I was watching Winnie 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.
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 WWs 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? Out of the mouths of the innocents…..). 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 absent parent finding themselves hung over, short of a few quid and debt collectors knocking, she turns to 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 the disparity that 79% of the members only account for 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’.”
“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.
What is time? is sounds a simple question but is one that has been intruding into my sleep time, so I posed it to Dan and Isamu over morning coffee. ‘What is time?’ I asked. ‘Its a noun’ said Dan. Then mumbled something off the cuff about organising things with it. End of conversation. Dan is a retired school teacher, but clearly off his game. The coffee had not yet arrived.
If Dan was on his game he would probably have said that, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, time is “the indefinite continued progress of existence and events in the past present and future regarded as a whole.” He would then have presented a slide show with his laser-light pointer to demonstrate his definition, thus:
The Vacheron Constantin model 57260 pocket watch, named the “Tivoli”, was built by three watchmakers over eight years for one client and is a complex and sophisticated monitor of the procession of time.
The front of this watch is the side with the gold Roman numerals up top. There’s an astronomical calendar, which includes a display of the phases and age of the moon, a hand that tracks the movement through the Zodiac along with the equinoxes and solstices, a rotating sky chart, hands showing both hours and minutes for sidereal time for telling the difference between sidereal and solar time. Sidereal time tracks the earth in relation to the stars instead of in relation to the sun and differs from solar time by plus or minus a few minutes. You can also see what time the sun will rise and what time it will set in the watch owner’s home city as well as how long the day and night will each be on that day. There are three full calendar systems in this watch. The first is a Gregorian perpetual calendar that includes displays for the date with a retrograde hand, day of the week, month and year in the leap year cycle. There are also indicators for the number of the day of the week and number of the week in the year in accordance with the ISO 8601 standard calendar. The second calendar is a Hebrew perpetual calendar. This shows the Hebrew name of the day, Hebrew name of the month, Hebrew date, Hebrew secular calendar, Hebrew year, whether the year has 12 or 13 months, where in the 19-year lunar cycle that year is, and the date of Jewish holy day Yom Kippur, which moves around the calendar. It has a Double retrograde split-seconds chronograph and…. it also tells the time. The hours and minutes are shown with regulator-style hands, meaning the hours and minutes are on separate axes. The small gold hands show a second time zone.
This is how time is measured in a practical day-to-day way. But it does not explain the mind’s perception of time; of how, when Dan is supervising an examination room, time for him drags at a snail’s pace whereas time for the students, with so much to do, races like a mouse (a house mouse’s actual top speed is 13kmh while it ‘feels like’ 260kmh. another time-distorting example). This pocket-watch device is simply the measure of our observation of the motion of our planet in relation to the observable environment in which we exist, but is that all there is to time?
I needed more. If Dan had been a retired Physics teacher he might have said that, according to Minkowski, who was Einstein’s Professor, time is the 4th dimension of Space-Time, additional to the three spatial dimensions of length, breadth and depth. This formed a basis for Einstein’s theory of relativity. While the watch is a time-based micro management tool, Minkowski and Einstein were trying to understand macro time in a past, present and future sense. But what does this 4th dimension mean? The three dimensions of space are easy enough to understand because we can see them, but no-one seems to quite understand how time works as a 4th dimension.
We do know that we process information about our universe in a delayed sense according to the speed of light. The furthest star in the Southern Cross group is 364 light years away. So when looking at the Southern Cross tonight the furthest star is, to our eye, as it was when Oliver Cromwell ruled England and the closest star in that constellation is 88 light years away, showing us what that star was like when Franklin D Roosevelt was President of the USA. This is simply the nature of the universe, the further something is from us, the slower the delivery of awareness of that something. Therefore the further out from earth we look the further back in time we see.
So we have a mechanical device that monitors time as observed by the rotation of earth relative to the stars; a theoretical, invisible ‘fourth dimension’ formula that Minkowski and Einstein understand, but which is incomprehensible to the vast majority of humans; and we also know that light, or the speed of it, seems to have a real effect on ‘time’ in a cosmological environment. So is time the effect of the motion of our planet on our lives, a fourth dimension of nature or is it simply the product of the motion of light particles? Or does time perhaps really only exist in our minds?
