Netanyahu speaks to US Congress; Australia boosts its forces in Iraq; Obama criticises China's proposed counterterrorism law; Boko Haram video shows two beheaded men; EU likely to fall short of climate targets; and more 

TOP OF THE AGENDA

Netanyahu to Address U.S. Congress

The Israeli PM's speech to US Congress is over with, unsurprisingly, no viable alternative to the ongoing nuclear negotiations with Iran, but plenty of fearmongering, victimhood, condescension. Oh and fawning adoration from the mainly Republican audience. Netanyahu should have taken the sage advice to stay at home.

One of the most anticipated speeches of recent times is over.

Was it worth the wait? No.

The increase of the share of those on top incomes has not been caused by market forces but is the result of their more favourable taxation regimes they have experienced since the early 1990s. 

Policy Quarterly has just published papers from a symposium on distributional inequality held last June. There are really interesting papers by Geoff Bertram, Phillip Morrison, Bill Rosenberg and Simon Chapple et al which you may want to read for yourself.

John Key hasn’t made the case for military intervention, which doesn’t mean there isn’t one.

Making the case means understanding what drives people to join ISIS and resisting the temptation to retro-fit our own causes onto theirs. 

It means staring at the consequences of intervening  - and not intervening.

It requires communicating clearly to New Zealanders, the legal premise for intervention, and telling us what peace looks like.

There are a few myths to debunk first.

The fight against Islamic State is not the fight of the oppressor against the disposed and the poor. Its leaders and disciples are mostly educated and middle class, if not wealthy. It’s the victims in Iraq and Syria who are the poor.

I've wrestled with this for days and part of me still wishes we could give peace more of a chance, but the limited and precise deployment chosen by the government seems to be the right choice for the time and threat

Watching the news with my five year-old last week, he was asking about sending soldiers to Iraq. He listened to my school-boy appropriate summation and said, "weeeelll, I don't like to shoot people, but on the other hand I do like to help, so..."

Like many New Zealanders, he was torn over exactly how to meet the threats posed by Islamic State and trailed off without a conclusion.

Jami-Lee Ross appears to be a quite exceptional candidate for the National Party. He does things in relation to money given to him that none of his colleagues do - albeit only in relation to one particular donation.

Further to my previous post about Jami-Lee Ross' curious candidate return, I've been doing a little bit more digging through the Electoral Commission's files.

John Key has put a time limit on our stay in Iraq, but Australia isn't impressed with that kind of thinking, showing the Wellington-Canberra divide on Iraq

John Key and Tony Abbott were putting a brave face on it today, with talk of the countries' "long, strong and intimate partnership", but on Iraq the cracks are showing.

The National Party's treatment of Donghua Liu's donation is strikingly at odds with with how it treated all the other donations it received. That's not only wrong, but it may even be illegal.

The release of individual candidate donation returns following the 2014 election has revealed something interesting about the National Party's financial practices.

Critics of the government are arguing New Zealand's role in Iraq is pointless... dangerous... or not our fight. But what does the alternative look like?

The decision to send 143 Kiwi soldiers to Iraq to help train the Iraq army has exposed the left/right divide on foreign policy more graphically than any other issue in recent years.

Israel's PM needs to come clean on why he ignored his own intelligence service (Mossad) in his crusade to convince that Iran wants a nuclear weapon and so goad the world into bombing it, rather than negotiate for a nuclear energy settlement.

A week before Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the US Congress on his claims of an “existential” threat of a nuclear Iran, his argument appears to have been blown out of the heavy water by the latest release of leaked diplomatic/spy cables.

Auckland is again debating the future of its waterfront and port, but the truth is it doesn't all have to be decided now

The past few weeks have seen a renewed burst of angst about the Ports of Auckland's expansion plans. More wharf here, demolitions there; where to put the cruise ships, cars and people? All the arguments about Auckland's waterfront have been reignited.

The inflation policy target has been missed regularly over the past two years, and will be missed for another year. The evidence is that the target has been moved. So by who? And will we be let in on the secret?

About this time last year, there was an overwhelming clamour from market players that New Zealand's interest rates must go up. I admitted at the time I was perplexed as to why, but presumably wiser heads prevailed. And so up went our interest rates.

And I remain perplexed.

Too much of our national media is located in Auckland and democracy suffers.

Probably most people who regularly read Pundit are in the cyberspace equivalent of the ‘beltway’ – the term for those who live in or work in inner Wellington and are intensely interested as to what is going on there, not just in parliament but in policy-making. (OK, OK, they are interested in the gossip too.) Much of what goes on there is not transparent.

Despite what the "three strikes" law seemed to say, another murderer has avoided a sentence of full-life-without-parole. And that's partly David Garrett's fault.

In a decision (available here) that got a little bit of media attention last week, the sentencing of one Justin Vance Turner tells us something about the way in which courts and Parliament d

I don't really know enough about cricket to say anything clever or meaningful about the World Cup. Fortunately, I've found someone who is able to be very funny about it.

If pushed to identify one problem with Pundit, it would be that Wayne Mapp doesn't post here nearly often enough. If pushed to identify a second, it would be the dearth of high quality sports commentary on the site.

It is time to call ISIS by the acronym of its actual name which just happens to omit reference to both state and caliphate….and while we are at it, have a long hard think about how subjectively the 'T' word is bandied about these days. 

In our daily news there are two terms which need attention.

They are both linked and both ugly.

The first is the false acronym(s) used to describe the bunch of murdering, kidnapping, raping militant thugs who appear on our screens in their slickly edited propaganda execution movies.

