Lessons From Russia and the former Soviet Republics

On 25 December 1991, after 74 years, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics voted itself out of existence. In doing so an empire that spanned from Poland to the Pacific Ocean, from Iran to the Arctic Circle broke up into 16 separate nations. 250 million people had to begin to learn a whole new way of life where they found themselves in charge of their own socio-economic destiny, grappling with geopolitical challenges that just a few years earlier, most people would have said would not happen.

But the post-Cold War rehabilitation that one might have thought that the western powers would help with, having spent most of a century trying to destroy it, does not seem to have materialized. Nothing was done to help stabilize an economy used to the command format, the five year plans that kept resulting in overly ambitious targets not being met and factory machinery not being retooled or repaired in time. Far from accepting the economic rot that had set in, the U.S.S.R. was kicked to touch by the Chernobyl nuclear power plant reactor meltdown by exposing the inflexible nature of the state, the corruption indulged in to keep or maintain individual power.

From Ukraine and Moldova to Tajikistan, the Soviet republics were littered with the detritus of the Soviet involvement in the biggest arms race of all time.  Warships and submarines lay rusting, unmaintained at ports such as Sevastopol, Odessa, Murmansk, Archangel, St. Petersburg, Vladivostok and others. Thousands of nuclear weapons were unprotected across the republics. No need for them existed in the early 1990’s with the hope that the world had somehow moved on from communism and that long term disarmament would become a thing. Thus no one should be surprised that the submarine Kursk had a catastrophic accident shortly after Mr Putin took office.

The same countries found themselves struggling with a smorgasbord of socio-environmental; socio-economic and socio-political issues.The devaluation of the rouble had rendered it just about useless; empty shop shelves became a common appearance; in the U.S.S.R. military establishment literally hundreds of thousands of people who had soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines quickly became redundant. The reforms ushered in by Mr Gorbachev may have delighted the west, but they angered political hardliners perhaps inspired by Josef Stalin’s concept of “towards the inevitable conflict”. This supported the idea where eventually some sort of confrontation between the east and the west would happen.

Yet nearly 30 years later from the collapse of the U.S.S.R, the west and Russia are no closer to a long lasting peaceful solution than they were in 1945. And yet, we in the west wonder how and why Russia came to be like it currently is: a semi-authoritarian state beset by corruption. A nation with poor regard for human rights, with ambitious leaders who see a role for growing Russian influence in this part of the world, Russia is in danger of repeating the reign of Tsar Nicholas II.



Just deport Karel Sroubek and be done with it

Karel Sroubek, who tried to import MDMA ecstasy powder, and was found guilty of misusing passports to come to New Zealand has been denied parole by the Parole Board for the third time. Mr Sroubek, who arrived in New Zealand after fleeing the Czech Republic on a friends passport, has a long record of criminal activity, including associations with gangs in New Zealand and the Czech underworld. His third application for parole was met with “see you in November”, when the next hearing will be scheduled.

As far as I am concerned Mr Sroubek has no place in New Zealand. The combination of his long record of criminal activity both in New Zealand and in the Czech Republic in my estimate more than qualifies him for deportation. The botched review of his case by the Minister of Immigration, Iain Lees-Galloway and his decision to grant a convicted criminal with existing links to New Zealand and Czech criminals, residency, undermines the value of being able to stay in New Zealand indefinitely. The subsequent decision to remove any prospect of removal points to a Minister failing to accurately assess and understand the gravity of Mr Sroubek’s past.

People with knowledge of Mr Sroubek’s case and his time in the New Zealand prison system say that he has been an excellent inmate and that he has been keeping himself occupied with yoga classes. He has been encouraged to employ one of the prison psychologists available, and has said he will, but not in prison. However, when he was asked about residences he could stay at upon release from prison one is that of a person on parole themselves and another is that of a person with strong gang connections.

Over the years other prospective residents have been deported from New Zealand for much less than the crimes Mr Sroubek has committed. Several of them had contributed far more to the country than Mr Sroubek has, and due to unfortunate circumstances such as visa difficulties, ill family members and so forth, were deported. I fail to see what makes Mr Sroubek so important that he must stay here, especially considering the gravity of his criminal record, the lies that have gone with it and the probability of reoffending. Just deport him and be done with it.