This brings us to observe a tiny gland buried in our brain, right between our right and left hemisphere. It is illustrated here in green. We call it the pineal gland, because it looks like a pine cone, even though it is only the size of a pea. In fact the Sumerians referred to the pine cone shaped gland in clay tablets thousands of years old, which is extraordinary medical knowledge to have had so long ago. The ‘sacred’ nature of this gland was also known thousands of years before modern science now tells us that this gland produces melatonin, a serotonin-derived hormone which modulates sleep patterns in both circadian and seasonal cycles. Melatonin is a structurally simple hormone that communicates information about environmental lighting to various parts of the body. Ultimately, melatonin has the ability to control biological rhythms. The light-transducing ability of the pineal gland has led some to call the pineal the ‘third eye’. The pineal gland is also capable of making a compound called Dimethyltryptamine (DMT). DMT is a powerful psychedelic chemical released during extraordinary states such as time of birth and the time of death. DMT is also the chemical that induces our dreams of life in a timeless state.
The pine cone symbol has appeared in religious and spiritual images for thousands of years. Depictions of Hindu deities are interwoven with both literal and symbolic representations of serpents and pinecones. The Egyptian Staff of Osiris, dating back to approximately 1224 BC, depicts two intertwining serpents rising up to meet at a pine cone. A statue of the Mexican god “Chicomecoatl” (“Seven Snakes”) depicts the deity offering forth pinecones in one hand, and an evergreen tree in the other. Those who have visited the Vatican may recall the large pine cone sculpture that is displayed and which was built by the Romans, in pagan times, as a fountain alongside the temple of Isis. The pine cone symbolism is common throughout Greek and Roman art in reference to religion and it is hypothesised that the pine cone is the “fruit from the tree of life” referred to in Genesis. With all the references to serpents, it should be noted that, even today, the serpent remain the emblem of the medical profession.
So how did I get from a multi-million dollar customised pocket watch to a pea-sized pine cone? I was wondering that myself. Are we still talking about time? Yes we are, well about time and the absence of it. I am now wondering if time is the mechanism that our brain uses to process data. Our brain needs to organise events in a sequential list just to comprehend them and manage our lives.
Those yogis who achieve a very deep meditation state through the awakening of the ‘third eye’ put themselves into a state of timelessness, as do those under the influence of the psychedelic chemical DMT. Those who have returned from a near death experience, Anita Moorjani and Dr Mary Neale being two of the more famous living examples, also experience this timeless awareness. The pineal is the first gland to be created in the body, one month after conception, and is the last functioning part of the body at death with a great psychedelic shot of DMT to take us into the next dimension of body-less timelessness.
And in that timeless sense of time we are describing what the Greeks referred to as “Kairos” as distinct from “Kronos.” Kronos is a god associated with sequential time and is represented by the scythe-yielding, cloaked and hooded old man, Father Time, leading us all to the grave. His Roman name was Saturn and the sixth planet from the sun was named for him. From ‘Kronos’ comes the word ‘chronological’. Kairos refers to time being a “timeless moment’. In Greek mythology Kairos is a young heroic god, youngest son of Zeus and the spirit of opportunity. But it was said you needed to seize Kairos from the front as he approached because, once he has passed, not even Zeus can seize him. Often this moment of opportunity is represented in movies, when the hero is suddenly aware of the heroine for the first time, by voiceless sounds, slow motion action and surreal lighting. In the book of Ecclesiastes phrase “to every thing there is a time”, time is translated in the first Greek Bible as Kairos. In Wm Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, the quote “There is a time in the affairs of men” also refers to Kairos.
So, with all due respect to Minkowski, whose language of formulae I just don’t understand, and to the skilled watchmakers who for eight years crafted the Vacheron Constantin model 57260 pocket-watch, let me suggest that time is created by a pea-sized, pine cone shaped gland that controls the transfer of infinite and timeless events entering our brain for chronological processing and response. That the pineal gland is simply aware of everything in our personal universe in a timeless sense and it transfers this awareness in sequential bytes of electrical impulses to the brain at a speed that allows the brain to process and instruct muscles to react. And that electrical sequential transfer is called ‘time’. So perhaps the pineal gland is just our brain-computer’s wi-fi device connecting us to the universe.
Goodness is that the time? Doesn’t it just fly by when you are immersed in writing? I must get off to bed; my melatonin levels are signalling that I need eight hours of timeless downtime from this game of life. I need to sleep…..to sleep perchance to dream. (credit: Hamlet, an avatar of Wm. Shakespeare).
