Why Labour’s post-election defeat Review will achieve little

November 1st, 2014 at 1:13 pm by kiwi in america

No proven election winning people are on the panel

The people appointed to Labour’s 2014 Election Review Team are not the kind of people who can get to the bottom of Labour’s woes because they have no clue about how to run a winning campaign or how to win back the lost demographics. Bryan Gould was a UK Labour MP during their long wilderness years characterized by a lurch to the left, excessive union domination of the party, grassroots takeover by harder left activists and a party leader election process split between the caucus, party and unions – all identical troubles bedeviling NZ Labour today. Gould identified with the Michael Foot hard left and ran for the party leadership himself in 1992 after UK Labour’s fourth election defeat but scored poorly against the ultimate winner John Smith. Gould is a personification of all that is wrong with Labour and all his public pronouncements since returning to New Zealand in recent years place him at the left of Labour and thus inclined to the view that Labour was not left wing enough.

Margaret Wilson was a prominent member of the ‘sisterhood’ and was Attorney General and Minister of Commerce in the Clark government before becoming the Speaker. She is a well-known feminist progressive and comes from one of the special interest groups that have captured Labour’s policy and candidate selection so is hardly in a position to know how to recommend the party appeal more to ‘Waitakere Man’ since she was a contributor to why key demographic groups left Labour. She is never going to admit that her ilk is part of the problem. The same can be said about Stacy Morrison – again she reinforces the stereotype that has taken hold about Labour – that due to political correctness, they are in thrall to the women’s lobby, minorities and those whose noses have been in the public trough all their working lives. Only Brian Corban appears to have operated in the real world but he is only one of four and the others are all reliable beltway lefties.

The most logical person to head this inquiry is Mike Williams. He was President of Labour through a series of successful election and re-election campaigns AND he knows how to fundraise – something Labour has become utterly useless at. He’s a straight shooter and likely has a bit more of a sense of what it takes to win over middle NZ because Labour managed to do it several times when he was running the Party.

The single most important change that could improve Labour’s electoral chances will not be considered

Labour has done some stupid things in their history but none was more stupid than handing the power to elect their leader to the unions and the wider party. The wider party has drifted to the left over the years as more moderate centrist members have been driven out of the party by Clark and the sisterhood hell bent on purging the party of Rogernomics and been replaced by New Labour lefties returning home. The leftward drift of Labour’s activist base came to head at the 2012 Conference when the constitutional amendment was passed making this change. The mere fact of the change emboldened Cunliffe to commence his campaign to white ant David Shearer even before it came into effect. Had Shearer stayed at the helm, gotten better media training and become more confident in his job, he may have kept Labour polling in the low to mid 30’s and been in a position to invite NZ First and the Greens into a coalition that could now be governing. Cunliffe knew that the caucus suddenly was looking over their shoulders at the wider party knowing that inevitably Cunliffe’s would win a leadership vote put to the wider party and unions. The leftward drift was manifest in the 2013 leadership primary with Robertson and Cunliffe particularly competing to win over the harder left party membership. The caucus contains more moderate voices with still a good number of Clark loyalists who remember how Clark and her team won enough votes from middle NZ to govern for three terms. These moderate voices held the key to who would be elected Labour leader as they had real power in the caucus. Instead of a sizable minority (and sometimes a majority) of caucus, their vote is now only worth perhaps only 15 to 20% of the overall vote. When you add the more left leaning unions to the left leaning party, the voice of moderates is now completely drowned out when it comes time to choose a leader. This has already resulted in one leader (Cunliffe) out of touch with middle NZ and keen to pursue an agenda with a patina of centrist moderation but in reality was more about pleasing Labour’s various core activist groups especially the unions and their agendas. Because these groups are off to the left and out of the mainstream of NZ life, they now can make sure that Labour more directly reflects their narrow world view which makes Labour more unappealing to moderate centrist voters.

Changing the leadership election process back to a caucus only vote is the only way to give power to the moderates who know how to present Labour to centrist voters and yet this change will never happen as the wider party and the unions will not vote to give up their new found power.

No review will never reduce the electorally poisonous power of the unions

Only 16% of the NZ workplace is unionized and most of them are likely already banked voters for Labour. The union involvement is problematic at various levels. First is the principle of affiliation which gives affiliated unions voting power in line with its membership regardless of the political views of its members. This is not only anti-democratic but unpopular with the type of moderate centrist voters that Labour used to win over but has now largely lost to National. At 20%, the union block vote is often the swing vote in the leadership race especially if the farther left leaning party members’ votes are effectively cancelled out by the more centre right caucus leaning. This reinforces the impression that Labour is controlled by special interests and that its leaders are beholden to the unions. David Cunliffe won the party leadership partly because of all the legislative goodies he promised the unions. Middle NZ is turned off by such influence.

The 2008 and 2011 reviews went unheeded

Labour’s defeats at the 2008 and 2011 elections led to internal reviews as to why they lost and what they could do to win again. One of the persistent recommendations was to broaden the base of the party so as to increase the membership and try and get Labour back to being a broader church party more like the National Party. Jim Anderton, who presided over Labour when they had over 100,000 members, has been particularly vocal on this issue of late. While Labour saw an upsurge in members in time for the 2013 primary, it was off a very snall base (5,000 to 7,000) and it was mainly of harder left activists who used to be part of New Labour then the Alliance and then Anderton’s Progressives who saw a chance to fully recapture Labour for the left. Remember these people left Labour because of Rogernomics and would only countenance a return if policies and candidates were more left wing and if they had more direct control of the party. This is not the broad based expansion of membership the previous reviews envisaged. I’m sure this review will make the same recommendations and yet what inside Labour has or will make it more attractive to moderate politically minded folk who may have traditionally voted Labour.

A review won’t change Labour’s narrowed MMP electoral real estate

The weakness of ACT and United has worked to National’s advantage preventing it from having a party to its right and centre from no longer cannibalizing its vote (which is what happened with National’s disastrous 2002 result). John Key’s careful centrist pragmatism with only incremental reforms has kept National firmly entrenched on the centre and centre right ground. The Conservatives have carved out a right wing flank but insufficient to cause National to dip below the crucial 46/47% threshold which really is the tipping point for a Centre Right coalition to lose power.

National’s positioning has marooned Labour to the centre left where it faces much more intense and determined competition. The collapse of the Alliance enabled a more centrist Clark led Labour to take some of the Alliance vote and still hold the centre. The advent of the Greens and its strategy to become a more mainstream left wing party under Norman and Turei versus a more pure environmental party under Donald and Fitsimmons, provided centre left voters with another credible voting alternative to Labour. As the Greens media management and message discipline improved, it became a darling of the media as the unsullied and pristine repository of the left’s dreams and it became safer for Labour voters, fed up with Labour’s faction fraught dissention, to switch to the Greens. When the Greens proved in election after election to be good for a minimum of 5%, under MMP party shopping on the centre left became OK – voters reasoning that their vote for either Labour or the Greens would still see the CL in government. When Hone Harawira left the Maori Party and formed Mana, suddenly the radical hard left was not constrained by MMP’s 5% threshold to seek Parliamentary representation needing only to score above about 1.2% in the party vote to score a second MP. Harawira’s grandstanding on issues dear to the left (child poverty, corporate greed etc.) gave former Alliance and New Labour voters a harder left alternative to Labour that once again could become part of a grand coalition of the left.

Labour is squeezed between the two harder left parties (Greens and Mana) and National’s unwavering moderate centrist positioning. The more Labour moves to try and woo the centre, the more it sheds its left flank to the Greens or Mana. If it veers to the left in an attempt to win back support from the Greens and Mana, it turns off its few right leaning voters who turn to National or NZ First. The positioning of the Greens and National have made it virtually impossible for Labour to be a broad church party because it risks losing left or right flanks. It is trapped in a relatively narrow centre left strip of electoral real estate between the Greens rock solid 10% and National’s rock solid 47 – 48%. Labour may manage to take a few percentage points off the Greens but that doesn’t grow the CL vote. Labour will also shed centrist and older support to Winston Peters – traditional older socially conservative voters who are tribally Labour often find a straight switch to National too much and so opt for the populist senior citizen friendly Peters being a good place to protest Labour’s leftward drift. A review won’t change this reality.

