and many of the old dears who had always liked nice Mr English were now swaying their i-phone torches and swinging their knickers and that performance gave Winnie enough votes to allow Rose and Jack to take the “Stars in their eyes” title.

It was an ominous choice of song that Jacinda and Grant chose as it turns out. We forgot that movie ended with an iceberg and a lot of people were made quickly boatless and floating in the freezing Atlantic.

The Clark/ Cullen team had always steered clear of that iceberg; the Key/ English team didn’t even allow it on their radar; even Andrew Little saw it in time to make an emergency turn and avoid collision. But now the Ardern/ Robertson team, with the grinning masks firmly in place, are steering straight back towards it.  Capital gains/ inheritance tax. The hidden iceberg that would sink the ‘New Zealand that we know’ as surely as the unsinkable Titanic.

What is the difference between us and one of the many poverty-stricken 3rd world countries in Africa, South America, Asia or even increasingly in Europe? Answer: It is a dominant middle class. The middle class is the ballast that keeps a country stable.

China has only emerged recently from the 3rd world status, when they only had a labour class and a political elite as their social structure, to the second biggest economy in the world with a political strategy to create the biggest middle class in the world.

But the growth of China’s middle class has been at the cost of middle classes in the west, including New Zealand. Lured by the temptations of retail warehouses full of cheap, disposable consumer goods, we have sold our middle class soul to indulge ourselves.

Only a generation ago Dunedin used to make things, lots of things.  We had Sew Hoys clothing factories; Ellis’ mattress and bedding factory; Zephyr heater factory; McLeods soap factory, Hudsons biscuit factory, Mosgiel wool and yarn mills, Methven taps and plumbing equipment factory, McSkimmings brick factory and even Hillside trains workshop. And we had large head office infrastructures to support these factories. We were far less dependent on the outside world back then; and we had plenty of goods to trade for those that we needed to buy in. Now we don’t. Plain and simple. And that story is not unique to us, it is repeated in every town and city around the country.

That time is gone. We now gorge ourselves on Chinese-made consumer goods and more and more of us are using credit cards to do it. More and more have no earned income, that is income that has created an asset on the other side of the balance sheet. The socio-economic gap is widening; the middle class is shrinking. The middle class is progressively joining the social welfare queue and the pressure on social welfare taxes is forcing more and more off the bottom rung and onto the street. That is evidence we can’t deny.

Jacinda and Grant’s solution is to collect more taxes to pay more social welfare and provide more social services and so a Tax Committee is established to achieve that. That report recommends a Capital Gains and Inheritance tax of 33% be introduced. But history teaches us well that tax webs catch the butterflies and bumblebees but are no more than a minor nuisance to the magpies and hawks. Living outside the legal system or moving wealth into offshore tax havens are the options that the criminals and the wealthy take. The tax webs catch the law-abiding middle classes. And so the economic gap widens ever more. Venezuela here we come.

Venezuela was once the wealthiest country in South America based on its oil industry.

Hugo Chavez

Chavez was a caring, smiling man who spent much of the income from the boom years on social services; he did not invest in maintenance and development of his oil industry infrastructure and in diversifying their economy. So a few decades on, a run-down oil industry infrastructure in combination with a downturn in global oil prices meant his country’s income stream collapsed. When Maduro took over the presidency in 2013 the Venezuelan people were in a deep economic crisis with more and more depending on social welfare. And he responded the only way he could with a collapsing economy; he borrowed to meet increasing social spending, with China being the largest creditor having loaned over $US60 billion over the past decade, according to the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. Today 90% of Venezuelans are living in poverty; the economy had 80,000% percent hyper inflation in 2018 and there is no way out. Food is at a premium, electricity supply is unreliable, homelessness a norm and people cannot get even the most basic medical help. Nearly three million have left the country as refugees. And it can only get worse. Any bailout will take over ownership of their oil reserves and they will be a slave nation.

