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Trumpwatch – How Elon Musk can overcome Trump’s climate-change obstinacy

23 June 2017 1 comment

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Fun Fact #1:According to an ongoing temperature analysis conducted by scientists at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS), the average global temperature on Earth has increased by about 0.8° Celsius (1.4° Fahrenheit) since 1880. Two-thirds of the warming has occurred since 1975, at a rate of roughly 0.15-0.20°C per decade.” – NASA, Earth Observatory

Fun Fact #2:Atmospheric CO2 concentration started to increase at the time of the Industrial Revolution and has been increasing rapidly since 1900. This increase is in proportion to the usage of fossil fuels. Therefore, reducing consumption of fossil fuels in order to reduce CO2 emissions has become a crucial countermeasure for global warming.” – Mitsubishi Heavy Industries

Fun Fact #3: In 2011/13, China had 78 million  cars. In 2014, there were 154 million cars in China. By 2015, that number had risen to 172 million. A year later, another 28.3 million were sold, taking the figure to around 200.3 million private cars. By 2050, the estimated number of private vehicles in China is estimated to be between 464.9 to 557.7 million.

Fun Fact #4:The global number of cars on the road and kilometers flown in planes will nearly double by 2040 […] Cars are projected to reach the two billion mark by 2040.” – World Economic Forum

Fun Fact #5:A typical passenger vehicle emits about 4.7 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year.”  – US Environmental Protection Agency

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Until recently, Canadian-American businessman,  engineer,and inventor, Elon Musk was an Advisor on  Donald Trump’s Strategic and Policy Forum.

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Musk’s appointment to this Forum on 14 December last year joined the likes of;

  • Stephen A. Schwarzman (Forum Chairman), Chairman, CEO, and Co-Founder of Blackstone;
  • Paul Atkins, CEO, Patomak Global Partners, LLC, Former Commissioner of the Securities and Exchange Commission;
  • Mary Barra, Chairman and CEO, General Motors;
  • Toby Cosgrove, CEO, Cleveland Clinic;
  • Jamie Dimon, Chairman and CEO, JPMorgan Chase & Co;
  • Larry Fink, Chairman and CEO, BlackRock;
  • Travis Kalanick, CEO and Co-founder, Uber Technologies;
  • Bob Iger, Chairman and CEO, The Walt Disney Company;
  • Rich Lesser, President and CEO, Boston Consulting Group;
  • Doug McMillon, President and CEO, Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.;
  • Jim McNerney, Former Chairman, President, and CEO, Boeing;
  • Indra Nooyi, Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo;
  • Adebayo “Bayo” Ogunlesi, Chairman and Managing Partner, Global Infrastructure Partners;
  • Ginni Rometty, Chairman, President, and CEO, IBM;
  • Kevin Warsh, Shepard Family Distinguished Visiting Fellow in Economics, Hoover Institute, Former Member of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System;
  • Mark Weinberger, Global Chairman and CEO, EY;
  • Jack Welch, Former Chairman and CEO, General Electric;
  • Daniel Yergin, Pulitzer Prize-winner, Vice Chairman of IHS Markit;

A formidable Who’s Who of American capitalism’s “Captain’s of Industry”.

Trump’s propaganda website, “Great Again” stated;

Members of the Forum will be charged with providing their individual views to the President — informed by their unique vantage points in the private sector — on how government policy impacts economic growth, job creation and productivity. The Forum is designed to provide direct input to the President from many of the best and brightest in the business world in a frank, non-bureaucratic and non-partisan manner.

Trump was more effusive;

You’re doing well right now and I’m very honored by the bounce. They’re all talking about the bounce … Anything we can do to help this go along, and we’re going to be there for you. And you’ll call my people, you’ll call me. It doesn’t make any difference. We have no formal chain of command around here.

Musk’s appointment to the Forum had been unforeseen, as he had voiced criticisms of Trump and his victory at the elections;

The announcement came as a big surprise to many, considering Musk has been very critical of Donald Trump before and after the election. Before Trump became President-elect, Musk said in an interview with CNBC that the Republican nominee was “not the right man for the job” and that “he doesn’t seem to have the character that reflects well on the States.” After the business tycoon won more electoral votes than Hillary Clinton, Musk also lamented that the outcome “not the finest moment in our democracy in general.”

Before the election took place, Musk also stated that Hillary Clinton’s economic and environmental policies were better. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, considering Musk has made much of his fortune from harnessing renewable energy. He’s also a proud advocate of environmental sustainability. Trump, on the other hand, believes climate change is a “hoax” invented by the Chinese.

Musk holds strong views regarding human civilisation’s impact on the planet’s environment;

We’re running the most dangerous experiment in history right now, which is to see how much carbon dioxide the atmosphere … can handle before there is an environmental catastrophe.” – 17 April 2013

We are going to exit the fossil fuel era. It is inevitable. Right now we have an incentive structure that is designed to slow it down [transition from fossil fuels]. If countries decide to do a carbon tax or cap and trade, and it is real and not watered-down and weak, I think we can see a transition that is in the 15 to 20 years time frame as supposed to 40 to 50 years time frame. By putting a price on carbon, we are fixing a pricing error in the market. Any price will be better than the close to zero we have right now. ” –  2 December 2015

Burning oil is like taking furniture from your house and setting it on fire for heat.” – 1 July 2016

By definition, we must at some point achieve a sustainable energy economy or we will run out of fossil fuels to burn and civilization will collapse. Given that we must get off fossil fuels anyway and that virtually all scientists agree that dramatically increasing atmospheric and oceanic carbon levels is insane, the faster we achieve sustainability, the better.” – 20 July 2016

“  CO2 isn’t exactly pollution, but it does cause warming and slight acidification of water if very large quantities are dug from deep underground and added to the surface cycle. The problem is the age-old tragedy of the commons. The common good being consumed is atmospheric and oceanic carbon capacity, which currently has a price of zero. This results in an error in market signals and far more CO2 is generated than should be. We won’t ever go to zero CO2, but the rate over time should be dropped far below what it is today.”  – 26 January 2017

Musk’s views are clear. They are also in direct stark contrast to Trump’s own, stated belief, that global warming was a “hoax perpetrated by the Chinese to hobble American industry“.  By participating in Trump’s Strategic and Policy Forum, Musk appears to be an optimistic believer  in being inside the enemy’s tent pissing out, rather than vice versa.

At best, it was a naive belief.

On 27 May, Trump used his favourite medium to announce that he was going to… make an announcement;

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On 28 May, rumours began to circulate that Trump had already made up his mind and was going to make good on his threat to withdraw the US from the Paris climate accord;

President Trump has privately told multiple people, including EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, that he plans to leave the Paris agreement on climate change, according to three sources with direct knowledge.

Publicly, Trump’s position is that he has not made up his mind and when we asked the White House about these private comments, Director of Strategic Communications Hope Hicks said, “I think his tweet was clear. He will make a decision this week.”

The same report claimed that “… the EPA staff are quietly working with outside supporters to place op eds favoring withdrawal from Paris“. Evidently, the more unpopular/unreasonable a political decision is, the more ‘spin’ is required to ‘massage the message’ and lull the masses back to sleep.

Trump’s appointee to head the Environmental Protection Agency, and fellow climate-change denier, Scott Pruitt, had been advocating since April for the US to withdraw from the Paris Accords;

Scott Pruitt, the head of the US Environmental Protection Agency, has said that the US should back out of its commitment to the Paris climate agreement, the landmark plan to curb greenhouse gas emissions in a bid to limit global warming to below 2˚C.

This follows President Donald Trump’s campaign promise to cancel the agreement, with a decision on whether he will do so expected within the next month.

“It’s a bad deal for America,” Pruitt told cable news show Fox & Friends last week. “China and India had no obligations under the agreement until 2030.”

Pruitt  was being willfully disingenuous (ie; lying his head off);

“That statement is either deliberately misleading or woefully uninformed about what the Paris agreement is and what it does,” says Alden Meyer at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

China and India have already taken action to reach the goals they set for 2030, and China has committed to cutting its greenhouse gas emissions by a higher percentage than US commitments. “Pruitt is really off the mark here,” Meyer says. “It’s very clear that China is going to overachieve its Paris objectives.”

Han Chen of the Natural Resources Defense Council in New York says that China implemented its first mandatory national cap on coal consumption last year and added three times as much wind capacity as the US in 2016.

“China already suspended over 100 planned or under-construction coal projects last year,” says Chen. “Meanwhile, the Trump administration wants policies that favor highly polluting fossil fuels. It’s no question which country is more ambitious on climate action at the moment.”

On 31  May, just days before Trump was due to officially announce what the entire world already knew, Elon Musk issued his own announcement;

 Tesla CEO Elon Musk threatened Wednesday to stop advising President Donald Trump if the White House withdraws from the Paris climate accords.

Asked on Twitter what he would do if Trump pulled out of the landmark global deal to curb emissions, Musk said…

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Musk, who also founded SpaceX, is on Trump’s manufacturing jobs council, his strategic and policy forum, and his infrastructure council. Musk has defended his role advising Trump in the face of some criticism from anti-Trump activists, arguing that they should want his voice in the discussions to offer views that differ from those of the president’s other advisors.

Sure enough, on 2 June (New Zealand time), Trump did not fail to disappoint an entire planet of  7.3 billion humans;

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Without any hint of self-awareness of irony, Trump stated;

“ The United States will withdraw from the Paris climate accord but begin negotiations to re-enter either the Paris accord or an entirely new transaction, on terms that are fair to the United States, its businesses, its workers, its people, its taxpayers.”

