End of Labour as a major political force?

The Light Dawns – The Penny Drops!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Turkey Terror!

I just HAD to pass on this item from my beloved New Zealand Herald. You can maybe see why mega-rich Americans and Chinese are buying bolt-holes there. The biggest danger is probably dying of boredom ;-))

Dunedin* seaside suburb terrorised by turkey on rampage

TURKEY_masterA “monster” turkey is roaming the streets of St Clair and chasing people at a popular Dunedin walking spot. St Clair resident Martin Montgomery said he first encountered the turkey when he was running up Jacobs Ladder about a month ago.

“He jumped out at me and chased me in the dark. I didn’t know what it was. It was huge, though, so I initially thought it was a dog.”

Two weeks later the bird was in his driveway.

“I just pulled up in my car and when I got out I dropped everything and ran because he was going to go at me.”

He has named the bird Elliott because “he looks like an Elliott”. On social media some people have named it Tom Turkey.

The bird has been spotted in Aberdeen Rd, Earls Rd, Lock St, Jacobs Ladder, Valpy St and Norfolk St in St Clair, as well as in neighbouring St Kilda. Dunedin city councillor Conrad Stedman said he was also chased by the turkey on Jacobs Ladder.

“I had to duck [sic!] out of the way. It was trying to take me out. It’s a monster of a bird.”

A St Clair resident said he noticed the turkey a month ago. The “really big bird” would not fit in his oven, so the resident had made attempts on social media to find someone willing to give it a home.

City council environmental health and animal services manager Ros MacGill said the bird did not come under council control because no reports of disruption or nuisance had been received.

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* Dunedin is the second-largest city in New Zealand’s South Island

PS – Maybe that anonymous St Clair resident should have euthanased the bird and plucked it before trying to put it in his oven!

 

Turkey: Turkish delights

Well, knock me over with a feather! I have receiving regular dire warnings from my countryfolk at the New Zealand Embassy in Ankara advising me to stay away from Turkey in general, and Istanbul (where I have been living safely and happily for more than 15 years) in particular. So, credit where credit is due, I want to share with you this article that appeared in the NZ Herald today, 25 April.

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Pretty magnanimous words, don’t you think?

The day is significant because hundreds of Australians and New Zealanders are currently in Turkey to commemorate the Gallipoli Campaign when our grandfathers, loyally following orders from their British Imperial masters, invaded the Ottoman Empire and spent eight months doing their best to kill its young men and capture its capital, Istanbul.

As happens every year, local people are extending customary hospitality to their former enemies, and local authorities providing security to ensure commemoration services proceed in comfort and safety.

Read Ms Wade’s article. Once you get past her opening remarks about a young man’s traditional circumcision operation, you’ll find that she and her fellow tourists had “an unforgettable . . . wonderful time.”

 

Beyond the war graves and remembrance is a vibrant land with a rich history, writes Pamela Wade.

Apr 25, 2017

It’s not the sort of thing you’d share with strangers, but after 10 days together and over 2500km of travel in a grand circuit around Turkey, we all felt like friends. There were 39 of us, Kiwis and Aussies, on this Insight Vacations tour and although it was the Gallipoli centenary and Anzac Day services that had brought us all together, the bulk of our time was spent exploring an older history.

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Photo: NZ Herald

Tour director Barcin has a university education that gives him an effortless command of not only the seven complicated centuries of the Ottoman Empire, but thousands of years of Greek and Roman history before that.

Literally thousands: five, in fact, at Troy, where nine levels of settlement have been excavated down to its beginnings in 3000BC. Wandering around the site, past walls, ditches, foundations, columns both standing and tumbled, and a theatre of tiered seats, the age of the place was hard to grasp, despite Barcin’s best efforts. What was obvious, however, was the sheer beauty of the ancient stone, softened by feathery fennel and bright red poppies against a background of the distant Dardanelles.

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Photo: NZ Herald

Some on the tour were deeply into history and the literary and religious connections, and everyone was impressed at Ephesus to be walking on polished marble pavers once trodden by Cleopatra, Mark Anthony and St Paul. For many of us, however, the visits to such sites, including Pergamon and Assos, were more about appreciating what remains rather than studying their origins. Pictures rather than words, perhaps, and no less legitimate for that. After listening to the explanations about what we were seeing – temples to Athena, Artemis, Dionysus, a towering library, a 10,000-seat theatre on a steep hillside, Roman baths, an Acropolis, the home of modern medicine, statues and so much more – the temptation was irresistible to use it all as the most glorious photoshoot ever.

The tour isn’t all archaeology, legend and history. There was shopping, too. Astute stall-holders, knowing their market, shouted “Kiwi! Cheaper than The Warehouse!” as we walked past; others went for flattery: “Beautiful rugs! Like you!” or pathos: “We have everything but customers.

Few, in the end, held out against the pretty scarves, the “genuine fake watches”, the evil eye pendants or the tapestry bags; but the serious shoppers waited for the visits to the factories. Fabulous fine lamb’s leather made into truly stylish jackets displayed in a catwalk fashion show; dozens of colourful wool and silk rugs unrolled with a flourish as we drank perilously strong raki; gorgeous decorated plates at a pottery visit that began with a mesmerising kick-wheel demonstration.