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 that.
Would 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?
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.
Putin and Trump, obviously.
Add to them the Queen of England (just be grateful it’s not the Duke), heads of state of France, China, India, Pakistan and Israel. South Africa used to but no longer, and now we can add North Korea to the list.
But is it really Kim Jung Un’s finger on the North Korean button? Because if you thought super yachts are a rich boys game, nukes are in a whole other league. North Korea, with a population of 25 million people, only earns about $US4 billion from exports, mainly coal and woollen suits and spends more than that on basic essentials like oil and Cristal champagne for the top table. That puts them in the economic league of the Congo or Jamaica. That does not make for a guy who can afford to sit at the biggest swinging dicks table and build nukes in addition to a massive and very well armed conventional army, navy and airforce. North Korea has an active military force of just under a million men, with over 5 million in reserve. The USA bill for it’s nuclear programme averages $US20 billion pa.; its total military budget, with 1.3 million active servicemen and women, is $US600 billion pa. They support this with exports over $1.5 trillion. That is well above Kim Jung’s pay grade.
So if you accept the current tension with Kim Jung Un’s nuke tests is, in effect, a “Go home Yank” protest, then who, apart from this ‘poor as a church mouse’ North Korean, would want to be behind that message? Well the Arabs come to mind quickly. George Dubbya and Tony Blair were convinced that Iraq had WOMD, but when they went there, the cupboard was bare. Is it possible Saddam had simply relocated his weapons development programme to North Korea? That programme would have stopped after Saddam was toppled of course but could the programme have been put back on the market in 2015 when Iran was very reluctantly forced to stop their nuclear weapons programme in order to relieve the international economic sanctions that were crippling their country’s economy. Is it possible they just also went to North Korea and picked up Saddam’s tab?
But let’s also start right back with the dividing up of Korea (as with Germany) after WW2. Russia got North Korea and USA got South Korea. Russia later did a deal with China letting them be responsible for introducing communism to their neighbour. USA occupied the South and just five years after WW2 ended, the Korean War started when Kim il Sung, Jung Un’s granddad, after he got the green light from Mao Tse Tung, and armed with Russian tanks, invaded South Korea. That ended in a stalemate that continues today. Russia and China clearly want USA out of there.
Remember the Americans only entered WW2 when the Japanese, allied with Germany, bombed Pearl Harbour. So why was a resort island thousands of miles offshore such a deal breaker for the USA and what were the Yanks doing owning an island in the South Pacific in the first place? Interesting story, I am glad you asked. Back in the 19th century a number Americans were over in Hawaii organising the sugar business. A chap named Sanford Dole, born in Hawaii of American parents, worked his way up in the Hawaiian legal infrastructure eventually sitting on the Supreme Court. Then he got ambitious and overthrew the Queen of Hawaii and declared Hawaii a Republic. Then in 1898, the USA were discreetly assisting Cuban rebels to get rid of the Spanish when the USS Maine mysteriously sunk in the Havana harbour. That sinking swung the debate in Washington and Uncle Sam then declared war on Spain. Most of the Spanish Pacific fleet was over in the Phillipines which Spain also occupied, so the Yanks had a word to Dole and used Hawaii as the USA naval base from where they sailed into Manilla harbour to take on the Spanish. Short story shorter, the war was all over by Christmas and as a result the Yanks found themselves in charge of the Phillipines and Guam as well as Hawaii after giving Sanford the Governorship job.
Obviously they valued this little collection of Mid-Pacific naval fortresses and after WW2 thought South Korea would add nicely to the USA’s military influence in this Asian region. That is also why they went into Vietnam, because Russia was backing North Vietnam. But just as the USA didn’t like Spain sitting in Cuba on their doorstep with their navy and soldiers, nor do Russia or China like the Yanks sitting on their doorstep with their planes and ships and troops and rockets and guns. Just as Spain had to suck it up at the end of the nineteenth century, and Khruschev had to suck it up over Cuba in ’62, so might America have to suck it up now.
So back to Kim Jung’s little nuke games. There are any number of nations who would not be sorry to see the USA out of the Asian/Pacific region. Observe that Iran and Russia are allies in supporting Syria against its rebels; observe that Turkey, once a strong US ally is now buying missiles from Russia. They could each be playing a role in either arming North Korea or in playing some support role. Consider the persistent rumours that Russia played some interference role in swinging the unimaginable election of Trump into a reality. Trump went into the election very much with a siege mentality: vowing to withdraw from the Trans Pacific Trade Deal; to block immigration, to build the Mexican wall. Just the sort of man who might just pull up the American drawbridge and pull out of the Asia/Pacific with enough pressure. Putin would read Trump like a book.
