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Sane Americans Wanted

Posted by Iain on Jan. 27, 2017, 2:33 p.m. in USA

What have you done, America?

Earlier this week, President Trump (still rings weirdly in my head) announced he’s building his wall.

The Foreign Ministry in China have made their strongest statement yet regarding their territorial claims over the South China Sea - and warned the US in no uncertain terms to be very careful what they now say and do.

Trump announced overnight he wants a 35% import duty on all goods (except it seems from Mexico). While that would be illegal under current international agreements and would obviously harm US workers, he is still tweeting about it and seems quite serious.

In the past 24 hours he has said he wants to bring back so called ‘black prisons’ for holding and interrogating ‘terrorists’ (and I suspect journalists will soon be reclassified as such) outside of the US. Even though under US law, torture is illegal.

In the past few minutes he announced he wants a 20% import duty on all imports from Mexico to pay for his new building project. The Mexican President abruptly cancelled the planned meeting scheduled with Trump and reiterated Mexico won’t be paying for any wall.

I was reading reports out of Mexico this week in which the Government is now suggesting they may as well withdraw from the North America Free Trade Agreement. That could simply be pre-whatever-comes-next on NAFTA posturing, but equally it might make more sense for the Mexican Government to withdraw.

Steve Bannon, one of Trump's senior advisers, has this morning called the media ‘the political opposition’. Clearly in Trump's America a free press is a threat and needs to be bullied and muzzled. Good luck with that, Trumpie.

Setting aside NAFTA, the WTO and all the free(ish) trade agreements the US is a party to, is this lunatic seriously going to wall off America economically and - at least along one border -physically? 

It’s one thing to say stuff to be elected, but, surely thinking Americans and lawmakers realise that the only chance of shared global peace and prosperity is achieved through freer trade; not building walls. Through ripping down walls of whatever variety and not through putting them up?

I have long questioned whether New Zealand has benefited through our own free trade agreements. If you look at our trade with China since we signed it, our bi-lateral trade has gone through the roof. And it has clearly benefited both peoples. If you look at our trade with Australia it too has gone through the roof with fewer barriers. Ditto with Singapore. The list goes on. Our economy has grown significantly in recent years in large part through these new trading opportunities in products and services.

I appreciate some people have been left behind I suspect in all the countries that have signed up to freer trade policies. It has happened here in NZ and in the US as well. The solution I believe lies not in retreating behind economic walls and having less free trade, but Governments everywhere preparing people through education and skills training to adapt to the new trading environments and having appropriate safety nets in place for any transition through rapidly evolving economies and technologies. In the US, like New Zealand, unemployment is actually very low. We (and they) have skills shortages. Unemployment in both countries is around 4.5%. It just doesn’t get a whole lot better than that.

Imposing tariffs and import duties isn’t going to bring back jobs that have been destroyed largely through automation or which can be made much cheaper elsewhere. It is only going to drive up living costs for many who can least afford it. The same people who, it seems, voted for Trump.

When NZ operated such a policy through the 60s and 70s it almost sent us broke. Been there, done that, witnessed the outcomes and dumped the plan. Does not work.

I appreciate in the US some of the jobs being created are part time but real wages have started growing there after the GFC put a brake on that for a number of years.

In the end I want to believe that what Trump inflicts upon this citizenry is their problem (they voted for him - well, not the popular vote of course) but his 140 character statements and their impacts on other countries like mine is really starting to trouble me.

And it seems, many Americans. 

Only this week the New York Times reported that Peter Thiel (founder of PayPal and early investor in Facebook) had taken out NZ citizenship. He has held residence here for many years.

This followed on from another article earlier in the week locally and in the US about New Zealand being the new ‘utopia’ for the wealthy looking previously for a bolthole to escape an uncertain world, and more recently, Trump. 