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Photo: NZ Herald

Then there was the culture: an evening of traditional dance in an underground theatre began deceptively low-key, but wound up to an exciting climax that sent us away buzzing. We saw real Whirling Dervishes spinning unfathomably long and fast; and met a friendly lady who lives in a house burrowed into the rock, where Helen Clark’s signed portrait hangs (at least during our visit) in pride of place.

This was at Cappadocia, the scenic high point for most of us, which is saying something in this country of bays and beaches, forests and farmland, white terraces and snow-capped volcanoes. Pillars of sculpted tufa capped by gravity-defying slabs of basalt make for a fantasy landscape, and to see it in low sun as a hundred hot-air balloons float overhead is unforgettable.

Actually, it was all unforgettable: Gallipoli, the poppies and tulips, the cats, the food, the friendly people. There were mosques, markets and museums; a cruise, calligraphy and coloured glass lamps; sacks of spices, pyramids of Turkish delight, tiny cups of atrocious coffee. I had a wonderful time.

“NZ at the Crossroads” – A somewhat overdue book review

Well first up, I want to apologise for the lateness of this review. In mitigation, I will offer the excuse that my birth was still some years in the future when the book itself was published in 1936. I managed to get hold of a copy recently after a search on the Internet turned up a signed first edition at a bookshop in Symonds Street, Auckland.

nz-xroadsWhy was I searching? I’m a long-standing proponent of monetary reform – a firm believer that most of the world’s ills stem from the fact that ninety per cent of the money governing every aspect of human life on planet Earth is created as interest-bearing debt by private bankers. And not until the power to create money is removed from private interests and vested in the state, the government and the people who elect them, will true social justice ever become an achievable goal.

Back in the late 70s and early 80s in New Zealand I was actively involved with a political party/pressure group arguing for monetary reform. I stood twice (unsuccessfully) as a candidate for parliament in 1981 and 1984. I saw close up the dirty tricks the forces of reaction would stoop to ensure the Social Credit Political League was wiped out as a voice of reason in a system designed to maintain a corrupt and unjust financial structure.

Recently I have been heartened to see a re-emergence online of individuals and organisations arguing for Positive Money. It’s long overdue. The case is irrefutable. The main stumbling block is public ignorance about how money actually works. The Money Power Elite use this ignorance to maintain a grotesque system that keeps most of the world’s population in poverty and slavery.

The author of “New Zealand at the Crossroads” was Henry J Kelliher, knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1963 for his “services to Philanthropy”. It may have helped that he was one of the country’s richest men as a result of being owner/founder of Dominion Breweries, one of the two companies that produced most of NZ’s beer. Nevertheless, the case for Sir Henry’s philanthropy may have a better foundation than other mega-rich claimants to the title in our days.

In 1956 he set up a trust to administer an annual award for promising painters, and some of the NZ art world’s biggest names were early recipients. The award was discontinued in 1977, but a second foundation continues to present annual prizes for essays written by young students of economics.

I’ve searched online and I’ve been unable to turn up any of the subjects these young economists have written about. It also possibly detracts a little from Sir Henry’s reputation for philanthropy that his knighthood was put forward by a National (conservative) government at the time. “New Zealand at the Crossroads”, however, provides firm evidence that its author had a strong social conscience, and was at the forefront of the contemporary movement for monetary reform.

In fifteen chapters and 184 pages, Kelliher covered such topics as:

  • The nature and function of money
  • The social and economic disaster of unemployment
  • The importance for all of economic security
  • The urgent need for monetary reform
  • The influence of the press in resisting reform
  • The hypocrisy of the church in failing to fight for social justice

His first sentence announced that his book was “intended for those men and women who prefer to do their own thinking,” and he made a clear statement of intent in his introduction:

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Arresting “Communists” in Auckland, 1932

“It must be evident that a government which does not recognise as a fundamental duty the function of issuing all new money, and of controlling and regulating all money in circulation does not control the affairs of the country, nor is it safeguarding the welfare of the people. Such a government may govern but does not rule, because the real control of the country is in the hands of the ‘Invisible Government’ – the Money Power.”

In November 1935, in the depths of a global economic depression, and suffering more than most its socially destructive effects, New Zealand voters overwhelmingly elected the country’s first Labour Government. The main reason for Labour’s broad appeal, to farmers and owners of small businesses as well as wage-earners and the unemployed, was its “pledge to the people of New Zealand to take control of its own money and credit.” And they were not alone. According to Kelliher, “In Italy, Germany, Russia and Japan money [had] recently been put completely, or almost completely, under control of the governments of those countries.” Such a claim might cause one to wonder whether there was a more sinister agenda behind the demonisation of those countries in years to come. Whatever the case, Sir Henry argued that “There [was] ample evidence of a deliberate and well-planned conspiracy to keep this truth and knowledge from the people by those who hold this all-powerful monopoly to manufacture money and to conceal or disguise the unsoundness and iniquity of the existing system.”

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Mickey Sav – The portrait that hung on many a domestic wall in NZ for years afterwards

That New Zealand Government after 1935 did indeed attempt to implement its pledge first and foremost by converting the NZ Reserve Bank into an entirely State institution, then using credit provided thereby to carry out a programme of house building that provided a stimulus to industry, jobs for citizens, and low-cost, high quality housing for the needy. The results of the programme saw that Labour Government beloved by the people, and its Prime Minister, Michael Joseph Savage, elevated to a status bordering on, or possibly exceeding, sainthood.