Each faction already knows what they think went wrong

The factional in-fighting that has dominated Labour for years will be just as manifest in this review. The left think that the reason why Labour lost is because they weren’t true enough to left wing principles to un-tap the missing millions (who the left magically think are mostly left leaning but just not motivated to vote) and that Cunliffe was undermined during his leadership and the election campaign by the right leaning ABCs in the caucus. Had the caucus been 100% behind Cunliffe and a true red Labour agenda they surmise, Labour would have polled high enough to be in a position to form a CL coalition government.

The right says the opposite. They say Labour’s drift to the left has turned off centrist voters with a social conscience that used to be comfortable voting for Labour with many moderate former Labour voters either voting for National, NZ First or not voting at all. They point to the leadership election change putting the unions in the driver’s seat as being off-putting to swing voters.

The trouble is that both camps make valid points. The ABCs did undermine Cunliffe in Parliament and on the hustings but they would argue that Cunliffe was lazy, prone to chronic exaggerations that fed a legitimate meme that he was insincere and lacked a discernible core and that he should never have been elected in the first place and would not have been had the old leadership election rules been kept.

How does a review decide who was right except that the reviewers gravitate to their ideological bias and favour the view of their preferred faction?

How does the review decide on the best strategy with the Greens when opinions are polar opposites?

The left favoured a more formal arrangement with the Greens to the level of more joint policy releases and joint campaigning. In their mind, this would’ve reduced the Labour v Greens competition for the left vote.

The right see the Greens as electorally toxic to Labour and in fact put some of the blame for the poor result squarely on the fact that middling swing voters were forced to consider the Greens’ policies as well as Labour’s because it was not possible for Cunliffe to govern without the Greens. With the Green’s popularity seemingly rising (turned out to be a polling mirage) versus Labour’s popularity falling, it was such that they would demand and get substantial portfolios in a Labour/Greens coalition government. That prospect scared centrist voters uninterested in the Greens’ harder left agenda, propensity to propose numerous bans and reflexive opposition to any development of any type barring giant costly unproven green boondoggles.

These opposing views of how to handle the Greens are the complete polar opposite of each other. Once again the views of the review panel will boil down to the ideological bias of the panel members.

The factions are un-unitable each preferring the destruction of the other

Whilst no one will admit to this, in reality this is the secret bottom line of each faction. The more left leaning sisterhood has sought for 25 years to purge Labour of Rogernomics and Rogernomes and they have largely succeeded. The harder left activist base wants to finish the job. They would see a true left leader unsullied by caucus infighting from the right faction as the pathway to electoral success because this left-only rump would somehow be more electorally appealing because they aren’t fighting any more. The in-fighting is thus seen as the major turnoff affecting turnout and Labour’s lack of electoral appeal. This of course ignores the fact that a harder left party and caucus would present voters with a party even less representative of middle NZ because it would be now completely shorn of any members or MPs that come from the moderate centre.

The right believes that middle NZ will not return to Labour until the harder left is silenced or neutralized. The moderate centrists in caucus believe they are all that stands in the way of Labour suffering a complete collapse into a hard core leftist rump attracting maybe 15 to 20% of the vote. They point to the prior success of Labour’s once broad church and the ability that Clark and her inner circle had to reign in harder left tendencies to at least present an appearance as a gentle moderate slightly left of centre party fit to be trusted to govern safely by middle NZ. They believe the lurch to the left is why Labour is now so unpopular.

How does a panel of four people reconcile the irreconcilable? The panel is not going to recommend the one logical solution that could deal to the warring factions – that of one of the factions going it alone and not under the Labour banner as that would be to suggest the self-destruction of the party.

The review will not be read by the demographic groups Labour most needs to attract

Most outsiders will view the review as yet more left wing navel gazing. It will be poured over by activists who vote Labour or for the left anyway and the centrist floating voters whom Labour needs to attract will pay scant attention to an ‘inside baseball’ review.

No tag for this post.

US Mid-term Elections: Senate Polls Update – 1st November

November 1st, 2014 at 10:28 am by Lindsay Addie

Here are the latest numbers from the Real Clear Politics average of polls and from Five Thirty Eight in the key Senate races.


NOTE: Georgia and Louisiana have the 50 plus 1 vote rule in place. If this is not achieved by the leading candidate a two way run off  election between the two highest polling candidates will be held.

Currently Democrats hold 55 seats (including 2 independents) and the Republicans 45. So the GOP needs to make a net gain of 6.

The GOP will pickup Montana, South Dakota, and West Virginia. They look good to also pickup Arkansas and Colorado. That would give them 50 seats. So what of the other seats?

  • Alaska: The gap has closed keeping Begich (D) in the race. A difficult state to poll  according to pollsters.
  • Kansas: Still too close to call. Orman (Independent) seems to be doing a Winston Peters and sitting on the fence regarding who he would caucus with.
  • Iowa: Ernst (R) has held a consistent but narrow lead in the polls. This is no certainty for Republicans though.
  • Georgia: Nunn (D) is putting up a tough fight against Perdue (R). The polls are still predicting a tight race. Possibly will end up in a run off election.
  • Kentucky: McConnell looks safe here now for the GOP.
  • Louisiana: This may well also end up in a run off election.
  • New Hampshire: Shaheen (D) is holding against Brown (R). The gap has closed somewhat. The polls are showing different results.
  • North Carolina: Hagan (D) continues to lead but isn’t by any means safe yet.

So it’s still advantage to the GOP if the polls are right but it isn’t a done deal yet. If they lose Kansas and Georgia they would need to win three out of Iowa, Alaska, Louisiana and North Carolina.

Nate Silver’s analysis is here


General Debate 1 November 2014

November 1st, 2014 at 8:00 am by Kokila Patel

Amazon Day 1

October 31st, 2014 at 1:53 pm by David Farrar

After two days in La Paz, we got up at 4.15 am to make a 6.30 am flight to Rurrenabaque.


This is the airport we landed at. Not so much an airport as a strip.

So why did we fly to Rurrenabaque? Because it is the gateway to the Madidi National Park in the Amazon Rainforest.


We then headed by boat up the Beni River.


Had to check in at the National Park Service, and then continued up the Beni River, followed by the Tuichi River.


The boat trip was 100 kms in distance and took around five and a half hours.

This boat (not ours) got stuck, and you can see the guide trying to haul it out. There were many areas where it was very shallow and the engine had to come out of the water.


A flock of Cormorants.


Heading further upstream.


Three Capabanas. They’re the world’s largest rodent! Surprisingly cute.


Some tourists rafting down the river in a canoe.


We then arrived at the entry to Chalalan Eco-Lodge.


It’s a half hour walk into the lodge.


The lodge is next to Lake Chalalan, which is both beautiful, but also attracts a lot of wildlife.


This is a pair of Hoatzins. Stunning birds. They are the most genetically debated bird, with huge controversy over their taxonomy.


Another photo as I like the so much.


As we were hiking to the camp, our guide stopped us and told us there were some wild pigs nearby he could hear. We got nervous as they got closer and closer as the noise they were making had us thinking of something from Footrot Flats. Was relieved when we saw they were relatively small. However they are quite wild and can be nasty.



A yellow squirrel monkey. There’s quite a few of them down by the lagoon.


A termite nest on the tree by the river. They have them off the ground due to the Aardvarks!


A brown capuchin monkey.


A Cormorant out on the lake.


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Broadcasting Standards Authority – September Decisions

October 31st, 2014 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Guest Post by Nigel Kearney:

Broadcasting Standards Authority – September Decisions

The BSA issued 21 decisions in September made up of 9 TVNZ, 4 TV3, 5 radio, 1 Sky and 2 election ads. Only one was (partially) upheld and, as you would expect, most had no real merit and were quickly disposed of. The decisions can be found here.

There’s no point in trying to analyze the merit or reasoning of the decisions because the very existence of the BSA is inconsistent with free speech. But what we can do is amuse ourselves with the foolishness of the complainants and, occasionally, the authority itself.

