A reader writes in on the US visa case

August 11th, 2015 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Some readers may have seen this article by Linda Scott, who basically compares her detention by US border authorities to Nazi Germany.

A reader writes in:

So, to sum up this article in two sentences: Ms Scott applied for a USA work visa, was denied, and then attempted to subsequently enter on a tourist visa. She then wondered why she encountered issues at the border.

Consider this: if a foreign national, say from a “third world” country applied for a work visa here, got denied, then turned up anyway at AKL saying they are now a tourist, what would the reaction be? That they are genuinely a tourist? Or attempting to get in via a “back door” and will actually be planning to work or overstay, in contravention of their tourist visa?

Having worked in the border security industry, I can guarantee that you in this situation would be answering a lot of tense questions, and would quite likely be denied entry to NZ. As Ms Scott stated, the airline transporting a passenger into a country generally is then required to transport that person back if they are refused entry. Until that happens (i.e. their next flight, which could be anywhere between 4 hours to the following week away) you would be detained in a holding cell at AKL. This is standard procedure in almost all western countries, from the UK to Canada to Australia.

As for Ms Scott saying “Osama won” in her article what I have described above has been standard practice for decades, well prior to Sept 2001.

While law enforcement in the USA is harsh (and I agree with Ms Scott I would not want to be in a US prison), I am left wondering what exactly her expectations were here upon arrival? That they wouldn’t see through her deception? That when her name came up on their computer that her failed attempt to obtain a work visa wouldn’t be there? That she wouldn’t be detained? That your cell phone wouldn’t be taken from her while a prisoner? Do she think prisoners get to keep cell phones while in custody here in New Zealand?

The article – a kind of whine about American law enforcement having the temerity to be targeting you – an educated white woman from a western country lucky enough flying premium economy… seems quite analogous, albeit in reverse to the recent article in the Huffington Post by Janis Powers complaining about her treatment at the hands of NZ Police. Janis Powers didn’t understand the laws in NZ, and neither, it seems, does Ms Scott at an international border.

My personal view is that US border security is often over the top, but as the author points out, failing to get a work visa, and then turning up on a tourist visa is not a good idea.

I recall an acquaintance who once got held by the US for six weeks because his visa had expired by a day – and he was literally crossing the border to leave into Canada! That to me is a far better example of stupid overreach by the US, than this case.

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A post Charleston poll

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

USA Today reports on a poll in the wake of the Charleston shooting:

  • 42% says confederate flag is racist and should not be flown in public, and 42% disagree
  • 56% say tighter gun laws would not prevent more mass shootings, 40% disagree
  • 76% say easier access to guns would not prevent more mass shootings, 18% disagree
  • 78% say Congress will not pass gun control legislation, 15% disagree
  • 52% do not want gun control to be a major focus of the 2016 election, 43% disagree

Supreme Court rules 5-4 that same sex marriage is a constitutional right

June 27th, 2015 at 12:44 pm by David Farrar

The Washington Post reports:

A deeply divided Supreme Court on Friday delivered a historic victory for gay rights, ruling 5 to 4 that the Constitution requires that same-sex couples be allowed to marry no matter where they live.

The court’s action rewarded years of legal work by same-sex marriage advocates and marked the culmination of an unprecedented upheaval in public opinion and the nation’s jurisprudence.

Marriages began Friday in states that had previously thwarted the efforts of same-sex couples to wed, while some states continued to resist what they said was a judicial order that changed the traditional definition of marriage and sent the country into uncharted territory. As of the court’s decision Friday morning, there were 14 states where same-sex couples were not allowed to marry.

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, who has written all of the court’s decisions recognizing and expanding gay rights, said the decision was based on the fundamental right to marry and the equality that must be afforded gay Americans.

“Under the Constitution, same-sex couples seek in marriage the same legal treatment as opposite-sex couples, and it would disparage their choices and diminish their personhood to deny them this right,” Kennedy wrote. He was joined in the ruling by the court’s liberal justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

I have mixed feelings on this. I welcome the outcome, but not the method.

I think it great that all Americans now have the right to marry the person they love (with rare exceptions such as family). And to have the US Supreme Court rule that gay Americans have a constitutional right to marry their loves ones, with mean a huge amount to gay Americans.