In what Trump would likely call ‘fake news’ (possibly and rarely making a valid point) and to offer an ‘alternative fact’, the reality is Thiel took his citizenship out here a few years ago. He is an adviser to Trump so he isn’t (publicly anyway) fleeing Trump - he is actually working with him (for how long one can only wonder because Thiel strikes me as an otherwise intelligent man). 

The fact remains he is a huge fan of New Zealand, a country he has invested millions in through local IT start ups among other investments. I am pleased he was granted citizenship. Most migrants contribute far less than this guy to our economy.

He is creating jobs here and much of that product is being ‘shipped’ to the US (as a service). I wonder where he sits on Trump wanting a 35% import duty on all those software type products he is working so hard to create?

And therein lies the dilemma for so many American businesses now. 

Some will likely believe that Trump will force Congress and the Senate to push this stuff through, or, he is indeed a complete fraud who will, when push comes to shove, look his supporters in the rust belt eye and say;

‘Well, you are tremendous people, tremendous people, and I love you all, I love you all. America is a great country. I will make America great but I am the head of the Government, not the Government, at least for now. I make deals, good deals, terrific deals, the best deals, and that free trade deal with Mexico was the worst deal ever. In the history of deals, the worst ever. In making deals you cannot get everything you want. I wanted a 35% tariff on all imported goods because I love the American people. In making deals you have to compromise. I don’t like compromising because I win at everything I do. Maybe I’ll get water boarding and worse back, don’t know. I will however make America great again. But there won’t be a 35% import duty. We will build a wall and we will kick those illegals out one criminal at a t time. And we will stop ISIL..."

What happens after that, I am not sure.

In the meantime any Americans with a sense of what is just plain right in a globalised world: skills, an entrepreneurial bent or just some get up and go who feel like living in an economically stable, politically pretty dull, first world, concnected economy where we don’t much like walls; you have my number.

Until next week...

Iain MacLeod

Southern man

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Did you see what I just saw?

Posted by Iain on Nov. 10, 2016, 2:55 p.m. in USA

My sister sent me a text message last night as Donald Trump closed in on winning the US Presidency asking me if I had a ladder and a water blaster. I thought she was being funny and it had something to do with NZ now needing to build its own wall around New Zealand following the US election. She’d need something akin to a water cannon to fight off the hordes of dispirited American refugees that will now flee the US for saner societies.

Apparently not – she wanted it to clean her driveway.

But seriously America. Trump? The best you could do?

I always thought the US was...how do I put this politely, a bit whacky to be sure, but never certifiable. Now I am not so sure.

Maybe  Americans, many who have never left their State let alone the Union, see something about their lives and prospects the rest of the world doesn’t? Is it really in such decline? Is life really that bad?

I’d suggest they get out a bit more. It ain’t all roses on our side of the soon to be built wall either. 

Watching the events unfold and wondering how it could have happened I thought about a conversation I had just a few weeks ago with my own father. A case of perception becoming reality.

Catching up over a meal he lamented the fact that back in the 1970s in Auckland if you couldn’t find your car keys in your (unlocked) house you just looked in the (unlocked) car because they were probably still in the ignition, left there from when you got home. In ‘those days’ you could get away with such things. But no longer...apparently.

I was puzzled by his fearfulness and belief New Zealand had got more crime ridden so asked him when it comes to violent crime would he statistically be more likely or less likely to be murdered in 1970s New Zealand or in 2016?

‘Oh, now, without a doubt’ came his reply. 

‘Really?’ I questioned with a raised eyebrow. ‘How many people are murdered in NZ each of the past few years?”

‘Around 200 a year’ was his confident reply.

The actual number is around 34 in an average year and 40 in a ‘bad’ one. Out of a population of 4.6 million.

‘Rubbish’ he shot back.

‘Well’ I informed him, ‘That’s the official police record and given we measure and record everything that breathes (and then doesn’t), that’s the official statistic. That’s how many people were convicted of murder in 2014’.

