Archive for the ‘International Politics’ Category

They won’t do that again

March 8th, 2015 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

The world was reminded once again of South East Asia’s tough stance on crime when two German men were sentenced on Thursday to nine months jail and caning for vandalism in Singapore. 

Andreas Von Knorre, 22, and Elton Hinz, 21, broke into a suburban train depot and spray-painted graffiti on the exterior metro (MRT) train cabin in November 2014.

They did graffiti in Singapore? And not spur of the moment stuff, but a deliberate break in. How moronic are they?

Both men expressed remorse in court when they were being sentenced at the Singapore State Courts.

“This is the darkest episode of my entire life,” Von Knorre said.

“I want to apologise to the state of Singapore for the stupid act.”

Hinz also promised the courts “he will never do it again”.

I bet they won’t.

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Saudi penal policy

March 7th, 2015 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

An interesting article from the Washington Post:

The Saudi government essentially puts each inmate’s family on welfare. The government gives them money for food, rent and school fees, and it pays airfare and hotel expenses for families to come visit – even for foreign prisoners whose families live overseas.

Escorted by guards, many prisoners (except those convicted of murder) are allowed to attend funerals and weddings of close family members, and they are given as much as $2600 in cash to present as a wedding gift.

After the presentation, we visited the Family Home, a hotel within the prison that is used to reward prisoners for good behavior. The hotel has 18 large suites, which can sleep as many as nine family members and have lots of fresh flowers, a well-stocked buffet and a playground for children.

Officials said the government spent $35 million last year on those perks.

“Just because someone is a criminal, we do not punish his family, too,” Ahmed said. “Our strategy is to take care of these people to make the community better. This is what Islam tells us to do.”

The majority of the 3500 inmates in the five high-security prisons have been convicted of terrorism-related offenses, including al-Qaeda attacks inside the Saudi kingdom, that happened before the rise of the Islamic State last year.

General Mansour al-Turki, spokesman for the powerful Ministry of Interior, whose Mabahith secret police run the high-security prisons, said taking care of inmates’ families is part of the Saudi strategy of trying to rehabilitate radicals.

The Saudis have a long-standing program of placing those convicted of terrorism-related offenses in an intensive program of education and religious study designed to try to alter their thinking and behavior.

Inmates in the high-security prisons start with months-long in-depth courses inside the prisons. When they finish their sentence, they are transferred to one of two large rehabilitation centers, in Riyadh and in Jiddah, for further studies.

“If you lose these inmates when they are in prison, they will come out of prison more radical,” Turki said, adding that supporting their families also helps make sure they, too, don’t “fall into the hands of the terrorists.”

Turki said that about 20 percent of those who have gone through the rehabilitation program have returned to terrorism-related activities.

If the recidivism rate is only 20%, that’s pretty good. I like the focus on education and study to try and change their views – plus keepng them in touch with their families.

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WHO wants to ban some food advertising

March 7th, 2015 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

The Daily Caller reports:

Fat kids are serious business. So serious, in fact, that the United Nations is urging countries to let its bureaucrats micromanage what foods are allowed to advertise on TV.

The European branch of the World Health Organization (WHO), the health arm of the U.N., is trying to stop childhood obesity by urging countries to adopt an international blueprint that would ban almost all food advertisements targeted at children and place substantial regulatory influence in the hands of the UN. …

With that in mind, last week, WHO’s Regional Office for Europe released a “nutrient profile model” that it recommends as the model for how countries go about deciding what foods should be locked out of advertising to children. Such a model is currently only used in a handful of countries, including Norway, the U.K. and Denmark, but WHO is hoping that with its nudging more countries will imitate these policies.

The exhaustive model breaks foods into 17 different groups, ranging from processed fruits and vegetables to cheese. Each category is evaluated on its nutritional content per 100g of food. Foods that exceed thresholds for sugar, fat, salt or calories would be barred from any marketing that would increase the food’s appeal to children. For example, a cheese would fall under the ban if it contains at least 20g of fat or 1.3g of salt per 100g.

If adopted, the model would totally prohibit all advertisements for chocolate, candy, cake, sugary soda, ice cream and fruit juice. The only foods subject to no restrictions whatsoever are meats fresh fruits, poultry and vegetables.

So at first they just ban advertisements for these foods. Then they ban the foods themselves.

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Stopping genocide

March 6th, 2015 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Liam Hehir writes in the Manawatu Standard:

What do you know about Rwanda, aside from the fact that it was the scene of an infamous genocide?

Not much, I’d wager. I’d be surprised if you could name the capital city, the principal religion and the languages spoken or point to the country’s position on a map of Africa.

Well I was in Kigali in January so can name it!

Rwanda is only famous because up to a million people were murdered there in a killing spree of such barbaric ferocity that it shocked the entire world in 1994.

The most charitable interpretation of the West’s involvement in the matter is that it was caught unawares and so could not take any substantive measures to stop it from happening. Bill Clinton cites this as the biggest regret of his presidency (and, remember, he once had the chance to take out Osama bin Laden).

But let’s imagine that a Western coalition had deployed to Rwanda and averted the butchering. Would that action now be held up as a great vindication of liberal interventionism in foreign affairs? I have my doubts.

The things that do not happen do not tend to command our attention.

The building that didn’t catch fire yesterday isn’t front-page news. Nobody sees the jobs not created when businesses can’t afford the investment. The murder that doesn’t happen leaves no victims to weep over.

Had genocide been averted, the reality is we could never actually be sure we had prevented anything at all. There are no controlled experiments when it comes to human events.

Who could say for certain that the tensions would not have otherwise de-escalated?

That’s not to say that coverage of the intervention would have been neutral. You can bet your bottom dollar that there would have been plenty of grumbling and criticism about the West’s involving itself in the troubled region. After all, the presence of foreign troops would not have resolved the deep divisions in Rwandan society. There would have been no quick fix.

So there would be claims from some quarters about the whole mess being caused by Western colonialism in the first place – and that further intervention was only making things worse.

