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Trumpwatch: The Drum(pf)s of War

18 February 2017 Leave a comment

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The Trump Era: A New Cold War, on multiple fronts:

Not since Bush  launched a propaganda war against  three nations (Iran, Iraq, and North Korea) with his jingoistic “Axis of Evil” rhetoric in 2002, has a U.S. president so successfully instigated  Cold War II  on so many  fronts.

Barely a month into his “presidency”, and Trump has achieved what no other US President has in history. Winding back international relations to pre-Perestroika days, Trump (or his operatives in  the Occupied White House)  has shown belligerence toward;

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— Iran

After Iran test-fired a  missile on 31 January, the   American Empire has responded with bellicose threats from the Trump-occupied White House. In a press release, National Security Advisor, Michael T. Flynn – a Trump appointee – issued this threat;

“The Islamic Republic of Iran is the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism and engages in and supports violent activities that destabilize the Middle East. This behavior seems continuous despite the very favorable deal given to Iran by the Obama Administration. These sanctions target these behaviors.

Iran’s senior leadership continues to threaten the United States and our allies. Since the Obama Administration agreed to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with Iran in 2015, Iran’s belligerent and lawless behavior has only increased. Examples include the abduction of ten of our sailors and two patrol boats in January 2016, unwarranted harassment of vessel traffic and repeated weapons tests. Just this week, Iran tested a ballistic missile, and one of its proxy terrorist groups attacked a Saudi vessel in the Red Sea.

The international community has been too tolerant of Iran’s bad behavior. The ritual of convening a United Nations Security Council in an emergency meeting and issuing a strong statement is not enough.  The Trump Administration will no longer tolerate Iran’s provocations that threaten our interests.”

The days of turning a blind eye to Iran’s hostile and belligerent actions toward the United States and the world community are over.

At a White House press briefing, Flynn added;

“As of today, we are officially putting Iran on notice.”

Pentagon spokesperson, Christopher Sherwood, stoked the flames;

“The U.S. military has not changed its posture in response to the Iranian test missile launch.”

Unsurprisingly, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was scathing of the militaristic knee-jerk reaction from the Trump White House;

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Russia’s deputy foreign minister, Sergei Ryabkov, rejected claims that the Iranian missile test contravened a 2015  UN resolution which prohibited tests of ballistic missiles  potentially capable of carrying atomic warheads;

We do not see any special problems in this area. We want to stress again that missile launches with the use of missile technologies are not a breach of the [Joint Comprehensive] Plan of Action and UN Security Council Resolution 2231. We have brought this position to the notice of the US side as well.”

Trump is scheduled to meet Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu – a sworn enemy of  Iran – at the White House on February 15. With Trump’s slavish support for Israel, this will not bode well for peace in the Middle East.

A US war with Iran, coupled with on-going civil wars in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen, would disrupt any remaining stability in the entire Middle East and possibly spark a third world war.

— China

Not quite two weeks after his inauguration, Trump created an international incident when he spoke with Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-wen, on 2 December.

The phone call angered the Chinese  leadership in Beijing, as the UK’s Guardian explained;

The US closed its embassy in Taiwan – a democratically ruled island which Beijing considers a breakaway province – in the late 1970s following the historic rapprochement between Beijing and Washington that stemmed from Richard Nixon’s 1972 trip to China.

Since then the US has adhered to the so-called “one China” principle which officially considers the independently governed island part of the same single Chinese nation as the mainland.

It seems improbable that Trump was not briefed by the US State Department that such a phone call would raise alarm bells with the Chinese  government in Beijing. But according to the Taipei Times article;

Trump reportedly agreed to the call, which was arranged by Taiwan-friendly members of his campaign staff after his aides briefed him on issues regarding Taiwan and the situation in the Taiwan Strait, sources said.

Would one of those “Taiwan-friendly members of his campaign staff” be Steve Bannon?

Steve Bannon – far-right media-blogger,  political activist, and executive chairperson  of far-right website,  Breitbart News.

The same Steve Bannon who – one month after Trump spoke with Taiwan’s president – made this startling statement to the world’s media;

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The same Steve Bannon who is now a close advisor to Trump;

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Another Trump stooge, White House media spokesperson, Sean Spicer, announced;

“The U.S. is going to make sure that we protect our interests there [in the South China Sea].”

When US “interests” are threatened, the American Empire reacts in the only way it understands: war. Especially as our American cuzzies see themselves as Hollywood-style “good guys” in international conflicts;

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As

“Washington policymakers seem addicted to intervention and war, unable to imagine there is any international problem they cannot solve.

[…]

The claim that the United States could have provided just the right amount of assistance to just the right groups [in Syria] to yield just the right outcome is a fantasy, belied by America’s failure to get much of anything in the Middle East right.”

By December, the Chinese government had had enough, issuing this  warning through it’s mouthpiece, the state-owned Global Times;

In response, the Global Times, a state-run tabloid that sometimes reflects views from within the Communist party, said on Thursday that China should rebalance its stance towards Taiwan to “make the use of force as a main option and carefully prepare for it”.

“The Chinese mainland should display its resolution to recover Taiwan by force,” the paper wrote in an editorial. If Taiwan were to declare formal independence, it went on, “the Chinese mainland can in no time punish them militarily”.

As tensions increased, in response to US demands over the South China Sea,  China unequivocally told the Americans to ‘butt out’. By the end of January, Beijing’s senior Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Lu Kang,issued a more direct warning;

“There might be a difference [of opinion] over the sovereignty of these islands but it’s not for the United States. That might be between China and some other countries in this region. The South China Sea is not the United States territory or the international territory…”

Update: On 10 February, Trump informed China that his Administration will honour the “One China” policy. The Chinese government – again through it’s organ, the Global Times – concluded;

“Since assuming office, Trump and his team have changed their rhetoric about China. Trump has stopped openly challenging China’s core interests, and instead showed respect to Beijing.

[…]

The change creates an impression that Trump is learning about his role in the realm of Sino-US ties. He’s now sending a new message that he does not want to be a disruptor of the Sino-US relations.”

Saner heads have seemingly prevailed somewhere within the dimly-lit coridors and back-rooms of the American Deep State.

Let’s hope that Trump learns the intricacies and dangers of international relations before he inadvertently blunders into an irretrievable crisis and triggers an atomic apocalypse.

World War I started with less.

— Yemen

During the presidential elections last year (and earlier), Trump made no secret of his inclination to keep the US out of “other people’s wars;

In April 2013, he said;

“Now we’re supposed to get involved with Syria? I would say stay out.”

In March 2016;

“I do think it’s a different world today and I don’t think we should be nation-building anymore. I think it’s proven not to work. And we have a different country than we did then. You know we have $19 trillion in debt. We’re sitting probably on a bubble, and, you know, it’s a bubble that if it breaks is going to be very nasty. And I just think we have to rebuild our country.”

In April 2016;

“We can’t be the policeman of the world. What we do get out of it?”

In May 2016;

“I would have stayed out of Syria and wouldn’t have fought so much for Assad, against Assad because I thought that was a whole thing. You have Iran, which we made into a power. Iran now is a power. Because of us, because of some of the dumbest deals I have ever seen. So now you have Iran and you have Russia in favor of Assad. We’re supposed to fight the two of them. At the same time, we’re supposed to fight ISIS, who is fighting Assad.”

On 30 January – ten days after the world witnessed Trump’s inauguration – US Navy Seal forces mounted a raid in Yemen to attack an alleged Al Qaeda base;

Washington, DC: A US commando died and three others were wounded in a deadly dawn raid on the al-Qaeda militant group in southern Yemen, which was the first military operation authorised by US President Donald Trump.

The US military said 14 militants died in the attack on a powerful al-Qaeda branch that has been a frequent target of US drone strikes.

[…]

The gunbattle in the rural Yakla district of al-Bayda province killed a senior leader in Yemen’s al-Qaeda branch, Abdulraoof al-Dhahab, along with other militants, al-Qaeda said.

As usual, civilians were caught up in the gun-battle;

Medics at the scene, however, said around 30 people, including 10 women and children, were killed.

[…]

Eight-year-old Anwar al-Awlaki, the daughter of US-born Yemeni preacher and al- Qaeda ideologue Anwar al-Awlaki, was among the children who died in the raid, according to her grandfather. Her father was killed in a US drone strike in 2011.

“She was hit with a bullet in her neck and suffered for two hours,” Nasser al- Awlaki told Reuters. “Why kill children? This is the new (US) administration – it’s very sad, a big crime.”

Two days later, the US military confirmed that civilians had been killed in the attack;

US Central Command (CENTCOM) on Wednesday confirmed that a raid carried out in Yemen earlier this week “likely killed” civilians, including possibly children.

“A team designated by the operational task force commander has concluded regrettably that civilian non-combattants were likely killed in the midst of a firefight during a raid in Yemen January 29. Casualties may include children,” said a statement from CENTCOM.

Noticeable, however, the story had changed from an “al-Qaeda militant group” to this;

In what was the first confirmed military raid under President Trump, commandos targeted three tribal chiefs with links to al Qaeda in the central province of Bayda.

More obscene still;

Trump on Wednesday paid a surprise visit to the family of the soldier, Chief Special Warfare Operator William “Ryan” Owens, 36, from Illinois.  Afterwards, Trump described the visit as “something very sad, very beautiful.”

Though probably not as “beautiful” as one local Yemeni’s description of the brutal violence from the US attack;

“The operation began at dawn when a drone bombed the home of Abdulraoof al- Dhahab and then helicopters flew up and unloaded paratroopers at his house and killed everyone inside,” said one resident, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

“Next, the gunmen opened fire at the US soldiers who left the area, and the helicopters bombed the gunmen and a number of homes and led to a large number of casualties.”

For a man committed not to become involved in “other people’s wars”, Trump was quick of the mark to authorise this latest adventurism in the Middle East.

Update: Former  national security official for President Barack Obama, Colin Kahl, has rejected claims that the Navy Seal attack in Yemen had been planned by the previous Administration. In a series of tweets, Khal said;

“1/DoD worked up GENERAL proposal for OVERALL set of expanded authorities for these types of raids at end of Obama admin

[…]

5/And, critically, Obama made no decisions on this before leaving office, believing it represented escalation of U.S. involvement in Yemen”

Even if Trump’s White House officials were being truthful (which is dubious), and the Navy Seal mission had been planned by the Obama Administration, the obvious question remains: why did Trump  permit the attack to proceed?

Short answer: because very little has changed within the Deep State of the American Empire.

— Russia/Ukraine

The “bromance” between Trump and Russian President, Putin, is well known. There appears to be a  “detente” between Putin and the Trump Administration, with the suggestion last year that the Russians could be given a “free hand” in Syria.

As far back as September 2015, then-Republican candidate, Donald Trump told Bill Reilly on Fox News that he would – in essence – be giving Putin suzerainty  over Syria;

“Well, we spent $2 trillion, thousands of lives, wounded warriors all over, and Putin is now taking over what we started, and he’s going into Syria, and he frankly wants to fight ISIS, and I think that’s a wonderful thing. You know, I said that a year ago and everybody said oh, that’s terrible. If he wants to fight ISIS, let him fight ISIS. Why do we always have to do everything. But he wants to go in. He wants to fight ISIS. Now, he wants to keep, as you know, he wants to keep your leadership, your current leadership, Assad in Syria. Personally I’ve been looking at the different players, and I’ve been watching Assad, and I’ve been pretty good at this stuff over the years, cause deals are people. And I’m looking at Assad and saying, ‘Maybe he’s better than the kind of people that we’re supposed to be backing.’ Because we don’t even know who we’re backing.”

