Sony capitulates to blackmail

December 19th, 2014 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Guardian reports:

Hollywood has publicly condemned Sony Pictures’ decision to cancel release of the film at the heart of the hacking crisis, calling it an ignominious blow to freedom of speech, but some are quietly relieved at the removal of a threat to the Christmas box office.

Actors, directors and writers erupted in anger and scorn on Wednesday night after the studio announced it no longer planned to release The Interview, a comedy which depicts the assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, because of terrorist threats to cinemagoers.

The wave of indignation called the decision un-American, spineless, disgraceful and a dangerous precedent, with some comparing it to the appeasement of Adolf Hitler.

“Wow. Everyone caved. The hackers won. A complete and utter victory for them. Hollywood has done Neville Chamberlain proud today,” tweeted the actor Rob Lowe, citing the British prime minister who abandoned Czechoslovakia to the Nazis.

It is a very sad day for freedom of expression. It tells the bad guys that threats and blackmail do work.

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A video from the next US Ambassador to NZ

December 19th, 2014 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

A nice effort. Ambassador Gilbert was confirmed by the US Senate on the 12th of December in a voice vote. he is fortunate to have had the nomination confirmed before the control of the Senate changed. He would have still been confirmed, but a vote may not have occurred for many more months.

Personally I think it is silly the US Senate still confirms Ambassadors. In the 1700s and 1800s Ambassadors were very powerful positions as they could not communicate with their home Governments quickly, and would often negotiate major issues of behalf of their countries. Now their positions are much less important. They are still important positions, but they do not set policy in any way.

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Fact checking US politicians and Vladimir Putin

December 19th, 2014 at 9:22 am by Lindsay Addie

One of my favourite political blogs is Glenn Kessler’s at the Washington Post who awards Pinnochios (from one to four) for porkies and lies told by politicians’. Here is a sample of Kessler’s biggest whoopers from 2014.

They aren’t in any particular order.

Barack Obama: “I didn’t call the Islamic State a ‘JV’ team”

President Obama repeated a claim, crafted by the White House communications team, that he was not “specifically” referring to the Islamic State terror group when he dismissed the militants who had taken over Fallujah as a “JV squad.” But The Fact Checker had obtained the previously unreleased transcript of the president’s interview with The New Yorker, and it’s clear that’s who the president was referencing.

JV means junior varsity. He didn’t seem to be aware that ISIS (ISIL) were a major threat in the Middle East then told a porky about his previous comments.

Rand Paul: “John McCain met with Islamic State terrorists”

Intraparty slap downs are pretty rare, but Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) have radically different foreign policy views. With no evidence but Internet rumors, some promoted by liberal groups, Paul declared that McCain unknowingly met with members of the Islamic State — and even had photographs taken — when he had slipped across the border with Syria to meet with rebel forces. But the claim was proven to be absolutely false. As we said as the time, “there are days when we regret we are limited to just Four Pinocchios.”

Paul clearly had a severe bout of foot and mouth disease on this one.

Barack Obama: “Republicans have filibustered 500 pieces of legislation”

President Obama former senator, got quite a few things wrong here. He spoke of legislation that would help the middle class, but he was counting cloture votes that mostly involved judicial and executive branch nominations. Moreover, he counted all the way back to 2007, meaning he even included votes in which he, as senator, voted against ending debate — the very thing he decried in his remarks. At best, he could claim the Republicans had blocked about 50 bills, meaning he was off by a factor of ten.

I’ll give the President the benefit of the doubt and opine that he was merely repeating what his researchers/speech writers told him to say. It is still a clumsy attempt though to a score political point.

John Boehner: “There’s been a net loss of people with health insurance”

Nope. Boehner added apples and then subtracted oranges. At the point he made the statement, it was clear that the net gain was in the millions.

Boehner was talking about Obamacare. As in the case of the previous lie, Boehner was using shoddy research to try and score a political point.

Vladimir Putin: “A referendum was held in Crimea in full compliance with democratic procedures and international norms”

Russian President Vladimir Putin delivered a speech announcing the annexation of Crimea that was full of whoppers, but none more so than his claim about the referendum. The referendum was rushed, political opposition was squelched, and the choices did not allow for a “no.” (The options were either joining Russia — what the ballot called “reunification” — or remaining part of Ukraine with greater autonomy, effectively making the region independent in all but name.) Moreover, the Crimea vote met none of the conditions for a referendum in the Ukrainian constitution. Clearly it’s time for a fact-checking organization in Russia.

This for me is the biggest lie on Kessler’s list. Putin would have real trouble convincing most people he’s a true believer in democracy and freedom of speech.

Note that Kessler provides web links to all the original stories. It is a pity that no one in New Zealand fact checks politicians on a regular basis.

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General Debate 19 December 2014

December 19th, 2014 at 8:00 am by Kokila Patel
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A Raglan to Sydney cable

December 19th, 2014 at 6:54 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Spark, Vodafone and Telstra today confirmed a less ambitious plan to lay a separate subsea communications cable between Raglan and Sydney at a cost of US$70 million, which the companies said would make New Zealand’s international connections more varied and secure.