Some would question why Rwanda was being singled out for this imperialist adventure when there were so many other ethnic conflicts in Africa, Eastern Europe and the Balkans going on at the same time. Others would claim that the Tutsis were as bad as the Hutus and that, since the Rwandan Patriotic Front was hardly perfect, we had no business dirtying our hands by getting involved.

Had New Zealand got involved, you can be sure there would have been accusations that the prime minister was toadying to the United States in the hopes of winning some elusive trade deal, as if any contribution we could make would be sufficient to exact any meaningful concessions from the protectionist US Congress.

In other words, there would have been all the same objections we hear about Western intervention in the fight against the Islamic State (Isis) today.

A good point that we rarely know the counter factual. In Kosovo though it is safe to conclude intervention saved tens of thousands of lives.

So in such a situation, what can one do? I know that political columnists are supposed to effect an air of world-weary cynicism – but there is always the option of trying to do the right thing.

Isis makes no secret of its plans for the Christians, Jews and moderate Muslims who fall into its clutches. Every day brings more news that the organisation’s deeds are more than a match for its words.

However morally corrupt and compromised the Iraqi regime is, it cannot be worse than the satanic caliphate banging on its door.

Those who claim we should do nothing because it means some of our allies are less than perfect ignore history. Was it wrong for the UK and US to ally with Stalin to defeat Hitler? Of course not.

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The limit to free speech

March 5th, 2015 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

News.com.au reports:

A RADICAL Islamic preacher has been arrested in Norway after praising last month’s deadly attack on the Charlie Hebdo satirical weekly in Paris.

The Iraqi Kurd preacher known as Mullah Krekar said in a television interview broadcast on Wednesday that “those who draw caricatures of Mohammed must die”.

Krekar, who was only freed from prison late last month, was arrested on Thursday night on accusations of inciting crime, police said.

“I am obviously happy with what happened in Paris,” the 58-year-old said in the interview with Norwegian channel NRK.

Krekar also responded “yes” when asked if he believed those who carried out the attack were heroes.

When a cartoonist “tramples on our dignity, our principles and our faith, he must die,” he said.

“Those who do not respect 30 per cent of the Earth’s population do not deserve to live.”

I’m a proponent of free speech, but there are limits. Advocating and inciting death to those who don’t subscribe to your religious beliefs is that limit.

While courts have upheld the ruling, Norwegian law bars him from being deported to Iraq, where he risks the death penalty.

A pity.

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Only individual bribery is illegal

March 5th, 2015 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Andrew Rawnsley writes in The Guardian:

Canvassing for Votes, one of a series of four wonderful paintings by William Hogarth about the corruption of parliamentary elections in the 18th century, depicts agents for the Tories and the Whigs flourishing banknotes at an innkeeper in an attempt to bribe him. Would never happen today, of course. Payment in cash or kind in exchange for a vote – the practice that used to be called “treating”– is strictly illegal. Anyone caught doing it will likely wind up in jail.

That’s an obstacle for vote-hunting politicians at election time. Fortunately for them, the law has a loophole. And that loophole is massive. There is nothing on the statute book that says a politician can’t offer a bribe so long as it is directed at lots of voters. Individual bribery is a crime; mass bribery is entirely legal. Which is a good thing for David Cameron and Ed Miliband. If mass bribery were not allowed, both would be facing prosecution for the promises they have been making in the past few days.

Bribe one person and you go to jail. Bribe 100,000 and you get to be in Parliament.

This is also the main reason why Ed Miliband is treating for votes at the other end of the age spectrum by promising to cut student tuition fees to £6,000. One way of thinking about the Labour leader’s pledge is to ask what problem this is supposed to fix. Since tuition fees were raised to £9,000, applications for university places have not gone down; they have gone up. Applications from students with less advantaged backgrounds have not gone down; they have also gone up. No one starts repaying the loan until they are earning more than £21,000 a year and any debt outstanding after 30 years is written off. Of course, when I talk to students I hear complaints about them being burdened with debt. But it is often a greater source of irritation to them that they don’t think the teaching they are getting is value for the money. Some of the sharpest complaints about that are from students at universities with the more prestigious names. That might have been a useful area for Labour’s attentions. The upshot of Mr Miliband’s policy is that the greatest beneficiaries will be the highest earning graduates. Who knew that the Labour leader came into politics to redistribute money to future bankers?

Just as interest free student loans transfer wealth from those who didn’t go to university to those who do.

 

 

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Netanyahu’s Speech to Congress

March 4th, 2015 at 10:11 am by kiwi in america

Today at 11am EST Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave his third speech to the US Congress joining Winston Churchill as the only other foreign leader in history to have addressed a Joint Session of Congress three times. On the eve of final negotiations between the US (and other powers) and Iran over a proposed nuclear deal with Iran, Netanyahu came to lay out the case for rejecting the deal proposed.

Unlike his two previous addresses, this one was shrouded in controversy in that the invitation by Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner was not sanctioned by the Obama Administration. Various administration proxies have used time in the run up to the speech to criticize Netanyahu (who faces a Knesset election in Israel in 2 weeks’ time) of politicizing the negotiations with Iran. The intense opposition from the Obama administration has seen 37 Democrat Representatives and Senators boycott the speech – an action itself unprecedented.

Netanyahu acknowledged the controversy and paid as much tribute to Obama as he could muster given how fraught their relationship has become but he wasted no time laying out why the proposed deal with Iran is bad. A good percentage of his speech was a lesson in recent Iranian history and of the many acts of terrorism perpetrated by Iran on Middle Eastern states, US interests and Israel. Netanyahu has stated many times that the greatest threat to world peace is militant jihadist Islam married to nuclear weapons. As Prime Minister of the state of Israel, job One is the protection of the Jewish state.  Whilst many world leaders saw the replacement of the belligerent Ahmadinejad with the more demur and softly spoken Rouhani as President of Iran as a sign of the softening of the Iranian regime, Netanyahu lays out the actions and statements of Rouhani since assuming power as evidence that the jihadist and terrorist mindset of the Islamic republic has not changed.