The silliest complaint decided in September was made by a Rebecca van der Kley of Christchurch. It concerned a Fair Go investigation into a Christchurch roofer who had taken money from customers and not completed the work. The roofer was interviewed and gave his side of the story so you may wonder what the problem was.

One of the roofer’s excuses for his non-performance was that he had mental health issues. He volunteered this information when he knew he was on camera. Apparently Ms van der Kley was nevertheless sufficently outraged that she decided to lodge a complaint alleging a breach of the fraudster’s privacy.

It’s possible for anyone to complain to the BSA about a breach of someone else’s privacy. It doesn’t matter whether the ‘victim’ considers their privacy has been breached or may even have voluntarily revealed the information. These kind of complaints seem very popular. Normally, a complaint about breach of broadcasting standards has to be lodged with the broadcaster first but a privacy complaint can be made directly to the BSA. I’m no psychologist, but I think maybe the sort of people who make these complaints prefer a ‘blab to the teacher’ approach rather than directly confronting the person they have a problem with, and the privacy standard allows them to do that.

Dishonourable mentions for most unjustified complaining go to Metua Pekepo of Auckland for complaining about inaccuracy where the Internet party was referred to by the name of its bankroller instead of the offical party name, and to Elizabeth Samuel of Kaiapoi for complaining about the word ‘fuck’ being used in show screened after 8:30 and after a warning about ‘frequent use of coarse language’. Apparently it was too soon after 8:30 or something.

As I said above, I don’t believe the BSA serves any purpose, and therefore no complaint should be upheld ever. But it’s worth noting their rationale for declining a complaint by Victor Wieland of Auckland about lack of balance in a global warming story:

“…this item did not purport to discuss the different sides of the debate around the existence, or causes of climate change. It simply reported the latest findings of the IPCC, so it did not amount to a ‘discussion’ which required the presentation of alternative views.”

I wonder if it would be the same if there was a story on the economy consisting entirely of repeating some findings from the NZ Initiative.

This post would not be complete without mentioning the ‘heifers and lardos’ comment by Rachel Smalley. Chris Du Fall of Wellington saw fit to complain to the BSA about this even after the broadcaster itself upheld her complaint and apologized publicly. The BSA rightly rejected the complaint and also noted they would not have taken any action even if the broadcaster had done nothing. The actual comments were, of course, absolutely true and their broadcast was a valuable public service, albeit unintentional.


Green MP says Ebola should be treated with homeopathy

October 31st, 2014 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Green Party MP Steffan Browning maintains homeopathy is an option the World Health Organisation (WHO) should consider in treating Ebola, despite widespread criticism of his “barking mad” idea.

Browning signed an online petition this week which called for the WHO to end the suffering of the Ebola crisis by testing and distributing homeopathy as quickly as possible to contain the outbreaks.

Meet your future Minister of Health in a Labour-Greens Government!

This video gives you a good idea of how homeopathy works.

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Auckland should be allowed congestion charges or tolls

October 31st, 2014 at 11:44 am by David Farrar

The Herald editorial:

The Transport Minister, Simon Bridges, may not be as loud and brash in his pronouncements as his predecessors but the message yesterday remained the same. He was, he said, “very sceptical” about the options presented by an independent advisory board to the Auckland Council to plug a $12 billion transport funding gap over the next 30 years. Shorn of euphemism, that represented yet another Government thumbs-down for the recommended solutions to the city’s congestion woes.

The board suggested a toll of about $2 as drivers entered the city’s motorways, or a mixture of a rates rise of about 1 per cent and a 1.2 cents a litre higher regional fuel tax. The first would require Government approval which, clearly, will not be forthcoming. Mr Bridges said the motorway system was built by taxpayers, and any revenue raised from it would belong in the first instance to taxpayers. Never mind that the on-ramps are half-funded by ratepayers and offer an ideal and simple charging point. In the case of the second recommendation, the minister noted that rates were a matter for the council, but said the Government did not support new taxes or raising the national tax for the benefit of one region.

I support user pays for transport. A congestion charge is the best form of user pays – a market charge. A toll charge is also an efficient mechanism of making sure users of the transport system pay for the benefits they get from them.

So I don’t think the Government should rule out congestion charges or tolls for Auckland Council, or other councils.

However I do think their position that any charges should not apply to roads already paid for by the taxpayer is reasonable. They should ideally be used on new roads not existing ones. So the Government should allow tolls and congestion charges, but set down some rules for how they can be applied.

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General Debate 31 October 2014

October 31st, 2014 at 8:00 am by Kokila Patel

Harvard University Poll of US Millennial Voters

October 30th, 2014 at 1:24 pm by Lindsay Addie

The Harvard University Institute of Politics (IOP) has released its latest poll of Millennials. The poll has a margin of error of +/- 2.6% and polled American 2029 voters between the ages of 18-29 years old.

One of the key findings is that both the Democrats and Republicans have work to do to better understand and relate to this important and very large demographic.

“The IOP’s fall polling shows that young Americans care deeply about their country and are politically up-for-grabs,” said Harvard Institute of Politics Director Maggie Williams.  “Millennials could be a critical swing vote. Candidates for office: ignore millennial voters at your peril.”

“While Democrats have lost ground among members of America’s largest generation, millennial views of Republicans in Congress are even less positive,” said Harvard Institute of Politics Polling Director John Della Volpe.  “Both parties should re-introduce themselves to young voters, empower them and seek their participation in the upcoming 2016 campaign and beyond.”

The key findings based on the polling data according to the IOP are.

In Contrast to Four Years Ago, Slightly More Than Half of “Likely” Young Voters Prefer a Republican-controlled Congress.
While more 18- to 29- year-olds (50%-43%) surveyed in the IOP’s fall 2014 poll would prefer that Congress be controlled by Democrats instead of Republicans, the numbers improve dramatically for the GOP when only young people who say they will “definitely vote” are studied. Among these likely voters, the IOP’s latest poll shows the preference shifting, with slightly more than half (51%) preferring a Republican-run Congress and 47 percent wanting Democrats to be in charge – a significant change from the IOP’s last midterm election poll in the fall of 2010 when Democratic control was preferred among likely voters 55 percent to 43 percent.

President Obama’s Job Approval Rating Decreases, Nears Low-Water mark.
Overall, President Obama’s job performance among America’s 18-29 year-olds has fallen from 47% (April 2014) to 43 percent (53%: disapprove), the second-lowest rating in the IOP polls since he took office (41%: November 2013). Among 18-29 year-olds saying they will “definitely be voting in November,” the president’s job approval rating is 42 percent, with 56% saying they disapprove.

Deep Political Divisions Harden Along Racial Lines. The IOP’s fall poll finds young whites disapprove of President Obama’s job performance by more than a two-to-one margin (31% approve, 65% disapprove) while African-Americans continue to show a strong loyalty to the president, giving him a 78 percent approval rating (17% disapprove). This approval gap (47 percentage points) among Whites and African-Americans is significantly wider than the 36 percentage point gap in Obama’s approval rating between African-American and whites found in fall 2009 IOP polling.

Millennial Interest in Midterm Voting Similar to 2010 Levels; Conservatives Seem More Enthusiastic. Roughly one-in-four (26%) young Americans under the age of 30 say that they will “definitely be voting” in the fall, a very similar proportion to that seen during a similar time period prior to the 2010 midterm elections (27%: Sept. 2010). Further, compared to the last midterm election of 2010, traditional Republican constituencies seem to be showing more enthusiasm than Democratic ones for participating in the upcoming midterm elections and are statistically more likely to say they will “definitely be voting.

Hispanic Support for President Obama is Weakening. Support for the president among young Hispanics, who just two years ago supported Obama over Mitt Romney by 51-points (74% to 23%), appears to be weakening. The president’s job approval rating among Hispanics now sits at the lowest since the IOP began tracking the administration in 2009.

[Note]: Only the first part of some of the categories are cited here as some sections are long.

It will be interesting to see how accurate these results are in reference to next weeks election and how presidential candidates for the 2016 try to reach out to Millennials.


