Beware of economists (and historians) – connecting Anzacs and Armenians

My home country, New Zealand, was privileged last week to be visited by an eminent historian from the United States. Professor Jay Winter teaches at Yale University, and is said to be an authority on the First World War,

Well he had nice but sad things to say about New Zealand’s contribution to that horrendous conflict. It seems servicemen from my country died in greater numbers relative to population than those of any other combatant nation – a dubious honour, you’d have to think. Does that make our boys braver, more stupid, or just unlucky?

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Quite a few Indians were sent too, apparently, to “defend” the Empire

In the interview I read, Prof. Winter then proceeded to devote a lot of words to making a connection between New Zealand’s joining the ill-fated Gallipoli invasion, and another tragedy of the “Great” War, the deaths of thousands of Armenian civilians. The link is the date: 24 April is when Armenians remember the day in 1915 when their ancestors in SE Anatolia were rounded up by the Ottoman government and forced to “relocate” to what is now Syria, a lot of them dying on the way. On 25 April in the same year, the British Empire, following a plan championed by War Minister, Winston Churchill, landed on the beaches of the Gallipoli Peninsula in a vain attempt to take the Ottoman Empire out of the war.

Prof Winter seems to think he has found something very new and exciting, as every academic dreams of doing. Possibly in his professional writing he actually does manage to make some hitherto unnoticed link that will shine the unequivocal light of day on matters that remain highly contentious. After all, says the learned prof, “Historians are in the truth business.”

Naturally, historians, jealous of their professional reputation, would like to think so – but the sad reality is that history, like economics, is a social science, lending itself to interpretation according to the particular political or ideological lens one uses to view the “facts”. Prof Winter gives a clue to his real purpose in visiting NZ when he suggests that the country’s new “Labour” government may be amenable to joining the ranks of other self-righteous nations that have officially designated the Armenian tragedy “a genocide”, for which the modern Republic of Turkey should be held responsible.

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Genocidal violence with a smiley face

He may be right. Self-styled left-wing parties in the wealthy First World, bereft of ideas for actually changing anything important in the lives of the planet’s 99%, tend to offer crumbs of trendy, fashionable issues to their diminishing ranks of supporters. Barack Obama, in his original presidential campaign, wooed the Armenian lobby, but changed tack later, for reasons best known to himself.

Wiser heads may win the day in NZ too, and not simply because they fear that offending Turkey may earn their globe-trotting citizens a chillier welcome on their annual pilgrimage to Anzac Cove on 25 April.

However sincere Prof Winter may be in his search for truth, certain aspects of this interview gave me cause for concern. First, it appeared on News Hub, a NZ news service that airs on TV Three and radio stations run by MediaWorks. A little digging turned up the interesting fact that MediaWorks is a New Zealand-based television, radio and interactive media company entirely owned by Oaktree Capital Management. And Oaktree Capital Management, according to Wikipedia, “is an American global asset management firm specialising in alternative investment strategies. It is the largest distressed investor in the world, and one of the largest credit investors in the world.”

Nothing necessarily wrong with that, of course. Everyone has to make a living, and I’m sorry to hear those guys are distressed. However, the page where that interview appeared contained a link to another article praising “a young Kiwi historian” James Robins, who is apparently “grappl[ing] with the fact that no New Zealand Government has ever formally recognised the genocide of Armenians”. Mr Robins’s “grappling” is supported by a “genocide expert”, Maria Amoudian, and an American heavy metal musician Serj Tankian.

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Genocidal violence with a grumpy face

In the interests of academic objectivity, we might want to also take a look at the work of researchers with less obvious connections to the Armenian diaspora.

One such is Edward J Erickson, a retired regular US Army officer at the Marine Corps University in Virginia, recognised as an authority on the Ottoman Army during the First World War. He makes some interesting points in a paper entitled “The Armenian Relocations and OttomanNational Security: Military Necessity or Excuse for Genocide?” I’m quoting a chunk from it, but you really need to read the whole document. It’s only 8 pages long.

