Sunday, April 13, 2014

Royal Tour Reminds Us the Queen Should be our Last Monarch

You are no doubt already aware, irrespective of which country you are reading this in, that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are visiting New Zealand at this time. I have seen feature articles about the visit in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal and even in Spanish language newspapers, hence my certainty about your knowledge of their visit. The royal couple have brought their infant son, George with them. The Duke and his son are third and fourth in line to the throne of New Zealand, which as a former British colony shares its monarchy with other British Commonwealth nations.

Most New Zealanders support the monarchy out of sense of tradition and probably because they find it provides a reassuring continuity in a rapidly changing world. I don't, for the simple reason that I find it offensive that a family from the other side of the world is qualified by virtue of its blood line to be the heads of state of New Zealand and my own children aren't. Our constitution conventions say that in respect of the right to occupy our top political office, all New Zealanders are second class citizens.

I cannot understand why we retain this vestige of feudalism in the 21st Century. The members of the royal family have no qualifications to be our heads of state other than their ancestry, an ancestry incidentally that is full of despotic thugs who practiced every manner of heinous crime known to mankind - ethnic cleansing, genocide, mass torture - to maintain their grip on power. And this is not all ancient history - the wealth of the current royal family came from the wholesale theft of Catholic lands and other property after the so-called Glorious Revolution. 

I have a fond spot for Queen Elizabeth II and think she has done as good a job as any modern monarch could, but I think the institution should die with her. Charles, her heir, has proven himself unfit for the job, with his ill-advised, partisan meddling in political matters such as the climate change debate and his admiration for despotic Islamic regimes. And the idea that William and his son George have some sort of legitimate claim to be head of state of New Zealand, or any country for that matter, is utterly ridiculous.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Free Speech for Me, But Not for Thee

Give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties. ~ John Milton

Milton meant the freedom to think and speak is the foundation of all other liberties and without this most basic of freedoms, we cannot be truly free. At one time this was a given in Western liberal democracies but recently we have seen a great deal of evidence that many in the West regard freedom of speech to be dispensable.

Last week the CEO of Mozilla, Brandon Eich, was dismissed by the company because five years ago he gave a personal donation to the National Organisation for Marriage (NOM), an organisation that supported Proposition 8 in the 2008 Californian state ballot opposing gay marriage. Now I happen to be a supporter of gay marriage, but I'm an even bigger supporter of free speech and of the right of anyone to support the political causes they choose. In case you think Eich's political views are irredeemably rightwing, I'll remind you that Barack Obama only came out in favour of gay marriage in May 2012 and was opposed to it prior to that.

As unreasonable as Mozilla's position is, there is an even more sinister aspect to this whole business. How did the media find out that Eich supported NOM? They discovered his donation because NOM's tax return was leaked to the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), NOM's main opponent in the campaign for Proposition 8, and published on HRC's website. The NOM return listing the donors appeared on the HRC website complete with obvious redacted codes that are placed on documents only after they are received by the IRS, so it must have been leaked by someone in the IRS. There has been no thorough or conclusive investigation into this leak, which is a serious criminal offence.

If you think all of this is acceptable then you need to imagine the boot being on the other political foot. Consider, for example, a conservative administration leaking the details of those who donated to women's groups that support abortion liberalisation. Would it be acceptable to hound a chief executive out of her job because she donated to such a group?

In New Zealand we are not immune from the same type of anti-free-speech witch hunts. Three years ago Employers and Manufacturers Assocation president Alisdair Thompson was hounded out of his job for making the point that women take more sickness leave than men because of their menstrual cycles. This is, of course, a statistical and medical fact but that wasn't any defence to the hysterical screams of the supposedly offended feminists. There are some things you just aren't allowed to say.

Free speech protections aren't for those things you want to hear. They are for the things you don't want to hear. I would have thought that was obvious. So when someone says, "I support free speech except for...," you know they are really saying they don't support free speech at all.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

CIA Spying on Senator Feinstein A Step Too Far?