General Debate 30 October 2014

October 30th, 2014 at 8:00 am by Kokila Patel

White House Correspondents Criticise Transparency of Obama Administration

October 29th, 2014 at 1:00 pm by Lindsay Addie

Erik Wemple in the Washington Post reports on growing frustration amongst senior White House correspondents.

At some point, a compendium of condemnations against the Obama administration’s record of media transparency (actually, opacity) must be assembled. Notable quotations in this vein come from former New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson, who said, “It is the most secretive White House that I have ever been involved in covering”; New York Times reporter James Risen, who said, “I think Obama hates the press”; and CBS News’s Bob Schieffer, who said, “This administration exercises more control than George W. Bush’s did, and his before that.”

USA Today Washington Bureau Chief Susan Page has added a sharper edge to this set of knives. Speaking Saturday at a White House Correspondents’ Association (WHCA) seminar, Page called the current White House not only “more restrictive” but also “more dangerous” to the press than any other in history, a clear reference to the Obama administration’s leak investigations and its naming of Fox News’s James Rosen as a possible “co-conspirator” in a violation of the Espionage Act.

Wemple goes on to catalogue a long series of instances of the White House not being willing to release and discuss new stories or release relevant information on issues. This is all on top of reports that the administration is obscuring facts on Obamacare. The White House response to the criticism was as follows.

When asked about this stuff, White House spokesman Eric Schultz issued this (on-the-record) response: “We believe in the value of transparency, and that is why we work to provide as much access as we can. That said, the press has a responsibility to always push for more access and if they didn’t, they wouldn’t be doing their jobs.”

The official statement on transparency and open government by Barack Obama from the White House website says in part.

My Administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in Government.  We will work together to ensure the public trust and establish a system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration. Openness will strengthen our democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in Government.

Government should be transparent.  Transparency promotes accountability and provides information for citizens about what their Government is doing.  Information maintained by the Federal Government is a national asset. My Administration will take appropriate action, consistent with law and policy, to disclose information rapidly in forms that the public can readily find and use. 

If the President and Eric Shultz believe in transparency, how are they certain that the administration is achieving this goal? President Obama is currently having to run a lot of defensive plays, more than a few of these are ill-conceived and clumsy that aren’t helping the perception that openness is sometimes lacking. Also he hasn’t as yet sold the transparent open government argument successfully to the White House press core.

My own view is that part of the problem for Obama is of his own making and also he probably has the balance wrong in terms of who is advising him. There seems to be a lot of political advisors and not enough policy advisors, or the policy advisors simply don’t have enough influence. This could be critical for his last two years in the White House as Obama isn’t a policy wonk a la Bill Clinton who for all his moral faults did have a much better grasp of complex issues.

Finally, how long before Obama’s enemies start quoting the first amendment of the US Constitution and using it against him again?

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La Paz

October 29th, 2014 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Landed at La Paz, Bolivia at 3 am so did little the first day except sleep, and a walk around the neighbourhood.


We’re staying in the diplomatic area. This is the nearby US Embassy.


Even in Bolivia, zombie movies are the rage.


A statue of Charlie Chaplin. He is credited with inspiring the introduction of the bowler hat to the Quechua women in Bolivia.


Thanks to Trip Advisor, found an excellent tapas wine bar.


The next day we did a half day tour of La Paz. It is truly a mountain city. At the top you are above 4,000 metres.


They have built almost everywhere/


We were very lucky that this gondola opened just a few weeks ago. A great way to get around, and to get to the top.


One of their many football grounds. La Paz is the only FIFA approved ground in the world over 2,500 metres. There was a lot of lobbying to have it approved.


A Quechuan in native dress.


Did a quick our around Moon Valley.


Love this clay structure which looks like some sort of lizard.


This peak is called Devil’s Tooth.


Also toured a local craftsman where we purchased the mugs above, and some jewelry.


The frotn flag is the flag of Bolivia and the more colourful one behind is the indigenous flag.


This is their Parliament Buildings.


Looks closely at the clock, to notice anything different.


The Presidential Palace, with a guard outside. We got to see the changing of the guard.


This is the main plaza by Parliament.


Thousands of pigeons here and if you have food for them, they are not shy.


Saw two women (trying to) walk this dog. He is a puppy – only a year old!


Finally a visit to the Witches’ Market.


That would be such a cool ski hat!


The market had a variety of, umm, interesting artifacts.


This is the Andean Santa Claus. Love it.


some beautiful architecture on the walk home.


Am amusement fair in the local park.


And one of many statues and small parks in La Paz. This is two blocks from our hotel – the Hotel Mitru, which was very good except for the noise from the night club across the road!


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General Debate 29 October 2014

October 29th, 2014 at 8:00 am by Kokila Patel

Hillary Clinton Back Pedals on Job Creation Comments

October 28th, 2014 at 5:55 pm by Lindsay Addie

Three days after saying that business doesn’t create jobs Hillary Clinton has found it necessary to back pedal CNN reports.

Friday at a campaign rally for Massachusetts Democratic gubernatorial candidate Martha Coakley, the former secretary of state told the crowd, “Don’t let anybody tell you that it’s corporations and businesses that create jobs,” going on to say trickle-down economics “has failed rather spectacularly.”

Republicans seized on the sentence, seemingly made for an anti-Hillary Clinton campaign ad. America Rising, the main anti-Clinton super-PAC, is featuring it on the header of its website.

The Wall Street Journal reported on Clinton’s attempt to walk back her original remarks.

“I shorthanded this point the other day, so let me be absolutely clear about what I’ve been saying for a couple of decades,” said Mrs. Clinton, who is widely expected to run for president in 2016.

“Our economy grows when businesses and entrepreneurs create good-paying jobs here in an America where workers and families are empowered to build from the bottom up and the middle out — not when we hand out tax breaks for corporations that outsource jobs or stash their profits overseas.”

It is a certainty that if Hillary does become the Democratic Party nominee more will be heard of this. As CNN also point out it isn’t the first gaffe on things economic this year by Clinton.

In early June, during her book tour, Clinton made a major gaffe when she said, “We came out of the White House not only dead broke, but in debt,” a comment that critics cited as evidence she is out of touch with everyday Americans.

Loose lips can hurt a prospective run to win the White House. Mitt Romney found this out the hard way when his remarks were secretly taped at the private fundraiser in September 2012.

[]UPDATE]: Corrected typo.

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October 28th, 2014 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

After Quito, we headed North for a day a a night to visit Otavalo. It is a mainly indigenous city of 90,000.


On the way we noticed this intimidating wall with not just barbed wire, but also spikes. We wondered if it was a prison. It turned out it was a school. We asked if the spikes are to keep the students in, or strangers out. It seems that the school is a prestige girls’ school, and the spikes are to keep the boys out. From time to time a few have made it in. I’m just glad the security at Erskine College in Wellington wasn’t like this :-)


Possibly the largest retaining wall I have seen, to protect the main road from landslides.


The view coming into Otavalo.


Otavalo is famous for its markets. We spent a couple of hours at them bargaining away for various artworks, belts, bags, scarves and jewelry.



A short drive from the city, is a lovely park and camping area.


This is the Peguche Waterfall.


Our accommodation for the night was at the Las Palmeras Inn, where you get your own bungalow.


With a nice fireplace inside.


This was the dining hall.


And rather amusing was this sculpture on the roof. It is amusing because guinea pigs are a delicacy in Ecuador, and the dining room was known as the guinea pig room. I guess the angel was taking its soul to guinea pig heaven!


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Jeb Bush and a Run at the Presidency

October 28th, 2014 at 10:43 am by Lindsay Addie

There has been widespread media coverage on whether or not Jeb Bush will make a run for the presidency in 2016. Chris Cilliza from the Washington Post reports.

Jeb Bush is more likely than not to run for president in 2016, according to a somewhat garbled quote over the weekend from his son George P. Bush, who is running for Texas land commissioner this fall.  But just because Bush is — or at least might be — running doesn’t mean he will win. In fact, even calling Jeb the frontrunner is a drastic overstatement.

“The 2016 field is wide open for business [and] while Governor Bush will be a formidable competitor, he will not clear the field nor have an insurmountable lead,” said Dave Carney, a New Hampshire Republican consultant who served as a senior adviser to Rick Perry’s 2012 campaign.