Sad to say, that programme was a one-off. Kelliher wrote prophetically in his conclusion, “The great privilege, and the still greater responsibility to carry out the wishes of the people, and to bring to full fruition the possibilities and potential effects of this momentous piece of financial legislation [the Reserve Bank Act] rests entirely with the Government. The machinery has been provided, and the future will depend on the full and effective use and wise direction of this machinery in the service of the people.”

The Government reneged on its pledge. Some argue, and it is indeed highly probable, that the supra-national “Money Power” cajoled and threatened Labour’s leading politicians into dropping their programme. Those in the government who argued for its retention were sidelined or driven out. Within a couple of years, the British Empire had launched itself into a horrendous global war, financed by traditional private sector-created debt. New Zealand took the wrong turning at those crossroads, an epochal chance was lost – and the world settled comfortably (for some) back into hands of the blood-sucking money monopolists.

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The dedication in my copy of the book

As a footnote, my copy of this little book, signed by HJ Kelliher himself, 27 years before his knighthood, is dedicated to CG Scrimgeour Esq. Colin Graham Scrimgeour, popularly known as “Uncle Scrim”, was a hugely influential personality in New Zealand in the Golden Age of radio broadcasting. Under the guise of religion, “Scrim” broadcast regular weekly programmes during the Depression years giving voice to the concerns of the common people and “pushed the rigorous censorship of broadcasting to the limit”. He was a strong supporter of the Labour Party in the lead up to the 1935 election, and some say, an important contributor to its electoral success.

In spite of that, however, he was not given the commercial licence he was expecting to operate his own radio station. Savage’s Government in fact nationalised broadcasting – before later re-privatising the creation of money. As the Labour Government moved away from its financial reform pledge, Scrim became an increasingly outspoken voice of conscience. After Savage died, he was succeeded by the newly conservativised Peter Fraser, who led New Zealand enthusiastically into the Second World War, and reintroduced military conscription, against all his one-time principles. Fraser did not conceal his hatred for Scrim, had him called up for military service at the age of 40, and dismissed from his position as Controller of the National Commercial [sic] Broadcasting service.

I’m sorry to say, you are unlikely to find a copy of Kelliher’s book. I consider myself inordinately fortunate to have found this one. Call it fate or coincidence. HJK was once upon a time my grandfather-in-law – though I only met him once when he had long-since given up his reforming zeal. I do encourage you, though, to click on this link to Positive Money, and do your best to draw aside the veil of ignorance covering this all-important of subjects. Eighty years on, it’s more important than ever!

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Postscript: You may wonder why I’m posting this seemingly irrelevant book review on my blog site about Turkey. It occurred to me that these ideas on financial reform were very prevalent in the 1920s and 30s, around the time Mustafa Kemal Atatürk was trying to build a modern viable republic from the economic and social ruins of the Ottoman Empire. I can’t help wondering if he managed to finance some of his rebuilding projects by intelligent use of the new nation’s credit.

I haven’t yet turned up any corroboratory evidence – but neither have I found any serious discussion of where the money actually did come from. It’s equally true that you will search hard through any histories of New Zealand in those days before you find even the most oblique reference to how Labour financed its state housing project. So I’m not ruling it out.

Thoughts on Transparency and Corruption – and who’s telling the story

I want to preface what follows with a clear statement that I love my country. New Zealand is the land of my birth, the land where my children grew up, and I am always proud to acknowledge it as my homeland. I also love my adopted country, Turkey, for other reasons entirely. However, in neither case does that love blind me to the fact that both countries have their weaknesses and problems.

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Martial law in Paris? Over one guy with a machete?

One thing I find difficult to understand, though, is how those two countries are depicted in international media. Turkey is unrelentingly portrayed as a land torn by internal divisions, corruption and violence. New Zealand, on the other hand, despite much evidence to the contrary, still manages to retain a reputation for squeaky cleanliness in nature and government, a South Sea paradise of equality and opportunity.

Well, let’s start with Turkey. An article in Time Magazine in January trumpeted, A Relentless Cycle of Terror Threatens to Tear Turkey Apart”. “The bloodshed,” we read, “has become endemic over the past year and a half, as Kurdish separatist militants and Islamic State jihadists have slaughtered hundreds, and an abortive military coup attempt left more than 200 people dead and sparked a wave of repression by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.”

Another source maintained that “martial law” is in force in Turkey, and the country is under threat of “military intervention” by NATO.

The recently released Corruption Perceptions Index ranked Turkey 75th out of 176 countries, equal with Bulgaria, Kuwait and Tunisia, behind the Solomon Islands and Burkina Faso, but marginally ahead of Brazil, China and India. On that list, New Zealand is ranked 2nd in the world for “perceived” lack of corruption (more on that later); the United States is 18th, and Estonia, 22nd. Well, I don’t want to single out Estonia for unfair attention, but I can’t help observing that, according to the CIA World Factbook, that tiny Baltic state is a growing producer of synthetic drugs; increasingly important transshipment zone for cannabis, cocaine, opiates, and synthetic drugs since joining the European Union and the Schengen Accord; potential money laundering related to organized crime and drug trafficking is a concern, as is possible use of the gambling sector to launder funds; major use of opiates and ecstasy.”

