Archive for the ‘International Politics’ Category

ISIS executes man for being gay

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

The Daily Mail reports:

A man has reportedly been blindfolded and thrown off a tower block in Syria for ‘being gay’ before being stoned to death after surviving the fall.

New images have emerged appearing to show ISIS militants hurling the man off the seven-storey building in the town of Tal Abyad in Raqqa.

The man, who was supposedly being punished for having a ‘homosexual affair’, apparently survived the fall, but was stoned to death by a waiting crowd at the foot of the tower block.

Again this shows ISIL is a state that is arguably more barbaric than the Nazis were.

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Their followers seem to be in a grotesque competition for the most vile ways they can kill people. Last month another gay man was crucified.

 

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How widespread is extreme Islam?

February 5th, 2015 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

It is often said by many (including me) that Islam is not the problem, just the extreme version of it practiced by a minority. The majority of Muslims do not support suicide bombings, killing of apostates etc just as the majority of Christians do not support old testament punishments.

However many commentators (again including me) have pointed out that the size of the extremist faction of Islam is not small. It is a minority but it is a large minority. This is where Islam is different to other religions – the size of the faction with extremist views.

I’ve not seen much reporting trying to quantify the size on a global basis. Pew Research in 2013 published a report which collated opinion among Muslims in 39 countries with a large Muslim population. They report on views in each country. What I have done is take the percentages for each country and multiplied it by their estimated Muslim population to get a global figure. For some issues they report the data as a percentage of those who favour sharia law, so I have cross multiplied to get it as a consistent percentage of all Muslims in those countries.

Globally there are 1.6 billion Muslims. Here’s how many share what I (and most) would consider extreme views.

Favour Making Sharia the Law of the Land

In the 38 countries surveyed 69% of Muslims said they supported Sharia law being the official law of the land. This represents 739 million Muslims out of 1,064 million in those countries

Favour Stoning as Punishment for Adultery

In the 20 countries surveyed 42% of Muslims supported the stoning of adulterers .  This represents 352 million Muslims out of 835 million in those countries.

Favour Death Penalty for Apostates who leave Islam

In the 20 countries surveyed 32% of Muslims said the death penalty should apply to apostates who leave Islam.  This represents 267 million Muslims out of 835 million in those countries.

Say suicide bombings against civilian targets can be justified

In the 21 countries surveyed 22% of Muslims said suicide bombings against civilian targets can be justified . This represents 209 million Muslims out of 944 million in those countries.

Favourable opinion of al Qaeda

In the 11 countries surveyed 16% of Muslims said they had a favourable opinion of al Qaeda. This represents 107 million Muslims out of 666 million in those countries

Say honour killings can be justified as punishment for sex

In the 23 countries surveyed 47% of Muslims said honour killings can be justified as punishment for pre-marital or extra-marital sex.  This represents 420 million Muslims out of 903 million in those countries.

 

This data gives some idea of the size of the problem. It isn’t 20 lunatics members of the Westboro Baptist Church. A large minority of Muslims globally hold views that are extreme and go against basic human rights and/or principles such as separation of church and state. There is good news in that there is declining support for suicide bombings and al Qaeda. And a strategy of demonising all Muslims and an entire religion will not reduce extremism, but increase it. However neither is it a good idea to pretend that the problem is just a few thousand jihadists. It is more widespread than that.

 

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Michael Lewis on Greece

February 4th, 2015 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

An interesting article last October in Vanity Fair on Greece. Some extracts:

But beyond a $1.2 trillion debt (roughly a quarter-million dollars for each working adult), there is a more frightening deficit. After systematically looting their own treasury, in a breathtaking binge of tax evasion, bribery, and creative accounting spurred on by Goldman Sachs, Greeks are sure of one thing: they can’t trust their fellow Greeks.

Hard to see how they can pay the debt off. Maybe better to default, and then start with a new currency.

In addition to its roughly $400 billion (and growing) of outstanding government debt, the Greek number crunchers had just figured out that their government owed another $800 billion or more in pensions. Add it all up and you got about $1.2 trillion, or more than a quarter-million dollars for every working Greek. Against $1.2 trillion in debts, a $145 billion bailout was clearly more of a gesture than a solution. And those were just the official numbers; the truth is surely worse. “Our people went in and couldn’t believe what they found,” a senior I.M.F. official told me, not long after he’d returned from the I.M.F.’s first Greek mission. “The way they were keeping track of their finances—they knew how much they had agreed to spend, but no one was keeping track of what he had actually spent. It wasn’t even what you would call an emerging economy. It was a Third World country.” As it turned out, what the Greeks wanted to do, once the lights went out and they were alone in the dark with a pile of borrowed money, was turn their government into a piñata stuffed with fantastic sums and give as many citizens as possible a whack at it. In just the past decade the wage bill of the Greek public sector has doubled, in real terms—and that number doesn’t take into account the bribes collected by public officials. The average government job pays almost three times the average private-sector job. The national railroad has annual revenues of 100 million euros against an annual wage bill of 400 million, plus 300 million http://mpp-teamsite.conde-dev.com/iw-cc/command/iw.group.formspub.save_valid_formeuros in other expenses. The average state railroad employee earns 65,000 euros a year.