So just as I fought hard for same sex marriage to be legal in New Zealand, I welcome it in the United States.

All four of the court’s most conservative members — Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. — dissented, and each wrote a separate opinion.

The common theme in their dissents was that judicial activism on the part of five members of the court had usurped a power that belongs to the people.

“If you are among the many Americans — of whatever sexual orientation — who favor expanding same-sex marriage, by all means celebrate today’s decision,” wrote Roberts, who for the first time in his tenure marked his disagreement with a decision by reading part of his dissent from the bench.

“Celebrate the achievement of a desired goal. Celebrate the opportunity for a new expression of commitment to a partner. Celebrate the availability of new benefits. But do not celebrate the Constitution. It had nothing to do with it,” he wrote.

Scalia called the decision a “threat to American democracy,” saying it robs citizens of “the freedom to govern themselves.”

I do agree with the Conservative Justices though that while the outcome is to be celebrated, the process is not. I think it is a stretch to claim that a document written 200 years ago was intended to allow same sex marriage – considering same sex activity was a criminal offence at the time.

Having a court of nine appointed judges decide on such a massive issue, makes it less likely to gain widespread acceptance than a decision made by referendum or an elected legislature.

The wonderful result in Ireland, where a staunchly Catholic nation voted to legalise same sex marriage was the best way for it to happen. No one could attack the legitimacy of the decision. No one could say it was out of touch politicians or activist judges. In fact having the public vote it in, sent a message to religions that if they want to retain followers, they may have to change with the times.

In the US, it was elected legislatures that gave women the vote. This made it far less controversial, than if the US Supreme Court had done it (which inevitably they would have). By contrast the reason abortion is such a massively controversial issue in the US, is because the Supreme Court decided it for the whole country, rather than let voters or elected legislatures decide. That resentment is why it is such a toxic issue today.

However I think this ruling will be less controversial over time. That is mainly because so many states had already legalised same sex marriage, and public opinion on same sex marriage had dramatically changed over a decade – possibly the largest change on a social issues ever in such a small period of time.

Another difference between the controversy over the abortion Roe vs Wade ruling and this one, is that with same sex marriage, the opponents of it are not directly affected. Yes they think it is wrong, but it is hard to point to a concrete harm except a generic changing of society’s morals. However with abortion, opponents believe that an eight week old foetus is living human being, and that abortion is not far removed from murder.

So I think it is unlikely that in a few years, this will be an issue at all in US politics. In fact some analysts are saying (and I agree) that this has done Republican politicians a favour as they can now say that the issue is settled regardless of their personal views, and don’t have to worry about being off side with a large majority of the population.

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The Madison Fund

June 1st, 2015 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Charles Murray makes the case for conservative civil disobedience in a book called Rebuilding Liberty Without Permission. A review:

In parallel, the legal system has become a vehicle for progressive social aims, growing arbitrary and subjective. Murray points to lower bars for bringing lawsuits, broader rules of discovery and the rise of strict liability that doesn’t require specific negligence to find guilt. All this has conspired to create a system in which defending yourself is prohibitively costly, laws are so complex as to be unintelligible and prosecutors enjoy corrupting discretionary power. Instead of a world where acts are criminalized because they are malum in se (wrong in themselves), Murray argues that a large proportion of crimes in the federal code are “malum prohibitum — not things that are bad in themselves but things that warrant criminal penalties because the government has said they do.”

Think of the case of the pension in Paraparaumu taken to court by the Council because she had someone cut down a tree on her property.

So how do how small-government conservatives conduct civil disobedience in practice? Sit-ins at the EEOC? Occupy OSHA? Or maybe thousands of senior executives chanting, “Hey hey, ho ho, innovation-stifling regulatory regimes have got go!”

Murray’s proposal is less dramatic and more ingenious. The regulatory state has two related weaknesses, he explains: It relies on voluntary compliance, and its enforcement capabilities are far inferior to its expansive mandate. So he proposes a private legal defense fund — the “Madison Fund,” honoring the father of the Constitution — that businesses and citizens can rely on for representation against federal regulators. By engaging in expensive and time-consuming litigation on behalf of clients that refuse to comply with pointless rules, the fund drains the government’s enforcement resources and eventually undercuts its ambitions. The state can compel submission from an individual or company with the threat of ruinous legal proceedings, Murray writes, “but Goliath cannot afford to make good on that threat against hundreds of Davids.”

