Supposedly, Winston Peters’ victory in Northland has exposed the simmering dissatisfaction with the government that exists out in the provinces. Yet it remains to be seen whether this defeat will have much significance – and not simply because if and when Labour resumes business as usual in the Northland seat at the next election, Peters’ hold on it could simply evaporate.
On Saturday, National’s electorate vote declined by 7,000 votes, as the 9,000 majority it won last September turned into a 4,000 vote deficit – mainly because Labour supporters followed the nod and wink given by Labour leader Andrew Little, and voted tactically for Peters. Read the rest of this entry »
Supposedly, New Zealand’s destiny lies in Asia, and that was one of Foreign Minister Murray McCully’s rationales for his bungled reforms at MFAT. OK. So, if that’s the case why didn’t Prime Minister John Key – who was already in South Korea – stay in the region so that he could attend the state funeral on Sunday of Singapore’s founding leader Lee Kuan Yew? Instead, Key returned to New Zealand to campaign in the Northland by-election, and Governor-General Sir Jerry Mateparae will represent this country in his place. Bad call. Key has put the domestic interests of his party ahead of New Zealand’s wider interests on the world stage.
So New Zealand has using the GCSB to spy on its friends and allies in the Pacific – and has not only been passing on the results to the NSA, but has apparently passed on the details of the Pacific’s relations with Taiwan to our other best friends, the Chinese. On the side, the Key government has also been using the security services as a National Party toy, to gauge the chances of Trade Minister Tim Groser landing the top job at the World Trade Organisation. Nothing to see here, move on, says Prime Minister John Key. Ludicrously, Foreign Minister Murray McCully has alleged to our spied-on friends in the Pacific that Edward Snowden may have made it all up.
So far, one of the government’s cover stories is that (a) our Pacific friends don’t mind and (b) the New Zealand public don’t care. All praise then to last night’s edition of RNZ’s Dateline Pacific programme, for showing how royally pissed off the actual officials who have been spied on are still feeling.
For anyone with memories of the apartheid era, there will be mixed feelings about the news this week that South African mercenaries are playing a key role in turning the tide against Boko Haram, in northern Nigeria. Years ago, many of those same South African fighters were engaged in domestic attacks on activists in the anti-apartheid movement, and led sustained campaigns against liberation movements in Angola, Mozambique and elsewhere. Under the name Executive Outcomes, they were also involved in the civil war in Sierra Leone.
Having media crews in a disaster zone can help to (a) pinpoint areas of need and (b) provide some re-assurance to the victims that the outside world has not entirely forgotten them. Over time, the media coverage can also motivate First World viewers and listeners to dig into their pockets and donate to relief and reconstruction projects. That’s all to the good. Vanuatu needs all the help it can get, after being hit by the worst storm in living memory.
At the same time, the fact that media crews can readily get in and out of the devastated villages in Vanuatu only underlines the chasm in the resources available. Read the rest of this entry »
For decades, the ringing statements on human rights by various European and US governments have been undermined by the diplomatic support they’ve given to the regime in Saudi Arabia. It has been a straight forward deal : we will sell arms to the House of Saud and turn a blind eye to its barbaric public executions, floggings, religious extremism and suppression of women. In return, the Saudis will (a) give us cheap oil and (a) police the region on our behalf.
That cosy arrangement has been unraveling somewhat, of late. Last year, the German government refused to sell Leopard tanks to the Saudis and – more significantly – the new left wing government in Sweden has just decided not to renew a ten year old arms deal that has been worth half a billion dollars to Sweden between 2011 and 2014 alone. Read the rest of this entry »
The sole upside for the government in its release of a three month old threat to contaminate infant formula is that the story knocked Winston Peters off the front pages. In case that sounds like a conspiracy theory, the government was in a no win situation here. If it went public with every such threat the moment it was issued, it would be creating a pretty dire incentive for every crackpot and attention seeker in the country. That’s why, as Prime Minister John Key said, other countries tend not to publicise threats of this kind.
Yet with the blackmail letter’s end of March deadline looming, a policy of complete silence probably wasn’t still an option, either. If the threat was carried out – even in a bungled form – wouldn’t the government then be justly accused of being asleep at the wheel, and of leaving the nation’s mothers and babies at the mercy of a known peril?
Along the way, the incident has exposed just how vulnerable this country is to what Key described yesterday as an act of ‘eco-terrorism’. The New Zealand economy is almost comically dependent on milk powder exports. That’s why a couple of letters sent three months ago can still knock a few points off the dollar, drive down the share market value of some dairy companies, send the industry into a testing frenzy and put us into full diplomatic re-assurance mode in our key markets overseas. That’s even before we know whether the threat is genuine.
