Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Castro's Apologists Reveal Their Anti-democratic Tendencies

A while ago I was doing some work for a government agency and I was surprised to see one of the staff had a picture of Che Guevara as the screen background on his PC. I somewhat facetiously asked him whether he alternated the image with others of murderous secret police chiefs such as Heinrich Himmler, Lavrentiy Beria and Erich Mielke. He seemed unaware that Che Guevara was the head of Fidel Castro's secret police and ran the Cuban dictator's concentration camps and that he personally killed hundreds of Castro's political opponents.

I recalled this incident while reading some of the tributes to Castro over the weekend, particularly the fawning eulogies from left-wing politicians like Justin Trudeau and Jeremy Corbyn, and it got me thinking about why so many on the left seem to be wilfully blind to the crimes against humanity of Communist dictators like Castro, Stalin, Mao and Kim Il-Sung. I say wilfully because, unlike the public servant above, I cannot believe these Western politicians are unaware of the crimes of those they admire.

Why are democratically-elected Western leaders so keen to embrace and legitimise dictatorial thugs? I think the answer is obvious and revealing, like a political Freudian slip. Most Western leaders believe in big government as the solution to all the world's problems and there is no bigger form of government than brutal dictatorship. In praising Castro, they are revealing their secret pining for the free hand he had to do whatever he wanted. As Mark Steyn put it, 'if you believe in big problems that demand big government solutions, democracy just gets in the way.'

The distrust of democracy amongst Western leaders has been all too evident this year in their responses to the Brexit referendum and the US presidential election. Their churlish dismissal of the voters as ignorant, racist and xenophobic has revealed their distaste of the reality of democracy. They like the pretence of having a democratic mandate but only when voters stick to the script they have written.

The very worst thing about the reaction of these Western apologists to Castro's death is their arrogance in thinking they can speak for the Cuban people, such as Trudeau's observation that the dictator 'served his people for almost half a century.' It takes a particularly weasel-like hypocrisy to label Castro's extra-judicial killing of thousands of his countrymen and his imprisonment of tens of thousands of his political opponents as 'serving his people'.

The only aspect of Castro's death that is regrettable is that he died in his sleep and thereby denied his oppressed people the opportunity of seeing him hang for his crimes.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Trump will hasten mainstream media's demise

I don't think anyone would seriously disagree that the coverage of the US presidential election campaign was, to say the least, unbalanced. Many of the election night commentators looked dismayed at Trump's victory and some, like MSNBC's Rachel Maddow, broke down at the result. The campaign itself was reported in the most one-sided manner with even the editor of the Clinton-supporting New York Times showing remarkable self-awareness after the election by penning a letter to his readers that was as close to a mea culpa as any newspaper editor ever concedes.

Trump realised early on in his campaign that the mainstream media were his enemy and he capitalised on that enmity, using them to pour fuel on the fire of his more outrageous comments when he wanted to and talking above them directly to the electorate we they weren't serving his purposes. I believe the American public were equally dismissive of the media, understanding only too well their biases and making allowances for that when reading reports of Trump's excesses. The media was trapped in an echo-chamber of their own making, feeding off their biases and believing their own hype, unable to discern what was really going on in the electorate.

It is already apparent that a Trump presidency will have a different relationship with the media. Trump does not accept that the media should have privileged access to him, his family and his staff, as demonstrated by his refusal to allow the press to accompany him on his first visit to the White House and to a private dinner. The media has responded to their exclusion by writing an open letter to Trump stating that 'we expect the traditions of White House press coverage to be upheld whether in Washington or elsewhere.' The arrogant tone of the letter shows that these fools don't get it - their world has tilted on its axis and will never be the same again. The very idea of an establishment media, the so-called 'fourth estate', is dead and will never be resurrected. You would think they would have got the message with the appointment of Stephen Bannon, the head of the popular 'alt-right' website Breitbart News, as a senior counsellor to the president-elect. Breitbart founder Andrew Breitbart said when establishing his site that it was 'committed to the destruction of the old media guard'.