It can happen quickly even to wealthy countries and happens under the most well-meaning, but commercially naive, political leaders in charge. Those with smiles on their faces and stardust in their eyes.

New Zealand still has a middle class, but with the massive undermining of  our manufacturing industries, the new middle class will inherit that status from the investments made by the baby boomers during years of full employment. When we had workers, supervisors and managers in a huge range of manufacturing and service businesses. If Jacinda and Grant bring in a Capital Gains and Inheritance tax, that middle class will be decimated in this generation. Family income generating assets will be sold off to meet social welfare demands and down the rabbit hole we go. Within two generations the middle class, the ballast of the nation, will be all but gone. There will be a huge welfare state class and the 1% super rich. Unchartered waters for New Zealand but look around the globe at other countries’ experiences and you see massive poverty, massive civil unrest. No doubt Jacinda and Grant will have hoped to be based in New York by then on some UN gig. Auntie Helen mentored them both into their roles in politics, Auntie Helen knows people at the UN.

There may well be a theoretical rationale for CG&I tax, but any such debate is dependent on timing and circumstances. When a couple or single parent is struggling week to week just to pay the rent, food, electricity and transport costs for the family, there is not point telling them they need to put aside 30% of their income for their retirement in 30 years. Likewise when we have a generation that is already in debt, due to declining infrastructure and inflationary property costs, and is dependent on inheriting capital assets to just maintain the lifestyle of the previous generation, then it is counter productive to talk about 33% of the current market value of those assets being handed over to the state for disbursement to the low/ zero income earners. That just creates a progressively bigger pool of low / zero income earners and a progressively smaller pool of capital investments from which to generate future social welfare and services. The rich get richer, buying up those middle class assets, and the middle class becomes poor. At that point Jacinda has to go to the international loan sharks and, as Venezuela has discovered, that is the end of life as you knew it.

The old socio-economic systems are heading us straight for an iceberg. Rampant consumerism is driving technological advances far beyond our ability to manage the consequences. It is destroying our middle class, destroying our ecology.

Brave new intelligent solutions need to be found and only brave, intelligent leadership can find them. But a CG&I tax is, as the metaphor states, just moving deck chairs on the Titanic. Back to the movie and what happens when the ballast is compromised:

“She can stay afloat with the first four compartments breached but not five. Not five. She goes down by the head, the water will spill over the bulkheads, from one to the next back and back there’s no stopping it.”

“But this ship can’t sink!”

“I assure you, she can. And she will. It is a mathematical certainty.”

Footnote: While the report said ‘full steam ahead, that is no iceberg it’s a mirage’ Jacinda sniffed the wind and decided if she wanted to go back to the ballroom where she was the belle, she had better steer a by-pass course to starboard. Iceberg averted, mirage or not.

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The empire sneaks back

I was watching Winston Peters announcing from the London meeting of the Commonwealth Foreign Ministers that Britain was now keen to resurrect the glory of the British Empire by putting together a trade deal between we proud members of the Commonwealth of Nations.

Foreign Ministers of the Commonwealth

Pub quiz night: name the 52 members, outside Britain, of the Commonwealth of Nations. Did you get to 10? If so I think you are well above average. Did you get Lesotho, Tuvalu, St Kitts & Nevis, Belize, Malawi, or Swaziland? This Commonwealth has 19 African members, 7 Asian, 13 Caribbean & American, 3 European and 11 from the South Pacific.

The total GDP of these 53 nations is $US11 trillion which sounds impressive until you note that China on its own has $US12 trillion GDP and the USA has nearly $US20 trillion GDP. But if there is anything ‘common’ about them it is certainly not ‘wealth’.  The top 4 countries in the group (UK, India, Canada and Australia) account for 75% of the total group’s GDP. The top 11 (where New Zealand is #11) account for 95% of the whole group’s GDP. So 42 countries out of 53 (79%) bring in only 5% of the total group’s GDP. The Commonwealth includes the three poorest countries on the planet. In the same pub quiz, name them! Answer = Kirobati, Nauru and Tuvulu. Bet you didn’t know any of them.