The three companies said they would start construction of the 2300 kilometre Tasman Global Access cable early next year and expected to complete it by the middle of 2016.

French multinational Alcatel-Lucent has been awarded the contract to lay the cable, which will comprise two pairs of optical-fibre with a total capacity of 20 terabits per second.

That’s a lot. By comparison Southern Cross has capacity of around 12 Tb/s (of which around 3.6 are lit).

20 Tb/s would allow one million users to be pulling 20 Mb/s each.

Good to see some increased competition in the cable area.

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NZ showing how reform can occur

December 18th, 2014 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Oliver Hartwich wrote in the Spectator:

Rarely does a government manage to build a positive narrative around the policy changes it implements. However, there are exceptions to this rule, or at least one exception: New Zealand.

At a time when many commentators have given up on the possibility of pro-market reforms, the New Zealand government under Prime Minister John Key demonstrates that they are still possible. More than that, Key shows how despite his government’s reformist zeal it managed to get re-elected not once but twice already.

In my new monograph Quiet Achievers: The New Zealand Path to Reform, published this week, I try to dissect Key’s political management and his leadership style. What I hoped to find were lessons for economic reforms that could be applicable to other countries, whether in the eurozone or in Australia. There are quite a few.

There are two types of reforms. The first are those reforms that are undertaken when there is no alternative, or at least no plausible one. The classic example is Margaret Thatcher’s radical turnaround of Britain. Following the winter of discontent, there really was no choice but to move on from the country’s post-war, half-planned economic model.

The labour market reforms under German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder in 2003 fall in the same category of reform, for lack of a better alternative. As unemployment numbers exceeded five million people, something had to be done. Closer to home, both Australia and New Zealand went for a radical restructuring of their economies in the 1980s and 1990s because circumstances were dire and something had to give.

These emergency-driven reforms constitute what I would call ‘pathological learning’. Policy mistakes are finally corrected only when circumstances have become so dire that even the greatest reform-deniers cannot block change. Eurozone reforms fall into this category as well. We can praise the heroes of such reforms, but their job is comparatively easy. What is far harder to achieve is to lead economic change when conditions are not quite catastrophic yet.

Australia’s more recent experience is a good illustration of this problem. Given the mining and terms-of-trade boom, it was hard to make the case for any policy changes. Instead, the temptation was there to use the proceeds of the boom on new government spending programmes.

Commentators like The Australian’s Paul Kelly and (ex-)politicians like former finance minister Lindsay Tanner have expressed their concerns about this. They argue that our political culture with its short attention spans and focus on headlines and sound bites has made good policy-making difficult, absent a major crisis which forces political action. They certainly have a point.

This is where the New Zealand counter-example is worth examining. True, the last few years of the Global Financial Crisis and the devastating Canterbury earthquakes have hit New Zealand hard. However, the situation was not so bad that it left Key without alternatives. He could have easily used these crises as an excuse to allow his budget to blow out or introduce emergency taxes. In fact, that was very Australia’s response to the GFC and the Queensland floods. Remember the giant stimulus packages and the so-called flood levy?

Instead, Key and his finance minister Bill English did the opposite of such populist activism. They quietly steered New Zealand onto a more sustainable economic path. They kept budgets tight, undertook a substantial overhaul of the welfare system, started an experiment with charter schools, part-privatised some state-owned enterprises, cut income taxes and increased consumption taxes.

It was a combination of policies that did not only put the budget back on a credible path to surplus. It also increased New Zealand’s competitiveness, which has now surpassed Australia’s. It created economic growth and tens of thousands of new jobs.

 

The surplus is not quite there yet, but Hartwich is right that there has been significant reforms in the last six years.

How did the Kiwis do it? How did John Key get away with so much reform?

The answer I have come to in Quiet Achievers is simple. Shunning any reform rhetoric or political grandstanding, Key quietly and slowly goes about his reform business. Reforms are carefully crafted while the public is prepared for upcoming changes and informed why they are necessary. In this way, the reforms are building their own constituency and by the time they are implemented, the measures appear imminently commonsensical. Key’s strategy is one of incremental, silent radicalism.

New Zealand proves that reforms, even in mature democracies, are still possible. They should be possible in Australia as well where they are much needed. Australia has not implemented any substantial economic reforms since the introduction of the GST in July 2000.

For any political leaders wishing to embark on a process of economic reform, whether in Australia or in Europe, a look at New Zealand may well be inspirational.

The welfare reforms are an excellent example of this.

But while there has been good progress in a number of areas, the need for reform is continual, and further reform is needed – especially around land availability.

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Wasteful US Government spending

December 18th, 2014 at 3:31 pm by Lindsay Addie

Following on from DPF’s post about the Cromnibus Bill passing through the US Congress and all its pork. Here are some examples of the crazy spending by the US Government.

The source is the retiring Senator Tom Coburn a Republican from Oklahoma who annually has been releasing a Wastebook of spending.