O’Reilly  probed further;

“Once Putin gets in and fights ISIS on behalf of Assad, Putin runs Syria. He owns it. He’ll never get out, never.”

Trump replied,

“Alright, okay, fine. I mean, you know, we can be in Syria. Do you want to run Syria? Do you want to own Syria? I want to rebuild our country.”

Putin took up the offer, deploying Russian naval and air-power to support Assad’s forces to retake Aleppo.

But Trump’s willingness to carve up the world,  Yalta Conference-21st Century style, delineating “spheres of influence”, does not seem to extend to the Ukraine which lies on Russia’s doorstep.

On 2/3 February, Trump’s appointee as the US’s ambassador to the UN,  former-Republican South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, launched a blistering attack on Russia for it’s activities in eastern Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea;

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“ I consider it unfortunate that the occasion of my first appearance here is one in which I must condemn the aggressive actions of Russia. We do want to better our relations with Russia. However, the dire situation in eastern Ukraine is one that demands clear and strong condemnation of Russian actions.”

The sudden increase in fighting in eastern Ukraine has trapped thousands of civilians and destroyed vital infrastructure and the crisis is spreading, endangering many thousands more. This escalation of violence must stop.

The United States continues to condemn and call for an immediate end to the Russian occupation of Crimea,” said Nikki Haley, President Donald Trump’s envoy to the world body. “Crimea is a part of Ukraine. Our Crimea-related sanctions will remain in place until Russia returns control over the peninsula to Ukraine.”

The Ukraine’s Ambassador to the UN, Volodymyr Yelchenko, pitched in, holding up a photo of a slain Ukrainian serviceman;

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The Ukrainian Ambassador addressed the  Russian ambassador, Vitaly Yelchenko, accusing;

“You killed him.”

The Russian ambassador, though, was having none of  the United States’ grandstanding, but responded with noticeable restraint;

“The essence of those events is quite clear: Kiev is trying to use the armed clashes that it provoked as a pretext for a complete rejection of the February 12, 2015, Minsk agreements, sealed by the UN Security Council resolution 2202.

Any serious intensification of hostilities in Donbass miraculously coincides with foreign visits of the Ukrainian leadership. Apparently, this is how Kiev expects to keep the crisis that it had provoked on the international agenda.

And, of course, the Ukrainian leadership needs money today, that can easily wheedle out of the European Union, some European nations, the United States and international financial institutions when they pretend to be a victim of ‘aggression’.”

Later, the Russian ambassador appeared conciliatory toward Ambassador Haley;

“I think it was friendly enough, given the circumstances, and given the subject which we were discussing. We may have some differences on some individual issues from time to time, but the fact remains that she is going to play a very important role in whether or not the SC will be able to play a role as a collective international body carrying the main responsibility for international peace and security.”

It is not hard to guess why.

Putin wants to maintain the positive relationship that appeared between himself and Trump during last year’s election campaign. No doubt the Russian leadership is hoping to get Trump back “on board” with some skilled diplomacy. A few sugar-coated words from the Russian president should appeal to Trump’s ego.

Putin may have his work cut out for him as Trump has already been in contact with the Ukrainian leadership, at about the same time Ambassador Haley was busily denouncing the Russians;

President Donald J. Trump just had [5 p.m. Saturday] a very good call with President Petro Poroshenko of Ukraine to address a variety of topics, including Ukraine’s long-running conflict with Russia. “We will work with Ukraine, Russia, and all other parties involved to help them restore peace along the border,” said President Trump. Also discussed was the potential for a meeting in the near future.

The new American leadership is hyper-Nationalistic and has more in common with the Ukrainian nationalistic  government than it does with Moscow.

It may be a matter of time before Putin and Trump’s “respect for each other” dissolves into acrimony. The president of Mexico and Prime Minister of Australia can testify to how fractious Trump can be when he doesn’t get his own way;

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There is no way that Russia will surrender it’s interests in the Ukraine. Just as the American Empire considered Cuba to be well within it’s “sphere of influence”, and blockaded the island during the Cuban Missile Crisis, Russia will not abandon it’s influence on it’s western borders.

Like the South China Sea and the Korean Peninsula, the Ukraine is a dangerous flash-point. It is one mis-calculation away from war.

— Doomsday Clock

Recognising the dangerous situation posed by a volatile Trump and the new Nationalist regime in Washington, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists has moved the Doomsday Clock forward by thirty seconds. It is now two and a half minutes to Doomsday.

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The atomic scientists say the world had edged closer to doomsday [EPA]

The atomic scientists say the world had edged closer to doomsday [EPA]

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Leading scientists, who are the clock’s keepers, say the world has edged closer to apocalypse in the past year amid a darkening security landscape and comments by US President Donald Trump.

[…]

In a report, the BPA said Mr Trump’s statements on climate change, expanding the US nuclear arsenal and the questioning of intelligence agencies had contributed to the heightened global risk.

It is the closest the clock has come to midnight since 1953, when the minute hand was moved to two minutes away following hydrogen bomb tests by the US and Russia.

The minute hand on the Doomsday Clock is a metaphor for how vulnerable the world is to catastrophe.

No wonder Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’ Executive Director,  Rachel Bronson appealed to world leaders to “calm rather than stoke tensions that could lead to war”.

The last time the hands of the Doomsday Clock were so close to mid-night (Doomsday) was in 1953, when the US test-detonated it’s first Hydrogen Bomb.

We live in dangerous times.

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References

BBC: Who’s who in the ‘axis of evil’

The White House: Statement by National Security Advisor Michael T. Flynn on Iran

Reuters: Trump adopts aggressive posture toward Iran after missile launch

Press TV:   New US sanctions on Iran unacceptable – Russia

The Jerusalem Post: Trump’s UN envoy – Israel will ‘never again’ question US support

Taipei Times: Tsai-Trump telephone call scheduled

The Guardian: Trump’s phone call with Taiwan president risks China’s wrath

Wikipedia: Steve Bannon

The Guardian: Steve Bannon – ‘We’re going to war in the South China Sea … no doubt’

The Huffington Post: Steve Bannon Believes The Apocalypse Is Coming And War Is Inevitable

The Independent: US would go into any war with China with ‘unparalleled violence’, warn experts

The Daily Star: ‘We’re going to war with China – no doubt’ says Trump’s right-hand man

The IB Times: Trump’s adviser Steve Bannon – ‘We’re going to war in the South China

TV3 News:  Trump advisor Steve Bannon warned of war against China

BBC: Steve Bannon – Who is Trump’s key adviser?

CNBC: US-China war increasingly a ‘reality,’ Chinese army official says

Global Research:  List of countries the USA has bombed since the end of World War II

The National Interest: America Must Stay Out of Syria’s War

The Guardian: China should plan to take Taiwan by force after Trump call, state media says

ABC News: China warns Donald Trump via US media to stay out of South China Sea dispute

CNN: Why is Trump backing off his China threats?

The Economic Times: Donald Trump’s U turn on Taiwan shows he is learning – Chinese media

Newsmax: Trump – US Should Stay Out of Syria

The Nation: Donald Trump Could Be the Military-Industrial Complex’s Worst Nightmare

The Guardian: Donald Trump on North Korea going to war – ‘Good luck, enjoy yourself folks’

Politico: Trump pledges to hit Islamic State, not Assad

Sydney Morning Herald: US raid on al-Qaeda compound in Yemen Donald Trump’s first military engagement as president

DW News: US confirms Yemen raid ‘likely killed’ civilians

The White House Archives: Vice President Biden Announces Dr. Colin Kahl as New National Security Advisor

Salon: Former Obama official – Trump’s deadly Yemen raid wasn’t planned under Obama’s watch

Sputnik News: Trump on Putin Controlling Syria: ‘OK, Fine,’ Him Fighting ISIS ‘Wonderful Thing,’ ‘Very Little Downside’

The Independent: Largest Russian military deployment since Cold War passes through British waters en route to ‘crush’ Aleppo

Wikipedia: Yalta Conference

Washington Post: Trump nominates two prominent GOP women: DeVos as education secretary, Haley as U.N. ambassador

CNN: UN Ambassador Haley hits Russia hard on Ukraine

RT News: Russia’s Churkin cites US constitution after ambassador Haley’s rant at UNSC over Ukraine

The White House: Readout of the President’s Call with President Petro Poroshenko of Ukraine

Complex.com: Did Donald Trump Piss Off Two of Our Biggest Allies?

Radio NZ:   Doomsday Clock moved closer to midnight

Bulletin of Atomic Scientists: Timeline

Additional

Fox News: Trump unveils plan to boost US military

Other Blogs

Bowalley Road: Political Paradoxes

Brian Edwards: Profile of Leader of the Free World

Cafe Pacific: Colourful, vibrant Aotearoa rally condemns Trump’s ‘racist, Islamophobic’ bans

Imperator Fish: The fascism of facts

Gordon Campbell on NZ’s silence over Trump’s anti-Muslim agenda

Local Bodies: Trump’s Muslim ban exposes stupidity

Mars2earth: you are the resistance

Mars2earth: uglytrump

Mars2earth: the start of the peel

No Right Turn: Outright corruption in the US

Pundit: When Donald calls Bill… make him an offer

The Standard: New Zealand Second?

The Standard: Postcards from the Trumpocalypse

Previous related blogposts

Black Ops from the SIS and FBI?

The seductiveness of Trumpism

The Rise of Great Leader Trump

The Sweet’n’Sour Deliciousness of Irony: Russia accused of meddling in US Election

Trump escalates, Putin congratulates

Trumpwatch: Voter fraud, Presidential delusions, and Fox News

Trumpwatch: Muslims, mandates, and moral courage

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 13 February 2017.

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The Mendacities of Mr English – Social Services under National’s tender mercies

12 February 2017 Leave a comment

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On 25 January, as Radio NZ returned to it’s normal broadcasting schedule (and putting away it’s dumbed-down “summer programming” until next December/January), John Campbell had his first interview with John Key’s replacement, Bill English.

Campbell raised several issues with English; the US withdrawal from the TPPA; the Pike River mine disaster; and the housing crisis. At this point, English made this staggering claim;

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“We’ve got a government actually with a good record on addressing, in fact, some of the toughest social issues. There may be disagreement over means by which we’re doing it, ah, but our direction is pretty clear. And you know over, certainly heading into election year we think that the approach the government’s developed around social investment, around increasing incomes is the right kind of mix – “

English’s bland assertion that “government actually with a good record on addressing, in fact, some of the toughest social issues” is at variance with actual, real, mounting socio-economic problems in this country.

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Key indicator #1: Unemployment

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The latest HLFS unemployment stats show an increase from 4.9% to 5.2% in the December 2016 Quarter. However, in all likelihood, the unemployment numbers are actually much, much, higher since Statistics NZ arbitrarily altered the way it  calculated what constituted  unemployment.

On 29 June 2016, Statistics NZ announced that it would be changing the manner in which it defined a jobseeker;

Change: Looking at job advertisements on the internet is correctly classified as not actively seeking work. This change brings the classification in line with international standards and will make international comparability possible.

Improvement: Fewer people will be classified as actively seeking work, therefore the counts of people unemployed will be more accurate.

