Gordon Campbell on Labour’s mandatory Kiwisaver plan, and the self-defeating nature of ISIS rule

Labour’s compulsory Kiwisaver plan is its latest love letter to Winston Peters. First came the empty railing against immigration, now the idea of compulsory savings for everyone except those on very low incomes. Back in 1997, New Zealand First inspired a postal referendum on the issue of compulsory retirement savings, and only 8.2% of votes cast supported the idea. So far, Labour leader David Cunliffe had advanced the same supportive argument as Peters put forward in the 1990s: namely, that compulsion would boost national savings. There is little evidence that it would do so.

One reason being, almost all workers who can afford to pay into Kiwisaver are already doing so:

Independent actuary Jonathan Eriksen said most of those who want to be in KiwiSaver have already joined and there was no need to change the current voluntary scheme. “We’ve got over 2 million people already in. It’s probably only those people who can’t afford to be in or who don’t want to join for some non-financial reason that are left out.”

All of which suggests that Labour is putting forward this policy for cosmetic reasons, to render itself more attractive to Peters in post-election negotiations. At this stage of the election campaign, Labour should be putting forward policies to attract the 91% who opposed compulsory savings the last time they got a chance to vote on it. Certainly, those within Labour’s ranks who elected David Cunliffe as Labour leader did not do so because they wanted him to become a pale carbon copy of Winston Peters. They thought he would resolutely pursue policies in line with Labour’s traditional support for the working class. No such luck.

So far this year, there has been little sign of that brand of “left” policy – apart from the bungled release of the early childhood education package. More often, Labour has been taking the easy, delusionary path of trying to get Peters on board with the centre-left. All along, that route to power has been wishful thinking. If Labour had accepted this from the outset its leadership might have seen that the only realistic option was to become a genuine “left” party and offer a strong alternative to business as usual. Too late for that now.

This morning on RNZ, the coverage of events in Iraq indicated that (a) the Sunni fighters of ISIS were being greeted with enthusiastic support by the Sunni population and that (b) that the country might soon descend into a Sunni vs Shia civil war.

Well, and as for (b) Iraq went there before in the mid 2000s, and a de facto state of hostility has existed between Sunni and Shia populations ever since. Hard to see what the hapless President Nouri al-Maliki can do to credibly reach across the sectarian divide at this late stage. That time may come in future, though. Because if events in northern Syria are anything to go by, the largely Sunni population is heading out of the frying pan into the fire with the advent of ISIS rule. In Syria, the ISIS fighters have shown absolutely no interest in administering the territories they seize and in providing even the most basic services, such as water and electricity. (Air strikes would deter ISIS from doing so, even if it cared enough to try.) Just as importantly, the harsh version of sharia law that ISIS will impose is totally foreign to Sunni community life in Iraq.

For that reason, ISIS can only be a temporary, entirely destructive phenomenon, and – even if it sweeps away the al-Maliki government – it cannot alter the demographic and political reality that Shia comprise two thirds of the population, and their aspirations cannot be penned up again in the poorly-resourced south of the country. To repeat: Sunni will quickly come to reject ISIS, once they taste what life is like under their twisted version of Wahhabi Islam. For now, the interesting thing is whether the Kurds in their northern enclave come to decide that attack masy be their best form of defence. The logic being: if ISIS triumphs, the fanatics will eventually turn on the Kurds as well and destroy their shrines, so the peshmerga may as well strike now and force ISIS into fighting on two fronts.

Voices alone
There’s something deeply, touchingly human about voices singing alone. Both of these sublime examples of a capella singing were recorded by the folklorists John and Alan Lomax. Lillie Knox’s lovely “I’m Troubled About My Soul” was recorded in South Carolina in 1937. The other track I’ve chosen is a 1942 recording of a Creek Indian lullaby by a young Creek singer called Margaret. A decade ago, the track cropped up over the closing credits to an episode of the Deadwood TV series. Both of the versions readily available on Youtube have been poorly recorded, with lots of extraneous noise. So I’ve chosen the only alternative that offers the song as originally recorded: trouble is, you have to start at 4.13 in this dual recording, put together from a Library of Congress album. It is well worth the effort. The song is as magically light as air. The lyric BTW, goes like this in translation:

Baby, sleep, sleep, sleep. Father has gone to find turtle shells. He said he will return tomorrow. Baby, sleep, sleep, sleep.