Government pensions have bankrupted several US cities also, including Detroit.

The Greek public-school system is the site of breathtaking inefficiency: one of the lowest-ranked systems in Europe, it nonetheless employs four times as many teachers per pupil as the highest-ranked, Finland’s.

Labour’s policy was of course to spend any extra education money on increasing the teacher to pupil ratio!

The retirement age for Greek jobs classified as “arduous” is as early as 55 for men and 50 for women. As this is also the moment when the state begins to shovel out generous pensions, more than 600 Greek professions somehow managed to get themselves classified as arduous: hairdressers, radio announcers, waiters, musicians, and on and on and on.

Do you start to understand how no amount of bail outs will fix the problem here.

This went on for a week. Among other things turned up were a great number of off-the-books phony job-creation programs. “The Ministry of Agriculture had created an off-the-books unit employing 270 people to digitize the photographs of Greek public lands,” the finance minister tells me. “The trouble was that none of the 270 people had any experience with digital photography. The actual professions of these people were, like, hairdressers.” By the final day of discovery, after the last little hand had gone up in the back of the room, a projected deficit of roughly 7 billion euros was actually more than 30 billion. The natural question—How is this possible?—is easily answered: until that moment, no one had bothered to count it all up. “We had no Congressional Budget Office,” explains the finance minister. “There was no independent statistical service.” The party in power simply gins up whatever numbers it likes, for its own purposes.

Ruth Richardson’s great legacy to us is the Fiscal Responsibility Act.

The scale of Greek tax cheating was at least as incredible as its scope: an estimated two-thirds of Greek doctors reported incomes under 12,000 euros a year—which meant, because incomes below that amount weren’t taxable, that even plastic surgeons making millions a year paid no tax at all. The problem wasn’t the law—there was a law on the books that made it a jailable offense to cheat the government out of more than 150,000 euros—but its enforcement. “If the law was enforced,” the tax collector said, “every doctor in Greece would be in jail.” I laughed, and he gave me a stare. “I am completely serious.”

Read the whole article – very long, but absolutely fascinating. The sad thing is that rather than fix the problems in their country, they have elected a Government that tells them it is all Germany’s fault, and they simply don’t have to pay anymore. It will end in tears.

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The barbarism gets worse

February 4th, 2015 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

The Islamic State group has released a video purportedly showing the burning alive of a Jordanian pilot it had captured in December.

The video released online showed images of a man purported to be Maaz al-Kassasbeh engulfed in flames inside a metal cage.

To a degree the Islamic State is more barbaric than the Axis powers in WWII. Executing prisoners is bad enough, but burning them alive is a hideous form of suffering.

I’m amazed that Labour seem to be saying that NZ should not contribute to the fight against the Islamic State. It is hard to think of a more moral case for intervention since WWII.

Now that is not to say we should send in ground troops. I’m against that. But the proposal to send 100 NZers to work with Australia on training up the Iraqi army seems reasonable.  It is possible that the Iraqi Army will fail, as they have in the past. But a change of Prime Minister seems to have improved things in Iraq, and just walking away and doing nothing isn’t a great strategy.

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Abbott fights for survival

February 3rd, 2015 at 9:19 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Tony Abbott has junked his most controversial personal policies, promised no changes to the GST without Labor backing, and pledged to lead Australia’s most consultative government in the future as he attempts to head off a challenge to his leadership.

But some Liberals remain hostile in the wake of mistakes, the Queensland election result and polling showing that most voters expect him to be replaced.

Unveiling plans for a comprehensive families package, a new tax cut of at least 1.5 per cent for small business, tighter restrictions on foreign investment in the housing market, and stronger national security laws including a ban on the radical Islamist group, Hizb ut Tahrir, Abbott urged colleagues to “buckle down to the business” of governing rather than succumb to internal division.

 

The junking of the hideously expensive paid parental policy is a good thing – except for the fact they campaigned on it. So his integrity takes another hit. And the pledge to be more consultative will only work, if people think it is genuine.

“People are sick of Australian citizens – including people born and bred here – making excuses for Islamist fanatics in the Middle East and their imitators here in Australia,” he said.  

“It’s not good enough just to boost the police and security agencies, which we’ve done … and to improve data retention, which we’re doing. We have to tackle the people and the organisations that justify terrorism and act as its recruiting agents – such as Hizb-ut-Tahrir.