Just when you thought the revelations about out-of-control US government intelligence agencies couldn't get any more interesting, the latest news out of Washington DC has even hawkish conservatives shaking their heads in disbelief. It turns out that the CIA may have been illegally spying on the office of Dianne Feinstein, the geriatric Democrat who heads the Senate Intelligence Committee that audits the activities of the intelligence agencies themselves. The Feinstein allegations go further, that the CIA actually deleted documents from the senate committee's computers and destroyed documents on their own systems showing CIA malfeasance in its so-called rendition programmes where suspects were kidnapped by the CIA and taken to other countries for torture. These accusations are deliciously ironic because Feinstein has been one of the intelligence agencies' staunchest defenders against the revelations of whistle-blowers Bradley (now Chelsea) Manning and Edward Snowden.

Dan Carlin, the political and historical podcaster who is sufficiently well-regarded to have been asked to advise the US military on strategy, said in his most recent podcast that he believes the actions of the CIA might lead to President Obama's impeachment if it is revealed the president knew and approved what was going on (and the CIA has suggested this was the case). Even if that does not happen, it could lead to a constitutional crisis with Republican Senator Lindsay Graham saying 'Congress should declare war on the CIA.' As the CIA is part of the executive branch, this is a call for war on the White House.

I look forward to ongoing developments in this case.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Tony Benn was a great Socialist

I have been a libertarian since university but in politics I hold the greatest contempt not for those who have diametrically opposed political beliefs but rather for those who insist on always occupying the so-called "middle ground." At university one of my best friends was a revolutionary Marxist. He used to joke that "come the revolution you'll be first up against the wall...bang, bang, bang!" My response was always, "not if I get to you first!" We both knew that neither of us was entirely joking and that, given the right circumstances, we might one day find each other on opposite sides of a fight that involved more than just rhetoric, but we were best mates nevertheless and liked nothing more than a heated political debate. Occasionally we found common ground, such as our contempt for crony capitalism and religious conservatives.

When I lived in the UK in the 1980s there were two politicians whom I admired. Both towered over their peers in the philosophical sense. Margaret Thatcher, of course, was the first of these. The other was Tony Benn. The former Viscount Stansgate (for Tony Benn had renounced his peerage in the 1960s so he could sit in the House of Commons) was a doctrinaire Marxist and as such, I had little in common with him politically. But I admired his principled beliefs and his forthright manner in expressing them.

Benn believed in a pure, democratic Marxism that is, in my analysis, as illusory as fairy dust. He stuck to his principles, even when they put him in conflict with those who would ordinarily be his allies. He detested the Soviet Union and he was as much a thorn in the side of the Labour leadership as he was to the Tories. I had the impression that there was a reluctant mutual respect behind the open contempt between Benn and his political nemesis, Margaret Thatcher. Certainly, he had a sense of humour where Thatcher was concerned, introducing to parliament in 1990 a private members' bill entitled the Margaret Thatcher (Global Repeal) Bill.

Tony Benn died last week aged 88. I tip my hat to him as that rarity in politics these days - a man of principle and courage. Give me a Tony Benn any day over the unprincipled likes of Tony Blair, David Cameron or John Key.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

The hypocrisy of the West towards Russia

Tomorrow, Crimean voters get to decide in a referendum whether they shall rejoin Russia. This vote has been condemned by Western leaders who, when it suits them, love to make a big issue out of self-determination.

Gauging the reaction to Russia's response to the state of affairs in the Ukraine, you'd think the former was the biggest threat to world peace since Nazi Germany. Western leaders such as Obama, whose countries have invaded numerous independent nations over the past couple of decades, posture and pontificate as though Putin was a foaming maniac who is about to launch another world war. Here's a few facts to consider.

Russia gave Crimea to Ukraine in 1954 when both countries were part of the USSR. As part of this deal, which survived the break-up of the Soviet Union, Russia was allowed to maintain troops in Crimea. The Western media has reported that Russia has invaded Crimea. It hasn't, it was already there.

The events in Ukraine over the last few weeks have seen the (albeit somewhat corruptly) elected government of Viktor Yanukovych overthrown by violent protests by a unholy alliance of opposition groups that include a significant presence of Neo-Nazis. The symbolic leader of those groups is a former Yanukovych ally and gas industry oligarch named Yulia Tymoshenko, who heads the All-Ukrainian Union "Fatherland" party.

