Trump victory a certainty unless Democrats get their act together


The most recent Democrat caucus in Nevada must have the realists on the American left quietly petrified. In a caucus race to find someone to oust a man who is probably the most divisive U.S. President in history, few if any of the candidates look anywhere near Presidential material. Donald Trump might have been impeached by the Democrats, but the near unanimous unity of Republicans behind him means the Republican caucuses might as well wrap up now.

Whilst Bernie Sanders has the support of many on the left, given the generally conservative disposition of Americans such a radical swing to the left would probably result in – eventually, and assuming Mr Sanders survives his time in office – an equally radical swing back to the right. And in doing so, would alienate tens of millions of Americans from both sides of the spectrum at a time when a spectrum wide unity is necessary.

Mr Sanders has a more immediate problem that many have overlooked. He is 82. In New Zealand I am not aware of any politician currently or for that matter ever being in office at that age. His health has failed him once or twice recently, and the stress of campaigning across such a vast country must be immense. Should he die in office, he would join just Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy and Franklin Roosevelt on the list of those who did not make it out of the White House alive.

Subsequently for these reasons, I do not see Mr Sanders becoming the 46th President of the United States.

But there are more sinister theories at work that Russian agents are working to get Mr Sanders to become the Democratic nominee so as to create a backlash that ensures Mr Trump’s victory. Mr Trump ardently denied these when they were mentioned to him, which no one should find surprising. Admitting it would be to undo years of Trumpian policy in one fell swoop.

If Mr Sanders withdraws from the race, where does that leave the Democrats? Who else has a realistic chance of taking on Mr Trump?

The state of the Democrat nomination race does not impress me in the least. We have Peter Buttigieg, a gay man of 38 standing for the first time. I see no name recognition whatsoever in him, and a quick look at his policy platform was not exciting either. There is a distinct lack of appeal among black voters in the southern states, who say that Mr Buttigieg does not understand or respect the socio-economic challenges facing them.

Elizabeth Warren is struggling. Her campaign had poor showings in both the Iowa and New Hampshire stages. She has not improved in Nevada. Her media coverage is poor and she is struggling for money.

Joe Biden has an inescapable Barak Obama problem. Because Mr Biden was Mr Obama’s Vice President, he is by default attached to a President that the Republican party have expended huge effort trying to undermine, even though he has not been in the White House for more than three years now. They will no doubt expend similar effort on Mr Biden. But also, Mr Biden is too far to the right for many Democrats, too much a part of the swamp problem that Republicans allege to exist in Washington D.C.

Amy Klobuchar is not leading the Democrats, but she is steady. She is credited with having skills and qualities that other Democrats allegedly do not. One is grit. She will not give up easily and her pragmatism is seen as a way to reach out to Republicans and other Democrats on the policy front. Still, a read of her record tells me she is towards the more progressive end of the Democrat spectrum.

The one Democrat whose policy platform I think is realistic is Tulsi Gabbard. But Ms Gabbard’s campaign has been all but abandoned because she has realized she does not have a big enough profile to draw out donors, but also because she has struggled to get serious media attention. Maybe in 2024 Ms Gabbard will try again with the added experience and better media exposure, but I cannot see her campaign reigniting in 2020.

That leaves a rather field for the Democrats. And maybe it was meant to be this way. Maybe the only way America is going to realize what a moron they have in the White House is to suffer another four years of him and wonder why the world is getting so angry.

I hope not, but unless this Democrat field gets its act together in the next short while, this is a preliminary call of the U.S. 2020 Presidential Election.

Political donations issues highlight need to change the law


Over the last few months, questions have been raised about how New Zealand First has handled political donations with regards to the Electoral Finance Act. That has been referred to the Police, who promptly sent it to the Serious Fraud Office. It has led to the Leader of the Opposition, Simon Bridges and his Deputy Paula Bennett both saying that the Government needs to stand down New Zealand First Leader Winston Peters as happened in 2008.

A couple of days ago it emerged National had received two significant donations of $100,000 which had to be declared but are alleged to have been broken into substantially smaller chunks to avoid disclosure laws. Now former Member of Parliament, Member for Howick Jami-Lee Ross has been charged along with three Chinese nationals by the Serious Fraud Office over them.

Mr Ross was hospitalized in 2018 following a mental break down during which time he levelled damaging allegations against the National Party. They after it was revealed that National might not have declared a significant donation from one of the three Chinese nationals, Zhang Yikun. Mr Ross was expelled from the National Party and became an independent whilst continuing to hold the seat of Howick, but as an independent M.P.

These two cases, separate as they are, highlight clearly the need for decisive action on the subject of electoral finance law. Is the Act, which was passed in 2006 following revelations nearly every party in Parliament misused money in the 2005 and had to pay it back, no longer working? If so, what needs to be changed?