I think this is a great idea. It would be the equivalent of the ACLU. Imagine in the US a billion dollar fund that will help people fight against mindless regulations that serve no public good.


Democrat lawmakers much older than Republicans

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


An interesting infographic from the US. People see the Republican Party as dominated by old men, but in fact they are significantly younger than the Democrats.

The breakdown in the House is:

  • Over 80 – four Democrats and two Republicans
  • 75 to 79: 12 Denocrats and Two Republicans
  • 70 to 74: 21 Democrats and 10 Republicans

Social change in the US

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


An interesting graphic from Bloomberg showing how fast social change has happened in the US on various issues.

Inter-racial marriage bans took 180 years to abolish, with around 35 states doing so until the Supreme Court ruled in 1967.

Prohibition took 75 years to get over-turned.

It took around 30 years from the first state to allow women the vote, to the 20th amendment.

It took only a few years for states to start allowing abortion, before Roe v Wade in 1973. arguably that is still so hotly contested as federal action occurred at a time when less than 20 states allowed it.

Same sex marriage has gone from 0 to 36 states in just a few years. And we will get a Supreme Court decision on it this year.


Only one Atheist in US Congress

January 7th, 2015 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

An interesting research report from Pew on the religious composition of the US Congress. While 20% of the US don’t have a religious affiliation (atheist or agnostic) only one out of 535 Congresspersons and Senators is an atheist.

The most popular congressional religions (with US population percentage in brackets) are:

  1. Christian 92% (73%)
  2. Protestant 57% (49%)
  3. Catholic 31% (22%)
  4. Baptist 15% (17%)
  5. Methodist 8% (6%)
  6. Anglican 8% (2%)
  7. Presbyterian 7% (3%)
  8. Jewish 5% (2%)
  9. Lutheran 5% (5%)
  10. Mormon 3% (2%)
  11. Buddhist 0.4% (1%)
  12. Muslim 0.4% (1%)
  13. Unaffiliated 0.2% (20%)

The only member of congress who says she is not religious is Kyrsten Sinema, from Arizona. It is near impossible to get elected to any office on the US, if you say you do not believe in God.


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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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.



US election results almost final

December 14th, 2014 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

There’s just one race yet to be officially called (Arizona 2nd) but assuming the recount confirms it as a Republican gain, here’s the records broken in the 2014 mid-terms.

  • Republicans net gain in Senate of nine seats to 54 seats. Democrats 44 and Independents two.
  • 1st time Democrats have lost the Senate in a sixth year mid-term since 1918
  • Largest mid-term gain in the Senate since 1958
  • In the House the Republicans had a net gain of 12 seats to 246, with Democrats on 188
  • Largest House majority since 1928
  • Democrats under Obama have lost 75 House seats – the highest in US history
  • Democrats lost three Governor races to two Republicans and an Independent making it 31 Republicans, 18 Democrats and one Independent
  • Republicans gained control of 11 state chambers to control 69 in total, and Democrats just 30
  • Republicans control 29 state legislatures (both chambers) and Democrats just 11 – their lowest since 1860
  • Including whether they hold the Governorship, the Republicans have control of all branches of state government in 24 states, and the Democrats just seven

If the Republicans in 2016 can win the presidency and hold the Senate, they will be more dominant in US politics than at any other time in recent history.


Dotcom will help Hillary get elected!

December 3rd, 2014 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Internet entrepreneur Kim Dotcom says he will be “Hillary’s worst nightmare” as he revealed plans for a US version of the Internet Party.

Dotcom, who is fighting extradition to the US where he is wanted on piracy charges took to Twitter today to announce the new political movement.

“The Internet Party is coming to the United States in 2015. Stay tuned for our celebrity founders from the music, film and Internet industry,” Dotcom posted.

Well the major impact of the Internet Party and Dotcom on the NZ election was to get the man he hates, John Key, re-elected Prime Minister with an increased number of MPs. So on that basis, Dotcom campaigning against Hillary Clinton, should secure her the presidency.

Minutes later he clarified that his role in the party would be limited.