Trump’s arrogance was such that even the North Korean leadership (who are also a signatory to the Paris Accord) was moved to say the right thing at the right time;

A spokesman for the North Korean government described the move as the “height of egotism and moral vacuum seeking only their well-being even at the cost of the entire planet, according to the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

“[The US] is ignorant of the fact that the protection of the global environment is in their own interests,” the spokesman added.

“The selfish act of the US does not only have grave consequences for the international efforts to protect the environment, but poses great danger to other areas as well.”

Following on from Trump’s announcement, Elon Musk  made good on his warning that he would not be a collaborator to any undermining of the Paris Accord;

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Musk further tweeted;

Under Paris deal, China committed to produce as much clean electricity by 2030 as the US does from all sources today

Musk was correct. The Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman,  Hua Chunying, declared  China’s intention to  persevere with the Paris Accord;

“ Climate change is a global challenge. No county can place itself outside of this. At the same time, we will continue to resolutely be a protector and promoter of the global climate system process, proactively participating in the multilateral climate change process. We are willing to work with all sides to jointly protect the Paris agreement process, promote the actual rules and regulations of the agreement in follow-up talks and effectively enact them, and promote global green, low carbon, sustainable development.”

China has strong motivation to reduce atmospheric pollution generated by human industrial activity;

China had fought previous attempts by foreign governments to limit carbon emissions, claiming it should be allowed the same space to develop and pollute that industrialized nations had.

But with its capital often choked by smog and its people angry about the environmental degradation that rapid development has wrought across the country, Beijing has become a strong proponent of efforts to halt global warming.

The consequences of runaway climate change could be devastating for China, it’s people, and it’s economy. According to Climate Scientist, Benjamin Strauss;

Roughly a quarter of the world’s people who live on land at risk from 4C warming are living in China. That is more that twice as many as who live on vulnerable land in Europe and the US combined. The Shanghai region by itself has more than 20 million people living on land that could be lost.

Spokesman for the Russian Federation, Dmitry Peskov, added his country’s voice to endorsing the Paris Accord;

“ President Vladimir Putin signed this convention when he was in Paris. Russia attaches great significance to it. At the same time, it goes without saying that the effectiveness of this convention is likely to be reduced without its key participants.”

Meanwhile, many Trump supporters; alt. right purveyors of lies and conspiracy-theories such as ‘Infowars‘ and ‘Brietbart‘;  and assorted right-wing conservatives like Anne Coulter and Mark Levin were falling over each other in their scramble to praise their Dear Leader for taking the planet closer to ecological melt-down. The American Right seem to be the only ones supporting Trump.

Ironically, big corporations have parted company with Trump and the American Right, siding instead with the science community;

Major U.S. corporations and leading business figures are raising an eleventh-hour appeal to President Donald Trump, urging him to not pull the country out of the landmark 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change.

[…]

Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff tweeted Wednesday an image of an earlier joint open letter from over 20 top companies based in the U.S. or having business stateside, in which they made a business case that the U.S. should remain a part of the accord.

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In the face of  an intransigent anti-science cabal that now occupies the White House, aided by Republicans in control of the House of Representatives and the Senate, the rest of Planet Earth has no choice but carry working to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions (CO2, nitrous oxide, and methane).

People of influence such as Elon Musk must now reassess their options.

By fortuitous coincidence, one option is already available to Musk and is stated on his Tesla website;

Yesterday, there was a wall of Tesla patents in the lobby of our Palo Alto headquarters. That is no longer the case. They have been removed, in the spirit of the open source movement, for the advancement of electric vehicle technology.

Tesla Motors was created to accelerate the advent of sustainable transport. If we clear a path to the creation of compelling electric vehicles, but then lay intellectual property landmines behind us to inhibit others, we are acting in a manner contrary to that goal. Tesla will not initiate patent lawsuits against anyone who, in good faith, wants to use our technology.

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Given that annual new vehicle production is approaching 100 million per year and the global fleet is approximately 2 billion cars, it is impossible for Tesla to build electric cars fast enough to address the carbon crisis. By the same token, it means the market is enormous. Our true competition is not the small trickle of non-Tesla electric cars being produced, but rather the enormous flood of gasoline cars pouring out of the world’s factories every day.

We believe that Tesla, other companies making electric cars, and the world would all benefit from a common, rapidly-evolving technology platform.

Technology leadership is not defined by patents, which history has repeatedly shown to be small protection indeed against a determined competitor, but rather by the ability of a company to attract and motivate the world’s most talented engineers. We believe that applying the open source philosophy to our patents will strengthen rather than diminish Tesla’s position in this regard.

Musk has given away his electric car patents, promising “not [to]  initiate patent lawsuits against anyone who, in good faith, wants to use our technology.

He has indeed joined the Open Source movement. Open Source is described as “a decentralized development model that encourages open collaboration“. There is an element of socialist co-operative behaviour with OS.

However, simply stating that Musk will not stand in the way of  anyone who “wants to use [Tesla]  technology” is not enough.   This is an opportunity for Musk to counter Trump’s refusal to act decisively on climate change. This is Musk’s opportunity to show leadership where Trump – and other Republicans and conservatives – will not.

This is the proposal I have sent to Elon Musk, via Twitter;

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Frank Macskasy
New Zealand/Aotearoa – @fmacskasy

 

Kia Ora Mr Musk,

I wish to congratulate you on your principled decision to withdraw from Trump’s Strategic and Policy Forum. Withdrawing the United States from the Paris Accord on climate change shows a disturbing lack of understanding by Trump and a refusal to understand the science behind climate change, and it’s impact on Planet Earth.

By rejecting the science and claiming that climate change is a “Chinese orchestrated hoax” implies that the Chinese government has exercised full-spectrum dominance and control over NASA, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), American Geophysical Union (AGU), American Meteorological Society, American Physical Society, Geological Society of America, and many others. This is patently laughable.

Mr Musk, you are in a unique position to take a measure of leadership on this critical problem confronting humanity and the entire planet.

On your Tesla website, you have stated that you intend to allow people to use your electric car technology without any impediments created by patent-rights;

“Yesterday, there was a wall of Tesla patents in the lobby of our Palo Alto headquarters. That is no longer the case. They have been removed, in the spirit of the open source movement, for the advancement of electric vehicle technology.

Tesla Motors was created to accelerate the advent of sustainable transport. If we clear a path to the creation of compelling electric vehicles, but then lay intellectual property landmines behind us to inhibit others, we are acting in a manner contrary to that goal. Tesla will not initiate patent lawsuits against anyone who, in good faith, wants to use our technology.”

Your generosity in removing patents to Tesla technology is the seed to which the Paris Accord can move forward with a giant leap.

Instead of just allowing access to Tesla technology, I propose that you engage with the Chinese government to set up Tesla car-manufacturing plants throughout the Chinese People’s Republic. You could stipulate that the only two provisos would be;

1. Each plant must be powered by renewable energy. No fossil fuel energy sources to be used.

2. All electric vehicles will be for domestic consumption only (if you so wish).

With the number of private vehicles in China estimated to each 464.9 to 557.7 million by 2050 (ref: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/251560842Modeling_future_vehicle_sales_and_stock_in_China) and with each typical car emitting approximately 4.7 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year (ref: https://www.epa.gov/greenvehicles/greenhouse-gas-emissions-typical-passenger-vehicle-0), it does not take much maths to work out how much extra CO2 will be pumped into the atmosphere by just one nation alone.

Your leadership on this problem would rival that of your SpaceX programme and ambitions for Mars.

You can achieve what Trump has failed in such a dismal fashion.

This would be a spectacular act of international co-operation with the future of the entire planet and our species at stake.

Mr Musk, you can be the visionary. If China is to have 557.7 million cars by 2050, let them be electric. Let them all be Teslas.

Best wishes,
-Frank Macskasy

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Solving the crisis of climate change will take a titanic, collective effort from us all.

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References

NASA: World of Change – Global Temperatures

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries:  History of Fossil Fuel Usage since the Industrial Revolution

Huffington Post:  Number Of Cars Worldwide Surpasses 1 Billion – Can The World Handle This Many Wheels?

Wall Street Journal:  China Soon to Have Almost as Many Drivers as U.S. Has People

News.Cn:  China’s car ownership reaches 172 million

South China Morning Post: China 2016 car sales surge at fastest rate in three years

Researchgate:  Modeling future vehicle sales and stock in China (p26)

US Environmental Protection Agency:  Greenhouse Gas Emissions from a Typical Passenger Vehicle

World Economic Forum: The number of cars worldwide is set to double by 2040

Wikipedia: Elon Musk

The Hill:  Trump names Elon Musk, Uber CEO to advisory team

Great Again:  President-Elect Donald J. Trump Announces Travis Kalanick of Uber, Elon Musk of SpaceX and Tesla, and Indra Nooyi of PepsiCo to Join President’s Strategic and Policy Forum

The Guardian:   The Minute – Trump promises Silicon Valley ‘bounce’

True Activist:  Donald Trump Appoints Elon Musk As Strategic Presidential Advisor

Twitter: Donald Trump – global warming Chinese hoax

USA Today: Icons – Elon Musk doesn’t let up at Tesla, SpaceX

Reuters:  Tesla’s Elon Musk says transition from fossil fuels inevitable

Twitter: Elon Musk – burning fossil fuel

Tesla: Master Plan, Part Deux

Gizmodo:  Gizmodo Chats With Elon Musk About Climate Change And Donald Trump

Twitter: Donald Trump – global warming Chinese hoax

Twitter: Donald Trump – Decision on Paris Accord

Axios:  Scoop – Trump tells confidants U.S. will quit Paris climate deal

New Scientist:  Environment chief says US should exit Paris climate agreement

CNBC:  Elon Musk threatens to leave White House advisory councils if Trump drops Paris accord

Twitter: Elon Musk – will have to resign from councils

Radio NZ:  Donald Trump withdraws US from Paris climate deal

RT News:  ‘Height of egotism’ – North Korea blasts US withdrawal from Paris climate accord

Twitter: Elon Musk – departing presidential councils

Twitter: Elon Musk – China committed to producing clean electricity

Scientific American: Ahead of Trump Decision, China Says It Will Stick to Paris Climate Deal

China Dialogue:  Chinese cities most at risk from rising sea levels

RT News: Russia confirms commitment to Paris climate change agreement amid fears of US pullout

Media Matters:  Right-wing media cheer Trump withdrawing United States from the Paris climate agreement

Fortune.Com: Top CEOs Are In a Last Ditch Bid to Persuade Trump to Stick with the Paris Climate Deal

Twitter: Marc Benioff – Decision on Paris Accord

Tesla: All Our Patent Are Belong To You

Wikipedia: Open Source Model

Twitter: Frank Macskasy – sharing Tesla

Previous related blogposts

Trumpwatch: One minute closer to midnight on the Doomsday Clock

Trumpwatch: What’s a few more nails in the planet’s coffin?