The mainstream media's disease is terminal. The New York Times, one of the world's biggest newspapers in terms of circulation, is barely profitable, and here in New Zealand our two largest dailies need to merge in order to survive. Television networks like our TVNZ are in financial freefall. They deserve their fate, having long since given up (if they ever had) any semblance of journalistic independence and integrity. Trump will just hasten their demise.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Leave us alone, Gauleiter Brownlee

So Gerry Brownlee is not happy that the new mayor of Wellington, Justin Lester, did not declare a 'red zone' in the Wellington CBD after this week's earthquakes. In case anyone has any misconceptions about what Brownlee's red zone would mean, this article describes what life is still like in Christchurch's red zone five years after the 2011 earthquake. Brownlee's dictatorial management of the aftemath of the Christchurch earthquake has more effectively destroyed that city than any damage done by the earthquake.

Wellington property owners have been acting quickly and responsibly to assess the damage to their buildings in the days since the magnitude 7.8 earthquake that hit the top of the South Island. In my own offices on Lambton Quay, the owner asked that we stay out of the building until he had had engineers assess the damage. This work was completed on Tuesday afternoon and (as there was happily no damage) we were then given the all-clear to reoccupy the building. This has been the process throughout the city with no direction or help from central government and where necessary buildings have been kept closed for further inspection and remedial work. Justin Lester may not have satisfied Brownlee's authoritarian bent but four days after the earthquake there have been no reports of any injuries from earthquake damage in central Wellington so the risk appears to have been well managed and the mayor seems to have made exactly the right call in not closing down the entire central city.

The best thing that a government can do to facilitate the recovery from a natural disaster, as was proved in Joplin, Missouri*, is to get the hell out of the way and let individuals and businesses get on with the job of recovery. A few of Wellington's buildings are seriously damaged but the vast majority have superficial or no damage at all. We don't need red zones, and we certainly don't need the Brownlee's jackbooted approach to dealing with residents and property owners in Christchurch, to get on with the recovery work. Please, just leave us alone, Gauleiter Brownlee.

* H/T to Not PC for the link to the WSJ article on Joplin (which is subscription only - if you can't get past the paywall read about what it says in this blog post).

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Why Trump Won

Winston Churchill said, "Democracy is the worst form of Government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time", and I tend to agree - as imperfect as it is, democracy sure beats dictatorship. It has been revealing to observe the protests against Donald Trump's election as the next president of the United States. Like the protests after the Brexit vote, it is difficult to discern what the complainants actually want to achieve; however, it is obvious they do not really want electors to have a genuine choice and they think the voting system is only there to validate their own narrow views.

During the election campaign we saw the media and left-wing commentators try to delegitimise the Trump campaign. Trump himself didn't help of course, straying from the real issues into personal prejudices as with his comments about Mexicans, but the dismissal of anyone who supported the Trump campaign as racist, sexist or fascist demonstrated an intolerance that, in my view, was worse than anything Trump said. The trend is continuing post-election, with mainstream media outlets such as Reuters demonising the appointment of Breitbart editor Stephen Bannon as a "right-wing firebrand" who has turned his news site into a "loose online group of neo-Nazis, white supremacists and anti-Semites." I read Breitbart occasionally and at worst it is a strident voice of conservative America and at best it is a forum that robustly challenges the prevailing left-wing consensus of the mainstream media.

Trump's win was due to the frustrations of Americans with the leadership of their country. Mostly that frustration is about economic matters, particularly the high levels of underemployment amongst non-college educated Americans and the huge increase in the cost of health insurance under Obama's so-called Affordable Care Act. However, a degree of the frustration was about the erosion of the pluralism that is an essential part of democracy and the fact that it has become unacceptable in much of the mainstream media and social media to espouse any views other than the prevailing left-wing orthodoxy. I believe many Americans voted for Trump simply because they wanted to reassert their right to hold a dissenting view.

I disagree with most of what Trump stands for and I don't think he is going to be a great president, but the thing about political leaders is that you often don't know what they really will be like until they are in the role. One of New Zealand's most effective prime ministers in recent years was Helen Clark, who, like Trump, was dismissed as unelectable before she got into power. Trump is the American president-elect whether his opponents like it or not and if they have any respect for the American republic and its democratic system, then they have to accept the result and give him a chance.