Scoop Election 08: edited by Gordon Campbell

Gordon Campbell on the US pressure to expand our role in Iraq

February 10th, 2016

Tomorrow, Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee and Chief of Defence Force Lieutenant General Tim Keating will be in Brussels for a ministerial meeting of the so-called “Counter-Daesh Coalition.” [Daesh is another term for Islamic State.] Here’s how Brownlee’s press release described the purpose of the meeting:

Ministers will discuss a range of regional and international security issues, in particular their respective responses to the fight against Daesh, and how the campaign will evolve over the next 12 months.

Foreign news services are being more forthcoming about what those “next 12 months” will entail – essentially, the defence ministers will be under US pressure to increase their “training” role preparatory to an assault on the city of Mosul in northern Iraq:

US officials – who have been pushing Iraq to launch an assault on Mosul following recent successes including the recapture of the city of Ramadi – have repeatedly highlighted the need to increase the number of Western trainers in Iraq. The question is expected to be taken up during a February 11 meeting of coalition defence ministers.

[Coalition spokesman Colonel Steve]Warren said the coalition currently envisioned launching roughly 10 brigades for the Mosul assault, with each one representing 2,000 to 3,000 soldiers. “These are all to be trained,” Warren said of the soldiers. “Some of the brigades have already been trained but we want to give them additional training…”

The Mosul attack is projected to take place in about three months’ time. Mosul will be the third of the major cities from which ISIS/Daesh military forces are scheduled to be expelled during 2016. The others are Ramadi in Anbar province, Iraq (which has already fallen) and Aleppo in northern Syria which is in the process of being ‘liberated’ from IS control this week, amid a terrible loss of civilian life, and refugee flight. Read the rest of this entry »

Gordon Campbell on the Treaty/TPP overlap, and the Iowa backwash

February 3rd, 2016

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The people who point out that we already have investor-state dispute settlement provisions in other trade deals and ‘so far so good, we haven’t had to worry about them’ …man, that is such an absurd argument. When it comes to arms reduction and nuclear proliferation, do we say ‘Hey, we haven’t had World War III yet, so its OK to keep on building the bombs and spreading them around?’ No, we aim to restrict the prevalence of the weapons, we don’t make them easier to use, and we don’t try to claim that they ‘protect’ us. Meaning: the fears about the ISDS provisions in the Trans Pacific Partnership deal are well-founded. The reality is that there is a sharp uptick in the occurrence of ISDS litigation in developed countries, and even the right wing likes of The Economist have been souring on the process for some time. Read the rest of this entry »

Gordon Campbell on Labour’s free education plan, Iowa and Jefferson Airplane

February 2nd, 2016

The “free” education policy that Labour has just unveiled has some obvious shortcomings. The universities are right to stress that the cuts to their net funding (after inflation) over the past few years are already jeopardising their ability to provide quality education to the current student intake – even before you factor in what a larger influx of young students or middle-aged people in search of job re-training might do to the system.

The NZUSA is also right to point to the parallel need (a) to fund an increase in the level of student living allowances while (b) relaxing the criteria for access to that support. Even so, Labour deserves credit for at least acknowledging that the current student debt system cannot continue to be ignored by the Key government – which has made an art form out of cosmetic policies that provide plenty of photo opportunities, while avoiding genuine engagement with many of the country’s glaring social problems.

One of those problems is the student debt mountain, which will hit $15 billion this month. Read the rest of this entry »

Gordon Campbell on bribing the Saudis and Oscar racism

January 28th, 2016

Does this sound familiar? In the mid 2000s, New Zealand wanted to pursue a humanitarian policy, on live sheep exports. This happened to offend a Saudi foreign investor, who eventually threatened legal action against it. The Key government chose to buy him off with (a) millions in cash (b) a sheep farm in the desert that resulted in the death of all the pregnant sheep that we donated to him and now (c) a free multimillion dollar abattoir that we are in the process of gifting to Saudi Arabia on the understanding that it will be “leased” back to the miffed investor.

