Hawaii missile warning a reminder of the times

Yesterday’s ballistic missile scare in Hawaii had haunting echoes of a time I had hoped had long since past. It only lasted about 40 minutes before officials announced it was a false alarm, but in that time, Hawaii had a terrifying taste of what to expect in the minutes before an actual missile strike. And more than 70 years after the first nuclear weapons test, it is a reminder of what a volatile world we live in and what we are bringing our children and grandchildren up in.

But let us have a brief look back in the time line of war scares and see how we compare today with earlier times. In 1947, a bunch of concerned scientists called themselves Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists and instituted the Doomsday Clock.

The doomsday clock is no ordinary clock. Whereas an ordinary clock continually goes forward, except when the hour hand is wound backwards for the end of daylight savings, this one goes forward and back. It is designed to show how close the world is to nuclear midnight, a time at which if – heaven forbid – we ever get there, the world, or part of it, will be understood to be in the midst of some sort of thermo/nuclear conflagration.

Timeline of the nuclear doomsday clock (Source: Bulletin of Atomic Scientists).

The timeline shows how the clock has moved backwards and forwards over the years, depending on the level of international tension. It started life in 1947 at 23:53PM and kept slipping progressively forward as tensions between the U.S. and U.S.S.R. increased. The 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis should probably be the lowest point (closest point to nuclear midnight)as during the 13 days of this crisis the United States was actively preparing to invade Cuba to destroy medium range missile sites installed by the U.S.S.R., aimed at the U.S., not away that short range sites also existed and could be aimed at the invasion beaches. At this stage, though not shown due to the short duration of the crisis it was probably 23:59. It improved after that, through the 1970’s, but started to deteriorate again to reach 23:58 in 1984 as a result of major wars between Iraq and Iran, and the Soviet incursion into Afghanistan.

When the Cold War ended at the end of 1991 it was 23:47, with major cuts happening in military forces across the world. The threat of nuclear war had receded. The major proxy conflicts between the U.S.S.R. and the U.S. with their client states had ended.

A bigger problem was who or what would fill the void left by the collapsed U.S.S.R. Initially that was unanswered. Later in 1994-95 Russia began trying to reassert its influence by destroying a separatist movement in Chechnya. In 2000, current Russian President Vladimir Putin was elected for the first time. Nationalism began to infiltrate Russian politics and defence spending began to increase once more.

In China another rival of the U.S., the Chinese economy and military spending were both growing in near double digit figures. Their large, Soviet inspired military of the Cold War began a massive transformation into the second most powerful military machine in the world today, slimmed down in size but with weapons, tactics and training fit for the 21st century. With a roaring economy came a roaring demand for raw material – coal, oil, gas, wood, steel. And most recently a Chinese agenda for a century of the Dragon.

Decades of interference by the C.I.A. in other countries affairs bit America on 11 September 2001. Whilst the world and the U.S. were rightfully horrified at the huge loss of life, such interference was always going to eventually boomerang on them. The then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld may have been looking into a crystal ball when he said that the war might last 15-20 years and involve multiple invasions. Whatever the case, that has happened. But with a lack of obvious outcomes apparent, many have tired of the constant American emphasis on terrorism, especially when some of their actions have undermined the cause.

And all this time, the Kim dynasty of North Korea has quietly gone on its way observing events world wide and learning from American actions. With unfathomable brutality he and his daddy and grand daddy have made North Korea a vast prison camp with nuclear deterrence. With China (reluctantly and most likely more interested in their own one party state) acting as an insurance policy against American invasion, Kim Jong Un probably felt quite safe until Donald Trump assumed the Presidency.

We should not take anything for granted here in New Zealand. We should consider how we can mitigate the consequences of a war on the Korean peninsula – assuming in the first instance it is a conventional war with no nuclear, chemical or biological weapons involved. The political and economic fallout will be huge with huge loss in just about all sectors of the economy, and in particular the flow of international tourists to and from N.Z, but also various trading sectors.