Here’s a shortlist of some actual examples Coburn has highlighted

Coast guard party patrols – $100,000
Watching grass grow – $10,000
State department tweets @ terrorists – $3 million
Swedish massages for rabbits – $387,000
Paid vacations for bureaucrats gone wild – $20 million
Mountain lions on a treadmill – $856,000
Synchronized swimming for sea monkeys – $50,000
Pentagon to destroy $16 billion in unused ammunition — $1 billion
Scientists hope monkey gambling unlocks secrets of free will –$171,000
Rich and famous rent out their luxury pads tax free – $10 million
Studying “hangry” spouses stabbing voodoo dolls – $331,000
Promoting U.S. culture around the globe with nose flutists – $90 million

Talk about big government gone mad!

 

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What was in the Cromnibus

December 18th, 2014 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

You may have heard about the US Congress passing a cromnibus bill – which is a continuing resolution (to pay the bills) bill and anything else a Representative or Senator can sneak in.

My former flatmate, Kevin Doyle, of Wexford Strategies, has published a list of some of things included in the bill:

  • Prohibits chickens from China in school lunches.
  • Prohibits funds for portrait-painting of elected officials.
  • Requires heating modernization for Kaiserstautern, Germany military base must include US coal.
  • Blocks DC recreational marijuana proposition, which was passed by referendum in Nov. 2014.
  • Clarifies that Interior Secretary may make agreements regarding long-term care of excess wild horses and burros.
  • Mandates that minimum 50% of BSEE fees be used for development of Outer Continental Shelf.
  • Clarifies that breast feeding is allowed anywhere in federal buildings.
  • Bars “federal agency monitoring of individuals’ internet use.”
  • Removes funds for placing the Sage Grouse on the Endangered Species List.
  • Bars federal contracts with inverted domestic corporations.
  • Explicitly bars IRS targeting for ideological beliefs or exercise of First Amendment rights.
  • Authorizes assistance to Syrian opposition to combat ISIL.
  • Extends the Internet Tax Freedom Act until Oct. 1, 2015.
  • Prohibits funding of salaries for the White House Director of Health Reform and Assistant for Energy and Climate Change.
  • Prohibits funds for the NSA to acquire, monitor or store electronic communications of US person under FISA.
  • Requires all US Attorneys in Task Force to combat human trafficking.
  • Prohibits funding for inspecting horse slaughter facilities for horse meat for human consumption.
  • Explicitly prohibits use of funds to support or justify use of torture by any US official.
  • Blocks the Air Force from retiring the A-10 close-air support aircraft and U-2 spy plane.
  • Prohibits funds for abortion under the federal employees health benefits program.
  • Freezes pay for the Vice President and senior political appointees.
  • Prohibits funding to require that entities bidding for federal contracts disclose campaign contributions.
  • Prohibits funding for all agencies in the bill, including the IRS, to be used for activities in contravention of the Federal Records Act, such as inappropriately destroying documents.
  • Requires Executive Orders issued during fiscal year 2015 to include a budgetary impact statement.
  • Establishes additional reporting requirements to increase transparency of the activities of agencies whose funding jurisdiction fall outside annual congressional review, including the Office of Financial Stability and the Office of Financial Research.
  • Requires that the Office of Management and Budget report on the costs to the government of Dodd-Frank financial reform.

Thank God we have a more sane system of Government. Parliament’s Standing Orders wouldn’t allow an omnibus bill like this. Only very minor amendments that have no significant policy effect can be included in an omnibus bill in NZ.

 

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Hehir on the Kiwi in Bali

December 18th, 2014 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Liam Hehir writes:

De Malmanche lived down the road from our family farm and I went to school with his boys. It was a very small school and I don’t think the roll ever got to 30 when I was there. Like many rural schools, it has now closed. It only survived as long as it did, however, because all the parents pitched in and invested their time to keep things going.

The de Malmanches never had a lot of money but they were reliable contributors to the school and community. Tony cleaned and maintained the swimming pool. He was also into fishing and diving and one year he helped the school to set up a saltwater aquarium.

This Christmas, however, he will be sitting in an Indonesian jail awaiting trial on drug trafficking charges. In the worst-case scenario, he could face the death penalty. If that sentence is handed down, he will then sit for years in an Indonesian prison waiting for it to be carried out. Then, one night, he will be suddenly woken up, driven to a field in some remote place, tied to a wooden cross and shot to death.

That is the grim reality of the death penalty in Indonesia.

De Malmanche maintains his innocence and his family have protested that he simply does not have the intellectual capacity to be an international drug trafficker. They say he has been unwittingly caught up in a sophisticated scam. Police in Bali, on the other hand, say they are confident he is part of an international drug ring.

Based only on my own experience of the man, I have to admit I find that proposition hard to believe.

I tend to think he is very stupid rather than an international criminal.

However, questions of guilt or innocence are really beside the point. Tony de Malmanche is facing execution by a foreign power. Whether or not he has committed a crime, we should recoil at the prospect of a New Zealander facing such a barbarous fate over drug charges.

