So a couple of guys found to be criminally liable of environmental pollution in Argentina lodge an application with the Overseas Investment Office… in order to buy some prime New Zealand rural land. Seems that their factory back home had carelessly and/or intentionally discharged toxic waste into the Lujan river. Bummer. But that’s not what this application is about. This is about their desire to put $6 million on the table as the purchase price for Onetai Station in north Taranaki. Are these two men of good character asks the OIO sternly, them being the fierce guardians of the public interest and all. Pure as the driven snow, says their lawyer, who works for a firm called Mosseck Fonseca, based in Panama. Read the rest of this entry »
Years ago, Richard Nixon explained to his chief adviser Bob Haldeman what has since become known as the “Madman Theory” of foreign policy.
Basically, if America’s rivals could be reminded that Nixon was an unstable, rabid anti-Communist with his finger on the nuclear trigger, Nixon reasoned, then maybe they’d be less willing to challenge the US in the world’s hot spots. Don’t push him, ‘cause he’s close to the edge.
“I call it the Madman Theory, Bob. I want the North Vietnamese to believe I’ve reached the point where I might do anything to stop the war. We’ll just slip the word to them that, “for God’s sake, you know Nixon is obsessed about communism. We can’t restrain him when he’s angry—and he has his hand on the nuclear button” and Ho Chi Minh himself will be in Paris in two days begging for peace.” 
Donald Trump looks like the latest incarnation of this theory. As President, would Trump be just ‘crazy nutty ‘or ‘crazy like a fox’? Hopefully, the world won’t be put in the position of finding out for sure. One of the problems with the Madman Theory (which BTW, can be traced all the say back to Machiavelli’s advice that “ It can be very wise thing to feign madness”) is that in order to be convincing, you need to sometimes play the part, and do some actual crazy bad stuff. Such as invading Cambodia. Read the rest of this entry »
The denigration of Kiwirail continues. The latest review (based on a 2014 assessment) of the options facing the company have enabled Kiwirail to be hung out to dry once again as a liability and burden on the taxpayer.
The company is an ‘economic cot case’, in the words of one media report this morning. In reality, the review’s sole consideration was whether (and how) Kiwirail could be turned into a ‘for profit’ business, as construed on very narrow commercial grounds. No consideration was given or value placed upon the social and environmental benefits of Kiwirail’s freight and passenger operations. Read the rest of this entry »
Reportedly, an extradition treaty with China is now on the table, although – thankfully – Prime Minister John Key has also indicated that a lot of detailed work would be required before any such arrangement took final shape, much less came into force. For now, our sympathetic murmurings about China’s desire to pursue its fugitive citizens need not be taken as a readiness to collude in railroading people back to face the tender mercies of China’s flawed system of justice.
The problems with China’s justice system are well known. Due process in court is almost non-existent and defendants are routinely deemed guilty by definition. Torture is a regular feature of interrogation, and prison conditions are notoriously harsh. Crucially, China’s legal code also condones the death penalty for economic crimes – eg embezzlement and fraud – even though criminal intent and culpability are very much in the eye of the beholder.
The Chinese system can – for example – readily criminalise those who engage in lending to small and medium scale businesses, even though they can depend on such finance for survival. Read the rest of this entry »
Don’t mention the South China Sea dispute. Oh, but he will! Earlier this week, the image of dauntless Prime Minister John Key not backing down in the face of alleged Chinese intimidation would have done him no harm at all with the voters back home. Here was the plucky Kiwi guy, heroically standing up to the superpower bully. Actually, it was nothing of the sort. We have never hesitated to re-assure China that we won’t cause trouble for them over the South China Sea dispute. As Key also said yesterday: “New Zealand’s position on the South China Sea hasn’t changed, and we consistently raise that message with the Chinese leadership.” Plus, Key added, New Zealand is “less aggressive” on this issue that some other countries.
You betcha. We’ve been conducting a charm offensive with China on this point for quite some time. In a speech he delivered in China last September, Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee painted China as posing no military threat – not now, and not in the future: “We do not expect the South Pacific will face an external military threat.” Brownlee also called China a “strategic partner” and lavishly praised our “Five Year Engagement Plan with the Peoples’ Liberation Army”. In that speech, Brownlee tiptoed around the South China Sea issue, calling on “all claimant states to take steps to reduce tensions” within the framework of international law. No blame being levelled there. Interestingly, Brownlee also said: “We do not see our defence relationships with the United States and China as mutually exclusive.” Wowzah.