Trump is just a TV reality-showpony, so when the hard men of the real world say: “fingers on buzzers please gentlemen, this is not a drill” Trump has nothing in his hand but his dick. He can’t drop a nuke on North Korea. The radiation fallout would decimate populations of USA allies South Korea and Japan, including US personnel based there, to say nothing of their biggest trading partner, China which is just itching for a legitimate opportunity to drive America out of the region.
A conventional invasion of North Korea is possible; a sudden strike to try to neutralise the ten thousand conventional rockets pointing at Seoul before blasting the city of Pyongyang to rubble the way they did in Baghdad. But Trump would need to be assured that North Korea would get no advance warning and that he would achieve total victory within minutes. Because Jung Un has nukes buried deep in bunkers, that could be mobilised in minutes. One nuke on the US Base in Guam, as he has already threatened, then the South Koreans and Japanese will get really nervous about the US military bases in their countries and join the “Go Home Yank” call. Germany, Turkey and anywhere else with US military bases will also get nervy. And Jung Un does also apparently have a nuke that he could send anywhere along their west coast from Seattle to San Francisco or LA which will have the USA calling “come home Yank”.
His generals (still remembering the humiliation of Vietnam) will be carefully explaining that scenario to him in simple language so, before he faces the humiliation of his forces in Guam being nuked and there being nothing he can do about it (with the whole world against him), can’t you just see Trump making that speech:
“I did not get elected President of this great country to send our brave boys to fight and die because of someone else’s stoopidity. America has done more for peace in Asia than any other nation has ever done for peace anywhere on the planet, anytime in history. For more than seventy years we have been there in Korea trying to stop them killing each other.
But, you know, sometimes you have no option. China could have stopped North Korea in a minute; just shut off their oil supply and the problem is over. But oh no they did not want to upset Kim Jung Un. So we said ok, if you won’t do it the easy way then ok I will blow North Korea off the face of the earth; but oh no, no one wants that either. Oh no Mr trump, you cannot use the nuclear weapons that Kim Jung Un is threatening to use. So now they just want America to send in its fine young men to fight their war for them, in a way that gives Kim Jung Un a chance to win with his army of five million. Fighting on the ground with no doubt very high casualties to our forces. But you know what? I am going to walk away from that table because there is nothing in that deal for Americans. Only death to our soldiers, grief to their loved ones. So if they do not to listen to their American friends, and we have been very, very good friends to them. We have tried to bring them all together in peace by building their economy for them and giving them opportunities; yes we built their industries for them, out of friendship;
But now it is now time for America to do what is best for Americans. We don’t need other people to make our Levis. We invented Levis. We don’t need them to make our cars! We taught them how to make cars! We make the best cars in the whole world! ! We don’t need their technology. We are the most technologically advanced nation on the planet and we will build the most technologically advanced missile defence systems so that no one will ever, ever threaten the USA again. I warn everyone now, if anyone points a missile in the direction of the US, we will obliterate them. No warnings, no questions. And we will control our borders with a technological wall far stronger than any brick wall. When I talked about building a wall, some people assumed I meant a conventional wall. Those people underestimated me and that is a big mistake. A very big mistake. I promised you I would make America great again and I am keeping my promise. Because I always keep my promises.”
Meantime back in the Kremlin, “Well comrades, with help from Mr Trump, we are making Russia great again. He has cancelled the trade agreement with all the Asian-Pacific countries as predicted and that has seriously weakened his support; Britain has weakened the EU and the emerging economic powerhouse of the world is our BRICS consortium with over 3 billion people. Soon we will bring in more members as our friends. Trump has had to withdraw his troops and missiles and ships from across our border in Korea because he kept making stupid statements he could not carry out and already South Korea has been talking with our friends in China. Japan has lost all confidence in America and we will talk to them soon about BRICS and maybe sort out the Kuril Islands at the same time. Europe doesn’t return his calls anymore and Angela will start to put on pressure to remove their military bases because they will attract more and more terrorists. We will see to that. All the easier to expand our borders in Europe”.