If a couple of letters from a disgruntled single-issue crank can do all that to New Zealand’s economic lifeline… gosh, thank goodness we’re not doing anything unnecessarily on the world stage to attract the attentions of any real terrorists. Thank goodness we’re not offering to do stuff – say, in Iraq – that will make no difference, serve no achievable goal, and where no exit strategy is in place. We are? Yesterday’s incident only served to underline just how foolhardy the Iraq deployment really is.
How scary is too scary ?
As a child prone to night terrors who grew up to be a parent over-protective about the scary films his children watched – and it can’t be accidental that one of them grew up to love horror films – I was interested in the recent online firestorm about the guy who screened the James Cameron film Aliens to his 11 year old son (and some of his son’s 11 year old buddies), and then wrote a story about their interesting / amusing reactions. Matt Zeller Seitz’ original story is here.
The massive online reaction basically fell into two highly polarized camps, as in (a) Were you out of your mind? What do you think you were doing showing a film like Aliens to an 11 year old kid? Closely followed by (b) Hey you pussies. I watched Blair Witch Project/ Nightmare on Elm Street etc when I was nine, and I’m totally FINE today! In essence, this was the age-old argument about which films are age-appropriate for children to watch. To her credit, Robinson steered her way between the two warring camps, and tried to reach a sensible solution – one that respected the child’s adventurous curiosity while taking seriously just how awful a child’s night scares can be. The images imprinted on the brain in childhood can last a lifetime, for better or worse.
Among her observations: there’s no single ‘one size fits all ages’ standard for any film, or for any child. Kids are individuals with different levels of resilience and differing amounts of healthy curiosity. More to the point, it seems impossible to predict what kind of image will scare a child. Again, from experience: the film version of To Kill a Mockingbird had seemed a reasonably safe bet, Boo Radley notwithstanding. As it turned out, Boo wasn’t the problem. At about the age of eight or so, my older daughter (and future horror fan) was scared by the shouting face of one of the townspeople as Atticus Finch drove away from the courthouse. One anger-distorted, shouting face framed in a car window. Bingo. Robinson’s sensible and well-written piece is worth reading by any parent mulling over this issue.
Mighty Mighty Ravensdark
Warning : this classic black metal video by Immortal could scare any impressionable six year olds in your life….. that’s if they’re not rolling around on the floor laughing at it.
And here’s something really scary, for adults. In a brief two and a half minute video, Robert Reich – who was Secretary of Labour in the Clinton administration – explains why the Trans Pacific Partnership is great for corporations, but a terrible deal for the ordinary public.
Incredibly, Winston Peters is back at centre stage of New Zealand politics, and in the role he likes best – as the virtuous underdog, fighting the forces of entrenched political patronage in the Northland by-election. Currently, a rattled Key government is throwing all the election bribes it can at the voters of Northland to fend him off. Yesterday for instance, the government suddenly found it could afford a $69 million bridge building package to create a short-lived jobs programme in Northland on behalf of its candidate. The symbolism seems perfect. Once the by-election is won and the bridges are built, a National government will allow the needy in Northland to return to their usual state of irrelevance.
Unfortunately, it is also a forerunner of the kind of “ debate” we can expect during the upcoming review of the security agency powers, in June. It is a situation where the government (a) stonewalls, (b) baldly asserts that mass surveillance is not occurring despite the Snowden evidence that it is, and (c) claims that the GCSB actions were lawful. Yet as Greens Co-Leader Russel Norman says, this can be true only if the legislation passed last year by the Key government has made the mass surveillance of New Zealanders – and the related handing over of their private data to the NSA – lawful.
The quashing of the convictions of Teina Pora for the rape and murder of Susan Burdett in 1992 has shone a spotlight once again on a major gap in the New Zealand justice system. To all intents and purposes, access by New Zealanders to the Privy Council has now been closed. Yet the number of times in recent years when the Privy Council has quashed the findings of New Zealand courts has demonstrated that we are regularly (a) jailing the wrong person or (b) arriving at guilty verdicts on grounds sufficiently flawed as to raise serious doubts that a miscarriage of justice has occurred. Sometimes – as the Privy Council ruling on the Pora case has found – the decisive factor has been subsequent advances in forensic evidence. With Pora, this advance was over the reliability of false confessions.