“The historical context that led to the events of 1915 is crucial for understanding the framework within which the relocation decision was cast. There are four main historical antecedents that must be understood in order to establish this context:

  1. the activities of the Armenian revolutionary committees (particularly the Dashnaks);
  2. the activities of outside powers supporting the Armenian committees;
  3. the contemporary counter-insurgency practices used by the Great Powers; and
  4. the Ottoman counter-insurgency policies and practices in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

“Many historians view the outbreak of the First World War as the proximate cause of what some historians refer to as the Armenian Genocide, others as massacres and relocations, and still others as the Events of 1915. To this day, interpretations of this question remain hotly contested by the advocates of the opposing positions. However, both sides agree on the fact that the Ottoman approach to the problem of quelling an insurgency clearly and dramatically changed in 1915 when it shifted from a historical policy of kinetic direct action by large-scale military forces to a new policy of population relocation. The problem then becomes that of explaining how the First World War created the drivers of change that caused this fundamental policy shift. Similarly to the four elements of the historical context, there were also four principal drivers of change created by the war:

  1. the actuality of an insurrection by the Armenian revolutionary committees;
  2. the actuality of allied interventions and support;
  3. the locations of the Armenian population as an existential threat to Ottoman national security; and
  4. the inability of the Ottomans to mass large forces effectively and rapidly to quell the insurgency.

“With respect to the question of whether the relocation was necessary for reason of Ottoman national security in the First World War, the answer is clearly yes. There was a direct threat by the small but capable Armenian revolutionary committees to the lines of communications upon which the logistics of the Ottoman armies on three fronts depended. There was a real belief by the government that the consequences of failing to supply adequately its armies that were contact with the Russians, in particular, surely would lead to the defeat of the Ottoman Empire. The Ottoman high command believed it could not take that chance. Pressed by the imperative of national survival to implement an immediate counterinsurgency strategy and operational solution, and in the absence of traditionally available large-scale military forces, the Ottomans chose a strategy based on relocation— itself a highly effective practice pioneered by the Great Powers. The relocation of the Armenian population and the associated destruction of the Armenian revolutionary committees ended an immediate existential threat to the Ottoman state. Although the empire survived to fight on until late 1918 unfortunately thousands of Armenians did not survive the relocation. Correlation is not causation and the existing evidence suggests that the decisions leading to the Armenian relocations in 1915 were reflexive, escalatory, and militarily necessary, rather than simply a convenient excuse for genocide.

Another article you might want to take a look at appeared in The Washington Times, in 2007, around the time Barack Obama was running hot on the Armenian issue.

“Armenian crimes against humanity and war crimes against the Ottoman Turkish and Kurdish populations of eastern and southern Anatolia during World War I and its aftermath have been forgotten amidst congressional preoccupation with placating the vocal and richly financed Armenian lobby.

“Capt. Emory Niles and Arthur Sutherland, on an official 1919 U.S. mission to eastern Anatolia, reported: “In the entire region from Bitlis through Van to Bayezit, we were informed that the damage and destruction had been done by the Armenians, who, after the Russians retired, remained in occupation of the country and who, when the Turkish army advanced, destroyed everything belonging to the Musulmans. Moreover, the Armenians are accused of having committed murder, rape, arson and horrible atrocities of every description upon the Musulman population. At first, we were most incredulous of these stories, but we finally came to believe them, since the testimony was absolutely unanimous and was corroborated by material evidence. For instance, the only quarters left at all intact in the cities of Bitlis and Van are Armenian quarters … while the Musulman quarters were completely destroyed.”

“Niles and Sutherland were fortified by American and German missionaries on the spot in Van. American Clarence Ussher reported that Armenians put the Turkish men “to death,” and, for days, “They burned and murdered.” A German missionary recalled that, “The memory of these entirely helpless Turkish women, defeated and at the mercy of the [Armenians] belongs to the saddest recollections from that time.”

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and all the world will live happily ever after. No need to study history.

“A March 23, 1920, letter of Col. Charles Furlong, an Army intelligence officer and U.S. Delegate to the Paris Peace Conference, to President Woodrow Wilson elaborated: “We hear much, both truth and gross exaggeration of Turkish massacres of Armenians, but little or nothing of the Armenian massacres of Turks. … The recent so-called Marash massacres [of Armenians] have not been substantiated. In fact, in the minds of many who are familiar with the situation, there is a grave question whether it was not the Turk who suffered at the hands of the Armenian and French armed contingents which were known to be occupying that city and vicinity. … Our opportunity to gain the esteem and respect of the Muslim world … will depend much on whether America hears Turkey’s untrammeled voice and evidence which she has never succeeded in placing before the Court of Nations.”