Netanyahu made six key points:

  1. The leopard has not changed its spots – Iran remains an implacable enemy of Israel AND the US.
  2. The allure of using Iran to combat ISIS is a mirage – that in the case of ISIS, the enemy of my enemy is still my enemy and that to adopt such a strategy might mean the battle against ISIS is won but the war against militant Islam is lost because Iran is by far the more dangerous of the two due to its armies, missiles and quest for nuclear weapons enabling Iran to strike far beyond just the Mesopotamian reach of ISIS.
  3. The proposed deal doesn’t impede Iran from getting nuclear weapons – it provides a pathway to such weapons. The proposed inspection regime is similar to the one that failed to contain North Korea from obtaining the bomb because rogue regimes and dictatorships never comply with agreements or feel compelled to honour treaties.
  4. No deal is not worse than this deal – the option to this bad deal is a better deal; one that continues to contain and constrain Iran.
  5. If Iran wants to be treated like a normal nation it should act like a normal nation – it should renounce terror in the Middle East and globally and it should cease to threaten to annihilate Israel. It should be allowed to continue a nuclear programme only if it behaves like other nations that seek peace.
  6. After acknowledging in the gallery Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel (a holocaust survivor), Netanyahu reminded the world that if necessary Israel would act alone. He repeated the cry “never again” and said that the Jewish people after 100 generations could now finally defend themselves.

Netanyahu is a bold and uncompromising figure. It was an open and direct challenge to Obama’s attempt at a legacy-making historic deal with Iran. Such a defiant challenge to a sitting US President has left some Israelis and many US Jews nervous of the damage to US relations. Whilst it is easy to dismiss this speech as a re-election ploy, it is important to note that Obama has shifted the stance of the US on a nuclear Iran from a “no options are off the table” to prevent Iran obtaining the bomb to a wishy washy regime that has enough holes that a duplicitous state anxious to get its own way can easy thwart. There is a sense amongst progressive elites that a nuclear Iran is inevitable and to cut the best deal possible.

This attitude was reminiscent of the prevailing elite opinion in Britain in the 1930’s as Hitler rose to, and gained in, power. Churchill’s warnings were dismissed as the ranting of an out of touch political has-been past his prime….until he was proven right. In the midst of an Israeli media firestorm of opposition, the taunts of his political opponents in Israel and the best efforts of Obama’s water carriers to denigrate the speech and Netanyahu’s “unhelpful” world view, he went over all their heads straight to the only people who can stop Obama doing a bad deal – the US Congress. Judging by the rapturous reception he got, he stands a good chance of succeeding hence why Obama was so implacably opposed to the speech. Netanyahu came across as confident, factual and determined whereas Obama as cerebral, inconsistent (shifting red lines) and the appeaser he has become.

Finally Netanyahu announced what I had long believed to be his bottom line – that if the US won’t lead the charge to prevent Iran getting nukes, that Israel would act alone militarily to at least blunt and delay what is rightly seen as an existential threat to the very existence of Israel.

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Mein Kampf

March 4th, 2015 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Old copies of the offending tome are kept in a secure “poison cabinet,” a literary danger zone in the dark recesses of the vast Bavarian State Library. A team of experts vets every request to see one, keeping the toxic text away from the prying eyes of the idly curious or those who might seek to exalt it.

“This book is too dangerous for the general public,” library historian Florian Sepp warned as he carefully laid a first edition of Mein Kampf – Adolf Hitler’s autobiographical manifesto of hate – on a table in a restricted reading room.

I presume people in Bavaria have the Internet. It is on Project Gutenberg.

I know the parliamentary library has a copy also, as once when I worked there I was sent to check out which MPs had borrowed it!

The prohibition on reissue for years was upheld by the state of Bavaria, which owns the German copyright and legally blocked attempts to duplicate it. But those rights expire in December, and the first new print run here since Hitler’s death is due out early next year.

I didn’t realise it was still under copyright. Hitler died in 1945 so I would have thought copyright expired in 1995.

The book’s reissue, to the chagrin of critics, is effectively being financed by German taxpayers, who fund the historical society that is producing and publishing the new edition. Rather than a how-to guidebook for the aspiring fascist, the new reprint, the group said this month, will instead be a vital academic tool, a 2000-page volume packed with more criticisms and analysis than the original text.

Sounds like a good way to do it.

Regardless of the academic context provided by the new volume, critics say the new German edition will ultimately allow Hitler’s voice to rise from beyond the grave.

“I am absolutely against the publication of Mein Kampf, even with annotations. Can you annotate the devil? Can you annotate a person like Hitler?” said Levi Salomon, spokesman for the Berlin-based Jewish Forum for Democracy and Against Anti-Semitism. “This book is outside of human logic.”

Yes it is an awful book, that represents great evil. But it was the Nazis who banned and burnt books. Trying to ban Mein Kamph would just make it more desirable – and never succeed.

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IMF on expenditure rules

March 3rd, 2015 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

An IMF paper looks at expenditure rules:

Our findings suggest that expenditure rules are associated with spending control, counter-cyclical fiscal policy, and improved fiscal discipline. We find that fiscal performance is better in countries where an expenditure rule exists. This appears to be related to the properties of expenditure rules as compliance rates are generally higher than with other types of rules (on the budget balance or debt, for example). In particular, we find that compliance with expenditure rules is higher if the expenditure target is directly under the control of the government and if the rule is not a mere political commitment, but enshrined in law or in a coalition agreement. 

So the most effective type of fiscal rule is a binding expenditure rule.

Evidence of adverse side effects is mixed. The introduction of expenditure rules is associated with a decrease in public investment only in emerging economies. A possible explanation is that any adverse effects on public investment could be mitigated in advanced economies by welldesigned budgetary frameworks and procedures. Instead, the empirical analysis points to two positive side effects. First, expenditure rules reduce the volatility of expenditure, thus imparting a degree of predictability to fiscal policy and making it less destabilizing. Second, expenditure rules are associated with higher public investment efficiency.

I’d love NZ to have an expenditure rule, such as restricting core crown expenditure to 25% of GDP over say a three year cycle or restricting the growth in expenditure to say 1% after taking account of population growth and inflation.

Expenditure rules are currently in place in 23 countries (11 in advanced and 12 in emerging economies)

So we would not be alone if we did this.