 

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 18 June 2017.

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Trumpwatch: The Drum(pf)s of War

18 February 2017 11 comments

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

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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.

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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.

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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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Trumpwatch: Trump escalates, Putin congratulates

31 December 2016 7 comments

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It started…

It started on 23 December, when President-Elect, Donald Trump made this unexpected, alarming  “tweet”;

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With 115 characters, Donald Trump declared a return to a global nuclear arms race.

It started on 9 November, when Trump – described by BBC journalist 

It started in 1949, when George Orwell’s Nineteen Eightyfour was published,   an  alternative reality of a world ruled by  three totalitarian superpowers, constantly at war with each other;

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It started in 1948, with the beginning of the “Cold War”…

The Scene is set…

Trump’s 23 December “tweet” that the US will resume a build-up of its atomic weapons arsenal should come as no surprise. On 8 September, on the campaign trail, he announced;

“History shows that when America is not prepared is when the danger is greatest. We want to deter, avoid and prevent conflict through our unquestioned military dominance.

I’m gonna build a military that’s gonna be much stronger than it is right now. It’s gonna be so strong, nobody’s gonna mess with us.”

The Military Times assessed Trump’s promised build-up of US forces;

Trump wants an active-duty Army with another 60,000 soldiers in the ranks, an unspecified number of additional sailors to man the 78 ships and submarines he intends to see built in coming years. He wants up to 12,000 more Marines to serve in infantry and tank battalions, and at least another 100 combat aircraft for the Air Force.

If Trump’s administration can accomplish even a portion of this, it could have sweeping effects on rank-and-file military personnel, touching everything from individual advancement opportunities to the number of U.S. troops stationed overseas and overall operational tempo. The scope of growth being suggested would require many more officers and noncommissioned officers, influencing, over the course of several years, how each service recruits, promotes and retains its workforce.

It could reshape how many American troops find themselves assigned to geopolitical hot spots, including the Middle East, Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia. And all of this, in theory, would ease the pace at which service members are deployed or actively preparing to go overseas, which amounts to time away from their homes and families.

Curiously, none of Trump’s hyper-jingoistic election rhetoric seemed to faze Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin. On the contrary, Putin remained zen-like  and complimentary  of the billionaire-turned-politician. In December 2015, Putin was reported in state media, Sputnik, as saying;

“He is a very bright person, talented without any doubt. It is not our business to assess his worthiness, but he is the absolute leader of the presidential race. He says he wants to move to a different level of relations — a fuller, deeper [level] — with Russia, how can we not welcome this? Of course we welcome this.”

Putin’s comments were also reported in Russian state-controlled media, RT News.

A veritable “love-fest” of compliments were exchanged between the two men. A “bro-mance” had obviously developed between the Oligarch and the Billionaire;

Trump: “It is always a great honor to be so nicely complimented by a man so highly respected within his own country and beyond.”

Trump: “He is really very much of a leader. The man has very strong control over his country. Now, it’s a very different system, and I don’t happen to like the system, but certainly in that system he’s been a leader, far more than our president has been a leader.”

Both Putin and leader of the far-right National Front, Marine Le Pen, congratulated Trump on his presidential success.

Their relationship continued, even as Trump ‘tweeted’ on 23 December that the “the United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability“.

Putin seeming remained utterly unperturbed at Trump‘s sabre-rattling;

“I was a bit surprised by the statements from some representatives of the current U.S. administration who for some reason started to prove that the U.S. military was the most powerful in the world.

Nobody is arguing with that.

In the course of his election campaign he (Trump) spoke about the necessity of strengthening the U.S. nuclear arsenal, and strengthening the armed forces. There’s nothing unusual here.”

Perhaps because Russia is also considering a build-up of its atomic arsenal, as Putin himself stated on 22 December;

“We need to strengthen the military potential of strategic nuclear forces, especially with missile complexes that can reliably penetrate any existing and prospective missile defence systems.

We must carefully monitor any changes in the balance of power and in the political-military situation in the world, especially along Russian borders, and quickly adapt plans for neutralising threats to our country.”

So Who is the enemy?!

If, as Putin and Trump are at pains to assert, their relationship is on firm, cordial grounds – why the need for a massive modernisation and build-up of both superpower’s military force? A build-up that could cost both nations billions of dollars and rubles?

Who is the enemy?

Relations between Russia (formerly Soviet Union), China, and the US has always been a “balancing act”.  The three have constantly played each other off against each other.

In Nineteen Eightyfour, Orwell took the three-superpower rivalry to its ultimate, destructive, insane conclusion;

On the sixth day of Hate Week, after the processions, the speeches, the shouting, the singing, the banners, the posters, the films, the waxworks, the rolling of drums and squealing of trumpets, the tramp of marching feet, the grinding of the caterpillars of tanks, the roar of massed planes, the booming of guns — after six days of this, when the great orgasm was quivering to its climax and the general hatred of Eurasia had boiled up into such delirium that if the crowd could have got their hands on the 2,000 Eurasian war-criminals who were to be publicly hanged on the last day of the proceedings, they would unquestionably have torn them to pieces — at just this moment it had been announced that Oceania was not after all at war with Eurasia. Oceania was at war with Eastasia. Eurasia was an ally.

There was, of course, no admission that any change had taken place. Merely it became known, with extreme suddenness and everywhere at once, that Eastasia and not Eurasia was the enemy…

[…]

Oceania was at war with Eastasia: Oceania had always been at war with Eastasia.

Our own three super-powers

In 1972, then Republican-president, Richard Nixon made his historical trip to the People’s Republic of China. As History.com portrayed the momentous event;

The American fear of a monolithic communist bloc had been modified, as a war of words—and occasional border conflicts—erupted between the Soviet Union and the PRC in the 1960s. Nixon, and National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger saw a unique opportunity in these circumstances—diplomatic overtures to the PRC might make the Soviet Union more malleable to U.S. policy requests (such as pressuring the North Vietnamese to sign a peace treaty acceptable to the United States). In fact, Nixon was scheduled to travel to meet Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev shortly after completing his visit to China.

Nixon’s trip to China, therefore, was a move calculated to drive an even deeper wedge between the two most significant communist powers. The United States could use closer diplomatic relations with China as leverage in dealing with the Soviets, particularly on the issue of Vietnam. In addition, the United States might be able to make use of the Chinese as a counterweight to North Vietnam. Despite their claims of socialist solidarity, the PRC and North Vietnam were, at best, strongly suspicious allies. As historian Walter LaFeber said, “Instead of using Vietnam to contain China, Nixon concluded that he had better use China to contain Vietnam.” For its part, the PRC was desirous of another ally in its increasingly tense relationship with the Soviet Union and certainly welcomed the possibility of increased U.S.-China trade.

That increased trade eventuated with then-President Jimmy Carter  consenting to  China gaining  a “Most Favoured Nation” in 1980; re-affirmed by Bill Clinton in 1994, and later by George W Bush in 2001.

However, in recent times, China has flexed its military muscle and increased its presence in the South China Sea. This has set it on a collision course with other regional neighbours, as well as the United States;

Chinese expansion in the South China Sea is bringing conflict between Beijing and its neighbours – Japan, South Korea, the Philippines and Vietnam – closer than it has been for decades. Vietnam has fortified several islands it controls, while Japan has been publicly rebuked by Beijing over its ‘interference’ in the sea – most of which China claims. The Philippines has called for “restraint and sobriety” as its own dispute with Beijing rumbles on.

But the South China Sea and a lesser-known spat with Japan over islands near Taiwan has not only brought talk of a regional war in the Pacific to the fore, but raised the prospect of the US being dragged into open warfare with China. Beijing’s expansionism threatens not only the interests of US allies in East Asia but also global trade, given that some 40% of all shipping passes through the disputed area of ocean.

“As horrific as a Sino-US war could be, it cannot be considered implausible,” warned the authors of the RAND Corporations August report, War with China: Thinking through the Unthinkable.

[…]

But in reality US-China relations have been strained for some time, as demonstrated by the scrutiny of Barack Obama’s visit to Hangzhou, where American reporters scuffled with Chinese security staff and Beijing was widely accused of snubbing the US president on his final international visit. Chinese hacking of US companies has been widespread, leading to America’s indictment of five senior Chinese army officers in May 2014.