“The United States neglected Col. Furlong’s admonition in 1920, and again last Wednesday. Nothing seems to have changed from those days, when Christian lives were more precious than the lives of the “infidels.”

Will we ever know the truth? Who knows? But one thing is for sure: if you want to stand a chance of learning it, you need to keep an open mind and do your own searching. And beware of “expert” historians (and economists).

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If you don’t think there’s a conspiracy, you’re not paying attention

An interesting article I came across in Time Magazine: “Why Smart People Still Believe Conspiracy Theories”

wall street conspiracyA coterie of academic stooges set out to prove that people who believe in “conspiracy theories” are of sub-normal intelligence. Unfortunately for them, their findings did not confirm their initial hypothesis – so they had to come up with another one, ie people believe what they want to believe. Which is probably equally true of people who insist that there is no conspiracy.

The researchers’ fundamental error was to assume that people who believe there is a conspiracy have no solid evidence to support their belief. Not true, guys and girls.

  • Take a look at the Roman Catholic Church. One huge international conspiracy to keep the poor in slavery.
  • Take a look at Wall Street and the world of international banking and finance. Another monumental conspiracy to hide the truth behind global economic imperialism.
  • Take a look at the United States political system. Another major conspiracy aimed at convincing poor Americans that they actually have a say in how their government rules the country.

trumps-favorite-mcdonalds-meal-is-a-catholic-conspiracyA few extracts from the Time article:

“Millions of Americans believe in conspiracy theories — including plenty of people who you might expect would be smart enough to know better.

Despite mountains of scientific evidence to the contrary, at least 20% of Americans still believe in a link between vaccines and autism, and at least 37% think global warming is a hoax*, according to a 2015 analysis. Even more of us accept the existence of the paranormal: 42% believe in ghosts and 41% in extrasensory perception. And those numbers are stable. A 2014 study by conspiracy experts Joseph Uscinski of the University of Miami and Joseph Parent of Note Dame University surveyed 100,000 letters sent to the New York Times and the Chicago Tribune from 1890 to 2010 and found that the percentage that argued for one conspiracy theory or another had barely budged over time.

Now, a study published online in the journal Personality and Individual Differences provides new insights into why so many of us believe in things that just aren’t true: In some cases, we simply want to believe.

The second study was similar but also sought to correlate belief in conspiracy theories and the paranormal with overall cognitive ability. To determine this, the people answered a number of questions that measured their numeracy — or basic mathematical skills — and their language abilities.

us democracyWhat’s most troubling — and a little mystifying — is the fact is that so many people in the studies score high on all of the rational and intellectual metrics and yet nonetheless subscribe to disproven theories. That’s the case in the real world too, where highly educated people traffic in conspiratorial nonsense that you’d think they’d reject. In these cases, the study concluded, the reason may simply be that they’re invested—emotionally, ideologically—in believing the conspiracies, and they use their considerable cognitive skills to persuade themselves that what’s untrue is actually true. If you want to believe vaccines are dangerous or that the political party to which you don’t belong is plotting the ruination of America, you’ll build yourself a credible case.”

_______________________________

*Interestingly US presidents and CEOs of large corporations seem to subscribe to this one!

Economic gobbledegook – and why the world is going to hell on a fast train

This is by some guy called Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, writing in the UK’s Daily Telegraph. Well, with a name like that you wouldn’t imagine he’d have missed too many meals in his life. He’s probably right in picking that it’s not a good sign for the future of the world when someone can pay $450 million for a painting, even if Leonardo da Vinci did paint it. Reading between the lines of overblown pretentious verbiage, I reckon he’s saying the world is in for another major financial crash, engineered by the same grotesquely over-paid, grasping, selfish “financiers” that brought us the last one.

Cy twomble

$46 million painting by Cy Twombly

Leonardo da Vinci has special cachet. What is striking about the Christie’s soiree in New York last week was not so much the US$450m ($661m) paid for his rediscovered Salvator Mundi but the prices fetched by everyone else.