“If cracking down on Hizb-ut-Tahrir and others who nurture extremism in our suburbs means further legislation, we will bring it on and I will demand that the Labor Party call it for Australia.”

That will be interesting.

“At the heart of our small business jobs package will be a small business company tax cut on July 1 – at least as big as the 1.5 per cent already flagged,” he told the National Press Club.

Not sure about having different tax rates for different business sizes. Could lead to huge avoidance.

UPDATE: Sky News is reporting Abbott asked Julie Bishop to pledge not to challenge him, and she has refused!!

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The rout in Queensland

February 1st, 2015 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

When Campbell Newman won Queensland in 2012 with a 62% share of the two party preferred vote and 78 seats to 7 for Labor, the only question was whether they would do two or three terms, or more. The thought of Labor winning in 2015 from a base of seven seats was unthinkable.

Yet they are on the brink of doing that. Campbell Newman has lost his seat and Labor have 42 seats to 40 for LNP. You need 45 to govern and three are undecided so Labor just needs two out of three to govern.

Newman’s government pursued hardline policies that alienated Queenslanders. They failed to carry the people with them. What happened in Queensland is what would have happened in NZ if the Key Government had used the financial crisis to break its promises and slash spending (as opposed to restrain it’s growth). You get a one term Government that doesn’t get to have any enduring policy legacy.

The result was mainly a referendum on the Newman Government, but Abbott’s unpopularity would not have helped. He did not campaign there at all. This result increases the pressure on his caucus to make a change unless they also want to be a one term Government. Malcolm Turnbull is very popular with the public, and if the caucus chose him (which is unlikely) they would have a better than even chance of surviving.

Abbott has a major media speech to the Press Club on Monday. We should see after that speech what is likely to happen.

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UK Labour targets Frosties and jelly babies!

January 31st, 2015 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

The Telegraph reports:

High levels of fat, sugar and salt in children’s food would become illegal under a Labour government, the party’s manifesto will say. …

Under the new rules, a maximum limit would be set on levels of fat, salt and sugar in food marketed “substantially” to children.

Mr Burnham has previously considered a 30 per cent cap on sugar in cereals marketed at children. This would hit well-known brands including Kellogg’s Frosties, which have 37.0g of sugar per 100g and Coco Pops with 35g per 100g.

Next they’ll prosecute parents who buy unapproved foods.

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Greek delusions

January 31st, 2015 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

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Interesting research from Pew. It shows how deluded the Greeks are. They think they are the most hardworking country in Europe when people in most other countries think they are the laziest.

A first hand experience of Greece comes from Rachael, a Kiwi who travelled there:

I first encounter this laziness when I visit the Archeology Museum primarily to see the Greek vase collection which takes up the entire first floor.

I’m ridiculously excited (nerdy I know) but ever since I studied them at high school I’ve been a little obsessed.

But when I get there I discover the collection is closed.

When I ask I’m told – “just because.”

So I ask someone else and they helpfully inform me that they didn’t feel like putting on enough staff to cover it today, even though it’s the weekend. …

Back to Greeks being lazy… they have a equal CBF attitude when it comes to showcasing their most prized possession – the Acropolis. 

Most days it closes at 3pm but somedays earlier – it just depends on how they feel. …

It’s one thing to be lazy. But to be lazy and deluded is dangerous. Which is why they’ve just voted a Government in that thinks the rest of the world has a duty to pay their bills without conditions.

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The EU was made in the UK?

January 30th, 2015 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Sir Michael Leigh writes:

Britain is in the grip of a prolonged political crisis concerning its own constitutional order and its membership in the European Union, exacerbated by acrimonious and misleading arguments over immigration. As in other European countries, a demagogic anti-EU, anti-immigration movement has driven the established parties into a defensive posture. The current prime minister, David Cameron, felt compelled to promise an “in/out” referendum on Britain’s EU membership if his Conservative Party returns to power after the May 2015 general election. As a further gesture to the populists, he is now hinting at advancing the date of this referendum.

But such efforts at appeasement have proved futile, provoking ever-increasing demands. At the same time, British leaders have upset natural allies within the EU and missed an opportunity to become the leading European voice advocating forward-looking policies such as completing the single market, strengthening Europe’s global competitiveness, and building an energy union. The government has also failed to explain to voters that the EU today bears strong signs of British design and as such serves Britain’s interests well. …

Margaret Thatcher joined forces with Commission president Jacques Delors in the late 1980s, in order to eliminate restrictions on the free circulation of goods, services, capital, and workers — the original goal of the common market. The Commissioner in charge at the time, Arthur Cockfield, as well as the then-Secretary-General, David Williamson, were both British. For decades, the single EU market has favored British exports of goods and services, especially financial services. Since 2010, the most senior EU official in charge of the single market and services has been British. Jonathan Hill, the Commissioner appointed in 2014 to regulate the single market, is also British. The Danish and Swedish Commissioners for competition policy and trade, who took office last November, support a liberal agenda in line with British thinking. Today, they are engaged in challenging negotiations with the United States for a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.