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From Freedom House. Apparently the green countries are free

An organization calling itself Freedom House has also just released a report entitled Freedom in the World 2017. Ranking all countries from 100 (Blissfully free) to 0 (Miserably enslaved), New Zealand again scores at the top end (98). The USA registers a creditable 89, while Turkey’s rating of 38 places it in the seventh group out of ten, in descending order.

OK, I’m not going to spend a lot of time here defending Turkey. Merely, I will observe that, if your intentions are bad, you can blacken pretty much anyone’s name. Paris, I understand, remains on “a high state of terrorist alert” fifteen months after 130 people were killed (slaughtered?) in a series of attacks by ISIL operatives. The state of alert continues and was justified, apparently, when a guy with a machete attempted to “storm” the Louvre Museum, and was shot by police before he could actually harm anyone. Turkey’s state of alert, on the other hand, is labelled “martial law”, and its government is accused of carrying out a “wave of repression”, despite having narrowly avoided overthrow by a military coup in July that left hundreds of civilians dead. I’m not making light of the tragedy in Paris, but come on, people!

When I first came to Istanbul in 1995, platoons of soldiers jogging around the streets carrying automatic weapons were a common feature of urban life. Martial law, high state of alert or whatever, I haven’t seen such sights here for years.

What about New Zealand, then? Well, despite scare-mongering implications by senior government spokespersons, the last hint of terrorism,” according to a recent Bloomberg article, “came a generation ago, when French spies bombed a Greenpeace campaigning ship docked in Auckland harbor in 1985.The focus of that article was New Zealand’s emergence as a popular bolthole for the mega wealthy.” The reason, they suggest, is the country’s location about as distant as you can get from normal terrorist targets without actually leaving planet Earth.

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NZ’s former Prime Minister dining with China’s richest man

 

Maybe those Bloomberg people are right – though if the world is indeed “going to hell in a handbasket”, as Megaupload founder Kim Dotcom reckons, the greed of those “mega wealthy” parasites would be one of the main reasons. But New Zealand may hold an additional attraction besides its isolation and natural beauty. The notorious Panama Papers, leaked to the world’s media in April 2016, brought to light documents hacked from the Panama law firm Mossack Fonseca. Among the revelations:

  • Details from the Panama Papers show how a stream of foreign cash became a torrent flooding into New Zealand trusts in order to avoid tax offshore.
  • Tens of thousands of Panama Papers documents reveal how New Zealand, Niue, The Cook Islands and Samoa have become prime destinations for the rich to hide their financial secrets.
  • Wealthy Latin Americans are using secretive, tax-free New Zealand shelf companies and trusts to help channel funds around the world.
  • Mossack Fonseca actively promoted New Zealand as a good place to do business due to its tax-free status, high levels of confidentiality and legal security.
  • The number of foreign trusts in New Zealand has surged to almost 10,700 this year from less than 2,000 ten years ago, according to Inland Revenue figures.
  • At the centre of the New Zealand operation is Roger Thompson, a former Inland Revenue employee. His accountancy firm – Bentleys, in the heart of Auckland’s business district – is the New Zealand agent for Mossack Fonseca.

Well, I don’t know about Mexican or other Latin American tycoons, but I do know that a controversy has arisen recently over the granting of New Zealand citizenship to “technology billionaire and Donald Trump supporter Peter Thiel”. The story broke when it was learned that Thiel had bought a 193-hectare waterfront estate on Lake Wanaka, near Queenstown – playground for the wealthy in NZ’s South Island. Apparently Mr Thiel was made a citizen at a private ceremony at the New Zealand consulate in Santa Monica, USA, in August 2011. It seems he failed to meet the usual requirements for citizenship, even admitting he had no intention of living in the country, but allegedly donated $NZ1 million to the relief effort after the devastating 2011 earthquake in Christchurch, and got fast-tracked.

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Countries said to be implicated in the Panama papers in red. What colour is Turkey?

It’s a worthy cause, of course, and you can’t criticise the guy for that – but there does seem to have been a certain amount of shady stuff surrounding the rebuild of NZ’s third largest city. The Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (CERA) was established in 2011 to oversee reconstruction, but seems to have been plagued by suggestions of mismanagement until it was disestablished in April 2016, with the city still far from recovered. Panel members for instance, were reportedly being paid $1,000 a day for their services, and staff numbers at one stage ballooned to 357. I don’t know if there’s any connection to Peter Thiel’s generous donation, but three former high-level CERA employees are currently under investigation for having abused their positions as public servants to carry out lucrative private property deals.

Another interesting foreign national awarded NZ citizenship under highly questionable circumstances is a gentleman known variously as Yong Ming Yan, Liu Yang, William Yan and Bill Liu. Despite warnings from the Department of Internal Affairs, evidence that the guy was using fraudulent documents, the vast sums he loses gambling in Auckland’s Skycity casino and his Number 5 ranking on the Chinese Government’s list of most-wanted criminals, the NZ Government is in no hurry to hand him over, and he is said to have recently cut a secret deal with the NZ police after $40 million of his assets had been frozen on suspicion of money-laundering – the charge he is wanted for in China.