These questions and others about our E.F.A. will be asked by more people as we approach the 2020 General Election. With confidence in politicians and the system that elects them to office falling, being seen to want positive changes that make the Act fairer and more accountable to the New Zealand public, is not so much a “good idea” any more as it is essential. Minister of Justice Andrew Little appeared to realize when he told New Zealand that he might bypass the Justice Committee in order to get changes through the House before the 2020 General Election.

The Electoral Commission says that parties must report immediate donations and/or loans in excess of $30,000.

Parties may keep up to $1,500 of any anonymous donation, and up to $1,500 of any donation from an overseas person.

If an anonymous donor gives more than that, the party must pass the extra amount to us within 20 working days. If an overseas person gives more than that, the party must return the extra amount to them or, if that isn’t possible, to us within 20 working days.

However, a party can keep more of an anonymous donation if it is a ‘donation protected from disclosure’. These are payments that we make to the party on behalf of donors that want to remain anonymous. Between two successive elections, parties can receive up to $307,610 in donations protected from disclosure. If a donation will take a party over their limit, we will return the excess to the donor.

Along with the two donation issues mentioned above, there is also concern that China is trying to buy influence in New Zealand politics by getting Members of Parliament involved with Chinese Communist Party activities. At some of these events, I have little doubt that donations are being talked about in a broad sense.

Cult of personality undermining the America that the West knows


For millions of people around the world, the impeachment trial of United States President Donald Trump was a spectacle – and a rather sad one at that. It was the spectacle of a President with an almost cultish following, including yes-men in high elected positions, making a mockery of one of the most serious trials in American history. But it is not just this trial, but rather how Mr Trump has treated the office of President of the United States and what we might expect from his remaining time in office – 11 months or 4 years 11 months – that has people talking.

Following Mr Trump’s acquittal, the President was quick to take show a degree of vindictiveness that would have surprised any neutral observer when he started taking revenge on those who supported the impeachment process. Within hours, he was ending his association with officials inside and outside of the White House who had testified. First t(w)o go were Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman and his brother Yavgeny (who had no involvement in the trial). Also quickly removed was the United States Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, despite Republican resistance. And it is feared that others will follow suit in the coming days and weeks.

Toxic – and potentially damaging to relations with New Zealand, if people knew – was his decision to award radio commentator Rush Limbaugh, the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Mr Limbaugh, after the Christchurch terrorist attacks labelled the event a “false leftist flag” event, which in other words meant leftist interests somehow staged it.

Perhaps most damaging is the attack on the United States Constitution, which Mr Trump and all incoming elected officials have to swear to uphold. One of the most notorious is his offer to hold the G7 Summit at a Miami resort he owns, and thereby conduct personal business, whilst holding the office of President. As a Constitutional violation this is quite severe. The emoluments clauses provide for ensuring that no elected official shall accept foreign titles, presents, emoluments, offices or any other such gift from a foreign head of state or head of government. Mr Trump tried to allege that his predecessor Barak Obama did a deal with Netflix or a deal for a book whilst in office. But as Netflix is not a foreign government or representative of a foreign government, his argument falls flat.

But in terms of danger, the evolution of Mr Trumps following from being loyal supporters to that of a cult like group evokes dark echoes of the supporters of past global leaders. With a television channel (Fox), and a group of hand picked commentators telling one what to think When supporters go from saying that something their hero allegedly did “simply did not happen” is one thing. But to have said alleged incident then go to “okay it did happen, but what is it to us?” and then to “okay it happened, but we don’t care” is a clear evolution into blind following of the leader. The final stage, normally after a disaster or significantly adverse event is “okay this happened, but we didn’t know it would…”.

As this Presidency heads towards the end of its first term, many commentators will be nervously watching to see how much worse it can get. But one thing is for certain. Regardless of either its – hopefully – decisive defeat, or a victory that serves to divide America possibly for generations after Mr Trump leaves office, it is hard to see how the conduct of No. 45 is going to help America’s prestige around the world.

Is the effect of the Coronavirus over rated?


After watching the increasingly gloomy media coverage, for the last couple of weeks, I have a few thoughts on the coronavirus outbreak.
 
On one hand I can see why there is a lot of concern about it. Coronavirus appears to transmit more easily than SARS (2002) or Swine Flu (2009)did, but is that really a testament to its characteristics, or the fact that airlines go to a lot more places in 2020 than they did in 2009? For example in New Zealand Chinese airlines did not fly to Christchurch until a few years ago. China Southern did not start flying into Auckland until 2011, when three flights a week were introduced, which had ramped up to 14 flights a week by the end of 2014. Then Cathay Pacific announced flights from Hong Kong to Auckland would start in 2016 using the then brand new Airbus A350 and more recently into Christchurch. For New Zealand’s part, Air New Zealand started flying into Shanghai from Auckland.
 