Protest outside Nats' summer party a necessary act of defiance in face of welfare and housing reforms 

On Sunday afternoon I spent three hours on the picket line outside National’s ‘Summer Party’ at the Royal Akarana Yacht Club.

 They involve tax rates horrendously high or the minimum incomes so low that ihe UMI is not a viable means of eliminating poverty.

The notion of a universal minimum income has had a long gestation. Some say it originated with a proposal for a ‘social dividend’ by Lady Rhys Williams as far back as 1942 but you can find precursors even to that. The American origin is Milton Friedman’s ‘negative income tax’.

Queensland voters didn't go quite as far as this cartoon recommended. But they did create quite a thorny thicket for their politicians to play in.

While most of the New Zealand media's attention has been directed at the omnishambles that is Tony Abbott's (questioned) reign as Australian Prime Minister, there's been something quite interesting happening in Queensland.

Israel's Prime Minister is using the potential nuclear deal with Iran for his own personal political reasons. While there is still time he should heed the advice of those who actually do value the close and, until now, non-partisan relationship between Israel and the United States.    

If you watched the German Chancellor and the American President in their world security focused press conference this week, you would have good reason to be hopeful that the spectre of a nuclear armed Iran is fading fast.

If Parliament's rules say you aren't even allowed to refer to the existence of a particular court case, then how can the Speaker enforce those rules without letting everyone knows that the court case exists?

The following interchange with the Speaker took place today in the middle of Andrew Little's reply to the Prime Minister's statement to the House.

Andrew Little has wandered off message a bit recently, and as parliament starts needs to give himself a stern talking to if he's serious about earning the trust of middle New Zealand

Politicians are always walking on a cliff's edge. They are one misstep away from disaster. Or at least a twisted ankle or a bit of a fright. Andrew Little in his first few months as Labour leader has seemed as sure-footed as a mountain goat, but heads into the House today needing to remember where the path is.

President Obama wants a public debate on the danger of a religious war against all of  Islam because of the hideous criminal actions of some under the banner of Islam. Like anything done in the US in the name of God, it is fraught with the dangers of partisan politics. 

The behaviour of American politicians leaves no room for doubt over the necessity to talk ‘god’ in the electoral process.

Genuinely or otherwise, God must be invoked as often as possible.

‘He’, because gals that’s religious chauvinism for ya, is as important to a successful campaign as unquestioning support for guns and Israel.

‘Iwi leaders and the Government have agreed on a deadline to sort out Maori interests in fresh water by Waitangi Day 2016.’ (News: 5 February 2015)

Law and economics recognises three distinct aspects of property rights. There is the ability to use the property, the ability to transform it into something else, and the ability to alienate it – that is to transfer the property rights to others.

Canada's Supreme Court just announced that Canadians do not have a duty to live. Why do New Zealanders?

Let's say you are living in Canada. You are suffering from some nasty incurable disease that may or may not kill you, but certainly will give you a future of pain, indignity and despair. What are your options?

John Key thinks our colonial flag is an outdated symbol that needs replacing. So why is our relationship with the Monarchy any different?

While John Key has obviously decided that a change to the New Zealand flag is worth burning political capital on, he's not interested in altering anything more fundamental. Here's what the Herald reports Key as saying:

The rules were pretty clear and the ethnic sports tournament hardly unprecidented, so why the fuss about the Maori Basketball tournament? Is this Waitangi fever?

There's nowt like a wee ethnic bun-fight to kick-off Waitangi weekend, and it's been delivered this year by a pakeha basketball coach who's been told his team can't go to the [basket]ball because he's not Maori. Cue outrage.

Handing someone a "Vote United Future" pamphlet on election day is an offence that can get you fined $20,000. Why is that, and should it be so?

A couple of weeks ago I posted the first of my thoughts on what changes we (or, rather, Parliament's Justice and Electoral Committee) might think about making to our electoral laws in the wake of the 2014 election campaign.

Online learning is not the solution it was touted to be. You just can't beat real-life interaction with a great teacher

In 2011, approximately three years after Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCS) registered in people’s minds, 160,000 students enrolled in CS221: Introduction to Artificial Intelligence. Only 20,000 students, 12.5%, completed the course.

Policy announcements do not always reflect careful analysis. Too often the unstated political considerations have too much influence. 

I was once involved with a ministry under pressure over the failure as the result of a very unusual accident of a piece of equipment for which it had a vague responsibility. The public wanted something done. The calls were for actions that were onerous, intrusive and would have had little effect.

We need to go further than just defending Eleanor Catton's right to an opinion, we need to encourage her for doing her job

Eleanor Catton certainly earned her pay this week, especially all that government money everyone was decrying her for receiving while she traitorously criticised our nation's character overseas. She kicked off quite a row.

It is not what Eleanor Catton said about the government, but how we respond to what she said.

Sean Plunket’s intemperate attack on Eleanor Catton is a reminder of just how superficial is tolerance of dissent in New Zealand. I leave others to defend the exact interchange – Danyl McLauchlan was as I normally expect of him.

How do you think the kind of society that Eleanor Catton described in her (now infamous) interview would react to someone like Eleanor Catton saying such things in an interview?

I don't know if he ever got around to actually writing it, but somewhere there is a Borges story about a story that when read brings into being the very story that is the story that has just been read.

John Key took social housing head on in his first big speech of the year and in doing so raised the ideological politics of ownership, trying to cast it in a new light

The thing about being in government is that you get to actually do things. While Oppositions position, pose and chip away, as Andrew Little did this morning, John Key got to talk about, y'know, an extra $40 million in spending on social housing and plans to sell up to 8,000 state houses this term.