This Commonwealth alliance that today has little practical reason for being, has also bugger all chance of ever being a trading bloc especially when you consider that Commonwealth members Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Brunei and Malaysia already belong to TPP bloc; India and South Africa already belong to BRICS; Cyprus and Malta are in the EU and the African nations have their own trading blocs.

We, the Commonwealth of Nations, are the largely-abandoned urchins of the British Empire who were left to fend for ourselves after Lady Britannia decided to go back to her Eurochums’ social circuit after their two little W.W.s were all forgiven and forgotten. Yes we do meet up for family games every few years, and play a bit of cricket together which is jolly good fun, but thats as far as it goes. If we ever go to visit mother England we will stand and wait in the foreigners’ queue while the Germans are welcomed through lovers’ lane.

But now there are spats in the Euro love nest, mainly about Angela the Hun letting riffraff in through the back door (not intended as a euphemism, but with Germans who knows?). But Britain is committed to leaving the European Union and so, whatever eventually happens with Brexit negotiations, Britain will be short of a few quid for a while and that is likely to make the rabble a bit restless and looking to bring back the guillotines. And like many an absentee parent finding themselves hung over, short of a few quid and debt collectors knocking, she remembers the forgotten family and reminds them that we are still family. So last week the Queen called a meeting of all the heads of their global families, perfectly timed right after the fun of the family games in Australia and immediately before her grand birthday party to which they had all been invited. She told them that she thought that we, as the family of the British Empire, might like to setup some sort of a trade thingy between us and, since she was getting a bit wobbly on her pins, perhaps we should put Charles in charge of it all. Did she really mean all 53 members of the Commonwealth? That would be an enormously daunting prospect for a trade deal, particularly given the disparity in populations, locations, cultures and economies. The EU only has 28 members and our Trans Pacific Partnership has twelve members. Is Charles the man with the experience and charisma to pull together the biggest trading bloc on earth? Especially given that 79% of the members account for just 5% of the wealth.

But perhaps I am being cynical? Maybe its not all about the size of your GDP. One thing Charles would bring to the leadership of any trade alliance would be a focus on ecological sustainability. You have to admit he was all over this ecological crisis way back when we could still swim in our rivers and drink tap water. And he has approached the challenges in a far more practical way than all the attention-seekers floating around in little boats with banners. Since buying Highgrove, a 15-acre estate, in 1980, the Prince has personally overseen its transformation from pasture land to what is now regarded as one of the most important gardens in the UK. His rejection of chemical pesticides and promotion of species once considered weeds attracted criticism in the 1980s long before the boom in organic gardening. His estate even includes an innovative sewage treatment system, using only reed beds to cleanse waste water from the house. The reed-bed waste system is an artificial wetland that converts sewage back to clean water, while allowing the solid matter to be returned to the soil in the form of manure. He has even built a biogas plant in Dorset to supply gas from food waste to 56,000 homes.

Is the Prince of Wales now girthed, girded and ready to lead the CommonWealth, re-named as the CommonHealth of Nations, in a global eco-war reminiscent of the Crusades? Fifty three disparate nations united under the banner of King Charles the greenheart, re-inventing trade within the commonwealth with a war cry of ‘sustainability before profit’. Is this the Royal intent?

I would love to think so, but I am quite sure the tragic reality is that Britain really does think they can resurrect the old bones of their 19th century trade Empire, or at least the ten biggest of us, and have us committed to all buying British solely to help balance their books after Brexit. In the words of Daryll Kerrigan, Australia’s only philosopher, “tell ’em they’re dreamin’.”

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Viva la Revolucion

“I’m off to Cuba on Saturday” said my old mate Chinny; “I’ll send you back a poster of your hero Che Guevara, since you are too feeble to actually come with me, see Cuba for yourself and get your own poster.”