So what are some of the important factors according to Cilliza?

1. Polling.  This is the most obvious way to debunk the idea that the nomination would be Bush’s for the asking. In a field with Mitt Romney, Bush would place second — 10 points behind the 2008 and 2012 candidate — in a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll on the 2016 GOP field.  Take Romney out — since he’s almost certainly not running — and Jeb does place first with 15 percent. But Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul takes 12 percent and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee is at 11 percent — not to mention a slew of other potential candidates in the high single digits.  So yes, Jeb is the “leader” in that poll, but some large chunk of that support, at least at this point in the race, is dependent on the fact that people know his name.

I’m not sure that too much can be read into these polls at this very early stage. Furthermore frequently the early frontrunners don’t actually become the nominee.

2. Common Core + immigration reform. Bush is on the wrong side — or at least, on the side opposite the party base — on both of these issues. On Common Core, a series of nationalized education standards, conservatives — including people like Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal who will likely run for president in 2016 — have condemned it as a classic case of the federal government thinking it knows best. Bush, on the other hand, has been vocally supportive of Common Core — insisting that while it is not a perfect system, it is necessary to ensure American children can compete against children from around the world.

Bush will need conservatives to be motivated to support and actually go and vote for him if he’s the GOP nominee. Supporting Common Core certainly isn’t going to endear him to conservatives, the same applies to his current stance on immigration.

3. Tone.  It’s not only — per point No. 2 above — that Jeb is out of step with the Republican base (and many of the people he would run against) on two big issues. It’s his overall tone and approach to issues and politics that will hurt him, said one senior Republican consultant who has worked at the presidential level in the past but is not aligned with any candidate for 2016.  “I think his problem isn’t so much specific issues, it’s his approach to how he discusses them,” said the source. “It shows how out of touch he is with the grass roots.

So what about the fact that he’s part of the Bush clan?

4. The dynasty thing. Yes, I realize the irony of including this point in a piece that accepts the idea of Hillary Clinton as the default Democratic nominee. But unlike Clinton, Bush would face real and serious opposition for the nomination if he ran. And that means that the idea that he is part of the past and his opponents are part of the future could be potentially damaging to his chances. “The sense I get from just ordinary folks is, ‘enough with the Bushes,’ ”  said one Republican consultant unaffiliated in the presidential contest. “Hell, even Barbara Bush herself said that!” If Jeb runs, he will need to come up with a smart response to the attack that by nominating him Republicans would forfeit one of their best hits on Hillary Clinton — that she is simply old news.

What will get thrown back at him in both the primaries and especially in the general election is the argument that neither Bush I and II had great records in economic management. Also the comment by Barbara Bush is very pertinent. A younger candidate would bring different advantages in the general election in 2016. Both McCain and Romney were big targets for the Democrats simply because they’d already had long careers.

[UPDATE]: Information on Common Core standards can be found here

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General Debate 28 October 2014

October 28th, 2014 at 8:00 am by Kokila Patel

Bishop’s Maiden

October 28th, 2014 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

Chris Bishop was given the honour of leading off the Address in Reply debate on behalf of National, and I think almost everyone would agree he was an excellent pick.

Some extracts I particularly liked:

I come to this House as someone who has always, for as long as I can recall, been interested in politics, history, public policy, and the law. My parents, John Bishop and Rosemary Dixon, are to blame. From dad I got my love of politics. Dad was in the press gallery from 1982 to 1987. He was chief parliamentary reporter for TVNZ during that momentous year of 1984. The political bug was transferred to me, or so the family joke goes, when he was told to talk to his new baby. Most people would choose to talk about the weather, what is on TV, or something like that; his topic of choice was none other than this man called Sir Robert Muldoon. I have had an enduring fascination with him and his politics ever since. Growing up I would pepper dad for stories about his time as a journalist—about the night of the 1984 snap election, about the night of the Mount Erebus crash, about travelling with Geoffrey Palmer to try to save the ANZUS alliance. I drank it all in, and those stories and those lessons have shaped who I am today. From mum I got my love of the law, particularly public law. From both my parents I gained an interest in ideas, in current affairs, and in the world around me. Growing up, our household was one where everyone was expected to have a view and not to be shy about expressing it. Indeed, both my parents were champion debaters, and mum was instrumental in establishing the New Zealand Schools’ Debating Council, which I was president of for 4 years much later in life. Almost every year since 1988 the grand final of the Russell McVeagh National Championships have been held where we were this morning—the Legislative Council Chamber . There are now four alumni of the championships who have become MPs: Jacinda Ardern, Megan Woods, Holly Walker, and myself. I am pleased that our side of the House is now represented on that list, and I am sure that there will be many more in the years to come.

Chris is a formidable debater, and I expect he will become a strong presence in the House.

My dad’s side of the family—although, I should say, not necessarily my dad, whose politics I do not know—is true blue. The Bishops were farmers at Hillend, outside Balclutha in South Otago. My poppa Stuart joined Wright Stephenson in 1928 and worked for it until he retired, interrupted only by World War II, where he fought at Monte Cassino . Stewart and Cora Bishop almost certainly voted National their entire lives. They referred to national superannuation as “Rob’s lolly”.

My mother’s side of the family could not be more different. They were Methodists in the great reforming progressive tradition, and Labour voters to their toes. One great-grandfather was a wharfie who won the honoured 151-day loyalty card during the 1951 strike. My grandfather Haddon Dixon was a Methodist minister, a social activist, a director of CORSO, and an inveterate follower of politics. He was the sort of man for whom Parliament TV was made. My nana was a progressive socialist. In 1981, as a 61-year-old, sickened by apartheid in South Africa, she joined the “Stop the Tour” movement, helped organise a sit-down protest on the Hutt motorway during the Wellington test, refused to move, and was duly arrested.

She happily did her 200 hours’ community service painting the Barnardos centre in Waterloo Road in the Hutt, so I think I get my social liberalism and my reforming zeal from my grandparents, although, it is fair to say, not my Labour Party politics. I come to this House as a 31-year-old, a representative of Generation Y. Our generation does not remember needing a doctor’s prescription to buy margarine or needing permission from the Reserve Bank to subscribe to a foreign magazine or any of the other absurdities of life in the Fortress New Zealand economy. It seems scarcely believable to us that from 1982 to 1984 all wages and prices in New Zealand were frozen by prime ministerial fiat. For our generation, inflation has always been low, we have always been nuclear-free, homosexuality has always been legal, and the Treaty settlement process has always been under way. New Zealand is a completely different country to what it was when I was born, and I have always been profoundly fascinated by that transformation and what its effects have been.

The post Muldoon generation do not understand why we have political parties that seem to paint the 1970s as the high point for New Zealand.

It intrigues me, for example, that although Bob Hawke and Paul Keating are regarded by the Labor movement in Australia as heroes and receive standing ovations at Labor conferences to this day, New Zealand’s own Labour reformers are essentially pariahs from their party. I think a significant portion of the left in New Zealand has never made its peace with the economic reforms of the 1980s and 1990s, and in some ways the debate inside the Labour Party today is the most visible manifestation of that lack of reconciliation.

Sadly there seems to be not a Labour MP left in caucus, who defends the legacy of the 4th Labour Government.

A maiden speech is traditionally the time to put on the record your principles, philosophy, and beliefs. I will do so with the caveat that I am not so arrogant as to think that my current views are immutable. Some of my political heroes said things in their maiden speeches they almost certainly would not have agreed with later in their careers. Roger Douglas’ maiden speech in 1969, for example, is extremely sceptical of the benefits of foreign investment in New Zealand. In 1970 Paul Keating told the Australian Parliament that the Commonwealth Government should set up a statutory authority to fix the prices of all goods and services in the Australian economy and he bemoaned the number of young mothers who were entering the workforce. I think good politicians listen, reflect, read, and think deeply about the world, and, if necessary, change their minds. I hope to always be open to that in my time in this House.

Indeed. You should have convictions and ideas when you enter Parliament, but you should also be able to change your mind to changing circumstances and superior arguments.