The New Zealand Government is providing consular support and has said that, if the death penalty is handed down, it will make representations to the Indonesian Government. That is how it should be. Protecting New Zealanders abroad should always be at the forefront of our foreign affairs agenda.

He has broken Indonesian laws and will have to face a penalty for that. But I don’t support the death penalty for anyone, and where it is legal, should be for the worst criminals only.

Quite apart from all that, however, are the costs of defending the charge. These are likely to be significant – death penalty cases inevitably involve complex procedures and appeals. Lawyer Tony Ellis has speculated that the bill might be as much as $100,000.

Somehow, the family are going to have to scrape this together. It won’t be easy and they’ve asked for help. There is a page at the Spark Foundation’s site givealittle.co.nz where people can make a donation to the Antony de Malmanche Legal Fund.

I am going to end with a transparent plea to readers to go to that site and make a donation.

People with an interest in New Zealand politics are prone to boasting about how compassionate they are. But there is so much more to compassion than voting a particular way once every three years. Some things are just much more important than politics.

A fellow countryman caught up in a frightening foreign legal process, where his very life could be at stake, is one of those things.

Over $10,000 has been donated so far.

I’ve just donated also. Not because I think he has done no wrong. But because I don’t want him to be without good legal representation.

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GDP up 1.0% in last quarter

December 18th, 2014 at 11:09 am by David Farrar

Stats NZ reports:

Gross domestic product (GDP) was up 1.0 percent in the September 2014 quarter, Statistics New Zealand said today. The growth was driven by primary industries, which increased 5.8 percent

“This is some of the strongest growth in primary industries for 15 years,” national accounts manager Gary Dunnet said. “Milk production had a good start to the season, while oil exploration, and oil and gas extraction also grew.”

The key drivers in the September 2014 quarter were agriculture (up 4.7 percent), and mining (up 8.0 percent). In contrast, forestry and logging was down 4.0 percent.

Manufacturing activity also grew (2.0 percent), led by increases in metal product manufacturing (up 4.9 percent), and machinery and equipment manufacturing (up 3.7 percent).

“Service industries were mixed this quarter, with rises in telecommunications and retail being offset by falls in transport and business services,” Mr Dunnet said.

GDP growth for the year ended September 2014 was 2.9 percent.

That’s pretty solid growth. Manufacturing up 2% is a weird sort of crisis.

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Review: The Hobbit #3 (2014): Battle of Five Armies

December 18th, 2014 at 10:00 am by Kokila Patel

By John Stringer

For many of us, reading our first copy of The Hobbit, (published 1937) was seminal. It is still one of the most favourite children’s books of all time. CS Lewis comforted his recently bereaved adopted son with a copy inShadowlands (1993) while discussing The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe (Tolkien led Lewis to the Christian faith. Both classics were written within the fraternity ofThe Inklings pub group) And for many of us, the magic never really left. (50-year-old men like me still mention this). I went last night to a closed premier with a group of male and female friends in their fifties. It was a great ride and a fitting climax to the trilogy prefacing the LoTR trilogy.  It was nice to see Bilbo back in the story, center stage where he belongs as the hobbit in The Hobbit.  He was a bit awol in Hobbit 2.

Thorin Oakenshield’s ‘dragon madness’ is also center stage, like “Achilles’ wrath, the direful spring of woes unnumbered” from the Iliad. Sir Peter Jackson has captured the personality and forces of this mania in Homer-esque fashion in-keeping with that epic meter.  Thorin’s driven lust for gold, home, and his ultimate redemption through killing Azog the Destroyer are central weaves to this tapestry.

Our premier was prefaced by a short intro from the actors and crew, opening with aTVOne News piece of the first production announcement. (Those nineties hairstyles and Richard Long’s moustache!).  They all thank New Zealand for hosting this long three-film production, reflect on their connections here, how much they all loved New Zealand (except Cate Blanchett who has a cheeky Aussie riposte.  Stephen Fry says, “Just like Australia, but without the boasting”). Not too cheesy and cringe-worthy.

For me, Peter Jackson’s greatest achievement is forever marrying LotR and Hobbit to New Zealand.  And this is his film, not the Tolkien Trust’s.  I was saddened to learn chief trustee Christopher Tolkien, who finished some of his father’s work, such as The Silmarillion, has declined to ever meet Sir Peter.

Jackson Divergences and Women Added.

So, we have some Jackson divergences in this movie:

1) the creation of Turiel and a female elf love triangle between Legolas Greenleaf and cross-cultural dwarf interest Fili.  I think this works.  Tolkien was an Oxford don and his appreciation of women was somewhat distant and worshipful. Jackson (well, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens I guess) provide an updated version with Turiel written in to the script.  I like her; she works, and modernises the gender appreciations we have now that were not present between 1937-49 when LoTR and Hobbit were written (no dwarf women-folk; and few heroic female characters). Without the update, a Jackson-Tolkien literal would already be outdated. It had to be modernised and I agree with Jackson on this (also deleting Tom Bombadil altogether).