History shows us the future. Global superpowers are as cyclical as the climate. America’s summer is over. Trump heralds the Autumn (which the Americans ironically call the Fall). The Russian bear is emerging from its hibernation.
And in Beijing and Tehran they will be saying: “Bye bye Yankee, you have a nice day ok?”
My old workmate, Chinny, headed off a number of years ago to seek fame and fortune in the bright lights of London. I have to say he has done quite well for himself actually and is now a professional pig walker. Sort of like a gym personal trainer, but for the pigs of the wealthy of London rather than for the wealthy themselves. Still its a rung on the ladder to mixing with the rich and famous.
Now before you throw in your Otago University Exam Supervisor’s job and buy a one way ticket to London, I have to warn you that it may not, in reality, be quite as glamorous a job as it first looks. Upon further inspection of the ‘first day on the job” photos that he proudly sent, I noticed his tools of the trade included a strong lead, a trowel and a plastic bag.
I suspect, given the weight and centre of gravity of the pig, that the job involves the pig dragging Chinny all over the manor so that he can scoop up pig poop whenever the pig feels the inclination to poop. The wealthy of London may think owning a pig is all jolly hockey sticks, but one cannot have one’s pig manure lying around the estate. I don’t know if you have ever been intimate with pig shit (apologies for the vulgarity but if any poop needs to be called shit it is that which extrudes from a pig’s arse) but it is the very sloppiest and most vomit-inducing brand of shit you will ever know.
The trowel may also be required to repair lawns and gardens as he goes. A neighbour of mine decided to grow a couple of Christmas hams a year or two back, they got out of his property and rotary-hoed my lawn. They are destructive little beggars.
Anyway, our email conversation about his latest career move led to the speculation of how it might taste with a couple of poached eggs on the side. That, for some reason, (our emails always take odd and unexpected twists) led to a discussion on the unique practices of some Jewish people he knew. Oh how we laughed at the irrational phobias of the Israelites, like denying themselves of bacon sandwiches and cutting off the ends of their cocks as though Moses had been told on the mountain ” by the way, Moe, when I wrote up the dna formula I accidentally left a bit of surplus skin on the end of your knob; sorry about that, but would you mind tidying up that little flaw every time a boy is born?”
But before I condemn an entire race for what appears to be an irrational fear of enjoying the delights of a plate of crispy fried streaky bacon with eggs and tomatoes, I should actually check up on their rulebook to understand the full story.
And it’s all in Leviticus 11. Sort of like the Israelite Ministry of Health’s “Good Eating Manual”. And it’s not just pigs that are targeted.
Sons of Israel can only eat animals with both a divided hoof and which also chew cud. (Just one or the other doesn’t work, its got to be both criteria). And beasts that walk on paws as well as beasts that crawl along the ground are also off the menu. Chewing cud is a double processing of food and I applaud the ancients for recognising the health science benefits of maximising nutrient extraction by cud chewers. The cloven hoof criteria is a little more difficult to understand.
So forbidden meats included camel, rabbit, hyrax (like a rabbit with short ears) and pig. Also lions and snakes, I presume, and horses whose hooves be not cloven. I would have thought that Moses was angling towards saying you can only eat herbivores and not carnivores, which I would understand. But excuse me? Rabbit pie is not kosher? May I ask why?
Rabbits eat their own dung………Oh……point taken.
Now, not that I have ever eaten a camel, but I know it is a cud-chewing, two-toed herbivore so I think camels get a very rough technical red card just because having two toes and respective toenails is not, strictly speaking, a cloven hoof. But you can see Moses’ point in getting the camels on the no-eating list. Imagine him wandering past one of his little tribes as he is planning his next big march to the Promised Land to see them all enjoying a camel roasting on a spit. “oy yoy yoy, if you keep eating the camels it’s going to take us literally months to cross this bloody desert.”
Actually when I think about it, there may be a truth spoken in jest. Whatever the reason, while I am not going to die in a ditch over the right to eat camel meat, a cloven hoof is one of those skinny little pointy hooves designed for agility in scrambling around rocks rather than the type of footwear needed to usefully transport a heavy load like a human across a desert. Sort of like the difference between ice skates and snow shoes.
