Gordon Campbell on the Greens carbon tax, setbacks in Syria and Arcade Fire’s gender politics

A footnote to begin with, to do with the big story about the carbon tax policy unveiled on the weekend by the Greens. If you want to know where the Greens got the idea…it was almost certainly from the province of British Columbia in Canada, that enacted such a policy in 2008. Here’s how it’s working now. Pretty darn well, apparently. I claim no reflected glory from the fact that the right-wing Canadian politician who enacted the carbon tax trade-off was called Gordon Campbell, the Premier of British Columbia at the time. Presumably, our Greens will be amused about earning generous rounds of applause from the gallery commentariat for adopting a policy that Gordon Campbell had in turn borrowed from Arnold Schwarzenegger, back when he was the environment-friendly Governor of California. The carbon tax idea got passed into law by the Campbell administration at a terrible time for new taxes, on the brink of the GFC; yet Campbell struck to his guns in the face of initially fierce opposition from the left, who preferred to persevere with the Emissions Trading Scheme. (Just as Labour is doing here right now.) That left wing critique melted away as the carbon tax trade-off went on to win almost universal support from the BC electorate.

BC’s center-right Liberal Party, which introduced the policy, wasn’t exactly known at the time for its strong environmental track record. However, then-Liberal Premier Gordon Campbell was apparently much influenced by the business-friendly environmentalism of California’s then-governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger. The Liberals were also very friendly with economists, 70 of whom came out in 2007 with a letter calling for a “revenue-neutral carbon tax.” (For a very helpful in-depth history of the BC tax, see here.)

Environmentalists and the business community also chimed in with support, and sure enough, in February 2008, BC Finance Minister Carole Taylor formally introduced the tax.

Unlike the Greens’ version here – which kicks in at $25 a tonne on day one, with exemptions for dairy and forestry – the BC version was designed to be introduced in more incremental steps.

It would be set at an initial low rate of $10 per metric ton of CO2 equivalent emissions, and scheduled to increase $5 per year until it reached $30 per metric ton (which it did on July 1, 2012). The revenue would go straight back to taxpayers, and all BC residents would get a one-time payment of $100—dubbed a “Climate Action Dividend“—when the policy first launched. There is also a “Climate Action Tax Credit” from the carbon tax, paid to low income persons or families, who currently receive $115.50 for each parent and $34.50 per child annually.

Legislative passage was more or less assured, because the Liberals controlled the provincial government. But shortly after it kicked in, opposition ramped up. After all, the tax took effect in July 2008, just prior to the worst part of the economic collapse. The recession greatly dampened support for climate action, strengthening political claims that reining in emissions would further damage an already deeply wounded economy. Rather surprisingly, BC’s left-of-center New Democratic Party, known for championing environmental causes, seized the moment to campaign against the tax, calling instead for a cap-and-trade policy and using the slogan “Axe the Tax.” Premier Campbell, though, stood strongly in favor of his party’s creation, reportedly insisting, according to the Vancouver Sun, that “if they wanted to get rid of the tax they would have to get rid of him.”

Currently, National is depicting the carbon tax trade-off as being another one of those crazy Greens ideas. You know…like Greens co-leader Russel Norman’s earlier ideas about a version of quantitative easing – back when a form of QE was the mainstream response of the Obama administration and most of Europe to the GFC. Those crazy Americans. Those crazy Europeans. Deep down, the Nats must be kicking themselves for not thinking of the carbon tax trade-off package themselves.

Back to last week for a moment. On NZ yesterday, former Labour Party president Mike Williams pointed out that the Maori Party might tell its supporters in Te Tai Tokerau to vote for Labour candidate Kelvin Davis, and thereby bring about the demise of Hone Harawira – and with him the entire Internet Mana enterprise, nationwide.

That’s easier said than done. Tactical voting will definitely play a role in Te Tai Tokerau, but the Maori Party would struggle to get away with the sort of gambit outlined by Williams, even if it wanted to pursue it. The party’s candidate in Te Tai Tokerau is a young Anglican clergyman called Te Hira Paenga. Reportedly, he is the stepson of Pita Sharples.

A ‘tactical voting’ message from the Maori Party HQ for its people to ignore Paenga and support Davis would be fraught with repercussions if it could be traced back home. Could the Maori Party credibly urge support for Labour in this electorate, while everywhere else it would be singing the praises of its relationship with National? Any such strategising would be seen for what it would be: a petty exercise in utu against Harawira. No doubt, the Maori Party would love to see Harawira fail and take down the whole Internet Mana enterprise with him. Yet getting caught with its own hands dirty could boomerang badly on it. The Maori Party may have to rely on its friends in National for this purpose, too.

The parts of Syria still under the control of the Assad regime went to the polls yesterday to rubberstamp another seven year term for President Bashir al-Assad. A an election farce, it looks remarkably similar to the sham in Egypt a week ago, right down to the extensions of the voting period to boost the voter turnout. Meanwhile, the secular forces among the anti-Assad rebels supported by the West continue to lose ground to the jihadists who are – if anything – even worse than Assad. Killing a 102 year old man and his family seems only par for the course.