2) Jackson also gives us Dune-esque “were worms,” who chew through the mountain and allow Azog’s army to ambush the squabbling Elvish, Dwarfish, and Man armies.  This was brilliant and I liked them immediately, huge Dune worms with triple-lipped mouths like the diamond head of a tunneling mine drill.

3) He also gives us more of Radagast the Brown and his Disney bunny sleigh.  Didn’t like that in Hobbit 2, but he works here, and I really liked his link to bringing the eagles to the Battle of Five Armies (the fifth army: elves, dwarves, men, orcs, eagles).”The Eagles are coming!”  They always save the day, so heroic and clean amid all that orcish/troll scum filth. Radagast’s link here is an addition that fits with the spirit of Tolkien.

4) Dain Ironfoot II and his Iron Hills dwarf army of the north (near the Lonely Mountain, arrives on a kune kune pig and there are some mountain goats with large horns.  But I accepted this; it makes sense, and when Thorin and his hand-picked team of four hurtle toward the orcs, the horned rams make excellent mobile…well…batteringRAMS. They then pronk up the mountain side towards Azog’s command post. As a Jackson interpretation of Tolkien, I think that works very well. Dwarves delve in and love rock, mountain goats also, so that’s a symmetry that makes sense in Middle-Earth despite being absent in Tolkien. Movies are about interpretation and new layering.

5) In Jackson Legolas kills Bolg, but it was Beorn in the book.

But there the departures end. The rest is very faithful, even down to the book’s “Bolgers” at the Bag End auction, a nice hat tip to our former prime minister Jim Bolger. Jackson again cements this epic to New Zealand.

Empowering Women

This is not The Hunger Games, but there are lots of empowered women in this film (like Jackson/Walsh did with Rohan’s Lady Eowyn in LoTR). There’s Galadriel, Turiel, and a peasant woman in Laketown played by Sarah Peirse who was the murdered Honora Parker-Rieper in the famous true Christchurch murder Parker/Hume crime (see here: Parker & Hulme Pt 5 (Review: Peter Graham’s 2011 Book). That story was immortalised in Heavenly Creatures (1994) Jackson’s first ‘proper’ movie (the film that ‘found’ Kate Winslet) and really launched Jackson as a serious film maker.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Was Man Haron Monis a terrorist or just a criminal?

December 18th, 2014 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

A number of people have asserted that Man Haron Monis was not an Islamist terrorist but a just a deranged criminal. Terrorist are of course a sub-set of criminals, but putting that aside, what is the evidence for whether this was a terrorist event.

The argument against is that Man Haron Monis was already before the courts on attempted murder and sexual offending. This was not someone who had led a blameless life and suddenly committed crimes after being radicalised. He was  someone facing a lengthy spell in jail, and perhaps thought better to go out in a blaze of publicity – maybe like our Phillip Smith – someone with nothing to lose.

But I don’t think that argument holds up, for multiple reasons. In order:

  1. He was actually free and at large. He shouldn’t have been of course, but he was.
  2. His previous convictions on the letters is directly related to his extreme political views
  3. He displayed a jihadist flag in the window of the cafe
  4. He demanded an ISIL flag be delivered to the cafe
  5. He demanded that the media broadcast his actions as an attack on Australia by ISIL
  6. He demanded that the PM be put on the line to him
  7. He made no demands about his court cases or convictions

While I understand why people would prefer to think it was not a terrorist incident, I think they are being naive. Certainly it was not a co-ordinated attack with multiple people. But sadly that is no longer the sole threat. ISIL is very different to other groups in that they have encouraged supporters to do whatever attacks they can manage, without authorisation or endorsement.

The article on news.com.au provides some thinking on what he may have planned to do:

Queensland barrister Patrick Van Grinsven, who spent 21 years with the police and 12 years of them as a counter-terrorism-qualified specialist negotiator, said police would have been concerned it was providing him with the tools for a horror show.

“If he got the ISIS flag, he could use that to make a very dramatic statement indeed,” said Mr Van Grinsven, who has trained closely with the NSW negotiators on the scene at Martin Place.

As for the media broadcasting his supposed request that Australia was under attack by ISIS, the police requested they not relay his demand for the same reason.

“This person may have been trying to set up an international stage,” said Mr Van Grinsven.

“It could be as serious as trying to do a live execution. We have seen others prepared to do that. This goes through negotiators’ minds.”

It is awful that two innocent people lost their lives. But it could have turned out even worse.

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General Debate 18 December 2014

December 18th, 2014 at 8:00 am by Kokila Patel
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Obama announces normalizing relations between the US and Cuba

December 18th, 2014 at 7:21 am by Lindsay Addie

President Obama has announced that talks are under way to normalize relations between the USA and Cuba. The Washington Post lists a summary of changes to the relationship

Reestablishing diplomatic relations
Adjusting regulations to more effectively empower Cuban people
Facilitating an expansion of travel to Cuba
Authorizing expanded sales and exports of certain goods and services from the United States to Cuba
Authorizing American citizens to import additional goods from Cuba
Initiating new efforts to increase Cubans’ access to communications and their ability to communicate freely

This is a bold move by Barack Obama that if successful could help define his legacy. There is a long way to go with this though. Predictably Republicans are against the idea.