So maybe Leviticus is saying exactly that, don’t eat the animals we need to carry us, our tents and tabernacles across the desert; the camels, donkeys, horses and elephants. Especially when you consider the gestation of a pregnant camel is 13 months and it takes about 7 years for a male to reach maturity (female 3 years) and you can get 50 years work from a camel. Whereas by contrast sheep have a gestation of less than 5 months, reach maturity between 5 and 12 months, goats about the same; bulls reach maturity at 12 months and cows 18 months. The original fast food option.
Makes sense, it’s nothing to do with being unclean, just practical farm and transport management. Don’t eat the bloody camels, it takes too long to get another one to replace it. Lesson learned after the Moses desert crossing and now we know why it took forty years to get from Egypt to Israel instead of the 11 days it would have taken by the direct route.
As for seafood, the sons of Israel may only eat that which has both fins and scales. So that rules out oysters, crayfish, prawns and crabs. Bugger. Well I suppose in our hearts we know crustaceans are the bottom feeders of the sea, scouring the seabed for food amongst the turds of all the fish that swim above them.
Also banned are insects with four legs with the exception of a few permitted species like grasshoppers and locusts; well that was never going to be an issue for me.
There is also a list of forbidden birds including eagles, kites and gulls.
So can’t a chap even have a seagull sandwich now?
And even if it is a clean food source but it dies (presumably of natural causes rather than being butchered by an Israelite) then it becomes unclean.
I certainly don’t argue with most of their forbidden foods on the list. Carnivorous animals that eat dead, rotten food or raw, still-functioning organs, including livers, bladders and intestines, are obviously full of nasty parasites that are quite inappropriate for the delicate human digestion system. Although I am starting to wonder what a roast camel might be like.
Gulls and hawks are scavenging birds, with roadkill being a particular favourite and I certainly wouldn’t want to re-digest anything that they originally digested. And yes, yes we know shellfish can contain high levels of toxicity, and true enough, the crab-cakes you get at a Jewish deli are in fact made out of pulverised flesh of a fish that has fins and scales, which is a bit deceitful but probably no less so than the prawn sticks I get at a Chinese takeaway. Personally I am prepared to take the chance when it comes to Bluff oysters and prawns, albeit I accept that I may live to regret it. I certainly regretted it the day I didn’t quite cook the prawns well enough. That was the most violently ill I have ever been in my life. I still break out in a sweat remembering it. It was not a case of fearing I might die, but rather praying that I would. And yet I still can’t resist a plate of garlic prawns. And if anyone suggests that salt and pepper squid may have neither gills nor scales, I just don’t want to know. Fingers in ears, eyes shut tight, ‘nahnahnahnah…”
But what is the problem with pigs? Are they saying those cute little farmyard animals are indiscriminate eaters? They do have a divided hoof so is their only crime not chewing their cud? Seems harsh. Well, as it turns out, I have just finished a book about some rather unpleasant criminal types in southern Italy who decided to throw an unsuspecting (and innocent as it turns out) chap who they believed to be a snitch, to the pigs on a farm, comfortable in the knowledge that by morning there would be nothing left of the chap but his teeth in a pond of pig shit.
So pigs, as I learn, are classified as omnivores. They eat anything and everything. I have recently taken a moral high ground and now only eat free-range pig meat. But now that I think about it, allowing them to wander about freely probably just increases the odds that the pig I am about to eat has already recently eaten a dead hedgehog, a plastic coke bottle, a trowel, a bag of its own shit and a professional pig-walker. No amount of smoking of the beast actually makes eating them sound any better. I think the Israelites have got this one dead right.
And I am reliably informed that the Israelites chop the skin off the end of their cocks to stop the irritating sand getting under their foreskin. Even back in the Biblical, desert-crossing days I would have thought wearing undies and peeing downwind might have been a less dramatic way of solving the problem.
John Key’s instinct to get out of politics six months ago is brought back into focus with last week’s massive change in the political landscape only six weeks out from the election. Two opposition leaders gone in a week, Labour’s new leader, Jacinda Adern, attracting half the Green’s supporters back to Labour’s brand. Did he sniff the air like the intuitive trader he is? Did John Key time his departure perfectly, instinctively knowing that all stocks, including his own, are subject to the cyclical whims of the universe? to chaos theory? Labour did not make a change of policy to attract the Greens supporters back to Red. They changed their brand image from Little to Adern. Just as National had previously achieved the same result by changing from their brand image from Brash to Key. The MP’s all trade off the corporate brand.