After the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1990, the United States gave Mikhail Gorbachev assurances that it would not expand NATO east into former Soviet republics. These assurances counted for nothing with Germany joining NATO in 1990, Poland, Czech Republic and Hungary joining in 1999, and Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Bulgaria, Romania, Albania and Croatia all joining since then. Thus NATO now virtually surrounds Russia from the Baltic to the Black Sea. Is it any wonder the Russians are nervous about Ukraine moving into the Western European alliance? Imagine if Canada and Mexico had joined the Warsaw Pact during the Cold War and you get a sense of how Russia must see these developments.

We saw a further example of Western hypocrisy during the Sochi Olympics with Western politicians and celebrities jumping on the bandwagon to condemn Russia's new law against promoting homosexuality. Personally, I think this is a pretty despicable law, but it needs to be put in perspective - homosexuality is legal in Russia and remains so and eight US states still have similar laws on their books to that introduced by Russia. Besides, where was that chorus of protest from all those Western politicians and celebrities when Iran recently hung two men from cranes for their homosexuality?

Vladimir Putin's Russia is not a paragon of liberty and human rights, but neither are many Western nations.  President Obama claims the right to extra-judicial killing by drone of anyone, anywhere in the world. His government still imprisons suspected terrorists without trial or due process in Guatanamo Bay, Cuba, and his intelligence agencies claim the right to extra-judicial mass surveillance of law-abiding people both within the United States and abroad. Perhaps Obama and other Western leaders should put their own liberties in order before taking such a sanctimonious attitude towards Russia.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

North Korean Regime Compared to Nazis

The crimes against humanity perpetrated by the North Korea communist regime are 'strikingly similar' to those of the Nazis according to Michael Kirby, the Australian judge who headed the United Nations inquiry set up to investigate the abuses. Kirby said the commissioners had written to Kim Jong-un, the young despot who inherited the North Korea leadership upon the death of his father, to say they would recommend the matter to the International Criminal Court. Although this may be cold comfort to those who continue to suffer in North Korea and their relatives in the South, it is encouraging that someone in the usually ineffectual UN has had the backbone to state the facts as evidenced by the accounts of more than 300 witnesses. The video in this Sky News article shows the stories of a mother and son who escaped from the hideous North Korean political prisons and even these brief accounts are tear-inducing.

The comments by Michael Kirby are interesting in view of my last post reviewing Jonah Goldberg's book about the fascist origins of the modern political left-wing. Many of today's so-called 'liberals' claim sympathy with Marxist doctrine and some even go so far as to defend the genocidal regimes of Joseph Stalin and Mao Tse-tung. Few challenge them on these sympathies. And yet, as Michael Kirby points out, Marxism as it exists in North Korea is indistinguishable from Nazism. The evidence about North Korea has been available for many years but there have been many in the West, including in my own country, who have defended this most indefensible regime. I do not accept ignorance as an excuse any more than we now accept that as an excuse for the collaboration of many in Occupied Europe with the Nazis. People who excuse the North Korean regime, and who defend Marxism, are complicit in these crimes.

The common factor in all dictatorships is the subjugation of individual to the interests of the state. It is the belief that individuals should be forced to live their lives for the benefit of the collective - whether that is defined as the nation, the race, or the proletariat - and this is the moral slippery slope that ultimately leads to North Korea. Once you have decided that individuals should be forced to live their lives for the benefit of the collective, there is ultimately no sacrifice of the individual that you can't or won't justify. You start with supposedly noble, altruistic aims and end up with concentration camps. It is the moral dilemma defined by the joke about the millionaire and the pretty woman - once you've established the principle, all that's left to argue about is the price.

In respect of the immediate problem (if you can call a problem that has existed for 60 years 'immediate') presented by North Korea, the world must now back up the courage shown by Michael Kirby and his team and force the North Korea leadership from power and release its subjects from slavery. Just as we judged our forefathers by their response to Nazism, so we will be judged by our response to North Korea's awful Marxist regime.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

The Liberal Fascist

I am currently reading Jonah Goldberg's book, Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the Left from Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning, and I recently read Victor Klemperer's I Shall Bear Witness, his personal testimony to life as a Jew in Nazi Germany. These books have in common the subject of fascism, its origins and its language.