Meanwhile in the South China Sea and East China Sea, Chinese expansion has come at the expense of major US allies, including Japan. Japan’s ownership of the Senkaku Islands, north of Taiwan, is enshrined in the US-Japan Treaty that was signed after the end of the Second World War. China’s increasingly hostile stance towards its neighbour over the islands risks dragging the US into a conflict between Beijing and Tokyo.

This has already resulted in confrontations  between the two nuclear super-powers;

A U.S. navy destroyer sailed near islands claimed by China in the South China Sea on Friday, drawing a warning from Chinese warships to leave the area.

The U.S. action was the latest attempt to counter what Washington sees as Beijing’s efforts to limit freedom of navigation in the strategic waters, U.S. officials said.

The Chinese Defense Ministry called the move “illegal” and “provocative,” saying that two Chinese warships had warned the U.S. destroyer to leave.

The guided-missile destroyer USS Decatur challenged “excessive maritime claims” near the Paracel Islands, among a string of islets, reefs and shoals over which China has territorial disputes with its neighbors, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The latest U.S. patrol, first reported by Reuters, is expected to anger Beijing and could further escalate tensions over the South China Sea. The destroyer sailed within waters claimed by China, close to but not within the 12-nautical-mile territorial limits of the islands, the officials said.

The U.S.  shows little sign in backing down, as Chief of U.S. Naval Operations Admiral, John Richardson, said during a trip to China in July this year;

“The U.S. Navy will continue to conduct routine and lawful operations around the world, including in the South China Sea, in order to protect the rights, freedoms and lawful uses of sea and airspace guaranteed to all. This will not change.”

A spokesperson for the incoming Trump Administration, Sean Spicer was equally belligerent (without specifically mentioning China);

“I think it’s putting every nation on notice that the United States is going to reassert its position in the globe.”

Trump himself has made antagonistic and disparaging remarks about China;

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The CNN report continued;

Trump has repeatedly accused China of manipulating its currency to make its exports more competitive on the global market and has claimed that China is “killing” the U.S. on trade.

Sunday marks the first time in this campaign that Trump has used the term “rape” to refer to what he views as China’s dominance in trade with the U.S.

“We’re going to turn it around. And we have the cards, don’t forget it. We’re like the piggy bank that’s being robbed. We have the cards. We have a lot of power with China,” Trump said Sunday before referring to China’s relationship with the U.S. as rape.

Trump added that he is not “angry at China,” but with U.S. leaders whom he accused of being “grossly incompetent.”

Trump previously claimed in 2011 that “China is raping this country” as he toured a defense manufacturer in New Hampshire.

Many considered the  doomed Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement to be designed to contain China;

From its inception, the TPP has been considered by many as a strategic instrument to isolate or contain China. Given the country’s ambitions, its leaders are understandably concerned about the concerted effort by the U.S. and other Asia-Pacific countries to curtail its economic growth and geopolitical influence.

China’s outsider status could also be seen as an indictment of its inadequacies, such as limited intellectual property protection and a lack of government procurement standards. The exclusion of China not only has caused the country to lose face, but has also provided a painful reminder of its continued struggle to gain an equal status in the international community. Finally, the lack of TPP membership will prevent China from enjoying new tariff reduction and preferential market access. If this regional pact is to operate according to design, it will divert trade and manufacturing from China to TPP members.

Our own expert and campaigner, Jane Kelsey, also remarked on the anti-China nature of the TPPA;

“In the past month both US presidential candidates have positioned the TPP at the centre of their strategy to neutralise China’s ascendancy in what they call the ‘Pacific’ region.

New Zealand already faces the prospect of being piggy in the middle, with potentially conflicting rules and foreign policy pressures from agreements with China and the USA.

Tim Groser is kidding himself if he thinks China will sit quietly by and allow us to play both sides. This is a high-risk game and we need to have an honest debate about its long-term implications for the country.”

Note President Obama’s statements over China’s increasing geo-political influence;

“And we believe China can be a partner, but we’re also sending a very clear signal that America is a Pacific power, that we are going to have a presence there.

We are working with countries in the region to make sure, for example, that ships can pass through, that commerce continues.

And we’re organizing trade relations with countries other than China so that China starts feeling more pressure about meeting basic international standards. That’s the kind of leadership we’ve shown in the region. That’s the kind of leadership that we’ll continue to show.

As part of his populist campaigning this year, Trump publicly rejected the TPPA. This left him to devise other options to “contain China”.

The Trump Deal between Russia and US

The new-found rapprochement between Russia and the US could be based on mutual interest. With Trump’s penchant for deal-making, the U.S. and Russia would have much to gain by stitching together a secret deal.

In return for the U.S. gaining Russian support against growing Chinese influence in the South China Sea, Trump would allow Russia a free hand in supporting its ally, Syria (where U.S.  interests are minimal anyway, unlike the Pacific).

This would explain why the U.S. and Russia have been ‘cosying’ up together.

More critically, it answers the perplexing question as to why Russia seems utterly unperturbed at American plans to build up its military. And why the U.S. seems to have stepped back from taking action over Syria.

Nixon went to China.

Trump may be going to Moscow.

Oceania has always been at war with Russia China.

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References

Twitter: Donald J Trump

BBC: US Election 2016 Results – Five reasons Donald Trump won

Wikipedia: Nineteen Eightyfour

CNN: Trump calls for military spending increase

Military Times: Trump’s military will have more troops and more firepower — if he can find more money

Sputnik: Putin Welcomes Trump’s Words of Readiness to Improve Russia-US Relations

RT News: Putin says ‘talented’ Trump is ‘absolute front-runner,’ welcomes pledge to work with Russia

Business Insider: Here’s a look at what Trump and Putin have said about each other

The Independent: Vladimir Putin congratulates US President Donald Trump as Russian leaders celebrate

RT News: ‘So correct’: Trump responds to Putin’s holiday letter

Reuters: Putin shrugs off Trump’s nuclear plans, says Democrats sore losers

ITV News: Trump and Putin both hint at expansion of nuclear arsenal

Ebook: Ninetween Eightyfour

History: 1972 – Nixon arrives in China for talks

CNN: Clinton Proposes Renewing China’s Most-Favored Trade Status

China.org.cn: Chronology of China-US Relations

The Tech: Clinton Grants China MFN, Reversing Campaign Pledge

International Business Times: Could the South China Sea dispute trigger a Sino-US war?

NY Times: Trump Says U.S. Would ‘Outmatch’ Rivals in a New Nuclear Arms Race

CNN: Trump – ‘We can’t continue to allow China to rape our country’

Fortune: How China’s exclusion from the TPP could hurt its economic growth

It’s Our Future: Obama casts TPP as Challenge to China

Washington Times: Inside the Ring – Obama, Romney on China

Previous related blogposts

Taiwan FTA – Confirmation by TVNZ of China pressuring the Beehive?

The Rise of Great Leader Trump

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

Protestors condemn Russian involvement in atrocities in Aleppo

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 27 December 2016.

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“Spinning” in a post-truth era

18 August 2016 3 comments

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Two recent media stories, on two utterly disparate issues, were clear examples of how tax-payer funded media “spin doctors” were guiding government ministers to respond to questions in a certain way.

Two interviews; two ministers; both on Radio New Zealand’s ‘Morning Report‘ – and both interviews left the audience none-the-wiser afterwards.

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“Guidelines”

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The first, on 5 August, featured Finance  and Social Housing Minister, Bill English, defending Housing NZ’s use of flawed testing regimes for methamphetamine-use in state housing.

On 20 June this year, Housing NZ admitted that the current testing for methamphetamine use (smoking)  was flawed;

“…The current standard guidelines were written to address meth ‘cooking’ and not use, meaning they are not entirely suitable for the contamination that occurs through use of meth.

The Ministry of Health guidelines were written a while ago. At that time it wasn’t perceived that consumption would be at the levels that it has reached. For this reason the guidelines do not cover all they need to.”

Drug Foundation executive director, Ross Bell, was scathing;

“I think they’re out of control…

[…]

I don’t know how they can justify that. Housing New Zealand has spent over $20 million in the last financial year doing these tests and these cleanups. Knowing that these are flawed the minister should step in and stop taxpayers’ money being wasted and vulnerable people being punished.”

Despite the testing regime  – which TVNZ’s  ‘Fair Go‘ programme used to “detect” methamphetamine on bank-notes – “not fit for purpose”, Housing NZ has continued to use the flawed guidelines to evict tenants;

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Expert questions meth contamination evictions

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Housing NZ Minister, Bill English, agreed that the testing for methamphetamine was flawed;

“They’re operating to a Ministry of Health guideline which I understand is internationally standard, but is regarded as not quite appropriate, particularly for dealing for use of P in houses…

[…]

Now, the test as I understand it, indicates the presence of any P at all which may be a very low health risk.”

The interesting aspect to Radio NZ’s Susie Ferguson’s interview with Minister English was not that he disagreed with the premise that the P testing regime  was flawed. He gave a straight answer to Ms Ferguson’s question;

Susie Ferguson: “Are these tests fit for purpose?”

Bill English: “Ah, no. And Housing NZ have said that.”

English then spent the next seven minutes defending the flawed testing regime.

In part of his interview, the “g”-word became glaringly  prominent;

“Housing New Zealand is in the position where there is currently a moh guideline, you can’t just wish that away – Housing New Zealand are not health experts.

Ministry of Health stand by the guideline, and the Ministry of Health are the statutory organisation that promulgates the guideline.

I think everyone involved with this is frustrated, I suppose except for the scientists that gave us the guideline in the first place.”