The statement went on to explain;

Change in key labour market estimates:

  • Decreases in the number of people unemployed and the unemployment rate

  • Changes to the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate range from 0.1 to 0.6 percentage points. In the most recent published quarter (March 2016), the unemployment rate is revised down from 5.7 percent to 5.2 percent 

  • Increases in the number of people not in the labour force 

  • Decreases in the size of the labour force and the labour force participation rate

The result of this change? At the stroke of a pen, unemployment fell from 5.7% to 5.2% for the March 2016 Quarter (and subsequent Quarters).

If the “current unemployment figures” from Stats NZ are reported as “5.2%’, they may well be back to the original March 2016 figure of 5.7%, before the government statistician re-jigged definitions.

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Key indicator #2: Housing

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– Home Ownership

According to the 1984 NZ  Yearbook, in 1981 the number of rental dwellings numbered 25.4% of housing. 71.2% were owner-occupied. Nearly three quarters of New Zealanders  owned their homes.

Home ownership reached it’s maximum height in 1991, when it stood at 73.8%. Since then, it has steadily declined.

By 2013 (the most recent census survey), the numbers of rental dwellings had increased to 35.2% (up 33.1% in 2006). Home ownership had decreased to  49.9%  (down from  from 54.5% in 2006). If you include housing held in Family Trusts, the figure rises to 64.8% of households owning their home in 2013, down from 66.9% in 2006.

Whether you include housing held in Family Trusts (which may or may not be owner-occupied or rented out), home ownership has fallen steady since the early 1980s.

Renting has increased from 25.4% to 35.2%.

More and more New Zealanders are losing out on the dream of home ownership. Conversely, more and more of us are becoming tenants in our own country.

As Bernard Hickey from Interest.co.nz said in December last year;

Nearly two thirds of the 430,000 households formed since 1991 are tenants.

Think about that for a moment. It is a stunning revelation of how the young and the poor have been hit the hardest by the changes in New Zealand since the mid-1980s, and on an enormous scale.

It means two thirds of the kids born in those families grew up in rental accommodation, and more than 80% of those are private rentals (although the Housing NZ homes are often no better). That means they often grew up in mouldy, damp, cold and insecure housing. It’s true that some homes occupied by their owners are also below par, but it’s a much lower proportion and owners have the option to improve their homes through insulation and ventilation.

The NZ$696 billion increase in the value of New Zealand’s houses to NZ$821 billion between 1991 and 2015 means the 64% of owners in live-in houses have also had plenty of financial flexibility to improve those houses. Renters have had no access to that wealth creation and are not allowed to put a pin in the wall, let alone put in a ventilation system or some batts in the ceiling. The take-up for the Government’s home insulation and heating subsidies were vastly higher among home-owners than they were for landlords.

Those 284,000 renting households formed since 1991 have also often been forced to move schools and communities and all the roots that build families because New Zealand’s rental market is so transient.

[…]

It illustrates the scale of the fallout from that collapse in home ownership from 1991. Not only has it handicapped the education, health and productivity of a entire generation of New Zealanders, but it is set to magnify the likely growth in pension and healthcare costs of our ageing population. And that’s before the wealth and income inequality effects.

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– Affordability

In 2016, the 13th Annual International Demographia International Housing Affordability survey rated New Zealand as one of the most unaffordable housing markets in the world;

The most affordable major housing markets in 2015 are in the United States, with a moderately unaffordable Median Multiple of 3.9, followed by Japan (4.1), the United Kingdom (4.5), Canada (4.7), Ireland (4.7) and Singapore (4.8). Overall, the major housing markets of Australia (6.6), New Zealand (10.0) and China (18.1) are severely unaffordable. (p2)

[…]

In New Zealand, as in Australia, housing had been rated as affordable until approximately a quarter century ago. (p24)

A 2014 report by the NZ Institute for Economic Research stated  the “the average house price rose from the long-run benchmark of three times the average annual household income to six times“;

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The NZIER report refers to several reasons for increasing housing prices; slow supply of land; demographic demand (from ‘Baby Boomers’); and investor demand caused by lack of a capital gains tax. Interestingly, the Report also refers to an “over-supply of finance”;

The loosening of financial standards and rising household debt relative to income has happened over a long period of time. The increase in indebtedness has coincided with rising house prices relative to incomes. This suggests that increased household indebtedness has at least partly contributed to the increasing price of homes. (p14)

Prior to Roger Douglas de-regulating the banking/finance sector, New Zealand banks could only lend depositor’s funds as mortgages.

As a result, mortgage money was “tight”, and scarcity helped keep house prices down. Vendor’s expectations were kept “in check” by scarcity of bank funds. Prior to the mid 1980s, Vendor’s Finance (by way of a Second Mortgage) were commonly-used financial tools to assist house-owners to sell and buyers to complete a purchase.

Once the banking sector was opened up, and monetary policy relaxed, cheap money flooded in from overseas for banks to on-lend to house-purchasers. As property investor, Ollie Newland vividly explained in the 1996 TV documentary, Revolution;

“I got a phone  call from my bank manager to say some bigwigs were coming up from Wellington to have a chat with me. I thought it was just one public relations things they do. I had a very small office, it wasn’t much bigger than a toilet cubicle, and those five big fellows  crowded in with their briefcases and books and they sat on the floor and the arms of the chairs – I only had one chair in the place – and stood against the walls. Their first words to me were, we’re here to lend you money. As much as you want. For somebody like me, and I’m sure it’s the same for everybody else, to suddenly be told by the bank manager that you could have as much money as you want, help yourself, that was a revelation. We thought we had died and gone to heaven.”

Unfortunately, the side affect of this was to increase vendor’s expectations to gain higher and higher prices for their properties. Combined with recent high immigration, and a lack of a comprehensive capital gains tax, and the results have been troubling for this country;

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As well as increasingly unaffordable housing, we – as a nation – are sitting on a trillion-dollar fiscal bomb.

Think about that for a moment.

Little wonder that in September last year, the Reserve Bank issued the sternest warning yet that we were headed for impending economic mayhem;

A sharp correction in house prices represents a key risk to the financial system, and one that is increasing the longer the current boom in house prices persists. A severe downturn in house prices could have major implications for the banking system, with over 55 percent of bank loans secured against residential property. Moreover, elevated household debt levels and a growing exposure of the banking system to investor loans could reinforce a housing downturn and extend reductions in economic activity, as highly indebted households are forced to reduce consumption and sell property.

As with many other individuals, institutions, organisations, business leaders, left-wing commentators, media, political pundits, political parties, the NZIER was (and still is) calling for a comprehensive capital gains tax to be implemented.

Even then, this blogger suspects we may be too late. National (and it’s predecessor, to be fair) have left it far to late and the economic horse has well and truly bolted.

Even a Capital Gains Tax at 28% – New Zealand’s current corporate tax rate – may be insufficient to dampen speculative demand for properties.

Meanwhile, the dream of Kiwis owning their own homes continues to slip away.

Depressingly, New Zealanders themselves have permitted this to happen.

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– State Housing

If the Middle Classes and their Millenial Offspring are finding it hard to buy their first home, think of the poorest  families and individuals in our communities. For them, social housing consists of packing multiple families into a single house; living in an uninsulated, drafty,  garage; or in cars.

Last year, the story of mass homelessness exploded onto our media and our “radar” as New Zealanders woke up to the reality of persistent poverty in our cities;

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Although on occassion, the mainstream media found them themselves  in embarrassingly ‘schizophrenic’ situations as they attempted to reconcile reporting on our growing housing crisis – whilst raising advertising revenue by  promoting “reality” TV programmes that were far, far removed from many people’s own disturbing reality;

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According to UNICEF;

295,000 New Zealand kids are living beneath the poverty line, which means they are living in households where income is less than 60% of the median household income after housing costs are taken into consideration.

One way to alleviate poverty is to provide state housing, at minimal rental, to families suffering deprivation. Not only does this make housing affordable, but also strengthens a sense of community and reduces transience.

Transience can have deletarious effects on families – especially on children – who then struggle with the stresses of losing friends; adjusting to new neighbourhoods, and new schools.

A government report states that transience for children can have extreme, negative impact on  their learning;

Nearly 3,700 students were recognised as transient during the 2014 year. Māori students were more likely to be transient than students in other ethnic groups.

[…]

Students need stability in their schooling in order to experience continuity, belonging and support so that they stay interested and engaged in learning.

All schools face the constant challenge of ensuring that students feel they belong and are encouraged to participate at school. When students arrive at a school part-way through a term or school year, having been at another school with different routines, this challenge may become greater.

Students have better outcomes if they do not move school regularly. There is good evidence that student transience has a negative impact on student outcomes, both in New Zealand and overseas. Research suggests that students who move home or school frequently are more likely to underachieve in formal education when compared with students that have a more stable school life. A recent study found that school movement had an even stronger effect on educational success than residential movement.

There is also evidence that transience can have negative effects on student behaviour, and on short term social and health experience

Writing for The Dominion Post, in April 2014, Elinor Chisholm and  Philippa Howden-Chapman pointed out the blindingly obvious;

Continuity of education and supportive relationships with teachers are critical for children’s educational performance.

“Churn” is not good for educational performance or enrolment in primary health care, where staff can ensure children are properly immunised and chronic health problems can be followed up.

It was for this reason that, in our submission on the Social Housing Reform Bill late last year, we strongly recommended that families with school- age children should be excluded from tenancy review.

Secure tenure and stability at one school would allow children the best chance of flourishing. In high- performing countries such as the Netherlands, children are explicitly discouraged from changing schools in the middle of the school year.

The bill had announced the extension of reviewable tenancies to all state tenants (new state tenants had been subject to tenancy review since mid- 2011). However, the housing minister, as well as the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, had made clear that the disabled and the elderly were to be excluded from tenancy reviews.

In our submission, we acknowledged the Government for recognising the importance of secure tenure.

People who are compelled to move house involuntarily can experience stress, loss, grief and poorer mental health. Housing insecurity is also associated with poorer physical health.

National’s policy of ending a state “house for life”;  increased tenancy reviews for state house tenants, coupled with the sale of state houses, is inimical to the stabilisation of vulnerable families; the well-being of children in those families; and to communities.

In 2008, Housing NZ owned 69,000 rental properties.

By 2016, that number had dropped significantly to 61,600 (plus a further 2,700 leased).  National had disposed of some 7,400 properties.

Between 2014 and 2016, at least 600 state house tenants lost their homes after “reviews”.

This, despite our growing population.

This, despite John Key’s own family having been provided with the security of a state house, and Key enjoying a near-free University education.

This, despite John Key, ex-currency trader,  and multi-millionaire, admitting in 2011 that New Zealand’s under-class was growing.

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Key indicator #3: Incomes & Inequality

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In June 2014, Oxfam reported on New Zealand’s growing dire child poverty crisis;

The richest ten per cent of New Zealanders are wealthier than the rest of the population combined as the gap between rich and poor continues to widen.

Oxfam New Zealand’s Executive Director Rachael Le Mesurier said the numbers are a staggering illustration that the wealth gap in New Zealand is stark and mirrors a global trend that needs to be addressed by governments in New Zealand, and around the world, in order to win the fight against poverty.

“Extreme wealth inequality is deeply worrying. Our nation is becoming more divided, with an elite who are seeing their bank balances go up, whilst hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders struggle to make ends meet,” said Le Mesurier.