UPDATE: The White House has released a full list of the changes here.

UPDATE 2: The official White House statement in part says.

Decades of U.S. isolation of Cuba have failed to accomplish our objective of empowering Cubans to build an open and democratic country. At times, longstanding U.S. policy towards Cuba has isolated the United States from regional and international partners, constrained our ability to influence outcomes throughout the Western Hemisphere, and impaired the use of the full range of tools available to the United States to promote positive change in Cuba. Though this policy has been rooted in the best of intentions, it has had little effect – today, as in 1961, Cuba is governed by the Castros and the Communist party.

We cannot keep doing the same thing and expect a different result. It does not serve America’s interests, or the Cuban people, to try to push Cuba toward collapse. We know from hard-learned experience that it is better to encourage and support reform than to impose policies that will render a country a failed state. We should not allow U.S. sanctions to add to the burden of Cuban citizens we seek to help.

Statement from the Speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner giving the Republican view.

Relations with the Castro regime should not be revisited, let alone normalized, until the Cuban people enjoy freedom – and not one second sooner,” Boehner said. “There is no ‘new course’ here, only another in a long line of mindless concessions to a dictatorship that brutalizes its people and schemes with our enemies. If anything, this emboldens all state sponsors of terrorism, as they now have an even better idea of what the president meant when he once told Russian leaders he would have ‘more flexibility’ after his reelection.

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Top Google terms from NZ in 2014

December 18th, 2014 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports the top Google search terms from NZers in 2014:

Overall top New Zealand Google searches:

1. Fifa World Cup

2. Robin Williams

3. Commonwealth Games

4. Malaysia Airlines

5. iPhone 6

6. Jennifer Lawrence

7. Charlotte Dawson

8. Flappy Bird

9. Spark

10. Ebola

Top “how to” searches:

1. Draw

2. Meditate

3. Crochet

4. Screenshot

5. Kiss

6. Pronounce

7. Sing

8. Twerk

9. Knit

10. Dream

Top “what is” searches:

1. Ebola

2. Love

3. Gluten

4. ALS

5. Sustainability

6. Illuminati

7. Science

8. Paleo

9. Tahini

10. Bipolar

Top news item searches:

1. Malaysian Airlines crash

2. Cyclone Lusi

3. Scottish Independence

4. Alex from Target

5. Ukraine news

6. Robin Williams’ death

7. Ebola outbreak

8. Wellington earthquake

9. Cyclone Ita

10. Lunar eclipse

Top Kiwis searched:

1. Lorde

2. Aaron Smith

3. Rachel Smalley

4. Lisa Lewis

5. Mark Hunt

6. Joseph Parker

7. Benji Marshall

8. Chris Cairns

9. Mona Dotcom

10. Stephen Donald

Top sports searched:

1. Fifa World Cup

2. All Blacks

3. BBC Football

4. Commonwealth Games

5. WWE

6. Arsenal

7. EPL

8. ESPN

9. Soccernet

d

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Majority of Americans think CIA harsh interrogation methods justified

December 17th, 2014 at 2:28 pm by Lindsay Addie

A Washington Post-ABC News poll asking Americans about the Senate report in CIA interrogation methods post 9/11 has some revealing conclusions.

NB: I’ve paraphrased some of the questions for reasons of brevity.

When asked if they thought the report was fair?
Fair: 36% – Unfair 47%

Did the CIA intentionally or not mislead the White House?
Intentionally mislead: 54% – Did not mislead: 33%

Was the CIA treatment of suspected terrorists torture?
Yes: 49% – No: 38%

Did the CIA’s methods produce important information?
Yes: 53% – No: 31%

Which of these statements comes closer to your own opinion: (It was wrong to release this report because it may raise the risk of terrorism by increasing anti-American sentiment) OR (It was right to release this report in order to expose what happened and prevent it in the future)?
Yes: 52% – No: 43%

Do you think there should or should not be criminal charges filed against officials who were responsible for the CIA interrogation activities?
Should: 34% – Should not: 57%

All in all, do you think the CIA treatment of suspected terrorists was justified or unjustified?
Justified: 59% – Unjustified 31%

Looking ahead, do you feel that torture of suspected terrorists can often be justified, sometimes justified, rarely justified or never justified?
Often or sometimes justified: 58% – Rarely or never justified: 39%

So a majority of Americans according to the poll are happy to see some kind of rough treatment meted out to terrorist suspects. Even though they think the CIA lied to the White House. Also of particular interest is the reaction of voters across the political spectrum. This is covered here. The chart is too large to reproduce here but it shows that across many demographics except the liberal Democrats there it is accepted that use of torture in some shape or form is justified. That includes moderate/conservative Democrats.

With the events in Australia and Pakistan in recent days there is a greater opposition than ever to terrorist attacks. It is too soon to accurately assess how these events will frame the debate on terrorism and how terrorists should be treated in captivity. Has what is morally acceptable in dealing with terrorism changed especially after the Taliban slaughtered 130+ innocent children? I think it probably has.