It is obvious what phrase English’s media spin-doctors told him to stay “on-message”.

He referred to “guidelines” no less than sixteen times within those seven minutes.

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“Technical matters”

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On 8 August, in an unrelated matter, our esteemed Dear Leader, John Key, was interviewed over  China’s threats to launch a trade war if New Zealand investigated cheap imports/dumping of sub-standard Chinese steel.

As Vernon Small described the situation on 4 August, in the Dominion Post;

Now let’s see if we’ve got this right.

In early June Chinese officials find a type of fungus (Neofabraea actinidiae) on board a bunch of kiwifruit heading into the country.

Nothing much happens.

Then in early July a message is passed, through back channels, to Zespri and Fonterra (and potentially other primary producers) that China is extremely peeved that a complaint has been laid about the potential dumping of cheap Chinese steel in our market.

A steel inquiry by regulators here could lead to the imposition of non-tariff barriers that could slow down our exports, the warning suggests. And, what’s more, China is angry that the complaint was even accepted for consideration by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE).

After some to-ing and fro-ing, China officially denies it draws a link between a potential steel-dumping inquiry and sales of our food products. The various New Zealand agencies and exporters chant in unison that it is an “unsubstantiated rumour” that such a link had been made.

Trade Minister Todd McClay at first tries to dismiss media reports as reflecting a single low-level source talking to Zespri. But he later back tracks and apologises to Prime Minister John Key and concedes the Zespri warning was not all. In fact, there had been “discussions and limited correspondence over the past few months as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade has endeavoured to assess the veracity of these reports”. But in the end they were not verified.

[…]

On July 22, Zespri said it had experienced no problems. 

But on July 29, just a few weeks after the initial “warning” – and right in sync with that warning –  Chinese border agencies impose non-tariff barriers, involving a risk notification and strengthened inspection and quarantine processes, on our kiwifruit.

Zespri says their unwelcome fungal friend does not affect food safety and is not a pathogen. It exists in several countries, including New Zealand, Australia, Holland, the United States and Ecuador – and potentially China itself, the home of the chinese gooseberry to which the noble kiwifruit is whakapapa.

But in contrast with Zespri’s relatively sanguine view, the Chinese notice from the AQSIQ, the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine, describes Mr and Mrs Neofabraea actinidiae in very unflattering terms as a “rot pathogen” and a “major disease” that could infect other fruit such as apples and persimmons, thus inflicting “serious economic loss”.

It saying the fungus hails from New Zealand and Australia – the targets of Chinese suspicions that we are acting in league with Uncle Sam.

And through it all ministers and Zespri are ruling out any link to the “unsubstantiated” trade threat.  “China throws up these non-tariff barriers all the time” is the tenor of the message emanating from the Beehive. Nothing to see here.

(The full text of Vernon Small’s analysis is worth reading, and reminiscent of the sort of critical journalistic insights that we used to have in abundance in the Fourth Estate, and which could ultimately do great harm to an encumbent government’s reputation.)

On Radio NZ’s Morning Report, on 8 August, Guyon Espiner interviewed our esteemed Dear Leader on China’s blocking of our kiwifruit exports.

Key’s responses to Espiner’s questions were a tribute to the Prime Minister’s media spin-doctors. Throughout the entire four and a half minutes interview, Key stayed on-message, referring to the blocking of Zespri’s export as “a technical issue“.

The phrase “technical issue” was used three times.

Other answers given were verbose – but not very enlightening for the listener;

Espiner: “Did he [Todd McClay] tell the truth about that, though?

Key: “Yeah, he did, but he was-“

Espiner: “You said he was dancing on the head of a pin.”

Key: “He was very specific in the answer that he gave to a very specific question.”

Espiner: “He was misleading, wasn’t he?”

Key: “Well, I just think, in our business the problem is that even though often a journalist will ask me a direct and specific question, you really know they’re  asking a broader question. And it’s kind of tidier if you can at least give a, give them [a] more fulsome answer.”

So according to Key, if “a journalist will ask… a direct and specific question, you really know they’re  asking a broader question“?

This was quintessential Key silly-speak for “Yes, Todd McClay lied”.

The curious aspect to Key’s “spun” answers is that Guyon Espiner – a seasoned journalist of the calibre of Lisa Owen, Kim Hill, Simon Walker, et al – allowed Key to make his specious drivel unchallenged.

At the very least, Espiner should have challenged Key of his references to “technical matters” with the simple question,

“Prime Minister, is the phrase “technical matters” the on-message phrase you’ve been told to use?”

Key would have responded with a resounding “No, of course not!”.

But that would have blown that phrase out of the water from that point on in the interview. The carefully ‘spun’ message crafted by his spin-doctors would have been rendered neutralised, and Key would have had to rely on other answers to Espiner’s probing. Perhaps even something approaching the truth.

The best way to counter “spin” is to clearly identify it as such.

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Shades of Bill Birch

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In 1991, when former Finance Minister, Bill Birch, was promoting the Employment Contracts Bill to the New Zealand public and media, his constant mantra was that it would “raise real wages”;

” The challenge New Zealand faces in industrial relations is to create an environment that delivers high productivity, high income and high employment.”

The promise of “higher wages” was an attempt to justify  the de-unionised, laissez-faire bargaining aspects of the Employment Contracts Act (later passed into law as an Act of Parliament).

But such was not to be. As economist, Andrew Morrison, reported for the  Parliamentary Library in 1996;

“The content of employment contracts has also changed. There are more flexible work practices, greater multi-skilling and increased use of performance pay. Rates for overtime and penal rates have dropped.

[…]

Econometric work shows the ECA as having had no significant effect on the aggregate level of wages. There may have been some deterioration in working conditions, however evidence is not clear-cut.”

Birch’s claims of the ECA “raising wages” were utterly bogus of course.

In reality, the Act increased wages for a few – but either froze or reduced wages for the majority, as Morrison pointed out.

It was the first occassion when this blogger noticed an oft-repeated phrase used by a politician to promote a wildly unpopular piece of legislation. It may have been one of the first (?) uses of ‘spin’ in such a context (as opposed to mis-use of information or outright lies).

In 1991, the “raising wages” mantra was not challenged in any meaningful way (that this blogger can recall).

A quarter of a century later, we still seem to have a problem with political ‘spin’.

The scary thing is, that our elected representatives don’t really seem perturbed that we recognise their ‘spin’ for what it is. In a post-truth environment, it seems to be the “new norm”.

As Andrea Vance wrote in an opinion piece on 1 July;

Politicians are now playing a game in which it’s up to their opponents to fact-check, to catch out their lies. (“People have had enough of experts,” as British Tory leadership hopeful Michael Gove put it.)

They presume media and the voters should accept what they say as fact.

Earlier this week, Trump’s supporter Jeffrey Lord dismissed this “fact-checking business” as an “elitist, media-type thing”.

People only care about “what the candidates say”, he added.

But if what the candidates say are bare-faced lies…then where does that leave us?

Indeed, where does that leave us?

Perhaps needing new standards for political honesty?

We can call them “guidelines“.

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References

Radio NZ: Drug Foundation critical of meth contamination evictions

Housing NZ: HNZ supports new meth standards committee

Radio NZ: English calls for more specific housing meth tests

Radio NZ: Expert questions meth contamination evictions

Radio NZ: NZ braces for effects on Zespri’s halt of kiwifruit exports

Fairfax media: China’s attack on kiwifruit after trade reprisal warning ‘just a coincidence’

Radio NZ: NZ braces for effects on Zespri’s halt of kiwifruit exports

Parliamentary Library: The Employment Contracts Act and its Economic Impact – Andrew Morrison, Economist (November 1996)

Otago.ac.nz: Labour’s Labour Relations

Additional

TV1 News: A post-truth era in politics

TV1 News: Perhaps the Government might want to say sorry

Radio NZ: Is a ‘post-truth’ era upon us?

Radio NZ: Give facts a chance

Previous related blogposts

Military ‘spin-doctoring’ – the media catch-up

The Art of ‘Spin’

Paula Bennett on unemployment: spin baby, spin!

The Dark Art of ‘Spin’ – How It’s Done

The Dark Art of ‘Spin’ – How It’s Done (Part #Rua)

When spin doctors go bad

“Spin me a conspiracy”, said Dear Leader!

“Spin me a brain exchange”, said Dear Leader!

National Party spin on Aaron Gilmore and MMP

National spins BS to undermine Labour’s Capital Gains Tax

Housing Minister Paula Bennett continues National’s spin on rundown State Houses

The Mendacities of Mr English – Fibbing from Finance Minister confirmed

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quick it's an emergency - spin doctors

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 13 August 2016.

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= fs =

Four Ways to Madness, Kiwi-style – a day in our media

22 September 2015 6 comments

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crazy-promises

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September 15 – A day in our history when four items of news were reported in our media, and few people seemed aware of  the new depths of craziness that our country has sunk to.

It was said that the old Soviet system was riddled with contradictions that, by 1991, led to it’s demise.

That charge could just as easily be levelled against the neo-liberal system, where the pursuit of the almighty dollar/euro/yen/etc has resulted in levels of crazy contradictions that are becoming more apparent with each passing day, and  increasingly difficult to sustain and justify by it’s proponents.

Those contradictions, I suspect, were part of the reason of Jeremy Corbyn’s ascension in the British Labour Party, and left-wing governments gaining ground in France, Greece, and elsewhere.

New Zealand has often been behind the times, so it may take a wee while longer for voters to fully comprehend that the neo-liberal system is a fraud, with only a few benefitting.

