So…. we’re 72 hours into this journey into deep space after dropping the rocket that took us out of earth orbit (adieu, John Key) and we’re taking stock of who’s on the flight deck, and whether any warps in the space/time continuum (like Jonathan Coleman’s ghost of a candidacy) might possibly knock the mission off course. Probably not. All systems appear fully functional, and the crew of the SS Expedient is quietly preparing for the re-emergence of Captain Bill English on December 12, 2016, after more than ten years of cryonic sleep. May his leadership skills still be in full working order! Read the rest of this entry »
The resignation of John Key is one thing. The way that Key and his deputy Bill English have screwed the scrum on the leadership succession vote (due on December 12) is something else again. It remains to be seen whether the party caucus – ie, the ambitious likes of Steven Joyce, Judith Collins, Paula Bennett, and Amy Adams – will simply roll over and accept being reduced in this way, to becoming a mere rubber stamp for the English succession. If so, the only drama on December 12 will be in the race for second place, as deputy to the “new” leader. (The scare quotes are deliberate. The words “Bill English” and “ new” don’t belong in the same sentence.) Read the rest of this entry »
Without much coverage at all in the West, India has just been engaged for the past few weeks in one of the world’s biggest socio-economic experiments since the Cultural Revolution in China. With only four hours warning on November 8, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi cancelled the two big banknotes – the 500 rupee and 1,000 rupee notes – that comprise 86% of the country’s cash. In a country where nine out of ten economic transactions are conducted in cash – India’s cash to GDP ratio is four times that in the likes of Brazil, Mexico and South Africa – the upheaval has been immense. Read the rest of this entry »
Years ago, I remember someone in the Heath Ministry telling me off the record that regulatory oversight in this country largely consisted in ‘waiting for something to turn green or fall off somebody’ before the authorities would swing into action. Prevention is often deemed as being too costly, or too intrusive on business-as-usual. The ongoing failures in monitoring the fishing industry’s snapper catch – ie onboard cameras that fail, monitoring that has been delegated by the authorities to a firm owned by the fishing industry – are the all too typical outcome.
Only some of the contributing factors are structural. Yes, in a country as small as New Zealand, it can be difficult to devise truly independent systems of oversight and review. Everyone tends to know everyone, or has worked for them in some capacity or – all too often – they will be being paid by the same ministry or industry they are being expected to evaluate. Officials readily see the wisdom of learning the language of discretion. There is an art form in drawing up terms of reference for an inquiry so that the powerful will be safely insulated from the potential for political fallout.
As a “she’ll be right” nation, we’re not hard-wired to see the necessity for regulatory oversight, either. After all, our Parliament runs on a single chamber with no written Constitution, a simple majority of MPs can pass sweeping laws, and our courts don’t need to be reminded of the supremacy of Parliament. In addition, a climate of cost-cutting within government can readily work against full and fearless investigations of the state’s failings, especially if the victims are eligible for compensation.
Last week’s conflict between Social Development Minister Anne Tolley and District Court judge Carolyn Henwood illustrated quite a few of the flaws in the system. Read the rest of this entry »
Safe to say that no-one, but no-one has had a better 2016 than Vladimir Putin. What an annus mirabilis it has been for him. Somehow, Russia got away with directly interfering in the US election process, such that a friendly oligarch that Putin can do business with – ie someone he can flatter, cajole and induce – is about to take up residence in the White House, rather than a genuine rival. Why, Putin has been eating the Russian versions of Donald Trump for breakfast for the past 15 years.
As the satirist Stephen Colbert mused last week, who would have thought that the US election would be won by a Washington outsider who no one really thought had a serious chance of ending up running the country: namely, Vladimir Putin. Read the rest of this entry »
New Zealand likes to think we played ourpart – via the 1981 Springbok tour – in bringing the apartheid regime in South Africa to an end. Cuba played a far, far more substantial role. That’s why South African president Jacob Zuma treated the death of Fidel Castro at the weekend as an occasion to pay a heartfelt tribute to the thousands of Cuban soldiers who travelled across the world to inflict the first significant military defeat on the forces of white supremacy. Read the rest of this entry »
We all supposedly agree that the media is going to hell in a tabloid handbasket, but the trends to the contrary can be a bit harder to spot. In his 1970s book The Right Stuff, Tom Wolfe had mocked the way the media instinctively acts as what he called The Victorian Gentleman. In his view, the media dutifully edits out from the public discourse what is unruly and unseemly, and ensures that the tone of public debate proceeds along lines where decency and rationality are encouraged to prevail, even when all operational evidence is to the contrary. Because it is deemed to be good for the citizenry to believe that there is nothing that cannot be resolved by a rational debate, conducted politely between parties who supposedly have the same democratic goals in mind.
That tradition appeared to be still alive and well this morning, and RNZ gave us a good example. Via an overseas feed, we were told that in his latest Cabinet appointments, Donald Trump has been “reaching out” to women and to blacks and thereby “blunting the criticism” that his Cabinet was full of old white men. A less genteel media might have pointed out that these latest appointments actually continue the process of placing ideological extremists in positions of power: in this case, a billionaire activist for charter schools has been put in charge of public education, and an eccentric guy who wants to base the tax system on Biblical tithing has been made the Secretary for Housing and Urban Development. Mainly because he’s a conservative black neurosurgeon, and blacks live in the inner city, right?
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As the immediate task of repairing and re-opening SH1 north and south of Kaikoura begins, the configuration of rail, road and shipping likely to emerge in the longer term, post earthquake, still remains opaque. According to Rail and Maritime Transport Union secretary Wayne Butson, about 200 jobs are involved in providing and maintaining the pre-earthquake rail link service between Lyttleton and Picton. After an initial flurry of comment in the days after the earthquake, he says, things have since gone very quiet. Read the rest of this entry »
Long before the earthquake hit, the dodginess of the government tax cuts programnme was evident in the language of its packaging. It is being touted as a “tax cuts and family care” package. Yes, this $3 billion election bribe is going to be packaged as family assistance – even though, if it is going to be structured anything like the 2011 tax cuts package, the bulk of its benefits will be delivered disproportionately to the relatively well off, with only a showcase segment devoted to those truly struggling to get by. Hey, if the aim really is to offer ’family care’ to those truly in need, why not commit right now to targeting the entire $3 billion giveaway solely to those earning below the median wage/median household income? Read the rest of this entry »
First published on Werewolf
As APEC leaders get together this weekend in Peru, they could be forgiven for looking back nostalgically at Barack Obama’s time in office and wondering whether the world will ever be quite so safe and prosperous again. Because if anyone can further bankrupt America and send the global economy into a tailspin it would be serial bankruptee come President-elect Donald Trump – and the outlook really isn’t all that good. Promising huge increases in military and infrastructural spending at the same time as you’re also promising to cut income and corporate taxes looks like Reagan-era looniness is back in fashion. Read the rest of this entry »