by Jane Kelsey, Bridget Williams Books, Wellington, 2015

- Jeremy Agar

In 1987, when the global Rogernomic mania was sweeping all before it, a money speculator is thought to have made $300,000,000 from an attack on the New Zealand dollar. Not bad for a morning’s work. A few clicks on the mouse and you could buy several houses in Auckland. In the meantime nothing has been added to the world’s wellbeing, the transaction being all profit without production.

The $300,000,000 man was apparently not John Key, who worked in the same office, but on a different day, had the gambling gods so decreed, the lucky trader could have been our John, who was also into shorting the kiwi. Asked, “Is that OK, Prime Minister?” he assured us it was something that he was comfortable about. He did “not believe a moral issue arises for the traders who make these speculative attacks on currencies, because they are simply executing orders for people”.

He was just following orders. It’s become a cliché to allude to the infamous Nazi excuse as the template for wilful moral blindness, but truth to tell, it’s not fair to tag Key with it. Evil needs to be conscious, a choice, but for Key there would have been no dilemma. He was a free man, confident, ambitious – and devoid of either imagination or sympathy. Life’s about making deals. You do what you need to do. You live in the moment. You move on. Going forward.

Key has the perfect personality for our reckless era. Neo-liberalism, the economic cult that bred the speculators, is wilfully amnesiac. It has to be, as the evidence shows that it’s a bad idea, and if you knew your history, you’d try something else. Key doesn’t have to reject the facts or put aside ethics. He’s not into that stuff and never has been. Power is what matters, and money, and his mates who agree about the moral primacy of power and money. That’s why he can breezily keep on doing the wrong thing. He sees what he wants to see. He’s essentially a comic figure.

A central theme of Jane Kelsey’s analysis of the modern New Zealand economy is this rejection of experience, this refusal to learn from past mistakes. Key might be a fitting emblem of the times, but his success stems from more than his supreme pragmatism. He understands buying and selling. Life’s a negotiation. And all of it has the aim of entrenching the status quo.

It is this apparent contradiction – the amoral ad hoc manipulation, the obsession with tactics, and the highly consistent purpose, the strategy – that marks Key’s style. Kelsey wants us to forget the day-to-day trivia that obsesses the media and look at the strategy. Please, before it’s too late. Throughout her account she returns to what she calls the embedding of neo-liberalism. We’re gossiping about tantalising ponytails and black flag logos and how we glimpsed John at the All Blacks’ test and … it just doesn’t matter.

This Book Is A Must

Kelsey joins these two themes by showing how the embedding of neo-liberalism, if it is to be ultimately successful, will be thanks to our collective failure to pay attention to what’s going on.

To find that out, this book is a must. Kelsey explains how we got to where we are, and, at the end, she suggests how we might do better. There’s unlikely to be a better overall explanation. It’s rigorous, scholarly, with a sense of the relative importance of the various factors that is rare. And Kelsey is unremittingly focused and logical. Key and his sidekick Bill English wouldn’t want to read this, but of course they won’t. John’s already told us that he’s not into reading.

If we were to retrieve the habit of memory we might recall that after Hurricane Katrina rode into New Orleans in 2005 the money men issued CAT bonds, CAT being the first three letters of “catastrophe”, and catastrophes being highly profitable.  In 1989 (when in NZ the Lange government was dissolving as the PM at last began to understand what his Roger was up to) the CAT fanciers let it be known that “sophisticated parties” could be exempted from oversight when they got into derivatives and all the other new and untried speculations. A few decades later, of course, we got the GFC, the sophisticated global financial crisis (for more on how disaster capitalism is operating in New Zealand, and for hints as to who is thought to be locally sophisticated, see my review below of “The Villa At The Edge Of The Empire”. My article “Dalziel And Cameron: The Mayor & The Neoliberal Ideologue”, elsewhere in this issue, looks at some related activities of the sophisticates).

These concepts are echoed as Kelsey identifies what she calls the eight triggers of neo-liberal excess. Initially there’s a credit boom; rapidly rising asset prices, especially of housing; financial “innovations”, and deregulation. These are followed by a sharp rise in household debt; high leverage; derivatives, and – think Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement - international financial integration.

Always the sophisticates know that this time they won’t make the same mistakes as their plodding predecessors. This time it’s new and different because sophistication rules at last and a glorious new age of wealth and freedom is dawning. And so, as the speculative finance washes around, the gamblers repeat all of the same mistakes and at some stage the bubble always bursts.

