Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Put the phone back on the hook for Ahmadinejad

The most annoying thing about dangerous and evil men is that there is always a sliver of truth in what they say. And it is that sliver which festers under the skins of the susceptible and erupts into the deadly diseases of hate and intolerance.

The speech by Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on April 20 2009 at the Durban 2 conference on racism has been reviled by a lot of important white* men and UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon. While it is easy to find many examples of distortion, overlooking of basic history and a Khruschevian disregard for the niceties of international diplomacy none of this is actually important if one's goal is a resolution to on-going cold war in the Middle East.

The fundamental accusation is that Israel does not treat all its citizens equally, and discriminates on ethnic grounds. No amount of shouting about the Shoah or the threat that Ahmadinejad's regime may be developing nuclear weapons to rain down death on Israeli or Palestinian alike absolves Israel from the responsibility to face this accusation. Either a nation discriminates on ethnic grounds or it does not.

Unfortunately for Israel's defenders there is rather a lot of evidence that Israel does discriminate on ethnic grounds. Indeed most of it is provided by Israeli citizens who in the long and proud tradition of Jewish anti-racism have had the courage to face up to racist short-comings of their own political leadership.

Indeed when the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz (March 11 2009) is decrying Israel's trend towards becoming a racist state with the "the Jewish National Fund Law" and stating "If the Knesset legal counselor did not consider the bill entitled "the Jewish National Fund Law" as sufficiently racist to keep it off the agenda, it is hard to imagine what legislation she will consider racist." then it is clear that for all the international posturing against Ahmadinejad it is impossible to deny that the man has a point. Moreover doing precisely that can only incense every Arab, every Moslem and indeed every disinterested person in the world.

If only a dangerous madman can stand up at a UN Conference on racism and raise concerns about Israel's racism then what does that say about the capability of UN Conference's to discuss this issue at all? How can the white world expect the rest of the planet to sit by and let institutional racism backed by repeated outbreaks of asymmetric violence be excised from the agenda of a conference on racism? The failure of the white world to address this issue is legitimising Ahmadinejad's repressive and dangerous regime.

The white world's failure to challenge Israel is not a problem for world peace, it is the fundamental problem for global peace. Israel is a well-spring of bitter resentment for every anti-white radical the world over. Moreover when pictures of cruel murder of hapless Palestinians are beamed all over the world on a regular basis it is no surprise that the cupboard of good-will toward Israel is becoming quite bare.

There is no longer any point in rehearsing the view that Ahmadinejad is merely the inheritor of the genocidal politics of al-Husayni even though it is probably true. Nor is there any point accusing Ahmadinejad of running a brutal and corrupt regime, which is also true, as any Iranian emigre will tell you. The point is that Israel has always claimed to be morally better than its Middle Eastern neighbours under a system of values ultimately derived from Jewish ethics. And the problem is that claim was tacitly understood to mean orders of magnitude better not just marginally better - as the current Knesset seems to be aiming for.

Two hundred years ago white men began arriving in New Zealand; the island nation where I live. Over time they drove the indigenous Maori from their lands with guns, germs and legalisms Maori had no answer for. Maori could not fight the white horde so the assimilated with it. Intermarriage was far more common in New Zealand than in many other British colonies. And slowly there has been a realisation that Maori were robbed and that restitution is called for. That process is still on-going and while it does not eliminate racism in individuals it is, at least dealing with it within institutions. New Zealand is not perfect but it is, at least, an example that Israel should consider.

For the fact is that there is no military solution to terror. As an echo of 1930s strategic axioms counter-terror police know no matter how good they are no system is 100% perfect. Eventually the bomber must get through the line of defence. And one day the bomb will be made from Uranium or Plutonium or Anthrax spores or Marborg viruses instead of Semtex. Then thousands or even millions will die and a nuclear exchange after the event will not help anyone. The only lasting solution to the Middle Eastern cold war is not Palestinian or Jewish genocide but Palestinian and Jewish reconciliation. As in New Zealand that must inevitably mean restititution - no matter how repugnant that may seem to many Israelis today.

Ahmadinejad makes a number of fair points about the foundation of the United Nations with its roots in the manifestly racist institutions of the League of Nations. As the economic centre of the world gradually shifts from Europe and the United States towards China, Asia and India it becomes obvious that we need better processes to reform world governance than those that shaped the UN in 1946. We need a process of peaceful rebalancing of representation from reflecting the interests of a few European colonial powers to the rest of the world in general. The only alternative is a non-peaceful rebalancing and that could be terminal for global civilisation.