Andrew Little kicked off the political year proper with his state of the nation address this morning, and it emphasised that Labour is under new management

It couldn't have been much more different, really. Andrew Little's state of the nation speech was conspicuously different from David Cunliffe's effort one year and one day ago.

I know, I know, it was election year, time was short and there was more on the line last year. And in looking at the different approaches, you can put a lot down to timing. But certainly not everything.

Could John Key's place in Parliament be under threat from Arthur Taylor's electoral petition? No ... no it couldn't.

I see, via Stuff, that Arthur Taylor's electoral petition seeking to overturn John Key's return from the Helensville electorate has commenced in the High Court. Let me go on record as saying that it has zero chance of success. I say that for (at least) three reasons.

Jeff Madrick identifies seven bad economic ideas; Alan Blinder is more cautious. What do economists actually believe, and how does it stack up against what we think economics says?

Jeff Madrick, a highly respected American economic journalist, recently published a book, Seven Bad Ideas: How Mainstream Economists Have Damaged America and the World. It was reviewed in the New York Review of Books by Alan Blinder, an even more respected (Prin

Rules that stop you using your property as you see fit are bad. Rules that stop other people using their property ... are less so.

There's no particular reason to assume that the Resource Management Act is perfect or cannot be improved upon. It's some twenty-five years old now. It's been tinkered around with quite a bit in the interim. That's a bit of a recipe for ending up with poor legislation.

What might a non-ideological capital gains tax look like? 

Someone once told me that a test of being a socialist was whether you supported capital gains taxes. I pointed out that the New Zealand Treasury, the Reserve Bank of New Zealand, the IMF and the OECD all supported them.

A letter written by the Chief Ombudsman reveals disturbing questions about its relationship with the Corrections Department 

The death of Jai Davis in 2011 has highlighted critical deficiencies in the management and nursing culture at the Otago prison. Now there’s an even wider concern. Documentation has come to light showing the Ombudsman allowed Corrections, albeit unintentionally, to cover up the circumstances surrounding his death which implicate management and nurses at the prison.

The Justice and Electoral Committee will soon be reviewing the 2014 general election. Here's the first of my thoughts on what it might profitably look at.

After every general election, Parliament's Justice and Electoral Committee holds an inquiry into how things went during it. This is A Good Thing, as it provides an opportunity for looking at (and sometimes even fixing) little anomalies in our electoral processes - a kind of continuous improvement exercise, if you will.

We've seen how ordinary citizens around the world have responded to the Charlie Hedbo terrorism, but how will world leaders react? Is marching enough or is it time for troops?

This week well over a million people marched in Paris to defend the values of the French republic. Forty international leaders accompanied them; it was an impressive display of solidarity with values that are deeply held in most western nations.

Do We Need Larger Local Authorities or Ones More in Touch with the Localities?

The Wellington kerfuffle over whether its eight territorial local authorities and the regional council should unite into a single regional entity might at first seem oh-so-Wellington – petty parochialism with small-minded politicians keen to maintain their remuneration. But other regions are struggling with the same problem.

I stand alongside anyone arguing for freedom of speech. But sometimes also against them. And alongside the other side too, sometimes. Such is walking the moral tightrope

Tightropes are by definition dangerous things; the challenge and appeal is that you could fall off either side and requires incredible balance. Grant Robertson has discovered the danger of not just the act, but the metaphor as well when he tweeted about the Charlie Hedbo killings.

There is no transferring blame away from the perpetrators of this crime. 

Moderate muslims are not to blame.

It is not the disastrous invasion of Iraq, even if this gave jihadists a foothold. France, like New Zealand, didn’t support that war.

 

It was not France’s intervention in Mali in 2012. That was a legal intervention, sanctioned by the United Nations Security council. It was an African-led military force against al Qaeda in northern Mali, after an illegal coup toppled a democratically elected president.

As Borders Fall Are Europeans Losing Their Cultural Identity

Aside from the English Channel, Europe has hardly any significant internal natural borders. Seventy years ago the border between Germany and Poland was settled at the Oder River. At its main crossing point it is no wider than the Waikato at Hamilton, and there is not even a gorge.

The EU remains central to New Zealand’s destiny

Suppose Britain exited the European Union of 28 countries. I am not recommending it; they would probably be worse off economically. Nor am I predicting it, although sometimes politics produces odd outcomes. Rather suppose ‘Brexit’ in order to explore the implications for New Zealand.

What are the words that captured the year in a few syllables and defined 2014? Read on...

Massey University today reported its 'quote of the year' for 2014 is an outburst from blogger Cameron Slater. Except it's a dumb choice.

A little pre-Christmas fun, looking at Treasury's prediction that National will fail to reach its much-promised surplus through some literary lenses

Scene I

Bill English bounces out of his Beehive bed with a surplus of energy, yet feeling rather lacklustre can only pour himself a glass of milk and drag himself to the balcony looking out over central Wellington. He glances over at the electric guitar in the corner of his room and shrugs; it's been months since he's played.

Food has never been more readily available or cheaper. Take a moment to thank the farmers when you sit down to Christmas lunch this year -- and don't overindulge

Christmas is coming. The halls are decked with boughs of holly (plastic), and decorated with snow (artificial). Tips for Christmas (stress-free) have been appearing since November. Children are over-excited and desperate shoppers are looking for the perfect presents for people who have everything. At work, Christmas office parties have popped and fizzled… 

Until we know more about Man Haron Monis and his motivations, John Key should avoid leaping to assumptions and using the case to justify his own political goals

Clunk. That's the sound of John Key mishandling his comments over the Sydney seige.

The hostage drama in central Sydney ended early this morning with three dead, including the hostage-taker. It's a terrible event and it seems likely religious sentiment was part of gunman Man Haron Monis' motivation.