The small NZ economy, so heavily skewed towards habitually volatile commodities, is always at risk, and all the more so for its having placed so much emphasis on one product. Dairy land values, so dependent on global trends, trebled during the 2000s and between 2010 and 2014 alone they were up 40%, while, from 1991 to 2013, the ratio of debt to earnings increased 400%.

Key and his ministers imply that previous Governments had run up ruinous debts of this magnitude but the debt consists, in fact, of this private leverage. At the same time that agribusiness was milking cash, in the years before Key won (in 2008), NZ was the only Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) country  - besides Iceland -  whose balance was positive for public saving and negative for private.

 FIRE = Finance, Insurance, Real Estate

In the FIRE economy finance, insurance and real estate dominate, and resources are steered away from the production of goods in what some call the “real” economy, the one which serves needs. When banking and finance rule; imbalance, inequality and slower growth set in.  This holds true for rich developed economies like the UK. It is even truer of the offshore tax havens. They’re often scenes of crime and corruption (for more on the distortions of FIRE economies, see my reviews of “The Finance Curse: How Oversized Financial Centres Attack Democracy and Corrupt Economies”, by Nicholas Shaxon and John Christensen, The Tax Justice Network, Watchdog 135, April 2014,; and “The Price Of Offshore Revisited” by James H Henry, The Tax Justice Network, Watchdog 131, December 2012, In my article “Dalziel And Cameron: The Mayor & The Neoliberal Ideologue”, elsewhere in this issue, I look at Rob Cameron's advice to the NZ government that NZ should become a financial “hub”.

The central problem, as we all now recognise, is that collective and social enterprise, the ethic that built modern New Zealand, is being eroded. If so, it has to be restored. That simple resolution, though, can hope to be achieved only if the ideology and machinations of neo-liberalism are recognised. They need to be confronted holistically:

“Neo-liberalism is a robust regime that cannot be transformed by piecemeal attempts at reordering its individual elements. The whole is more than the sum of its parts. The causes of and permissible solutions to seemingly isolated problems – such as ACC privacy breaches, the teachers’ pay debacle or the deaths of miners, construction and forestry workers - are all framed by first-order constraints. Even if it were possible to gain political support for a socially progressive change to a single law or policy, the regime itself would remain intact; its contradictions would just intensify”.

Kelsey remarks that the habit of peeping at the world from “silos” prevents the necessary clarity, her apt example being child poverty. Would it even be possible to prevent children being poor without at the same time allowing their parents a way to stop being poor, or without addressing policies to do with child – and adult - health, education and welfare – to name just the most immediately connected matters?

Our inability to see the whole picture is further compromised by the gradual appropriation of Government by non-elected, unaccountable business interests and the bureaucrats who attend them. Kelsey quotes from a US book, “Shadow Elite”, which observes that “traditional frameworks for democratic governance are increasingly bypassed or marginalised by a larger, less accountable State ‘run by informal groups and networks that conflate State and private agendas and, in their roles as officials, help distance the State from responsibility and accountability to the public… [I]n practice, as the State widens, accountability slips even further away from its citizens’”.

When people remark that John Key is out to help his mates – language which connotes casual corruption or favouritism - it’s shorthand for this trend, a process that is in fact conscious and systemic. There are few clearer examples of this than politics in Canterbury since the sacking of the regional council (Environment Canterbury, ECan).

In Kelsey’s terms: “Neo-liberalism is preoccupied with efficiency, effectiveness, risk and value for money; concepts virtually devoid of intrinsic ethical content or collective notions of public well-being. Public accountability has been replaced by a narrow notion of managerial accountability that requires compliance with technocratic procedures”.

Fundamentalists Of Capitalism

The policy that built the silos was inspired by the very need of neo-liberal theorists to wither public control of policy by restricting the options of politicians.

Kelsey identifies three “pillars of the orthodoxy”, the original Rogernomic legislation, the pillars being the 1989 Reserve Bank of New Zealand Act, the 1994 Fiscal Responsibility Act, and the 1989 Public Finance Act. These acts locked into the system, but just in case the unsophisticated masses, the people of New Zealand, might want a future Government to legislate in the public interest, neo-liberal purity – in the words of one of its champions - had to be “free from irresponsible Government tinkering”.