 

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Shortest press release ever

March 2nd, 2015 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

441538-8594f836-bd81-11e4-a005-b478f5906d65

Heh. To the point.

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Democracy in Russia declines further

March 2nd, 2015 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reported:

Boris Nemtsov,  a Russian opposition leader and former deputy prime minister, has been shot dead in central Moscow, the Interior Ministry says.

Nemtsov, 55, an outspoken critic of President Vladimir Putin, had been due to take part in the first big opposition protest in months in the Russian capital tomorrow.

He was shot four times late on Friday night (local time), not far from the Kremlin in the centre of Moscow. Police cars blocked the street where he was shot. An ambulance was also nearby.

“Nemtsov BE died at 2340 hours as a result of four shots in the back,” an Interior Ministry spokeswoman said by telephone.

I have a general rule of thumb – any death or arrest of an opposition leader is usually linked to the person they are opposing.

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Anti-extremist blogger hacked to death

February 28th, 2015 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

A prominent Bangladeshi-American blogger known for speaking out against religious extremism was hacked to death as he walked through Bangladesh’s capital with his wife, police said Friday.

The attack Thursday night on Avijit Roy, a Bangladesh-born US citizen, occurred on a crowded sidewalk as he and his wife, Rafida Ahmed, were returning from a book fair at Dhaka University. Ahmed, who is also a blogger, was seriously injured.

Police have named no suspects in the attack. Roy was a prominent voice against religious intolerance, and his family and friends say he had been threatened for his writings.

Similar attacks in the past in Bangladesh, a Muslim-majority nation of 160 million people, have been blamed on Islamic extremists.

About 8.45pm on Thursday, a group of men ambushed the couple as they walked toward a roadside tea stall, with at least two of the attackers hitting them with meat cleavers, police Chief Sirajul Islam said.

The attackers then ran away, disappearing into the crowds.

Two blood-stained cleavers were found after the attack, he said.

Roy had founded a popular Bengali-language blog, Mukto-mona, or Free Mind, which featured articles on scientific reasoning and religion.

So he was hacked to death because he opposed religious extremism and supported scientific reasoning.

All brutal deaths are sad, but I find especially sad when people are killed because of what they say – ie they are targeted speciifically.

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Will UN Security Council be fair with Israel?

February 27th, 2015 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

NZ is now on the UN Security Council, and one of the issues before it is a draft resolution regarding Israel and Palestine.

I recently met with Dr Einat Wilf, who is a former Labor MP in the Knesset, a former intelligence officer, McKinsey consultant, and foreign policy advisor to Shimon Peres. She is a regularly published commentator and academic.

Her bio describes her as an atheist and a Zionist so we had a fun discussion over whether Judaism is a religion, a race or a culture. Her view was definitely not a race, and both a culture and a religion. There are quite a large number of “secular” Jews and she said that one definition of being a Jew is a belief in “up to one God” :-)

We covered the normal range of topics such as the impact of the Islamic State, Iran, whether despositic dictators were better for the region than the status quo etc. But also quite a bit on Israel and Palestine.

Wilf is very critical of the draft Security Council resolution, which NZ appears to be supporting. She makes the point:

A Security Council resolution that is balanced, even-handed and has the potential to make a real contribution to peace. In its present form, the proposal is very specific on demands from the Israeli side, while leaving the obligations of the Palestinians and the Arab states up to “fair and agreed solution.”  

 This leaves all the issues crucial to Israel up for negotiation, while whatever concessions Israel could have offered to advance them, have already been predetermined. It further leads to a situation where at the end of the 24-month implementation period, if such a resolution is passed, Israel could be found in material breach of a United Nations Security Council resolution, while no Arab or Palestinian action or refusal to take action can be. There is no specific metric for Palestinian non-compliance, since the draft speaks of their obligations in the most general of terms. 

So the resolution appears balanced on the surface as it appears to have obligations on both sides, but the obligations on the Palestinian side are so general, that it is basically impossible for them to ever be found in breach.

On the question of territory, the draft resolution leaves very little ambiguity.  It calls for a complete Israeli withdrawal to the pre-1967 lines with agreed, mutual swaps and on Jerusalem, it insists on a “shared capital” for both states.

Such specific and unequivocal demands of Israel could have been paired with equally forceful statements renouncing the Palestinian demand for the “return” of the descendants of refugees from the 1948 war — which would effectively turn democratic Israel into an Arab country with a Jewish minority.  But here, the resolution only asks for an “agreed, just, fair, and realistic” solution.

The demands for a right to return would effectively see the wiping out of Israel as we know it. If you want a peace settlement, then that needs to go off the table.

The resolution calls on all parties to refrain from actions “that could undermine the viability of the two state solution on the basis of the parameters defined in this resolution,” but then lists as its only example of such action “settlement activities.”  Settlement activity is the only specific action of any party that is criminalised in this text, whereas the text makes no mention of Palestinian attacks on Israeli civilians, nor of suicide bombings, or racist or genocidal incitement. It never deplores the Arab boycott as illegitimate or unacceptable, and it doesn’t even specifically call for its end as part of a comprehensive peace.

Not much incentives for Israel!

Where it is specific

about Israeli concessions on territory, it is very vague about the “security arrangements” that will come after an Israeli withdrawal. The details are to be worked out in future negotiations, but one detail is already built in: “a full phased withdrawal of Israeli security forces.” Israel’s concerns that the West Bank, which overlook every major Israeli city and town, could become a base for Gaza-style rocket attacks, are not even a consideration.

This means that in a period where nearly every Arab regime has been threatened with an Islamic insurgency, or fallen to one, or just been ripped apart by civil war, Israel is expected to commit ahead of time to a security arrangement with zero Israeli military presence — and where any future military presence will automatically place it in breach of a UNSC resolution.

So why is NZ supporting this resolution?

I believe New Zealand can make a real contribution to peace and to the strength of the United Nations system by insisting that if such a resolution moves forward it will not “pick and choose” between the sides and the issues, but treat all of them equally and in equal measure and detail.

We campaigned on being independent and fair. I hope we live up to that.