I am an unashamed economic and social liberal. The classical annunciation of liberalism within the National Party remains John Marshall’s maiden speech as the member for Mount Victoria in 1947. I believe, as he did, that the conditions of a good society are liberty, property, and security, and the greatest of these is liberty. I think individuals make better decisions about their own lives than Governments do. A fundamental belief in the primacy of the individual over the collective should be the lodestar that guides all good Governments. I think we should trust individuals more than we do and be more sceptical about the ability of the Government to solve social problems. I believe that the best way to deliver the prosperity New Zealanders deserve is through a globally competitive market-based economy that rewards enterprise and innovation. The reforms of the 1980s and 1990s were vitally important in transforming New Zealand from a sclerotic economic basket case to a modern, functioning, competitive economy, but there is more to be done.

Lower taxes, less inefficient Government transfers, less corporate welfare, more trade liberalisation and less regulation would be a start.

I support a tolerant, multicultural New Zealand that is confident, proud, and open to the world. Our society is enriched greatly by migration. The periodic desire by some to scapegoat migrants I find is deeply distasteful. I am proud of how far New Zealand has come in only one generation from an inward-looking, insular economy and society to one that is increasingly internationally connected and confident on the world stage. I believe that we can responsibly develop our natural resources and improve our environment at the same time. We are blessed with abundant natural resources in New Zealand, both renewable and non-renewable, and we are not wealthy enough as a nation to not take advantage of them. What we know from history is that the wealthier a country is, the more able it is to take practical steps to improve the environment. Some of the most polluted places on Earth were in the communist Soviet Union. Growing out economy through the responsible development of our resources gives us the ability to preserve things precious to New Zealand like our rivers, lakes, and national parks.

Yes, the economy and the environment are not in opposition. The cure to dirty rivers is not to shoot one in five dairy cows.

I have a profound belief in free speech, the power of ideas, and the importance of persuasion by those in public office. Fundamental sustainable change in public policy is only ever achieved when the argument is won. That is how marriage equality was achieved. It is how Treaty settlements were started and how they have continued. It is how we tore down the walls of the Fortress New Zealand economy. Leaders in this Parliament made the case for those things and won the argument. One of the proudest moments of my life was to debate in the Oxford Union, standing at the same dispatch box that Lange stood at when he delivered his famous speech on the moral indefensibility of nuclear weapons. Lange was at his best when he was arguing. I believe Bill English had it right in his maiden speech as the member for Wallace in 1991: “What I bring to this job is a willingness to get into the argument rather than to avoid it. I owe it to my voters to present in Parliament what is best in them—a credible, constructive, and committed argument. Power without persuasion has no lasting place in a democracy.” As long as I am an MP I will always try to present credible and constructive arguments and I will always be willing to have one.

Sadly the last Labour Government tried to close down much free speech with their Electoral Finance Bill. Today’s law is much better than what was proposed, but it is still too restrictive.

We are the first Government in a long time that has a resolute focus on tackling some of the intractable social problems that have bedevilled New Zealand for too long such as a persistent underclass, welfare dependency, Māori and Pasifika educational underachievement, and poor-quality social housing. We are not doing this simply by throwing more money at problems. Care for those most vulnerable in our community is not, or should not be, measured by the amount of money spent, the number of bureaucratic agencies set up, or the number of people employed to deal with the problem. We should judge policy by results. Milton Friedman was right: “One of the great mistakes is to judge policies and programmes by their intentions rather than their results.”

This is I think a key difference between right and left. Many on the left do think it is the amount you spend that matters. National’s Better Public Services targets has for the first time incentivised the state to focus on outcomes, not outputs.

One thing that I am personally passionate about is our plan to reward excellent teachers and keep them in the classroom, doing what they do best—changing kids’ lives. Everyone remembers their amazing teachers growing up. It is simply wrong that the classic career pathway for teachers at the moment involves leaving the classroom to move into administration.

Absolutely. The most important reform this term I’d say.

When people look back on this passage in New Zealand’s history, it is my fervent hope that they will recognise that it was the fifth National Government that put in place the reforms to raise the quality of teaching in our schools, that challenge the soft bigotry of low expectations, that made progress on tackling child abuse and family violence, that made social housing actually work for people, and that invested in people to support their aspirations for independence from the State. This Government’s signal economic achievements are important, but I think and hope this Government will be known for much more than that.

The bigotry of low expectations is one I particularly dislike.

As I said, an excellent maiden speech. There have been and will be many other fine ones. I normally try to do a summary of each one, but as I am on holiday, I won’t have the time. But they are all on the parliamentary website.

I booked my holiday for October/November on the assumption that Winston would hold the balance of power and take six weeks to decide, ad hence I would get back just in time for the new Parliament. Pleased to say things moved faster than that, even if it means I have missed the first few weeks of the 51st Parliament.

However the Herald has very usefully done a summary of the maiden speeches to date.

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Obscuring facts on Obamacare

October 27th, 2014 at 10:42 am by Lindsay Addie

The New York Times reports:

With health insurance marketplaces about to open for 2015 enrollment, the Obama administration has told insurance companies that it will delay requirements for them to disclose data on the number of people enrolled, the number of claims denied and the costs to consumers for specific services.

For months, insurers have been asking the administration if they had to comply with two sections of the Affordable Care Act that require “transparency in coverage.”

In a bulletin sent to insurers last week, the administration said, “We do not intend to enforce the transparency requirements until we provide further guidance.” Administration officials said the government and insurers needed more time to collect and analyze the data.

Some are unhappy that key information isn’t readily available.

Consumer advocates said they were disappointed because the information would be helpful to millions of consumers shopping for insurance in the open enrollment period that starts on Nov. 15. The data will not be available before the enrollment period closes on Feb. 15.

So what does the law say?

Under the law, consumers in each state have access to a public marketplace, or exchange, where they can buy insurance and apply for federal subsidies to help pay premiums.

The law says each exchange shall require insurers to disclose their claims payment policies, “data on enrollment, data on disenrollment, data on the number of claims that are denied, data on rating practices” and information on the use of doctors and hospitals outside a health plan’s network.

Moreover, the law says, insurers must allow consumers to “learn the amount of cost-sharing (including deductibles, co-payments and co-insurance) under the individual’s plan or coverage that the individual would be responsible for paying with respect to the furnishing of a specific item or service.”

“At a minimum,” the law says, “such information shall be made available to such individuals through an Internet website” and by other means for people without access to the web.

So where does all this leave consumers?

Many people obtaining coverage under the Affordable Care Act have never had commercial insurance, and even experienced consumers are sometimes baffled by the intricacies of insurance policies, including provider networks and deductibles.

This isn’t a very good look for Barack Obama and his administration with not a lot of transparency going on here. It is very difficult not to reach the conclusion that this is something to do with the mid-term elections. Also there is no solid evidence either that the insurance companies are fired up about being open with customers.

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Population proportions under 14 years old

October 27th, 2014 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

The World Bank has interesting data on what proportion of a country’s population is aged 14 and under.

The smallest are:

  1. Hong Kong 12%
  2. Japan 13%
  3. Germany 13%

The largest are:

  1. Niger 50%
  2. Uganda 48%
  3. Chad 48%
  4. Angola 48%
  5. Afghanistan 47%

NZ has 20% aged under 14.

Those with such high proportions will have both low life expectancy but sadly very high birth rates.

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Review “Fury” (Brad Pitt) the Tank movie 2014

October 27th, 2014 at 9:59 am by Kokila Patel

By John Stringer

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FURY opened on Friday and I went to the premier.  I really enjoyed this movie and give it 9/10 stars. It is directed by David Ayer of Fast and the Furious (2001).

Spoiler Alerts.

Set in April 1945 as the war is drawing to a close, Bratt Pitt, the Sgt commander of a US A4 Sherman tank crew, has been “killing Germans first in Africa, then in France, now in Germany…It’ll be over soon, but before then Norman, a whole lota more people gotta die.”

The Allies are making their final push towards heartland Germany but encountering dogged resistance every step forward, so the merciless killing escalates. The film actually opens with a txt on black…“In WW II American tank crews were out gunned and out armoured, and suffered greatly at the hands of superior German technology” or words to that effect. Ok, that pretty much sets the scene for us.