“The Internet Party US will be well funded and run by American citizens. I will help with Public Relations ;-)”.

I think he should do a speaking tour in the US, to help them.

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Pew’s eight political types

November 13th, 2014 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Pew has divided up US voters into eight types. You can do their quiz to see which type you are. The types are:

  • Solid Liberals –
  • Faith and Family Left
  • Next Generation Left
  • Hard-Pressed Skeptics
  • Young Outsiders
  • Business Conservatives
  • Steadfast Conservatives
  • Bystanders

When it comes to the mid-terms, the groups most likely to vote are the Business Conservatives, Steadfast Conservatives and Solid Liberals. Hence Republicans are likely to do better as the first two groups vote Republican 88% and the last one is 88% Democrat.

I’m classified as a business conservative:

Business Conservatives generally are traditional small-government Republicans. Overwhelming percentages think that government is almost always wasteful and it does too much better left to businesses and individuals. Business Conservatives differ from Steadfast Conservatives in their positive attitudes toward business and in their strong support for Wall Street in particular. Most think that immigrants strengthen the country and take a positive view of U.S. global involvement. As a group, they are less socially conservative than Steadfast Conservatives.

Would be interesting to be able to divide NZ into political types. You need a lot of data to be able to do it well.


Updated US election results

November 13th, 2014 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Republicans have a confirmed seven seat pick up to give them 52 seats and are well placed to get Alaska and Louisiana also. If they do it will be the best mid-term gain for the Republicans since 1958.

In Alaska the Republican candidate is 8,000 votes ahead with 50,000 to be counted.

There is a run off in Louisiana but they have a system where there are no primaries so there were multiple Republican candidates. The Democratic candidate got 42%, and the next two candidates were Republicans on 41% and 14% so I expect a win there also.

In the House the Republicans so far have a net gain of 12 seats with seven undecided. They have a chance of a pick up in five of those seats and if they get just one of them, it will be their largest majority if the House since 1928. That gives you an idea of how huge a victory this turned out to be.



Republicans gains become a rout

November 6th, 2014 at 1:45 am by David Farrar

A good night for the Republicans in the mid-terms, and not so good for the pollsters with Republicans on average doing 6% better in competitive Senate races, than he polls had them.

Let’s look at the results by type.


  • Republicans are ahead 52 to 45 with Alaska, Louisiana and Virginia yet to declare. Louisiana goes to a run off which is likely to go Republican. With 50% counted they are 5% ahead in Alaska, so at this stage a 54 to 46 majority is most likely
  • Incumbent Democrats Mark Pryor in Arkansas and Mark Udall in Colorado lost their seats by 17% and 5%
  • Joni Ernst won by 9% in Iowa. Her initial campaign ad talked of her experience castrating hogs and how it would help her cut pork in Washington! She is also a a lieutenant colonel in the Iowa Army National Guard and the first woman to be elected to Congress from Iowa
  • Shelley Moore Capito won West Virginia for the Republicans making her the first female Senator for West Virginia and the first Republican Senator in that seat since the 1950s
  • John Kasich won strongly in Ohio, a key electoral college state
  • Pat Roberts defeated independent Greg Orman by 11% in Kansas
  • Michelle Nunn lost by a huge 18% in Georgia, which was seen as a close race.
  • In what was thought to be a safe seat for Democratic Mark Warner, Virginia was retained by just 1%
  • The one bright spot for the Democrats was the retention of New Hampshire for Jeanne Shaheen against former Massachusetts senator Scott Brown


  • The Republicans did better than expected winning five gubernatorial races where the Democrats had led in the polls – Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois and Kansas. They have so far gained three states in total
  • In a shock result, Republican Larry Hogan defeated Anthony Brown in heaving Democratic Maryland
  • Massachusetts was won by Charlie Baker for the Republicans
  • Rick Scott beat Charlie Crist by 1% in Florida. Crist is a former Republican who defected.
  • Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker won re-election by 5% against a furious campaign from the left due to his union reforms
  • Wendy Davis lost in Texas which was expected, but she lost by a bigger margin that her predecessor. Her national profile and hype did not translate to votes.
  • The only pick up for the Democrats was Pennsylvania