Here’s another good example – in microcosm – of the problem. In Werewolf a couple of months ago, a visiting Israel journalist called Ehud Ya’ari painted a rosy picture of a relatively healthy situation in the southern provinces of Syria. Acccording to Ya’ari, a network of local rebel militia in the south – aided by Israel and Jordan – were taking the fight to the government forces. In the process, they were also allegedly keeping at bay the jihadi groups – such as Jabhat al-Nusra – that had been wreaking havoc in the north of the country. In similar vein, the Wall St Journal got pretty excited in February, when it reported that an influx of sophisticated new weaponry was finally getting underway on a southern front that was allegedly being united under the secular leadership of a wealthy businessman called Bashar al-Zoubi, who had made his fortune in the tourism industry.

Well, so much for that mirage. A report a couple of days ago from southern Syria has made it pretty clear that Jabhat al-Nusra is on the rise in the south as well – and with the tacit help of one of the West’s “secular” rebel allies, who seemed more than happy to turn over one of his rivals to the tender mercies of al-Nusra. This opportunist seems to have colluded with the jihadists in (a) discrediting and then (b) capturing Colonel Ahmed Nehmeh, one of the main champions of Western/Israeli/Jordanian interests in the south. Uh oh. The quisling appears to be none other than Bashar Zaubi (al-Zoubi?) that same Syrian gentleman touted approvingly by the Wall St Journal, with the background in the tourism industry:

Bashar Zaubi, a former travel agent turned commander of the rebel Yarmouk Brigade, and Col Nehmeh were the key protagonists in the affair…Mr Zaubi’s men, backed, it has now become clear, by Jabhat Al Nusra, were the main assault force and it was they who were ordered to leave the fight [for the key town of Khirbet Ghazaleh] after Col Nehmeh arrived at the 11th hour, supposedly delivering a consignment of weapons, which never actually materialised, and to claim a victory that never happened. The involvement of Jabhat Al Nusra was kept quiet at the time by rebels keen to stress their moderate credentials…

You bet. Apparently, Nehmeh had made the fatal mistake of announcing his intention of using the WSJ –cited consignment of new and sophisticated weapons from Saudi and CIA sources to attack Jabhat al-Nusra. This was entirely in line with the aims and intentions of the West’s secretive Military Operations Command (MOC) headquarters based in Amman, Jordan:

Nehmeh was going to go after Nusra, he was setting up a group to kill Nusra off in the south, that was the project and information about that was leaked by one of the people in the meeting, so Nusra decided the time had come to act,” the FSA source said. If the account is true, Col Nehmeh was surely backed by powerful allies, likely foreign intelligence. Western and Arab states have watched Al Nusra’s growth in the south with alarm and have been seeking to weaken the Al Qaeda faction…

Another dynamic playing out in the Nehmeh affair, according to senior rebel commanders, is the hostility between Jordanian intelligence and the exiled radical Jordanian Islamists who command Al Nusra in southern Syria. “Nehmeh was seen as Jordan’s man and the Jordanian emirs in Al Nusra wanted to defy Jordanian intelligence so they got to him,” said another FSA commander familiar with the situation. “It was a way of Nusra flexing its muscle and embarrassing the Jordanians and the MOC….They are saying, ‘inside Syria, we are the real power, not you’.”

Nehmeh has already been executed, according to some reports. If that’s true, another leader in the secular Free Syrian Army on which the West has been pinning its Syrian hopes has gone under. After apparently being betrayed to the jihadis by one of the guys we thought was totally on our side.

Art, Politics & Arcade Fire
This is so last week…but talking of backlash, Arcade Fire’s recent “We Exist” track has copped a lot of criticism, much of it merited. The video seemed spectacularly wrong-headed. You release a song called “We Exist” – presumably to engender support/sympathy/understanding for transgender people. Then you ‘portray’ said group by rendering them invisible – by hiring a celebrity cisgender actor (Andrew Garfield of Spiderman fame, and consort of Emma Stone) to dress up as a transgender woman who gets beaten up at a redneck bar. What were they thinking? Reportedly, Arcade Fire’s rationale went like this:

Arcade Fire singer Win Butler wrote ‘We Exist’ after meeting gay people in Jamaica who felt it necessary to hide their sexuality. He defended the video, telling The Advocate: “For a gay kid in Jamaica seeing Spider-Man in that role is pretty damn powerful.”

In the same link, Laura Jane Grace rejected Butler’s defence:

In a series of tweets, which she has since deleted, Grace wrote: “The implication that a homeless Jamaican LGBT youth living in a sewer is going to feel empowerd because a cis, straight white male actor from movies they can’t afford to see is in a music video they’ll never watch? That’s so wtf?”

Right. Interestingly, Grace has since rethought some of her initial criticism, and her rationale for her partial change of heart is worth reading in full. The same article also raises the crucial point as to what the gender identity of the character called “Sandy” played by Garfield in the video is actually supposed to be:

It’s not absolutely clear in the video whether Sandy is indeed a trans woman. And that led to contradictory headlines reporting Garfield was merely dressed in drag, while others claimed he played a trans woman. When Grace sees Sandy on-screen, she still sees a trans woman.

“My personal take on the transformation that happens over the course of the video is that Garfield’s character is struggling with identity, and then after getting their head kicked in at the redneck bar, emerges like a butterfly at Coachella, fully realized,” says Grace. But she is open to [other] interpretation(s). “If it’s a person just struggling with gender identity, that’s totally valid. Everyone in Arcade Fire has a gender identity, and I’m sure they’ve explored it just like anyone else.”

Which still leaves the problem…. of presenting getting your head kicked in by rednecks as being a viable pathway to a stronger gender identity. FYI, here’s the video that triggered the whole ruckus.