The EU is at its best when it liberalises trade and services, and allows Europe to be one economy. It is at its worse when it goes beyond the economic focus and is seen as interfering in domestic affairs of countries.

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The benefit cap in the UK

January 29th, 2015 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

The Express reports:

MORE than 50,000 workless families have had their benefits cut because they were getting more from the state than the average worker brings home, official figures revealed yesterday.

And to prove that the Government’s radical reforms are working some 12,000 of them have been spurred into finding jobs. 

Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith said it showed the “staggering” positive impact of the decision to cap benefits for most unemployed households. 

Some 51,200 non-pensioner families have had benefits reduced since April 2013 because they were getting more than £500 a week from the state for couples and lone parents or £350 for single adults, the Work and Pensions Department report revealed.

Nearly half of those affected by having their Housing Benefit cut to bring their total benefits below £26,000 were in London, thanks to high rents in the capital attracting state subsidy.

The NZ Government should look at a cap also, so that people in work are NOT getting less than those on welfare.

But a few saw their benefits reduced by as much as £600 a week – which meant they had been getting £57,000 a year from the state which a worker would need a salary of £74,000 to bring home after tax.

That’s a staggering amount.

The UK Government has said that if they get re-elected, they will reduce the cap from £26,000 to £23,000.

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Will Abbott be rolled?

January 28th, 2015 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

News.com.au reports:

The results from the Queensland election will be in. If it goes badly for Campbell Newman, the federal Liberal Party herd could stampede, taking out the Prime Minister.

The loss of Victoria is still fresh in their minds.

Whether the Liberal National Party in Queensland is defeated, or seriously degraded, and whether it was directly attributable to Abbott or not, his disconnect with the Australian public is now an established national talking point.

When people from the Right and the Left of politics, both inside the parties and out, share the view that he is badly out of touch, he has a serious problem.

Julie Bishop does not. As Abbott was announcing the knighthood of Prince Philip, the Foreign Minister was in Kabul, Afghanistan, wearing a helmet and ballistic vest, talking to the troops.

This was just 24 hours after a huge roadside bomb went off near the Aussie camp. Bishop said she was glad to be there. Back home, Abbott was doing a Robert Menzies impersonation.

Bishop seems the only likely replacement for Abbott. Joe Hockey carries heavy budget baggage; Malcolm Turnbull is not trusted by his party; and Scott Morrison might be too hard-bitten — or too unknown — for public consumption.

The knighthood to Prince Philip may be the final straw. It isn’t that honouring the Prince was wrong (we made him ONZ in 2012), but that to do it on Australia Day, and as part of the first batch of restored titular honours. The fact it was a titular honour also adds to the ridicule – knighting a Duke!

He has been tone deaf on a number of issues, such as claiming the best thing his Government has done for women is abolish the carbon tax as they do more of the shopping (paraphrased).

I’ve met Julie Bishop. She is a formidable politician (was Deputy to three different leaders) and has wide spread respect and support. She could well end up Prime Minister this year.

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Meet the UK Greens

January 28th, 2015 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Watch Natalie Bennett, the Leader of the UK Greens (another great export from Australia). Her segment starts at just after four minutes. We learn:

  • Their citizen’s income policy will cost 280 billion pounds
  • It should not be a crime to belong to ISIL, al-Qaida or the IRA
  • Promotes a tax on turnover, not profits
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A Labor leader goes to fight in Syria

January 28th, 2015 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

WA Today reports:

The head of the Northern Territory branch of the Labor party has reportedly flown overseas to fight in Syria against terror group Islamic State.

Matthew Gardiner, who also served as a secretary in the United Voice union and a treasurer in peak body Unions NT, left the country several weeks ago to fight with Kurdish militants, the ABC reports.

It’s believed Mr Gardiner, 43, who served with the Australian Army in Somalia in the 1990s, was able to leave Australia because he was not on any watch list.

It is illegal to fight in Syria on any side of the conflict against Islamic State. …

Although Mr Gardiner resigned from his position at United Voice, he remains the NT branch president of the Labor Party. He has not been seen for weeks and his mobile phone is switched off.

Amazing that such a senior political figure would just decide to go to Syria to join the conflict.