Harsh words from someone who is supposed to be a mate. Doesn’t he realise I have a golf game on Monday morning? I can’t just take off halfway around the world on a whim. I have responsibilities, I have commitments. Anyway Chinny wanted to know why I wanted a poster of a murdering terrorist. So that started the whole debate between us as to when a murdering terrorist might actually be an heroic freedom fighter removing corruption and greed from the world by whatever means it takes.

The Che Guevara legend came to the fore during the third movie of my favourite ever trilogy, The Godfather. Michael Corleone was in Cuba with all his mafia gangsters, plus a collection of senior USA government and legitimate corporate representatives celebrating the 1959 New Year, as New Year’s Eve party guests of Fulgencio Batista, the Cuban military dictator.

Cuba was full of magnificent art deco hotels and casinos, flashy American cars and all the glam of the USA 1950’s. At least it was glamorous for the gangsters, the big businessmen, corrupt politicians and the American tourists; the peasants lived in poverty. But that was the night that the socialist revolutionary Fidel Castro and his second in command, Che Guevara, took over the government of Cuba. Che Guevara was not a Cuban. His name was not Che. Nor was he just an uneducated, peasant soldier who worked his way up the ranks of Castro’s revolutionary army.

Ernesto Guevara was born into a wealthy Argentinian family (Che is the Hispanic term for an Argentinian) and was of mixed Irish/ Spanish blood; some would say that bloodline made him born to be a revolutionary. He was studying medicine at the University of Buenos Aires when he decided (twice) to take time off from his studies to travel on a motor cycle up through northern Argentina, Peru and Chile. It started as an adventure but the abject poverty, disease and corruption he witnessed turned this adventure into a lifetime mission. He went back to Buenos Aires and finished his medical degree and then set off again through Latin America determined to make the world a better place. He was drawn to socialist organisations and soon became involved in assisting President Arbenz of Guatemala to introduce social reforms into that country.

Unfortunately Arbenz was overthrown, with CIA assistance, and the young Guevara went north to Mexico. In 1955 he married Hilda Accosta, an influential economist who introduced him to Cuban revolutionaries visiting Mexico. It was at this time he met Fidel Castro and he had found his great mission in life. From Mexico Guevara sailed to Cuba. While initially he brought his medical skills to the revolution, such was his political intellect and his unwavering military pragmatism, he soon became Castro’s second in charge. One of the twentieth century’s greatest revolutionary partnerships was born.

After the success of the Cuban revolution, Che undertook several important government roles in Cuba including agrarian reforms and establishing a nationwide literacy programme. He trained the military forces that repelled the USA’s disastrous invasion at the Bay of Pigs which internationally embarrassed the Americans. He is also reputed to have treated the 2,000 political prisoners without compassion. The death penalty was mandatory.

Immediately after the revolution Che married fellow Cuban revolutionary Aleida March and they had four children together. He became a global statesman, an honoured guest in Russia, China and Africa. But over the next few years he came to be at irreconcilable odds with Castro over Cuba’s economic policies. As a statesman he had become disillusioned with the Russian socialist model favoured by Castro and far more inclined towards the Chinese model. History would have to say, in retrospect, Guevara was right in his assessment. Cuba’s population/GDP ratio today is almost identical to Greece which is not a great achievement for the Castro rule. Relatively speaking, NZ has under half the population with over twice the GDP. On any social or economic scale, it appears that Cuba is worse off now than it was before Castro took over. Before Castro, Cuba spent 4% of its GDP on education, the same % as USA and higher than anywhere in Europe. Before Castro, Cuba had more doctors per 1,000 population than Great Britain. Ideals are all very well, but if you cant create the wealth, you can’t deliver the social programmes. Castro did change Cuba from being a country with a disproportionate distribution of wealth, but unfortunately converted it to a country of almost universal poverty.

