Is Shane Jones fit to be a Minister of the Crown?

Shane Geoffrey Jones is a 59 year two time Member of Parliament and Minister of the Crown.

Mr Jones entered Parliament in 2005 in 27th place on the Labour Party list. For the next nine years until his 2014 departure Mr Jones built up a reputation as a colourful M.P.

Combative on one hand, charismatic on the other, some may well see Mr Jones as the successor intended for when Mr Peters decides to end his political career. Divisive, yet well known and liked in key electorates it hardly seems like a logical choice for New Zealand First to be led by someone who only joined the party in the year of the election.

Mr Jones has courted significant controversy during his time as a Labour Member of Parliament and Minister of Immigration, as well as his current tenure as a New Zealand First Member of Parliament and Minister of Regional Development.  During the latter he approved the citizenship application of a Chinese man who it was understood was at risk of execution if he stayed in China. Mr Jones ignored official advice to decline the application because of false representations on it. The man was charged with false representations. The charges were later dropped, but not before Mr Jones was asked for the case to be referred to the Auditor General, which he agreed to.

Between 2014 and 2017, Mr Jones was out of Parliament, having chose to retire and become a Pacific Economic Ambassador. He re-entered Parliament in September 2017 as a Member of New Zealand First, just a few months after joining a party in which he had had little or no involvement with up to that point.

Since re-entering politics, Mr Jones’ reputation for controversy has continued. In March 2018, he and Air New Zealand engaged in a spat over the company’s decision to cut flights into Kapiti, with Mr Jones assailing the Chief Executive. A few months later he attacked Air New Zealand over their flight safety videos.

But his most recent spat is the most serious. Mr Jones took issue with a journalist for trying to hold him to account on reassurances he had made to colleagues over a meeting about a project where he declared a conflict of interest. Hamish Rutherford published a report regarding this. Mr Jones threatened to malign him in Parliament under Parliamentary privilege. Whilst this enables politicians to exercise freedom of speech to say whatever they want as long as it is done within the House, this is a serious issue because whomever is maligned has no legal comeback whatsoever.

A Minister of the Crown Mr Jones should know better – and I suspect Mr Jones does – than to make such threats and to think that he is somehow above scrutiny would be a contradiction of media freedom in New Zealand. It is after the entire purpose as far as I am concerned of the fifth estate to hold politicians and other officials to account.

International Womens Day and International Mens Day should complement each other

International Womens Day was on Friday 8 March. It was an opportunity to celebrate everything that females have contributed to society. It was a chance to acknowledge that whilst much good has been done, there is a lot more still to happen, and that not all countries are trying to move their women forward.

In 8 months time we will have International Mens Day. It will be a chance to acknowledge the contribution of men to our society, the issues we face and how we can move them forward. And it is a fully justified international day on the calendar. It is linked to I.W.D. whether either side likes it or not and proponents of both need to realize the opportunities for co-operation are too big to ignore.

To understand fully the problems that caused the #MeToo movement to form, and which drive and will continue to help drive the problem, we must look at the upbringing of men in our society. We must look at the broken families that many sexual offenders come from, the messages that men from those kinds of hostile environments where they would have had to fend for themselves and might have grown up with no father or mother figures in their lives.

I say “we” because both men and women have contributed to this sorry state of affairs and all who have need to own their contribution. I probably sit off to one side from the mainstream #MeToo movement and that is fine by me. I want people to stop and think about why, because there is a purpose behind it.

I am different. From a very early age I have known I am different, and have grown to accept that.  A combination of hearing loss (now compensated by a hearing aid), physical handicap (which has largely been overcome, except for a slight speech impediment) and severe hypertension mean  I grew up mentally in some respects much faster than many in my age group.

It has caused me inordinate amounts of grief. When I was younger and trying to get my head around all of this, there were days when I just wanted to shut myself off from the world. The worst part was missing social cues in various social situations, such as a change of subject, interrupting, not realizing I was not involved and so on. I would get grumpy at some of my best mates for no reason and they eventually stopped being friends and to this day I regret it, but I knew no other way. The one or two times someone confronted me about things I had done or not done I would get upset that no one had the courage to tell me earlier.

When I was at intermediate I experienced heavy and prolonged bullying that only stopped when another classmate got so upset that he went home and told his dad, who rang my Mum. The following day there was an urgent meeting between my mother, myself and the teacher. The perpetrators were very lucky not to get suspended. It was a combination of physical and mental bullying – after P.E. belongings would be thrown into the girls changing quarters so that I would have no choice but to wait until they had changed and left; down trousers; flour being thrown on food I was cooking in home economics classes among other things. Both girls and boys participated in it. The worst though was actually by a girl who smashed my hearing aid.

There was mental bullying too. I was a sissy, a fat bastard, someone who would never be able to love or be loved. I was apparently a pervert and a fiddler. The accusers even arranged a boys only class meeting with the teacher to lay into me with further false accusations.

