Gordon Campbell on NZ as an escape hatch for US survivalists

Nice to see that former Internal Affairs Minister Nathan Guy has regained his memory about signing off on Peter Thiel’s bid for citizenship. According to Guy, Thiel has been “a fantastic ambassador and salesperson” for this country.

Really? That’s not the conclusion most people would draw from reading the coverage this week of the Thiel citizenship scandal in prestigious, high circulation US magazines such as Vanity Fair and the New Yorker. According to these accounts, New Zealand has become a kind of Fantasy Island escape hatch for ultra-wealthy US survivalists seeking a backup option when things turn to custard under the President Trump that they helped to propel into the White House. Here, for instance, is what Vanity Fair said about New Zealand in its coverage of the Thiel story:

In the event of the apocalypse, New Zealand seems to be a popular getaway location for the 1 percent, as The New Yorker’s Evan Osnos recently reported in his survey of the doomsday anxiety sweeping Silicon Valley. “What’s the percentage chance that Trump is actually a fascist dictator? Maybe it’s low, but the expected value of having an escape hatch is pretty high,” tech investor Justin Kan told Osnos. “Saying you’re ‘buying a house in New Zealand’ is kind of a wink, wink, say no more,” said LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman.

Do Nathan Guy, Bill English and Co really expect us to applaud their willingness to expedite this somewhat sick process ? Is this image of New Zealand – as a fallout shelter for ultra-rich Americans fleeing from their own President – really worth offering the gift of citizenship on a plate? Especially when, as a direct side effect, this then enables the same people – many of whom, like Thiel, do not actually live here – to use their citizenship to bypass the Overseas Investment Office and buy up prime New Zealand rural land hand over fist ?

Frankly, the fact that Thiel bought a bundle of Xero shares and donated a million dollars to the Christchurch Earthquake Trust isn’t something to which we should be genuflecting, as Nathan Guy seems to be advocating. Not when it has meant that Thiel can then buy up lakeside property in Wanaka and then return home to Silicon Valley to preach to his fellow billionaires about the laissez-faire residency and taxation rules that exist in this country, such that they too, will come here to buy their way into citizenship buy up more of our prime heritage land.

That’s exactly what is happening. In the New Yorker investigation by Evan Osnos, New Zealand crops up again and again as the fallout shelter of choice for Americans seeking a viable Plan B, far away from the dirty bomb/climate change dystopias that their own neo-liberal theories have helped to bring about. Here’s Osnos:

How many wealthy Americans are really making preparations for a catastrophe? It’s hard to know exactly; a lot of people don’t like to talk about it. (“Anonymity is priceless,” one hedge-fund manager told me, declining an interview.) Sometimes the topic emerges in unexpected ways. Reid Hoffman, the co-founder of LinkedIn and a prominent investor, recalls telling a friend that he was thinking of visiting New Zealand. “Oh, are you going to get apocalypse insurance?” the friend asked. “I’m, like, huh?” Hoffman told me. New Zealand, he discovered, is a favored refuge in the event of a cataclysm.

So Thiel is not the only example of a trend that has pre-dated the advent of Trump. Pre-Trump, the rise in income inequality has also been a driver of our intake of billionaire refugees. Robert A Johnson of the hedge fund Soros Fund Management is also quoted in the New Yorker article :

By January, 2015, Johnson was sounding the alarm: the tensions produced by acute income inequality were becoming so pronounced that some of the world’s wealthiest people were taking steps to protect themselves. At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Johnson told the audience, “I know hedge-fund managers all over the world who are buying airstrips and farms in places like New Zealand because they think they need a getaway.”

Johnson wishes that the wealthy would adopt a greater “spirit of stewardship,” an openness to policy change that could include, for instance, a more aggressive tax on inheritance. “Twenty-five hedge-fund managers make more money than all of the kindergarten teachers in America combined,” he said. “Being one of those twenty-five doesn’t feel good….”

Reportedly, 13,401 Americans registered with New Zealand’s immigration authorities in the first week after Trump’s election. One hedge fund manager cited in the New Yorker article added this:

New Zealand’s reputation for attracting doomsayers is so well known in the hedge-fund manager’s circle that he prefers to differentiate himself from earlier arrivals. He said, “This is no longer about a handful of freaks worried about the world ending.” He laughed, and added, “Unless I’m one of those freaks.”