So, disillusioned with Castro’s economic policies, Che Guevara resigned his government posts in 1965. He dropped out of sight for a while but then turned up in the Belgian Congo, supporting the revolution there that eventually renamed that country Zaire. From there he made his way to Bolivia where he took an active role in fighting alongside local revolutionaries. On 8 October 1967 Che and his small band of guerillas, were captured and executed by the Bolivian forces, supported by the USA military. They were buried in secret graves that were not disclosed for 28 years.

1997, his remains were repatriated from Bolivia to Cuba where they are housed, along with the 29 revolutionaries who died with him, in a huge mausoleum at Santa Clara. Fifty years after his death he remains a folklore legend.

Nelson Mandella was a contemporary revolutionary of Guevara. Mandela was born to the Thembu royal family in South Africa. Like Guevara he was university educated. As a lawyer he became involved in anti-colonial politics joining the ANC in 1943, committed to the overthrow of apartheid. He was also a Marxist and a member of the South African Communist Party. In 1961, in association with the SACP he co-founded the militant group “Umkhonto we Sizwe” and led a sabotage campaign against the government. He was arrested and imprisoned, not an unfamiliar experience, but this time it was for 27 years. He was released in 1990 after years of international protest and sanctions against South Africa’s apartheid policies. Through surviving, Mandella became the poster boy for the victory over apartheid. The first democratic elections in 1994, when black South Africans were given the vote, saw Mandella become President of South Africa. Although a marxist by history, Mandella maintained the established liberal economy in South Africa. The collapse of USSR communism in 1991 and the economic changes in communist China clearly influenced his economic direction. He died peacefully of old age in 2013. Mandella may be said to have been a revolutionary, but in reality he was a protester whose greatest achievement was surviving 27 years in prison until the political landscape changed. The difference between protester and revolutionary is the difference in lives between Mandella and Guevara. One buried in prison for 27 years, the other buried in an unmarked grave for 28 years. Now both have grand memorials to deliver messages to the world.

Bin Laden may have been the closest we have seen of a modern day Che Guevara. Bin Laden, born into a wealthy Saudi family, travelled to Afghanistan to join the guerilla fighters to drive out the Russian invaders. A noble cause. A brave and intelligent fighter. A leader of men. But Bin Laden crossed the line. Bin Laden targeted non-combatant civilians in his war against the West. He may have claimed justification in his actions by citing the indiscriminate drone attacks of the USA on Arab targets, but if he wanted to be respected as is Guevara, he had to hold the high moral ground. He needed to discipline himself and his followers to restrict his fight to the soldiers and the spies; to those who invaded Afghanistan and involved themselves in the affairs of another sovereign nation. He had to let the West be exposed as the side that was indiscriminately murdering civilians, if that is what was happening. Through undertaking revenge of the innocents against other innocents, Bin laden has caused the creation of the new, oppressive global ‘security’ industry. Bin Laden has single handedly given governments in the West the legitimacy to spy on its citizens, to arrest and torture suspects and disrupt our travel movements.

Undoubtedly that was his intent. Creating fear amongst the enemy soldiers is the role of a guerilla freedom fighter. Creating terror amongst the non-combatants is criminal terrorism. Guevara may well have killed his political enemies without mercy, but it was war and they were active participants in that war. And Guevara died in battle, fighting to the end, taking his socialist war to wherever in the world he believed it was needed. Bin Laden died while in hiding in a hovel from the Americans. Now, 50 years after his death, Che Guevara’s legend as a freedom fighter lives strong. What Bin Laden’s personal legacy will be in 44 years remains to be seen. But so far there is no grand memorial built to his memory.

The book writers and screen writers, the poets and the songwriters may disagree whether Che Guevara was executed as a terrorist criminal or martyred as a fighter for justice and humanity. I won’t enter the debate here but if, thirty years after your death, your body is repatriated and honoured with such a massive mausoleum, then history respects you and honours you for doing something important and meaningful with your life. I would love to have gone to Cuba with Chinny on Saturday, specifically to Santa Clara. If only I didn’t have that golf game booked in.