Four headlines. Four more examples of “free” market, corporate quackery. Four more nails in the neo-liberal coffin.

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Nail #1

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Silver Fern chair sees no problem with Chinese buy-in - radio nz - Bright Foods - China - state owned enterprise

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The purchaser of Silver Fern is Shanghai Making Aquarius Group. Shanghai Maling Aquarius Group will be purchasing a 50% shareholding of Silver Fern, paying $261 million for the buy-in.

Shanghai Maling Aquarius Group is one of four subsidiaries of Bright Foods, a State Owned Enterprise, 100% owned by the Chinese government (though registered in the Cayman Islands – no doubt for tax-avoidance purposes). Bright Foods owns 39.12% (as of September 2015) of Synlait Milk Ltd, which it bought into five years ago.

At $261 million, the purchase price is still a small fraction of the estimated US$4 trillion it has “in foreign currency reserves, which it is determined to invest overseas to earn a profit and exert its influence“, according to a recent report in the New York Times.

As usual, our National-led government has turned a blind eye to yet another buy-up of one of New Zealand’s primary industry producers.

Yet, with a 50% holding, that almost guarantees that half of Silver Fern’s profits will end up going back to Bright Foods and the Chinese government.

Another report states that investors from China are set to invest US$10.9 billion in our real estate, according to said Andrew Taylor, Juwai.com’s co-chief executive;

“Juwai.com projects that the pilot program will enable US$11 billion of new Chinese money to flow into New Zealand’s real estate market. That’s based on wealthy Chinese investing 10 per cent of their assets into international property, including commercial. It’s also based on NZ getting about 3.3 per cent of that property-specific investment, as it has in the past.

The question is; why is it permissable for a  foreign State Owned Enterprise to buy up New Zealand companies – whilst our own government is busy shedding ownership of Genesis Energy, Meridian, Mighty River Power, Air New Zealand, land owned by Landcorp, and houses owned by Housing NZ?

Why does National think that State ownership by the NZ Government in our productive industries is undesirable – but State ownership by foreign nations is perfectly acceptable?

This appears to be a major flaw in  neo-liberal ideology and one that National has yet to confront head-on.

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Nail #2

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Radio NZ - Politicians fling flag barbs - flag referendum - john key - red peak - andrew little

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It has been fairly obvious that the flag referendum has been foisted upon New Zealand for two reasons,

  1. A distraction to deflect public and media attention away from the deepening economic downturn that has every indication of turning into another full-blown recession,
  2. A personal vanity-project for John Key, because eradicating child poverty; addressing the Auckland housing crisis; or making meaningful inroads into New Zealand’s worsening greenhouse gas emissions is not the kind of legacy our esteemed Dear Leader thinks is important enough to warrant his attention (he is a busy man).

On 14 September, John Key surprised many people by “reaching out” to the NZ Labour Party to assist National to include the so-called “red peak” flag in  the up-coming referendum. As Radio NZ reported Key’s comments;

“If I drop out one of them, if I drop out one particular flag, there will be a group that will say that was wrong because I was going to vote for that – there will be another group that will say ‘I just didn’t realise this was a process that could be influenced through social campaign’.

If you look at Labour, they’ve been very disingenuous throughout the whole process so if I’ve got to go back to Parliament and change the law to have five, are you really telling me they wouldn’t then run a campaign that said I’m wasting Parliament’s time because I’m now going back to it?

I mean, these people can play games forever.

Well, they would need to go back and change their position on the flag process, instead of lying to the public and saying they’re opposed to this when their policy is actually to change the flag.

If they want to treat the whole process with respect, they’re welcome to come and have a discussion with me, but that is not the way they’ve played this thing.

And if Labour want to publicly come out and support the process and the change, that it’s an appropriate thing to do and argue that it’s an appropriate thing to do… then we might, but that hasn’t been what they’ve done so far.”

There seemed an element of desperation in Key’s plaintive demand for Labour’s support on the issue.

Which is hardly surprising, as support for the “red peak” option had surpassed 50,000 in an on-line petition – a number equivalent to the 50,000 who marched through Auckland in May 2010, opposing National’s proposed mining in protected Schedule 4 DoC conservation land and marine reserves. The sheer number forced National to back down, and on 20 July 2010, then-Energy Minister Gerry Brownlee announced;

“At the time the discussion document was released, I made it clear that it was a discussion. There were no preconceived positions from the Government. We have no intention of mining national parks.”

The question though is, who is playing games here?

Andrew Little explained;

“The Prime Minister can put Red Peak on the ballot paper without any party political support. He does it by Order in Council – he does not need other parties’ support for that.”

A brief explanation on what is an Order In Council;

Order in Council
A type of Legislative Instrument that is made by the Executive Council presided over by the Governor-General. Most Legislative Instruments are made by way of Order in Council. For more information about the Executive Council, see the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet website. To find Orders in Council on this website, search or browse under Legislative Instruments.

Source: Parliament – Legislation – Glossary

Executive Council

The Executive Council is the highest formal instrument of government. It is the part of the executive branch of government that carries out formal acts of government.

By convention, the Executive Council comprises all Ministers of the Crown, whether those Ministers are inside or outside Cabinet. The Governor-General presides over, but is not a member of, the Executive Council. When a new Cabinet is sworn in, Ministers are first appointed as Executive Councillors and then receive warrants for their respective Ministerial portfolios.

The principal function of the Executive Council is to advise the Governor-General to make Orders in Council that are required to give effect to the Government’s decisions. Apart from Acts of parliament, Orders in Council are the main method by which the government implements decisions that need legal force. The Executive Council also meets from time to time to carry out formal acts of state.

Meetings

The Executive Council generally meets every Monday. At the meetings, the Executive Council gives formal advice to the Governor-General to sign Orders in Council (to make, for example, regulations or appointments). The meetings also provide an opportunity for Ministers to brief the Governor-General on significant political and constitutional issues that may have arisen during the week.

Source: Department of the Priome Minister and Cabinet – Executive

So apparently, unless I am missing something else, Andrew Little is 100% correct; “The Prime Minister can put Red Peak on the ballot paper without any party political support. He does it by Order in Council – he does not need other parties’ support for that.”

Which then begs the question; why is John Key trying to strong-arm Labour into supporting the addition of  the “red peak” option onto the ballot paper?

Answer: He is attempting to manufacture “cross party support” to extricate his government from a tricky situation. The flag referendum appears to be spiralling out of control with popular support growing for a flag design that is not simply a pathetic branding exercise (ie; silver fern) – but has become popular with a significant portion of the country.

If Key is to bow to popular pressure, he desperately needs Labour to come on-board, to neutralise a  guarenteed attack from the Opposition benches. As Key himself said on 15 September;

“And if Labour want to publicly come out and support the process and the change, that it’s an appropriate thing to do and argue that it’s an appropriate thing to do… then we might, but that hasn’t been what they’ve done so far.”

In effect, Key is employing precisely the same tactic Labour employed in 2007, where Helen Clark sought cross-party support to pass the Crimes (Substituted Section 59) Amendment Act (a.k.a the ‘Anti-Smacking Act’).

National’s parliamentary support, fronted by the then-Opposition Leader, John Key, gave a “seal of approval” from the Political Liberal-Right, to an otherwise contentious piece of legislation that was provoking howls of hysterical outrage from certain quarters.

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Key - Clarke- section 59 repeal

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Bringing Key on-board was risky for Labour, as it elevated Key to a near-equal position with then-Prime Minister, Helen Clark. But it was seen as necessary, to attempt to dilute the perception that this was “social engineering” inspired by Labour-Green “extremists”.

Eight years later, and this time John Key needs Labour to stifle a growing disenchantment with his personal vanity-project, which is threatening to take on a life of it’s own.

Key cannot afford to lose control of the flag debate. There is a reason that this is a binding referendum –  the framing of the debate; the four choices; and the sequence of questions (#1, which alternative flag do you want, followed by #2, pick one of two flags, an alternative or the current one) – are all under his personal control, via the Executive Council.

Andrew Little is correct, our esteemed Dear Leader could choose to add the “red peak” option by an Order in Council. Key does not require Labour’s assistance, either constitutionally or legally. But he doesn’t want to leave himself open to ridicule from Labour, and the perception that he has “lost control”.

When John Key stated on 15 September;

“I’m more than happy to meet with him but only on the condition it’s not about a yes or no vote. A yes or no vote doesn’t work. It doesn’t deliver what New Zealanders want.”

–  he was not talking about “what New Zealanders want”.

He was talking about what he, John Key, wants. And he needs Labour to do it.

The question is: why should Labour help Key?

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Nail #3

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This next bit comes courtesy from Paula Bennett, currently  Minister for Social Housing.

Radio NZ reported on 15 September,

A government think tank has released its final report on the country’s social services and is urging major reform.

But the Productivity Commission is unable to offer specific solutions as to how the government should deal with the group that is most difficult to look after.

Every year, the country spends $34 billion on social services, more than 10 percent of the GDP.

Read today’s final report into social services by the Productivity Commission (PDF, 4.3MB)

The commission recommends a move away from the current top-down approach, with more responsibility given to providers.

But it could not decide how to deal with the people with the most complex needs, instead suggesting that the government look at two possible solutions.

One option would be a standalone agency which oversees a client’s case across a number of agencies.

The second would be to fund District Health Boards (DHBs) to be responsible for the country’s most disadvantaged people.

It also recommends establishing a Ministerial Committee of Social Services, rather than an Office of Social Services, which had been recommended in its draft report. The ministerial committee would be responsible for reform of the sector.

The commission has defined social services as those including health care, social care, education and training, employment services and community services.