The Murdochracy is damaging the West

His media empire stretches through out the English speaking part of the western hemisphere. Dominant in the U.S., U.K. and with significant operations in New Zealand and Australia, the increasingly divisive and toxic influence of Rupert Keith Murdoch is finally starting to face international push back. In light of the devastating bush fires caused by the very thing his media empire denies, individuals, companies and celebrities are coming alive with the hashtag #Murdochracy: climate change. The Urban Dictionary defines Murdochracy as:

The murder of democracy through misinformation via Rupert Murdoch’s “news websites

The influence of Mr Murdoch’s empire in journalism is perhaps best expressed through the fact that to varying extents every government in the west acknowledges climate change to some extent. The two that do not are the U.S. Government of Donald Trump and the Australian Government of Scott Morrison, both of which are supported by – in the case of the United States – Fox News, New York Post and in Australia news outlets such as The Age, The Australian and others. A third one, the United Kingdom, where Mr Murdoch resides, has several tabloid papers operating under News Corp which include The Daily Mail, The Telegraph.

In 2011, U.K.. tabloid News of the World suddenly went out of print after it was found that Mr Murdoch’s tabloid rag had hacked into various peoples phones and stolen personal information. Among them were a murdered British school girl named Millie Downer, former Prime Minister of Britain Gordon Brown and a range of celebrities. Mr Murdoch’s newspaper apologized, but few believed it was credible. It led to the trial of chief editor Rebekah Brooks who was accused of masterminding the hacking, and although she was found not guilty, many sincerely believe she at least knew about it.

Mr Murdoch’s tabloids have crashed multiple Governments. The most notable one was the Australian Labor-led Government of Julia Gillard and – following a leadership spill – Kevin Rudd. During the election campaigns, Australian conservative media, shock jocks and the Murdoch tabloids savaged her gender, her politics, her very being. Prior to that Gough Whitlam was toppled. But notably when Liberal Government’s have failed to show due “respect”, they have been toppled as well – as Malcolm Turnbull found out.

Mr Turnbull’s replacement Scott Morrison is a fully fledged climate denier, having once gone to Parliament with a lump of coal. Mr Morrison’s determination to ignore the fires has fuelled a backlash no other Australian government has seen from an environmental emergency. His failure to take a Commander-in-Chief moment and try to seize control of the situation has tarnished him and his Liberal party, normally favourites of Mr Murdoch.

In more recent years, Mr Murdoch’s sons have gained some responsibility in the empire. James who as recently as September 2019 might have deliberately put a bit of distance between himself and the rest of the Murdoch empire. Something that became a bit more obvious a few days ago when he attacked the other Murdoch’s stance on climate change, which could either be trying to save himself or a genuine realization that the Murdochracy has gone too far.

His other son Lachlan appears to be classic conservative, but possibly with principles. He does not appear to be a fan of politicians, but in taking over Fox was quickly given lessons by controversial hosts Jeanine Pirro (who went on an anti-Muslim tirade) and Sean Hannity (who was on stage with Mr Trump, when he should not have been)on their support for Mr Trump. Both were disciplined by Fox, but received support from the White House.

Situation Theatre reports that Journalists have at long last started speaking out. Some have said that the Murdoch empire used to require balance in reporting, which they freely acknowledged is long gone. Some have said the man himself, Mr Murdoch, despite having handed some control to his sons still wields the true power and that it needs to be checked.

The rebellion against the #Murdochracy is young and in its infancy, but it has some potentially powerful allies. The bush fires have awakened Australia in ways that no prior bush fire season has, to the environmental threats posed by the neoliberal agenda. The agenda that Mr Murdoch has trumpeted for so long is increasingly seen as a bad thing around the west.

Perhaps the best thing that can happen to the west is the downfall of the Murdochracy.