In 2003 one of the Rogers, the late Roger Kerr, delivered a speech which was admirably explicit in confirming the intent:

 “Many elements of what could be described as an economic constitution have been put in place constraining Governments’ freedom of manoeuvre with the aim of obliging them to act in the interests of citizens at large rather than in their own political interests”.

If you’re not used to the pronouncements of the policy elites it might strike you as arrogant to assume that ideological preferences and financial interests, biases which advantage a handful of very rich men, could be said to represent “the interests of citizens at large”, but this is the invariable tone of neo-liberals. They alone – in their opinion - see objective truth. In this complex world of derivatives, of options and puts and mortgage backed securities, only they are sophisticated enough to be allowed to make policy. Like the hapless crooks at Enron, they’re the smartest guys in the room (Jeremy’s review of the excellent documentary, “Enron: The Smartest Guys In the Room” in Watchdog 111, April 2006, can be read online at watchdog/ 11/10.htm.Ed.).

Unchecked by empirical data and unobserved by democratic processes, the smartest guys in the room descend into delusional excess. Even the International Monetary Fund (IMF), at one stage uncritical partners in the exercise, has lost faith. Three years after the 2008 global financial crisis (GFC), the IMF noted that the financial wizards “couldn’t identify the risks as they were ‘hindered by a high degree of groupthink, intellectual capture, a general mindset that a major financial crisis in large advanced economies was unlikely... Weak internal governance, including unclear lines of responsibility and accountability, lack of incentives to work across units and raise contrarian views, a review process that did not connect the dots and ensure follow-up, and an insular culture also played a big role, while political constraints may also have had some impact’”.

Yes, to the simple among us, these are the mundane and familiar failings of human nature, but when you inhabit a universe of pure reason, untroubled by mere humanity, where the very word “democracy” is a threat, you might not be grounded.

More recently Christine Lagarde, the Managing Director of the IMF, was even blunter, criticising the financial system’s culture of ‘“excess” – in risk-taking, leverage, opacity, complexity, and compensation. It led to massive destruction of value. It has also been associated with high unemployment, rising social tensions, and growing political disillusion – all of this happening in the wake of the Great Recession” (the GR? That’s the GFC).

And Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England, employed language normally associated with events like the French and Russian revolutions (thereby echoing CAFCA’s historic characterisation of NZ’s Rogernomes as “Bolsheviks of the Right”) when he remarked that “[j]ust as any revolution eats its children, unchecked market fundamentalism can devour the long-term dynamism of capitalism itself”.

So there are all sorts of shepherds out there crying wolf but still no-one’s minding the sheep. Habits and prejudices and greed are too entrenched for that. Reporting in 2014 on the NZ economy, perhaps at risk from unpredictable global financial markets, a China slowdown, an overvalued dollar, current account deficits, international debt or a rapid house price fall, the OECD opined that while “the crisis may have long-lasting macroeconomic repercussions… it is hoped that this will spur structural reforms and behavioural changes”.

Behavioural changes? This sounds like social engineering, but isn’t that the sin of the dreaded socialist nanny State that has seized all power in the name of the unemployed and the uneducated? Or is that the neo-libs and their mates are running the show in their interests? In this immediate context the OECD seems to want to bolster those who would benefit from Auckland sprawling further with more cars choking the countryside. The shock therapists were hoping for further reductions in public investment and ever looser rules for land use and urban planning.

It Never Stops. They Never Learn. They Don’t Want To.

But if NZ wants to rejoin Iceland as OECD countries which seek to control their economies, a starting point would be to close the shock therapy wards. A healing nation might see natural disasters as an opportunity to restore a more equal and just society. A nation that has recovered its memory might seek to free itself from the grasp of the speculators. Kelsey has shown us how we might start to recover our national identity – and our self-respect.

A Film By Russell Brand And Michael Winterbottom, 2015

- Jeremy Agar

As early as 2009 the then Australian PM Kevin Rudd deemed that “[t]he time has come, off the back of the current crisis, to proclaim that the great neo-liberal experiment of the past 30 years has failed, that the emperor has no clothes. Neo-liberalism and the free-market fundamentalism it produced have been revealed as little more than personal greed dressed up as an economic philosophy”.