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Professor Robert Ayson on Islamic State conflict

February 27th, 2015 at 10:59 am by David Farrar

Professor Robert Ayson (Strategic Studies, VUW) writes in the Herald:

And this brings us to the national interests that should be motivating New Zealand’s concern about ISIS internationally and its commitment to the coalition.

One is that we have an interest in the preservation, where it is possible, of the idea that recognised nation states (like us) retain a domestic monopoly on the use of force and that non-state groups (like ISIS) are denied that opportunity.

A second is that we have an interest in the preservation, where it is possible, of the international boundaries which separate one nation state from another and in preventing armed groups from violating those points of demarcation. The caliphate idea of ISIS is a direct challenge to this standard.

A third is our awareness that an unstable Middle East, where governments fear for their continuing existence, presents particular dangers to international security.

We talk rightly of Asia’s importance to New Zealand, and of the South Pacific’s, but the deployment of our forces much further afield often tells a different picture.

A fourth is that it is against our interests for a group such as ISIS to continue violent actions in Syria and Iraq which are then used to inspire overseas recruits and sympathisers, including to a very limited extent within New Zealand itself.

A fifth is that New Zealand needs a world where a significant number of states are willing, when it is necessary, to use force in the promotion and protection of collective interests.

A sixth is that we need leading western powers, who share many of our interests and values, to be willing to take leading roles in this endeavor. This does not mean we are going to Iraq because of some price of some club.

 

He continues:

I assume there are occasions when the use of force is both necessary and has some utility. Force can be a blunt instrument with unintended consequences. I cannot guarantee to you, and neither can the government, that things will be hugely better once the military campaign has been completed.

Nor can I guarantee that, once trained, the Iraqi forces will do their job nearly as well as we might wish. But I am convinced that it is not possible to deal with ISIS, at least in the short term, without the use of force being part of the approach.

Andrew Little’s talk of reconstruction and agriculture as a substitute for force is nonsense. You need both those things – but as well as force. ISIL will not give up dreams of a global caliphate because Iraq develops better agriculture.

Could there be blowback? Absolutely. But can we reduce the threat that ISIS poses to our interests and values without someone using force against it? I don’t think so.

So the only question is whether we just rely on everyone else for that force, or if we contribute a small amount through training.

But in baiting that trap the Opposition created one for themselves. They ended up in a position where there unwillingness to support even the dispatch of NZ forces for training undermined any sense that they regarded ISIS as a problem really worth worrying about.

As they have no solution, one can only assume they don’t see it as a problem.

They gave the clear impression that whenever someone mentions Iraq, it is all about reliving New Zealand’s correct decision not to join the 2003 invasion.

But now is not then. Same part of the world yes, but a different problem. Did that invasion create some of the conditions that ISIS has taken advantage of? Yes.

Does that guarantee that the use of force now will worsen the situation, and make ISIS stronger not weaker? I don’t think so. Should New Zealand be part of that effort? For me, the answer is yes.

You can be against the 2003 invasion, but in favour of military force against the Islamic State.

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Another awful interview by UK Greens leader

February 25th, 2015 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

LBC has a transcript of an interview with UK Green Leader Natalie Bennett on affordable housing. Some extracts:

Nick: The third key theme is ‘The Greens will ensure everyone has a secure, affordable place to live. How would that be brought about?

Natalie: A couple of things that we want to focus on. In terms of council housing, we want to build 500,000 new social rent homes.

Nick: Good lord, where would you get the money from for that?

Natalie: Well, what we want to do is fund that particularly by removing tax relief on mortgage interests for private landlords. We have a situation where…

Nick: How much would that bring in?

Natalie: Private landlords at the moment are basically running away with the situation of hugely rising rents while collecting huge amounts of housing benefit.

Nick: How much would that be worth, the mortgage relief for private landlords?

Natalie: “Erm… well… it’s… that’s part of the whole costing.”

Nick: Yes, but how much would that bring? The cost of 500,000 homes, let’s start with that. How much would that be?

Natalie: “Right, well, that’s, erm… you’ve got a total cost… erm… that we’re… that will be spelt out in our manifesto.

Nick: So you don’t know?

Natalie: No, well, err.

Nick: You don’t, ok. So you don’t know how much those homes are going to cost, but the way it’s going to be funded is mortgage relief from private landlords. How much is that worth?

Natalie: Right, well what we’re looking at with the figures here. Erm, what we need to do is actually… uh……… we’re looking at a total spend of £2.7… billion.

Nick: 500,000 homes, £2.7billion? What are they made of, plywood?

Natalie: Erm, basically what we’re talking about is 500,000 new homes and basically each one pound spent on this brings back £2.40…

Nick: Yes, but what is the total cost of 500,000 homes?

Natalie: [Long, long pause] Erm… it’s a cost of £60,000 per home.

Nick: £60,000 per home?

Natalie: Because what we’re talking about is, is the opportunity for…

Nick: That can’t include the land?

Natalie: Well, what we’re talking about is, what we want to see is the possibility of, um, of homes being built…

Nick: That’s not much more than a large conservatory, £60,000. So where’s the land, how are you going to pay for the land?

Good to see an interviewer holding a politician to account for promises that are clearly going to cost more than they say. We need more of that.

It has been labelled in world media as possibly the worst interview ever.

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Abbott on terrorism

February 25th, 2015 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has flagged a tougher stance on hate preaching and warned Australian citizenships could be revoked as he spelled out the worsening terrorist threat to the nation.

The Prime Minister outlined a number of steps to tackle terrorism in a speech at the Australian Federal Police headquarters in Canberra.

“The terrorist threat is rising at home and abroad and it’s becoming harder to combat,” Abbott said.

To date, 110 Australians have travelled overseas to join Isis (Islamic State), with 30 returning and at least 20 dead.

However, Abbott said there were at least 140 Isis supporters in Australia and the country faced a real risk of Australians returning as “hardened jihadists” intent on radicalising others.

Since September when the national terrorist threat level was lifted to “high” – meaning a terrorist attack is likely – 20 people have been arrested and charged.

Spy agency ASIO has more than 400 “high priority” counter-terrorism investigations under way – more than double the number a year ago.