The OECD says yes; how do we respond?

A recently released OECD report concludes that economic inequality hurts economic growth, and has particularly done so for New Zealand. Some of our responses were plain bizarre. Either the non-economic commentators had not understood the issue or had not read the report.

How much should the state be involved in determining who are in a marriage relationship?

The recently released Child Poverty Action Group’s (CPAG) report on the Complexities of Relationship in the Welfare System and the Consequences for Children tells some ugly stories. Benefit entitlement can depend upon the relationships between adults.

Apparently New Zealand didn't need a register of foreign land owners ... until it did. So is National preparing to change tack or is it just getting itself into even more of a tangle?

As Winston Peters might put it, it seems like an 'I told you so' moment. Having spent many months ridiculing the idea of a foreign buyers register, reports yesterday suggested government officials have been quietly working away at one after all.

Can legislation intended to stop people fighting for ISIL/ISIS/IS/Daesh instead stop people fighting against ISIL/ISIS/IS/Daesh?

The whole question of when the State should be able to step in to stop people going overseas to act on their moral principles - in particular, by fighting for them - is a quite fraught one. As I wrote here;

Parliament has passed public protection orders. But will they really be a last resort to contain the most dangerous? Or a means to pursue a more vindictive agenda? 

There’s no point moaning about it now. The Public Safety (Public Protection Orders) Bill has passed its final reading, with a resounding majority of 107:14.

The last thing you might think Judith Collins would be is boring. But apparently that's just what the new, true version really is.

Who would ever have guessed that Judith Collins could make a pretty cut-and-dried workplace safety issue so controversial? As Danyl McLauchlan says; "It is possibly the most boring thing there has ever been a twitter debate about."

It is one thing being in Opposition complaining about what has happened in government; it is another thing to have a viable policy. 

It was unfortunate that the first public issue that Andrew Little had to deal with was the Roger Sutton affair. Here was the leader of the Labour Party grumbling yet again. We’ve had six years of such grumbling; an issue comes up, the spokesperson complains it is not going right, and they (it is often unspecified who ‘they’ is) should do something about it.

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is playing games by forcing a snap election because he is desperate to coalesce with the extreme religious right, rather than the centrists who have called him to account.

It is always interesting to dig around the reasons governments proffer for snap elections.

Usually they have a lot to do with the inability of various coalitions to work together...or sometimes as in New Zealand's case in 1984 it was more of a Schnapps election....

How New Zealand businesses succeed internationally.

One of life’s pleasure is sitting with a child on one’s lap reading a book to them: attractive – sometimes mysterious – illustrations, humorous – even mischievous – plots, rhythmic sentences and just enough eccentric words without being obscure. E-readers are no substitute. The children’s section in my local bookshop is growing.

The Egyptian Court's sweeping exoneration of Hosni Mubarak, his henchmen and his sons is an insult to Egyptians who give their lives in support of democracy and human rights. It is also a signal that the new and brutal man in charge has done his job regaining lost ground for his old boss.       

The Egyptian judiciary has fulfilled its purpose.

Its acquittal of former President Hosni Mubarak of conspiring to kill 240 protesters has turned full circle on the January 25, 2011 revolution.

In the words of the court Egypt has apparently “overcome the revolutionary phase”.

In which a little spy agency finds that sometimes you can always get what you want, even if its not what you need.

[A note to readers - the following account is a purely subjective reimagination of history.

Or, rather, he hasn't (yet) been found not-guilty of filing a false election return. That probably will happen later.

The news that the Court of Appeal has overturned the guilty verdict against John Banks' for knowingly filing a false election return in relation to his failed 2010 Auckland mayoral campaign is not surprising. To understand why, you need to remember the basis on which he was found guilty.

How economists think about valuing life when allocating resources for healthcare purposes.

A couple of comments to an earlier column asked questions about the quality of life versus the prolongation of life.

The Gwyn reports reveals much about the failings of the SIS, but it and the government's response to it also reveals much about the political machinations of this Prime Minister

President Harry Truman famously had a piece of walnut wood on his desk in the oval office that read, "The buck stops here", and when the president referred to it in speeches it was to say that he had to make the final decision and take responsibility for what happened on his watch.

A brief cut-and-paste revisit of what I said at the time about the Dirty Politics allegations about the SIS, OIA and certain bloggers whom we don't name.

I'm presently acting as a "parent helper" at school camp in the backblocks outside of Cromwell, so my capacity to comment on recent events is limited (to put it mildly). So I'll simply reproduce this part of this post from August and say ... nailed it!

The Secretary of the Treasury appears to have doubts.

In a speech to economics teachers  earlier this month, the Secretary of the Treasury, Gabriel Makhlouf, argued for a different approach to economics from the one which dominates the profession in New Zealand.

... but there's a long way to go as Labour's new self-described 'coach' tries to mould a winning team from the Bad News Bears of previous years

After The Nation's Labour leadership debate in Hamilton a few weeks back, I said to some of my colleagues, 'if Little doesn't win this, he should be given the strategy job of making Labour relevant again, that's what he seems most passionate about'. Well, he did win the race and his early work as leader suggests he's given himself just that job.

The rising violence between Israelis and Palestinians is extremely worrying, but it is not all one way, and its context cannot new conveniently ignored. 

Here’s a 22 point plan for peace in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Entrench Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian lands.

Never let a chance go by to duplicitously conflate Hamas and some in Fatah with the Islamic State/ISIS/ISIL so as to gild the imperiled-Israeli lilly.