Figures for the top one per cent are even more striking. According to the most recent data, taken from the 2013 Credit Suisse Global Wealth Databook, 44,000 Kiwis – who could comfortably fit into Eden Park with thousands of empty seats to spare – hold more wealth than three million New Zealanders. Put differently, this lists the share of wealth owned by the top one per cent of Kiwis as 25.1 per cent, meaning they control more than the bottom 70 per cent of the population.

Oxfam New Zealand’s Executive Director, Rachael Le Mesurier, was blunt in her condemnation;

“Extreme inequality is a sign of economic failure. New Zealand can and must do better. It’s time for our leaders to move past the rhetoric. By concentrating wealth and power in the hands of the few, inequality robs the poorest people of the support they need to improve their lives, and means that their voices go unheard. If the global community fails to curb widening inequality, we can expect more economic and social problems.”

A 2014 OECD report placed New Zealand as one of the worst for growing inequality;

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Not only was inequality a social blight, but according to the report it impacted negatively on economic growth;

Rising inequality is estimated to have knocked more than 4 percentage points off growth in half of the countries over two decades. On the other hand, greater equality prior to the crisis helped increase GDP per capita in a few countries, notably Spain.

According to the OECD assessment,  income inequality had impacted the most on New Zealand, with only Mexico a close second;

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oecd-2014-estimated-consequences-inequality-cumulative-growth

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The OECD Report went further, making this “radical” observation;

The most direct policy tool to reduce inequality is redistribution through taxes and benefits. The analysis shows that redistribution per se does not lower economic growth.

The statement went on to “qualify”  any suggestion of socialism with a caveat. But the declaration that “analysis shows that redistribution per se does not lower economic growth” remained, constituting a direct contradiction and challenge to current neo-liberal othodoxy.

In August 2015, former City Voice editor, and now NZ Herald social issues reporter, Simon Collins revealed the growing level of child poverty in this country;

The Ministry of Social Development’s annual household incomes report shows that the numbers below a European standard measure of absolute hardship, based on measures such as not having a warm home or two pairs of shoes, fell from 165,000 in 2013 to 145,000 (14 per cent of all children) last year, the lowest number since 2007.

Children in benefit-dependent families also dwindled from a recent peak of 235,000 (22 per cent) in 2011, and 202,000 (19 per cent) in 2013, to just 180,000 (17 per cent) last year – the lowest proportion of children living on benefits since the late 1980s.

But inequality worsened because average incomes for working families increased much faster at high and middle-income levels than for lower-paid workers.

The net result was that the number of children living in households earning below 60 per cent of the median income after housing costs jumped from a five-year low of 260,000 in 2013 to 305,000 last year, the highest since a peak of 315,000 at the worst point of the global financial crisis in 2010.

In percentage terms, 29 per cent of Kiwi children are now in relative poverty, up from 24 per cent in 2013 and only a fraction below the 2010 peak of 30 per cent.

In September 2016, Statistics NZ confirmed the widening of  income inequality from 1988 to 2015,  between households with high  and  low incomes;

  • In 2015, the disposable income of a high-income household was over two-and-a-half times larger than that of a low-income household.
  • Between 1988 and 2015, the income inequality ratio increased from 2.24 to 2.61.  

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The neo-liberal “revolution” took place from the mid-to-late 1980s. Hardly surprisingly, the rise in income inequality takes place at the same time.

Income inequality dipped from 2004 when Labour’s “Working for Families” was introduced.

However, income inequality worsened after 2009 and 2010, when National cut taxes for the rich; increased GST (which impacts most harshly on low-income families and individuals); and increased user-charges on essential services such as prescription fees, ACC levies, court fees, etc. Increasingly complicated WINZ requirements for annual re-applications for benefits and complex paperwork may also have worsened the plight of the country’s poorest.

Despite all the promises made by the Lange government; the Bolger government; and every government since, our neo-liberal “reforms” have not been kind to those on low and middle incomes.

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Key indicator #4: Child poverty

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According to Otago University’s Child Poverty Monitor in 2014;

Child poverty has not always been this bad – the child poverty rate in the New Zealand many of us grew up in 30 years ago was 14%, compared to current levels of 24%.

Thirty years prior to 2014 was the year 1984. David Lange’s Labour Party had been elected to power.

Roger Douglas was appointed Minister of Finance. The Member for Selwyn, Ruth Richardson, was also in Parliament, taking notes.

The term “trickle down” entered our consciousness and vocabulary. It promised that, with tax cuts; privatisation; winding back state services; and economic de-regulation, wealth would trickle down to those at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder.

How is that working out for us so far?

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So much for  the “aspirational dream” offered to us by “trickle down” economics.

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Key indicator #5: The Real Beneficiaries

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In June last year, Radio NZ reported  the  latest survey of household wealth by Statistics NZ. It found;

“…the country’s richest individuals – those in the top 10 percent – held 60 percent of all wealth by the end of July 2015. Between 2003 and 2010, those individuals had held 55 percent. The richest 10 percent of households held half of New Zealand’s wealth, while the poorest 40 percent held just 3 percent of total wealth.”

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Following hard on the heels of the Stats NZ report,  Oxfam NZ made a disturbing revelation;

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Three years after her previous public warning,  Oxfam New Zealand’s, Rachael Le Mesurier, was no less scathing. Her exasperation was clear;

“The gap between the extremely wealthy and the rest of us is greater than we thought, both in New Zealand and around the world. It is trapping huge numbers of people in poverty and fracturing our societies, as seen in New Zealand in the changing profile of home ownership.”

National minister, Steven Joyce responded. He was his usual mealy-mouthed self when interviewed on Radio NZ about the Oxfam report;

“There’s always inequality but again you have got to look at those reports carefully because in that report a young medical graduate who has just come out of university would be listed as somebody who is in the poorest 20 per cent because they have a student loan.They’ll pay that student loan off in about four years and they’ll be earning incomes of over $100,000 very quickly.

So although they’re in those figures today, they won’t be in those figures in five years’ time.”

Which appears to sum up the National government’s head-in-sand attitude on child poverty and income inequality.

Economist, Shamubeel Eaqub, though, had a different “take” on the issue and warned;

“Every time we see a new statistic on inequality, whether it’s in terms of income, opportunities or wealth, it shows very clearly that New Zealand is being ripped apart by our class system.”

When economists begin to issue dire social warnings, you know that matters have taken a turn for the worse.

So where does that leave our New Dear Leader Bill English  with his insistence  that “we’ve got a government actually with a good record on addressing, in fact, some of the toughest social issues”?

English’s assertion to John Campbell on Radio NZ, on 25 January, (outlined at the beginning of this story) makes sense only if it it is re-phrased;

“We’ve got a government actually with a good record on addressing, in fact, some of the toughest wealth-accumulation issues. There may be disagreement over means by which we’re doing it, ah, but our direction is pretty clear. And you know over, certainly heading into election year we think that the approach the government’s developed around private investment, around increasing incomes for the wealthiest ten percent is the right kind of mix – “

Not a very palatable message – but vastly more truthful as income inequality continues to wreak appalling consequences throughout our communities and economy.

Otherwise, English appears to reside not so much in the Land of the Long White Cloud, but in the Realm of Wishful Thinking.

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References

Radio NZ: Checkpoint – Bill English on the challenges of his first month as PM

Scoop media: Unemployment rate rises to 5.2 percent as labour force grows

Statistics NZ: Household Labour Force Survey – Revisions to labour market estimates

NZ 1984 Yearbook: 3A – General SummaryCensus of population and dwellings 1981 (see “Tenure of Dwelling”)

Statistics NZ: Owner-Occupied Households

Statistics NZ: 2013 Census QuickStats about national highlights – Home Ownership

Interest.co.nz: Bernard Hickey says the collapse in home-ownership rates among families formed since 1991 is an unfolding disaster for NZ’s economy, our society and the Government’s finances

International Demographia: 13th Annual  International Housing Affordability

NZ Institute for Economic Research: The home affordability challenge

Monetary Meg: What is vendor finance?

Radio NZ: NZ immigration returns to record level

NZ On Screen: Revolution

NZ Herald: New Zealand residential property hits $1 trillion mark

Reserve Bank: Regulatory Impact Assessment of revised LVR restriction proposals September 2016 – Adequacy Statement

The Guardian: New Zealand housing crisis forces hundreds to live in tents and garages

Fairfax media: One in 100 Kiwis homeless, new study shows numbers quickly rising

Al Jazeera: New Zealand’s homeless: Living in cars and garages

NZ Herald: Homelessness rising in New Zealand

Radio NZ: Homeless family faces $100k WINZ debt

TV3 News: The hidden homeless – Families forced to live in cars

TV1 News: Housing crisis hits Tauranga, forcing families into garages and cars

UNICEF: Let’s Talk about child poverty

Education Counts: Transient students

Dominion Post: Housing policy will destabilise life for children

NZ Herald: State housing shake-up – Lease up on idea of ‘house for life’

Radio NZ: Thousands of state houses up for sale

Housing NZ: Annual Report 2008/09

Housing NZ: Annual Report 2015/16

Fairfax media: Nearly 600 state house tenants removed after end of ‘house for life’ policy

NZ Herald: Key admits underclass still growing

Oxfam: Richest 10% of Kiwis control more wealth than remaining 90%

NZ Herald: 300,000+ Kiwi kids now in relative poverty

Statistics NZ: Income inequality

Law Society: Civil court fee changes commence

Fairfax media: Prescription price rise hits vulnerable

Salaries.co.nz: ACC levies to increase in April 2010

Radio NZ: Thousands losing benefits due to paperwork

Scoop media: Health Issues Highlighted in Child Poverty Monitor

NZ Herald: Hungry kids foraging in pig scraps ‘like the slums of Brazil’

Fairfax media: Damp state house played part in toddler’s death

NZ Herald: More living in cars as rents go through roof

NZ Doctor: Tackle poverty to fight rheumatic fever

Radio NZ: 10% richest Kiwis own 60% of NZ’s wealth

Fairfax media: Wealth inequality in NZ worse than Australia

Radio NZ: Steven Joyce responds to Oxfam wealth inequality report

Additional

Dominion Post: Kids dragged from school to school

Other Blogs

The Standard: John Key used to be ambitious about dealing with poverty in New Zealand

Previous related blogposts

Lies, Damned lies and Statistical Lies

Lies, Damned lies and Statistical Lies – ** UPDATE **

National exploits fudged Statistics NZ unemployment figures

2016 – Ongoing jobless tally and why unemployment statistics will no longer be used

CYF – The Hollowing Out of a State Agency

The Mendacities of Mr Key # 18: “No question – NZ is better off!”

Foot in mouth award – Bill English, for his recent “Flat Earth” comment in Parliament

The Mendacities of Mr English – Fibbing from Finance Minister confirmed

Rebuilding the Country we grew up in – Little’s Big Task ahead

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 7 February 2017.

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Trumpwatch: Muslims, mandates, and moral courage

6 February 2017 1 comment

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Muslims…

Trump revealed his extraordinary Executive Order on 28 January. With the flourish of a pen, he banned refugees and demanded  travellers from seven predominantly muslim nations be subjected  to “extreme vetting” (whatever that is). Seven countries were singled out;

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countries banned by Trump - countries that have killed americans

Acknowledgement: Martyn Bradbury, “The utter madness of Trump’s #MuslimBan”

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Of those seven two (Iraq and Somalia) have been invaded by the American Empire; one has been the target of sanctions for supposedly working toward developing an atom bomb (Iran, not Israel); and two others are currently experiencing vicious civil wars (Syria and Yemen).