Under changes to be brought in this year, returning foreign fighters will be prosecuted or monitored under control orders and could lose their citizenship and welfare benefits.

“Australians who take up arms with terrorist groups, especially while Australian military personnel are engaged in Afghanistan and Iraq, have sided against their country and should be treated accordingly,” Abbott said.

A national counter-terrorism co-ordinator will be appointed and the states will be included in the national strategy.

Abbott named the group Hizb ut-Tahrir as being among the organisations that will be targeted for “blatantly spreading discord and division”.

“The Government will be taking action against hate preachers,” he said.

 

I’m not sure the problem is Australians going to fight for the Islamic State. The problem is them returning!

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A UK lobbying scandal

February 24th, 2015 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Two former British Foreign Secretaries are exposed for their involvement in a new “cash for access” scandal.

Jack Straw and Sir Malcolm Rifkind offered to use their positions as politicians on behalf of a fictitious Chinese company in return for payments of at least 5000 ($10,231) a day.

Straw, one of Labour’s most senior figures, boasted he operated “under the radar” to use his influence to change European Union rules on behalf of a commodity firm paying him 60,000 a year. He has been suspended from Labour following the disclosures, described by the party as “disturbing”.

Straw claimed to have used “charm and menace” to convince the Ukrainian Prime Minister to change laws on behalf of the same firm. Straw also used his Commons office to conduct meetings about possible consultancy work – a potential breach of rules. And he suggested his Commons researcher had worked on his private business matters, raising further questions.

Rifkind, who oversees Britain’s intelligence agencies on behalf of Parliament, said he could arrange “useful access” to every British ambassador in the world because of his status.

The senior Conservative told undercover reporters from the Telegraph and Channel 4’s Dispatches, to be broadcast today, he would submit questions to ministers on behalf of a paying client, without revealing their identity.

Rifkind also described himself as “self-employed” and had to “earn my income” – despite being paid 67,000 by the taxpayer for his work as an MP. The disclosure that two of Britain’s most senior politicians are embroiled in a new “cash for access” scandal highlights Parliament’s failure to address the issue which has plagued British politics for a generation.

MPs should not accept payment for any sort of lobbying or representation. If the 67,000 pounds a year is not adequate income, then they should leave Parliament and become full time lobbyists. But you can’t and shouldn’t do both.

One problem the UK has is that they have so many MPs, there is not enough meaningful work for all of them to do. Those who have previously been Ministers and are unlikely to be Ministers again often disengage from parliamentary work. One solution is reducing the number of MPs. The Conservatives tried to do this, but were blocked by Labour and the Lib Dems.

A rule of thumb for the ideal size of a lower house is the cube root of the population. This suggests the UK needs 400 MPs, not 650.

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ISIL now organ harvesting to raise money?

February 22nd, 2015 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

News.com.au reports:

THE Islamic State may be harvesting the organs of victims to finance its terror operations, Iraq’s ambassador to the United Nations says.

Ambassador Mohamed Alhakim said today that in the past few weeks, bodies with surgical incisions and missing kidneys or other body parts have been found in shallow mass graves.

“We have bodies. Come and examine them,” he said, referring to the UN Security Council.

“It is clear they are missing certain parts.”

Ambassador Alhakim also said a dozen doctors had been “executed” in Mosul for refusing to participate in organ harvesting …

And still some people say this is nothing out of the ordinary and NZ should not do anything to stop this except make speeches at the UN.

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Anti-Semitism in Paris

February 20th, 2015 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

The latest viral video to capture scenes of street harassment shows a yarmulke-clad Jew encountering stares and hostile remarks while walking through Muslim neighbourhoods in Paris.

Zvika Klein, a journalist with Israeli news website NRG, says he spent 10 hours walking the streets with a bodyguard and a hidden cameraman in February to gather the footage.

“We decided ahead of time that I was to walk through these areas quietly, without stopping anywhere, without speaking to anyone, without so much as looking sideways,” Klein wrote. “My heart was pounding and negative thoughts were running through my head. I would be lying if I said I was not afraid.”

One man followed him and two different people, a man and a woman, spat at his feet. “Viva Palestine,” another youth yelled.

It is disgraceful that there are areas of Paris where it is unsafe to be a Jew.

We are very fortunate – I can’t think of a single area of New Zealand, where anyone would feel unsafe just because of their religious affiliation.

 

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What Islamic State really wants

February 19th, 2015 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Graeme Wood at The Atlantic has a huge article on the Islamic State. It is a must read, especially for those who think ISIL is just another bunch of terrorists like Al Qaeda and that what motivates them are issues such as Palestine, US foreign policy, drone strikes, depictions of Mohammed etc.

Again I encourage people to take half an hour or so to read the entire article. It is hard to summarise. But a few extracts:

The Islamic State is no mere collection of psychopaths. It is a religious group with carefully considered beliefs, among them that it is a key agent of the coming apocalypse. Here’s what that means for its strategy—and for how to stop it.

So a summary of what we know:

We can gather that their state rejects peace as a matter of principle; that it hungers for genocide; that its religious views make it constitutionally incapable of certain types of change, even if that change might ensure its survival; and that it considers itself a harbinger of—and headline player in—the imminent end of the world.

An analogy:

The Islamic State, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), follows a distinctive variety of Islam whose beliefs about the path to the Day of Judgment matter to its strategy, and can help the West know its enemy and predict its behavior. Its rise to power is less like the triumph of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt (a group whose leaders the Islamic State considers apostates) than like the realization of a dystopian alternate reality in which David Koresh or Jim Jones survived to wield absolute power over not just a few hundred people, but some 8 million.

But not just a cult, but a religious one:

There is a temptation to rehearse this observation—that jihadists are modern secular people, with modern political concerns, wearing medieval religious disguise—and make it fit the Islamic State. In fact, much of what the group does looks nonsensical except in light of a sincere, carefully considered commitment to returning civilization to a seventh-century legal environment, and ultimately to bringing about the apocalypse.