Buyers forked out $46m for vermilion spirals from the Bacchus series by Cy Twombly, executed 12 years ago with a paint-drenched brush on a pole. Soothing sands called Saffron by Mark Rothko fetched US$32m.

The week’s haul at Christie’s and Sotheby’s topped US$1.5 billion, with Asian buyers snapping up Monets. Fernand Leger’s abstract Contrastes de Formes fetched US$62m.

It screams late-cycle liquidity, recalling Japan’s impressionist fever in the late Eighties before the Nikkei collapsed and the bottom fell out of the art market.

092216-best-paidBitcoin clinches the argument. It has risen more than 1,200 per cent over the past year to more than US$8000 – five times an ounce of gold – on a “greater fool” presumption.

This is not a criticism of blockchain technology. It will flourish. But you cannot yet buy and sell things in any meaningful way with cryptocurrencies worth US$180b.

Bitcoin will end badly, either when the Chicago Mercantile Exchange launches its futures contracts in two weeks and allows traders to short it, or when the global cycle turns. A runaway asset boom can last a long time when the G4 central banks are holding real interest at minus 1.5 per cent and spending US$2 trillion a year soaking up “safe assets”

And here’sAcademic bulls say the stock of central bank assets is still growing. Market bears counter that the flow is falling, which matters more to them. Hence the recent rout in high-yield credit. Junk bond funds saw the biggest outflows since 2014 last week.

A parallel retreat is under way in East Asia where US$800m of bond sales in steel, solar and palm oil were cancelled. These are minor tremors. What threatens the universe of stretched asset values is the return of US inflation. The boom is built on the premise that the Fed will bathe the global system with ample liquidity.

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2015 figures for the UK

Yet that is precisely what is now in doubt as US unemployment drops to a 17-year low and the dormant Phillips curve reawakens. The New York Fed’s underlying inflation gauge has jumped to a post-Lehman peak of 2.96 per cent.

All it will take from now on is a single piece of hard data to confirm this trend and the markets will reprice interest rate futures abruptly, shaking the whole edifice of global risk appetite.

Staccato rate rises by the Fed would ignite a dollar surge, squeezing an estimated US$10.7t of offshore dollar debt. There is a further US$14t of global dollar debt hidden in derivatives and FX swap contracts, pushing the total to US$25t.

The Wolf of Wall Street

“Watching with wolfish concentration . . . “

I didn’t want to upload the whole pretentious, jargon-loaded article – just give you a taste – but here’s Evans-Pritchard’s conclusion:

“Major players in the City are watching with wolfish concentration. Bank of America says the air is getting thinner for risk assets but tells clients to stay with the “Icarus trade” as long as you can still breathe.

Mark Haefele, investment chief at UBS, says it is too early to bail out but the coming inflection point is “something we think about a lot”.

Inequalities are a result of low wages, based on big profits, financial swindles, multi-trillion dollar public handouts and multi-billion-dollar tax evasion

If you still have illusions about the American dream, thanks to sojourner for this:

Image: http://www.commondreams.org …Inequality is not a result of ‘technology’ and ‘education’- contemporary euphemisms for the ruling class cult of superiority – as liberals and conservative economists and journalists like to claim. Inequalities are a result of low wages, based on big profits, financial swindles, multi-trillion dollar public handouts and multi-billion-dollar tax evasion… …US corporations in […]

via How Billionaires Become Billionaires | Global Research – Centre for Research on Globalization — An Outsider’s Sojourn II (The Journey Continues)

Saudi royals holidaying in Turkey

4341C8F000000578-4790252-image-m-10_1502739308457

So why do you need 30 bicycles?

According to our local newspaper, Saudi Arabian Prince El Velid bin Tallal is currently holidaying in Bodrum with his wife and daughters. He has been spotted cycling around the streets near his hotel of accompanied by several large bodyguards.

The royals are staying in a luxury hotel in the Göltürkbükü area much loved by local glitterati and the paparazzi who make a living photographing and writing about them. Prince El Velid is not the richest guy in the world, but with a wealth estimated at $32 billion, he’s definitely up there with the big guns. He and his family and carers arrived at Bodrum Milas Airport on the royal Boeing 747where their 300 suitcases and 30 bicycles took several hours to unload.