  • Republicans projected to gain between 14 and 18 seats in the House. If they gain over 246 seats it will be their best result since 1929 in the House. They have 242 confirmed and 13 races not yet decided.
  • Mia Love for elected in Utah to become the first black Republican woman elected to Congress. Utah is less than 1% black. She won the seat off the Democrats.
  • The youngest ever woman elected to Congress is 30 year old Republican Elise Stefanik who won New York’s 21st by 24%. It has been held by the Democrats for 22 years. She is no political novice having got a job at the White House at age 21
  • Clay Aiken failed to win North Carolina’s 2nd district by 18%


  • Referenda on legalising personal use of cannabis passed in Oregon and Washington DC and leads in Alaska. It failed in Florida but that is because they need 60% to pass and it got 58%.
  • Referenda to have mandatory GMO labelling have lost in Colorado and Oregon

Republican odds improving

November 4th, 2014 at 2:24 pm by David Farrar

Lindsay Addie has been doing a great job focusing in US politics. Thought I’d add my 2c as the elections are tomorrow.

Five Thirty Eight now has the Republicans at 75% to gain control of the Senate. Almost all pundits are picking they will increase their majority in the House also. The only downside for them is Gubernatorial races where they may lose three states – however they will remain in control of the executives in the majority of states.

The projections for the Senate are:

  1. Kansas – 51% probability Republican loss to an Independent
  2. Iowa – 67% probability Democrat loss to a Republican
  3. Colorada – 72% probability Democrat loss to a Republican
  4. Alaska – 72% probability Democrat loss to a Republican
  5. Louisiana – 81% probability Democrat loss to a Republican
  6. Arkanasas – 94% probability Democrat loss to a Republican
  7. West Virginia – 99% probability Democrat loss to a Republican
  8. South Dakota – >99% probability Democrat loss to a Republican
  9. Montana – >99% probability Democrat loss to a Republican

The Republicans only need a net gain of six. On this they could gain eight net. If they hold Kansas that is nine, and if they lose it but get a majority without Kansas the independent will caucus with them (he claims). So that may give them a buffer to retain the majority, if they gain it.

So the mid terms should be a good outcome for the Republicans, but not a landslide.

2016 could be interesting for Republicans as they will have 24 seats up, and Democrats only 10. They may only keep the majority for two years. That impacts the Supreme Court. If the Republicans can gain the Senate in 2014 and the Presidency in 2016 (a harder proposition cs Clinton) then they can block Obama replacing a Democratic nominee, and may end up with having a Republican nominee replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg (who would be 87 by 2020) or Stephen Breyer (83  by 2020).


GOP still favoured to win the Senate

August 13th, 2014 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Chris Cillizza at the Washington Post writes:

The decision by Sen. John Walsh (D-Mont.) not to seek election in November in the wake of a plagiarism scandal is the latest piece of good news for Republicans as they strive to take control of the Senate in less than three months.

Walsh’s departure from the race came in the same week that two Republican senators — Pat Roberts in Kansas and Lamar Alexander in Tennessee — defeated tea party challengers in primary fights, ensuring that every GOP senator seeking reelection would be the party’s nominee.

These past seven days typified the fates of the two parties this election cycle. Democrats have been hit by retirements in tough states — Montana, West Virginia, South Dakota and, to a lesser extent, Iowa — and Republicans haven’t nominated the sort of extreme candidates who lack broader appeal in a general election.

Those realities — along with a national playing field in which a handful of incumbent Democrats are defending Republican-leaning seats in places where President Obama is deeply unpopular — have made a GOP takeovera better-than-50/50 proposition.

Nate Silver agrees:

The problem for Democrats is that this year’s Senate races aren’t being fought in neutral territory. Instead, the Class II senators on the ballot this year come from states that gave Obama an average of just 46 percent of the vote in 2012.1

Democrats hold the majority of Class II seats now, but that’s because they were last contested in 2008, one of the best Democratic years of the past half-century. That year, Democrats won the popular vote for the U.S. House by almost 11 percentage points. Imagine if 2008 had been a neutral partisan environment instead. We can approximate this by applying a uniform swingof 11 percentage points toward Republicans in each Senate race. In that case, Democrats would have lost the races in Alaska, Colorado, Louisiana, Minnesota, New Hampshire, North Carolina and Oregon — and Republicans would already hold a 52-48 majority in the Senate.