Over the next year, John Key faces a choice between his – and New Zealand's – international reputation on one hand and National's support base on the other as he wrestles with reducing our carbon footprint

If you use the language of the Prime Minister's favourite past-time to describe his political style, you'd say he's got a great short game. Short-term, or at least term-to-term, he's proven himself a master reading the public's appetites and knowing his political limits.

How many times have we seen shots of Labour party leaders declaring unity while standing in front of caucus members, smiling the kind of smile you produce by sucking air through your teeth? 

Labour doesn't need more protests of unity. It needs more open debate.

People used to join the Labour party for the policy fights. A contest of ideas was how you sorted  good ideas from bad. Achievements like paid parental leave and the nuclear free policy were achieved only after advocates won the argument; Unity was earned by debate, not by shutting debate down and pretending there was no diversity of opinion on these issues.

The only thing worse than electing the wrong person as leader of Labour is electing him by the narrowest of margins, by virtue of the influence of a handful of individuals acting under instructions. 

Labour just made the wrong choice, in the worst possible way.

Little is the Labour leader despite weak support from his caucus. But they now have two choices: unify or die. And Little has the scope to rebuild from the ground up

So Andrew Little gets to lead the Labour Party, something that many wise heads only a year or two ago would never happen. The promise with which he'd entered parliament seemed to have withered on the New Plymouth vine.

Not any more. He's now Leader of the Opposition.

We should focus more on introducing and adapting the world’s innovations using a skilled workforce.

Our so called ‘innovation policy’, which is at the heart of the government’s growth strategy – insofar as it has one – seems to be fundamentally flawed.

Why the Waitangi Tribunal's report on the status and effect of the Treaty changes nothing - and potentially everything.

The Waitangi Tribunal's just released report He Whakaputanga me te Tiriti: The Declaration and the Treaty, representing its findings

The new Labour leader will be announced on Tuesday. But before choosing Labour members need to decide if they see the rebuild as a three or six year project

The four candidates who hope to lead the Labour Party into the 2017 election have stumped all their stump speeches and debated all their debate points. Now comes the voting. And the party members must be wishing they could vote for one of John Key's four or five headed hydras.

The case for raising the age of eligibility for NZS; and how we can do it. 

I support raising the age of eligibility for NZS but not, primarily, for reasons of fiscal sustainability. Rather it needs to be increased for equity reasons. Longevity is increasing. When the Old Aged Pension was introduced in 1898, life expectancy at the age of 65 was 13 years; today it is 20 years, and it will continue to rise.

University education is a privilege, not a right, and if we treated it that way we might just get better results

Great universities cost big bucks. Government funding, benefactor donations and student fees all add up to support excellence… The debate in New Zealand last month was all about the fees.

The regions are being chipped away at... so here's an idea for a serious shot in the arm

It seems our state-owned enterprises are letting us down somewhat these days. Last week it was Solid Energy dashing the hopes of the Pike River families, today it's Air New Zealand cutting flights to more regions. If we want more zombie towns, this is a pretty good way of going about it. Just cut 'em off.

Air New Zealand is shutting down these routes:

As times goes on the government will spend more on healthcare. That means higher taxes. Is there an alternative?

I was on the Treasury external panel which advised on its last Long Term Fiscal Projections. The great challenges arise from rising demand for government funded services and the aging population.

A revolt is in the air in Auckland, as ratepayers ask whether councillors are looking hard enough at the city budget and whether Len Brown needs his wings clipped

Len Brown is now one year into his second term and will be leading Auckland through until September 2016. But it's a very different political environment to election night 2013, when Len was clearly the popular choice as cheerleader of the city.

Every year around 600 New Zealanders are born with a horrible condition because their mothers drank while they were pregnant. 

The terms Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) and its more extreme form Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) have appeared recently in two news items. In a hearing in front of London’s Privy Council the lawyers for Teina Pora and the Crown agreed that Pora suffers from FASD.

The Iran nuclear deal is within grasp but those tasked with finalizing it better hurry in order to avoid its unravelling at the trigger happy hands within the victorious Republican party which now holds both houses of Congress.   

 The Republican routing of the Democrats in the US mid-terms has made one thing very clear. Iran had better be serious and transparent about getting a deal on its nuclear ambitions within the next three weeks.

National's decision to stand alongside our allies but not to 'go to war' strengthens our narrative as a small country with its own mind, but beware mission creep

It is any Prime Minister's toughest decision: whether or not to ask young men to fight and perhaps die in foreign fields. While no western country has sent combat troops into battle against Islamic State, military action is underway and the rhetoric from John Key in recent weeks suggested we might be going along for the ride.

With world leaders failing and New Zealand ranked in the bottom five of the world's worst emitters for climate policy response, conservation campaigners have to think differently about ways to help nature weather the coming storm

The IPCC synthesis report is in and, hopes Bill McKibben:

The Left rejects it’s historic commitment to international solidarity and protecting the innocent when it embraces a growing neo-isolationism. It’s all very well to say ‘not our fight’ in the face of ISIS terror, but the opposite on intervention isn’t peace. 

Stare at that for a moment.

 

The international community didn’t intervene to stop Bashar-al Assad dropping chemical bombs on civilians in Syria. I argued they should.

I think we've found the way to make electoral law interesting to people. Get some sports stars to break it.

News that the Electoral Commission has reported some of NZ's sports royalty to the police for sending out election day tweets encouraging their followers to support John Key's reelection has gripped

National is trying to the 'nothing to see here' line when it comes to its social housing policy, but the truth is it's in a tangle and has no mandate for sale

When Genesis was sold earlier this year, John Key repeatedly said it would be the last asset his government would put on the block, be it in that term or the next. He said he wanted to be very clear about that, lest those tricky opposition parties try to say otherwise. So how come his ministers didn't get the memo?