Goldberg's book is a revelation. I had not read anything else by this American writer and I was not expecting much of his book, despite it being a New York Times bestseller (I am sure much to the New York Times literary editor's chagrin), but I discovered his book is very well researched and his theories backed by much evidence. The gist of the book, as you might guess from the title, is that modern liberalism (i.e. left-wing) politics has its origins in fascist ideology. 

This is not entirely surprising to me and I have blogged on the topic of socialists being kin with National Socialists before, but Goldberg shows the provenance of modern liberalism following a direct line from philosophers like Rousseau, through the Jacobins of the French Revolution to Mussolini (both in his initial allegiance to the Italian Socialist Party and subsequently his establishment of his Fasci di Combattimento), and thence to Adolf Hitler's National Socialist German Worker's Party. Along the way he traces the origins of American Progressivism as adopted by Woodrow Wilson (undoubtedly the most dictatorial US President ever), Franklin Roosevelt (the second most dictatorial), and on to modern liberalism through Lyndon Johnson and ultimately Barack Obama.  

The interesting thing about the provenance that Goldberg outlines is how successful modern liberals have been in covering the trail. These days it is accepted wisdom that Hitler and Mussolini were right-wing reactionaries just like modern conservatives such as US Republicans. But anyone the least bit familiar with Hitler and Mussolini's political beliefs and writings knows that they were first and foremost socialists (and certainly both proclaimed their socialist credentials right to the end) with a large dollop of popular pragmatism, just like modern liberals. Hitler, in particular, held to many of the same beliefs as the modern Green parties - that the patrician state should regulate every aspect of our social and economic life for our own good health and that of the environment. 

Hitler (but not Mussolini) was also a racist and eugenicist. Surprisingly, so was Woodrow Wilson and, to some extent, FDR. As recently as 1972, the Democratic Party was fielding as a candidate for president a prominent racial segregationist, George Wallace (and he probably would have won the nomination if it hadn't been for the assassination attempt that left him paralysed). Today, people forget it was a Republican president who abolished slavery and Southern Democrats who led the rebellion to retain it.

The parallels between Goldberg's book and Klemperer's first hand account of fascism in practice is interesting. Like Goldberg, Klemperer focuses to a large extent on the language of fascism (and in fact he later wrote the authoritative treatise on the subject, The Language of the Third Reich). He concludes that the Nazis, like Big Brother in George Orwell's 1984, were able to achieve so much of their hideous agenda because they controlled the language. Many Germans came to believe the Jews were greedy, dirty, degenerate, sub-human beings because Hitler was so successful in inculcating these beliefs into the language. If you repeat something often enough, people come to accept it as truth, just as today it is accepted wisdom that US Republicans are racists.

It is tiring, as well as ironic, to be branded a racist when you believe all races should be treated equally before the law, to be branded a fascist when you believe in a small, non-authoritarian state, or to be branded a 'denier' when you point out that the scientific method has been abandoned in the extreme predictions of some climate scientists. It is interesting that it is the so-called liberal side of the debate that is always most ready to engage in such propagandist name-calling when anyone challenges their policies on these matters. Goldberg may be engaging in the some of the same techniques that he abhors in modern liberal discourse, but if he is giving liberals some of their own medicine, then that is apposite. And he certainly weaves a credible story about the origins of their techniques.

Finally, I am saddened to see the very brilliant British blogger James Delingpole (whose blog is listed on the sidebar) is giving up his pen. I have corresponded with James on one occasion and found he was as engaging individually as he is in his blogs. James has been one of the greatest fighters for classical liberal views in the world over the few years and we can ill afford to lose him. I hope that he is not giving up the fight for good, although if he is, I can certainly understand why (for the reasons outlined in the previous paragraph).  I hope he will pop up in a new role in which he will be just as great a thorn in the side of cowardly, liberal fascists as he has been in his blogging career. Thank you, James. It's been a laugh.