It therefore shouldn’t be surprising that we continue to see Republicans as slightly more likely than not to win a net of six seats this November and control of the Senate. 

Harry Reid may come to regret effectively abolishing the filbuster. If the Democrats go into the minority, they will have sacrificed the tool that could require the majority to work with them.


Germany says nein to US

July 12th, 2014 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Germany has told the CIA station chief in Berlin to leave the country in a dramatic display of anger from Chancellor Angela Merkel at the behaviour of a close ally after officials unearthed two suspected US spies.

The scandal has chilled relations with Washington to levels not seen since Merkel’s predecessor opposed the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. It follows allegations that Merkel herself, who grew up in Stasi-ridden East Germany, was among thousands of Germans whose mobile phones have been bugged by American agents.

“Spying on allies … is a waste of energy,” the chancellor said in her most pointed public remarks yet on the issue. “We have so many problems, we should focus on the important things.” …

US government sources said the official – whom neither side named – was Berlin station chief for the CIA, the Central Intelligence Agency. A German source said the man would face possible forcible expulsion if he did not leave voluntarily.

This is an unprecedented fall out between allies. I can’t say I blame the Germans. Spying on your opponents and enemies, but not your allies.

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What do moderates want?

May 20th, 2014 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Molly Ball writes at The Atlantic:

It often seems there’s no center in American politics anymore. Increasingly polarized camps on the right and left hold diametrically opposed, irreconcilable views on seemingly every issue.

And yet more than a third of American voters call themselves neither liberal or conservative but moderate, indicating a substantial chunk of dissenters from the left-right paradigm. Are they just confused? Are they closet ideologues with strongly partisan opinions but a distaste for labels? Are they politically disconnected? What, in short, is their deal?

The folks at Third Way, a Democratic think tank that urges moderate positions, decided to find out. They commissioned a poll of 1,500 American registered voters, asking detailed questions about a variety of issues to find out whether those who called themselves moderate were a distinct group and what sets them apart. The Democratic pollster Peter Brodnitz of the Benenson Strategy Group conducted the inaugural “State of the Center” poll last month; it carries an overall margin of error of 2.5 percentage points in either direction.

What the poll found is fascinating. Moderates, according to the poll, aren’t tuned-out or ill-informed, but they tend to see both sides of complex issues—for example, they want the government to do more to help the economy, but they worry that it may be ineffective or counterproductive. 

Is a very sensible position – want to do more, but sceptical it will be effective.

Moderates’ perspective on the role of government has elements in common with both liberals and conservatives. Only 23 percent of moderates favor a larger government that provides more services (compared to 54 percent of liberals and 13 percent of conservatives); 37 percent favor a smaller government with fewer services (compared to 12 percent of liberals and 62 percent of conservatives).

So moderates are sceptical of government, but not hostile to it. While many on the left have a belief that there is nothing Government can’t do.

Liberals overwhelmingly (75 percent) worry government isn’t involved enough in the economy, while conservatives mostly (60 percent) worry government is too involved in the economy; moderates lean toward the liberal side of the argument, with 53 percent saying not enough involvement to 40 percent who cite too much. Still, more moderates fear big government (52 percent) than big business (41 percent). Two-thirds of moderates think government often gets in the way of economic growth, and a majority (54 percent) think that if government is involved in something, it often goes wrong.

Moderates are, well, moderate.

Majorities of moderates believe government should play a role in creating equal opportunity and that a strong safety net is important even if “a few lazy people game the system,” but moderates also largely believe the government has created incentives for poor people not to work. Most interestingly, even as they see society as unequal, seven in 10 moderates disagree with the idea that “the deck is stacked against people like me.” In fact, it was conservatives who were most likely to see themselves as victims: 35 percent said the deck was stacked against them, versus 28 percent of liberals and moderates.



Mr Key goes to Washington

May 20th, 2014 at 8:22 am by David Farrar

The PM has announced:

Prime Minister John Key has welcomed an invitation to meet the President of the United States during his upcoming visit to the US.

The White House has announced President Obama will meet the Prime Minister in Washington DC on Friday, 20 June.