In view of the above, you may be surprised to learn that Peter Thiel’s name does not appear on National Business Review’s Rich List for New Zealand. Nor is there a single Chinese name, in spite of the fact that Wang, Lee, Chen and Liu have overtaken Smith as the top four surnames in Auckland. The Neo-con National Government frequently reassures local citizens that the remarkable influx of immigrants from China is totally unrelated to the explosion of prices that has seen Auckland become the 20th most expensive city in the world to buy a house, with an average selling price of $911,800. According to that source, you can buy cheaper in Berlin, Madrid or Dubai!

Those people compiling the Corruptions Perceptions Index made some interesting observations in their report, one of which was “This year’s results highlight the connection between corruption and inequality, which feed off each other to create a vicious circle between corruption, unequal distribution of power in society, and unequal distribution of wealth.” Well, no surprises there, but in the light of that, let’s consider a recent UNICEF report stating that “As many as 28 per cent of New Zealand children – about 295,000 – currently live in poverty.” An article in the New Zealand Herald quoted the mayor of a region in the North Island as saying, “subcultures of poverty” persisted in the area despite years of central Government programmes.

“Our failure to deal with entrenched poverty means we are turning our young people into unskilled dependants and, in some cases, drug addicts, gang members and criminals,” he said.

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Auckland, with the population of Philadelphia, PA, and Phoenix, Arizona

In the mean time, guys like Yong Ming Yan, or whatever his real name is, can steal money from China (at least $129 million, they claim), launder it in New Zealand, lose $300 million in Auckland’s Skycity casino without jumping off the harbour bridge – and be rewarded with citizenship. What’s next? A knighthood in the Queen’s Birthday honours? For sure the Skycity owners will be pretty happy with the guy who made such a generous contribution to their $1 billion revenue last year. I can’t see the obvious benefits to New Zealand, though, given that those owners apparently live in Australia, and most of the profits go offshore.

All of which led me to ask, who is compiling the statistics and writing those reports about freedom and corruption in the world? So I checked out Freedom House. According to its own website:

Freedom House was established in 1941 in New York City . . . with the quiet encouragement of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, to encourage popular support for American involvement in World War II at a time when isolationist sentiments were running high in the United States.

Having been created in response to the threat of one great totalitarian evil, Nazism, Freedom House took up the struggle against the other great twentieth century totalitarian threat, Communism, after the end of World War II. The organization’s leadership rightly believed that the spread of democracy was the best weapon against totalitarian ideologies. Freedom House embraced as its mission the expansion of freedom around the world and the strengthening of human rights and civil liberties here at home. As a result, Freedom House strongly endorsed the post-war Atlantic Alliance, as well as such key policies and institutions as the Marshall Plan and NATO.”

Wikipedia provides further insights. I didn’t check out all the board members, but four names caught my eye: Kenneth Adelman, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Donald Rumsfield and Paul Wolfowitz. Mr Adelman was a long-term member of the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board, a “lifelong neo-con activist” who was a big supporter of the US destruction of Iraq, and outspoken proponent of the discredited claim that Saddam Hussein was hiding weapons of mass destruction. Brzezinski, clearly of good Protestant Anglo-Saxon stock, is known, among other achievements, for cosying up to Communist China, overseeing the transition of Iran from an important US ally to a major terrorist threat, and arming the Taliban in Afghanistan to oppose the Soviet Union. Rumsfeld was US Secretary of Defense under Gerald Ford, and again under George Dubya Bush. He was a major organiser of US invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, and supporter of using “enhanced interrogation techniques” on unconvicted prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. Wolfowitz is another neo-conservative, former president of the World Bank and once considered by the George Dubya administration as possible head of the CIA.

FREEDOM House? Phooey to them, say I! What value would you place on any report of theirs?

As a conclusion that may or may not be relevant to the present discussion, I read reports of an interview with President Donald Trump the other day. Apparently he had appeared on the Fox News channel where the interviewer was giving him a hard time about his refusal to criticise Russia’s Vladimir Putin, demanding to know how he could lend support to “a killer”. Trump’s quoted response?

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That’s Him saying it, up there on The Mount

“There are a lot of killers. We’ve got a lot of killers. What do you think? Our country’s so innocent?”

I have to tell you, the big DT went up considerably in my estimation. The USA has had a few presidents in recent years making political capital out of their Christian faith. This, however, is the first time I have heard one echo the words of that religion’s eponymous founder quoted in Matthew 7:5.

“You hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of your own eye; and then shall you see clearly to cast out the speck out of your brother’s eye.”

If you want to be safe, stay home – and there’s no guarantee there either!

“We advise against all tourist and other non-essential travel to Ankara and Istanbul due to the heightened threat of terrorism and the potential for civil unrest (High risk).

“We advise against all travel to within 10 kilometres of the border with Syria, and to the city of Diyarbakir (Extreme risk).

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No sharks!

“We advise against all tourist and other non-essential travel to the provinces of Batman, Bingol, Bitlis, Diyarbakir, Gaziantep, Hakkari, Hatay, Kilis, Mardin, Mus, Sanliurfa, Sirnak, Siirt, Tunceli and Van in south-east Turkey (High risk).”

