Why no one should be pleased about Trump having COVID19

United States President Donald Trump was yesterday diagnosed with COVID19, along with his wife First Lady of the United States, Melania Trump. Several key White House staff including an aide of Mr Trump, Hope Hicks have also tested positive for it.

There are people around the world and in the United States who will be happy that Mr Trump has been diagnosed with COVID19. They are happy for a number of reasons, not least they hope that it will teach Mr Trump to have some compassion for those who have had COVID, to develop some humility in the face of an unforgiving illness that has rocked America in ways its physical enemies could only dream about. They are happy because they hope that it will derail his Presidential re-election campaign and give Democrat nominee Joe Biden a better chance.

There are people who are happy here in New Zealand as well as in the United States, who wish worse on Mr Trump. Some say it is karma and that Mr Trump deserves everything that COVID19 might try to do to him. Some even go so far as to say outright that he should die.

I disagree. Vehemently.

Mr Trump having COVID19 will do no one anywhere in the world any favours. It will not bring back the 208,000 people who have died in the United States or cure the many hundreds of thousands of active cases that it has kicked up. It will not undo the eternal grief of nurses and doctors who have had to make devastating decisions about who can be saved and who should be let go; the morgues and crematorium who have to handle the remains of the deceased. Nor, despite Mr Trumps actions being largely responsible for the unholy mess that the United States now finds itself in, will wishing death on the President do anything to immediately stop the socio-economic schism now trying to form in what we referred to as the land of the free.

There are stridently anti-Trump voters here in New Zealand who will be breathing a sigh of relief. Their nemesis, their nightmare has some how been floored by COVID19.

I am not sure why they will be happy. We have a much more immediate issue here: the 2020 General Election. We have our own problems to be focussing on. With housing, social welfare, poverty, the environment, rebuilding the economy, keeping non-N.Z. political influences at bay and of course the rabble that is Advance New Zealand/N.Z. Public Party.

But also, how many of Mr Trumps many many detractors have looked at the credentials of Mr Michael Richard Pence, Vice President and the man who will succeed Mr Trump if he is incapacitated and no longer able to fulfil his role? How many people have looked who is next in line after Mr Pence, should he be incapacitated? Nancy Patricia Pelosi, Speaker of the House of Representatives. And in the oft chance that she is incapacitated? Benjamin Solomon Carson Snr., currently Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.

Mr Pence is an ardent Christian evangelist. His son is in the United States Marine Corps. He is anti-abortion, anti-LGBT, pro-gun and denies climate change. In many respects his views on Iran are harsher than those of Mr Trump.

As bad as Mr Trump is, there are worse people who could succeed him. Are you sure you want that?

Biden vs Trump: Round 1

Yesterday afternoon New Zealand time American Presidential candidates Democrat Joe Biden and Republican President Donald Trump had the first of three scheduled debates.

To sum up, it was a disaster. Neither Mr Biden or Mr Trump came out of it very well.

Mr Trump’s performance swung wildly between bullying, childish/immature responses and the downright terrifying. Several notable quotes came out of the debate from the Trump side which mainstream Americans would have found horrifying to contemplate. The award for the silliest goes to a claim made before the debate had even started, that Mr Trump had already won it. Then there were the alarming ones. They included a comment about white supremacy, which Mr Trump refused to condemn where he told the Proud Boys white supremacist group: “Proud Boys – stand back and stand by”, before saying that something needed to be done about ANTIFA and the left. And finally there were comments about whether he would ensure a peaceful transition of power in the event of him losing:

“It’s gonna be rigged. It’s gonna be a disaster. It’s gonna be a fraud, the likes of which you have never seen. This is not going to end well. But also we are going to win.”

It was not just Mr Trump’s conduct that should bother America. Mr Biden had lapses of concentration, which showed when he was asked a question about climate change.

But the worst thing Mr Biden did was to say that he does not support the New Green Deal for America. In other words he is – as Mr Trump once called him – “Status Quo Joe”. He is a person who is clearly showing a great reluctance to announce policies that will transform America for the better, and that clearly came out when he shot down the Democrat’s signature policy of a Green New Deal to get Americans into work; boost infrastructure and start the environmental sea change that is needed to make America more sustainable.

In a chaotic debate that had so many negatives from both the Republican and the Democrat candidates, it is much much easier to focus on the non-existent positives. The only positive I could find in this debate is that there are two more debates to go in which the audiences and the voting public will be wanting massive improvements from both sides. It bothers me that the best America would let itself come up with is two old pale stale males with no really radical plans that would bring about genuine benefits for America, no reassurance to America’s friends or reasons for America’s rivals to respect the United States. Mr Biden will be into his 80’s by the time he leaves office irrespective of whether he gets one term or two terms. Mr Trump will be 78 when he leaves office, if he gets another term.