In sum, we have here a perfect example of how the actions of a supposedly sovereign New Zealand government can expose us to extortionate demands by foreign investors. Did the Key government defy the threats of legal action? No, it caved in and used taxpayer money to pay a massive multi-million ransom. After all this… how on earth can the government claim that the investor-state dispute mechanisms contained in the Trans Pacific Partnership – which ramp up the ability of foreign investors to sue us – pose no significant threat to this country? The TPP blatantly exposes us to similar legal actions that this government has already proven it has no stomach for fighting. Read the rest of this entry »

On why the TPP is something we shouldn’t sign, and that Labour should oppose

January 26th, 2016

So the Trans Pacific Partnership is due to be signed next week. This means very little, beyond a confirmation that the text being signed was indeed the text that was negotiated. There is no guarantee that the US will ever actually ratify it, nor is there any clarity about when Congress will get to vote for it, or in which year – 2016 or 2017 ? – such a vote might occur. For its part, Canada will sign the TPP next week, but its International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland has just made it clear that signing the deal shouldn’t be confused with ratifying it:

…… The Trudeau Liberals remain officially uncommitted to the trade deal reached by the former Conservative government during the 2015 election campaign… Ms. Freeland explained that the signing ceremony… not a green light for the deal.

“Signing does not equal ratifying. Only a majority vote in our Parliament can allow the agreement to take force. Signing is simply a technical step in the process, allowing the … text to be tabled in Parliament for consideration and debate before any final decision is made,”

Even if this is merely a case of the Trudeau government soft-soaping the Canadian public to prepare them for on its eventual surrender to the inevitable, the research evidence is accumulating that the alleged benefits from the TPP are being wildly over-stated. Read the rest of this entry »

Gordon Campbell on Paula Bennett’s fantasy politics and Iran

January 22nd, 2016

We seem to be living in an era of virtual government, where governments promote only an illusion of policy kapow! rather than the sort of leadership where real solutions are proposed, funded and enacted. Social Housing Minister Paula Bennett’s latest bright idea on the social housing shortage definitely falls into this digital FX realm of faux policy.

Rather than build new houses or increase allowances to meet existing needs, Bennett’s response is to pay the needy and the homeless to go somewhere else where they – hopefully – won’t be a visible presence in the Auckland electorates that are of more pressing political concern to this government in 2017. Read the rest of this entry »

Gordon Campbell on China, Oscar racism and Kate Tempest

January 20th, 2016

China, China, China… Donald Trump is not the only one obsessed with the Middle Kingdom these days. For the past year or more, countries have been warning each other about their economic dependence on China and New Zealand is no exception. China is now the main destination for our biggest export commodity (dairy) and is the fastest growing source of visitors in tourism, our second biggest foreign exchange earner. Like it or not, we’ve become hooked on the opiate of demand from China.

So, should be worried that the Chinese economy is now recording its slowest annual GDP growth figures in the last 25 years? For now, there are many reasons to treat the glass as still being half full. Read the rest of this entry »

Gordon Campbell on the myopia of the business news

January 18th, 2016

Listening to the business news is a bit like eavesdropping on the radio transmissions from space aliens. There is no discernible connection between the concerns of the captains of these space ships – the bank economists and the finance house spokesmen – and the concerns of ordinary listeners back on Planet Earth. Routinely,” business news” reports sound like advertisements for products that most of us have never bought, and will never buy. Read the rest of this entry »

Gordon Campbell on making the media pay for OIA requests

January 15th, 2016

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So it seems that since November, the Reserve Bank has been quietly enacting a policy of charging the media for Official Information Act requests.

Such fees are not being levied only in the exceptional circumstances that involve major costs, but as a standard principle. There are so many wrong things about this policy that it’s hard to know where to start. Begin with the fact the OIA Act puts an obligation on the government and its agencies to foster the free flow of public information. In her report on the OIA last year, Chief Ombudsman Beverly Wakem began by citing the Act’s intent:

It established the principle that official information held by government agencies shall be made available to the public unless there is good reason for withholding it. It expressly stated that the purposes for doing this were to:

• progressively increase the availability of official information to enable more effective participation, promote accountability and enhance respect for the law

and promote the good government of New Zealand; and

• protect official information to the extent consistent with the public interest and the preservation of personal privacy.

That looks clearcut. Yet it isn’t. Read the rest of this entry »

Gordon Campbell on Clinton, Sanders, Trump and Cruz

January 14th, 2016

Come November, the world will have a new US president-elect and the least unlikely winner still looks to be Hillary Clinton. Right now though, the polls are showing a rocky stretch ahead for her in the immediate future. It is still three weeks before Iowa delivers the first concrete result of the primary season on February 1st with New Hampshire following on February 8th. Surprisingly to some, the current polling has Democratic hopeful Bernie Sanders gaining momentum, to the point where he is now neck and neck with Clinton in Iowa and ahead of her (in one poll by 14 points!) in New Hampshire.

Expect a brief outbreak of Bernie Fever – and a lot of schadenfruede if the setbacks for Clinton eventuate. Thereafter though, Clinton still seems likely to bounce back and secure the nomination Read the rest of this entry »