Sloppy analysis is dividing us into the deserving and undeserving

Being no expert on domestic violence, I looked at the Glenn inquiry’s The People’s Report to see what it had to say about causes. I had expected a summary of the research literature but there was none. All the report did was tell of people’s (often moving) experiences and what they thought should be done.

The labour reforms this week reveal a government that has given up on any hope for a competitive economy and is willing to engage in class warfare on behalf of its 'Judith Collins wing'

Last week, evidence was again made plain of a shocking, unacceptable safety record in ports and forests. The Government responded by passing a new law to remove the right to a tea break.

I'm not saying that John Key is an incurable gossip ... but he sure seems to get told a lot of stuff by random people.

 

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

John Key has learned the identity of the entertainer guilty of an indecency charge through the grapevine of people circumventing the suppression order.

The Environmental Protection Agency hearing into seabed mining for phosphate on the Chatham Rise is exposing questions about uncertainty - many big unknowns, including whether the applicant has done its job. If environment groups win this battle, what does it mean for the wider war?

Out on the Chatham Rise, the ridge jutting into the waters off Christchurch and extending out beyond the Chathams, Chatham Rock Phosphate has a mining permit and is now seeking EPA approval for its project to mine phosphate for fertiliser, at depths untried anywhere else in the world.

Thomas Piketty says economic inequality has been getting greater in the world, and will get greater. What about New Zealand?

Paul Krugman has said "Thomas Piketty has transformed our economic discourse; we’ll never talk about wealth and inequality the same way we used to". Many other eminent economists have said much the same thing.

The Fonterra boss backs continued dairy growth but can see a day when we might cap cow numbers... and could China steal the milk right from under our noses?

How much is enough? Or even too much? It's a fundamental question for any business or economy when you're dealing with supply and demand. And it's a crucial question when it comes to New Zealand's dependence on the dairy industry. So when do we reach 'peak cow'?

Greg O'Connor thinks the shootings in Ottawa, and the way this was ended, demonstrates the need to routinely arm New Zealand's Police. He's completely wrong about that.

What happened at Canada's war memorial and parliamentary buildings is a pretty Bad Thing. It should, however, be kept in some sort of perspective. 

Chris Trotter wants a Labour purge. Again. 

It’s not often you see a New Zealand political figure compared favourably to Stalin, but this is what Chris Trotter has done to that decidedly non-genocidal non-lunatic Grant Robertson.  

Panic has gone viral quicker than the Ebola virus, thanks to social media.

Not that there isn't something to worry about. Part of an entire continent is presently at risk - that's Africa not America.

It's not just that Ebola sounds like a modern day black plague and probably originated from blood sucking bats living in dark caves - reason enough for people here in the United States to react like there's a Zombie-Vampire apocalypse on its way.

In which I reply to Andrew's post in reply to Phil's post about Grant Robertson... I wrote this at the start of the week but have discovered a glitch that mean it never published!

I think I'll start at the end. Andrew ended his recent post like this:

Labour needs to work out whether they go for the "missing million" or the middle voters. And if they get it wrong they could be looking at another 6 years in opposition

When Labour decides who will be the next leader, it is of interest to all of us involved in politics. After all the person chosen could be New Zealand's next Prime Minister. So the debate on the nature of the choice is not one that is the sole preserve of those who actually get to vote in this contest.

Labour's best chance for returning to government is to form a coalition and campaign jointly with the Greens

Much has been written about where Labour needs to go from here. One issue which doesn’t seem to have generated much interest is what do they do with the Greens?

Grant Robertson is gay. And he likes rugby. And he drinks beer. All of these things are true - so can we now get on with it?

Phil Quin put a post up yesterday chiding Grant Robertson for what he sees as an overly cautious approach to political messaging and urging him to be more warlike in his phraseology because New Zealanders clearly have a deep, deep aversion to politicians who present as pleasant

The EU approach in trade deals is likely to protect the right of states to make public policy

How can foreign investors in New Zealand be sure that we will treat them fairly? If they are not sure perhaps they will not invest here, even though their investment may be valuable to us. (I do not believe all foreign investment is worthwhile, but much is.)

It's impossible to disagree with anything Grant Robertson says.  That's a problem. 

When Grant Robertson tweets that he wants the government to "get alongside communities", I am not at all sure what he means.

Why typical Gen Y's are rife with feelings of entitlement and overconfidence, yet quick to play the victim and often miserable

The United States Declaration of Independence 1776 states: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.’

There's a lot of smart money going on Andrew Little's bid to lead the Labour Party, but the numbers in New Plymouth don't lie. So what are they saying?

There's a lot of talk about "listening" in Labour circles these days. Announcing his bid for the party leadership, list MP Andrew Little named as his top priority "getting the process underway to listen to the voters who have abandoned us". Grant Robertson agrees, telling reporters last week "as we emerge from our heavy election defeat, we must now take the opportunity to listen".

The election demonstrated deep divisions. Will the next three years make them worse or help heal the rift? And where will the pressure points be?

Will we see New Zealanders marching in the streets during the next three years? I don't mean protests in which the police, while behaving perfectly professionally, are smiling benignly in a sort of agreement. I'm wondering whether we'll see civil disturbances. And I'm not the only person pondering such things – probably even John Key is.

The trouble with not being troubled by the mood of New Zealand as a whole, is that the party hands Labour a political dog

Labour has done a fine job of selling the democratic virtues of their new way electing a leader; it rolls off the tongue to say that 40 percent of the outcome is determined by rank and file members. But whose democratic interests does it really serve?

We're already stopping people from using NZ passports to go and fight in the Middle East. So why do we now urgently need to change the law to do this?