Calling on all sides to show restraint and to abide by international law isn’t exactly a brave and bold stance. It is the kind of ‘no blame’ position the Chinese have been looking for. Read the rest of this entry »
For the past fortnight, New Zealand has been obsessing on the reputational risk to this country of being seen as a tax haven – despite the fact that (with the notable exception of the Australian Financial Review) few sources offshore have linked New Zealand to the Panama Papers. Well, here’s a far more palpable risk to our global reputation. Last month, Iran’s Foreign Minister visited here and discussed avenues for resuming trade with New Zealand.
This week, New Zealand chose to ban a temporary visit by the distinguished Iranian film-maker Rokhsareh Ghaemmaghami, winner of 20 international film awards. During her visit, she would have – among other things – been screening and discussing her prize-winning new documentary Sonita. Filmed over the course of three years, this documentary traces the aspirations of an engaging and talented 14 year old female rapper. Along the way, the film deals with the selling by Afghanistan of young women as brides… Read the rest of this entry »
Unfortunately, the systematic use of tax avoidance strategies – by corporates and by wealthy individuals – is not occurring in a vacuum. At an accelerating rate, new technology is wiping out the sort of jobs in the retail sector, white collar professions and transport industry that up until now, have sustained the middle class. The winners circle is shrinking. At the same time, populations are ageing and healthcare needs are expanding in every developed country on the globe. Meaning: more and more of the care of the aging boomer generation will fall onto families who are currently losing their stable incomes and who are becoming reliant (at best) on short term insecure contracts, and on multiple low paying jobs. Simultaneously, governments are watching the tax revenues that might enable them to respond to social need – assuming they felt inclined to do so – vanish into offshore tax havens, and via a range of ‘grey area’ tax dodges. Read the rest of this entry »
Image by Grant Buist
Prime Minister John Key could have dealt with the clamour for an independent inquiry into the Panama Papers scandal in a variety of ways. He could have – for instance – set up a public inquiry, as was done in the mid 1990s, in the wake of the Winebox tax shelter revelations. Not a chance. Instead, while living in denial that any problem even exists, Key has announced a one person “independent” inquiry, which will be conducted by… John Shewan, the Establishment’s reliable workhorse on tax matters for the past 30 years. Read the rest of this entry »
Belatedly, US complicity in the global tax avoidance systems is now trickling out into daylight. To some, one of the suspicious aspects of the scandal to date has been how few firms and individuals from the US have featured in the document dump from the Mossack Fonseca law firm. The Guardian did nothing to dispel the potential for paranoia about a Cold War agenda by making the scandal initially seem to be about Vladimir Putin and his cronies. Former British diplomat Craig Murray has come out strongly against the selective nature of the coverage to date.
Calls have been made to release all of the Panama Papers documents – right now – assuming a suitable place is found to store what is said to be 2 terabytes of data, or 11.5 million documents. (The entire Snowden trove by comparison amounted to only 60 gigabytes. Years later, we’re still getting news stories based on Snowden’s mine of information. The same will presumably apply in this case.) Read the rest of this entry »
For the past ten days, the world has been daring to hope that the wheels may finally be coming off the Trump bandwagon – sufficiently at least, to deny Trump the nomination outright. According to this narrative…. perhaps come August, when the Republicans will finally get to anoint their candidate at their convention in Cleveland, Trump’s fortunes will have waned and the delegate count will be sufficiently deadlocked as to create a ‘contested convention’ whereby the party might then be able to turn to a different, dark horse candidate – such as House Speaker Paul Ryan – and thereby save the day, and the GOP’s bacon in the November election. Yesterday’s result in Wisconsin – where Cruz crushed Trump – will have fed such hopes. Maybe, by the time Cleveland rolls around, Trump won’t have reached the magic figure of 1,237 delegates he needs to clinch the nomination.
Dream on. Read the rest of this entry »