Interestingly, as others have pointed out, several countries are noticeable by their absence – chiefly Saudi Arabia.

This is ironic in the extreme as, the entire world is aware, the worst terrorist atrocity on US soil was committed by fifteen Saudi nationals, on 11 September, 2001. The late-leader of al-Qaeda, Osama Bin Laden, was also a Saudi citizen – a so-called “prince”. The remainder were from the United Arab Emirates (2), Egypt (1) and Lebanon (1).

Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and Lebanon do not appear on Trump’s “Sinful Seven”.

Also omitted from the above list: Israel – 34 Americans killed on 8 June 1967, when Israeli motor-torpedo boats and a warplane attacked the USS Liberty, whilst it lay in international waters.

Making matters worse, on a Christian TV channel, Trump threw petrol onto the bonfire he had lit by stating that there would be an exemption to the ban of refugees from Syria;

Worsening the damage, he also signalled, in an interview with a Christian television channel, that the ban would not apply to Christians. Syrian Christians, claimed Mr Trump, were “horribly treated” by his predecessor. “If you were a Muslim you could come in, but if you were a Christian, it was almost impossible,” he said. “I thought it was very, very unfair. So we are going to help them.” This was not merely incendiary but untrue: last year America accepted 37,521 Christian refugees and 38,901 Muslims. 

It is peculiar that the worst offender, Saudi Arabia, is not on the list. Especially since Trump made specific mention of the September 11 attack in the second opening  paragraph of his Executive Order;

Section 1. Purpose. The visa-issuance process plays a crucial role in detecting individuals with terrorist ties and stopping them from entering the United States. Perhaps in no instance was that more apparent than the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, when State Department policy prevented consular officers from properly scrutinizing the visa applications of several of the 19 foreign nationals who went on to murder nearly 3,000 Americans. And while the visa-issuance process was reviewed and amended after the September 11 attacks to better detect would-be terrorists from receiving visas, these measures did not stop attacks by foreign nationals who were admitted to the United States.

So having referenced (albeit indirectly)  the fifteen Saudi terrorists – Trump studiously ignored them.

Yet,  Saudi Arabia is  home to “Wahabism” – an extreme form of Islam. Middle East correspondent, Robert Fisk described Saudi Arabia as;

“…a Wahhabist state whose 18th-century puritan morality defined the Taliban – which received moral and financial support from Saudis – and whose misogyny and grotesque public beheadings after unfair trials parallel the cruelty of Isis punishments.”

Fisk wrote of the relationship between the American Empire and the Saudi regime;

Under Obama, Saudi Arabia will continue to be treated as a friendly “moderate” in the Arab world, even though its royal family is founded upon the Wahhabist convictions of the Sunni Islamists in Syria and Iraq – and even though millions of its dollars are arming those same fighters. Thus does Saudi power both feed the monster in the deserts of Syria and Iraq and cosy up to the Western powers that protect it.

Bloomberg business news revealed recently that Trump has personal  business dealings in Turkey, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates,  and Egypt;

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Source: Bloomberg

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According to Bloomberg’s research, Trumps business interests are;

Egypt

Trump lists two companies on his FEC filing possibly related to business in Egypt: Trump Marks Egypt and Trump Marks Egypt LLC.

Saudi Arabia

Trump lists companies on his FEC filing possibly related to a development project in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia’s second-biggest city, located outside Mecca: DT Jeddah Technical Services Manager LLC, DT Jeddah Technical Services Manager Member Corp., THC Jeddah Hotel Manager LLC and THC Jeddah Hotel Manager Member Corp.

United Arab Emirates

The Trump Organization has a licensing and management deal in Dubai with Damac Properties Dubai Co. for a golf course and luxury villas currently under construction. Another Trump-branded golf course, designed by Tiger Woods, is under development with Damac nearby.

According to the same report, Trump also has interests in Israel – which may explain his closeness to that country’s rulers;

Israel

Trump lists two companies on his FEC filing possibly related to business in Israel : Trump Drinks Israel LLC, Trump Drinks Israel Member Corp.

Trump also has ‘had’ (he claims to have sold his share holdings) US$3,900,010 in oil, gas, and coal  companies:

Chevron, Total Capital, Occidental Petroleum, Phillips 66, Halliburton, Exxon Mobil, EOG Resources, Schlumberger, Energy Transfer Partners

On top of Trump’s personal business interests in Saudi Arabia – the United States maintains close economic and military ties  with the Saudi kingdom. According to the Council on Foreign Relations, the US sold billions of dollars worth of sophisticated, lethal weaponry to the Saudis;

Saudi Arabia was the top destination for U.S. arms in 2011–2015, purchasing 9.7 percent of U.S. exports. Recent sales approved by the U.S. State Department include Black Hawk helicopters worth a total of $495 million and Patriot Missiles worth $5.4 billion, as well as a $1.3 billion sale of air-to-ground munitions meant to replenish stocks used in Yemen. That has drawn criticism from human rights groups and a couple of U.S. lawmakers, who have cited the high civilian toll of the Saudi-led air campaign. Saudi Arabia’s total arms imports increased by 275 percent over 2006–2010, according to the research organization SIPRI (PDF). The United States also helps Saudi Arabia secure its oil assets by providing training and advisers to Saudi security forces. 

And US-Saudi business interests are closely intertwined;

Saudi government officials and businessmen, both royals and commoners, have deep ties to the United States. Saudi finance, economy, and petroleum ministers all have degrees from U.S. universities. Fahad al-Mubarak, the central bank governor who controls over $700 billion in reserves, mostly in U.S. Treasuries, was previously chairman of Morgan Stanley’s unit in Saudi Arabia. Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, the kingdom’s most famous billionaire investor, owns stakes in Citigroup and Twitter.

[…]

As the kingdom’s economy expanded over the past decade and its stock market opened up to investors in 2015, many U.S. and European banks are expanding operations in Saudi Arabia. Bank of America has been preparing for the Saudi market opening for years, and Morgan Stanley and Credit Suisse have shifted staff from Dubai to Riyadh. U.S. investment funds such as Providence Equity Partners and Apollo Global Management are also seeking to acquire stakes in Saudi companies.

Saudi Arabia’s influence within the US economy has recently taken a sinister turn;

There’s growing bipartisan support for a Senate bill, sponsored by Democrat Chuck Schumer and Republican John Cornyn, to allow victims of the 9-11 terrorist attacks to sue the Saudi government for recompense for any involvement it may have had in the event. The bill has been motivated by the suspicion that Saudi officials or prominent citizens helped fund the attack, which was perpetrated mostly by terrorists from Saudi Arabia.

This bill is giving Saudi officials serious pause, leading the Saudi finance minister Adel al-Jubeir to warn members of Congress and Administration officials that, if the bill passes, it would be forced to sell off $750 billion worth of U.S. Treasury debt and other American assets, a move that the New York Times said could trigger “economic fallout.”

No wonder that Yemen and Somalia make it on to Trump’s List – but Saudi Arabia does not.

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Mandates…

On 7 December 2015, on the election-trail, Trump issued his now-infamous state calling for a ban of  muslims entering the United States;

“Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our countries representatives can figure out what is going on.”

Trump’s Executive Order on 28 January seemingly fulfills that so-called “election promise”.  Trump’s supporters have justified the issuing of that Order on the premise that Trump was simply meeting his promises.

On this issue, we should refer to the lessons of history. Specifically, the rise of nazism in Germany in the 1930s, where Adolf Hitler made certain promises to the electorate;

Hitler offered something to everyone: work to the unemployed; prosperity to failed business people; profits to industry; expansion to the Army; social harmony and an end of class distinctions to idealistic young students; and restoration of German glory to those in despair. He promised to bring order amid chaos; a feeling of unity to all and the chance to belong. He would make Germany strong again; end payment of war reparations to the Allies; tear up the treaty of Versailles; stamp out corruption; keep down Marxism; and deal harshly with the Jews.

[…]

On election day September 14, 1930, the Nazis received 6,371,000 votes – over eighteen percent of the total – and were thus entitled to 107 seats in the German Reichstag.

And;

Hitler Made many promises to the country of Germany in order to come to power. Most of the promises he made, he did not keep. After WWII Germany signed the Treaty of versailles which was the main cause of Germany’s economic problems at the time. The U.S. made loans to Germany to help with its failing economy. But when the market crashed in 1929, the U.S. could not continue to help out Germany. This helped set up Hitler perfectly. The people of Germany wee looking for someone who could help fix all of the ongoing problems they were facing in Germany. At the time they had lost faith in their governments ability to take care of its citizens. Hitler believed he could help the people in Germany and he promised them all relief. He also promised jobs for the unemployed and a market for the farmers goods. Hitler began to appeal to peoples emotions instead of their reason. The people of Germany heard what they wanted to hear and ignored the violence of the Nazi party. Hitler blamed Germany’s problems on the “corrupt” politicians, communists, and Jews. He told Germany that if they got rid of them, all of Germany’s problems would vanish and the whole country would improve. Many people in Germany protested Hitler’s ideas and reasoning.

If a candidate vilifies a minority and is subsequently elected to office by a majority, does that confer the right to attack that minority from a position of power conferred by that office? Is an abuse of political power permissable under the guise of “carrying out an election promise”?  Do we confer a cloak of respectability to bigotry and racism if it is elected to office?

If the answer is ‘yes’, this must constitute a subversion of democracy and universal human rights by allowing a “tyranny of the majority” to oppress a minority.

It means no minority is safe. It means that mob rule trumps Constitutional safeguards and Declarations of Human Rights built up over the centuries.

1930s Germany offers a clear, chilling lesson where that leads.

Sometimes, the minority voice is the morally righteous one;

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Questions also arise regarding political agendas  here in New Zealand. National and John Key campaigned in 2014 on concluding a successful TPPA. National won the election.

If Trump has carte blanche to promote his muslim-ban; unimpeded,  because it was an election promise – does that imply that New Zealanders were wrong to protest against the TPPA because National had a mandate?

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Moral courage…

The growing resistance to Trump’s increasingly fragile administration took a dramatic turn today (31 January). In a move straight out of The West Wing, Madame Secretary, or any other political drama, Attorney General, Sally Yates took a step of moral courage that is a rarity these days;

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Why was Ms Yates’ refusal to carry out Trump’s Executive Order an act of heroism?

Because sometimes, the only way to stand up to an unjust law is to say, “No”.

To participate in unjust law – and taken to extremes – leads humanity down dark paths of evil, whether fascism, stalinism, apartheid, etc.

Ms Yates could have followed Trump’s orders – but would that have been the morally right thing to do? Can a human being justify injustice by asserting they were “only following orders”?

Again, 20th Century history offers guidance for us;

It was impossible for Eichmann to deny his role in the killing of Europe’s Jews. Servatius adopted the defense strategy that had been used at Nuremberg. Since he could not disavow the crime, he disavowed the responsibility for them. “He was just following orders” Eichmann’s defense was designed to let the SS Officer fade from the stand and replace him with the benevolent bureaucrat, a man whose actions had been misrepresented by the prosecution. He even went so far as to claim that his early actions during the period of forced emigration had been for the benefit of the Jews.

Humanity made a conscious decision in 1945-49 that “following orders” could not be a justification for perpetrating  injustice.