It was another of the regular advisories that appear in my mailbox from the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Ankara. Well, first of all, let me say that I appreciate their concern. It’s nice to know that my government is looking out for me although I am so far from home. And I have registered with them as they ask me to, so I guess I have to accept the stuff they send me as part of the price of citizenship – which I also do appreciate.

I feel sad, however, to see the leaders of my country jumping on the international bandwagon badmouthing Turkey and contributing to the campaign apparently aimed at portraying Turks and their government as corrupt, evil and dangerous. Thousands of New Zealanders and Australians continue to visit this country every year, welcomed by touchingly hospitable locals, as they commemorate the invasion perpetrated by their grandfathers 100 years ago.

I have been living in Istanbul and traveling to all parts of the country for many years and I have to tell you, I feel safer here than on the streets of Auckland, Sydney or London. Certainly this is a dangerous part of the world, and security is necessarily tight – but for heaven’s sake don’t use that as another reason to bash Turkey! Security is pretty damn intrusive in the USA too.

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. . . but you’ll be safe in Dubai

Dilek and I recently applied for a visitor’s visa so she can accompany me on a brief 6-day visit to Auckland – and the hoops she has to jump through! These days applications are processed by NZ’s foreign affairs people in Dubai. Now I want you to take a quick look at the map of Dubai and its immediate neighbours. And I would also like to refer you to an article that appeared on News.com.au in March this year:

‘There’s an ugly side to Dubai that you won’t read about in its tourist brochures — its army of migrant workers. The workers, who are largely from South East Asia, are paid well below the prices charged in the city’s expensive boutiques and glamorous hotels.

The migrant workers are not only at greater risk of exploitation, but are often housed in filthy conditions, with little down time. In short they are the hidden slaves of a rich city.

According to Human Rights Watch, foreigners make up 88.5 per cent of United Arab Emirates residents, with low-paid migrant workers being “subjected to abuses that about to forced labour”.’ 

Eighty-eight per cent of the residents are foreigners! Come on, guys! Fair’s fair! Ninety-nine per cent of Turkey’s population are citizens of the country, the government is democratically elected – and millions of refugees are flooding in from neighbouring countries seeking safety from violence created largely by the interference of Western governments. Let’s have a little positive reinforcement here!

I must admit I haven’t been to the southeast of Turkey for a few years, and even the news media here in Istanbul make that region out to be a pretty dangerous, lawless place. It always surprises me when students from that part of the country assure me things are not as bad as we big city dwellers are led to believe.

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There it is – Siirt

Last week there was a four-day culture festival in our new seaside park in Maltepe, featuring the attractions of Siirt: the cuisine, the natural beauty, the history, the local produce and handcrafts. I had to look at a map to see exactly where Siirt is. You’ll notice it is one of those areas that receives a special mention in that NZMFA warning – HIGH RISK!

Well, we figured we’d be ok crossing the road to our local park, so last Thursday we went over to take a look. You’ll see from the map that Siirt is way, way out in Turkey’s southeast, not too far from the border with Syria and Iraq; and pretty near the city of Mosul, currently witnessing major military action as a motley coalition tries to drive out occupying forces of ISIS/Daesh. The majority of Siirt’s population is Kurdish – and that combination of factors might lead one to expect that things would be none too peaceful. Somewhat surprisingly then, the people we spoke to were positive, cheerful folk enjoying their few days in the metropolis, but not all fazed by the prospect of returning home.

We bought two beautiful kilim rugs from a woman who runs a carpet-weaving school for the Siirt City Council teaching her skills to local women, and ensuring they get a fair price for their labours. There were stalls selling Pervari honey from the flowers of upland pastures, dried figs, pistachios and other local delicacies. We bought some interesting cheeses, one of which, yeraltı peyniri, gains its special flavour from having been buried underground for four months – I kid you not! Lunch was a plate of tender lamb roasted in a three-metre deep well lined with fire bricks, followed by the regional dessert künefe, a cake of shredded wheat filled with cheese, soaked in syrup, baked in the oven and topped with clotted buffalo cream and grated pistachio. Mere words cannot do it justice.

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Deyr-ul Zafaran Monastery, Mardin

People from Siirt, we learned, pride themselves on knowing three languages Kurdish, of course, but naturally they learn Turkish at school – and historical links to the Middle East mean that Arabic is also common. In the past there was a fourth language, Syriac, spoken by Assyrian Christians, who were tragically caught up in the great imperialist games leading up to the First World War. Some years ago, I visited the city of Mardin, and a nearby monastery, Dar-ul Zafaran. The building has been recently restored, and descendants of the original flock are returning, especially as a result of escalating violence across the border in Iraq and Syria. Interestingly, the monastery was built over a much earlier structure, a temple dedicated to Zoroastrian fire worship – an ancient religion predating Christianity and Islam.

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The town of Siirt also contains shrines sacred to several important Islamic saints. Veysel Karani was a contemporary of the Prophet Muhammed. Originally from Yemen, he journeyed to Medina in the hope of seeing the great man, but his timing was apparently off. Muhammed, however, impressed by Veysel’s piety, sent one of his personal robes as a gift – now preserved in Siirt as a holy relic. Ibrahim Hakkı Erzurumi was an 18th century Sufi mystic, poet, mathematician and physicist who wrote influential books on astronomy and philosophy. Zemzem-ul Hassa Hanım was a pious Muslim woman who lived in the town from 1765 to 1852 and was famed for her wisdom and devotion.