As I have stated before the man best placed to lead this transformation is the black leader of a white nation: Barack Obama. Only Mr Obama is in a position to resolve the contradictions and find the path to peaceful live and let live common-sense practised daily by Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, non-believers and others. Against him will be the despots who need other despots to legitimise their crimes; the xenophobes who seek ethnic purity; and the war-mongers who delight in conflict as a source of revenue. Such people are as active in Israel as they are in Iran, as China, or the United States.

Ironically it is the more open-minded traditions of those global assimilators, the Jews, which must help lead the world to live in harmony. If only the Israelis will let them.

President Obama's vision of inclusion of Ahmadinejad is being tested right now. The longer he sticks with diplomatic business as usual vis-a-vis Israel the more Ahmadinejad saps Obama's moral authority, the less Obama can contribute to the transition to a world based on trust and fair play - values he has embodied in his candidacy. If Ha'aretz is prepared to question Israel on its slide toward racism then it is time for President Obama to do so too. Only by this action can Obama regain world moral authority and completely marginalise the already marginal Iranian president.


white*. Throughout this piece I describe nations as "white". By this I mean that white people dominate the commercial and bureaucratic sources of power, not that they hold them exclusively. Certainly there are black, brown, red and yellow people in nations like Canada, the US, Australia and Britain but they do not dominate the commercial or political life of these nations as white people do.

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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

John (Jeykell) Key and Bill (Hyde) English

The (New Zealand) Minister of Finance Bill English is obviously getting worried. Recently he pulled all his State Owned Enterprise chief executives into a huddle and rarked them up about the need to achieve a reasonable return on capital.

like 9%.

To which I respond, "Are you insane?"

Look around man! Who in the private sector is making a nine percent return on capital at the moment? Come to think of it, in some sectors who is making any return on capital at all?

The whole objective of the Government charging for capital is a sensible one. It is about opportunity costs. If we let Whangerei District Health Board spend $3 million on a Magnetic Resonance Imaging machine then that is three million denied to other users of the health system. If it cheaper to get all MRI patients down to Auckland by bus, ambulance or helicopter then we should encourage Whangerei DHB to do that instead. That means we have to operationalise the cost of capital - and we do.

But. And this is a big but. It relies on the Government being a bit realistic about the opportunities for returns it might get from this capital. And in the current economic environment these are not high.

Because its all very well to say that bank deposits and ten year bonds may return 5% but that is for cash. Not used MRI machines or car manufacturing plants or other illiquid assets. Indeed some of these may have no saleable value whatsoever.

This brings us into a chicken-or-the-egg question of valuation. Should these State Owned Enterprises write-down the value of their assets because of their reduced ability to generate income or be sold? Well, not yet because that hasn't been proven. On the other hand keep the target for return on capital high and it soon will be because customers will rebel.

And this brings us to another point.

Why does the Government own NZ Post; 75% of the electricity industry; huge swathes of farmland; ACC; Air New Zealand; KiwiRail and numerous other enterprises? Well because they are near monopolies or it is too politically sensitive to sell the buggers. In other words these companies are held by the Government not private interests because the capital they have invested is regarded as having an element of public good about it.

And the Government wants them to return a usurous return on capital?

We know where it will come from already. It will come from customers most of whom are the taxpayers the Government has just given a moderate tax credit too. So the Government is planning to give with one hand (financial stimulus and all that) and take with the other (cripes we're in deficit!).

It's like we have John Key as Dr Jeykell and Bill English as Mr Hyde. How long will it take the brainless dizzies in the Press Gallery to tell the nation this? Maybe when somebody tells them because they'd never work it out for themselves, that is for sure.

In some sectors like electricity it is very hard to see what benefit the deregutaion/SOE model has actually brought. Simplification makes sense. In others like NZ Post the SOE model has worked well. In all cases one has to look at the circumstances.

In my view the short answer is yes, pour the acid on the whole state sector to cut costs and rein in spending. Its hopelessly, stupidly bloated and needs trimming. But don't set stupid numerical targets like a high return on capital that will encourage political and economic stupidity at SOE boards in a time of financial delicacy.

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