Back in February, I wrote this about the legal basis for refusing to grant passports to/revoking passports from those individuals who felt the call to take up armed struggle in groups using terrorist tactics in places like Syria and now Iraq.

John Key has dug his toes in as he refuses to listen to some of the expert advice on poverty reduction, but more interesting is where he's indicating he will move

You'd hardly call it skin on the skeleton, but John Key's comments today about his plans to tackle child poverty and sell-off state housing at least put some sinew and muscle on the bare bone rhetoric he has been using since his win in last month's election.

Unusually for small, advanced countries New Zealand remains heavily reliant on agricultural for its living. So is it time to take a bigger punt on technology?

My last item sparked an email from Mike Smith to discuss economic resilience with Brian Easton at a Fabian Society meeting in Wellington on Monday November 10. I made the point to Mike that I don't see the topic as a left/right issue, but have agreed to the discussion.

As if banning same-sex marriage isn't enough, the Presbyterian Church has gone a step further and removed the clergy's liberty of conscience on the issue

As point scoring goes, this really taks the cake. Literally, a new vote by the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand takes the wedding cake away from any gay person who wants to get married in a Presbyterian Church, because conducting such a service is now banned. But that's only the start.

Some muted thoughts on the legal issues involved in the search of Nicky Hager's house, with only limited added outrage. That may come later.

First of all, the Police are investigating a real crime here. Even certain bloggers whom we do not name have a right to keep others out of their computer systems, and this right is protected by criminal sanction.

Hone Harawira is seeking judicial recount of votes that he doesn't think will change the result in Te Tai Tokerau, and which won't be able to look at the problems he claims existed with voting in that seat. This seems ... misguided.

There's one thing that even Hone Harawira agrees will not change following his sought after judicial recount of the vote in Te Tai Tokerau - the outcome of the election in that seat.

If National can adapt to change, why can't Labour? 

Once upon a time National was a party dominated by farmers and their rural base. Its first townie leader, Sid Holland, had to have a farm bought for him in the 1940s, to maintain his status in the party. It was such a country party that there was a view in the 1960s that as New Zealand urbanised National would lose voter share because Labour was so much stronger in the cities.

The final count of the votes, including special votes, has saved us from having to revisit  our ideas about majority governments under MMP. Oh - and I (sort of) told you so.

As I said here on the eve of polling day (and intimated again here the day after), the 2014 election wasn't over until Saturday, October 4*:

A glimpse behind the door of supply and confidence negotiations reveals the dominant political fact this term - Key is King

What's clear from talking on The Nation this morning to the leaders of the minor parties supporting National, is quite how minor they now are.

Rather than trying to rein in dissent, the Labour Party should be encouraging a full and frank debate on not just its leadership, but its deep-seated structural problems. Attempts to chill open criticism are misguided

Morgan Godfrey, one of the New Zealand internet scene's most prolific opinion generators, derided my use of the term 'Orwellian' to describe Labour's new anti-sledging rules. He was right to do so.

I've made fun of people on exactly the same grounds, pointing out that, as Gordfrey did, that most people who invoke Orwell haven't read him.

Brian Easton's post this week raise questions about the serious and long-term issues facing not only this new government, but several to come. Can a consensus be achieved?

Brian Easton's post on a sustainable New Zealand should invite lots of thought and discussion, but it seems many of the political class are absorbed by the Labour Party's leadership battles. It does look awfully messy at the moment, but maybe all will be forgotten if the new leader can unify the party and get momentum against the government given the challenges it faces...

David Mitchell's latest work, The Bone Clocks, is a great read. I'm just not sure it's a very good book.

Having binged on politics up to and including the day after election night, I'm going through a bit of a purge at the moment. So I've pretty much tried to ignore Labour's travails over the last couple of weeks (oh, OK - I've been reading all about them, but am determinedly attempting not to comment on any of it).

Who will determine Labour's future – the MPs, the members, the unions? The fact is that after a 24 percent election result they are the wrong people to listen to and the truth may be every hard to hear

As he pops back and forth between New Zealand and the Pacific Islands, Shane Jones must look on himself as the luckiest of the three men who took part in the Labour leadership race just a scant 12 months ago.

One of the biggest issues missed during the election campaign was the sustainability of National's economic, environmental and even social policies. So what do you do if the government's not thinking long-term?

Behavioural economics is not a complete theory but it demonstrates that we are not the economic rational being usually assumed in economics theory. One of the most troubling divergences is that we make time-inconsistent decisions so our short run choices do not cohere over the longer term.

I know this will make me even more unpopular on The Standard and The Daily Blog. Being Catholic will probably be seen as another reason to question my right to represent the Left; which is odd, given that there is a proud tradition of social justice in the Catholic church.

There’s a lot wrong with the church, but the fundamental principles of inclusiveness and compassion make it not dissimilate to the principles that built the Labour party over a hundred years ago (apologies to National party Catholics, Bill English and Jim Bolger!)

Susan St John accuses me of “visionless pro-work rhetoric” for writing in my blog about Labour’s position on extending the Working For Families tax credit to families not in work.

I’m not sure if Susan St John thinks it would be more visionary to be ‘anti-work’. I’m proud to support the core Labour value of work. The best way out of poverty is a well-paid job. The Labour movement is founded on the entitlement of working people to dignity through work and security when we can’t.

Labour has to take the blame for creating a bizarre mystique around David Cunliffe's motivations, and his supposedly aloof nature. The problem is not really Cunliffe, it's PR

In Scarlett Johansson’s earlier career, she played characters that were praised for their transcendent beauty. In The Man Who Wasn’t There (2001), she was the teen neighbor of Ed (Billy Bob Thornton), who made frequent visits to gaze at her playing the piano. Seduced by her siren-like mystique, Ed could not see that she had little talent, and instead tried to push her career.