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The far left “saviour” of Greece does a coalition with the far right

January 28th, 2015 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Alexis Tsipras was sworn in as the new Prime Minister of Greece, after his radical left-wing movement forged an unwieldy alliance with a far-right party. …

Tsipras’s party, Syriza, scored a historic victory in Greece’s election but fell short of an outright majority in the 300-seat Parliament, gaining 149 seats. While he moved quickly to arrange an awkward coalition with the Independent Greeks party, who won 13 seats, it immediately raised doubts over the longevity of the new Government.

The Independent Greeks leader claimed last month that Jews in Greek pay less tax than other citizens. So the communists have gone into alliance with an anti-semitic nationalist party. This will not end well.

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Why did they not complain about half mast for Chavez?

January 27th, 2015 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

The Government’s decision to lower New Zealand flags to mark the death of the King of Saudi Arabia has drawn criticism because of the kingdom’s poor human rights record.

Prime Minister John Key requested the flag on all Government and public buildings – including the Auckland Harbour Bridge and Parliament – be flown at half mast yesterday.

Writer and commentator Hamish Keith hit out at the decision on Twitter, saying; “We are flying flags at half mast in ‘respect’ for a torturing misogynist human rights flaunting autocrat – Je suis un hypocrite.”

The outrage seems to very selective. It is basically near-automatic that we do half mast flags for the death of any current head of state. In 2013 we did it for the death of Hugo Chavez, whose record on human rights was also pretty appalling. It is done not for the person, but for the country.

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70 years since Auschwitz liberated

January 27th, 2015 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Chancellor Angela Merkel said it was a “disgrace” that Jews in Germany faced insults, threats or violence, as she marked 70 years since the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp.

Merkel joined survivors of the former camp, created by Nazi Germany in southern Poland, for a somber and moving event in the German capital ahead of Tuesday’s anniversary.

Auschwitz is a “warning” of what people can do to each other, Merkel said, adding that the camp – the site of the largest single number of murders committed during World War II – had been an “atrocious departure” in the course of history.

She said more than 100,000 Jews have today made Germany their home but that it was “unfortunately not without cause” that some feared insult or assault.

“It’s a disgrace that people in Germany are abused, threatened or attacked when they indicate somehow they are Jewish or when they side with the state of Israel,” she said, to applause.

Merkel said the fact that synagogues and Jewish institutions had to be guarded by police was like a “stain on our country”.

Sadly this is not just a problem in Germany.  In Sweden two journalists walked around with a Star of David and a kipah.

This time it was Peter Lindgren’s turn to don a kippah and Star of David chain around his neck and head into town. The result: “He received direct threats as he walked through the city,” according to expressen.se.

Lindgren, walking with a hidden camera and microphone alongside, recorded every step. The report showed the reporter enduring verbal abuse by a man who called him a “Jewish s***” and told him to “leave.” Another person hit him and shouted “Satan Jew,” at him.

As they approached the the city’s neighborhoods with higher Muslim populations, the threats only increased. Some 20 percent of the 300,000 residents of Sweden’s third-largest city are Muslim, according to statistics.

“Then a whole gang came along to threaten the ‘Jewish’ reporter,” while occupants of neighboring homes shouted abuse at him. The broadcast caused a public storm in Sweden, with reactions by public figures, local Jewish organizations and international groups.

The clip, which was broadcast on Sweden’s national television, examined the degree of threats Malmo’s Jews face. The city is infamous for having the largest number of anti-Semitic incidents in the country, many of them perpetrated by members of the Muslim community.

According to the report, “many of [Malmo’s remaining Jews] are afraid to leave their homes; many want to leave the city and do not want their children to grow up there.”

 

Sadly the exodus of Jews from Europe is likely to increase.

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Antisemitism should be repugnant but not illegal

January 26th, 2015 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

The Guardian reports:

European Jewish leaders, backed by a host of former EU heads of state and government, are to call for pan-European legislation outlawing antisemitism amid a sense of siege and emergency feeding talk of a mass exodus of Europe’s oldest ethnic minority.

A panel of four prestigious international experts on constitutional law backed by the European Council on Tolerance and Reconciliation (ECTR) have spent three years consulting widely and drafting a 12-page document on “tolerance”. They are lobbying to have it converted into law in the 28 countries of the EU.

The proposal would outlaw antisemitism as well as criminalising a host of other activities deemed to be violating fundamental rights on specious religious, cultural, ethnic and gender grounds.

These would include banning the burqa, female genital mutilation, forced marriage, polygamy, denial of the Holocaust and genocide generally, criminalising xenophobia, and creating a new crime of “group libel” – public defamation of ethnic, cultural or religious groups.

I’m against this. Unless speech against a group is of a nature that it is advocating violence or similar, then it should not be illegal.

The answer to bad speech is good speech, not banning bad speech.