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This is a grimier, dirtier, more ghastly portrayal of war, especially tank warfare, than Saving Private Ryan 1998 (Tom Hanks). It’s more in common with Enemy At the Gates 2001 (about Stalingrad with Ed Harris, Jude Law). But it’s a quality addition to the WW II war movie genre. It’s about the traumatised men: their numbness, shock, endurance, and tenacity.

Brad Pitt plays a battle-hardened tank sergeant (Sgt. Don ‘Wardaddy’ Collier) commanding a M4 Sherman tank and her five-man crew (2nd Armoured Division). They are out-numbered, out-gunned, and have a rookie soldier thrust into their platoon who was trained to type 60-word- a-minute.  His first task is to literally scrape the face of his predecessor off the inside wall of “Fury,” the tank, their “home.”  He vomits.  The bucket of cold water just smears the blood everywhere.

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Clockwise left to right: 1) Navigator radio op. Boyd ‘Bible’ (arya saved?) Swan; 2) asst. driver the greenhorn Norman; senior driver ‘Gordo’ Garcia, Sgt Don ‘Wardaddy’ Collier, and the sinister brute gunner Grady ‘Coon-ass’ Travis.

The gunner is a volatile menacing moldy-teethed brute called Grady ‘Coon-Ass’ Travis played by Jon Bernthal, better known to us as Rick’s family friend Shane in Walking Dead 2 whom he was forced to murder at the end of the season.  Then there’s Boyd ‘Bible’ Swan, a weeping, smoking “are you saved” Christian with doe eyes (Shie LaBeouf). Latino Michael Pena plays ‘Gordo’ Garcia the all-important driver, and “Norman” is the rookie assistant driver and machine gun operator who goes to church.

There’s lots of philosophical jostling about war, life and death.  “Boys, God says we can kill ‘em but not screw ‘em!” There is a facetious tank crew motto, “Best job I ever had.”

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This would be their tank shoulder patch [the 2nd Armoured Div] and you glimpse it occasionally in the movie.

The 2nd Armoured Division crew are advancing with the 66th Armored Regiment in a normal platoon of four tanks. Pitt’s 5-man team is the only crew to have come through together since D-Day.  Pitt has the usual head-holding stress attacks like Cpt John Miller of Private Ryan (Tom Hanks) about losing men, but hides it. But you can see it in his eyes.  Nevertheless he’s ruthless, cynical, hard-bitten, and will do whatever he has to keep himself and his men alive. This includes ‘blooding’ Norman in to shooting a German prisoner in the back.  “It’s you or him…you gonna get me killed Norman?…shoot him.  Do your job.”


There’s no Cpt. Miller letting Germans go in this movie and Pitt rips up the Germans family photos before he’s shot.  This is tough love and the raw morality of the jungle.

Norman resists and, a church goer, tries to hold on to his humanity, but as they pass power poles with children hanging from them and other SS atrocities, this incongruity is evoked.  His ‘humanity’ risks the lives of his crew-members and when he acts too slowly, a tank crew is hit in front of them and a tanker burns to death.  “That’s your fault Norman, that’s on you, you see what you did? Do your job!” They are, lirerally, a killing machine and must not falter.


Some great scenes in this film.  A highlight is their encounter with a much-feared Panzer VI (Tiger I) tank which ambushes their 4 tank platoon and “boils up” three (men roasted alive) while Pitt and “Fury” charge it to get around behind it and pierce the back armour.  Their missiles bounce helplessly off.  It takes composure and nerve while their mates are being blown to literal roasted pieces around them. High stress white knuckle stuff.


This is the best tank duel I’ve seen on screen.  It is fierce, deadly, nerve-wracking and desperate. You get how vulnerable, scared cr**pless the tankers must have been up against a Tiger, and how utterly brave they all were. The American attrition rate was catastrophic.

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Two of my own 1/72 painted WW II models. I have four 3-tank platoons of Tigers (top) and about 40 Shermans (right); about the right ratio for a fair duel.

The Tiger was actually the first German tank to be captured by the Allies.  There is only one working Tiger left in the world today. Some sobering statistics: it took ultimately several thousand Shermansto wipe out 1500 Tigers (each tank has a crew of 5).  Shermans were a piece of tin against a better-designed, harder-hitting, longer-range metal monster.  It would normally take 4 or 5 Shermans to take out a Tiger, which is why it was feared so much.  The Russians simply mobbed them with T34s.  There are supposed to be no more Tigers left, but Pitt’s platoon is ambushed by one.

I really like how the CGI is done for the armour-piercing rounds.  It’s so violent, so fast, so total in its devastation. Like lasers of death.

Another great scene, is after a battle and the US Army haven take a town.  Pitt and Norman go upstairs and connect with two German civilian women. It is tense with suggested occupier rights to imminent rape, but Pitt intervenes with some eggs he’s found and asks for them to be cooked (women as cooks rather than rape victims). There is some piano playing and singing, a sanctuary of civilisation in this otherwise ghastly hell-hole. Until the other crew-members arrive.

before they arrive, young Norman takes the younger women in the back room (Sgt Collier: “If you don’t take that healthy lookin’ girl in back, I will!”).  When the older German woman tries to intervene, Pitt says forcefully, “Nein!  …They are young, and alive.” (ie, let them be).

But belligerence arrives emphasized by some discordant gorilla bashing on the piano in contrast to Norman’s previous playing by the other tank crew-members as Pitt attempts to preserve this small island of normality centered around the poached eggs. (Sarcastically) “Oo, it must be Norrr-man day.” “You weren’t there in France Norman.  You like horses? It took us three days to shoot all demhorses…the swarms of flies were like fog.”

In this scene we also see that Pitt’s back is completely burned.  However, the war calls, and they have to press on.  It is reminiscent of the little French girl scene and her parents in the sniper incident in Private Ryan. Good people die.

The film comes to an almighty climax, as Pitt’s platoon is ordered to hold a cross roads to stop an unknown German troop getting around the side.  3 of the 4 tanks are knocked out en route by the Tiger, but Fury decides to go anyway and hold the cross roads alone. Their track gets blown off and they are immobilised.  Then a crack SS Panzer Grenadier troop (“maybe 2 or 300 hundred”) with tracked vehicles advances down the road toward them on dusk.

They disguise the tank with a burning German and other debris and set a point blank ambush. All hell breaks loose and it is a sustained and dramatic finale to an excellent movie.

One brickbat (Spoiler). When some Germans finally get two stick grenades inside to finish off a dying sniper-riddled Pitt, they explode. But when Norman crawls back inside through the floor hatch, Pitt is not minced all over the interior of the hull, as he should have been. I deleted one star from 10 for that. I guess Pitt is too pretty for that.

The action is dramatic and riveting.  The characters are solid. I especially liked the interplay between several of them about theology and in the end when Pitt surprisingly quotes Isaiah 6 back at ‘Bible’ Swan.  Like Pitt, I knew the reference, which was gratifying. This recalls Cpt Miller and the secret of his pre-war vocation (English teacher) among his platoon.  Perhaps Pitt was a minister or something before the war and has hidden it to be a killing machine to keep his men alive. It surprises ‘Bible’ Swan. Later he does the same when he’s shot and dying, quoting scripture to Norman. So there is a strong tilt to the redemptive qualities of Christianity in terms of duty, death, and redemption in this movie. This is contextual and valid in the context of WW II American soldiers.

But it is not clean.  Human flesh is squashed indiscernibly into the mud. Heads and limbs get blown off and people rejoice in their killing.  I also appreciated this is not American 100 bad guys shot to every 1 good guy Gun-ho. No, this is more realistic. Americans are out-gunned. They die.  No nationalist propaganda here, just the cruel hard, soul-destroying realities of tank warfare in the mud of 1945 German fields and towns with Tigers prowling around.

Some great lines in the movie:

“Norman, ideas are peaceful, history is violent.”

“Ya see that Norman?  That is a city on fire.”

