Face it, it has been a very, very bad week for anyone who thinks that a) FIFA is a damn fine organisation run by guys who think football is the greatest game, and that they’d just like to do what they can to selflessly advance the sport they love so much and (b) that Saudi royalty are noble, hawk-eyed princes of the desert whose hearts are fierce, whose handclasps are strong and whose intentions are pure and (c) that US lawmakers are principled folk who want to do the right thing and advance the cause of free trade, because they think free trade is good for workers and good for America. Alas, the world seems not to be quite like that. Read the rest of this entry »
Whatever the conflicts and point scoring between them on other issues, National and Labour have always spoken virtually as one on free trade and the role of the security services. Therefore, the recent appointment of former Labour Finance Minister Sir Michael Cullen to head the government’s upcoming review of the GCSB and SIS is not very surprising. Unfortunately, it will do nothing to re-assure anyone concerned about the powers of those agencies. Quite the contrary.
To put it mildly, Cullen is something of a conservative on security matters. Both before and after being appointed in 2005 as Attorney-General in the Clark government, Cullen was a leading figure in the misguided persecution of the Algerian refugee Ahmed Zaoui, and he clung to that course long after the flaws in the SIS case against Zaoui had become blindingly obvious to everyone else. (In one particular interview with me at the time, Cullen was petulantly abusive about the tactics and alleged personal motivations of Zaoui’s legal team.) In 2006, Cullen promoted Terence Arnold, the then-Solicitor General who had led the prosecution case against Zaoui, as a judge to the High Court and Court of Appeal. Read the rest of this entry »
From the outset, the slogan for yesterday’s Budget – “The Plan Is Working” – begged to be mocked. There’s actually a plan for the national economy? Who knew? And its been working for whom, exactly? Not for families in poverty, clearly. Supposedly, the social hardship package is the centre-piece of Budget 2015. Yet how could Finance Minister Bill English claim with a straight face to be doing anything significant about poverty – or income inequality – without making any changes to the economic settings that keep on generating it ?
In reality, Budget 2015 contained no sustainable plan to transform the lives of the poor. What we got was a sop, a stunt paid for in part by the continued, chronic underfunding of areas such as health and education which – newsflash – also affect the quality of life of those living in poverty. Core benefits for families with children will go up by a headline figure of $25 a week, while fiddling with tax credits will deliver about $12 to low income families in paid employment. Read the rest of this entry »
Is it a property tax on capital gains or a capital gains tax on property? The Jesuitical distinctions in the government’s spin about its latest moves on property speculators are all about whether the government can claim that it jumped, or confess that it was pushed, into a response. Calling it a property tax means that it was an extension of existing provisions – while calling it a capital gains would be to ’fess up to sleeping with the enemy.
Definitional issues aside – and since this new tax walks and talks like a capital gains tax, lets call it that – there is no doubt that the government has had to be dragged reluctantly to this position. Clearly, a politician can live in denial for only so long. For months, Finance Minister Bill English had been peddling the line that governments can’t really do much to dampen down the demand side of speculation in housing. Australia, English liked to point out, had (a) a stiffer capital gains tax and (b) strict rules against foreign speculators buying existing houses …but regardless, English claimed, they still have a housing price bubble in Sydney ! . Read the rest of this entry »
The monarchy, the media and the masses is a threesome made in tabloid heaven, and it has seen a lot of action during this past month. The birth of Princess Charlotte, and then Prince Harry’s visit to New Zealand….To a quite embarrassing extent, Royal tours seem to turn the clock back to a more innocent time somewhere in the mid-1950s, when us commoners were expected to be agog at the regal gods, as they came walking among us in human form.