On the other hand, measles send over 140,000 people to their graves each year and no one seems to be making a big kick and stink about it. In 2018, 140,000 people or a bit more than the combined populations of Hastings and Napier put together were killed worldwide.The outbreak in Samoa last year showed that New Zealand should be focussing considerably more on helping our Pacific neighbours who lack the resources, the financial ability and the staffing to do the necessary work.
 
 
Similarly the influenza is more lethal than coronavirus. In the 2018-19 season in the U.S. alone between 34,000 and 57,000 people were killed; 500,000 hospitalized and millions made sick. And that was just the United States. Around the world, influenza kills 250,000-500,000 people each year. To put that into perspective, the upper end of that range is nearly everyone living in the Wellington Region. Like the measles, it does not seem to get the same level of coverage one might
 
In New Zealand the Chinese Consul General in Auckland has criticized the reaction of the New Zealand Government, saying it is excessive and is biased. The Consul General said that events such as Japan Day, which has been left in limbo by organizers worried about potentially spreading the disease, should go ahead.
Unfortunately there have been incidents of racism displayed towards Chinese people, visitors or otherwise. Taxi drivers have refused to pick up Chinese people; e-mails have been sent to the parents of Chinese students saying New Zealand does not want “your disgusting virus spreaders” in their children’s classes. Without doubt, there has probably been an increase in that kind of attitude, and I can only say sorry to those Chinese who have suffered such abuse.
Perhaps the most affected sector is probably the tourism sector, which would be expecting in any Chinese New Year period to have a big surge in business. From rental car companies, to accommodation suppliers all would have been looking forward to the business transactions that come with hundreds of thousands of Chinese tourists going in every direction across the planet on holiday. With flights from China now suspended for the immediate future much of that business has suddenly vanished.
Whilst it is sad for all of these people, the Chinese Government has not helped anyone – or themselves – by threatening the media outlets who dared to comment on the systemic under reporting by Chinese officials of coronavirus cases. In what could only be described as an attempt to cover up a growing crisis, they censored articles suggesting Wuhan health officials were being economic with the truth.
With behaviour like that, little wonder people are on edge.

Britain leaps into post E.U. uncertainty; New Zealand hopes for trade deal


At 2300 hours on 31 January 2020, Britain left the European Union. After some 1316 days after the turbulent saga began with that infamous vote on 23 June 2016 the nation of the Union Jack was no longer a member. And whilst the Brexit Party has got what it wanted, plenty of uncertainty awaits the nation that New Zealand will now most probably try to make a trade agreement with, the highest priority.

For the most immediate future though, life goes on in much the same way unless one is one of the British Members of the European Parliament. who now find themselves redundant. The hard border that many were concerned would immediately pop up between Britain and Ireland and its security implications as well as historical implications, will not appear – if at all – until the transition period from being an E.U. member nation is complete.

But make no mistake, for better or for worse the implications of what happened at 2300 hours 31 January 2020 are huge. Millions of people living in the U.K. long term, especially those in minority ethnic groups are probably feeling somewhat uncertain at the moment. The Romanian population in Britain is reporting that it is no longer feeling welcome, just as Bucharest launches a “return home” appeal to those Romanians who reside in Britain.Those such as the Americans, Canadians, Australians and New Zealanders who have visa arrangements and whose countries are on good terms with Britain, may have an easier time.

With Britain now out of the E.U., a host of laws will need to be revisited to make sure that they are still fit for purpose. Far from being the most turbulent part of the whole charade, the real turbulence as immigration, trade, environmental and other policy areas come under renewed scrutiny, might actually be still to come.

Amongst all of this, Britain will be looking at the scope for trade deals with other nations. New Zealand, Australia, Canada, the U.S. and others will be high priorities. So will be resetting their security relations in terms of defence and foreign policy. All of this is something that has not gone unnoticed by the New Zealand Government, with Minister of Trade David Parker hoping to have some sort of trade deal wrapped up with Britain by 2021. Mr Parker will be under pressure to have streamlined access to British markets for New Zealand produce that might have been complicated by E.U. laws prior to 31 January. New Zealanders living in the United Kingdom might be hoping for easier processes in terms of becoming U.K. permanent residents and citizens as well.

For now though, the fallout from Brexit will not really start to be known for a while. The Irish border will remain open, but in the Oireachtas Éireann, as much as in the House of Commons, no doubt a lot of people will be starting to have some deep conversations in the coming days and weeks about how the border should function. Similarly in Scotland’s Parliament, the Parliamaid na h-Alba, there will be conversations that Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister will be leading about where Scotland goes – it did not vote to leave the E.U., and Ms Sturgeon is promising Scotland will be back, which some think could lead to a break with Britain and thus the end of U.K.