Footnote: True to his word, this poster arrived in the mail from Chinny. 

Footnote #2: 8/8/2018: I got an email from Chinny last night asking if a postcard he had also sent me had arrived. I responded in the negative and, being over four months ago, I wasn’t holding out any hope now. Then today this postcard appeared in my letter box. Unbelievable. After 20 weeks it was arriving in my box at exactly the same time Chinny suddenly remembered  that he had sent it. Probably just a weird coincidence, nothing to do with Che himself sending me a message, naah.

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TrumpLand

I have predicted, of late, that we are watching the decline of the American Empire. I say ’empire’ but, like the British empire, America’s empire is  not a legal entity in the sense of actually having an emperor  like Julius Caesar, Suleiman the magnificent or Napoleon. But in the modern context I refer to empire in the sense of dominating global currencies. By that criteria, America ascended the imperial throne at the end of World War 2. England was poking its military nose around the world back in the 17th century and by the late 18th and 19th centuries their manufacturing technology and their formidable navy led to domination of global trade, through India, Africa, Hong Kong, the South Pacific and the Americas.

All was going well for the Brits during the 19th century but by the early 20th century America was starting to get the better of their balance of trade. The USA now had their own cotton gins. However Britain still remained the centre of world commerce and much of the global trade was conducted in British pounds and all major currencies were pegged to gold bars.

Then came World War 1. It was such an expensive war that many countries, Germany in particular, had to abandon the gold standard to pay military expenses; those currencies devalued rapidly. Three years into the war and even Britain needed to borrow money to keep going and the Yanks were there to help out. Britain was forced to abandon the gold standard and the British international merchants who traded in pounds found their bank accounts severely depleted. The greenback $US was now the leading reserve currency.

When World War 2 broke out the US stayed out of the conflict for a long time but nonetheless profited greatly from the war as the main merchant of weapons, ammunition and supplies to the allied forces. They required payment for most of it in gold and by the end of the war they held most of the gold on earth in Fort Knox.

The Americans only entered the war after they were personally attacked at Pearl Harbour by Japan which was an ally of Germany. Playing a major role in ending the war in Europe gave them the opportunity to claim top of the table seat on the global international stage. In 1944, delegates from forty four Allied countries met in Bretton Wood, New Hampshire, to come up with a system to manage foreign exchange that would not put any country at a disadvantage. It was decided that the world’s currencies couldn’t be linked to gold, but they could be linked to the U.S. dollar, which was linked to gold. The agreement was that the central banks would maintain fixed exchange rates between their currencies and the U.S. dollar. The United States would then guarantee to redeem U.S. dollars for gold on demand.

So now, instead of gold reserves, other countries accumulated reserves of U.S. dollars. Needing a place to store their dollars, countries began buying U.S. Treasury securities, which they considered to be a safe store of money. Now one country’s currency virtually replaced the international currency of gold. How would that work out? Well all went jolly well during the relatively peaceful decade of the 1950’s. America was Camelot. Truman, Eisenhower and Kennedy were the three great emperors of America. I say peaceful, but WW2 had actually delivered two contenders for world domination, the USA and the USSR. The allies tried to buy a compromise, splitting both Germany and Korea into Russian/American zones of control. Russia tagged China to support the North Korean communists in their war against the south and USA and that war ground to an unresolved stalemate. And then came Vietnam. Russia had shown no interest in Vietnam until USA decided to throw bags full of money to support the French to suppress communism in North Vietnam. That is when Russia began to get interested and in 1954, the kitchen got too hot and the French pulled out. The start of a very expensive war that, in my opinion, started the collapse of the American empire. Lyndon Johnson, who succeeded Kennedy launched an ambitious and expensive “Great Society” social programme intended to end poverty and racial discrimination in America. Or effectively to try to prevent what was now becoming a very nervous cultural divide in America. Much of the proposed funding however went into an increasingly expensive war in Vietnam and the late 60’s exploded in violent cultural riots.