That’s quoted by Jane Kelsey in her indispensable analysis of the malaise, reviewed above, and Kevin was bang on. The trouble is that at no stage – and he was Prime Minister again some years later - was there visible evidence that Rudd was going to try something else. It was just too hard? Not expedient? Anyway, nothing has changed. The Aussies, like the Kiwis, are still fawning in their admiration of the emperor’s new clothes.

You know the story. A tailor flatters the king and his court, stitching a non-existent suit. Everyone says it’s the bee’s knees. Until a little boy, untutored in court life, shouts the truth. The emperor is naked. Unlike Rudd, Russell Brand has every right to remind us of the fairy story, because unlike the governing elites in Oz (or NZ) he’s honest and direct and obviously believes what he says: Neo-liberalism is devoid of any of the splendours its tailors have claimed for it.

Brand gives us a definition of his title: ‘’Collective ignorance of an obvious fact, or deception, despite undeniable evidence”.  Brand, an English comedian, piles on the evidence, taking us on a tour of his home town, showing us a neighbourhood whose vitality has been sapped by the new order. He’s polemical, loud, funny and obviously sincere. His partner in the venture, Michael Winterbottom, has a track record in filmdom. They’ve made a lively, entertaining flick.

“When I was poor and complained about inequality”, Brand says, “they said I was bitter. Now I’m rich and complain about inequality they say I’m a hypocrite. I’m starting to think they just don’t want to talk about inequality”.

No, they don’t want to talk about it. They can’t. They’re still marvelling over the cut of the tailor’s cloth. So a frequent reaction to the film from mainstream media was to suggest that Brand was loud but uninitiated in the mysteries of money. Don’t listen to them. The emperor is indeed unclothed.

by Fiona Farrell, Vintage, New Zealand, 2015

- Jeremy Agar

The villa at the edge of the empire was on River Road, where attractive houses used to line the north bank of the Avon as it left the centre of Christchurch. Visit now and you’re greeted by grass and trees, the suburbs near the river having been among the most affected by the 2010/11 earthquakes. Fiona Farrell goes there often, driving down the empty road where once she made her home, thinking of the abundant human life that used to be.

A sense of place, the feeling for what defines locations, is the central theme of this intriguing book. As every New Zealander knows, wall maps of the world place us at the bottom right hand corner, often lost behind pinned notices or the maker’s name, and bottom right, she’s suggesting, is an imperial insult. Fiona Farrell discusses her fondness for maps throughout. They’re a linking motif in her narrative.

The maps of empire, originally and most obviously the maps of the British Empire, have always placed Godzone at the edge. Farrell grew up in the first wave of baby boomers, and her sketch of what it has meant to be a New Zealander in the post-war years highlights the usual suspects. Around the time when the boomers became adults, the British influence began fading as American culture and economic dominance began to supplant it. So far, hers is a conventional liberal assessment, if more breezily fluent than most versions.

The critique sharpens when Farrell adds three more imperial empires: the Chinese, the corporate, and – a branch office of the corporates - the empire of insurance. Christchurch, she is saying, has been shaped by its history as an outpost of empires, a status that is locally thought to be not good form to acknowledge. The quakes, she says, have shaken our assumptions by laying bare the relationship between citizens and the corporates which rule them.

Shock Doctrine

Always with a keen eye for political realities, Farrell asks us to consider the findings of Naomi Klein*, whose expose of what she dubbed the shock doctrine was published in 2007, before the first Canterbury quake. Klein persuasively argues that, internationally, local elites have exploited the dislocations that accompany natural disasters like tsunamis and cyclones to extend their reach. There are unfortunately too many examples from around the world to discount the notion. Even without the manipulations of big money there is a natural tendency for disruption to accentuate inequality, but social breakdowns invite the powerful to grab ever more (*my review of Naomi Klein’s “Shock Doctrine“ is in Watchdog 117, April 2008 

In Canterbury disempowerment of people had started before the shakes with the sacking of the regional council (Environment Canterbury, ECan) so that dairying interests could grab all the water they wanted and it was not surprising that after the first shock the central Government muscled in to tell the Christchurch City Council that it was in charge. New Zealand already has the most centralised government of any OECD country – with the possible exception of the city State of Singapore and its “guided democracy” – and the removal of democracy from ECan and its partial removal from the city have only exaggerated the trend. In the context of a developed economy the powers exercised by the Earthquake Minister, Gerry Brownlee, are extreme.

