Tuesday, August 25, 2015

'Don't just stand by and watch'

I have written before about the lack of heroism in today's world but it is pleasing to see the noble trait is not dead. The actions of Americans Spencer Stone, Alek Skarlatos and Anthony Sadler, Briton Chris Norman, and especially the 51-year-old French-American Mark Moogalian (who was the first to act and received a serious bullet wound for his trouble) in subduing an Islamic terrorist intent on taking the lives of innocent train passengers in France is enormously admirable. It is fitting that French President Francois Hollande has awarded them the Légion d'honneur, the highest French honour, for their bravery.

Sadler said he hoped others would draw a lesson from what happened. “Hiding or sitting back is not going to accomplish anything, and the gunman would’ve been successful if my friend Spencer had not gotten up. So I just want that lesson to be learned going forward, in times of terror like that, to please do something. Don’t just stand by and watch.”

Well said.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Liberals who aren't when it comes to immigration

Last night I watched a television news article about Syrian refugees trying to cross the Aegean Sea from Turkey to Greece. Crowded into small, inflatable boats that were already foundering as they were pushed out from shore into the waves, the men, women and children were so obviously risking their lives it was tragic to watch. As if any further evidence of their peril were required, we watched as a man dragged himself back to shore from a capsized boat further out to sea.

I am a liberal on immigration. I believe Western nations should encourage free and open immigration for any law-abiding individual that wants to come to our countries and support themselves. What surprises me is that many so-called liberals I encounter are anything but liberal on immigration issues.

If I think logically about it, the attitudes of these liberals shouldn't surprise me at all. More than anything, they want to protect their cosy, unsustainable lifestyle and they understand that the biggest risk comes from the people they purport to care about - the poor and downtrodden of other countries.

Today I was speaking with a female colleague (whom I know to be left-wing) about the news article and she confirmed my suspicions by saying she thought immigration was a threat to the 'social cohesion' here in New Zealand. Social cohesion is liberal newspeak for entrenched privilege. It is the carefully constructed, interdependent, socio-political hegemony that milks the productive to maintain the less-productive in comfort, that is maintained by a majority of the electorate continuing to hypocritically vote for their self-interest while telling themselves they are doing it out of concern for those less fortunate than themselves. It is no surprise, therefore, to see the left-wing Labour Party in blaming Chinese immigrants for rising house prices in our largest city.

Western liberals regard immigrants as charity cases - needing to be taken care of from the moment they arrive with all-encompassing social support and generous welfare benefits. But immigrants tend not to regard themselves as charity cases - they often want nothing more than the opportunity to be free to work hard to improve their lot. They are happy to start off in a new society living and working in conditions and for wages that most Western liberals would find inadequate, in order to end up in much better lives. They have no interest in maintaining the privileged positions of those in our society who are not prepared to work as hard as they are and that is why they are regarded as a threat to the so-called social cohesion.

We should give immigrants what they want - a safe harbour and the opportunity to improve themselves. They do not want anything more than that.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

FBI Director Wants Everyone to Leave Backdoors Unlocked so He Can Search at Will

The director of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation, James Comey, has called for technology companies to build 'backdoors' into their encryption systems so that the US Government can access anyone's digital communications. The most obvious flaw in his plan, as outlined in this article, is that any backdoor created for the US intelligence agencies can also be exploited by America's enemies. The vulnerability of US Government systems to hackers has been repeatedly proven, most recently with the hacking of the US Office of Personnel Management in which the confidential records of 21.5 million people who had been required to go through background checks for US government jobs were stolen, probably by the Chinese Government.

The naïveté of Comey's intentions is secondary, however, to the more important considerations of which he appears to be ignorant. It seems almost quaint to discuss the US Constitution and the Bill of Rights, given how utterly those documents have been philosophically shredded in recent decades, however the Fourth Amendment states that,

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

It is pretty unambiguous, isn't it? What part of that statement says that the US Government can require everyone to leave the digital equivalent of the backdoors of their houses unlocked so that one of its agencies can enter and search at will? Even the US Supreme Court, which has been only too willing to ignore James Madison's plain English and allow all sorts of unwarranted searches and seizures in recent decades, has to its credit upheld the rights of the people in respect of smartphones searches in two recent cases.