Time to stop talking about the Opposition and focus on what will really effect us over the next three years: what will the National government do to protect Kiwis from another looming recession?

It is human nature to be more inter

Whether or not Labour changes its leader, the MPs gathered in Wellington today need to stop blaming everyone else and take a long, hard look at themselves

Labour MPs travelling to Wellington today for their first post-election caucus will have their heads crammed full of theories, accusations and advice from all and sundry. But here's the message for them to keep front and centre whichever direction they choose as a party: You've got to earn it.

If voters can see the commonality between Labour and the Greens, why can't political analysts?

Most political analysis in New Zealand seems trapped in the two-party winner-takes-all world, or perhaps they are numerically challenged by the number which comes after two. Whichever, to discuss the National-Labour divide without mentioning the Greens is almost pointless. (I’ll come to NZ First shortly.)

A softening of the housing market, falling dairy prices and potential weakening of the Chinese economy do not bode well for New Zealand

There were knowing smiles among economists when earlier this year John Key set the election date a couple of months early. He told us it was because there were various international gatherings that the prime minister had to attend. But it also seemed possible that economy growth would be weakening at the end of 2014.

In which your author admits to (at least) two big mistakes about the 2014 election, and then proceeds to risk making another one.

I got one thing right about this election. I managed not to do anything as misguided as publicly state a prediction that National would get anything like as low a vote total as 44% ... as for instance, did Bryce Edwards. Yep, I'd imagine he woke up this morning feeling pretty silly.

If just changing the leader was the solution, then Labour would have solved its problems long ago.

We've had three leaders since 2008.

 

Labour's problems can't just be fixed by a switch at the top. Change requires more than that. It must challenge the intellectual, organisational and cultural fundamentals of what it means to be Labour.

An emphatic win for National raises a whole series of questions, especially for a left-wing struggling to understand middle New Zealand... and then there's Dotcom

The coming days will see a welter of words on the reasons for the spectacular success of National and the failure of the broad left. As a 'pundit', I might as well add my views.

"At the end of the day", it's so close, this story won't be done until Saturday night

 

I think I'm going to skip the office sweepstake. I just don't know and I don't think anyone knows because undecideds, turnout and late movement could make a huge difference. This election campaign has simply been so volatile I think it's harder than ever to read the public mood; and hey, there are hours still to go.

And other assorted closing thoughts on this most unusual of election campaigns.

So, apparently there will be an election tomorrow. If you haven't yet voted, you should do so by 7pm tomorrow. Otherwise one of the Electoral Commission's kill squads will hunt you down and leave your body lying in the street for the vultures to feast on. This is an aspect of their role that does not get publicised nearly as much as it should.

On the eve of the election, let's not forget the influence of 'dollar-voters' on the outcome

A modern society uses two main ways for regulating its public life; politics and the market. In principle the political ideal is 'one person, one vote', whereas markets are driven by 'one dollar, one vote'.

New Zealand First is well placed to return to parliament next term and tomorrow night could end up holding the balance of power. So what might happen next?

What's going on in Winston Peters' head? That will be a question vexing several party leaders, thousands of voters and even some in his own party. Because whatever else the polls may or may not be telling us, the safest bet would be on New Zealand First making the five percent threshold and being needed to at least support the next government.

Rachel MacGregor's resignation will raise doubts in the swing voters giving the Conservatives a hard look, but what about its top policies? Do its numbers add up?

Colin Craig has stolen the headlines at the business end of the campaign for all the wrong reasons; the mystery of the disappearing press secretary adds to the stress he must be under when he looks at the polls. While he's had momentum, it is yet to get him over five percent in a single poll. And then there are his fiscals.

Should people with intellectual disabilities be allowed to vote? What about those with dementia?

The Waikato Times has carried a couple of interesting stories in recent days about the issue of people with intellectual disabilities being entitled to vote.

Or, rather, some speculative ruminations on what will happen if Winston Peters holds the balance of power and won't commit to supporting either bloc in the House. 

Imagine, if you will, a scenario on September 21 where the provisional election results deliver a Parliament where National cannot form a majority even with ACT/United Future/Maori Party support, Labour cannot form a majority with Green/Mana-Internet Party support and Colin Craig's Conservatives fall short of the threshold.

Was The Moment of Truth an election advertisement?

I gave the ODT my thoughts on "The Moment of Truth" event last night - the tl;dr of which is that there are some important questions about the issue of data collection and surveillance to be addressed, but that the involvement of Dotcom (in particular) in it was regrettable.

All sides in the current spying debate are choosing their words very carefully as the search for lies intensifies. But what do those words mean?

Words matter, never so much in New Zealand politics as they do right now. Remember Humpty Dumpty in Through the Looking Glass?

'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, 'it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.'

It'll take two posts to get through my observations of tonight's big reveal at the Auckland Town Hall. This one's on the timing and strategy around the revelations

Sitting in the Auckland Town Hall tonight – both in the hall meeting and the press conference after – two old sayings kept passing through my mind: "it's all about the timing" and "the devil's in the details". Both truisms couldn't be more true when it came to the Internet Party's Moment of Truth.

Dealing to dirty dairying is an issue that the three major parties fundamentally agree on. Is a parliamentary accord on protecting our waterways next?

I have said in the past that for the Green Party to broaden their appeal, they would need to engage with the real economy, including a better appreciation of the importance dairy farming to the New Zealand economy. With their recent announcements about protecting rivers and streams, it is clear that the Greens have done just that. I imagine the Greens plan has been sometime in the making.