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Call for Australia to change flag also

January 26th, 2015 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Australian broadcaster Ray Martin writes:

I recently snapped a shot of Sydney’s iconic Anzac Bridge, with its supersized Aussie and Kiwi statues posted like armed sentinels at the western end, in the dawn’s ethereal light.

It was part of a photo essay I’m cobbling together for April 25 this special year.

The commemoration of Gallipoli — and those first, wide-eyed Anzacs who jumped ashore — is about to wash over our collective emotions, on both sides of the ditch. In 1915 our brothers died on that godforsaken Turkish peninsula at the appalling rate of 45 Anzacs a day.

But. When I focused on the high Anzac Bridge flagpole all I could see was a fluttering Union Jack. The Southern Cross — with it’s familiar Federation Star — was somehow lost in the flag’s folds.

I smiled to myself, thinking how appropriate it was — given that most of the 10,920 Anzac boys who died at Gallipoli had fought under the Union Jack.

Or, occasionally the red Australian ensign.

The mythology — and rampant misinformation — about Australians “dying under the flag” boggles the mind. It’s just not true.

For neither of the two World Wars.

And it is the silver fern which is on most of the graves at Gallipol – our effective national symbol.

In fact the silver fern was used by our soldiers in the Boer War, and was also on the medals presented to soldiers who served in that campaign.

A commenter, Greenjacket, notes:

Are you aware that the symbol of the famous NZ Division in WW1 and WW2 was a white fern on a black background? The symbol on every NZ army vehicle and on every sign to indicate the location of a NZ unit was black square with a white silver ferm emblem. In at least two operations, NZ troops were ordered to conceal their identities by concealing their white fern on a black background symbol, and NZ troops were loathe to do so as they were so proud of it, so the Germans were able to quickly identify where the crack NZ Division was moving. When NZ soldiers identified themselves, they did so with the silver fern on a black background. The NZ Army of today proudly carries on this tradition.

History Geek also has details about the long use of the Silver Fern by the military.

Meanwhile, New Zealand (whom we condescendingly pat on the head as a bit rustic and slow in all but rugby) has decided to seize ‘the one hundred year anniversary’ of Gallipoli to launch a fair-dinkum flag debate.

Unlike us, our Anzac mates have decided it’s time to grow up and become truly independent.

“We want a new flag design”, conservative Prime Minister John Key declared, “a flag that says ‘New Zealand’, in the same way that the maple leaf says ‘Canada’ or the Union Jack says ‘Britain’. Without a word being spoken.”

(Incidentally, the Canadians ditched the Union Jack in 1965.)

Quite frankly, the Kiwis are tired of being mistaken for Australia in the sporting world, with a flag “dominated by the Union Jack in a way that we ourselves are no longer dominated by the United Kingdom”.

How refreshingly laudable is that?

It would be great indeed to have a flag that is universally recognised as representing NZ.

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Will Greece leave the Euro?

January 26th, 2015 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

The anti-bailout Syriza party has won a decisive victory in Greece’s national elections, according to projections by state-run TV’s exit poll, in a historic first for a radical left-wing party in Greece.

But it was unclear whether the communist-rooted party, led by Alexis Tsipras, had won by a big enough margin over Prime Minister Antonis Samaras’ incumbent conservatives to govern alone. For that, they need a minimum 151 of parliament’s 300 seats.

“What’s clear is we have a historic victory that sends a message that does not only concern the Greek people, but all European peoples,” Syriza party spokesman Panos Skourletis said on Mega television.

“There is great relief among all Europeans. The only question is how big a victory it is.”

Skourletis said the election results heralded “a return of social dignity and social justice. A return to democracy. Because, beyond the wild austerity, democracy has suffered.”

Tsipras, 40, has promised to renegotiate the country’s 240 billion-euro (NZ$360 billion) international bailout deal. He has pledged to reverse many of the reforms that creditors demanded — including cuts in pensions and the minimum wage, some privatizations and public sector firings — in exchange for keeping Greece financially afloat since 2010.

Greece has every right to elect a Government opposed to living within its means.

And the EU and IMF have every right to stop bailing Greece out, and funding them.

The likely outcome is Greece either goes bankrupt, or it leaves the Euro so that it gains a currency that reflects its actual worth.

The centrist Potami (River) party was battling for third place with the Nazi-inspired, extreme right-wing Golden Dawn, whose leadership is in prison pending trial for running a criminal organisation. Both were projected as being between 6.4 and 8 per cent.

When a country is in trouble, the extremist parties often do well – sadly.

It will be interesting to see if the new Government compromises on its rhetoric, or if it holds fast – in which case the bailouts should cease.

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50th Anniversary of the death of Winston Churchill

January 24th, 2015 at 6:34 pm by kiwi in america

Today is the 50th anniversary of the death of Winston Churchill.