The collapse started, as the creation had started, with the greenback. The war had became so expensive, in addition to the “Great Society” domestic programme, that in 1971 Richard Nixon had to abandon the gold standard and flood the banks with paper money. This created the floating exchange rates that we have today. However despite large deficit spending, trillions of dollars in foreign debt and unlimited printing of US Dollars (the last incidence was the Global Financial Crisis of 2007-8) the U.S. Treasury remains the world’s reserve currency because the world trusts that the US will always remain solvent. The US gross domestic product is way ahead of anyone else at $US18.5 trillion. That is bigger than the whole BRICS (China, Russia, India, Brazil and South Africa) trading bloc combined.

But everything balances tentatively on trust and confidence. The trust and confidence that the US is politically stable enough to maintain its economy. What could possibly shake that trust and confidence?

His name is Donald Trump. He did not cause a cultural divide in the USA, but he is the highest profile manifestation of it. There is a cultural chasm in America that the rest of the civilised world did not really understand. Not until the good old boys motivated themselves to get sufficient numbers to the polls to elect Donald Trump and he has shown us all very clearly what a problem it is for them. It appears that the Civil War never ended because although militarily defeated, and laws forced upon them, the hearts and minds of the South were never changed. The cultural difference is as entrenched as any tribal conflict in the middle east. It may have been suppressed by the force of law, but mainly it was suppressed through lack of leadership from the south to stand up and raise the Confederate flag once again. Donald Trump was seen as that man. He talked the Confederate talk. He promised brick walls against the Mexicans, the gates closed to Muslims.

The original English migrants in the early 17th century were the Puritans escaping religious persecution in their home county of East Anglia. They settled in Massachusetts and brought their distinctive East Anglia twang with them which was the basis of the general American accent, albeit modified by other European groups that migrated to America, especially New York.

But it was the Royalists (Cavaliers) who left south and southwest England in the mid seventeenth century to the safety of America when the civil war in England broke out. They left because they opposed the “Parliamentarians” wanting more power over governance. They brought a completely different culture of royalist aristocracy opposing ‘government by the people’ to America and with it they brought the distinctive South England drawl. They settled further south in Virginia and the Carolinas. They bought vast tracts of land and grew tobacco and cotton crops. They imported slaves on British slave boats and exported their cotton and tobacco to England. They established a social hierarchy where even the serfs were happy for their aristocracy to run the politics and businesses and for the slaves to be lower on the social structure than them. And that formed the basis of the southern lifestyle that the Confederates went to civil war to protect. Charlottesville August 2017 demonstrated that the surrender in 1865 was only a cease fire, not a capitulation. The month after Trump was sworn in the Charlottesville Council voted 3-2 to remove the statue of Confederate General Robert E Lee. In August a riot broke out as white supremacists marched opposing the removal. The confederates had declared war. General Robert E Lee had his army in support once more. The Liberals also turned up ready for the fight. A white supremacist drove a car into a crowd; a woman was killed and 19 people injured. Trump appeared unconcerned. White nationalists and neo-Nazis celebrated US President Donald Trump’s remarks about the protests when, after being pushed persistently to make a stance, he denounced violence “on all sides” rather than explicitly condemning white supremacism. After two days, following massive pressure from his own camp, Trump added “including KKK, neo Nazis and white supremacists.” No one believed him. Racism is alive and strong in the USA, has Trump as a sympathiser and is the basis of the great cultural divide.

Washington DC is making life very difficult for Trump. Even Trump would agree that being president with so many enemies is no fun. He knows who likes him, those good old boys down south and the mid western solid rural folk. Significantly, after Charlottesville, polls showed Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Dakota: North and South, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, Tennessee, Utah, Wyoming, West Virginia  are all in the 50-60% Trump approval rating in Sept 2017. Florida and Georgia are close at 48%. Suddenly the states don’t look quite so united.