All the overseas imperialists have an accommodating local agent – the New Zealand government, which does not see its role as including the reining in of Big Insurance. Delays in rebuilding, which appear inexplicable to visitors, are often the result of insurers’ reluctance to pay out fully or promptly. For this background, Farrell relies on Sarah Miles’ sharp analysis, preferring to concentrate her novelist’s eye on the people who used to live on streets like River Road (I reviewed Miles’ “The Christchurch Fiasco”, in Watchdog 132, May 2013,

Across Fitzgerald Avenue from River Road, to the south-west, is the Avon Loop, an inner city suburb where Farrell first lived when she moved to Christchurch. She devotes several chapters to the munted (destroyed by earthquake) neighbourhood, her fondness for which, and her sense of loss, is conveyed in one of the book’s most powerful sections. The Avon Loop was a gentrified working class area, Christchurch’s equivalent, she suggests, to the Aro Valley in Wellington or Ponsonby in Auckland. Despite Gerry Brownlee’s view that “old dungers” need to go, Christchurch had few such places, making the loss all the more unwelcome.

Gerry prefers grand buildings, big noting affairs that say: “Look at me”. Despite having convinced the City Council that they’ll have to flog off their (profitable) public assets because otherwise they’ll go broke, the Government he represents insists on building a stadium on the edge of downtown and a convention centre – a “twenty-first century cathedral” - next to Cathedral Square. Not many residents agree with the projects, but that’s National’s least concern.

Gerry Brownlee & Albert Speer

Shrewdly, cheekily, near the start of her book Farrell had chatted about Albert Speer, Hitler’s architect: “A map bears little hint of the muddle of emotion down on mucky human ground. But looking down, we presume order. We’re God. We’re omnipotent. We’re Hitler … contemplating the tabletop model that will transform messy old Berlin into the snowy perfection of Germania, capital of the empire that will rival Rome or Babylon.

“… And everything is BIG. Having designed one vast stadium to house the 1936 Olympics, Speer plans another even larger. It will seat 400,000…

“… Also in doubt is Berlin’s capacity to support the new structures. It is built on a swamp”.

Ordinary people want liveable neighbourhoods. They cherish human connection, but the fascist mind is threatened by such concepts. The fascist mind dreams of spectacularly vulgar displays of power. It’s a style that few 21st Century town planners outside North Korea (where there’s a stadium that could seat 150,000) would endorse.

At this point the average writer would talk about bread and circuses. Farrell doesn’t, even though she includes numerous references to Rome and its empire. It’s a detail worth noting in that it’s indicative of the way her originality and her idiosyncratic style avoids cliché.

It’s only later, in another section, that Farrell compares Nazi Berlin with that antipodean city built above a bog, where “engineers were all-powerful. And nothing was impossible. Dams could be built on faultlines, houses could be suspended over cliff edge or ravine, motorways and museums could be constructed on land only recently lifted from the sea, and swamps could be drained for subdivision”.

The rulers’ maps have long had the habit of imposing geometric shapes that ignore the realities of place. Similarly, their copious communications to the plebs reject the tactile, concrete expression of good English, replacing it with the pompous, the abstract, the evasive. “If you would rule a people, first invade their minds”, says Farrell. “Teach them a new language”. The language and culture of neo-liberalism is another linking theme. In Chapter 90, “The Petri Dish” we read:

“In our impulsive, puppyish fashion we have been busily engaged in creating a society in which the role of the State is minimised and its functions passed into private hands. Over the past 30 years, the systems that nurtured me have been unpicked, quietly and systematically, by people with a simple faith in the supremacy of the market as the greatest good. We have laid aside all talk of moral unity, the good and right state of society or collective responsibility, for a more bare-knuckled ambition to become a country where it is good to do business. We have been living through a revolution, but a quiet one, a sneaky one”.

“Opportunity” For The Vultures of Privatisation

Take the word “opportunity”. Farrell reflects on her parents in Oamaru, who used to talk of “The Opportunity”, “which meant that, unlike them or any of my ancestors, I would go to university after a schooling that was both ‘solid’ and free”.