Recently on a trip to the UK, a friend and I visited Blenheim Palace, seat of the Duke of Marlborough and the place where Winston Churchill was actually born (although the then Duke of Marlborough was his uncle). There is a remarkable museum honouring the various military successes of Churchill’s great (five times) grandfather and 1st Duke of Marlborough John Churchill. Indeed John Churchill’s success at defeating the French at the Battle of Walcourt and various successful campaigns in the War of Spanish Succession led to King William persuading Parliament to appropriate funds to build the splendid Blenheim Palace just north of Oxford.

A separate but more modest museum on the site contained a variety of fascinating memorabilia from the life of Winston Churchill – items that are unique to this museum. To me the standout was a rather obscure item and yet one that went to the heart of why Churchill was later to prevail in the Battle of Britain. It was a school exercise book that was confiscated from Churchill by a teacher at Harrow when he was only 13. The reason for the confiscation was because Churchill spent time in the classroom recreating (by way of military style sketch diagrams) many of the famous battles his illustrious ancestor had won. Churchill had memorized the details of all these battles and recreated them for his class mates!

Like many sons of aristocrats, Churchill lived and breathed all aspects of war from celebrating the various famous British military victories to his arduous training at Sandhurst, his participation in the Battle of Omdurman in the Sudan in 1898 (the last horse mounted charge undertaken by a British Calvary regiment in battle), his capture and escape as a war correspondent in the Boer War and of course his ignominious role in the fateful Gallipoli campaign as First Lord of the Admiralty in Lloyd George’s Cabinet. All of these experiences prepared Churchill for his most revered role – that as the victorious wartime Prime Minister of Britain.

There is one remarkable and little know incident in this much studied role that to me illustrates the essence of Churchill. He assumed the Prime Ministership from the hapless Chamberlain at possibly one of the lowest points of the war for Britain. Just days later, almost 400,000 soldiers of the British Army had to be hurriedly and desperately evacuated from the beaches of Dunkirk by the Royal Navy and a flotilla of almost 800 private vessels which plied the English Channel over 4 days rescuing the core of the army (that had previously failed to prevent the fall of France) from certain capture or annihilation.

As Hitler amassed an invasion force of over 500,000 troops and the necessary invasion barges, a few in the British government thought that a German invasion and victory was imminent and began secret backchannel negotiations with the Germans. This effort was led by high profile Cabinet member Viscount Halifax the then Foreign Secretary. Churchill, upon discovering these efforts, engaged in a war of memos with those favourable to negotiation as well as other members of the inner War Cabinet. After three days of heated debate in the War Cabinet, Churchill vowed to head off and terminate these efforts without delay and decided to confront Halifax at the first meeting of the full Cabinet he held as PM on the evening of the 28th of May 1940.

Churchill’s impassioned plea on this subject was recalled by Hugh Dalton, Minister of Economic Warfare: “I have thought carefully in these last days whether it was part of my duty to consider entering into negotiations with That Man. But it was idle to think that, if we tried to make peace now, we should get better terms than if we fought it out. The Germans would demand our naval bases, and much else. We should become a slave state, though a British Government which would be Hitler’s puppet would be set up…” Churchill apparently paused and looked directly at Halifax and said “If this long island story of ours is to end at last, let it end only when each one of us lies choking in his own blood upon the ground.” 

Churchill’s belligerent and defiant challenge to the waverers in his Cabinet and his fighting words had an immediate and electrifying effect. Not only was any talk of potential surrender stopped dead in its tracks but Churchill recalls in his diary: “Quite a number seemed to jump up from the table and come running to my chair, shouting and patting me on the back…It fell to me in these coming days and months to express their sentiments on suitable occasions. This I was able to do because they were mine also. There was a white glow, overpowering, sublime, which ran through our Island from end to end.”

Churchill went on soon after this fateful meeting to deliver the series of famous speeches in the House of Commons that rallied the nation behind the war effort for the crucial Battle of Britain that lay ahead:

1 – “Blood Toil Tears and Sweat”: 13th May 1940

2 – “We shall Never Surrender”:  4th June 1940

3 – “This was their finest hour”: 18th June 1940

I’ve spoken to my various English relatives (some now deceased) about how they felt about the imminent threat of German invasion at that time. All were unanimous in describing that they felt utterly reassured by the demeanor of Churchill who seemed to never countenance defeat.

Let us honour this great indomitable leader and the pivotal role he played in the defeat of Nazi Germany and may we never forget the various lessons in courage, clarity and devotion to purpose that Churchill taught us.

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Middle Eastern political relationships in one easy lesson

January 24th, 2015 at 2:31 pm by Lindsay Addie

Last year Slate published this diagram using smilies to show the state of relationships in Middle Eastern politics.

Middle East Friends and enemies

Some of these relationships may have changed in light of more recent events but assuming for a moment that they’re reasonably accurate as shown.