I am lucky. I had a supportive family. I learnt right from wrong before anything happened. Not everyone does. Because not all boys have that support they are prone to derailing and becoming abusers themselves, but not nearly enough is done to stop that kind of situation happening.

So, my message is simple. We should help our men folk get over bullying, because in turn we are probably doing ourselves a major favour getting them out of an environment where they might come to believe that abusing women is an acceptable idea.

If you do nothing else, show your teenage son/daughter this. It does not need to be like this, but until we accept the damage that this kind of behaviour does, #MeToo will have a purpose for existing.

No place for Jihadi’s in New Zealand

Recently it has emerged that a New Zealander who served with what most people recognize as Islamic State, wants to come home and says that despite his activities, he is still a New Zealander. But was this really Islamic State he fought and not something masquerading as one, whilst being something entirely different?

Islamic State is not a State and nor is it Islamic. It is Daesh. The term Daesh is an Arabic term normally uttered with disgust or contempt and it refers to those who try to impose views on others that any proper discourse would take to be bigotted. It takes the most outdated parts of the Qu’ran and turns them into law. Those laws and the principles on which they were founded are completely contrary to New Zealand, New Zealand law and New Zealanders expectations.

A person who leaves New Zealand to support such an organisation is thereby saying that they no longer want to respect the laws and customs of New Zealand. They are saying that they support a type of organisation that is expressly forbidden under New Zealand terrorism laws and that they see no problems with actions that pose a potential threat to our national security.

Such a person cannot have a place in New Zealand. Should such people be allowed to live in New Zealand they would have to be subject to surveillance that under any other circumstances I think New Zealanders would disagree with, and possibly even protest.

Thus I come to the conclusion that Mark John Taylor, a New Zealander who has gone to Syria and served Daesh has no place coming back to New Zealand. Mr Taylor has committed a criminal offence in burning his New Zealand passport, as well as encouraging people to wage jihad on A.N.Z.A.C. Day. His remorse is at best, questionable – was he really naive and just being silly or did Mr Taylor really know what he was doing? My thoughts are that it is probably the latter: he knew what he was doing and why.

How Mr Taylor comes back to New Zealand is unknown. He faces a number of legal and logistical hurdles, long before he gets to the New Zealand border (airport). The first is that there is no New Zealand diplomatic presence of any kind in Syria, which means that he would have to leave the country and go probably to Israel, Lebanon, Jordan or Turkey to present at a New Zealand embassy or other diplomatic mission. Having made it that far – and assuming he was not held at the border of his country of choice – Mr Taylor will have no documentation on him since he destroyed his passport and whatever New Zealand mission he presents at will become aware of his past and might well conclude that it is not proper for them to issue him some kind of visa or other documentation allowing him to go home.

And then, even if he somehow makes it to Customs at a New Zealand airport or other border entry point, Mr Taylor will be of keen interest to the New Zealand Police and Customs. He will most probably be taken into custody whilst they establish who he is, his intentions and whether he poses a threat. He will have to answer before a court of law or other hearing as to what he was doing in Syria and be prepared for the probability of criminal charges relating to that.

So, whilst it looks like we are not going to strip him of his nationality, there probably cannot be a much harder legal road ahead if he tried. And as it is of his own making he should not expect sympathy.

Questions face the West; the East is rising – and New Zealand looks on

Today, by the time you read this, British Prime Minister Theresa May will know whether she is staring down the barrel of electoral defeat or living, albeit badly wounded to fight another day. It is hardly inspiring to look at the fog of mystery enveloping the United Kingdom as it struggles with Brexit in all its uncertainty. Do the Conservatives or Labour know what they are doing or meant to be doing? Most likely no more than the shop keeper, the bus driver, the school teacher, or police officer doing their daily duties.

Will the U.K. be ready for Brexit on 29 March 2019 or will it have to delay?

But if we look across the English Channel to France, where the Yellow Vest revolt has entered its tenth week and has forced President Emmanuel Macron to have second thoughts about some of his more controversial policies, are things any better? France rejected the left and the right when it elected President Macron after a failed term of Francois Hollande on the left and Nicolas Sarkozy on the right, in the hope that a centrist might make more sense. Nearly two years on, it is hard to tell whether Mr Macron has had any success or not.

Will the Yellow vests become like the protesters of 1968, who ground France to a halt?

And then there is America, partially immobilized by a Trumpian shut down that shows no signs of ending and is now the longest on record. Hundreds of thousands of Federal workers who were furloughed got no pay last week. Thousands of them will be starting to seriously think about looking for alternative work in order to keep their household upright; others will be digging into their savings and wondering how long they can keep going like this before joining the thousands who will have already started looking for other work. It will not be the Democrats or the Republicans that decide this, but the thousand of furloughed workers.

The question facing America is how many vacancies in Federal jobs will have opened up due to furloughed workers quitting by the time this ends?