Given the population of New Zealand has almost doubled in the past 40 years it is a statistical fact that you are indeed less likely to be murdered today than back in the perceived ‘dreamy safe time’ of 1970s New Zealand.

I suggested he watch a bit less of the nightly news, read a few less newspapers, stop listening to fear mongering politicians and start leaving his car keys in the ignition again.

Why is everyone suddenly so afraid of everything, that politicians promising ‘safer streets,’ being the ‘law and order’ candidate and advocating a retreat into some modern walled villages are sweeping the polls everywhere?

When did we all start becoming so afraid?

I don’t blame the media but it plays its role. Mainstream media now vies with social media for attention – both feed us a constant diet of garbage at ever increasing rates. Many people don’t know any more (or are too dumb to work it out) where the truth ends and falsehoods begin. Technology has given every idiot with an opinion a platform.

Politicians like Trump, and he is far from alone, fuel the fear. ‘I’ll make you safe once again. I’ll build a wall and make the Mexicans pay for it.’ Or what Donald? 

But are any of us, Americans included, really that unsafe in the first place?

Before any American readers cite ‘terrorists’ and ‘9/11’ you are far more likely to be shot by your neighbour you used to share a Budweiser and BBQ ribs with in America than be killed by a ‘terrorist’. And if you live in certain countries you are far more likely to be killed by an American you never did anything to.

In fact you are more likely to be killed by your toaster than a terrorist. Even in America. Toasters kill more people every year than sharks but you don’t approach your toaster with much trepidation in the morning I’ll wager.

Politicians trade on fear – fear of tomorrow, fear of your different looking neighbour. Fear of outsiders. Fear of change. Fear of your shadow if they could get away with it.

They all like to hark back to some previous dream time and promise they will bring it all back.

If I have learned nothing else in all these years of helping thousands of people from many different countries and backgrounds make New Zealand their new home, it is that at heart we are all basically the same. Cut any of us and irrespective of our skin colour, religion, sexuality, income and beliefs, we all bleed red blood. And in the end we all want the same things – peace and political stability, education for our children, affordable health and a degree of prosperity.

What so concerns me about the immediate future is what we have just seen in the US is a triumph of an irrational fear about a changing country and world over common sense and reality. Is a Mexican immigrant really more likely to rape you than a non-immigrant? Are all Muslims really going to threaten your way of life? 

We are, whether all Americans appreciate it or not, living in an era of global prosperity few people could have imagined even as recently as the 1970s. Hundreds of millions of people all over the world have been lifted out of poverty owing to technological and medical advances and international agreements between nations to free up and promote trade. I’d suggest none more so than Americans.

Of course there have been losers and yes some have been left behind. It has been no different in New Zealand. We have one of the most deregulated economies in the world and we have had to adapt. 

Our unemployment rate is today at 4.9% and almost as low as it has ever been. Our economy is export focused. We have diversified. We have a stronger economy and a more cohesive society to boot.

Yet here, like the US, every day is a struggle for many but has it ever been any different?

Voting for a giant collective leap backwards as around half the good folk of the US have just done won’t lead to their economic salvation. I suspect for many their futures have in fact just become more bleak through succumbing to a misguided fear peddled by someone you probably wouldn’t want at your dinner table, let alone to lead your country.

In New Zealand we continue overwhelmingly (but not totally, nowhere is perfect) to respect one another irrespective of differences in religion, race, gender or nationality and those that migrate here quickly recognise this has made us stronger, not weaker. We accept part of that is accepting and preparing for change and embracing it. The trick, politically, is not to leave too many behind.

It’ll be interesting to see now if the President Elect can deliver the return to the dream time for those that think he can wind back the clock.

I hope our own politicians reject this emerging world view of re-building walls. 

In the meantime our door is open to all Americans of every background looking for somewhere where decency and respect for one another still dominates and living in fear is not only unnecessary, but clearly understood to be counterproductive to all.

Until next week

Southern Man

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