James Madison and many of his contemporaries originally thought that the powers granted to the Federal Government in the original seven articles of the US Constitution were implicitly limited, but they came to realise that the reverse was true. They understood that government power and individual rights were inherently in conflict and that for citizens to be sovereign (which is the most fundamental tenet of the US Declaration of Independence), government powers had to be explicitly limited. This is why the Bill of Rights was written.

James Comey believes the opposite to James Madison. The former believes the citizenry lives at the pleasure of the government and that therefore it is the right of the government to know everything about each and every one of its citizens, irrespective of whether there is reasonable cause to believe that a citizen has committed a crime. In James Comey's eyes, we are all guilty until proven innocent. This is why his view is so fundamentally wrong. It is why James Comey and his type that are the greatest threat to liberty today, rather than the threats from the likes of terrorist groups like ISIS that he uses to justify his demands for ever-greater power over our lives.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Yes, Bob Jones, I've had enough of airlines treating us like cattle, too.

A few months ago, the well-known New Zealand businessman, raconteur and boxing pundit, Bob Jones, was ejected from an Air New Zealand flight on the grounds that he refused to respond to a stewardess who wanted to know whether he was familiar with the operation of an emergency exit next to which he was sitting. Bob used to be best known for his brief political foray in the mid-1980s when he formed The New Zealand Party with the express intention of unseating the then prime minister, Rob Muldoon, whose politics and style of rule had come to more closely resemble that of Josef Stalin rather than the head of government in a Westminster democracy. Bob and his fledgling party attracted around 12% of the votes in the 1984 election, enough to unseat Muldoon and his cronies and to usher in the neo-liberal Labour Party that slashed taxes, sold off state assets, closed down unnecessary government agencies and led a most remarkable turn-around in New Zealand's economic fortunes from which the country still benefits today. I worked on that campaign with Bob Jones when I was a university student and remember him as always pleasant, courteous and good-humoured.

Bob Jones was in the news again this week because he has responded to his defenestration from that Air New Zealand flight in the best possible way - by buying his own executive jet. Actually, despite reports to the contrary, it is not the first time Bob has had his own executive jet - I recall his public investment company owned one during the height of the sharemarket boom that followed the defeat of the Muldoon regime. But his latest acquisition was a perfectly symbolic raised middle finger to New Zealand's national airline.

I've been reasonably successful financially in my career but not enough (yet) to buy my own executive jet. I most definitely would if I could because the treatment of commercial airline passengers all around the world is an absolute disgrace. Bob Jones is right to compare Air New Zealand unfavourably to Soviet-era airlines. As bad as Aeroflot once was (and it's safety record was so bad travel agents used to call it 'Aero-flop' in recognition of the propensity of its aircraft to crash), it at least operated in an era when airlines understood that good customer service didn't include bullying. Today, most airlines and airports treat their customers like cattle and I think it is only a matter of time before their staff resort to electric cattle prods to achieve their aims. Of course, they are aided by government security officials who treat all passengers, no matter how law-abiding, like convicted criminals.

The only aspect of all this with which I disagree with Bob Jones is that Air New Zealand is especially bad. Actually, all airlines in this part of the world are far ahead of those in the United States as anyone who has recently flown domestically there will tell you. Not only are U.S. airport security procedures far more intrusive (and literally bodily-intrusive in many cases) than ours, they have enormous structural issues due to the hub-and-spoke nature of their transit routes, a practice of always overbooking flights (which is frankly fraudulent) and a national psych that is anti-service - all of which results in an industry that regards passengers as something less valuable than insentient freight.