The dragon is rising. China is actively expanding its sphere of influence by building fake islands and then militarizing them. The old imperial vision of being a ruler of the high seas like Zheng He was in the age of imperial China is growing on President Xi Jinping, whose own ambitions are to create a dynasty not constrained by time limits rather than a President. As the dragon rises, so does the dystopian surveillance state that profiles hundreds of millions of Chinese using a vast array of computerized algorithms.

How much tighter can the Great Firewall of China get? Apparently the answer is quite a lot.

Nearer to home, one must wonder what will become of the Government of Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Riddled by scandal, crippled in the House by infighting, petrified of Aboriginals, asylum seekers, environmentalists and the Labor Party, Mr Morrison’s Government is struggling to make it even to the last day that it can call a General Election, due this year. But even if Labor wins, it will have a huge job ahead rebuilding Australia’s reputation on the world stage, addressing the socio-economic circumstances that have made places like Sydney among the most expensive in the west.

But can it get rid of the following, whose departure is necessary for Australia to rehabilitate itself: former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, Immigration Minister Peter Dutton, Minister for Environment Greg Hunt, current Prime Minister Scott Morrison, former Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, among others?

Looking at all of this unfolding from afar it is easy to be smug in New Zealand. However we have little reason for smugness. We have far too many people dying on the roads; a weak justice system, education and social welfare reforms badly needed; stronger leadership on waste and other environmental issues and as the Queen and Prince Philip grow ever older, constitutional reform looms as an indecipherable shape on the horizon.

How will New Zealand address these many challenges? Will it continue looking on with a smug “she’ll be right attitude” or will we notice Godzone could do with a bit of work herself?

Meme’s as misinformation (and disinformation)on social media

How many of you have clicked on a meme on Facebook? Be honest.

Memes are a popular way of getting a message across with a catchy graphic and a short but choice selection of words. They are intended to convey a point in a few seconds with minimal thinking involved. That is if the graphic and the text match.

But what about what the meme is telling the viewer and reality? Quite often there is degree of separation between the reality and what is being implied.

Much of the time the meme might be based on regurgitated information that was correct at the time of publication, but which is no longer the case. Many of them are completely harmless as people generally know enough to realize it is outdated.

A more concerning meme is the type that believed by people with a social disconnect, or who come from backgrounds where education was not such a high priority. Without any thought they might be unwittingly passing on disproved information. Almost none of these meme’s have references attached so it is difficult to track down who the author was or where their information came from. Many might have been written as a joke, but have somehow become gospel. Others were simply written out of boredom, got popular on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or other social media and took off.

These meme’s are problematic because potentially anyone who can use a computer and has an internet connection could compile one with just a bit of training. Sometimes those meme’s are also made by people and organizations who honestly should have known better – New Zealand Labour Party and a meme going around about walking away from the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (now Comprehensive and Progressive Trans Pacific Partnership). It was made for the 2017 election. Labour are now in office and this misleading meme – it was dubious then, and it is more so now – continues to exist. Labour could take it down right now if they so chose to do so and many have called for them to do so, but I could find it on Facebook now I if I wanted to.

Others exist as well. They range in content. Some are medical advice that has been shot down enough times over that no reputable medical professional would support it. Some are flat out lies about political announcements and policy. Some were made overseas and went viral, somehow catching on in New Zealand even though it was demonstrably obvious that it had nothing to do with this corner of the world.

Most recently I have seen meme’s about the Kilauea volcanic eruption in Hawaii. These memes have been concerning because there have been a few instances of people taking the maps released by Hawaiian state government officials and the United States Geological Survey They have then expanded the map so it looks like a significant part of Hawaii is being inundated by lava and then used the print-screen function to create an image and posted it, ignoring the fact that over 90% of the island is still fully accessible. These do not help because they exaggerate the scale of the problem – yes it is a substantial eruption and yes it is causing major disruption. People then think “oh, the holiday will have to be cancelled, or nobody will want us to visit”.

And there are those that are simply disinformation. They were intentionally written to mislead. Sometimes facts get in the way of a good story. Sometimes political discourse runs into scientific research and the science is dismissed under any one or more of a range political disguises – the sky is falling; fake news; mainstream media – and so on. These are the most destructive as they are deliberate attempts to swing the public discourse down a route that might have large scale adverse results and has been widely discredited by those who have spent their careers thus far – be 4 years or 40 years – researching and making an honest attempt to understand their subject.

Some media outlets are unfortunately complicit in deliberate disinformation campaigns. Russia Today and Fox News are two such outlets, but there are others. Since the advent of mainstream journalism, the principles of journalism have slumped somewhat. It is not to say no good journalists still exist as many do, but corporate media where making a profit seems preferable to upholding the principles of the Fourth Estate, does seem to have an unfortunate propensity for tabloid news ahead of real news. Sometimes unfortunately that transmits as memes.