Obviously I sincerely hope that the tensions de-escalate on the Korean Peninsula. However the level of fear and panic that was caused by the false ballistic missile warning in Hawaii, shows what would happen in the event of an actual attack, irrespective of whether it was in Japan where several warnings from actual missile over flights, or somewhere further afield.

These are fascinating times without doubt, but for all the wrong reasons. I don’t think I am the only one who really wants a de-escalation on the Korean Peninsula, whilst being acutely aware it could get much, much worse.

China stops taking other nations waste; time to cut New Zealand’s waste

In a move that I believe is as much about standing up for itself and no longer wanting to be the dumping ground of other nations waste, as about rebuking the west, the People’s Republic of China will no longer accept other nations waste.

Officially the move comes as China attempts to address industrial pollution caused by its many factories and inefficient environmental compliance. It announced in July 2017 that it would no longer take international waste, with a ban on 24 separate kinds of waste.

This is an issue that can be seen from multiple angles if one will. One of those angles is that China in the past might have had a market for recyclable waste because matching demand for products such as mirror frames, furniture and other items was so great that recycled products from overseas were deemed acceptable. The market might have reduced in size, but is unlikely to have collapsed. A completely different perspective is one that I think might be the driver of this, and that is that China has simply decided it generates enough waste on its own that the demand for products can be met by using the domestic waste stream. A third, perhaps ideologically driven angle could be that this is simply an ideological rebuke of western market economics, driven by ideologues in the Chinese Government.

Whatever the case, this has serious implications for the waste generation and export market world wide. New Zealand is absolutely no exception to the rule and in fact, with a lax “she’ll be right” attitude to recycling and reducing our ecological footprint, we are likely to be one of the worse hit nations as a result of this decision. It raises a number of questions that we need to consider with urgency:

  • Where will the waste that China accepts each year go now?
  • Where will New Zealand put the waste that we would have otherwise sent to China?
  • How are we going to address the larger waste production problem in this country?

Individual New Zealanders have a huge ecological footprint made by the materials we consume. Whether its plastics with oils in them, wood furniture or electronics with rare earth minerals in them, New Zealand, like every other western country has a footprint that is not sustainable – in fact if every person on the planet tried to live like a New Zealander we would need 95% of another Earth type planet to provide all of the materials needed to sustain this rate of consumption. But there is no Planet B within reach.

Governments – no doubt this one, and certainly its recent predecessors – say they are committed to environmentally responsible practices. If that were the case, we would have long since introduced legislation to amend consumer law to encourage and provide for more proactive recycling practices; a much bigger investment in researching energy production based on the waste stream and not fossil fuels. We have not because “she’ll be right” is the prevalent thought stream in New Zealand politics and is one of the primary reasons why this country has slipped in the last 30 years.


International forecast for 2018

I and many others thought the world could not be more turbulent, short of war, than it was in 2016 when Britain said YES to Brexit and United States President Donald John Trump was elected. And then we had 2017 and collectively realized how wrong we were. So rather than make that mistake again, I acknowledge the times.

In a turbulent, unstable world with more twists and turns than the best roller coaster in the world, I predict a couple of major political shocks will happen this year:

  • Germany will be forced back to the polls because Angela Merkel will be made to resign
  • An attempt to crash the Venezuelan Government of Nicolas Maduro will happen, but he will declare full martial law, block the media and try to impose total control
  • The Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement  for the Trans Pacific Partnership will limp forward, but not before a second country walks away from it

The North Korean crisis will continue to simmer away. There will be at least one nuclear test. More missile tests will follow. Defections will increase and further incidents like the one with North Korean soldiers trying to shoot down a defecting comrade will occur. It remains on tenterhooks. Just one missile accidentally landing on the territory of another nation or hitting something it shouldn’t have could spark an international emergency.

The Australian Government will make it to 2019, but remain one by-election away from collapse. Immigration Minister Peter Dutton will continue to be a lightning rod for criticism from a broad spectrum of critics. The Australian Labor Party will continue to sleep walk towards victory in 2019, but will gradually become aware of the need to replace Bill Shorten as leader – possibly with Tanya Pilbersek.