“The invitation underlines the very close relationship between the United States and New Zealand,” Mr Key says.

“I look forward to meeting with President Obama.  We are likely to discuss the Trans Pacific Partnership negotiations, to take stock of our bilateral relationship, and to exchange views on current regional and international issues,” he says.

The Prime Minister is travelling to the United States from June 16 to 20.

While in Washington DC, the Prime Minister will also meet with a range of senior administration figures, Congressional representatives and business leaders. 

The Prime Minister will also undertake a full programme in New York in support of New Zealand’s bid to win a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council for 2015-16.

This is no surprise, yet still welcome.

A diplomat commented to me a couple of months ago how extraordinary it is that the New Zealand Prime Minister is the national leader that has probably spent the most time in the last 12 months with both the President of the United States, but also the President of China.

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The biggest presidential lies

March 29th, 2014 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

The Washington Post has compiled a list of what it says are the biggest President lies since WWII. They include:

  • Eisenhower on the U2 spy plane, which he lied about
  • JFK stating that the US does not intend to militarily intervene in Cuba
  • LBJ on the Gulf of Tonkin incident which allowed him to escalate the Vietnam War
  • Nixon and secret bombings on Cambodia and Watergate
  • Reagan in denying Iran-Contra
  • Bush 41 on claims Iraq had pulled Kuwaiti babies from incubators
  • Clinton on not having sex with Lewinsky
  • Bush 43 on claims Iraq had WMDs
  • Obama on claims Americans will be able to keep their insurance plans if they want to

The Bush 41 and Bush 43 ones are debatable as there is no evidence that they did not believe what they said was correct. The other earlier ones are all clear lies, where the President knew what they said was false.


Duty by Robert Gates

January 11th, 2014 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

A book I’ll definitely be buying is Duty by Robert Gates. Gates was rated by the Washington Post as the best Defence Secretary since WWII, and had served numerous Presidents (he is a Republican) over the decades. Some of his roles include:

  • CIA staffer in Nixon presidency
  • NSC staffer in Ford presidency
  • senior CIA director in Carter presidency
  • DDI and DDCI in Reagan presidency
  • Deputy NSA in Bush 41 presidency
  • CIA Director in Bush 41 presidency
  • Secretary of Defence in Bush 43 presidency
  • Secretary of Defence in Obama presidency

The Wall Street Journal has the top 10 excerpts from his memoirs. They include:

  • Mr. Gates expresses open disdain for Congress and the way lawmakers treated him when he testified at hearings. “I saw most of Congress as uncivil, incompetent at fulfilling their basic constitutional responsibilities (such as timely appropriations), micromanagerial, parochial, hypocritical, egotistical, thin-skinned and prone to put self (and re-election) before country.”
  • Mr. Gates expresses particular dissatisfaction with Vice President Joe Biden. He describes Mr. Biden as a “man of integrity” who “has been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades.”
  • Mr. Gates writes. “His [Obama] White House was by far the most centralized and controlling in national security of any I had seen since Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger ruled the roost” in the 1970s.
  • “The controlling nature of the Obama White House, and its determination to take credit for every good thing that happened while giving none to the career folks in the trenches who had actually done the work, offended Secretary Clinton as much as it did me,” Mr Gates writes. In one meeting, Mr. Gates says that he challenged Mr. Biden and Thomas Donilon, then Mr. Obama’s deputy national security adviser, when they tried to pass orders to him on behalf of the president. “The last time I checked, neither of you are in the chain of command,” Mr. Gates says he told the two men.

A good analysis of the book is from John Dickerson at Slate.


A US Budget deal

December 12th, 2013 at 7:42 am by David Farrar

Reuters reports:

A bipartisan budget deal announced in the US Congress, while modest in its spending cuts, would end nearly three years of partisan stand-offs between Democrats and Republicans that culminated in October with a partial government shutdown.

Democratic Senator Patty Murray and Republican Representative Paul Ryan appeared before reporters Tuesday (local time) to announce the US$85 billion (NZ$102 billion) budget accord, which still must be approved by the full Senate and House of Representatives.

“For far too long compromise has been considered a dirty word,” Murray said, adding that the uncertainties created by three solid years of Washington bickering “was devastating to our economic recovery.”