The only area in which Air New Zealand is worse than U.S. airlines is in its appalling, infantile safety videos (see example here). I guess they are supposed to be amusing but I find such videos only to be insulting and cringe-inducing, especially after the twentieth viewing. If they have to turn safety videos into childrens' fantasy tales in order to get people to watch them, what chance is there that anyone will have the maturity and presence of mind to actually follow the instructions during an emergency? It is all just part of the general infantilisation of Western culture that seems to be done to excess in this country.

Hmmm, I wonder how much that new jet costs?

Thursday, July 30, 2015

The question all lefties should answer

A friend of mine, with whom I don't usually discuss politics, recently explained her view on some current issue by saying, "Of course, I'm a leftie."

There were a couple of things I felt like saying in response. The first was to express a complete lack of surprise. She is an attractive, educated woman with a nice house, a husband who makes plenty of money and a beautiful young family - what else would such a self-satisfied creature be but a leftie? The second was to question her moral compass, given that lefties were responsible for far more murders of their political opponents than 'righties' over the course of the last hundred years. In fairness to my friend, I assumed her views were more a product of intellectual laziness than immorality and I didn't say any of these things to her because I didn't want to spoil what was a very pleasant lunch date at an outdoor café on a sunny afternoon.

The moral challenge I felt like posing to my leftie friend is similar to that posed by American historian Eugene Genovese in his essay, The Question. Genovese was a notorious Marxist who changed his views later in life because he reflexively posed the question that is the subject of his essay - the same question that was asked of Germans in respect of the Holocaust after World War II - "What did you know, and when did you know it?" Genovese, perhaps uniquely amongst left-wingers, poses the question to Marxists and their fellow-travellers, "democratic socialists" and "radical democrats" (and he applies the parentheses to those terms), in respect of the tens or hundreds of millions of people who have been killed by left-wing regimes that Western lefties have supported. I raised a similar question in my blog post from Cambodia earlier this year on Western support for Pol Pot.

Genovese challenges the inevitable excuse of the left-wing apologists for genocidal regimes by saying, "the horrors did not arise from perversions of radical ideology but from the ideology itself." The excuse that every instance of radical socialism in practice is not a true manifestation of Marx's philosophy is what I find to be the most pathetic and dishonest of all of the left's multitudinous examples of self-delusion. Genocide is not an aberration of Marxism, it is the sine qua non of it.

I recall having an argument with my political science tutor at university, a proud Marxist (which, again, is hardly a surprise) who stressed Marx's theory that the dictatorship of the proletariat would dissolve upon achievement of the egalitarian aims of the revolution. In other words, the existence of Marxism was not dependent on a dictatorial state other than in its early stages. I pointed out the obvious logical inconsistency with the theory - that a system that requires violent repression of human rights during its gestation cannot endure in the absence of that violent repression. Once the state has been dissolved, there is nothing to enforce the artificially-constructed egalitarianism of Marxist ideals.

Human rights are, by definition, about allowing humans to pursue their own self-interest, i.e. what the American founding fathers called "the pursuit of happiness", and socialism is about subjugating self-interest in the interests of the collective. So, logically, the only way of maintaining the socialist nirvana is to retain the necessarily violent suppression of human rights that imposed it in the first place. I also pointed out to my tutor the logical inconsistency that any system that is reliant on an elite who have the guns can hardly be called egalitarian. I don't think he had ever had anyone challenge his beliefs in such a manner as he seemed quite crushed by the encounter with logic.

I guess it comes down to whether you think you can separate the means from the ends, and this is the moral problem I have always had with Marxist philosophy. I believe that any system that requires its adherents to justify murder in pursuit of its goals cannot be moral. She would be outraged were I to point it out, but there is a terrible moral equivalence between genocidal maniacs like Stalin and my friend sipping her latte in a café on a sunny day. They differ only in the extent to which they would stomach the logical outcomes of their beliefs.

[A hat-tip to Tom Woods who brought my attention to Genovese's essay in a recent episode of his excellent podcast.]

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Fascinating Insight into US-Israel Relationship

It has been a while since I last posted. The main reason I have been so remiss is that I've been busy with business, but it's also because I've been doing a lot of reading recently. Most of the books I have read are non-fiction, ranging the gamut of my eclectic interests including music, politics, economics, science and particularly biography. One of the most interesting books in the last category is the autobiography of the former Israeli ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren.