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Goff apologises

December 17th, 2014 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

“All witnesses, including Mr Goff, were subject to a confidentiality order of the Inspector-General. The order was made to ensure fairness and the integrity of the inquiry. The disclosure of the report by Mr Goff was in breach of the order,” IGIS said in a statement.

Today’s release said no classified information was disclosed, but it led to “premature media reporting on the content of the report, to the detriment of other witnesses to the inquiry, particularly those adversely affected by the report”.

Gwyn said she would be taking steps to ensure there was greater clarity around release protocols and legal obligations for future reports.

“I have met with Mr Goff and received a full and unreserved apology, in person and in writing. I have accepted that apology, and do not intend to take this matter further.”

I joked on Twitter that now Goff is writing a column for the Sunday Star-Times, will he leak his own column the day before publication to try and spin it! :-)

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Russia’s economic woes

December 17th, 2014 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

The Guardian reports:

Russians are wondering whether the relative economic stability of Vladimir Putin’s rule has come to an end, as the rouble continued its downward spiral on Tuesday, despite a dramatic overnight rise in interest rates.

“Even in our nightmares we couldn’t have imagined what is happening now a year ago,” said the deputy chairman of Russia’s central bank, Sergei Shvetsov, as the currency slid further against the dollar and euro.

Analysts suggest a combination of falling oil prices and western sanctions over Russia’s actions in Ukraine initiated the rouble’s collapse, while further decline is taking place as investors panic and lose confidence in the currency.

As ordinary Russians watched their savings lose more real value on Tuesday, an unusually bitter polemic broke out between senior government officials. In a system where public disagreement is rare, the outbursts were a sign of how serious the tension is, as officials scrambled to deflect blame from themselves for the rouble’s slump.

The central bank announced a rise in interest rates from 10.5% to 17% after a late-night meeting behind closed doors on Monday in a desperate attempt to stop the slump. After a brief rally on Tuesday morning in response to the move, the rouble continued its fall and has now lost more than 50% of its value against the dollar since the start of the year. The rouble rallied again in the afternoon, recovering from a low point of over 100 to the euro to reach the 90 mark, but that figure still leaves Russians stunned, given the rate at the beginning of this year.

Putin may end up losing office over his invasion of Ukraine. The economic pain for Russia will only get worse and worse, and there will come a point where Putin will be (rightfully) blamed.

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Alcohol Sponsorship and Advertising Recommendations

December 17th, 2014 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Ministerial Forum on Alcohol and Advertising and Sponsorship has made 14 recommendations to the Government:

  1. Ban alcohol sponsorship of all streamed and broadcast sports
  2. Ban alcohol sponsorship of sports [long-term]
  3. Ban alcohol sponsorship (naming rights) at all venues
  4. Ban alcohol sponsorship of cultural and music events where 10% or more of participants and
    audiences are younger than 18
  5. Introduce a sponsorship replacement funding programme
  6. Introduce a targeted programme to reduce reliance on alcohol sponsorship funding
  7. Ban alcohol advertising during streamed and broadcast sporting events
  8. Ban alcohol advertising where 10% or more of the audience is younger than 18
  9. Further restrict the hours for alcohol advertising on broadcast media
  10. Continue to offset remaining alcohol advertising by funding positive messaging across all media
  11. Introduce additional restrictions on external advertising on licensed venues and outlets
  12. Establish an independent authority to monitor and initiate complaints about alcohol advertising and
    sponsorship
  13. Establish a mechanism to identify and act on serious or persistent breaches of advertising standards
  14. Establish a multi-stakeholder committee to periodically review and assess Advertising Standards
    Complaints Board decisions and pre-vetted advertising

Recommendations 1, 2, 3 and 7 would basically cripple most sports in NZ.

Recommendations 4 and 8 may have merit, as alcohol should not be promoted to under 18s

Recommendations 5, 6 and 10 means increases taxes and have taxes spent on sponsoring sports

Recommendation 9 could also have merit, in that advertising should occur later at night

Recommendation 11 could mean anything

Recommendations 12 to 14 look like the Government establishing its own advertising regulator, effectively abolishing the self-regulatory model.

All in all pretty depressing. On a related note, an article from Patrick Basham on plain packaging:

Two years after its implementation, plain packaging’s impact upon smoking and the illicit cigarette trade remains the subject of vigorous debate. No longer debatable, however, is plain packaging’s negative affect upon the alcohol industry and other non-tobacco sectors of the Australian economy.

The unintended effects of plain packaging have the potential to vastly outweigh the legislation’s intended public health benefits, real or imagined. In fact, Australia’s imposition of plain packaging on tobacco opened a Pandora’s Box of potential trade costs with the nation’s alcohol sector set to become the first example of the policy’s collateral damage.

Indonesian farmers recently rallied in front of the Australian embassy in Jakarta in support of their government’s targeting of Australian alcohol. The Indonesian trade ministry is preparing to mandate the plain packaging of alcohol products, including Australian wine, with the respective labelling devoted to warnings of the adverse health consequences associated with alcohol consumption.