Dear Jacinda: The weather is a metaphor for our current politics

Dear Jacinda Ardern,

It is a grey old kind of day here in Christchurch as I type this. Looking out the window at the dreary overcast drizzly weather wafting past, it seems to be a bit of a metaphor for the world at the moment. Grim. Dreary. No sign of getting better any time soon.

No doubt as you watch other countries including some that New Zealand is meant to be great mates with struggle, you must be counting your lucky stars that you are Prime Minister of New Zealand. You must be extremely grateful not to be having to manage the unravelling nightmare of COVID19 in the United States or quietly despairing in Down Street at the sight of huge numbers of people at the beach, without any regard to social distancing.

But going back to that metaphor, compared to the world, it is relatively sunny in New Zealand. Big powerful cumulonimbus clouds might be roving around on the horizon with their wild volatile problems, but thus far thanks to your leadership we have managed to avoid them. I hope you keep that way, and I am sure most of New Zealand want you to keep it that way too.

But Prime Minister, we have some lumpy cumulus clouds overhead that threaten to spoil things a bit, and they are ones that you can control as Prime Minister. One of those clouds is David Clark, trying to accidentally blot out the ray of sunshine that is Dr Ashley Bloomfield. I know you said you were annoyed with Mr Clark and said that if it were not for COVID19 and the need for a stable leadership team, he would be gone. Fair enough. But that was then. That was before Mr Clark threw Dr Bloomfield under the bus a few days ago.

I am sure Mr Clark is a nice guy in person, but he is going rain on your parade unless you take the Health portfolio of him, like now. New Zealanders don’t like that ray of sunshine being blocked and have noticed the cloud that is blocking it. The cloud needs to move along.

As for the grey old dreary kind of weather that is afflicting Christchurch at the moment, it is fortunately not as volatile as the thunderstorms that have been crossing Auckland and the Bay of Plenty of late. But as a rental car groomer at a service yard near Christchurch Airport, the dreariness in the sky is startlingly appropriate in terms of describing the global outlook. Planes are coming and going. I hear their engines as they disappear into the cloud from the runway a few hundred metres away. The complete absence of foreign tourists, being a reminder that the COVID19 storm is raining heavily in many countries. The constant drizzle is a metaphor for the single figure COVID case numbers being caught in isolation – the fact that it has for the most part not turned to rain, hopefully trying to tell us that the strategy of isolation is working.

My American friends can hear thunder. It is the thunder of a COVID19 storm that is far from finished and reminds every time I hear of a new rumble through the media of just how lucky we are in semi-sunny New Zealand. Now if you do not mind, we would love for you to please move that cloud along for us.



A stark contrast between the United States and New Zealand in war on COVID19

Yesterday a truly disturbing announcement was made about COVID19. Whereas the first 1 million cases world wide had taken 3 months to reach, the most recent million new cases took a mere 8 days. 125,000 cases or the equivalent of the entire population of Otago every day coming down with COVID19. And as we ramp up our efforts to keep the border secure, the contrast in handling the emergency between the country much of the West looks to for leadership and a country of two moderate size islands and a host of smaller ones 11,000 kilometres away, is becoming ever more stark.

New Zealand has made a few mistakes. We should have never allowed people in on compassionate grounds. From Day 1 we should have sent everyone to quarantine without exception. The Police should have gone in hard after a few days grace and done away with warnings and education.

I know there is a whole lot of coulda, woulda, shoulda in there, but if you look at earlier articles, you would see that I have acknowledged the mistakes. You will see that New Zealand has been – and I cannot say this with enough emphasis – very lucky to have had both the Opposition and the Government largely on the same page. For election year reasons as well as holding the Government to account, there have been obvious disagreements. When we look at how the Opposition and Government have worked or not worked together in other countries only then do we realize that for all their many faults, there are worse things than National and A.C.T. in politics.

But New Zealand has done very well to control COVID19 to the extent that we have. It has been a combination of circumstances and a brilliant response. New Zealand’s geographical location, so often the curse of the country in terms of our relevance to the rest of the world has paid rich dividends in this instance. Contrast that with Canada which has the United States on its border; France with Spain; India with Pakistan. The response, which was in the history of New Zealand, unprecedented, planning, announcing and implementing a complete national shutdown with the speed that Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern did was always going to catch some people out; was always going to have a couple of teething issues simply because so much had to happen so quickly, adequate planning simply was not possible for everything. Much of the desperate politicking by National and A.C.T. at the moment has nothing to do with COVID19 and is simply about the General Election on 19 September.