The most-articulate spokesmen for that position are the Islamic State’s officials and supporters themselves. They refer derisively to “moderns.” In conversation, they insist that they will not—cannot—waver from governing precepts that were embedded in Islam by the Prophet Muhammad and his earliest followers. They often speak in codes and allusions that sound odd or old-fashioned to non-Muslims, but refer to specific traditions and texts of early Islam.

This is key. It is religion, not politics, that motivates them.

The reality is that the Islamic State is Islamic. Very Islamic. Yes, it has attracted psychopaths and adventure seekers, drawn largely from the disaffected populations of the Middle East and Europe. But the religion preached by its most ardent followers derives from coherent and even learned interpretations of Islam.

Virtually every major decision and law promulgated by the Islamic State adheres to what it calls, in its press and pronouncements, and on its billboards, license plates, stationery, and coins, “the Prophetic methodology,” which means following the prophecy and example of Muhammad, in punctilious detail. Muslims can reject the Islamic State; nearly all do. But pretending that it isn’t actually a religious, millenarian group, with theology that must be understood to be combatted, has already led the United States to underestimate it and back foolish schemes to counter it.

So if you hear a politician say this is not to do with religion, you can laugh at them. Their views are not the majority views of their religion, but they are a distinct strand.

In London, Choudary and his students provided detailed descriptions of how the Islamic State must conduct its foreign policy, now that it is a caliphate. It has already taken up what Islamic law refers to as “offensive jihad,” the forcible expansion into countries that are ruled by non-Muslims. “Hitherto, we were just defending ourselves,” Choudary said; without a caliphate, offensive jihad is an inapplicable concept. But the waging of war to expand the caliphate is an essential duty of the caliph.

So a policy of just leave them alone, and they’ll leave us alone seems flawed.

Choudary’s colleague Abu Baraa explained that Islamic law permits only temporary peace treaties, lasting no longer than a decade. Similarly, accepting any border is anathema, as stated by the Prophet and echoed in the Islamic State’s propaganda videos. If the caliph consents to a longer-term peace or permanent border, he will be in error. Temporary peace treaties are renewable, but may not be applied to all enemies at once: the caliph must wage jihad at least once a year.

I am starting to think that the response to the Islamic State must be as strong as the response to Nazi Germany.

One way to un-cast the Islamic State’s spell over its adherents would be to overpower it militarily and occupy the parts of Syria and Iraq now under caliphate rule. Al‑Qaeda is ineradicable because it can survive, cockroach-like, by going underground. The Islamic State cannot. If it loses its grip on its territory in Syria and Iraq, it will cease to be a caliphate. Caliphates cannot exist as underground movements, because territorial authority is a requirement: take away its command of territory, and all those oaths of allegiance are no longer binding. Former pledges could of course continue to attack the West and behead their enemies, as freelancers. But the propaganda value of the caliphate would disappear, and with it the supposed religious duty to immigrate and serve it. If the United States were to invade, the Islamic State’s obsession with battle at Dabiq suggests that it might send vast resources there, as if in a conventional battle. If the state musters at Dabiq in full force, only to be routed, it might never recover.

The key point being, that ISIL is not a terrorist group. The tactics to defeat it are different.

And yet the risks of escalation are enormous. The biggest proponent of an American invasion is the Islamic State itself. The provocative videos, in which a black-hooded executioner addresses President Obama by name, are clearly made to draw America into the fight. An invasion would be a huge propaganda victory for jihadists worldwide.

Yep. They want a grand battle.

Given everything we know about the Islamic State, continuing to slowly bleed it, through air strikes and proxy warfare, appears the best of bad military options. Neither the Kurds nor the Shia will ever subdue and control the whole Sunni heartland of Syria and Iraq—they are hated there, and have no appetite for such an adventure anyway. But they can keep the Islamic State from fulfilling its duty to expand. And with every month that it fails to expand, it resembles less the conquering state of the Prophet Muhammad than yet another Middle Eastern government failing to bring prosperity to its people.

So supporting the current coalition is the least bad option.

Properly contained, the Islamic State is likely to be its own undoing. No country is its ally, and its ideology ensures that this will remain the case. The land it controls, while expansive, is mostly uninhabited and poor. As it stagnates or slowly shrinks, its claim that it is the engine of God’s will and the agent of apocalypse will weaken, and fewer believers will arrive. And as more reports of misery within it leak out, radical Islamist movements elsewhere will be discredited: No one has tried harder to implement strict Sharia by violence. This is what it looks like.

So it is vital to stop their expansion, and push them back.

It would be facile, even exculpatory, to call the problem of the Islamic State “a problem with Islam.” The religion allows many interpretations, and Islamic State supporters are morally on the hook for the one they choose. And yet simply denouncing the Islamic State as un-Islamic can be counterproductive, especially if those who hear the message have read the holy texts and seen the endorsement of many of the caliphate’s practices written plainly within them.

Muslims can say that slavery is not legitimate now, and that crucifixion is wrong at this historical juncture. Many say precisely this. But they cannot condemn slavery or crucifixion outright without contradicting the Koran and the example of the Prophet. “The only principled ground that the Islamic State’s opponents could take is to say that certain core texts and traditional teachings of Islam are no longer valid,” Bernard Haykel says. That really would be an act of apostasy.

Just as most Christians say the Old Testament is no longer valid.

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Is geo-engineering a solution to global warming?

February 18th, 2015 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Scientists are calling for tests to find ways to cool the planet – the first step toward exploration of the controversial field of geoengineering, which aims to change the climate by blocking the sun’s rays.

It might be necessary if society can’t agree on how to stop carbon emissions that are heating up Earth, a panel of experts said at the weekend meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

The call for small-scale tests represents a profound shift in thinking among the scientific community, which has resisted conversations about deliberate, large-scale manipulation of the planet.

“We have to know through research … what the benefits and risks might be,” said climate scientist Alan Robock of Rutgers University.

Scientists say the proposals to study sun-blocking ideas are spurred by this sobering reality: Even if we completely stopped carbon emissions today, the Earth will continue warming over the next several decades.

Geoengineering isn’t the preferred response to warming, as it has risks. However it may well become a very sensible measure in the future. I would never bet against what human ingenuity can achieve, when the motivation is there.

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We’re backed by a businessman named Bill!