Russian President Vladimir Putin will win the 2018 selection. In a race with opponents of any credibility banned or harassed into silence, Mr Putin will be effectively the only candidate left on the ballot paper.

The United States mid terms will be a bitter contest and end up on a knife edge with a Congress and Senate virtually paralyzed, thus setting up a bitter remaining two years in President Trump’s first term in office. Mr Trump will fire Robert Mueller and Congressional and Senate Republicans will block attempts to have Mr Trump removed from office. Hostility between Republicans and Democrats will become incandescent.

Syria will continue to be a glaring black mark on the worlds conscience. Wrecked by war, with world leaders continuing to be diverted by sexier issues such as Brexit, anything Mr Trump does, North Korea and so forth, it will continue to struggle for attention that it so badly needs and some sort of agreement to allow unfettered aid in. It may need to be supervised by a United Nations peace keeping force.

The environmental degradation will continue apace, not so much because of Government attitudes – in fact it seemed like there was sudden interest in the latter part of 2017 to act on plastics – but because the inertia of the problem is such it will take years of comprehensive action by all of the major powers to reverse the train. Individually though there will be more positive signs from individual nations that they are starting to realize how much danger the global ecosystem is in.

George Lucas will call time on the Star Wars franchise after the ninth film is released to the public. Mr Lucas will try to tie up as many loose ends as he can, whilst deliberately leaving future events in the Star Wars universe to the public’s imagination. “A long time ago in a galaxy, far far away” will march off into past times, but perhaps in a galaxy not so far away.

The #MeToo hashtag will continue to be a symbol of women coming forward – but also some men –  to say that that they were abused, that they were mistreated, not only by the now thoroughly disgraced Harvey Weinstein, but also his brother and other film directors who thought they were above the law. There may be attempts to prosecute him based on more recent allegations.

Hang on to your hats, because this is going to a real roller coaster ride.


The international year in review: 2017

Even before 2017 started many people had a good idea of who would be the major story maker this year. Even before Donald John Trump became President of the United States, all of the signs were that there would be a rocky transition from the administration of President Barak Hussein Obama and an even more turbulent first year – and Mr Trump did not disappoint. Below are just a few of the highlights of Mr Trump’s first year in office:

  • The federal indictment led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller
  • Withdrawing from the Paris Accord
  • Ratcheting up the drum beat of war against North Korea to deafening levels
  • The wa(r)ll  against illegal immigrants and the anti-Muslim profiling
  • Moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, the massive backlash and U.S. counter response

Perhaps the saddest story of the year goes to the desecration of our natural ecosystem and the declaration by scientists that the world has officially entered a mass extinction phase where biodiversity is being killed off far faster than it can undo the damage. Whilst this extinction has been underway for some time, it faces the dubious prospect of being the first that can be demonstrably linked to humankind’s insatiable appetite for resources, the pollution caused by developing those resources – not just the holes in the ground from open cast mining, but also the rivers polluted to the extent nothing lives in them any more, the dumping of toxins in the environment and the carbonization of the oceans.

Kim Jong Un and Mr Trump have one thing in common. Both LOVE the limelight. They seem to love doing things perceived by the rest of the world to be crazy, reckless or dangerous. Both also have bizarre hair and a few too many pounds. In a competition that looks like two boys waving with their privates on a world stage, how much further can Kim Jong Un and Mr Trump take their rhetoric before one or the other does something they – and ultimately the world – end up regretting?

Techno threat of the year must go to the Wanna Cry ransomware attack in May. This highly damaging event caused massive disruption across the world by infecting computers with infected software that would freeze access to computer files, and then, if a ransom was not paid within a certain time, start making them disappear. North Korea is suspected of having been behind it, but this is not yet proven.

