Trump vs Clinton

It’s on. Man vs woman. Republican vs Democrat. You may well be fed up with the whole thing by now but if not, we have plenty of reading material on the presidential hopefuls, including Trump’s The Art of the Deal.

Tony Schwartz, the ghostwriter of this immensely popular “memoir” of the real estate tycoon gave an astonishing interview with The New Yorker this week in which he expressed regret at having written it.

Cover of The art of the deal“I feel a deep sense of remorse that I contributed to presenting Trump in a way that brought him wider attention and made him more appealing than he is.” He went on, “I genuinely believe that if Trump wins and gets the nuclear codes there is an excellent possibility it will lead to the end of civilization.”

Whoa.

But The Art of the Deal is by no means the only book about, or purportedly by, Trump in our collection.

Cover of Never enough Cover of Crippled America Cover of Trump never give up Cover of Trump University Real Estate 101

Find more titles about Donald J. Trump

But by sheer volume Hillary Rodham Clinton is in the lead…

Cover of H R C Cover of Hard choices Cover of Living history Cover of A woman in charge Cover of Her way Cover of Leadership secrets of Hillary Clinton Cover of The secretary Cover of Hillary

Find more titles about Hillary Rodham Clinton

Out of the Mountains: The Coming Age of the Urban Guerrilla

CoverOut Of The Mountains focuses on how and why the future of guerrilla warfare, terrorism and insurgency will be carried out in dense urban environments, as opposed to the familiar practice of carrying out rebellions in jungle, mountainous or rural settings.

While this might all sound a bit Rambo and militaristic, David Kilcullen’s observations aren’t just borne out of his extensive knowledge and experience within conflict zones, but also his research into demography and economics which reveal global “mega-trends”.

These mega-trends are grand global changes such as rapid population growth, population density, accelerated urbanization, increasing interconnectedness, and littoralization (the tendancy for societies to cluster on coastlines). All of which exacerbate the challenges already faced by humanity …

Kilcullen argues that, despite wars BETWEEN countries declining, conflict WITHIN countries is on the increase. He says mega-trends intensify pre-existing hostilities, which involve ethno-sectarian loyalties and identities, as well as the countless and ever-fermenting ideological and religious struggles.

In addition, he argues these mega-trend environments become even more complex and volatile when you add other forces into the mix – such as climate change.

These issues are often outside of government control, especially when many countries are already unstable and corrupt, with large populations trying to scratch a living on low incomes (despite the burgeoning middle classes in emerging economies like the BRICS group).

Dr David Kilcullen, Chief Strategist, Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism, US State Department (2005-06)
Dr David Kilcullen, Chief Strategist, Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism, US State Department (2005-06) Urbanization and the Future of Conflict, 26 September 2013 Flickr cht.hm/1bLm217

So, the world’s mega-city future will probably feature a series of simmering geographic quagmires which render pre-existing national security and foreign policy doctrines quite useless. Some of what governments have learned over the decades will possibly be disregarded as they have to adapt to these new trends.

Being a New Zealander I don’t usually endorse anything which comes out of Australia, except maybe Home and Away or James Boag’s beer (Definitely not Tony Abbot’s Speedo clad aquatic heroics). But Australian David Kilcullen is a mastermind on counter-insurgency and military strategy. He was senior counter-insurgency adviser to General David Petraeus in Iraq, and the NATO security force in Afghanistan. That – along with his writing style – makes this book a very engaging read which illuminates complex subjects and makes them more understandable for people like me. His forecasting of the future is convincing.

This book makes a great companion to George Friedman’s Flashpoints, which also looks at the future of conflict and resource related issues.

Lisbon: War in the Shadows of the City of Light, 1939-45

Cover of LisbonThe great Italian poet Dante Alighieri once said, “the hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in times of great moral crisis, maintain their neutrality”. I generally agree with that sentiment when I look back on history and the lamentable omissions of leaders.

However, I’m reminded from time to time that geopolitical life isn’t always as simple as it seems … especially after reading baffling books like Neill Lochery’s Lisbon: War in the Shadows of the city of Light, 1939-45.

Lisbon covers the history of Portugal during WW2 under the dictator General Salazar, as he navigates the seas of non-alignment – among other seemingly unethical things.
Make no mistake, Salazar was a shrewd economist and politician, but opposed liberalism, democracy, socialism and anarchism (there being a strong anarchist movement in Europe at the time). Basically it was a fascist, authoritarian regime which persecuted lots of people.