  • Everyone but Iraq have more enemies than friends.
  • ISIS and Al-Quida not surprisingly don’t have any friends.
  • The Palestinian Authority seem for whatever ever reason to have a lot of complex relationships.
  • The Israel – USA relationship is probably a friendly relationship that has got a bit complicated bearing in mind the squabble about Netanyahu being invited to address a joint session of the US Congress by Boehner. The White House have accordingly got their knickers in a knot.
  • Saudia Arabia don’t have an oversupply of friends.

I must add that some countries like Yemen and Jordan haven’t been included.

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Doomsday Clock now irrelevant

January 24th, 2015 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists says Earth is now closer to human-caused doomsday than it has been in more than 30 years because of global warming and nuclear weaponry. But other experts say that’s much too gloomy.

The US advocacy group founded by the creators of the atomic bomb moved their famed “Doomsday Clock” ahead two minutes today. It said the world is now three minutes from a catastrophic midnight, instead of five minutes.

In the 1970s and the 1980s the Doomsday Clock has relevance. At times the world came close to a superpower conflict that could have destroyed the planet. When I was 15 I recall a survey that around half the people my age thought the world could end in our lifetimes. Today I doubt 1% think that.

Claiming we are at the same risk of extinction as during the cold war is nuts.

They justify this by saying they now include climate change. They are the Atomic Scientists!

“The fact that the Doomsday clock-setters changed their definition of ‘doomsday’ shows how profoundly the world has changed – they have to find a new source of doom because global thermonuclear war is now so unlikely,” Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker wrote in an email.

Exactly.

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Are we allowed to sink them?

January 15th, 2015 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

New Zealand’s navy is in a standoff with two fishing vessels in the Southern Ocean after the ships refused to let defence officials on board.

The HMNZS Wellington was given permission overnight to board the vessels, which were flagged to Equatorial Guinea and were not legally permitted to fish in the region.

But attempts to board two of the ships and inspect their catch have so far failed.

Foreign Minister Murray McCully said: “The HMNZS Wellington attempted to exercise its legitimate right to board the Yongding and the Songhua earlier today, but the vessels refused to cooperate.

“Due to the conditions and the evasive tactics of the masters it was not possible to safely board these vessels.”

Don’t we have guns? Are we allowed to use them?

Equatorial Guinea told New Zealand officials that they believed the vessels were fishing illegally and agreed that the navy should board the ships and verify their flag status.

New Zealand was also working with Interpol to prevent the catch from being offloaded at nearby ports, and was co-operating with Spanish authorities to investigate the links between the ships and a Spanish-based syndicate called Vidal Armadores SA.

Good.

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The problem is not just terrorism

January 14th, 2015 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The Guardian reported:

Saudi Arabia is remaining silent in the face of global outrage at the public flogging of the jailed blogger Raif Badawi, who received the first 50 of 1,000 lashes on Friday, part of his punishment for running a liberal website devoted to freedom of speech in the conservative kingdom. …

Saudi Arabia joined other Arab and Muslim countries in condemning the murder of 12 people at the Paris satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo but angry comments highlighted its double standard in meting out a cruel punishment to a man who was accused of insulting Islam.

The two acts are not the same, but they are part of the same problem. There is almost universal condemation of the Islamist terrorists who killed the cartoonists because they thought the cartoonists had insulated Islam. It was an extra-judicial killing, designed to terrorise.

However when countries like Saudia Arabia have laws which allow judicial torture and even killing of people who offend Islam, then it can hardly be surprising that some Muslims get the idea that offending Islam is something that should be punishable by death – even in non-Muslim countries.

The solution is that there should be no criminal sanction anywhere for offending any religion. The only sanction for offending a religion, should be excommunication from that religion. Any religion that needs to terrorise people into being nice about it, is a pretty lame religion in my view. And that applies just as much to state sanctioned terror, as that done by terrorists.

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David Cameron losing it?

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

Stuff reports:

Use Snapchat or WhatsApp to keep in touch with British relatives? You might want to enjoy that while it lasts.

As the British general election campaign begins and European tension mounts over the recent Paris attacks, Prime Minister David Cameron has suggested banning encrypted messaging services if British intelligence agencies were not allowed access to the communications. Snapchat, Apple’s iMessage, and WhatsApp all encrypt the messages sent through their applications, along with innumerable other services.

“Are we going to allow a means of communications which it simply isn’t possible to read?” he asked during a campaign speech. “My answer to that is: ‘No, we must not.'”

I like a lot of what David Cameron has done, but he has increasingly authoritarian tendencies when it comes to the Internet. Banning messaging that uses encryption on the Internet is nuts. I doubt it is possible, and it is definitely undesirable.

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