American-born and raised, Oren became a avowed Zionist as a teenager when he met Yitzhak Rabin during the latter's term in the diplomatic job that was eventually to become Oren's own. Rabin was, of course, later to become the Prime Minister of Israel who signed the Oslo Peace Accord with Palestine Liberation Organisation leader Yasir Arafat, for which he received the Nobel Peace Prize (together with Arafat and Shimon Peres). Oren fell in love with Israel on his first visit there as a seventeen year-old and was determined to become its ambassador to his country of birth, but before being selected for the role by current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu he had a distinguished career as an Israeli paratrooper, a history professor and a novelist. 

Oren served as ambassador from 2009 until 2013, one of the most turbulent periods in the often fractious Israel-US alliance. He had to smooth the stormy relationship between Netanyahu and President Barack Obama at a time when Israel became increasingly cast (most unfairly in my view) as the villain in the Middle East. He managed to gain the respect of the Washington political and diplomatic establishment and constantly provided Israel with a professional, objective voice in America, in spite of the fact that his own family back in Israel was often under threat of terrorist attack and Hamas missiles. He was there during the build-up to the recent Iran nuclear agreement and had to personally manage the relationship between a Prime Minister who saw the deal as the ultimate existential threat to his nation and a US President who seemed to be only too willing to trade an ally's security for his own political legacy. Michael Oren retired before the dreaded Iran deal was completed and I imagine Netanyahu acutely feels his loss.

Whatever you think of Israel (and I make no apology for the fact that I am an admirer), Oren's book, Ally, is a fascinating insight into that country's politics, as well as into the explosive Middle East and the personalities and games of Washington politics.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Beware of Greeks Seeking Gifts

We are seeing the end days in Greece. The Greek people, having voted earlier this year for a new prime minister, Alex Tsipras, whose unholy alliance of Marxist–Leninists, Maoists, Trotskyites, Eurocommunists, Luxemburgists and environmentalists known as Syriza stood on a platform of not paying back their loans, are now seeing the consequences of their decision. The weaselly Tsipras had a cunning plan of calling a referendum a week after Greece's final deadline for a major loan repayment to their creditors, assuming the witless European Central Bank would extend the country further credit (what's another week, after all?). But he miscalculated - the ECB in Frankfurt told the Greek prime minister they've finally run out of patience (although, more precisely, they've run out of political capital with the only net creditors on the continent - the German people).

The effect of this severe miscalculation by Tsipras and the ECB is now being seen. Greek banks are closed to avoid a massive run on deposits, ATMs are running out of cash despite a €60 per day limit on withdrawals, and many people don't even have enough cash to pay their rent and buy groceries. But in spite of this awful but entirely predictable outcome for the Greek people, Tsipras is not backing down, urging them to vote 'no' to the referendum question and thumbing his nose at the latest ultimatum from the acronymic troika of the EC, ECB and IMF.

The Greek people cannot claim they are ignorant dupes in this matter. For more than 10 years they have benefited from their governments' duplicitousness, down-right lies and reneging on successive bailout arrangements. The Greeks have enjoyed a standard of living they have not earned because of the willingness of European central bankers and private institutions to lend them more and more money. They expected, perhaps understandably, the largesse to continue ad infinitum and were disbelieving and aggrieved when the ECB called 'last drinks'.

One cannot solely blame the Greek people. The real villains in the piece are all the governments around the world who subscribe to the fantastical Keynesian economic theory of creating money out of thin air to lend to banks to drive economic growth. The reality is that so-called quantitative easing only drives asset price bubbles and does little for real economic growth (which is a factor of the increasingly efficient use of capital, not of an increase in the price of assets). That's why real estate and stock markets have reached record highs during the period of nil or low economic growth in Western economies since 2007.

Asset price bubbles inevitably burst, then everything comes crashing down. Watch this space.