But, despite the fascism that Lochery describes, the Salazar regime achieved the seemingly impossible during WW2 – Portugal being one of the few windows of escape from German occupied Europe for tens of thousands of persecuted Jews. Who then made their way to America, South America, England and Palestine.

However, not only was Portugal an avenue for escape for Europe’s Jews, its neutrality meant it was a swirling frenzy of desperate humans, all trying to get theirs in an environment wracked with widespread espionage and a bountiful black market (other war refugees, human trafficking, bribery, commercial dealings). Strangely, despite the authoritarian Portuguese regime with its secret police, laissez-faire Lisbon was a city where foreign operatives could to what they wanted, as long as Portugal’s internal affairs where left alone.

Therefore, Lisbon became a hive of WW2 undercover operations as German, English and American agents attempted to buy people, information and documentation in order to sabotage the other teams interests. One noteworthy individual in the midst of it all was Ian Fleming, who conceived his James Bond stories as a result of his experiences as an agent frequenting bars and gambling in Lisbon (think Casino Royale).

So, with all this carry-on comes intimate stories of individual brilliance and blundering as various agents, politicians, public servants and officials cleverly secured passage for escaping Jews and other scared peoples. The story of actor Leslie Howard’s (Gone With The Wind) death is relayed to us, as he and several other Jewish and English persons of interest are shot down in a plane leaving Lisbon. German counter-intelligence hoping Churchill was in there too. All rather thrilling!

Salazar’s economic dealings were a tightrope walk. He needed to keep his economy afloat, all the while keeping the Allies and Germans happy with critical exports for their own war efforts – export too much and one side gets angry at you, export too little and Hitler might get suspicious and invade you like he did the rest of mainland Europe. The pressure really must have been unbearable at times for Salazar, who was surrounded in Europe by Fascist Spain and Italy in the South, and Fascist Germany controlling much of Europe – any solid evidence of collaborating with the English and Portugal would have been pincered.

The author does well to convey the tension and apprehension of the people on the streets and in political office – as if time was running out to move the tide of refugees and information on to safer shores, before Hitler rumbles into town. In this respect this work reminds me of the film Casablanca. If you like that, then you will like this.

It leaves me a bit perplexed in terms of my own ethical principles, because Salazar was in many ways a tyrant. But that’s the thing I like about this book – it gives you insights into the decision making processes of those in leadership, without whom, many more lives would have been ruined.

Despite developing an appreciation for Salazar’s war time leadership, he was still a fascist. Give me liberal democracy any day.

Oh, and i’ts a beautiful book cover too.

You are free and strong. Go forward and lead on.

You are in front! Behind you are all the women in the world and all the children! Keep moving forward. Do not stop to blame those who are behind. Remember that they are weighted with what remains of all the shackles of all the women of the past; they cannot step forth free. But you are free and strong. Go forward and lead on.

Elizabeth Reid McCombs, née Henderson (1873-1935) [between 1919 and 1925] Mrs McCombs became New Zealand's first woman MP, for the Lyttelton electorate in 1933.
Elizabeth Reid McCombs, née Henderson (1873-1935) [between 1919 and 1925] CCL PhotoCD 6, IMG0028
Mrs McCombs became New Zealand’s first woman MP, for the Lyttelton electorate in 1933.
Stirring words written in July 1914 by Elizabeth McCombs: her article “Women in politics” still has relevance today.

So who was New Zealand’s first woman Member of Parliament?