I do not believe it is a stretch to call our Prime Minister a corporate brand. After all how many of us really analyse our votes in terms of intellect and what provides the best nett benefit to the well being of our nation corporate? To be fair, if we did we would probably still have had Don Brash in as PM over the past three elections, not John Key. Protection of our economy is the fundamental role of the leader. From that flows the money to pay for our domestic law and order and international security, our educational aspirations for our young, our healthcare and all the rest. In the role of economic management, Don Brash as former Governor of the Reserve Bank, was the 4 star General in the strategy room; John Key was a currency trader; a frontline captain, standing side by side with the foot-soldiers in the trenches, having a beer with the boys afterwards.
Don Brash, the man Key replaced as National Party leader, unkindly said John Key did nothing more than Helen Clark would have done if she had still been Prime Minister. Or he could have said, more accurately, Key/English did nothing differently from what Clark/Cullen would have done. Harsh but probably fair. They were both very centrist politically; even though their branding colours were as distinct as Holden and Ford, in reality they could both have worn purple scarves/ ties.
And so once again it was more just the consumer deciding in 2008 on a brand switch even though there was no real change in the ingredients. Just a change of packaging. Change female for male, change red for blue. Change an arts/culture PM portfolio for a more hospitable Tourism PM portfolio. But in the fundamentals of dealing with the Global Financial Crisis and the Christchurch earthquake, probably pretty similar outcomes. The majority popular support for John Key over Don Brash as our leader was little different to the decision to go out to McDonalds rather than have a sensible beef casserole at home. At the end of the day, the majority of people rarely make an analytical decision whether choosing a food or beverage option or choosing a political leader; rather they will make a ‘lifestyle’ choice; a choice that suits their image of themselves. They choose by “Brand Image.’
So it is with popular voting of political leaders (aka democracy). And, being a man of commerce rather than a career politician, Key knew that all brands have a life cycle in any market segment, as predictable as the sun.
Those stunned by his decision to withdraw from politics given he still significantly out-polled all other leaders combined just were not looking at the trends and the players in the market that this street-savvy currency trader was looking at. Did he look across the floor and watch the young Jacinda working the room the way he did when he was waiting in the wings? Did he feel in his bones that it would only take one ‘political incident’ to change the whole landscape? He could never have predicted exactly what would happen, ie that during the launch of the election the Green co-leader would forget that that half the supporters of this supposedly eco-focused party were law-abiding, tax paying yuppies. So when Metiria Turei effectively gave a Green Party mandate to benefit fraud to the applause of all the Waitati hippies and Jacinda Adern presented a very sensible ‘save the rivers and lakes’ policy, the eco-yuppies abandoned the Greens and flocked under Jacinda’s banner. And that was the game changer. Or did he realise that, even without any game changer, the way the trends were looking, the most likely scenario for another term would be doing a deal with Winston Peters which would be one dead rat not even John Keys would swallow for the sake of another term.
The corporate brand only has value up until the time the marketplace decides it wants to change brand. Then the price goes through the floor. Key could see this was the trend and he had a gut feel. He had to decide how best to protect the value of Brand Key. I read investment advice that he once gave which was brutally pragmatic. If a price is trending down, cut your losses and get out, re-invest elsewhere. Brand Key in the political market was trending down; he got out while the price was still high. He will re-invest his brand in another market: commercial directorships, international public speaking and consultancies.
He said he made his decision after attending the United Nations Conference in New York in September last year. I suppose watching all the Helen Clarks wallowing in their Dantes inferno of politico-hell was enough for him to decide he had to err on the side of caution when it came to protecting the Brand Key in markets outside the political spectrum. Because what people were missing was that they saw Brand Key solely as a political brand, one owned by the National Party and marketed to NZ. But what John Key demonstrated was that it was he who actually owned Brand Key, not the National Party.
He decided the marketing strategy for the brand and he decided to change the target market from ‘NZ voters’ to something else, yet to be decided. I would suspect a more niche target market but with a much higher value. The hourly rate of a Prime Minister is not something to get excited about. The exposure achieved through the Prime Ministerial role has no doubt massively increased the value of the brand to other target markets. This is a man who has spent the weekend in a castle with the Queen of England; a man who has been on a family picnic in the Scottish Highlands with Prince Harry, Prince William and Kate; this is a man who has played golf with Barrack Obama. This is a man that people of influence will want to have in their homes and on their teams. Time to cash in. As in currency trading, timing is everything.