 

Would Trump be the sort of guy that would see himself as general Robert E Lee reincarnated? Would he like a general’s uniform with medals and would he like to establish a royal, ruling Trump family dynasty?  Yes I do think he might like all thatWould he relitigate the South’s old claims? Would they follow him? Especially the strategically vital and lucrative marginal state of Florida? 

If he declared Florida as the capital of a new country his Mar a Lago home becoming the presidential palace then I think Florida would lap that up with Georgia following like a lamb. Finally has the Mid-West/ South got enough money to fight a war with the Yankees? Did you think they were just chicken farmers and moonshine bootleggers after the civil war?

Donald Trump’s ‘Mar a Lago’

Actually, very wrong. Texas is the second largest economy after California. Apart from the bigger than anywhere farms bringing in huge agricultural revenues and ten billion barrels of oil, they have NASA there and all the spinoff aero-tech businesses that brings. North Dakota is the next largest oil producer with a very respectable 5.7 billion barrels of oil. Mississippi is full of huge hi-tech, high wage factories including the $1,4 billion Russian owned Severstal steel mill producing steel for cars. the Yokohama tyre factory, Nissan factory at Jackson, GE Aviation at Hattiesburg, Hybrid Plastics, one of the top ten nanotechnology producers in the US. They have a Rolls Royce engine building plant, a navy shipbuilding plant and a plant building unmanned helicopters for the navy. Mississippi is a busy little state. Tennessee has GM and Nissan car plants, 142 solar power companies, manufacturing plants for Whirlpool and Electrolux, Eastern Chemical and Delta faucet companies. Tennessee has won economic “State of the Year” award in 2009, 2013 and 2014. And Florida does more than a bit of orange juice too. It has the fourth largest economy in the US behind California, Texas and New York. Florida produces over $100 billion worth of food;  70% of the country’s citrus and in the winter months supplying 80% of the country’s fresh fruit and veg. It’s aerospace and aviation businesses contribute over $140 billion. The Florida tourism industry employs a million people, 10% of the workforce, and earns $US54 billion pa. Allied to tourism is that Florida is also full of wealthy retirees and the flow on bio-tech research and Life Sciences industry is substantial. If the secret to eternal youth is going to be discovered, it will probably happen in Florida. Bundle up the smaller states rural economies with these and you have a combined GDP of $US 6-7 Trillion. It would be the third biggest GDP in the world. It would be bigger than Japan and Germany and bigger than the UK and Russia combined. It would not be an insignificant little country for Trump to preside over.

But this would not be a war with swords and cannons; the weapon of choice would be currency. The first battle would be to destabilise the US dollar, shake the trust and confidence of the world in retaining the $US as the global currency standard. It need not even involve printing confederate banknotes; imagine the effect on the value of, and confidence in, the $US if Trump went to Bitcoin or ZCash or one of the others and said “I want a $US trillion worth of your finest crypto currency my good man.” I am no currency trader but I understand basic supply and demand and so I know the effect of someone selling off a trillion of the USA’s most important asset. Adopting a crypto currency for the Confederate States of America, or Trumpland as he would refer to it in his tweets, might just create the critical mass to allow a crypto currency to takeover from the $US as the international currency standard.

When the American civil war broke out to preserve their “unique culture”, the Union only had this domestic war to concern itself with. If they had a problem with the Southern/Mid Western states today, that has to be balanced with its Homeland Security priorities and its military roles in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Korea. Trump could just walk away from all that. If the US Dollar gets undermined then: ‘New York, you have a problem’. The east coast wold be completely cut off from the west coast so maybe California will expand its borders to include Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Idaho, Oregon, Washington State and Hawaii and declare itself the  independent country of OprahLand? Montana becomes an isolated state so may choose to just get right out and join Canada? Maybe the remaining 19 states of the USA: Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio,  Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and Wisconsin, will just then rename itself New York the country or Washington or whatever? Who knows? It happened in the USSR.

 

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