More recently, Siirt gave birth to Emine Hanım, wife of Turkey’s current President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who actually represented the province in the National Assembly from 2003 to 2007.

I’m keen to get down that way again, and having met people from the area, we are persuaded that we will be welcomed with bountiful hospitality when we do. Turkey’s southeast may still be a little daunting for visitors from abroad, but don’t cross Istanbul or the Aegean and Mediterranean coasts off your list. To add a little perspective to the tourism business, I came across the following list on a New Zealand website under the heading “Bashing tourists now a national pastime.” In fact I am not publishing the entire list:

  • Elderly Australian Tourist Stabbed in Head at Waihi Beach, Murder Investigation Launched.
  • Haka Thugs Attack French Tourists Near Raglan.
  • Vicious Sex Attack on 5 Year Old Belgian Tourist – little girl severely injured in a frenzied attack as she lay sleeping in a campervan in Turangi.
  • Austrian tourists mugged in Palmerston North.
  • Australian honeymooners lose it all. Two tourists robbed near Milford Sound.
  • Te Anau Troubled By Tourist Attacks – drunken youths attack visitors in Te Anau
  • Swiss Campers’ Tyres Slashed In Kaikoura.
  • Chilean Tourist Robbed, Loses Life’s Work. Robbed in a motel near Auckland international airport.
  • “New Zealand is a wonderful country, but be careful as it’s not so safe” – Swiss campervan tourist loses everything in Whangarei.
  • Honeymoon Couple Lose Precious Photos. British couple robbed outside Auckland zoo.
  • Czech Tourist, Jan Fakotor, Stabbed in a Motueka backpackers.

I also found an opinion piece in mainstream Auckland daily, The New Zealand Herald, where the writer reported:

“In New Zealand, political songs get banned, politicians easily reward themselves with new election advertising funding, donations to local government candidates are still somewhat opaque, taxpayer funds get misused by politicians, and new parties face big barriers to getting into Parliament. It sounds like an authoritarian country rather than a liberal democracy.”

I don’t see any of this reported in Turkey’s media, nor do I see panic-stricken travel advisories warning tourists against visiting New Zealand. Covering your butts is one thing, but let’s get a bit of balance here guys!

Anti-Turkey Bullswool

My New Zealand diplomatic people in Ankara send me regular updates on how they view the security situation in Turkey. Recently I got this one:

‘We now advise against all tourist and other non-essential travel to Ankara and Istanbul due to the heightened threat of terrorism and the potential for civil unrest (High risk). This is an increase to the risk level for Ankara and Istanbul.’

On 9 April 2016, the US Embassy in Ankara advised US citizens of credible threats to tourist areas, in particular to public squares and docks in Istanbul and Antalya.

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While in Brussels don’t forget to ride the Metro

So if you had been thinking of a trip to Turkey in the near future, you may now be reconsidering. On the other hand, Auckland’s number one (and only) newspaper, The NZ Herald, published a travel advisory on 23 March entitled ‘Why you need to visit Belgium’. The piece begins:

‘We love Belgium. This week’s terror attacks in Brussels have cast a pall over a beautiful country.

The best thing Kiwi travellers can do? Put Belgium on the list for your next European visit. Here are five reasons to visit the home of Tintin and great chocolate.’

Well, I’m ok with The Herald’s position here. In fact, the best response to terror is to get on with your life and not bow to the fear. I do, however, find the contrasting advice somewhat paradoxical. Especially given the rather limited list of attractions the writer offers to recommend Belgium:

Apparently the food is great, though specifics boil down to chocolate, waffles and hot chips! There’s a comic culture, and it’s not just about Tintin! Beer is plentiful and available in 1,000 varieties. There are lots of markets, and Christmas time is especially lovely. AND THE CLINCHER . . . There are 67 kilometres of coastline! That’s about the same length as Auckland’s Muriwai beach, in the entire country!

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Picturesque Belgian beach

The whole glowing article took 435 words – approximately the number of people you can expect to rub shoulders with per square metre of beach, I’d say, during Belgium’s month-long summer. My guess is, if you don’t have local friends to entertain you, you’ll be lucky to last a week. I’m not going to begin to list the attractions of Turkey. I reckon you could spend 435 days here, and do something memorably different every day.

Sadly, Western news media everyday publish ‘news’ and opinion pieces denigrating Turkey and its government. I have in front of me a page from CNN’s website penned by a Turkish academic and follower of the shadowy ex-pat. Fethullah Gülen. It’s not so long ago that Gülen was arousing much suspicion in his adopted homeland, America, and was the evil bogeyman of Turkey’s secular elite. In the last couple of years, however, there has been an about-face, and the mysterious Muslim cleric seems to have become the darling of anti-government propagandists within the country and abroad. We hear the same criticisms repeated again and again:

President Erdoğan is polarizing Turkish society.

In fact, a noisy minority of Erdoğan-haters has been doing its best to polarize Turkish society since the AK Party was elected to govern in 2002.

The state cracked down brutally on Gezi Park protesters in 2013, and holding public protests has become a life-risking activity.

Political protests in Turkey have always been known for violence. The so-called Gezi Park protests attracted a motley collection of anti-Erdoğanists with nothing in common other than their hatred of him. Some of the protesters may have been well-meaning tree-huggers, but there was the usual hard core of anarchic vandals.