On the other hand there’s the corporate-speak babble that describes the forced closing of Phillipstown, an inner city Christchurch primary school, as being about “Shaping Education: Opportunity plus innovation to enhance education outcomes across greater Christchurch”. Then there’s this classic. Milton Friedman, the founding father of neo-liberalism, was excited that after Hurricane Katrina “most of New Orleans’ schools are in ruins. This is a tragedy. It is also an opportunity”. Here is pure disaster capitalism, distressingly similar to the opportunity offered in Phillipstown.

(And Friedman’s grotesque hope is identical to the language employed by Cameron Partners, the outfit which Christchurch Mayor Lianne Dalziel commissioned for advice, knowing that it would tell her to strip the city’s assets. Rod Cameron was happy to write that what he says is the imminent impoverishment of the city is also a “rich opportunity” for the privateers).

In Christchurch we’re all on the move, all our lives have been uncertain, and all our maps have to be revised. Across the road from the Avon Loop to its west, on the corner of Avonside Drive, which follows the south bank of the river opposite River Road, a small reserve commemorates my ancestor, Canterbury’s first Registrar of Lands. Until the quakes his house was said to be the oldest in Christchurch. It's now a broken propped up shell.William Guise Brittan was another who liked maps, and when he traced the Avon from the sea to the city he envisaged a business centre up around Fitzgerald Avenue.

Brittan’s map was never accurate, and now it looks as if mapmakers will get a third chance to imagine the city as the munted eastern land on both banks will be allowed to revert to nature. At least there’s a chance, an opportunity shall we say, to do it right.

by Mark Derby, Potton & Burton, Nelson, 20155

- Jeremy Agar

Dorothy Morris was born in Cromwell, central Otago, which was then a straggling gold mining village. When she was four her father took a job in Lyttelton, where she grew up, going into Christchurch to school at Rangi Ruru. She trained as a nurse, and when she was 32 she got itchy feet and went off to England on her OE. The next year she was in Spain, drawn by the struggle to maintain democracy there, serving in a Republican medical unit.

I am assured by an old girl of Rangi (who will be reading these words) that in those days the school did not have the posh reputation that it now enjoys. This helps to illustrate the point that the New Zealand of the 1920s and ‘30s was socially more flexible than recent generations have come to expect. The Morris family story is very much one of middle NZ, and Dorothy’s decision to be a nurse was a typical one for bright young women.

What is so appealing about Morris is this blending of the conventional and the most unusual. Morris wrote frequent letters back home, and these encouraged the present book. As Derby remarks in his introduction, the letters “are vividly descriptive, fiercely polemical and historically fascinating”. They’re also incomplete, some having been lost en route or withheld by censors, and piecing together Morris’ story from limited sources has been quite an achievement in itself. We owe Derby thanks for alerting us to a remarkable but almost anonymous woman.

Derby has previously written “Kiwi Compãneros”, the story of New Zealanders who volunteered for Spain, fighting heroically against a much better resourced fascist army, so he’s thoroughly familiar with the historical background (I reviewed “Kiwi Compãneros” in Watchdog 121, August 2009,

The title of Derby’s latest book derives from Pablo Neruda’s poem, ‘Spain in my heart’, written in 1938:

“Spain veined with bloods and metals, blue and victorious,

proletariat of petals and bullets,

alone, alive, somnolent, resounding”

Appeasing The Fascists

This was the sort of direct language that Morris understood. In a letter from April 1938, she lamented the inaction of the French and British governments. While Nazi Germany and fascist Italy supported the Spanish Army in its attack on a secular and democratic government, neither Britain nor France intervened to support it, claiming that to do so would only risk a greater subversion from Hitler and Mussolini. They might have believed this, but they also believed that they shared more interests and values with the fascists than they did with the Spanish Left. Morris intuited this immediately, referring to the UK PM as “that old wicked devil of a (Neville) Chamberlain” (NZ almost shared the same view. At the League of Nations NZ joined Mexico as the only countries to voice concern for Spanish democracy. But nothing followed. As Derby shows in “Kiwi Compãneros”, the Savage Labour government, conscious of pro-Franco sentiment within NZ, hoped to avoid any commitments).

Later in 1938, when Chamberlain infamously acceded to Hitler’s annexation of part of Czechoslovakia, Morris remarked: “I should think it will be one of history’s most dreadful crimes”. Yes it was; it was the cause of the Second World War.