In fact, the influx had begun well before Trump’s victory. In the first ten months of 2016, foreigners bought nearly fourteen hundred square miles of land in New Zealand, more than quadruple what they bought in the same period the previous year, according to the [NZ] government. American buyers were second only to Australians….Much as Switzerland once drew Americans with the promise of secrecy, and Uruguay tempted them with private banks, New Zealand offers security and distance. In the past six years, nearly a thousand foreigners have acquired residency there under programs that mandate certain types of investment of at least a million dollars.

So that’s what our current policies are achieving. Thiel seems to be merely the prominent tip of an iceberg. The policies of the Key/English government have been fuelling a land grab, and turning New Zealand into a dude ranch for wealthy American survivalists, who have been enabled to buy our country as their escape route from reality. What exactly, is the net gain to this country from this process of prostituting our right to citizenship? To Nathan Guy and his colleagues, it must be exciting to rub shoulders with the rich and the powerful. In their view, we should be feeling grateful to Peter Thiel and the other feudal lords of Silicon Valley and Wall Street who have bought their way in here. Not so. On the evidence, New Zealand is giving away a lot more than it is receiving from this transaction.

Trump, the anti-Muslim.

These are difficult days for Trump apologists. In the wake of his Islamophohic Executive Order of 27 January – and the domestic chaos and global condemnation it has engendered – the White House has tried to argue that this decree isn’t actually anti-Muslim because it has targeted only seven Muslim-majority countries, and doesn’t target every Muslim majority nation. Somehow, I think this Trump clip speaks a lot more directly than those attempts at hair-splitting.

It was an anti-Muslim ban then, and has been intended to be an anti-Muslim ban now – as a key Trump apologist, Rudy Giuliani, told Fox News.

Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R), a confidant to Donald Trump, acknowledged late Saturday that he advised the president on how to carry out his desire to enact a “Muslim ban,” making it significantly harder for the administration to deny that the new executive order is anything but that. “When he first announced it, he said ‘Muslim ban,’” Giuliani said in a Fox News interview. “He called me up and said, ‘Put a commission together, show me the right way to do it legally.’”

Not that our government has been willing to criticise the new US administration – despite the global outcry over the Islamophobia involved, and despite the US suspension/reductions to its refugee programme. Bill English has said that he wants to wait and see what the US policy finally turns out to be.

Really? But Trump has already announced that the US will halve its annual refugee intake for 2017, at a time when Europe and parts of Africa and the Middle East are being overwhelmed with an influx of refugees. In particular, the US has also suspended – indefinitely – the intake of refugees from the conflict in Syria, thereby turning deaf ears to a global crisis that New Zealand has recognised, and to which this country has made a small response. Yet English is choosing to defer criticism of the US actions, in the meantime. Shouldn’t we be voicing our concerns now, so that Trump might be induced to make the right decision in future? Silence tends to be taken as collusion.

After all, some of the people Trump has barred from the US are actually Iraqis fleeing from retribution for helping the US-led coalition of which New Zealand is now a member. Our troops are in Iraq to train its Army and to defend its government from terrorism. Incredibly, after Iraqis have risked their lives to serve as translators for the US military and have been granted refugee status on that score, they and their families are being barred from entry to the US by Trump. The stories of such people are contained in these successful court filings by the American Civil Liberties Union:

As these court documents show, some of these people had members of their family and/or work colleagues killed because of the assistance they gave to the war against terrorism. After years in hiding they had been vetted and granted official refugee status. Yet thanks to Trump, upon arrival in the US they have put at risk of being deported on the next plane back to face deadly persecution in Iraq.

Besides being a moral outrage, the President’s actions contravene the UN Refugee Convention to which we are a signatory. If nothing else, New Zealand should be willing to defend the Refugee Convention from being undermined in this fashion. Instead, we have chosen to “wait and see” if the US keeps on doing it. Wow. History shows that approach doesn’t serve as much of a deterrence.

Only the song survives

Trent Reznor nailed this survivalism caper quite some time ago:

I got my propaganda
I got revisionism
I got my violence
In hi-def ultra-realism
All a part of this great nation
I got my fist
I got my plan
I got survivalism

Hypnotic sound of sirens
Echoing through the street
The cocking of the rifles
The marching of the feet
You see your world on fire
Don’t try to act surprised
We did just what you told us
Lost our faith along the way…