The racers are marshalling: New Zealand readies for Election 2020


2020 is not event two weeks old, and our Parliamentary representatives are either still on holiday or in the office planning the year ahead, but already some political certainties are playing out across the country. The most notable and most obvious one plays out every three years and is commonly known as the General Election.

The date has not been set yet, but possibly the first election debate this year will be over whether Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern will set a date early in the proceedings as her predecessors former Prime Ministers John Key and Bill English did. Both set dates fairly early in the third year of the terms they were Prime Minister in.

The smaller parties are not waiting for a date to be set. In the last year a bracket of new parties have sprung up around former candidates, such as the Sustainable Party, which is led by Vernon Tava. In the case of the Prosperity Party obscure individuals who might have what it takes to be a genuine candidate. They have released policy platforms that are surprisingly in depth, almost like they expect to sail straight into government.

In the last few election cycles I would have been able to tell you months in advance who I would be voting for. But in 2020 I am now coming into my second year of not having a clue who I support any more. Whilst the minor parties look interesting, a number of questions arise including, but not limited to:

  1. How realistic are they about their election prospects
  2. What work have they done on establishing their own functions, party constitution and compliance with the Electoral Finance Act and other relevant legislation
  3. Can they identify their values

I also have questions of the parties in Parliament, which I will mention briefly shortly. Before that I want to run a quick ruler over the five Parliament parties, in terms of challenges facing them:

National: The largest party in Parliament has been doing better in the polls of late. However its leader Simon Bridges has been very quiet on the subject of the bush fires, and it is well known that National wants to amend the zero carbon legislation. National are also not saying much about the change in public mood over harsher criminal sentencing. It has a potentially damaging liability in failing to ascertain the truthfulness of M.P. Jian Yang about his links to the Chinese Communist Party.

Labour: Has done well off Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s image as warm and compassionate. It has not done so well off the delivery of policy, particularly in housing, social welfare and justice. Certain Ministers have become a liability and several others are at risk of joining them. It has the potential to pick up more seats, particularly if National do not lift their game on climate change and the environment.

Greens: After almost single handedly blowing themselves to bits in 2017 with Metiria Turei’s admission of misusing benefits, the Greens have rebuilt themselves remarkably well. The elevation of Marama Davidson to the co-leadership does not seem to have harmed them as much as I thought it would. Their primary challenges will be accepting that climate change is going to have to be balanced with the economy; accepting that a whole new infrastructure genre in terms of public works is going to be necessary and understanding that there will always be a place for a Defence Force in New Zealand.

New Zealand First: Not having been a party member for the last 2 1/2 years, I cannot so easily comment on internal happenings any more. I will just say that if they are the same as they were when I left, then the party still has an existential crisis that is still excessively reliant on leader Winston Peters pulling another trick out of the bag. It’s policy platform is still the best in Parliament by some distance, but its betrayal over the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement is a huge stinking dead rat.

A.C.T.: By far and away my least favourite party in Parliament, but also the one that proportionate to its size has probably had the biggest impact this year. David Seymour – love him or hate him – has had a big year. His insistence on freedom of speech when criticizing Green M.P. Golriz Ghahraman following the terrorist attacks deservedly drew a lot of criticism from people. That said, it may have done a back handed favour to everyone by shining a light into a not well understood area regarding when free speech becomes hate speech. Substantially more to his credit, he also successfully got through Parliament the controversial End of Life Choices Bill regarding euthanasia.

So, the questions I have for the big parties as you take your places along side the smaller parties in the election race of 2020 are:

  1. Would you be willing to recognize market economics are not working in New Zealand? If not why not?
  2. The constitutional framework of New Zealand has been more overtly challenged in the last few years. What are your thoughts on possibly having to adopt a formal constitution?
  3. What steps are you taking to ensure all donations are properly accounted for under the Electoral Finance Act?

New Zealand has no place in Iraq


With the attacks by Iran on U.S. targets in Iraq, it is time to question whether New Zealand should have military assets in the region.