Amidst all the regal froth this week, there has also been a right royal scandal. Apparently, Prince Charles, the heir to the throne, wrote some 27 letters to various members of the Blair government as he lobbied government ministers ( and the Prime Minister) on a variety of public policy issues. To put it mildly, the Royal Family is not meant to try and influence government policy in this way, or in any other fashion. Given that the Royal Family are to Britain what pandas are to China, how did the media – here and in the UK – handle a genuine political scandal involving the House of Windsor ? Read the rest of this entry »
It is unusual for anyone to vote for an early execution, but that’s effectively what President Barack Obama’s friends in the US Senate have just done by bringing forward a procedural vote related to the Trans Pacific Partnership. If all had gone well in Washington this morning, this so-called “cloture” motion would have stopped the TPP’s opponents from stalling and stone-walling, and would have enabled a Senate vote ( before the Senate rises on May 22 ) on whether to give Obama the “ fast track “ Trade Promotion Authority he needs to pass the TPP intact, and not expose it to the slow death of clause-by -clause votes and amendments put up by every legislator in Washington with an axe to grind. Read the rest of this entry »
If the polls were right – and the pollsters kept telling us how accurate they’d been in 2010, and even Nate Silver was getting the same results – there seemed no way that the British Labour Party could lose last Thursday’s British election. With Labour predicted to win around 270 seats and the Scottish National Party batting around 55-60 seats, Labour seemed to be home free. But…as we now know, things didn’t turn out that way. Labour ended up with 232 seats and the Conservatives swept back to power with an outright majority, after winning only a little more than a third ( 36.9%) of the votes cast.
To be fair, the pollsters did call some things very accurately. They correctly estimated the extent of the SNP’s rout of Labour in Scotland, and the collapse of the Liberal-Democrats. They even predicted that UKIP leader Nigel Farage wasn’t going to win the South Thanet constituency. Where everyone got it spectacularly wrong was in the marginal seats in England – Midlands and the north – where traditional Labour voters deserted Labour in droves, and either (a) stayed home or (b) voted for UKIP and thereby delivered those seats to the Tories. Read the rest of this entry »
Political tokenism comes in many shapes and sizes, but the $98 million boost in elective surgery is a cynical example of it.
The pre-Budget package breaks down to $48 million for elective orthopaedic surgery over four years – plus the re-announcement of an election campaign pledge to spend a further $50 million upon (a) a range of general surgeries (some of which will be orthopaedic surgery) and (b) a number of community-based early intervention teams.
The tokenism is obvious. Split that money between 20 DHBs over the course of three or four years and it won’t go very far at all – not in a context where the ageing of a growing population has for several years been pushing more and more people into the categories in need. As general surgeon Philip Bagshaw of the Canterbury Charity Hospital Trust told RNZ this morning, the rate of increase in elective surgery has been declining since 2008 :
We’re falling behind all the time. We’re not even catching up with the unmet need. We’re falling behind year on year. So this amount of money will not even address the rate of decline. Its as simple as that. Read the rest of this entry »
The Britain that goes to the polls on Thursday looks awfully familiar to anyone from New Zealand. In Britain too, a smooth but vacuous technocrat (David Cameron) leads a government whose prime policy allegiance seems to be to its financial services and banking elites. In Britain as here, the PM and his party minions preach the discredited gospel of fiscal austerity and a balanced budget, while touting the brilliance of an economic recovery all but invisible to 90 % of UK households. Oh, and the UK health system has been ravaged by privatisation, and likewise…. the UK education system has been riven by (a) an obsessive focus on national standards in education and (b) a failing, ideologically-driven experiment with charter schools. Read the rest of this entry »
Gordon Campbell on John Key’s abuse of secrecy over Iraq, and the TPP
For the past week or so we’ve been hearing a lot about the child-like side of our Prime Minister. So I guess we shouldn’t be too surprised that if you put him on the mat in Dubai, he will say the darndest things. Here’s what happened. During his post-Gallipoli trade mission to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states, the Prime Minister saw fit to babble away to a reporter from the Gulf News about the current whereabouts of the NZ troop deployment to Iraq. Some of our troops, it seems, are currently in the UAE.
This is the same sort of information Key has repeatedly refused to disclose to the New Zealand media, allegedly on security grounds. Yet how can it possibly be safer to identify the location of our troops while they’re in the Middle East and on the very doorstep of Islamic State – and yet somehow more dangerous to reveal even their departure date here at home in New Zealand? Read the rest of this entry »