Major local government reforms being undermined by timing and volume

It has emerged that a large number of local government proposals have been released by the Government just prior to the Christmas holiday period. The proposals which include nine different bills, reviews or consultation documents whose public input periods are expect to start expiring as early as 27 January.

If these concerns are credible, then the timing and volume of them is very short sighted by the Government. They knew that like everyone else all but essential council staff go on holiday at Christmas/New Year just like the ratepayers they are meant to be working for.  As a result they must have also known that there would be minimal likelihood of council work getting down, in terms of staff and elected representatives being able to talk. Late December is never a good time for massive document releases like this because from about 15 December to when individual councils break for Christmas, meeting agendas are being progressively wound down. Only items that can wait or were going to wait until the new year are still on the agenda.

The Government also knew that most of New Zealand would be paying minimal attention to politics over Christmas time, never mind actively trying to participate in it as one is doing when making a submission. Non-governmental organizations might have been more interested, but that is because by their very nature, many of them focus on issues that persist year round and may have clients or interests that simply cannot wait for the new  political year to start.

A quick examination of some of the nine known bills, reviews and consultation documents can be seen below. For further information, click on the links.

  1. Births, Deaths, Marriages and Relationships Registration Bill
  2. Resource Management Amendment Bill
  3. Urban Development Bill

Other notable items include the Fire and Emergency New Zealand funding review, the National Policy Statement on Indigenous Biodiversity and the Waste Management Levy review. The Crown Minerals Bill mentioned in the article passed its Third Reading just before Christmas and is awaiting Royal Assent.




Observations of the U.S. Presidential race 2020: Democrat view

The purpose of this article is to examine the candidates in the Democratic nominee race for the 2020 U.S. Presidential election.

On the surface, the Democrat nominee race does little to excite this observer. There is a group of several serious candidates who have one or more of the following:

  1. Money – and the ability to raise money
  2. Political experience – they have been to political Washington and have an understanding of legislative processes and mechanism’s
  3. A political profile – if they walk down the street, they will be immediately recognizable as _______
  4. A campaign team

The major candidates of the Democratic Party nominee race are:

  • (Sen.) Bernie Sanders – a self confessed socialist; popular with those concerned about the long term well being of the world, but exposed to accusations of socialism
  • (Sen.) Elizabeth Warren – well known for having comprehensive policies, but listens intently to concerns about her approach; her clash with Mr Sanders might cost her
  • (Sen.) Amy Klobuchar – a pragmatic candidate, prolific sponsor and publisher of legislation; her biggest challenge might be her relative lack of profile
  • (Former V.P.) Joe Biden – his time as Obama’s Vice President will pay dividends; he has experience, knows foreign policy but might be seen as too neoliberal for many
  • Andrew Yang – potentially a winner among minority groups; appears to understand the need for in depth reform but his relatively low political profile might hinder him

But many those several candidates are let down by personal characteristics, some of their making and other more natural ones. Senator Bernie Sanders from Vermont for example is in his 80’s, and although he has all of the political assets I mentioned above, his age is a significant concern and as he gets older it is a valid concern that is only going to grow. At that age Mr Sanders has a real risk of dying in office like former Democrat President Franklin D. Roosevelt did in April 1945. Many American’s will think twice before they vote for him just because of that.

And then there are Democrat candidates such as Elizabeth Warren who have shot themselves in the foot proverbially. In the last Democrat debate she accused Mr Sanders of lying, which is a huge allegation to make against someone who might end up being ones running mate should they survive the nomination process. Others like Amy Klobuchar have been solid, but appear to be missing a break out moment where they seize control of the race.

Then there are several candidates who appear to be mounting semi-serious campaigns. None of them have significant political assets, and several have views that are philosophically out of kilter with the Democrat Party. Tulsi Gabbard, Kamala Harris, Cory Brooker are just a few of the Democrat candidates who have walked away from the 2020 campaign because they either realised they were not ready for it or had bigger priorities. Some of them had political assets – Kamala Harris was Attorney General in California; Tulsi Gabbard is a military combat veteran. They might be Presidential candidates in the future, but 2020 was not that year.