Some people say that we were formally asked to be there. So we were, but that fails to acknowledge the simple fact of the matter that New Zealand has no business in Middle East conflicts unless it is part of a United Nations sanctioned operation.

New Zealand should withdraw its troops from Iraq forthwith. There are better places that they can could go – if they really need to be in the Middle East, they should be part of one of the numerous operations in adjacent countries. Whilst it is noted that Iraq has such a mission itself, it is also noted Iraq has just voted to end the military presence of all foreign troops in the country. New Zealand would do well to recognize that.

When Iraq was invaded, the United States despite claims to the contrary, never had a real plan for putting the country back together. It was well known Iraq was at high risk of falling apart along sectarian lines, which would involve the major Sunni, Shia and Shiite sects fighting among themselves. And fight they did. Those lines in the sand drawn by diplomats with probably little understanding of or care for the ethnic geography of the region in 1916 cut straight across ethnic boundaries, and were brutally enforced by British and French forces.

Iran has also had a turbulent 100 years with both western and Soviet interference, which such large numbers massacred in the 1910’s by the Ottoman Empire. In the years prior to the Iran-Iraq War the Shah was toppled in Iran, which up to that point had been a somewhat forward looking nation. TheĀ  Women were not restricted in what they could wear, do for jobs or for a social life. The Iranian Revolution saw many of those rights lost. It also saw a significant hardening of Iranian U.S. relations, which further deteriorated with the Iranian hostage crisis in Tehran, and was followed by the Iran-Iraq war where it was known that Saddam Hussein was using chemical weapons against Iranian targets. Then the U.S.S. Vincennes shot down an Iranian passenger plane killing all 290 on board, which the U.S. refused to apologize for, though compensation was paid.

It is easy to over simplify the complex web of geopolitical relations in the Middle East. Because of that, the simplistic idea that New Zealand is working to help the U.S. ensure terrorism ends in the Middle East ignores for example the various militant groups that are active – al-Qaida, Hezbollah, Houthi’s, the Iranian Republican Guard Corps, Islamic State among others. It ignores who is funding/arming them and what those nations are trying to get out of doing so. It ignores the ambitions of groups like the Kurds who were promised statehood at some point in the past only for it to be reversed. It ignores the wider U.S.-Russian rivalry where proxies in the region fight wars on their behalf.

Also, given the influences that the U.S. agenda of ending terrorism has been highly suspect for some time now, which New Zealand should recognize, it is also a moral question of whether we should be there.

I say not.

 

Dear Australia


Dear Australia

We, you and New Zealand, are two old friends much like family. Two countries with over 100 years of knowing each other in ways not many countries get to know their neighbours. Through two world wars, where we stood side by side in the grimmest of conditions – the baking sun of Gallipoli; the hellish muddy quagmire of Ypres; in North Africa in World War 2. Through peace time we have stood side by side – in your bush fires of 2009 and now; in the aftermath of the Christchurch quakes and the 2016 Kaikoura earthquake. There aren’t too many times you will see Aussie police get a standing ovation in a New Zealand airport, but you got that when you arrived to help Christchurch. And maybe in the next few days you will get to see N.Z. Defence Force assets and realise we’ve come to help.

These last couple of months have been rather grim for you haven’t they? Months of watching a bushfire monstrosity form before your very eyes in a country well known for being dry, but also covered in highly flammable vegetation has been pretty horrendous to watch.

You have been ruthlessly challenged by the very worst of firestorm behaviour. You have had to watch fires so big that they created their own weather – the updraughts cause by the heat of the fires has been strong enough to create its own weather including pyrocumulus and pyrocumulonimbus clouds. The latter have, as cumulonimbus’ are prone to doing, generated lightning. Some fires have generated firestorm conditions where they generate their own inflow winds that are strong enough to move vehicles about, similar to the firestorms in Tokyo, Dresden and Hamburg created by military bombing in World War 2.

These conditions, combined with the handiwork of a small band of arseholes, has spawned a monster showing no sign of losing its rapacious appetite for destruction.

