Hard News by Russell Brown


The back of a bloody envelope

I resolved to try and take a measured approach to the suggestion that some conservation land could be mined – and not to respond on the basis of what I merely thought I knew. But the more I do know, the less I like the idea.

If we're to embrace the idea that land held in conservation has a value that can be measured against the value of what might be extracted from it, then we can do a cost-benefit appraisal. And, as Keith has already demonstrated, we can't regard the government's projections of benefit as particularly robust.

Gordon Campbell at Scoop has more sceptical calculations, from Gerry Brownlee's weirdly loose press conference yesterday. (I presume I'm not the only one unimpressed with Brownlee's inability to even name the rare earth elements whose value he was asking us to accept. He seemed to find that funny. I didn't.)

Conspiracists may see the inclusion of Great Barrier Island in the first flush of Schedule 4 lands to be named for prospecting as a cunning diversion – and expect John Key to make great play of a reprieve for the Barrier while the heavy machinery rolls in somewhere else. I'm not sure it's that well thought-out.

But whatever the motive, it surely takes a political tin ear to threaten two of Auckland's natural playgrounds at a time when resentment of Wellington's intentions towards us is already simmering. Len Brown didn't have to say a word this morning – his mayoral rival John Banks was already on the radio delivering a high-pressure stream of green consciousness. National's Auckland Central MP Nikki Kaye has also, apparently, heard the rumble.

I wonder whether this is the point where the government's feckless approach to process (again this week, John Key mused about legislating for the first thought that drifted through his head) will actually be its undoing.

I like to think I'm realistic. I'm aware of the way extraction industries have unwritten the prosperity of our neighbours across the Tasman, and I know the government cannot run big fiscal deficits forever. I can perceive the moral gap in using minerals we expect others to mine. But if I'm to be asked to swallow a proposal whose implications stretch out for ten or hundreds of years, I expect far better than to be told by a minister that he is totting up that future on the back of a bloody envelope.


So the Democrats have healthcare (well, health insurance) reform most of the way home. What has been passed is complex and occasionally strange, and some of its key benefits – including the health insurance exchange, which should remove some of the economic deadweight associated with insurance locked to employment – are several years away. But simpler solutions – notably, a public insurer – seem to have been unacceptable to Americans. I say "seem" because I'm far from sure most Americans even knew what they were arguing about.

The claims about the reforms made by the Republican lobby have frequently tilted over into insanity. But the endless kvetching from liberals seems to ignore political realities. They're prey to the same myths and unreasonable expectations about their presidency – seeming to want a movie western star when they elected a centrist wonk – as their wingnut opponents.

I thought this comment in a Guardian thread made some sense:

The partisan divide we are currently witnessing is just another manifestation of the cultural conflicts that have been part of America's history since its inception, generally being based on some version of the fundamental North/South divide. What we saw this weekend - the "baby killer" shout and the open use of racial and homophobic epithets - may not be as bad as Preston Brooks' physical assault on Charles Sumner, but they are certainly in the same tradition.

The Republican Party today is basically a Southern white party, and this vote merely enhances Republican isolation. I imagine that the Republicans will pick up some seats in this year's elections, but that is primarily because the Democrats over-performed in '06 and '08, particularly by picking up a few Southern seats. However, barring a double-dip recession, I suspect that Scott Brown's victory will be an anomaly and a footnote in history, and I doubt that the Republicans will have much success outside of the South and a few other historically right-wing districts.

American history teaches that political parties that become Southern parties inevitably become minority parties. Jefferson Davis et al. figured that out in 1860 and decided that they were better off trying to become a separate country. It didn't work then but only because the North asserted its national dominance, and that is what will happen again. Leaders of the Republican Party will grow weary of minority status and will recognize the need to reach out to voters beyond their (primarily Southern white) base. When that happens, you will see true bipartisanship.

Obama is the most patient politician I have ever seen. He is probably the most patient President since Lincoln, who has always been his role-model for a great President - not FDR, to the dismay of "progressives". Obama chose his role-model wisely.

Given that most commentators reckon a successful delivery of this fraught domestic issue will strengthen Obama's hand in foreign policy, I hope the commenter is right.

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