February 18th, 2015 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

The Guardian reported:

Labour’s attempts to prove it is pro business backfired on Tuesday night when the shadow chancellor Ed Balls was unable to remember the name of one of the party’s key supporters.

In a bid to prove Labour did have support from some of the most influential names in business, Balls’ attempts to reel off the names was over before it began when interviewed by Newsnight. The best he could come up with was someone named Bill.

Asked by presenter Emily Maitlis whether it was worrying that the 63 business leaders who wrote to the Financial Times backing Labour in 2005 were silent ahead of May’s general election, Balls insisted the party did have support.

“I’ve been at a dinner tonight with a number of business-supporting Labour figures,” he said. Who were they, Maitlis asked?

“Well, em, Bill. The former chief executive of EDS who I was just talking to…”

Seizing on his uncertainty, Maitlis pressed: “What was his name?”

At which point the shadow chancellor had to admit he couldn’t actually remember. “It has just gone from my head, which is a bit annoying at this time of night.”

The hole got deeper when Maitlis replied: “Okay. So frankly you’ve got Bill somebody. Have we got anyone else? Cos you were talking about 63 or 50 FTSE 100 leaders. Now we’ve got Bill somebody.”

Oh dear that is a fairly bad fail.

It did get me thinking. While overall more business leaders tend to support National, the Clark/Cullen Labour government did have a reasonably significant number of business supporters. Hugh Fletcher, Stephen Tindall etc.

But since going into opposition and coming up with policies such as their electricity effective nationalisation policy, I struggle to think of any prominent business supporters apart from that Selwyn guy, and the gym owner. Certainly no one from a top 50 company. And as I said, while most business leaders do tend to be centre-right, it is by no means all.

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21 Egyptian Christians slaughtered by ISIL

February 17th, 2015 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Egypt called for a seven day period of mourning over the death of 21 Egyptian Christians, beheaded by Isis militants, and warned it would “avenge the criminal killings.”

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi warned that his country would respond to the deaths as it saw fit.

Militants in Libya had been holding the 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians hostage for weeks, all laborers rounded up from the city of Sirte in December and January.

These were not soldiers. They were labourers who were executed because they belonged to the wrong religion. Targeting people for death due to their religion is what the Nazis did.

People are fooling themselves if they think that ISIL is just a small localised conflict or civil war. Their ambitions are global. They openly boast of it. They seek the death of subjugation of  anyone who doesn’t follow their religion.

 

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Another week, another lethal Islamic terrorist attack

February 16th, 2015 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Danish police shot and killed a man in Copenhagen on Sunday they believe was responsible for two deadly attacks at an event promoting freedom of speech and on a synagogue.

The event was to promote freedom of speech – tragic.

Note this wasn’t even an event displaying depictions of Mohammed. This was a seminar to discuss freedom of speech.

And the attack on the synagogue is just another lethal anti-Semitic attack.

With these events becoming almost a weekly event, how long can it be until it occurs in New Zealand?

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Walking the talk in education

February 14th, 2015 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

An interesting article at CIS:

Jennifer Buckingham is a prominent advocate of school choice. She’s middle class and strongly believes parents should be able to choose where they send their children to school. So which primary school did she choose for her two daughters? ­Raymond Terrace Public School, located in the low-income town of the same name, just north of Newcastle in NSW.

More than half its students are from the bottom quartile of socio-economic rankings and about a fifth are indigenous, both indicators that are statistically linked to lower academic outcomes. Buckingham says that when her eldest daughter, who has just graduated from year six, started at Raymond Terrace in kindergarten it was perceived by many in the town “as a school people wouldn’t deliberately send their children to”.

What makes her choice of school all the more interesting is that Buckingham is an education policy specialist and research ­fellow at a right-wing think tank, the Centre of Independent Studies (CIS). From her perch at the CIS, Buckingham is a strong advocate of private schools and their role in providing wider choice to parents.

Yet she chose a struggling public primary school for her daughters. Why? “I could see the potential at Raymond Terrace Public School, and thought that I had something to contribute,” she says.

And how did she contribute:

But along with the right to choose, another part of Buckingham’s education credo is that parents should be able to be influential in their children’s schools – and that is exactly what she has done.

With Picton at the helm, and plenty of input from Buckingham, Raymond Terrace has seen a remarkable lift in performance. In 2008, Raymond Terrace’s Naplan results were level-pegging with similar schools in the area. The latest available 2013 figures show it is significantly ahead of its peers. It is also well ahead of the three other primary schools in the town – two public, one Catholic.

At a time when Australia’s schools are seen to be failing – with literacy and ­numeracy standards falling against ­comparable countries, and a sharp ­ideological divide over the Gonski funding scheme and the national curriculum – ­Raymond Terrace stands out as an example of what can be achieved in an individual school by a ­committed principal who has solid support.

The Raymond Terrace story is also notable on another level. ­Buckingham is an education commentator who walked the talk and enrolled her own children in a failing school she intended to help improve.

So school success is not predetermined by socio-economic status.

One key development was a visit from noted educational reformer John Fleming in 2010. Fleming’s 10 years in charge of Bellfield Primary School in Melbourne is one of the celebrated success stories of turning around a failing school, and last year Fleming was appointed by federal Education Minister Christopher Pyne to be deputy chair of the Australian Institute of Teaching and School Leadership. Fleming came to Raymond ­Terrace to offer his advice.

It was a turning point in Picton’s ­willingness to engage with Buckingham.

“Had John Fleming been a waste of time, I probably wouldn’t be here talking to ­Jennifer today,” says Picton.

It led to three “pillars” – principles set then which the school still operates by.

One is explicit teaching, where the key skills of reading, writing and maths are taught explicitly and directly to students and then practised repeatedly until testing shows they have got it. This is in contrast to still-popular education theories in which children are expected to master these ­fundamental building blocks of knowledge by exploring for themselves.

Another is building a relationship with the children, and expecting teachers to get to know each child well and understand what they are capable of, with the aim of boosting self-esteem.

Last, there is creating high expectations, in which children and parents are ­encouraged to aim for the best.

The three pillars seem very sound.

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