Ryan, the Republican Party’s 2012 failed vice presidential candidate who has his eye on either a 2016 presidential campaign or potentially a House leadership job, wasted no time in trying to blunt criticisms of the pact, especially from fellow conservatives.

“In divided government, you don’t always get what you want,” Ryan declared.

But he added, “I think this agreement is a clear improvement on the status quo. This agreement makes sure that we don’t have a government shutdown scenario in January. It makes sure we don’t have another government shutdown scenario in October. It makes sure that we don’t lurch from crisis to crisis.”

It would blunt the effect of automatic “sequester” spending cuts by allowing federal agencies and discretionary programs to spend US$63 billion (NZ$75 billion) more over two years, while savings are made elsewhere. It also would provide an additional US$20 billion to US$23 billion (NZ$24 billion to $27 billion)  in deficit reduction over 10 years.

This is a pretty good outcome. Obama and the Democrats didn’t get any tax increases, and the level of spending is slightly less than it would have been under the automatic sequester. Also the Democrats didn’t get an extension in what was meant to be temporary unemployment insurance.

Not a great deal for either side, but a workable one.



The new US Ambassador

October 31st, 2013 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

A former professional baseball player and financial high flier has been nominated ambassador to New Zealand by United States President Barack Obama.

Mark Gilbert, 57, is a director at Barclays Wealth, formerly Lehman Brothers, in West Palm Beach, Florida.  

The nomination was announced by the White House today.

If Gilbert is confirmed by the US Senate he would replace David Huebner, an Obama nominee in the president’s first term.

“I have spoken with Mr. Gilbert on a several occasions, and I look forward to tracking his confirmation process,” Huebner wrote on his blog. “If confirmed, he would be joined in Wellington by this wife, Nancy. The couple has two adult daughters, Danielle and Elizabeth.”

Previously, Gilbert was the senior vice president of Goldman Sachs in Miami.

It will probably take a while for him to be confirmed. The current Ambassador has been an excellent public face for the United States in New Zealand, and also a prolific social media aficionado. Hopefully the new Ambassador will be as open and friendly as his predecessor.

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US NZ business as normal finally?

October 30th, 2013 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

In an amiable press conference at the Pentagon, the New Zealand Defence Minister, Jonathan Coleman, handed his American counterpart  an All Blacks jersey – and a three-decade military chill between the two nations appeared to be consigned to history.

US secretary of defence Chuck Hagel told reporters: “Today, I authorised a New Zealand navy ship to dock at Pearl Harbor… This will be the first time a New Zealand navy ship will have visited Pearl Harbor in more than 30 years.”

In fact it will be the first since the New Zealand government refused to allow a US destroyer to dock in its ports in 1984.

It’s taken a long time, but I’m glad we’re finally worked out a way to be good allies, despite a disagreement on NZ’s anti-nuclear policy.

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Tax reform principles

July 12th, 2013 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Former Senator Phil Gramm writes on his principles for tax reform.

First, under no circumstances should Republicans agree to make the tax system even more progressive than it already is, or to increase the number of people who do not pay income taxes. In 1980, the top 1% and 5% of income earners in America paid 19.1% and 36.9% of total federal income taxes. Today, the top 1% and 5% pay 37.4% and 59.1%. Meanwhile, 41.6% of American earners now pay no federal income taxes.

Sounds like NZ.

Second, government should collect the minimum revenues needed to support and protect a free society and do so in a way that is, as far as possible, neutral in its effect on individual behavior. In its purest form, this means no individual deductions, credits or tax expenditures. No matter how committed Americans may be individually to charitable giving or home ownership, the government should not promote those values through special provisions in the tax code.


Third, Republicans should require all similarly structured firms be treated the same. If sweat equity is taxed as a capital gain for a mechanic who opens a garage with a financial partner, it should be treated the same for a hedge fund or private-equity manager who shares in the gains of his investors.

Likewise a capital gains tax should have no exemptions.

Fourth, business subsidies and credits should be eliminated. Ending subsidies to fund lower tax rates improves the efficiency of capital allocation. The sine qua non of tax reform is a more efficient allocation of investment capital. If the tax breaks that create crony capitalism are allowed to survive, then tax reform failed.

Lower tax rates, not special tax rates.

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