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The prince’s private jet and holiday luggage

It seems a bay near their hotel has been closed of for their exclusive use, where they can swim, sunbathe and anchor their 87-metre yacht Kingdom KR5. In case the hotel’s facilities are not up to expected standards, the yacht apparently has a swimming pool of its own.

Who knows – maybe we’ll bump into them at our next concert.

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The Kingdom KR5

Statue of Liberty Debate – My two cents worth

I read an article last week about a debate in American political circles over the true significance of the Statue of Liberty.

sad-statue-of-libertyApparently a CNN journalist was taking an aide of President Trump to task over the administration’s proposals to tighten immigration laws. The journalist was suggesting that limiting immigration was against the spirit of the iconic New York statue, as expressed in a poem inscribed on its pedestal. “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

The poet, Emma Lazarus, was addressing the nations of Europe, the tired old world with its hereditary aristocracy living in luxury on the backs of its oppressed people. The United States, by contrast, was a brave new classless world of opportunity and equality where merit would rise to the top.

The Trump aide, it seems, wisely avoided entering into a debate about whether such egalitarian ideals formed part of his boss’s plan to make America great again. He diverted the issue by pointing out that the Lazarus poem was not part of the original statue, and was, in fact, added twenty years after the unveiling of “Lady Liberty”.

maxresdefaultSo, what was that “Liberty” thing all about then? The Time article claims that the original idea in the mind of the French government when they gifted the statue was to congratulate the United States for their moral fortitude in abolishing slavery. There is also an implication that there was a diplomatic purpose tucked away – to cement the alliance between France and the US. France, of course, had supported the American revolutionaries in their independence war, and later backed the fledgling republic in the War of 1812 – both fought against Britain. Maybe there was a smidgen of imperialist rivalry going on behind the façade of altruism.

Certainly abolishing slavery in the United States was a worthy achievement – but it’s worth remembering that it wasn’t a unanimous decision. 750,000 lives were lost in the Civil War of the 1860s before the issue was decided; and the USA certainly wasn’t in the forefront of slave emancipation. Just as a matter of interest, here’s a timeline of when slavery was abolished in certain key countries:

1811 – Spain, 1813 – Sweden, 1833 – Britain, 1848 – France, 1851 – Brazil, 1858 – Portugal, 1861 – Netherlands, 1865 – United States of America

A century later civil rights activists were still being imprisoned or assassinated; and some might argue that race relations in the land of the free are far from perfect even today.

And another thing. The driving force behind slavery is economics. If you don’t have to pay your work force, your profit margins are going to look a lot healthier than if you have to pay a living wage to your workers and PAYE income tax to your government. The United States economy must have taken a hit when all those slaves were liberated. Certainly the poor huddled masses from Europe had to be paid to work in the industrializing powerhouse they had come to for a better life, but I imagine there was a lot of competition for jobs keeping the price of labour to a minimum. Health and safety regulations would have been pretty lax, and social services, hospitals, schools and so on, not much in evidence. Need a new source of cheap labour to replace those liberated slaves? Why not import a few million desperately poor Europeans and exploit them?

236_cartoon_outsourcing_jobs_hurwitt_largeWe might think that both the CNN and the Trump guy were haggling over historical details and losing sight of the real issue. Whatever shenanigans may have lain behind the erecting of the Statue of Liberty, generations of US politicians have made local and international capital out of peddling the concept that America is a shining beacon of equality, freedom, democracy and hope in a corrupt and dangerous world. The American people have been encouraged (brainwashed?) to believe that these qualities are best exemplified by their own political system and way of life.

I don’t have time to write a poem to the United States of America, but listen, people. You’ve got poor tired huddled masses of your own that need your attention. You may not want the poor tired huddled masses from elsewhere any more, but at least stop bombing them and exploiting them, so they can get on with the business of living and raising their children in their own countries.

End of Labour as a major political force?

The Light Dawns – The Penny Drops!

eureka

It came to me in the bathtub!

It was a favourite saying of my old middle school teacher, Mr Hislop. It was a mildly sarcastic form of congratulations when one, or all of his pupils finally showed signs of understanding something he had been at pains for some time to explain.