For myself and my fellow New Zealanders this has been horrible to watch on television, a topic threading itself through all sorts of other conversations among friends and colleagues, family and strangers. Whereas we have seen bush fires in the past in Australia and felt sympathy for the families affected, the sheer scale of what is happening this time, drags in a whole lot of other emotions such as horror (the suffering of people and animals), pain (mental anguish at the devastation to lives), despair (when will this end), frustration.

We have had our moments when we haven’t seen eye to eye – defence, refugees, climate change and treatment of New Zealanders – but all of this pales into relative insignificance when we look at the headlines, day in day out. And when it becomes one of the big stories overseas, even – if only briefly – interrupting Fox News’ non-stop coverage of impeachment proceedings, Iran and the election, you realise it is one of the stories of the year. A sad indictment that Australia’s most horrible peacetime moment since the Black Saturday bush fires of 2009 is what it takes to focus media attention.

So, not surprisingly it was almost with relief that I heard New Zealand Minister of Defence Ron Mark announce the deployment of New Zealand Army and Royal New Zealand Air Force assets in Australia to assist. In that most Aussie and Kiwi way of being brothers and sisters in arms during war, we are also brothers and sisters in peace fighting the very menace that causes our skies to go all sorts of brilliant orange and red.

Look after yourself Australia. These are painful times. And much as I am disappointed with the cricket, it does not even register when I see what my Australian friends are suffering.

Kia Kaha!

U.S. assassination of Iranian commander further destabilizes entire Middle East


The explosion of the missile that killed Iranian Quds Force commander General Qasem Soleimani has done more than just kill America’s credibility in Iraq. In one truly daft move, it has set in motion a chain of events that could permanently undo America’s Middle East foreign policy, cause another major war and dial back the clock on international security by years – if not decades. And as the world reacts with shock, the primary players seem to be becoming increasingly bellicose.

The broad consensus among the general public is that Mr Trump really wants a war with Iran, undercutting his Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who insists no such outcome is sought. The extent to which Mr Pompeo is being undercut can be clearly seen in some of the language being used by Mr Trump. Immediately after the assassination of General Soleimani, Mr Trump started off warning of a severe response if Iran tried to retaliate. When Iran said that there would be consequences, the rhetoric changed to talking about 52 targets being shortlisted. And as the international alarm bells started ringing, the rhetoric changed again, to threatening a disproportionate response.

One potentially overlooked part of the matter is Iraq. It has been host – albeit in many ways an understandably unwilling one – to thousands of international military personnel, mainly from the United States, but more recently Germany, France, Britain, Australia, New Zealand and others with varying roles in helping Iraq rebuild its security and remove the last of the Daesh. As it has watched its towns getting ruthlessly fought over, first during the invasion of Iraq, then as the sectarian violence rocked the country between 2003 and 2011, and more recently the Daesh insurgency, millions of refugees have been generated. Towns, families, communities have been torn to shreds. And all for what, they justifiably ask. Thus no one should be surprised that after nearly 18 years of conflict, Iraq – still recovering from the bloody Iran-Iraq War of 1980-1988 and the 1991 Gulf War – has told its Government to start working towards getting rid of these misery makers.

Although the New Zealand Defence Force has committed to staying put for the time being, that may change whether they are prepared to admit it or not. As a developing situation that has the potential to get considerably worse in the near future, it is possible that an escalation of attacks or a general deterioration in regional security may undercut the N.Z.D.F.’s commitment. In this case I expect that the Army personnel would be pulled out of Taji and probably brought home.

None of this condones what Qasem Soleimani and his Quds Force did. Many innocent people died in violence brought about by him and his forces. But assassinating him in a foreign land, without Congress being notified, never mind approving the operation, has shown a dangerous level of contempt for international law as well as U.S. Constitutional law.

The ripples extend further than just Iran and Iraq. They potentially affect the entire Middle East. Iran has withdrawn from the nuclear agreement and said it no longer abides by it. This will alarm those hoping for calm, but excite the hawks in both the Pentagon and Tel Aviv who might finally get the war that they have been longing for. Russia views Iran in much the same way as America views Israel, and in a national security sense, this has potentially massive implications for the region.