  • Elizabeth (Bessie) Reid Henderson was born at Kaiapoi on 19 November 1873. She was the eighth of nine children, and despite the death of her father when she was 13, she stayed at school until aged 16.
  • In 1899 she became a committee member of the Progressive Liberal Association, a group that had as one of its aims the removal of barriers to women’s participation in civil and political life.
  •  A prohibitionist, she was the first president of the Young People’s No License League (1902-1905) and was a prominent figure in the New Zealand Women’s Christian Temperance Union
  • In 1903 Elizabeth married draper James McCombs. They had two children, Terence and Alison. They also raised two orphans.
  • When the second NZ Labour Party was formed in 1916, Elizabeth was elected onto the executive and her husband was elected President. He had been elected the M.P for Lyttelton in 1913, and held the seat until his death in 1933
  • She served on the Christchurch City Council from 1921-1934, where she was very active on committees – being appointed to the electricity committee in 1925 and chaired the Electricity Committee in 1929, and 1931-1935. She fought to win ratepayers the lowest domestic electricity rates in the country.
  • From 1925-1934 Elizabeth was also a member of the North Canterbury Hospital Board, and served on the Board’s Benevolent Committee. She worked to improved the quality of meals for nurses and patients, nurses’ working conditions, and the situation of the unemployed – remembering that the Great Depression started in 1929.
  • In 1926 Elizabeth’s name was included in the first group of women to be made Justices of the Peace in New Zealand.
  • 1927  first woman representative on the Christchurch Tramway Board, and in 1933 was elected to the committee managing the mayor’s Relief of Distress Fund
  • Following the death of her husband in 1993, Elizabeth won the Lyttelton by-election with a huge majority – over 50% of the 10,347 votes cast were for her, recognition of her work over the previous ten years.
  • In 1935 she was awarded the King George V Silver Jubilee Medal

During her two year tenure as M.P. , Elizabeth proved herself a skilled and effective orator, advocating for women’s rights – attacking a government unemployment policy that gave little assistance to unemployed women, not even including them in statistics, yet working women paid unemployment tax. She advocated for women police officers, and equal pay for women, as well as for unemployed youth and the need for New Zealand industries to be established so as to reduce unemployment

The huge workload took its toll, and Elizabeth’s health suffered as a result. She died in Christchurch on 7 June 1935.  Her son Terence succeeded to her parliamentary seat. The McCombs Memorial Garden in Woolston Park commemorates the lives of Elizabeth and James McCombs.

  Cover of My Dear Girl: A Biography of Elizabeth McCombs Cover of Marching on  Cover of Whetu Tirikatene-Sullivan  Cover of The Book of New Zealand Women = Ko Kui Ma Te Kaupapa

Further reading

Political systems, 1940s style

Socialism: You have 2 cows. Given one to your neighbour.
Communism: You have two cows. Give both to the Govt. The Govt gives you milk.
Fascism: You have two cows. Give milk to Govt – Govt sells it.
Nazism: Govt shoots you and takes cows
New Dealism: Govt shoots one cow, milks the other & pours milk down the sink.
Capitalism: You sell one cow and buy a bull
Anarchism: Keep cows – shoot Govt. Steal another cow.
???: You have no cow.
Conservatism: Embalm the cows. Freeze the milk.

World War II letters and cards, Howard Kippenberger

Can anyone decode” ???: You have no cow.” Maybe despotism or heroism?

From World War II letters and cards, 1940-1945. The letters are written by Howard Kippenberger (Kip) to Glen and May Morgan.

The evils of inequality

Cover of The spirit level: Why more equal societies almost always do betterThe gap between the rich and the poor has become one of the most topical issues in many countries post GFC (Global Financial Crisis) and post Neo-Liberal economic reforms. More and more people seem to feel that the rich (particularly the super-rich) don’t pay enough tax and have managed to sneakily get away with taking no responsibility for the GFC while the rest of us languish in our lacklustre lifestyles working squillions of hours per week…and all the while paying our fair share to keep society running! Or so the Russell Brand sentiment goes.

So its against this backdrop that The Spirit Level should be read, I guess…

The Spirit Level: Why Equality is Better for Everyone is among a handful of cornerstone works for anyone who is interested in 21st century political and economic thought. I reckon. In fact, I’d almost argue that it is a grand thesis which seeks to give policy advice on how to solve (or markedly reduce) a catalogue of society’s ills through its recommendations and findings.

Inequality = poor outcomes

The key message that authors (and epidemiologists) Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett want to drive home is that the more “unequal” a society is, the more likely that society is to manifest higher degrees of illness, mental illness, drug abuse, widespread poor educational outcomes, obesity, social mobility and cohesion, violence, teen pregnancy, among other societal ills such as rapacious consumerism.

The focus on “inequality” is really on Income Inequality – the income gap between those at the top, middle and bottom. The argument being that countries with larger income gaps experience more societal ills.

International research

Their claims with regard to what drives poor outcomes in terms of societal well-being are backed up by some quite robust research comparing and contrasting various developed countries (and comparing States to States in the USA). Lots of graphs, statistical data etc drawn from reputable organisations such as the United Nations and the World Bank (among many others).