Robot of the year award would have to go to British Prime Minister Theresa May for her completely detached response to the Grenfell tower fire. This, aside from being an unintended arsenal for Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn on the campaign trail after Mrs May called a snap election, gave rise to the term “Maybot”. In the background concerns about how the Brexit negotiations are going continue to rumble like a distant thunderstorm.

And yet, there were some compelling good news stories among all of the doom and gloom. Far too often, these slide under the radar of a media that seems bent on doom and gloom. So, here are a few highlights:

  • After a year long campaign caused by a tortured political process, Australia said yes to same sex marriage – this came  in the same year Mr Trump tried to ban transgender people from serving in the U.S. military.
  • Zimbabwean dictator Robert Gabriel Mugabe was ousted by his own party from office after 37 years, to be replaced by Emmerson Mnangagwa. The world is waiting to see if the billions of dollars suspected to have been taken by Mr Mugabe and his Government officials will be returned.
  • Saudi Arabia became the very last country in the world to permit women to drive.

Disaster of the year award in any other case probably would have gone to Hurricane Irma for its sheer size and the damage that it caused. However Hurricane Maria, which followed a few days later and devastated Puerto Rico upstages it  in a year where hurricanes with girls names were more catastrophic than those with boys names.

To those of you not in New Zealand, enjoy what is left of 2017 and I will see you in 2018.

New Zealand U.N. vote NOT anti-American

As the furore over the American decision to acknowledge Jerusalem as the capital of Israel grows, the United Nations Security Council has voted against the U.S. move 14-1. And the United Nations General Assembly voted 128 to 9 with Canada and Australia abstaining

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has been very clear on the issue.

Contrary to the popular belief of Fox viewers, the international vote against the United States moving its capital to Jerusalem is not an expression of anti-Americanism. In the context of New Zealand, it is no more so than the 1985 resolution condemning France for the Rainbow Warrior bombing is anti-French. Both were the result of their respective Governments making poor choices on the international stage that the world saw as non compatible with it’s understanding of international law. Many French were horrified by what their country had done and so too are many Americans horrified at what it is doing in the Middle East today, and that has to be recognized.

Anti-Americanism in my view is an act openly contemptuous of America as nation or Americans as a people. It is stated in a way that is deliberately intended to degrade and have a strain of hatred in it. Anti-American rhetoric is what you hear from the Ayatollahs of Iran or the propaganda of such organizations as al-Qaida. I do not see such ugliness emanating from New Zealand or the United Nations General Assembly.

Nor is the vote anti-Israeli. The world has never recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Contrary to the belief of the Prime Minister of Israel, the world has long recognized  that the issue of Jerusalem can only be resolved by negotiations in the broader two state context. Further contrary to his belief, this is not an anti-Israeli vote. The idea that it is, is insulting and inflammatory. Many Israeli’s are quite horrified by the Government of their country and the systematic way in which it is slowly but deliberately taking Palestinian lands and eradicating any evidence of Palestine. They know about the deliberate annexation by stealth using the establishment of new villages to stake a claim to Palestinian land. They know about the demolition of orchards depriving Palestinians of one of only a few sources of income. I assume then they also know that the street names in Palestinian territories are changing as they come under Israeli control. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu knows full well what his country is doing and even endorses it – he just will not admit it because it would be an own goal and a point blank admission that Palestinians are telling the truth.

I have stated before my position on Israel. What needs to be said is that this requires international co-operation. In return for Israel withdrawing from the lands seized in1967 and 1973, Russia must tell Iran to stop supporting Hezbollah, HAMAS and other militants. Palestine must give recognition to Israel’s 1967 borders and cease all militant activity, disarm them and disband the militant wings of these and other organizations.

Neither side is perfect and both have done things that they should not have. But there are other historic players who need to be acknowledged. Britain and France took over swathes of the Middle East in 1916-17. As part of the British mandate a Jewish state was established as a result of the Balfour Declaration. The Arab interpretation of the Declaration was that an Arab state would also be established. None was and when one looks at the causes of anti-Israeli sentiment today among Arab nation’s, this is is most likely a major reason for such ‘ll feeling.