Gordon Campbell: RWC fever, Obama's Supreme Court   27 Apr 2010

Gordon Campbell

Gordon Campbell - Gordon Campbell on RWC fever, and Obama’s Supreme Court choice RNZ this morning carried the news that “new research” now shows that the Rugby World Cup would add an estimated $535 million to the nation’s GDP.

At this point in time, it is still unclear whether necromancy, dowsing or feng shui was the method used to detect the rise in overseas visitors – from 25,000 to 85,000 – that lies behind the sudden rise in expected RWC earnings.

What RNZ was able to confirm was that the bulk of these earnings would accrue to the Auckland region, and to the hospitality and retail sectors. However, this was all apparently OK thanks to the related syllogisms that (a) what is good for Auckland is good for all of us and (b) we all share equally in the profits that flow into bars, cafes and accommodation facilities that are largely based in Auckland. The benefits that cascade down from the rich man’s table in Remmers to the widow’s cup in Sydenham are well known, and have been audited.

Of course there will always be a few nay-sayers who will wonder why the number of overseas visitors should suddenly more than triple. Some will also argue that accounting is a game of two halves and that “profit” must also be balanced against “loss”. In particular, they will wonder why there is no sign in these calculations of Treasury’s favourite impact player, Opportunity Cost – usually brought in off the bench to scotch any form of spending for social purposes. What would be the returns to the country if the spending being lavished on the Rugby World Cup was being spent on job creation or the health system or public transport? We shall never know. Opportunity Cost seems to be playing in another league entirely, for the duration of the Rugby World Cup calculations.

For those wanting better evidence – right here, right now – of the alleged benefits to New Zealand of RWC fever, the RNZ report offered a few reasons for thinking that some suspicion is justified. Yes, we will all enjoy the benefits from that $535 million boost to GDP – unless that is, we don’t. If for instance, the goods and services involved have to be imported, the RNZ report said, multiplier effects that are central to the rosy estimates don’t seem to work in quite the same way.

Still, some (unknown) major benefits from the RWC will arrive – unless that is, they don’t. In which case, the RNZ report concluded, there may be a rise in bankruptcies among those who have banked on the returns from the RWC, and didn’t get them. Tickets go on sale today, though. PHOAAAAR !!!

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Obama’s Supreme Court Choice

The retirement of John Paul Stevens, the leader of the US Supreme Court’s liberal wing, should now be enabling Barack Obama to name a liberal replacement. Obviously, this would not alter the Court’s current configuration – unless, in the name of some illusory consensus, Obama nominates someone who is actually less liberal than Stevens. Incredibly, he is currently showing every sign of being about to do so. Ever since the retirement of Sandra Day O’Connor, liberals have needed to rely on the unreliable Justice Anthony Kennedy to exercise some restraint on the hard core conservative bloc of Justices Scalia, Thomas, Alito and Roberts.

You’d think that, in this situation, Obama would be picking a radical – a left wing equivalent of Alito, Roberts or Thomas. Apparently not. The reasoning is the same kind of timid centrism that plagued the Helen Clark government. Rather than pursue an ideological agenda in the same way that John Key is now doing, Clark largely frittered away her nine years of opportunities, to largely illusory effect, and which is now being swept aside.

In Obama’s case that same inclination has made his dubiously centrist Solicitor-General Elena Kagan the frontrunner to succeed Stevens, when better, eminently more qualified and more radical options exist, such as Judge Diane Wood, or academics such asPam Karlan or Harold Koh.

In his excellent Salon blog, Glenn Greenwald has made the case for Wood – and against Kagan – in terms that apply uncannily well to the Clark government. A judicial choice by Obama that is pragmatically centrist holds obvious dangers when, as in New Zealand, the centre has moved so far to the right. At that point, reaching out to conservatives involves the surrender of at least half of your agenda before you’ve even started, and the pursuit of ‘consensus” thus becomes self defeating. Greenwald : Obama's "post-partisan" conduct reveals, there are two ways to forge a consensus with the Right:  (1) to persuade them to support a compromised version of your views, or (2) to adopt what they want. Kagan's much-praised record in winning the affection of the Right falls in the latter category -- she hired numerous right-wing ideologues while at Harvard and embraced the right-wing legal approach to Terrorism at her confirmation hearing. Having a Justice who can win the affection of conservatives is an important goal -- especially when it comes to replacing Justice Stevens -- but not if that is accomplished by adopting their positions.

Obama watchers have reason to be very nervous about this choice. Kagan could be, at a quite feasible worst, a complete disaster – and at best, her choice will have been yet another opportunity missed for Obama to lead from the front.

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