Ms Yates  believed Trump’s Executive Order to be  unjust and possibly illegal, and she took the only possible step. She said “No”. Ironically,  Trump’s Executive Order  makes provision for just this scenario;

This order shall be implemented consistent with applicable law and subject to the availability of appropriations.

Ms Yates was following Trump’s Executive Order – perhaps the only part of it that made sense.

History may judge Attorney General Yates, Chelsea Manning, Julian Assange, Edward Snowden, etc; as people who chose to follow their conscience rather than orders.

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Meanwhile…

Recent events within the American Empire has moved the world closer to Doomsday, according to the planet’s leading scientists – the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (BPA). The Doomsday Clock – made famous in popular culture in the 1986 Watchmen  graphic novel and 2009 movie – has moved from three minutes to midnight, to two and a half minutes to midnight;

Scientists have moved the minute hand of the symbolic Doomsday Clock 30 seconds closer to midnight for the first time.

Leading scientists, who are the clock’s keepers, say the world has edged closer to apocalypse in the past year amid a darkening security landscape and comments by US President Donald Trump.

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The atomic scientists say the world had edged closer to doomsday [EPA]

The atomic scientists say the world had edged closer to doomsday [EPA]

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The clock now says the world is 2.5 minutes from apocalypse.

Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (BPA) chief Rachel Bronson urged world leaders to “calm rather than stoke tensions that could lead to war”.

In a report, the BPA said Mr Trump’s statements on climate change, expanding the US nuclear arsenal and the questioning of intelligence agencies had contributed to the heightened global risk.

It is the closest the clock has come to midnight since 1953, when the minute hand was moved to two minutes away following hydrogen bomb tests by the US and Russia.

The minute hand on the Doomsday Clock is a metaphor for how vulnerable the world is to catastrophe.

The Trump Administration has led humanity into uncharted waters. Looming on the dark horizon may be the inevitable;

Given the sheer danger to the Republic as well as to the Republicans, Trump’s impeachment will happen. The only question is how grave a catastrophe America faces first. – Robert Kuttner, Huffington Post, 29 January 2017

 

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References

The Guardian: Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration – the full text

Wikipedia: Hijackers in the September 11 attacks

Wikipedia: September 11 attacks

Wikipedia: USS Liberty incident

Belfast Telegraph: War with Isis – If Saudi Arabia isn’t fuelling the militant inferno, who is?

The Independent: Iraq crisis: Sunni caliphate has been bankrolled by Saudi Arabia

The Economist: Donald Trump gets tough on refugees

Bloomberg: Trump’s Immigration Ban Excludes Countries With Business Ties

Bloomberg: Tracking Trump’s Web of Conflicts

New York Times: Trump Speaks With Netanyahu, Seeking to Thaw U.S. Relations

Council for Foreign Relations: U.S.-Saudi Relations

Fortune.com: Could Saudi Arabia Trigger an American Debt Crisis?

Fortune.com: Donald Trump Wants to Stop All Muslim Immigration

The History Place: The Rise of Adolf Hitler – Germans elect Nazis

The Rise of Hitler & Nazism: Hitler’s Promises to Germany

Interest.co.nz: Election 2014 – Party Policies – Trade

Al Jazeera: US attorney general Sally Yates fired in Muslim ban row

Holocaust Research: The Trial of Adolf Eichmann

Radio NZ:   Doomsday Clock moved closer to midnight

Huffington Post: The Inevitability Of Impeachment

Additional

The Independent: Obama knows 9/11 was linked to Saudi Arabia – its massive oil reserves are behind his official visit

Other Blogs

The utter madness of Trump’s #MuslimBan

Previous related blogposts

Black Ops from the SIS and FBI?

The seductiveness of Trumpism

The Rise of Great Leader Trump

The Sweet’n’Sour Deliciousness of Irony: Russia accused of meddling in US Election

Trump escalates, Putin congratulates

Trumpwatch: Voter fraud, Presidential delusions, and Fox News

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 1 February 2017.

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Trumpwatch: Voter fraud, Presidential delusions, and Fox News

2 February 2017 1 comment

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Trump’s campaign and presidency has been marked by a series of exaggerations, half-truths, and outright lies.  One of Trump’s most recent lies is his allegation of  massive voter fraud in the US 2016 presidential elections;

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On 25 January, he told ABC News;

“You have people who are registered who are dead, who are illegals, who are in two states,” Trump told ABC’s David Muir. “You have people registered in two states. You have people registered in New York and New Jersey. They vote twice.”

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This has been disputed, as Robert Mackey explained for The Intercept;

For two months now, Donald Trump has appeared unable to accept the verdict of November’s election: that he is more popular than many of us wanted to believe, but less popular than Hillary Clinton.

As a result of this fixation, he is now promising “a major investigation” into the election that made him president, putting the full weight of the federal government behind his quest to prove that at least three million ballots were cast against him by “those registered to vote in two states, those who are illegal and even, those registered to vote who are dead.”

In an interview with David Muir of ABC News broadcast on Wednesday night, Trump tried to suggest that a 2012 Pew study on problems with people being registered in two states, or the voter rolls not being updated as soon as people die, was proof that illegal voting was taking place.

When Muir pointed out that the author of the Pew study, David Becker, had said that his work did not show any voter fraud, Trump, who clearly had not read the study, suggested, wrongly, that he had somehow retracted his research. Specifically, Trump accused Becker of  “groveling”, just as he had when attacking Serge Kovaleski of The New York Times for undercutting his lie that thousands of Arab-Americans celebrated 9/11 in New Jersey.

As several observers quickly noted, members of Trump’s own family and senior White House staff are also registered in two states.

Trump’s bogus allegations have been backed up by an equally bogus “alternative news” website, “Infowars“. An article headed “Report: Three Million Votes in Presidential Election Cast by Illegal Aliens” made explosive allegations of wide-spread voter fraud in last year’s presidential election;

Three million votes in the U.S. presidential election were cast by illegal aliens, according to Greg Phillips of the VoteFraud.org organization.

If true, this would mean that Donald Trump still won the contest despite widespread vote fraud and almost certainly won the popular vote.

“We have verified more than three million votes cast by non-citizens,” tweeted Phillips after reporting that the group had completed an analysis of a database of 180 million voter registrations.

Phillips said in another ‘;tweet’;

“Number of non-citizen votes exceeds 3 million. Consulting legal team,” he added.

On closer investigation, it appears that “Greg Phillips” has no connection to  VoteFraud.org, as the organisation made clear shortly after Infowars’ “story”;

We at Votefraud.org and ElectionNightGatekeepers.com had never heard of Greg Phillips when infowars.com carried an article circa November 14, 2016 reporting that Phillips had stated in a Twitter Tweet that, — claiming to having analyzed a database of 180 million voters, — 3 million illegal immigrants voted for Hillary Clinton.

[…]

Hillary did call for registering 3 million new voters a few months before the election. While we believe that it’s a reasonable claim that the Democrats succeeded in helping millions of illegals to vote for Hillary, — which is why almost all prominent Democrats, including Hillary and Obama, oppose voter ID laws, — we can find no proof that Hillary made an overt call to register illegal immigrants, or that this actually happened.

We would urge Mr. Greg Phillips to publish how his group made this determination (and we hope he can!).

Apparently, Trump is resting his ‘case’ on  fake news, from an alt.right bogus-news website, quoting a non-existent member of another organisation, to assert unsubstantiated allegations of non-existent wide-spread voter fraud.

There is nothing even remotely credible about this farce.

Pro-Republican TV broadcaster, Fox News was equally unimpressed with Trump’s latest foray into the political Twilight Zone;

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When even the right-wing, pro-Republican Fox News calls “Bullshit Alert!” on one of their own, you know it’s time for a healthy dose of  mama’s reality-check elixir.

If anyone is in any doubt of Trump’s delusions on this issue, note the part where he says;

“Of those votes cast, none of ’em came to me. None of ’em came to me. They would all be for the other side. None of ’em came to me.”

Which – if true – would indicate that Trump was somehow able to look at each and every vote cast in “two states and some cases maybe three states” and determine which candidate the ballot was cast for.

This would be extraordinary.

How would he know “none of ’em came to me“? Voting in the United States is supposed to be secret.

Postscript

On 9 January, Trump accepted  the CIA and FBI’s allegations that Russia engaged in cyber attacks during the U.S. presidential election last year. Trump, however, did not accept that the hacking interfered in the final results;

“While Russia, China, other countries, outside groups and people are consistently trying to break through the cyber infrastructure of our government institutions, businesses and organisations including the Democrat (sic) National Committee, there was absolutely no effect on the outcome of the election including the fact that there was no tampering whatsoever with voting machines.”

Perhaps Trump should ask “Greg Phillips“?

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Final Word

I have a foreboding of an America in my children’s or grandchildren’s time – when the United States is a service and information economy; when nearly all the manufacturing industries have slipped away to other countries; when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues; when the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgeably question those in authority; when, clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what’s true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstition and darkness.”Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World, 1995

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References

Twitter:

Youtube: Watch The Terrifying Way Trump Reacts When A Reporter Points Out He’s Wrong To His Face

The Intercept: Just 5 Clicks on an Internet Survey Inspired Trump’s Claim Millions Voted Illegally

Infowars: Report – Three Million Votes in Presidential Election Cast by Illegal Aliens

Youtube: Even A Fox News Anchor Just Called Out Trump’s Voter Fraud BS

Financial Times: Trump says hacking did not influence US election

Indy100: Carl Sagan’s terrifyingly accurate prediction about the future has resurfaced

Additional

Buzzfeed: Here’s A Running List Of All Of President Trump’s Lies

Previous related blogposts

Black Ops from the SIS and FBI?

The seductiveness of Trumpism

The Rise of Great Leader Trump

The Sweet’n’Sour Deliciousness of Irony: Russia accused of meddling in US Election

Trump escalates, Putin congratulates

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Donald Trump voter fraud

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 28 January 2017.

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Cutting taxes toward more user-pays – the Great Kiwi Con

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Introduction

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The following is the amount spent by Labour, on Vote Education in the 2008 Budget;

Total 2008 Vote Education: $10,775,482,000 (in 2008 dollars)

Total students in 2009: 751,330* 

spend per student: $14,341.88

The following is the amount spent by National, on Vote Education in the 2016 Budget;

Total 2016 Vote Education: $11,044,598,000 (in 2016 dollars)

Total students in 2016: 776,948**

spend per student in 2016 dollars: $14,215.36

Total 2016 Vote Education: $9,608,800,000 (re-calculated in 2008 dollars)

spend per student in 2008 dollars: $12,367.37

Calculated in real terms (2008 dollars), National’s spending on Vote Education was $1,166,682,000 less last year than Labour budgetted in 2008.

In dollar terms, in 2016, National spent less per student ($14,215.36) than Labour did in 2008 ($14,341.88). Converting National’s $14,215.36 from 2016 dollars to 2008 dollars, and the sum spent  per student is even less: 12,367.37.

In real terms, National has cut the total*** education budget by $1,974.51 per student.

*  Not including 9,529 international fee-paying students

**  Not including 11,012 international fee-paying students

*** Total spent on Vote Education, not just schools and tertiary education.

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Tax-cuts and Service-cuts

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Writing in the Daily Blog recently, political commentator Chris Trotter had this to say on the matter of taxation and social services;

Speaking on behalf of the NewLabour Party, I felt obliged to spell out the realities of tertiary education funding. I told them that they could have free education or low taxes – but they could not have both. If the wealthy refused to pay higher taxes, then students would have to pay higher fees. If the middle class (i.e. their family) was serious about keeping young people (i.e. themselves) out of debt, then they would have to vote for a party that was willing to restore a genuinely progressive taxation system.”