Some visuals I enjoyed: the grimey mud and subdued palette of the film without drawing too much attention to itself; the small round tanker rock climber helmets they wear, which are a bit dorky, but utilitarian and for me, juxtapose the heroic male coolness factor. Just men doing the hard stuff.  I liked the look.

I totally recommend this film, especially for the blokes. To conclude, I can’t leave you without this commentary and the Tiger fight scene (spoiler).

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Part 6 GANGNAM Style: Visiting North & South Korea 2014

October 27th, 2014 at 9:00 am by Kokila Patel

By John Stringer

Typical shopping plaza in South Korea (Incheon) that at night transforms to a Times Square-type neon tapestry. And some more of that modern architecture I mentioned.

36KoreaPic copy

37KoreaPic copy

Back to the JSA.  So, this is where the two Korean borders converge inside the DMZ. The Joint Security Area is the only portion of the Korean Demilitarized Zone where South and North Korean forces stand face-to-face and ‘share’ an enclosed area that straddles both countries. For this reason it is often called the “Truce Village” by the media and the military or as I call it the Standoff OK Corral.

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North Korea is above the red MDL line (Military Demarcation Line) which transects the blue conference rooms. The House of Freedomis the main gathering building for South tourists with the curved roof (photo below) across which is the Panmon Hall or Tongilgak I think it is also called. Behind that is a North barracks which is why this area is so tense.  It could be overrun quite easily, which would essentially cause a war.  Note that there are lots of access roads on the North side up to the MDL, but hardly any on the South, which identifies the respective intents.

The MDL line is demarcated by a series of white 1m high wooden posts set at 10m intervals so that the boundary is unequivocal.  The post line extends between the blue conference rooms as a concrete sill, which you can see in the photos. Inside those buildings, the space becomes ‘shared’ but the north half is seen as North Korean, etc.

The JSA is used by the two Koreas for diplomatic meetings and, until March 1991, was also the site of military negotiations between North Korea and the United Nations Command (UNC). Troops and even past Koreans leaders have actually met here, to agree terms, set boundaries and protocols.  For example, North & South Korean troops met and mingled while inspecting open casket repatriations of UN troops in 1993.  In the conference rooms, the respective parties meet turn and turn about (ie they have turns to call a meeting) to discuss minor armistice violations, various admin., and the Olympics. There are two representatives of the Chinese army present.  Only the senior officer of the calling side speaks.  A statement is read first in Korean, then English, then Chinese.  These meetings are extremely formal, often hostile and always unfriendly.  There are no mutual greetings or handshakes.

I asked why some of the South side soldiers stand half obscured behind the buildings.  This is to present only half a target in case of a sudden attack, ie at least two soldiers might remain to defend the MDL.  This indicates how hazardous this duty is.

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In this photo is the North Korean Tongilgak white building at the back. Note in this older photo it has only two stories. The concrete ‘post’ sill runs left to right immediately behind the brown soft hat North Korean with his back to us.

40KoreaPic copy

In our photo 2014 you can see the North Koreans have added a third story, apparently a recreation room. But it is hardly ever used, sitting there simply to be higher than the South Korean Freedom House (see below).

The blue buildings are conference rooms and management rooms where officials from both sides can meet.  For example, the two security forces for the JSA meet in the blue building to the right to discuss tensions and incidents in an attempt to diffuse issues.  Despite being very formal and not friendly, it seems to work.  The blue building to the left is the conference room and we move single file in to here under strict behaviour instructions and with an armed guard.  The 38th parallel goes right through this building and even the central table, so half is North Korea.  There is a door on their side that is locked from the outside.  South Korea has a door on their side, also locked from the outside.  At agreed periods, each side can bring their tourists in to this conference room where a number of high level meetings have taken place, but never together.

Note the number of windows, 3 for each side and one in the middle which is neutral. If you were to escape to either side, this is the place and there have been attempts. There was a gunfight when a man fled from the North side over to South Korea.  He dropped into a sunken garden area (before the current complexes were built) and there was a gun fight.

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The door to North Korea. The ROK soldier stands guard on the North Korean side of the room, during their allocated inhabitation period.

Inside the conference room, which is bright sky blue, are mahogany tables and chairs.  Its quite cramped and only really for conferences, rather than tourists cramming in.  But its fascinating being in here and standing ‘over the line’ on the North Korean side.

This obscenity actually explains a lot about North Korea.  For them, much of the division is about their mana.  They want everything equal and even minor imbalances are seen as threatening their fragile sense of nationhood (ala the Axe Murder Incident, more later) or cultural self esteem.

Take North Korea’s big white Tongilgak/Panmon Hall behind.  It used to be only two levels, but when the JSA nations put some communications stuff on their roof, which made it slightly higher, well the North Koreans immediately built that whole third floor, simply to be “higher” than South Korea.

Below is what the view is from the North side.  You can see the communications installations covered over by the curved roof, Freedom House.  You stand between the two central pillars and then move into one of the buildings in front on the right hand side.

42KoreaPic copy

43KoreaPic copy

Leaving the Standoff OK Corral we take a short bus ride around the rest of Punganuk and pass a North Korean town a short distance away that can be glimpsed through the trees. This is Daeseong-dong. The West has a large flag pole at the JSA, so the North Koreans came in and built this massive obscene flagpole and hung a gigantic flag from the top at Dong, to be “bigger” than South Korea.  In both cases, the West has not responded tit for tat, content to allow the North Koreans to feel they are ‘superior’ by peeing higher up the wall. You can see it quite clearly through the trees, a forbidden zone, untouchable fruit, with its hideous flag fluttering above them.

I can’t help but think about Orwell’s 1984, and what life must be like for people living in this rather run down grimy village so close to the liberty and freedoms of the West.  If only they knew.  I suspect only the most “politically correct” people (with family hostages elsewhere) are allowed to farm here.

As we drive around this area, we are strictly forbidden to take photos of towers and aerial installations, etc. The whole visit is very sobering and you can sense the tension. Then we come to the spot where some tree pruning became violent and fatal.

Next time: The Axe Murder Incident.


General Debate 27 October 2014

October 27th, 2014 at 8:00 am by Kokila Patel

Illegal voters can have an impact

October 27th, 2014 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

The Washington Post reports:

Could control of the Senate in 2014 be decided by illegal votes cast by non-citizens? Some argue that incidents of voting by non-citizens are so rare as to be inconsequential, with efforts to block fraud a screen for an agenda to prevent poor and minority voters from exercising the franchise, while others define such incidents as a threat to democracy itself. Both sides depend more heavily on anecdotes than data.

In a forthcoming article in the journal Electoral Studies, we bring real data from big social science survey datasets to bear on the question of whether, to what extent, and for whom non-citizens vote in U.S. elections. Most non-citizens do not register, let alone vote. But enough do that their participation can change the outcome of close races.

Always good to have data, rather than hyperbole. So what does it say?

How many non-citizens participate in U.S. elections? More than 14 percent of non-citizens in both the 2008 and 2010 samples indicated that they were registered to vote. Furthermore, some of these non-citizens voted. Our best guess, based upon extrapolations from the portion of the sample with a verified vote, is that 6.4 percent of non-citizens voted in 2008 and 2.2 percent of non-citizens voted in 2010.

That is a non-trivial level.

Because non-citizens tended to favor Democrats (Obama won more than 80 percent of the votes of non-citizens in the 2008 CCES sample), we find that this participation was large enough to plausibly account for Democratic victories in a few close elections. Non-citizen votes could have given Senate Democrats the pivotal 60th vote needed to overcome filibusters in order to pass health-care reform and other Obama administration priorities in the 111th Congress. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) won election in 2008 with a victory margin of 312 votes. Votes cast by just 0.65 percent of Minnesota non-citizens could account for this margin. It is also possible that non-citizen votes were responsible for Obama’s 2008 victory in North Carolina. Obama won the state by 14,177 votes, so a turnout by 5.1 percent of North Carolina’s adult non-citizens would have provided this victory margin.

Think what may have been the impact in 2000 of Bush v Gore, if we had data for back then?


US views on cannabis legalisation

October 26th, 2014 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar


This graph from Pew is telling. It shows how much views can shift in just one generation.