It has looked at agencies and services including Housing New Zealand, Work and Income, Whanau Ora, services for people with disabilities, and home care for the elderly.

Interviewed on Radio NZ’s Checkpoint, Paula Bennett was quick to reassure listeners that National was not penny-pinching at the expense of the most vulnerable in our society;

@ 2.47

“But we’ve never thought that money was the problem as such. If it needs more money, we will.”

The usual lie from a National Minister, considering the severe funding cutbacks to community organisations such as Women’s Refuge, Rape Crisis, community health organisations, Relationship Aotearoa, and many others.

But the following words to gush from her mouth simply beggared belief;

“What we’ve been really big on is the data analytics, that makes sure that we’re targetting the right services to the right kids and more importantly getting actual results for them.”

“Data analytics”?!

Bennett was adamant that  National has been  “really big on is the data analytics, that makes sure that”  they are  “targetting the right services to the right kids and more importantly getting actual results for them

Let’s take a moment to step back in time.

Specifically, set temporal co-ordinates of your Toyota Tardis to 16 August 2012. This NZ Herald story, from that year, tells the story;

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Measuring poverty line not a priority - Bennett

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The question here is; How can Bennett “target the right services to the right kids and more importantly get actual results for them” – when three years ago she stated categorically that finding the “data analytics” was not a priority?

What “data analytics” is she talking about?

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Nail #4

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The fiasco surrounding  the private company running Mt Eden and Wiri prisons got more bizarre on 15 September when it was revealed that  Serco had been let off $375,000 in fines for serious contract breaches.

Fines for breaching the contract between Serco and the Crown are one of the few sanctions that the government can levy on the company for not upholding contractual obligations.

A 15 September report from Radio NZ revealed;

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Serco let off $270k in fines - Minister

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The story then explained why  the heading – “$270k in fines’ – was an under-estimation;

Under questioning from Green Party corrections spokesperson David Clendon this afternoon, Corrections Minister Sam Lotu-liga spelt out the sum of Serco’s cancelled fines.

“Mr Speaker, since Serco took over management of Mt Eden Prison in 2011, I’m advised that Corrections has issued a total of 55 performance notices to Serco – seven have been withdrawn,” Mr Lotu-liga said.

“And the total amount of the withdrawals is $275,000.”

But it seems there are more fines that Serco has had cancelled and Mr Clendon asked the minister about one of them.

“Does the minister approve of Corrections’ decision to excuse the $100,000 fine that was imposed when Serco failed to take back razors that had been issued to prisoners, to inmates, if so why?” Mr Clendon asked.

Mr Lotu-liga responded that that was not one of the seven withdrawn fines he was referring too.

The chronically inept and terminally-tragic Corrections Minister, Sam Lotu-liga, was either unaware of the $100,000 fine – or was wilfully engaged in a cover-up.

However, whether the actual figure of $275,000 or $375,000 is actually irrelevant.

What is truly astounding is that someone within either the Minister’s office or the Corrections Dept had made the decision to scrub $375,000 in fines for serious contract breaches.

The obvious questions which beg to be asked and answered are;

  1. Who made the decision to dismiss $375,000 in fines issued to Serco?
  2. Why was the decision made to dismiss the fines?
  3. Does the same principle  of waiving fines extend to every citizen in New Zealand who has exceeded the speed limit; parked illegally; or committed  some other offence which resulted in a monetary penalty?
  4. What the hell is going on?!

The next time our esteemed Dear Leader or some other National minister utter the phrase, “One law for all” – they should be immediatly reminded that obviously “One Law for All” does not extend to companies like Serco.

15 September – one hell of a day for National. It got about as crazy as crazy can be in this country.

Or is there more to come?

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References

Radio NZ: Silver Fern chair sees no problem with Chinese buy-in

Wikipedia: Bright Foods

NZ Companies Office: Synlait Milk Limited

China Daily: China’s Bright Dairy invests in NZ’s Synlait

NY Times: China’s Global Ambitions, With Loans and Strings Attached

NZ Herald: Chinese investment set to boom

Radio NZ: Red Peak – Politicians fling flag barbs

Ministry for the Environment:  New Zealand’s Greenhouse Gas Inventory 1990-2013

Radio NZ: A flutter of hope for Red Peak?

NZ Herald: Red Peak – 50,000 strong petition handed over at Parliament

Fairfax media: Thousands march against mining

TV3: Govt confirms no mining Schedule 4, national parks

Te Ara – The NZ Enclyclopedia: Cross-party negotiation on legislation

Radio NZ: Major social service changes recommended

Radio NZ: Checkpoint – Government willing to spend more on social services (alt. link)

Dominion Post: Women’s Refuge cuts may lead to waiting lists

NZ Herald: Govt funding cuts reduce rape crisis support hours

NZ Doctor: Christchurch’s 198 Youth Health Centre to close its doors as management fails to implement directives from CDHB

Scoop media: Relationships Aotearoa – our story

NZ Herald: Measuring poverty line not a priority – Bennett

Radio NZ: Serco let off $270k in fines – Minister

Radio NZ: Serco let off $375k in fines (alt. link)

Previous related blogposts

Kiwis, Cows, and Canadian singers

That was Then, this is Now #10

Doing ‘the business’ with John Key – Here’s How (Part # Rua)

Three Questions to Key, Williamson, Coleman, et al

Taiwan FTA – Confirmation by TVNZ of China pressuring the Beehive?

Why Labour should NEVER play the “race card”

Letter to the editor: An idea regarding a new(ish) flag

The Flag Referendum – A strategy for Calm Resistance

Flying the flags of discontent – MOBILISE!

It’s a Man’s World, I guess

The cupboard is bare, says Dear Leader

The closure of three prisons and loss of 262 jobs – five issues for the National govt

So what is the rationale for private prisons?

Questions over Serco’s “independent” monitors and it’s Contract with the Crown

“The Nation” reveals gobsmacking incompetence by Ministers English and Lotu-Iiga

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184mupp

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 17 Septembr 2015.

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= fs =

A Query to the Taxpayers Union – ***UP DATE ***

27 March 2014 6 comments

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Taxpayers Union website banner

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Further to an earlier blogpost where I emailed Jordan Williams, at the Taxpayers Union, regarding Judith Collins’ taxpayer-funded trip to China, where she visited a milk importer (Oravida) of which  her husband is the sole Director…

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FROM:   "f.macskasy"
SUBJECT: Judith Collins
DATE:    Wed, 12 Mar 2014 10:39:48 +1300
TO:     "Taxpayers Union" <tipline@taxpayers.org.nz> 

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Kia ora,

I am aware that your Union recently condemned the cost
incurred by Green MP, Ms Mojo Mathers, in a trip she made to
Masterton to participate in a radio interview on
disabilities.

Accordingly, will you be investigating and commenting on the
trip made by National MP and Minister, Judith Collins, for
her recent taxpayer-funded trip to China? 

Ms Collins' portfolios include  Minister for Ethnic Affairs;
  Minister of Justice; and Minister for ACC.

It is unclear what purpose was served by a trip to China as
none of her portfolios relate directly  to foreign affairs
or trade.

Will you also be investigating and commenting on the
conflict of interest posed by her visit to Orivida - a
Chinese company of which her husband is a Director?

This appears to be little more than a tax-payer funded
'junket' and I await your response to this in the light of
your critical stance taken regarding Ms Mathers' trip to
Masterton.

Regards,
-Frank Macskasy

.

Mr Williams, from the so-called Taxpayers Union, responded on the same day;

.

National puppet organisation

.

Several commentators on my previous blogpost suggested that blogs are a part of the media (or “new media”) and that Mr Williams should, accordingly, be responding to my query as if the NZ Herald had contacted him for a comment.

I took note of the suggestions and wrote back to Mr Williams,

.

FROM:    "f.macskasy" 
SUBJECT:  Re: Judith Collins
DATE:     Sun, 16 Mar 2014 12:37:51 +1300
TO:      "Jordan Williams" <jordan@taxpayers.org.nz>
.
Kia ora Jordan!

Thank you for taking the time to respond to my query, and in
such a timely fashion. That was greatly appreciated.

Regarding your point on the Mojo Mathers issue; I understand
that you stated you did not initiate contact with the
Herald, and that you responded to their query.

As you may be aware, I blog on various issues, including
covering public activities such as Select Committee
hearings; protests; etc. 

I am therefore part of the so-called "new media" of citizen
journalists/bloggers, as your colleague, Cameron Slater also
maintains.

Accordingly, I seek a response from you, on behalf of the
Taxpayers Union, on  National MP and Minister, Judith
Collins'  recent taxpayer-funded trip to China.

It is unclear what purpose was served by a trip to China as
none of her portfolios relate directly  to foreign  affairs
or trade. Ms Collins' portfolios include  Minister for
Ethnic  Affairs; Minister of Justice; and  Minister for ACC.

Considering that none of her portfolios relate to foreign 
affairs or trade, was this trip necessary? What purpose did
it serve, and for who?

What is the Taxpayers Union's response on the
perceived/actual conflict of interest posed by her visit to
Orivida - a  Chinese company of which her husband is a
Director?

Does the Taxpayers Union view Collins' trip as little more
than a tax-payer funded  'junket'?

Does the Taxpayers Union consider the $36,000 spent by
Collins on this trip "value for money"?

I look forward to the Taxpayers Union's statement on this
issue.

Regards,
-Frank Macskasy
Blogger

.

As at 11.59PM, on 18 March, I have received no further correspondence from Mr Williams, nor from any other representative of the Taxpayers Union. Not even a simple acknowledgement of having received my 16 March email.