Before people say “the United States is much bigger than New Zealand, so more cases and fatalities should be expected”, yes that is true. But not on the disproportionate scale that the United States now finds itself in. The United States has 66x New Zealand’s population of 5 million people, but it also has vastly greater resources available to it, both in terms of Federal Government finances, equipment, personnel and so forth as well as an immense bank of knowledge to draw upon.

If the United States had some how managed to keep its cases strictly proportionate to New Zealand, prior to our case numbers starting to climb last week, the key equations would have been:

  • 1504 (N.Z. total cases) x 66 = 99,264 cases
  • 22 (N.Z. total deaths) x 66 = 1,452 deaths

If we were pragmatic we would acknowledge the social, geographic, economic disparities across the United States and the fact that a vastly larger population would bring individuals with a vastly greater range of medical conditions. On that basis, for arguments sake, one might then make a 3-4 fold allowance cases and deaths. But even that, horrible as the statistics are – and remembering EVERY life lost is a tragedy for a family somewhere, there or here – the following statistics still look comparatively good to what is actually happening in the United States;

  • 99,264 cases x 3 = 297,792; x 4 = 397,056
  • 1,452 deaths x 3 = 4,356; x 4 = 5,808

I honestly do not know what the answer is in the United States. With 2 million casualties and 120,000 dead it is clear that the United States has an unprecedented medical emergency on its hands, especially as the U.S. moves into the hottest months of its calender year. With major holidays such as Independence Day still a month away and an election campaign to come, the U.S. struggle to contain COVID19 is only going to get more and more desperate. It is not nice to see a country you were told to look up to in Primary School as a nation that New Zealand should aspire to be like, suffering like this, but it is one time I am truly, truly grateful that the lottery of citizenship had me born in New Zealand.

“Defund the Police” movement needs a reality check

Over the last few days in the wake of the George Floyd riots in the United States and the at times callously excessive Police counter response, there have been numerous calls for the defunding of the Police force there. The calls, which have come from activists, in part seem like a knee jerk response to the violence. In New Zealand some calls for similar have been made as well.

However there are some basic, yet key points that need to be acknowledged, which go towards undermining a potentially knee jerk response to the worst violence to engulf the U.S. in decades.

First, New Zealand is not the United States. The internal policing environment here is markedly different from that of the United States, as is the training regime for the Police, the accountability of their officers, and the public expectations on them as a law enforcement organization. I’ll happily have the New Zealand Police over the United States Police any day of the week. For the vast majority of New Zealanders being a Police officer is still a respectable occupation, and the New Zealand Police force when lined up against those of other O.E.C.D. countries is still very well regarded.

Second a significant problem in the United States that we do not have here is the Second Amendment and the associated problems with controlling the domestic arms trade. There are several notable law enforcement issues that go with the Second Amendment that I will address later as well. Just a few of the major issues with the Second Amendment are below – there are others:

  • It was written at a time when large parts of the American border regions were largely lawless; when frontier towns often dealt with outlaws and – correctly or incorrectly – thought that only the ownership of a firearm would help them ensure their property rights and lives were kept intact
  • No uniform nation-wide protections such as licensing; restrictions on certain weapon types and measures to to stop those with mental illnesses, records of past threats to commit violence and so forth
  • The N.R.A. – an organization that has a toxic level of dislike for individuals, organizations and even countries that do not promote their gun-toting views on gun ownership; the N.R.A. actively fuel division and show little or no regard for shooting victims

Third, American police culture, training, accountability at all levels have systemic issues. It is well known that U.S. Police have a lower threshold for the use of firearms than New Zealand Police. New Zealand Police, perhaps a result of being in a smaller country with less of a range of officer backgrounds have a culture that perhaps seems more able to adapt to change than the culture of the U.S. Police. Unless an offender is armed and/or on drugs and/or unable to be controlled using non lethal means such as pepper spray, baton and Taser, New Zealand Police avoid the use of firearms generally. That is not to say that New Zealand Police do not have issues – we most certainly do, but the fact that the New Zealand Police have given up on the Armed Response Team trial after a massive outpouring of concern tells me that they are considerably more responsive to public concerns.

So, to conclude, I am not going to support in any way the movement to defund the Police. I think in the United States, those places that do try to defund their Police forces will wind up regretting the move and wish that they had maintained them, albeit within a stronger, more accountable and community friendly framework than the one that currently exists.

The New Zealand Police are on the whole better than their American counterparts. The internal culture change needs to co-driven by both U.S. Police and public expectations. But defunding the Police will help no one here, just as it will not help anyone in the United States.