The words came to my own lips as I read an opinion piece in New Zealand’s own Herald newspaper/website. The writer was commenting on the woes of the NZ Labour Party in the lead-up to this year’s General Election. The conservative National Party has been in power since 2008. The Prime Minister for most of those years was an unabashedly rich finance mogul whose standard response to news media questions about the numerous scandals that broke during his term of office was, “Oh, nobody cares about that!” New Zealand has a ludicrously inflated housing market, a playground for wealthy local and foreign “investors”. The country has received dishonourable mention in global reports on child poverty and international money laundering.

In spite of that, and more, the main opposition Labour Party is plunging rather than rising in public opinion polls, and the party’s panicked response has been to choose a new leader, four months out from Election Day. It’s the beginning of the end of Labour as an automatic major political force,” says this political commentator.

Interesting choice of words, don’t you think? automatic major political force”? Unfortunately, that’s what it is, and has been for the last 40 years – and not just in New Zealand A brain-dead response by people unhappy with the social injustice created by traditional conservative economics. Political pundits in the UK are desperately trying to convince voters that the local Labour Party has found, in Jeremy Corbyn, a leader to take them back to their roots. The US Democrats managed to sell Barack Obama to their well-heeled, trendy-lefty supporters, and nearly did it again with Bernie Sanders. The sad fact is that Labour Parties (and their alter egos) in these countries and Australia, and others for all I know, are just a construct of the established financial elite who wield the real power while conning a pathetically gullible electorate into thinking they have a choice at the ballot box.

walking dead

Labour back from the dead – again?

Let me quote you some facts and figures. New Zealand voters elected their first Labour Government in 1935, in the depths of the Great Global Economic Depression. That government did actually manage to implement some genuine socialist reforms, on which their successors have been dining out ever since. By 1949, however, they had turned their back on most of their founding principles, got rid of any dissenting voices in their own ranks, and were deservedly thrown out in that year’s general Election.

68 years have passed since then. Conservative National governments have held the reins of power for 47 of those, and pale pinkish-blue pseudo-Labour governments, the remaining 21. The last possibly true old-style Labour Prime Minister, Norman Kirk, was elected in 1972 on the slogan, “It’s time for a change” – which voters were ready to accept after twelve years of National rule. Unfortunately, Big Norm died two years later, and Labour were thrown out in 1975, having failed to achieve much at all.

puppet

Work it our for yourself.

National returned to office and proceeded to make themselves pretty unpopular, nevertheless winning again in ‘78 owing to their own electoral gerrymandering and Labour’s predictable incompetence. Despite NZ’s manifestly unfair first-past-the-post electoral system, a rejuvenated force had appeared on the NZ political scene. The Social Credit Political League began picking up support from voters fed up with the lies and deceit of the two main parties. After giving the National Party two shock defeats in by-elections, Social Credit actually replaced Labour as the country’s preferred opposition party in public opinion polls in 1980.

That was when the business/financial elite showed their true colours. Going against almost total international opinion, the National Prime Minister arranged for the NZ Rugby Union to host a tour of the country by a team from apartheid South Africa. Whatever naïve political writers tell you, it was a deliberately cynical ploy to divide the country along conventional lines, with the rugby-mad and the libertarians supporting the tour, and left-leaning union-leaders, armchair liberals and “intellectuals” coming out strongly against it. The 1981 General Election returned to the same-old-same-old, manipulators-extraordinaire National and a temporarily ideologically renewed Labour.

The victory went again to National, but by 1984 NZ voters had definitely had enough of them. Seeing the writing on the wall, the same business/financial elite set up a well-financed straw party to siphon off the protest vote and ensure that Labour would finally return to office. But what a Labour Government!! Their public relations creation windbag Prime Minister led a government that implemented libertarian reforms drawing inspiration from the UK’s Iron Witch Margaret Thatcher and US Wild West hero Ronald Reagan.

yellowbrickroad

Sorry, folks – Labour won’t take you to the Emerald City.

The simple fact of the matter is those who hold the real power in New Zealand (and other Western pseudo-democracies) want to retain the Labour Party as the main political “opposition” to maintain the illusion that voters have a choice. “The end of Labour as a political force?” Sorry, mate, that happened decades ago. They’ve been dead for years – they just won’t lie down.

I’d like to believe that the light is finally dawning in New Zealand, and the penny will drop to activate the machinery of a new political age – but I don’t hold out much hope. Too many people want to believe in the yellow brick road.