Poorly equipped and heavily outnumbered, the volunteers fought tenaciously. It’s an inspiring and sad story. The people of Spain, attacked by their own Army, were themselves barely surviving. Derby estimates that 10,000,000 were starving.

Morris organised a hospital, where she found that nursing standards weren’t the best. Later she was running canteens. When Franco finally won his war there was a mass exodus, with 450,000 refugees arriving in France in just one week. Morris went with them, but, with a wider war looming, she was ordered back to London. There she found that the Government was still unprepared, noting the lack of civilian shelters.

In this dismal period there was at least one happy coincidence. Doug Jolly, one of the main characters in “Kiwi Compãneros” happened to be on duty at a hospital in Egypt in 1945 when Morris, seriously ill, was admitted. He gave her penicillin and she recovered. Jolly and Morris had been born in the same year in Cromwell, but this was the first time they met.

Aunt Dorothy, as she has been dubbed by journalists covering the story, returned to NZ in later life, privately domiciled in Merivale (near Rangi Ruru) in the one suburb of Christchurch where you’d most expect to find the kind of no-nonsense maiden aunt that is recalled here by her nephews. Her early life and later life were models of outward convention. But what a brilliant life she led in between. 

by John Fagan PhD, Michael Antoniou, PhD and Claire Robinson, PhD
2nd edition, Version 2.0, Earth Open Source, London, 2014

- John Ring

GMO = genetically modified organism. Ed.

This book is not designed to be read from start to finish.  Readers can do that if they wish, but at times it gets repetitive. It is intended to be used by people who have heard statements about genetic modification (GM) and want to check whether they are accurate or not. You look up the myth and find out the facts, although it is easier to understand if you read pages 20 to 23, which explain the genetic modification technique.

Some of it discusses things I already know about from other sources, and I know those parts to be accurate, so I assume the rest is.

It mainly focuses on technical issues relating to what is genetic modification, how safe is it, what research has been done, etc., but political issues are also mentioned. It is an aim of the US government to foster the growth of the biotechnology industry. Of course, biotechnology includes things other than genetic modification (for example, knowing which genes do what is helpful for breeders who do not use genetic modification) but the US authorities see promoting genetic modification as the way to do this.

No US Check If Safe To Eat

In the USA there is no requirement for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to certify that genetically modified plants are safe to eat. Instead there is a voluntary procedure whereby the company tells the FDA what research it has done to test its safety (this research is not published or peer–reviewed) and the FDA then sends the company a letter saying that the company has sent them a summary of its research, that the company has concluded that the plant is safe, that the FDA has no further questions, that the company is responsible for placing only safe foods on the market, and that the company may be found liable if the food is found to be unsafe.

It is difficult for outsiders to assess the safety of genetically modified plants, because when GM seeds are sold, the purchaser must sign a contract saying they will not make them available to anyone who wants to use them for research purposes. As a result there have been very few independent studies into GM food safety ever done, and they suggest such foods are not safe.  And when scientists criticise the genetic modification industry, that industry uses its political influence to attack its critics.

Monsanto Has Presidents & PMs In Its Pocket

For example; in August 1998 Dr Arpad Pusztai revealed that his UK government-funded study had shown that GM potatoes had harmed laboratory rats. Monsanto phoned Bill Clinton, who phoned Tony Blair, who phoned Pusztai's employers who needed Government funding, so Pusztai was suspended and a gagging order imposed. Pusztai had gone public before publishing the research, and it never got published (Monsanto won the 1998 Roger Award for the Worst Transnational Corporation Operating in Aotearoa/New Zealand. The Judges’ Report can be read at Ed.).

Legal frameworks affect the spread of genetically modified crops in a number of ways. In the US, if a GM–free farm somehow gets contaminated with patented genetic material, the patent holder can sue the farmer, but in Germany if the farmer can work out where the contamination came from he can sue the farmer who grew the GM crop that contaminated his crop. The US law encourages the spread of GM crops while the German law discourages it, without banning it outright.

One thing that surprised me on reading the book is that no epidemiological studies on the impact of GM foods have ever been done. That approach would get around the legal barriers to access to seeds imposed by the GM industry and their allies.

This book doesn't consider political strategies for dealing with the problems. I know that in the 1960s Islamists in Afghanistan decided seed companies were behaving in unIslamic ways, so they formed seed cooperatives, which in some circumstances would be a very practical strategy, but ideas like that aren't mentioned here.


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