However, not all variables are taken into account which might frustrate some people – claiming rates of obesity are higher in the USA compared to Japan because of the USA’s rough private healthcare system is a bit unfair when you leave out factors such as Japan’s healthy and entrenched culinary traditions, and genetic factors (skinny genes).

More tax…good?

But, it also seems that countries which have higher income taxes and high levels of wealth redistribution (i.e gather large amounts of tax revenue to pay for generous education, welfare, healthcare and maternity leave programmes) are more “equal” than countries which have low taxes and far less social spending – we see less of the aforementioned health and well-being problems if we practice the former!

However, the authors seem more concerned about Income Inequality (even if the average income is quite good but the top income markedly better), not so much tax. But what is outstanding is that pretty much all of the “most equal” countries have really high income tax regimes (Japan, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Norway).

So you are kind of left to draw your own conclusion about which is the most important – income equity or high tax rates, or both?

Sadly, New Zealand and Australia rank really highly in terms of inequality according to the authors, and therefore, this is what drives a variety of problems here and in Oz. Not just “people being lazy” etc.

Don’t be put off the by the academic sounding nature of the book, it’s really well written which makes all the technical sounding stuff really palatable.

Julia Gillard: In Conversation

Last night I attended Julia Gillard in Conversation, a WORD Christchurch event, in a packed Charles Luney auditorium, St Margaret’s College. The conversation between the former Australian Prime Minister and Press editor Joanna Norris was based on Gillard’s book, My Story. The talk was very insightful – not only about the difficulties of being a politician, but also about being a woman in politics.

Cover of My story by Julia GillardFrom the perspective of a male attending this session, I found the feminist conversation very interesting. Today’s different feminist perspectives illustrate how far society has moved forward since the 1960s and how the feminist ideology has also changed.

Over her life, Gillard has developed her own independent values which she openly shares and is very willing to debate. When her family settled in Adelaide, Gillard acknowledged that she was “lucky” her parents chose a house in a good suburb that was in a good school zone. From here she flourished and developed ideals such as compassion.

Gillard places great importance on a supportive family, including her sheltered upbringing, a good education, and having a lot of passion. What struck a chord with me was Gillard’s support for gender, socio-economic and ethnic equality. She encourages people to follow their dreams in their chosen field and hopes more females will continue to enter a career in politics.

Gillard shared that she, Prime Minister John Key and United States President, Barack Obama, all share the same birth year of 1961. Growing up in this time and the resulting decades saw Gillard develop a sense of standing up for what she believed in and also accepting differences (true democratic rights). The time a person enters parliament clearly influences the success of their political career. Gillard stated some of the greatest politicians never hold cabinet positions because they are on the wrong side of the benches.

Cover of The Stalking of Julia GillardGillard is a hard worker, who has continued to achieve. She laughed at the fact she even had her book to the publisher on time. This illustrates her strong work ethic. She stressed the value of preserving a ‘cone of silence’ (while in politics) to plan for the future and to ensure you spend time with family. She acknowledged this was not easy when there is so much to deal with and so many different ways of being immediately contacted – mobile phone, pager, email etc.

A sense of humour is a must. Gillard highlighted the importance of having to make light of news stories particularly those that are corrosive in nature. Gillard shared a story of her father who questioned whether the media would have enquired about his own sexuality, as he was a barber, in the same way that they did that of her partner’s, Tim, who is a hairdresser. Disappointingly, the media continue to misreport her to this day, most recently at Gough Whitlam’s funeral.

Overall this was an enjoyable event with a very good local turnout. I believe history will look back favourably at Gillard and her work to ensure a more equal society for all.

The Next Decade in International Relations with George Friedman

Cover of The Next DecadeWhen you see a book titled The Next Decade, it’s hard not to be drawn to it. Such a title appeals to that human desire to know the future, and as the title implies, that’s what this book is about.

But while sounding somewhat prophetic, it’s not – it is “forecasting”, or more specifically “geopolitical” or “strategic forecasting” which is the subject of this book. Dr George Friedman – a geopolitical analyst, International Relations expert and Chairman of the think tank Stratfor.

This book discusses what will take place over the next decade throughout various regions of the world. It is a commentary on economics, resource-related conflict, terrorism, historical tensions, power struggles, and armed conflict – which are usually tied together within various geographical or regional theatres. It’s an attempt to predict, through a series of highly-educated guesses:

  • who will attack who,
  • who will form alliances,
  • who needs what resources,
  • who is reliant on who
  • and who has the most power.