The government is waging a war of terror on peace-loving Kurdish villagers.

The AK Party government made genuine efforts to work out a peace process with its Kurdish minority, including the establishment of Kurdish-language TV channels and the opening of a previously impossible dialogue. The US government, on the other hand, has been supporting and supplying Kurdish militants in Iraq and Syria for years for its own ends, making it more difficult to find a solution in Turkey. The PKK is internationally recognized as a terrorist organization.

Opposition media and members of parliament are harassed by the government and its supporters.

Political opposition to government policies is one thing – libelous personal attacks and deliberate incitement to violence quite another. Freedom has its limits.

Erdoğan has been seeking to change the constitution to create an all- powerful, executive-style presidency.

This is what the United States already has. But anyway, Mr Erdoğan can’t change the constitution by himself. There is a democratic process that must be followed. The USA might benefit from public debate on its own incomprehensible electoral system.

Reporters Without Borders call Turkey “the biggest prison for journalists in the world.”

This is nonsense. Who are these journalists that are in prison? Can we see a list of names?

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Memories of Turkey’s 1980 military coup linger on

The writer of this article, Alp Aslandoğan, says: ‘I was a middle school student in the 1970s during another period of instability, when armed groups thrived and thousands of young people were killed. I’m even more worried for Turkey now.’

I would wonder what a 12-year-old child of a privileged Turkish family really understood of the political chaos that reigned in his country in the 1970s; chaos that began with a military coup in 1960 when the Prime Minister was summarily hanged by the coup-leaders, and continued through the 1990s until the most recent military intervention in 1997. Anyone who says that Turkey is less democratic now is either ignorant of his (or her) own history, or deliberately distorting the facts for some ulterior purpose. ‘Thousands of young people were killed’ then – and it’s worse now?

Then there are the accusations of government corruption. Even if these accusations had been proven, which they haven’t, they would pale into insignificance beside previous governments that twiddled their thumbs while presiding over decades of banana-republic inflation, as they allowed 90% of the country to languish in medieval backwardness.

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Not everyone loves him either

Like me, you may have been following with interest the current scandal unfolding as a result of the ‘Panama papers’ leaks. One of my foreign colleagues, outspoken critic of Turkey’s AKP government, expressed surprise that Mr Erdoğan and his people had not been mentioned as involved in this ocean of money-laundering and tax evasion. British Prime Minister Cameron, however, has been named, and is facing calls to resign from his own citizens and local media.

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New Zealand police dealing with protester

New Zealand, it seems, is one of the countries recommended by lawyers Mossack Fonseca to their mega-rich clients as a reliable place to hide cash. Prime Minister John Key has made no secret of his grand scheme to turn our tiny nation into the Switzerland of the South Pacific. And what exactly does that entail? Mr Key has made a name for himself over the past year for his sponsorship of a project to change NZ’s flag, pushing ahead with referenda despite apparent lack of public support. Just yesterday it emerged that much of the financial backing for Mr Key’s questionable project came from ‘wealthy Chinese donors’ wooed at secret private fund-raising luncheons – which must surely raise speculation as to how much the NZ PM’s political success depends on those same wealthy Chinese donors. Despite his government’s repeated denials, it seems certain that the property boom making Auckland houses amongst the world’s most unaffordable, has been driven by rich Chinese ‘investors’.

Another frequent criticism leveled at Turkey’s government is that they are ‘Islamic-rooted’, whatever that means. So it was with interest that I read on Friday that Democratic presidential hopeful, Bernie Sanders, beloved of the American intellectual Left, has accepted an invitation from Pope Francis to attend a conference in the Vatican just four days before the New York Primary. According to NBC, ‘Since 1972, the winner of the popular vote in every presidential race won the Catholic vote, going by the exit polls. From Nixon in 1972 to Obama in 2012.’ And what has the Catholic Church got to say about a woman’s right to choose? Anyone? Anyone?

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Bernie Sanders – friends in high places

So don’t expect too much from President Sanders, is my advice, even if he does manage to edge out Mrs Clinton for the Democratic nomination – and whichever capitalist ignoramus the Republicans select. Previous darling of the liberal Left, Barack Obama, has had eight years to close Guantanamo Prison as he promised – and those unconvicted inmates are still waiting. On Tuesday, President Obama acknowledged that “civilians were killed that shouldn’t have been” in past U.S. drone strikes, but said the administration is now “very cautious” about striking where women or children are present. Good to hear – especially for those families of civilians killed in previous US drone strikes. Mr Obama went on to say, “In situations of war, you know, we have to take responsibility when we’re not acting appropriately.” As far as I’m aware, however, the United States has not actually declared war on any of those countries whose citizens they are killing with drone strikes. But maybe that’s just a semantic quibble.

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Not the only beach in Turkey – and five months of summer

Anyway, what I really want to say here is, if you were thinking of a trip to Turkey, don’t be put off by the bad publicity. If you’re American, you or your children are probably more likely to be shot by a disaffected nutcase in a random massacre; or if you’re an Asian in New Zealand, to get mugged on the street by young hooligans. It’s a dangerous world – but Turkey is a beautiful country. There may not be a thousand varieties of beer, but there are a thousand-and-one other things to do.