Challenges facing the world in the 2020’s


From one year to the next for the last two decades, the world has been getting progressively more turbulent militarily, economically, politically, socially and environmentally. As we begin the 2020’s it looks no different and – in some respects with bush fires ravaging Australia and the United States threatening war against Iran if it retaliates for the assassination of Qasem Soleimani – potentially going to get much worse. With that in mind, I examine the challenges facing the world in the 2020’s.

ENVIRONMENT: This – even if climate change did not exist – is quite possibly going to be a decade defining challenge to the world irrespective of where one lives. The challenges range from the hell fire in Australia to the plastic flood that is continuing, despite some nations starting to – FINALLY – get serious about it; from fresh water quality to the massive destruction of the global ecosystem, which if not contained soon may be human kind’s undoing climate change or not.

Whilst the world is good at organizing environmental talk fests that spout out communiques, they are not at all good getting nations to take their supposed commitments. Until this changes, the very simple and painfully obvious fact of the matter is the global ecosystem will deteriorate and with it humanity’s long term prospects for survival.

WAR: “We want war! We want war!” – I am pretty sure that is the chant I am hearing in the newsrooms of Fox as it salivates over the prospect of a war not even America’s closest allies seem to be keen on. And it is this loudly beating drum that is trying to drown out the growing chorus of concern about the Middle East being plunged into another war. War is apparently good for the economy; good for morale.

And the Grim Reaper. Especially the Grim Reaper.

30 years after the Berlin Wall fell we are as close to World War 3 as we were during Exercise Able Archer, a N.A.T.O. paper exercise that the U.S.S.R. thought was the prelude to an actual nuclear attack – to the point that Soviet missile forces were put on high alert. This might not be Able Archer and Iran might not be the U.S.S.R., but it does not change the fact that any war in the Middle East is going to put back decades of peace efforts by all sides.

Meanwhile North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un is promising something spectacular, in response to the break down of talks with the United States.

NATIONALISM: I used to identify with a soft version of nationalism in New Zealand and in some respects still do, but the way nationalism is being promoted around the world is truly toxic. It cannot possibly be a good thing to promote something that makes refugees who have fled disaster and wars look like security threats; to see military power as a force for the good and international law as a failed experiment in a new world order.

But here it is. And whilst not so obvious in New Zealand, it is certainly poisoning the politics of America, Britain and other European nations as well as China. And whilst that is happening I find it very hard to like any more.

REFUGEES: Often viewed as pariahs, because they arrive from other countries without documentation that they most probably were never able to obtain in the first place, refugees are one group in society that we need to learn to have a lot more tolerance of. Imagine being made to leave your country because it is at war with itself or another country and your community has been bombed into the ground; atrocities are being committed against your _________ (insert religion/other domination here)and you think you are next.

The vast majority are likely to be entirely genuine people, hugely grateful to their host nation for another chance at life and wanting to show their gratitude. It plays out in the stories you hear from those who have been given that chance – the children become great students in their schools; their parents learn a new language and become valued employees or business owners.

CHINA: Too big to ignore, too powerful to entirely to rest oneself free of, China is clearly the major player trying to fill the developing vacuum left by the disintegration of American prestige. It’s economy and military spending have been growing at near double digit figures for the last 25 years. Its policy of buying up strategic economic assets in other countries is giving them an immovable foothold in countries around the world and its plans to dominate southeast Asia are spelt out in no uncertain terms in President Xi Jinping’s policies.

But with China’s insatiable appetite for resources is coming a truly dreadful price in the environment and human rights. Its point blank denial of having concentration camps in Xinjiang is a major concern, as is the lack of a comprehensive western condemnation of them. But perhaps the most alarming thing, certainly in New Zealand, is China’s attempts to infiltrate individual nations political systems.

I hope 2020 improves, but if the last year – especially in Australia, the Middle East and U.S., India and Europe – is anything to go by this is going to be one turbulent decade. Strap in and hang on!