Since 1986, there have been no less than seven tax-cuts;

1 October 1986 – Labour

1 October 1988 – Labour

1 July 1996 – National

1 July 1998 – National

1 October 2008 – Labour

1 April 2009 – National

1 October 2010 – National

 

The 2010 tax-cuts alone were estimated to cost the State  $2 billion in lost revenue.

Taxes were raised in 2000 by the incoming Labour government, to inject  much needed funding for a cash-strapped health sector. The previous National government, led by Bolger and later Shipley, had gutted the public health service. Hospital waiting lists grew. People waited for months, if not years, for life-saving operations. Some died – still waiting.

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During that time, National cut taxes twice (see above). Funding for public healthcare suffered and predictably, private health insurance capitalised on peoples’ fears;

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A decade late, National’s ongoing cuts, or under-funding, of state services such as the Health budget have resulted in wholly predictable – and preventable – negative outcomes;

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patients-have-severe-loss-of-vision-in-long-wait-for-treatment

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A critic of National’s under-funding of the health system, Phil Bagshaw, pointed out the covert agenda behind the cuts;

New Zealand’s health budget has been declining for almost a decade and could signal health reforms akin to the sweeping changes of the 1990s, new research claims.

[…]

The accumulated “very conservative” shortfall over the five years to 2014-15 was estimated at $800 million, but could be double that, Canterbury Charity Hospital founder and editorial co-author Phil Bagshaw said.

Bagshaw believed the Government was moving away from publicly-funded healthcare, and beginning to favour a model that meant everyone had to pay for their own.

“It’s very dangerous. If this continues we will slide into an American-style healthcare system.”

Funding cuts to the Health sector have been matched with increases to charges;

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cuts to NGOs offering support services;

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… and  leaving district health boards in dire financial straits;

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The critical correlation between  tax cuts and consequential reduction of state services was nowhere better highlighted then by US satirist and commentator,  Seth Meyer. He was unyielding with his  scathing, mocking, examination of  the travesty of the Kansas Example of “minimalist government”;

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Here in New Zealand, National’s funding cuts have not been restricted to the Health sector and NGOs. Government agencies from  the Police , Radio NZ, to the Department of Conservation have had their funding slashed (or frozen –  a cut after inflation is factored in).

The exception has been the Prime Minister’s department which, since 2008, has enjoyed a massive  increase of $24,476,000 since 2008 and  a near-doubling of John Key’s department and Cabinet expenditure since Michael Cullen’s last budget, seven years previously.

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Tax cuts, slashed services, and increasing user-pays

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By contrast,  parents are finding more and more that the notion of a free state education is quietly and gradually slipping away. User-pays has crept into the schools and universities – with harsh penalties for those who fail to pay.

In May 2013, National’s Tertiary Education Minister, Steven Joyce, announced;

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student-loan-defaulters-to-face-border-arrest

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True to his word, in January 2016, the first person was arrested for allegedly “defaulting on his student loan”. By November the same year, a third person had been arrested. Joyce was unrepentant;

“There probably will be more, we don’t know of course how many are in Australia but that’s a very good start, and I think it’s probably a reasonable proportion of those who are in Australia.”

Joyce, of course, has nothing to fear from being arrested for defaulting on a student loan. His tertiary education was near-free, paid for by the tax-payer.

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joyce

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National had no choice, of course. The entire premise of user-pays was predicated on citizens paying services that until the late ’80s/early ’90s, had been either free or near-free. With student debt now at an astronomical $14.84 billion, National cannot afford to let ‘debtors’ get off scott-free. That would send the entire unjust system crashing to the ground.   According to Inland Revenue;

… nearly 80,000 of the 111,000 New Zealanders living overseas were behind on their student loan repayments.

IRD collections manager Stuart Duff said about 22 percent of borrowers living overseas were in Australia.

He said the $840m owed to New Zealand was a substantial amount of debt.

Figures show that student debt has been increasing every year since it’s inception in 1992. At this rate, student debt will achieve Greece-like proportions;

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Graphic: acknowledgement - NZ Herald

Graphic acknowledgement:  NZ Herald

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Unsurprisingly, loan ‘defaulters’ have surpassed $1 billion, including $16 million  written off through bankruptcy. Some never pay off their “debt” with $19 million  lost after death of the borrower.

But it is not only tertiary education that has attracted a user-pay factor. School funding has also been frozen, with operational grants the most recent to suffer National’s budgetary cuts;

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Education, Inc.

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Schools are so starved of funds that they are having to rely on outside sources of income  to make up shortfalls;

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Reliance on foreign students to make up shortfalls in government spending is essentially turning our schools into commercial ventures; touting for “business” and ensuring “clients” achieve good results so as to ensure repeat custom.

When did we vote for a policy which effectively commercialised our education system?

Schools are also funded more and more by parents – to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars. Fund-raising and ever-increasing school fees are required, lest our schools become financially too cash-strapped to function.

In 2014, school “donations” (actually fees by another name) and necessary fundraising reached  $357 million and is estimated to reach a staggering $1 billion by this year;

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It is estimated that a child born this year will cost his/her parents $38,362 for thirteen years of  a “free” state education. In 2007, that cost was 33,274. Our supposedly “free” state education is being gradually whittled away, and replaced with surreptitious user-pays. According to Radio NZ;

Some school principals say many schools are considering a hike in parent donations next year and cutting teacher aide hours, as they respond to a freeze on core school funding.

More than 300 school principals responded to a survey by teacher unions.

About 40 percent of school principals said they were considering cutting back on the hours of teacher aides and other support staff next year.

Thirteen percent said they were looking to increase parent donations.

The president of the teacher union NZEI, Louise Green, said the survey showed it was students who miss out when school funding was frozen.

The neo-liberal princiciple of user-pays is being covertly implemented throughout the public sector and nowhere is this more apparent than in education. Parents and guardians are expected to pay more for education and this is “off-set” by cuts to taxes. This is core to the concept of user-pays.

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User-pays is hard to pay

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The problem is that this is not an overt policy by National. The public have not been given a clear choice in the matter and instead increasing user-pays has crept in, barely noticed by the voting public. Even when challenged, a National Minister will use mis-information to attempt to use Trump-like “alternative facts” to hide what is happening;

But Education Minister Hekia Parata said parents contributed just $1.80 for every $100 spent by the taxpayer on education.

The Government was set to invest $10.8 billion in early childhood, primary and secondary education, more than the combined budget for police, defence, roads and foreign affairs.

New Zealanders have been lulled into a false sense of security that, even after seven tax cuts, we still have “free” education.  But as Chris Trotter pointed out with cool logic;

I told them that they could have free education or low taxes – but they could not have both.

The question is, what kind of society do New Zealanders want: a free education system or  tax cuts and more user-pays?

Because we can’t have both.

At the moment, politicians are making this choice for us.

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Postscript

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From a Dominion Post article on 24 January;

Student loans are getting bigger and graduates are taking longer to pay back the money they owe.

Figures from last year’s Student Loan Scheme Annual Report show the median loan balance in this country grew from $10,833 in 2008 to $14,904 in 2016.

The median repayment time for someone with a bachelor’s degree also lifted from just over six years, to eight and a half.

Since a peak in 2005, the numbers of people taking up tertiary education have declined.

[…]

Labour education spokesman Chris Hipkins said there was a variety of factors that lead to higher student loans and longer repayment times. Tuition fees continued to rise, as did living costs.

“The long term impact for people is quite significant, basically they have a large debt for longer,” Hipkins said.

“If they’re weighed down with student loan debt it will be difficult to get on the property ladder, it’s already a burden, and this is making it even harder for the next generation.”

Universities New Zealand executive director Chris Whelan said that when it came to universities fees increasing, one need only look at published annual accounts of the country’s eight universities to see they were not “raking in” a lot of money.

Currently two-thirds of the cost of tuition was covered by subsidies, and one-third was covered by the student.

LOANS ON THE RISE

Median loan balances

2010 – $11,399

2012 – $12,849

2014 – $13,882

2016 – $14,904

Median repayment times for a bachelors/graduate certificates or diplomas

2010 – 6.9 years

2012 – 7.8 years

2014 – 8.5 years

 

 

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References

Reserve Bank NZ: Inflation calculator

Treasury: Vote Education 2008

Treasury: Vote Education 2016

Educationcounts: School RollsStudent Rolls by School 2005-2009

Educationcounts: School RollsStudent Rolls by School 2010-2016

The Daily Blog:  Don’t Riot For A Better Society: Vote For One!

Infonews: Government’s 2010 tax cuts costing $2 billion and counting

The Press: Four forced off waiting list die

Otago Daily Times:  Heartwatch Insurance Cover

Radio NZ: Patients have ‘severe loss of vision’ in long wait for treatment

Fairfax media: Researchers claim NZ health budget declining, publicly-funded surgery on way out

Radio NZ: Patients suffering because of surgery waits – surgeon

Fairfax media:  Prescription price rise hits vulnerable

TVNZ News: Kiwi charities and NGOs face closure with impending funding cuts

NBR: Leaked document shows 10 District Health Boards face budget cuts – King

Fairfax media: Police shut 30 stations in effort to combat budget cuts

Youtube: Kansas Tax Cuts –  A Closer Look

Scoop media: Budget cuts continue National’s miserly underfunding of DOC

Fairfax media: Student loan defaulters to face border arrest

NBR: Arrested student loan defaulter claims to be Cook Island PM’s relative

Fairfax media: Third arrest of student loan defaulter made following government crackdown

Radio NZ: Govt tightens education purse strings

NZ Herald: ‘At risk’ school funding revealed – with 1300 to lose out under new model

Fairfax media: Student loan borrowers seeking bankruptcy as millions in debts wiped due to insolvency

NZ Herald:   Schools using foreigners’ fees to staff classrooms

NZ Herald: Parents fundraise $357m for ‘free’ schooling

NZ Herald: Parents paid $161m for children’s ‘free education

NZ Herald:   School costs: $40,000 for ‘free’ state education

Motherjones: Trickle-Down Economics Has Ruined the Kansas Economy

The New Yorker: Covert Operations

CBS News: Kansas loses patience with Gov. Brownback’s tax cuts

Kansas City Star: Gov. Sam Brownback cuts higher education as Kansas tax receipts fall $53 million short

Bloomberg: Kansas Tried Tax Cuts. Its Neighbor Didn’t. Guess Which Worked

Fairfax media: Tourism industry claims DOC will be severely handicapped by funding cuts

Previous related blogposts

The slow starvation of Radio NZ – the final nail in the coffin of the Fourth Estate?

12 June – Issues of Interest – User pays healthcare?

The Mendacities of Mr Key # 16: No one deserves a free tertiary education (except my mates and me)

The Mendacities of Mr Key # 19: Tax Cuts Galore! Money Scramble!

The seductiveness of Trumpism

Steven Joyce – Hypocrite of the Week

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 26 January 2017.

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St John management applies tourniquet to workers’ throats

20 January 2017 1 comment

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Charitable organisation, St John, which operates ambulance services nationwide, as well as other medical services, has been engaging in  anti-worker actions during recent industrial negotiations to conclude a collective agreement.