The “who” mostly being countries, while giving some treatment to “non-state actors” such as terrorists.

This book is highly America-centric. It views issues through the lens of American geopolitical concern and primarily deals with what the USA will have to do to maintain its military and political ascendancy as a globally far reaching “unintended empire”.

Further to this, Friedman puts a blatant Machiavellian spin on it and advises that American foreign policy must employ cunning economic and military tactics: who to side with, who not to, regional balances of power, which regions to invest in, which ones to stay out of (for example, the USA should strengthen Poland so as to create a buffer between Europe and Russia). Additionally, the USA should continue to engage Australia and ensure a stronger partnership so as to counter-balance Asian and South East Asian regional influence.

Interestingly, Dr Friedman suggests the White House should also get friendlier with Iran – because they are the primary regional power in the Middle East.

What Friedman really understands is also what makes this book so compelling:

  • that world politics is still essentially about “who gets what, when and how”
  • that natural resources empower countries. Europe has to pander to Russia as it is reliant on Russian oil and gas.
  • Geographic conditions can undermine regional economic and political domination – the small and volatile 300 mile gap between Kazakhstan and Ukraine is the channel through which Russian oil and political influence flows through to the Caucasus. If this gap is compromised, Russia’s influence in the region will be too. Should America fuel such a compromise?

This is a good introduction to strategic geopolitics for anyone not really familiar with international relations and global politics, and it indirectly teaches you how to think like an analyst. It also provides a good read for those familiar with the subjects of war, history, economics, international relations, and resource-related conflict. It’s a timely read, especially as Europe is contending with a seriously unstable Africa and North Africa, Middle East and Eastern Europe – all right on its doorstep(s).

I was going to say that “the times they are a changing”, but actually, they are not, the fundamentals of geopolitics haven’t really changed. The book probably sounds like a yawn created for political/war geeks, but it may provide compelling reading for all sorts of people. Have a read. It’s enlightening.

Julia Gillard in person – and in Christchurch

Cover of My StoryI am pretty excited about Thursday night (20 November) – am off to listen to ex-Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard.
She will discuss her life and politics with Joanna Norris, editor of The Press. It is fair to say she had a tumultuous time of it – not only “robust” political battling, but also confronting some shocking misogyny.

You can also get a copy of her book My Story and get Julia Gillard to sign it – a fine gift for the politico in your life.

This WORD Christchurch event is selling like proverbial hot cakes – so book now. She will be smart and frank, as per this quote:

“If you think you’d like to see yourself in the media, you’d like to be a celebrity, you know, try out for Big Brother – politics is not for you. You should only do it if you really know why you’re doing it.

“Will it end in tears? Yes, absolutely. The day after I finished being prime minister, starting to pack up my office, I took a call from Paul Keating who said to me, ‘We all get taken out in a box, love. Sorry, sorry to hear about you. We all get taken out in a box, love.’ And never a truer word spoken.”

More about Julia Gillard:

Election selection made easy (er)

Vote now - advance voting at your librariesThis weekend New Zealanders cast their votes in the country’s 51st General Election. The media and the internet are chocka with the personalities, policies, plots, subplots, secrets, lies, dirty laundry and general haranguing that will influence us one way or another on Saturday 20 September. How is it possible make a decision amidst all this fracas?

Well, like everything else these days, there is an online tool designed to help you out. Vote Compass asks your opinion of various issues, gets you to rate politicians and then compiles your answers in a nice, colourful chart. Although this is a poll, it’s still an interesting way to find out what you’re thinking. The only problem for me is that the survey shows I am 65% compatible with one party and 64% compatible with another and, as these were the parties I was thinking of voting for anyway, it hasn’t helped me one iota.

The King's Curse at Christchurch City LibrariesAlternatively, libraries are a politically neutral place to search for accurate information. Online or in the library, you’ll find everything you need to know about the political scene in New Zealand. There is a full set of electoral rolls available to view and you can do advanced voting at nine branches of Christchurch City Libraries.

I am currently reading Philippa Gregory‘s excellent Cousin’s War series and, as I plunge nightly into the terrifying quagmire that was life under the reign one history’s most tyrannical despots, I’m reminded how hard won the right to vote is and what a privilege it is to live in a stable democracy in 2014. It’s totally worth doing some homework and making a sound decision.