It is interesting to note the circumstances surrounding this issue.

I emailed the Taxpayers Union because it had commented – and roundly condemned – Mojo Mathers’ flight from Christchurch to Masterton, to attend a radio interview on the issue of disabilities.

On 2 March, Jordan Williams made this statement on the resulting furore surrounding his remarks on Ms Mathers’ travel;

.

This morning there has been some criticism of my comments in a story on the Herald website about a trip Mojo Mathers took to Masterton from Christchurch apparently just for a short interview on a community radio station.

For clarification:

  • The Taxpayers’ Union did not seek media attention on this story. There is no associated press release. The Herald called yesterday evening asking for comment, as happens often.
  • The Taxpayers’ Union operate 24 hour media line for comment on taxpayer issues. Yesterday’s call came through to me and I was asked whether it was value for money for an MP to fly 800km for a radio interview on a small community station. I said it was not value for money when the interview could have been done on Skype as well as the comments that are quoted in the story.
  • I’ve made no comment about Ms Mathers disability. In fact, if the travel was necessary I would not criticise the spending. But answering questions posed by the Herald, on matter which as far as I know are completely unrelated to her disability, is legitimate.
  • Accusations that I (or the Union) sought to go after Mathers are ridiculous. To repeat, we were asked for comment by the Herald who were running the story. The comments would have been the same whoever the MP.
  • Accusations that the Taxpayers’ Union are partisan are also silly. I am proud that the Union has gone after National MPs and the current government for expenses, wasteful expenditure and corporate welfare. Seehttp://info.scoop.co.nz/New_Zealand_Taxpayers’_Union 

On reflection, I wonder why an MP from a party that prides itself for having a low environmental footprint choose to fly to a radio interview that could have been done on Skype. Perhaps Ms Mathers had other engagements in Masterton. If so, that was not the information provided to me at the time by the Herald reporter.

Jordan Williams.

Jordan Williams
Jordan Williams
Author

Note Mr Williams’ statement;

Accusations that the Taxpayers’ Union are partisan are also silly. I am proud that the Union has gone after National MPs and the current government for expenses, wasteful expenditure and corporate welfare

Aside from a handful  of press releases aimed at National Minister, Steven Joyce, most of the Taxpayers Unions public comments seemed to target Auckland mayor Len Brown; government departments (whilst not mentioning their Ministers); and strangely, the Labour Party – which is not even in government.

The Taxpayers Union has not commented on Judith Collins’ trip to China, despite there being glaring questions which demand to be asked. Questions such as why a Minister of Justice/Ethnic Affairs/ACC felt the need to spend $36,000 of taxpayers’ money on a junket overseas.

Mr Williams has not deigned to respond to my queries with a comment.

Yet, he was only too happy to launch into a savage excoriation of Green MP, Mojo Mathers, for spending an estimated $500 to speak on an issue that was actually her portfolio – and which, because of her disability, is  a matter she is intimately familiar to speak on.

One can only assume that Mr Williams does not wish to be drawn into this issue.  The reason is quite apparent.

Jordan Williams is closely connected to the likes of David Farrar, Cameron Slater, and Simon Lusk – all of whom are hard-Right National/ACT supporters and apparatchiks.

Right-wing blogger, David Farrar, is one of the  Board members of the Taxpayers Union. His ‘bio‘, however, mentions nothing about his close links to the National Party,

“David is a well known political blogger and commentator. David also owns and manages the specialist polling agency Curia Market Research and has an active involvement in Internet issues. He is an experienced political campaigner and former parliamentary staffer.

“I helped form the New Zealand Taxpayers Union because I believe that New Zealand needs a lobby group to stand up for the rights of taxpayers and ratepayers, and fight against those who treat them as a never ending source of funds”.”

David Farrar’s Disclosure Statement on Kiwiblog;

“Since I joined Young Nationals in 1986, I have been affiliated to, and a member of, the National Party. I do not regard National as always right, but it is the party which I believe gives me the greatest opportunity to achieve the New Zealand I want.

As a volunteer, I established National’s initial Internet presence in 1996 and have held various roles in the party up until 2005. I have three times been a temporary contractor to National HQ, helping out with the campaign in 1999, and also between staff appointments – in 2004 and 2007 for a total of ten months.”

Other Board Members are;

John Bishop; businessman; columnist for the right-leaning NBR; and authored a “puff piece” on National’s Deputy Leader, Bill English; Constituency Services Manager,  ACT Parliamentary Office, April 2000 – August 2002, “developing relationships with key target groups and organising events”.

Gabrielle O’Brien; businesswoman; National Party office holder, 2000-2009.

Jordan McCluskey; University student; member of the Young Nationals.

Jono (Jonathan) Brown; Administrator/Accounts Clerk at the Apostolic Equippers [Church] Wellington, which, amongst other conservative policies,  opposed the marriage equality Bill.

None of this is mentioned even in passing on the Taxpayers Union ‘Who We Are‘ page.

By now, it should be patently obvious that the Taxpayers Union is little more than a thinly-disguised, right-wing, front organisation for the National Party.

In which case, it would be “counter-productive” of the Taxpayers Union to be criticising Judith Collins’ trip to China. It would be a case of  attacking one of their own.

.

*

.

References

Taxpayers Union:  A question of value for taxpayer money

TV1: Key puts Collins on warning, opposition calls for sacking

Fairfax Media: Anti-MMP plan leaked

Taxpayers Union: Who we are

Kiwiblog: Disclosure Statement

Finda.co.nz: John Bishop Communicator

Johnbishop.co.nz: Bill English – Minister of Infrastructure

Advisoryboards.co.nz:  Curriculum Vitae: John Bishop – Advisory Boards NZ

LinkedIn: Gabrielle O’Brien

LinkedIn: Jordan McCluskey

LinkedIn: Jonathan [“Jono”] Brown

Newswire.co.nz:  ‘Not up to church to dictate on gay marriage’

See Also

NZ Herald:  John Drinnan – High-risk PR strategy flies

Sciblogs: Jesus heals — but not cancer! [Equippers Church]

Previous related blogposts

Doing ‘the business’ with John Key – Here’s How (Part # Rua)

A Query to the Taxpayers Union

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Skipping voting is not rebellion its surrender

Above image acknowledgment: Francis Owen

This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 19 March 2014.

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= fs =

A Query to the Taxpayers Union

20 March 2014 5 comments

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Oravida - Cartoon-Rod-Emmerson-GIF

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A comment by Sally Randell, on The Daily Blog, raised this interesting point;

Why was Judith Collins in China anyway?

She is justice Minister, not trade minister.

Cheers, coz I can’t find it via google

Which is intriguing. Ms Randell is quite correct; Collins has no portfolios that would necessitate an expensive tax-payer funded trip – complete with a coterie of staffers – to travel thousand of kilometres to China. Airline fares. Plus hotel accomodation. Plus meals.

This would have cost thousands of taxpayer’s dollars.

How many hungry children; endangered species protection;   or hip operations could this money have paid for?

Accordingly, I wrote to the Taxpayers Union on this matter;

.

FROM:   "f.macskasy"
SUBJECT: Judith Collins
DATE:    Wed, 12 Mar 2014 10:39:48 +1300
TO:     "Taxpayers Union" <tipline@taxpayers.org.nz> 

.

Kia ora,

I am aware that your Union recently condemned the cost
incurred by Green MP, Ms Mojo Mathers, in a trip she made to
Masterton to participate in a radio interview on
disabilities.

Accordingly, will you be investigating and commenting on the
trip made by National MP and Minister, Judith Collins, for
her recent taxpayer-funded trip to China? 

Ms Collins' portfolios include  Minister for Ethnic Affairs;
  Minister of Justice; and Minister for ACC.

It is unclear what purpose was served by a trip to China as
none of her portfolios relate directly  to foreign affairs
or trade.

Will you also be investigating and commenting on the
conflict of interest posed by her visit to Orivida - a
Chinese company of which her husband is a Director?

This appears to be little more than a tax-payer funded
'junket' and I await your response to this in the light of
your critical stance taken regarding Ms Mathers' trip to
Masterton.

Regards,
-Frank Macskasy

.

Ms Mathers’ trip cost taxpayers an estimated $500-$600.

Collins’ junket reportedly cost us $36,000.

It’ll be interesting if Jordan Williams lays into Judith Collins with the same gusto he did with Green MP, Mojo Mathers.

What are my chances?!

.

*** Up date ***

.

Evidently my “chances” weren’t too flash.

This was Jordan Williams’ response to my query to him;

.

Jordan Williams - 12.2.14

.

Hi Frank,

We commented on Mojo as a result of the Herald calling us and 
asking for such.  Of course we will do the same if asked.

Regards

Jordan Williams

Executive Director  |  New Zealand Taxpayers' Union Inc.

.

So… I take it from Mr Williams’ reply that we will not be hearing from the Taxpayers’ Union unless the media asks them to comment?  And if the media doesn’t make any requests for comment – we’ll never hear from them at all, ever again?

I do believe Jordan Williams has just demonstrated – with crystal clarity – the pro-National partisanship of his “Taxpayers Union”.

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References

TV1 News:  Key puts Collins on warning, opposition calls for sacking

Related

The Daily Blog – Chris Trotter: Dispelling The Negatives: Judith Collins refuses to cry over spilt milk

Previous related blogposts

“It’s one of those things we’d love to do if we had the cash”

Doing ‘the business’ with John Key – Here’s How (Part # Rua)

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Op Shopping by Tolley and Collins

Above image acknowledgment: Francis Owen

This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 13 March 2014.

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