On 5 January, St John announced that workers wearing apparel bearing a pro-union message “Healthy Ambos Save Lives” would be docked 10% of their wages;

St John Ambulance officers who ditch their uniforms as part of ongoing strike action will have their pay docked by 10 per cent.

The First Union, which represents 1000 ambulance officers across the country, has condemned the move as “astounding”.

But St John says it didn’t take the step lightly, and it was done out of concern for the health and safety of staff and patients.

The wage deductions come as ambulance officers enter their third month of industrial action, following stalled collective agreement negotiations with St John.

Striking workers are continuing to respond to emergencies and call-outs as normal, but are breaching St John policy by refusing to wear uniforms.

Instead, unionised St John workers have been wearing T-shirts reading “Healthy Ambos Save Lives”.

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St John clinical operations director, Norma Lane,  ‘spinned’ the wage-docking as a “safety” issue;

“It is important ambulance officers are identifiable in an emergency environment where circumstances can change rapidly. Not complying is a health and safety risk not only to the employee but to fellow officers and other emergency workers. While there is only a very small number of ambulance professionals refusing to wear hi-vis vests, we have advised First Union and our staff that those employees not complying with this requirement will receive a 10 per cent deduction of wages.”

How cutting wages improves safety for workers is not made clear by Ms Lane.

St John’s threats echo that made by AFFCO employers, almost exactly a year ago;

An AFFCO worker has been suspended without pay, and will probably be sacked after filming workers in union t-shirts being refused entry to work, the Meat Workers’ Union says.

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affco-workers-union-shirts

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[…]

AFFCO said it was company policy that union t-shirts were not worn on site, and that they were associated with inappropriate and threatening behaviour.

One Union member made his/her feelings perfectly clear with this image posted on First Union’s Facebook page;

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st-john-ambulance-worker-shirt-first-union-facebook-page

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What is clear, though, is that St John is engaging in all-out repugnant industrial warfare against the First Union.

St John Station managers have used emotional blackmail, legal threats from law firms,  and deliberate mis-information in a calculated strategy to undermine First Union and its  members’ resolve. As  Ambulance Professionals First spokesperson, Lynette Blacklaws, revealed on 7 November last year;

“When a crew arrived in mufti at a station in Auckland this morning their manager snapped that ‘if someone dies because they didn’t let you in be it on your heads’. This comes on the same day station managers in the Bay of Plenty told several ambulance officers over the phone that industrial action was cancelled, even though this isn’t true.”

More aggressive  anti-union activity was to come.

On 24 November last year,  St Johns announced on it’s media page that it had  concluded a successful collective agreement with the  Amalgamated Workers Union NZ Southern  (AWUNZ), Central Amalgamated Workers Union  (CAWU), NZ Ambulance Association (NZAA), and the Ambulance Officers Workplace Union  (AOWU).

First Union was not a party to the new collective agreement. St John stated on it’s webpage,

It is our preference to have nationally consistent terms and conditions for all St John employees, accordingly, St John and the four union parties have made provision for the First Union members to become party to the new Collective Agreement should they wish

The statement continued with this ominous ‘rider’;

If First Union decides not to become party to the new Collective Agreement, St John will continue to work through the various options available.

On 7 January this year, First Union learned what “various options” St John had in mind. As reported in The Daily Blog, St John was flexing it’s industrial muscle using new anti-union laws passed by National in 2015.

The union representing over 1000 St John Ambulance staff has today received confirmation from the Employment Relations Authority that St John has lodged an application to withdraw from bargaining without concluding a collective agreement.

If St John were to be successful they would be the first company to withdraw from bargaining without concluding a collective agreement under the 2015 amendments to the Employment Relations Act.

Simply put, National’s so-called “reforms” allowed employers to cease negotiations to conclude a collective agreement with a union, by applying to the Employment Relations Authority;

Before the law change, parties bargaining for a collective agreement were required to conclude that agreement unless there was genuine reason not to. The change means that a collective agreement does not have to be concluded, however parties must still deal with each other in good faith.

[…]

The Act provides some protections against parties that end bargaining by deadlocking on one issue. Specifically, either party can seek a declaration from the Employment Relations Authority (the Authority) about whether bargaining has concluded. The process is discussed in more detail below.

First Union officials were not impressed. They understood the agenda that St John was playing out;

Jared Abbott, spokesperson for Ambulance Professionals First, the network within FIRST Union representing ambulance officers, said the application confirms what the union suspected: that St John had no intention of reaching an agreement.

“St John have spent less than two hours with us at the table since we started our protest actions. Applying to conclude bargaining now is outrageous. This is no way to treat your staff.”

Mr Abbott said that despite writing to the company on several occasions and requesting a proposed collective agreement, St John repeatedly refused to make a formal offer.

Ambulance Professionals First has also written to St John highlighting how no collective agreement was presented to the ratification meetings for the smaller unions who agreed to settle, a requirement under the law for a collective agreement to become operative.

“We’re astounded with how unprofessional St John has been. Ambulance staff just want fair recognition for the hard work they do. This is only going to get more staff off-side,” said Abbott.

“We don’t believe St John’s application will be successful.”

St John is using ‘the stick’. Other employers opt for ‘the carrot’ to break legal strikes;

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Whether by ‘carrot’ or ‘stick’, the bosses’ agenda remains the same: to smash unions and undermine workers’ rights. The end result – dampen wage growth and wind-back hard-won worker’s conditions.

St John management’s unscrupulous behaviour makes a mockery of that organisation’s so-called “five values”;

We do the Right Thing – Whakaaro Tika
We take responsibility. Make the tough calls. Think of others.

We stand Side by Side – Whakakoha
We respect, value and support what others contribute.

We Make it Better – Whakawerohia
We find solutions- step up, own it, do it.

We have Open Minds – Whakahangahanga
We listen openly. Encourage ideas. Welcome feedback.

We are Straight Up – Whakapono
We act with honesty, courage and kindness.

They even have ‘badges’ proudly displayed on their webpage;

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Obviously St John’s “five values” do not extend to their own workers.

Curiously, whilst St John proudly announced it’s collective agreement with four other unions on its “News Articles” page, it made no mention of it’s application to the Employment Relations Authority to abandon negotiation with First Union;

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Neither has it disclosed to the public on it’s website that it is taking draconian steps to dock ambulance drivers’ pay packets by 10% for  wearing shirts bearing union messages.

Is St John ashamed to present this information on their website, where public eyes can see what the organisation is doing to it’s ambulance drivers? It is evidently not a “good look” that an organisation nearly a thousand years old, and  dedicated to helping people, is screwing its own staff.

According to Norma Lane, the wearing of the First Union shirts constitutes   “participation in a partial strike” and thereby justifies docking ambulance drivers’ pay.

Which is about as mean-spirited as a charitable, non-profit organisation can get. As  Jared Abbott correctly pointed out;

“The wage deductions are pretty astounding. The actions ambulance officers are taking cost St John nothing.”

At first look, St John’s actions appear to contravene the Wages Protection Act 1983 which prevents employers from arbitarily docking workers’ pay;

Deductions may only be made from an employee’s pay if they are required by law, agreed to by the employee or are overpayments in some circumstances.

However, it appears that St John is stretching an exemption to what is known as a “partial strike“;

Employees strike when a number of employees totally or partially:

  • break their employment agreement
  • stop work or don’t accept some or all the work they usually do
  • reduce their normal output, performance, or rate of work.

Employees don’t have to stop work completely for them to be on strike.

However, one suspects that more reasonable-minded people would find it difficult to define a “partial strike” as wearing a shirt. If that is St John’s justification for docking ambulance drivers’ pay, then it may be on very shaky ground, both legally and morally.

Whether by luck, or clever design,   this has all transpired over the Year’s End/New Year period when current affairs programmes such as The Nation and Q+A are on hiatus, and even Radio NZ is operating on a “summer holiday programme”. The later  is closer to listening to The Breeze rather than serious news and current affairs.

Once the public begin to understand the machinations of St John’s management, that organisation’s reputation may risk a real hit. “A good reputation” as Colin Beveridge once reflected on,  “is hard-won and easily lost. But the lost reputation has invariably been given away by the actions of the holder, rather than been taken away by somebody else.”

Words that St John’s management would do well to consider.

St John – heal thyself.

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Postscript

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It will be interesting to find out what salary increase St John’s CEO will have this year or next.

 

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References

St John: Ambulance Services

St John: A quick snapshot of what we do

NZ Herald: St John ambulance officers to have pay deducted over industrial action

Radio NZ: Worker suspended over union t-shirts

Facebook: First Union – Healthy Ambos Save Lives

First Union: St John threatens jobs… over wearing a badge

First Union: St John employ “emotional blackmail” in badge dispute

St John:  AWUNZ, CAWU, NZAA & AOWU Unions and St John reach agreement

The Daily Blog: St John apply to end bargaining with FIRST Union

Ministry of Business, Innovation, and Employment (MoBIE): Amendments to the Employment Relations Act 2000 (March 2015)

Ministry of Business, Innovation, and Employment (MoBIE): Law changes to collective bargaining

Radio NZ: Junior doctors offered up to $200/h to break strike – union

St John:  Vision & Values

St John: News Articles

St John: The Order of St John

Radio NZ: Ambulance staff to have wages cut over strikes

Employment NZ: Deductions

Employment NZ: Strikes and lockouts

Fairfax media: Big pay rises for district health board heads

Additional

Facebook: First Union

Facebook: Ambulance Professionals First

Previous related blogposts

If anyone wants to see the Working Class

Help Talley’s Affco Workers!

Immovable and Irresistable forces – combined!!

The Talleys Strikes Back

John Key’s track record on raising wages – 7. Part 6A – stripped away

John Key’s track record on raising wages – 8. An End to Collective Agreements

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 15 January 2017.

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Letter to the editor – Juliet Moses does NOT speak on my behalf!

17 January 2017 4 comments

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Frank Macskasy - letters to the editor - Frankly Speaking

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This recent NZ Herald story was brought to my attention by Martyn Bradbury writing on The Daily Blog;

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Which prompted me to send this response to the Herald’s editor;

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from: Frank Macskasy <fmacskasy@gmail.com>
to: NZ Herald <letters@herald.co.nz>
date: Sun, Jan 15, 2017
subject: Letter to the editor

Letter to the editor
NZ Herald

Regarding Juliet Moses’ comment in the New Zealand Herald article, that UN Resolution 2334 “was an affront to all New Zealanders” (6 Jan) – I will thank her and her fellow travellers not to assume they speak for me and others.

Last I looked, Israel has not added Aotearoa to it’s list of illegally annexed territory.

As for Moses’ assertion;

“…Israel’s Arab neighbours mounted a second unsuccessful attempt to exterminate her in 1967”

– is either woeful ignorance or wilful misrepresentation of historical fact.

Israel launched the so-called Six Day War on 5 June 1967 against it’s neighbours;

“In response to the *apparent* mobilization of its Arab neighbours, early on the morning of June 5, Israel staged a sudden preemptive air assault that destroyed more than 90 percent Egypt’s air force on the tarmac. A similar air assault incapacitated the Syrian air force.” – Encyclopedia Britannica

Arrogant and mis-informed. She most certainly does not speak on my behalf.

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-Frank Macskasy

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References

NZ Herald: Juliet Moses – Israel vote was an affront to all New Zealanders

Encyclopedia Britannica: Six-Day War – Middle East – 1967

Additional

Causes: Petition – Aerosmith boycott apartheid Israel!

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