Providing political support for these plans are Indonesian business lobbyists seeking to protect their domestic market from foreign competition, as well as global and domestic public health NGOs who support plain packaging on all manner of ‘unhealthy’ consumer products, including alcohol and tobacco.

Such support would not have mattered to the Indonesian government if Australia had not opted for plain packaging in late 2011. But, then-Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s Labor government could not resist the temptation to become the global ‘leader’ in tobacco control policy. Consequently, Australia is now embroiled in a messy trade dispute that may spill over into a costly trade war.

Eventually the demand for plain packaging will extend to drinks and to food. It’s a bad precedent.

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Words I wish a NZ Labour leader would say

December 17th, 2014 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

The Telegraph reports:

Jim Murphy has been announced as the new leader of the Scottish Labour Party. …

“The majority are fulfilled, getting on, getting by, being successful. A minority are falling behind, denied opportunity, trapped, unable to escape the hardship of their upbringing.

“That inequality is wrong and it is my driving purpose, it is our driving purpose, it is the Scottish Labour Party’s driving purpose to end that type of inequality once and for all.”

Mr Murphy said the best way to tackle poverty was to boost the economy.

“The most effective anti poverty measure is a successful economy,” he said.

Would we even hear NZ Labour or the Greens say this here?

“It’s about backing businesses, it’s about creating jobs, because if redistribution is our aim, which it is, then we need more wealth not less. We want more entrepreneurs, not fewer. A growing middle class that more families are able to join.

“The debate about how we spend our wealth starts with how we earn it.”

Indeed.

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General Debate 17 December 2014

December 17th, 2014 at 8:00 am by Kokila Patel
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Cosby count now at 24

December 17th, 2014 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

This Herald story lists the now 24 women who have come forward to accuse Bill Cosby of (generally) drugging and raping them.

When that many accusations are made, I have no doubt of the veracity.

What gets me wondering is how many more victims are there? If 24 have come forward, there must be many more who have not.

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Taliban massacre children at Pakistan School

December 16th, 2014 at 11:14 pm by Lindsay Addie

The BBC reports on this very disturbing incident.

At least 100 people, 80 of them children, have been killed in a Taliban assault on an army-run school in Peshawar, Pakistani officials say.

Five or six militants wearing security uniforms entered the school, officials said. Gunfire and explosions were heard as security forces surrounded the area.

The army says most of the school’s 500 students have been evacuated. It is not clear how many are being held hostage.

A Taliban spokesman says the assault is in response to army operations.

Hundreds of Taliban fighters are thought to have died in a recent military offensive in North Waziristan and the nearby Khyber area.

A school worker and a student interviewed by the local Geo TV station said the attackers had entered the Army Public School’s auditorium, where a military team was conducting first-aid training for students.

Live updates are here.

What an evil bunch the Taliban really are.

UPDATE: The BBC are reporting the death toll is now 141 of which 132 are children

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Caption Contest

December 16th, 2014 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

IMG_4396

Captions below. As always go for funny, not nasty.

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Terrorism is bad but let’s not forget family violence

December 16th, 2014 at 2:50 pm by Lindsay Addie

While the media attention has been focused on the events in Sydney and tragic events at the Lindt Café another tragedy has been playing out in Philadelphia.

A former US marine has allegediy murdered six members of his own family.

Police near Philadelphia were hunting a former Marine reservist who authorities say shot and killed six family members and wounded another in a Monday rampage that left dead bodies in three different homes.

A SWAT team storming of a house in Pennsburg, where Bradley William Stone, 35, was believed to be holed up, turned up nothing, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported, and authorities said Monday evening that they did not know his whereabouts.

“As I stand here right now, we do not know where he is,” Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman said shortly after 6 p.m.

The events that transpired makes very sad reading. What makes it more tragic is the accused’s ex-wife has been living in fear of hear life and had warned that Bradley Stone was capable of becoming extremely violent.

Speaking at an evening news conference, Ferman said the rampage began around 3:30 a.m., when Stone allegedly shot and killed Patricia Flick, the sister of his ex-wife, Nicole Stone, at her home in Souderton, also killing Flick’s husband, Aaron Flick, and her 14-year-old daughter, Nina Flick. Her 17-year-old son, Anthony Flick, was receiving treatment at a hospital in Philadelphia for a head wound.

Nicole Stone’s mother, Joanne Hill, and grandmother Patricia Hill were killed next at their home in nearby Lansdale. Investigators were alerted by a hang-up call to emergency dispatchers, Ferman said.

Then, around 5 a.m., Stone went to Nicole Stone’s apartment, located in the Harleysville section of Lower Salford Township, around 5 a.m., investigators said. Brad Stone broke in through a glass door, shot and killed Nicole Stone, and fled with their two children, the woman’s neighbors said. Authorities said Stone then delivered the two children, who were unharmed, to a neighbor in Pennsburg.

Currently the accused is still at large.

Yes terrorism offends decent people and should be eradicated but family violence like that in Philadelphia is also totally unacceptable and shouldn’t be forgotten.

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