Thursday, September 16, 2021

Why I'm OK With NZ Not Being In New Anglo Alliance

Look, I'm no fan of the PRC - but I can't help but recall how NZ's previous entanglement in ANZUS worked out.

That is to say - we got pressured into fighting in Vietnam, and then left high and dry over the Rainbow Warrior attack because "France is more important than you".

I'm not necessarily opposed to a good working relationship with the Americans (or the UK, or the Australians) - in fact, quite the contrary, I'm very much in favour of diversifying both our trade and diplomatic links precisely to avoid the consequences of National's over-egging of the Chinese-held basket.

It's also definitely the case that we have good history together with all three powers in both multilateral and bilateral terms.

But at the same time, we've seen some pretty unimpressive behavior from all three over the past few decades - and I remain to be convinced that being part of a military alliance with them would avoid being tangled up with more of the same.

I'm not even talking about Australia's attitude toward sending us 501 and/or ISIS-linked Australians unannounced. I was more thinking about things like the Americans, circa 2003, attempting to put the economic screws on us in order to compel us to join the so-called 'Coalition of the Willing' that was to undertake their illegal invasion of Iraq.

We've also seen, just this past year, how even through the relatively loose intelligence sharing network that is the Five Eyes, considerable pressure can seemingly be put upon New Zealand to march in absolute lock-step with these other countries .. even where our policy, preferences, and principles don't exactly agree.

It wasn't enough for New Zealand to issue separate declamations of purported PRC conduct - we had to sign up to the 'collective' statement or risk the wroth of foreigners up in arms about us being "New Xi-land". And who knows what was waved about behind the scenes.

New Zealand's foreign policy independence has been a hard-won thing. Both in terms of external factors - yet also, importantly, in terms of convincing our own population that it's actually a worthwhile thing to have. Once upon a time, after all, "Where She Goes, We Go" was the watchword. And even after we were betrayed by Britain some two decades later, people here still didn't quite get the message that really ... we're on our own.

It took, as I say, the tangible and irrefutable demonstration of these things over several decades to really get most New Zealanders on board with the notion that NZ foreign policy being run in New Zealand's interests rather than Washington's or London's or even Canberra's ... was the ideal way for us to go.

It's great that we've got improving relations with the US and UK - and I'm vaguely hopeful that maybe, just maybe, those long-dangled trade-deals with each of those spheres might finally start to eventuate ... eventually ...

But I do resolutely believe that it's possible for us to continue to strengthen our friendships with them without tying ourselves to their ankles as the proverbial third (or in this case, fourth) wheel in a three-legged race which occasionally seems to lurch cliffward with reckless aplomb.

As for the Australians, as we so often like to say on both sides of the Tasman - "we're family". Even if it occasionally feels like they reckon us to be rather more distant cousins than close-relations. 

Having a positive and co-operative regard for each others' interests does not mean we have to be bound into approving of every single thing they might so happen to do.

In terms of our foreign policy - I genuinely believe that we're far better served by pursuing just exactly that: our foreign policy, not someone else's.

We recognize that some certain states are both something to be wary of - and an opportunity for useful engagement. As, funnily enough, do the Australians when they are being honest (seriously - check out the sheer size of their trade with China if you don't believe me).

And we also recognize that merely because one is powerful does not necessarily make one right or wise - as proven, again, via the Americans' (and UK's and Australians') previous enthusiasm for the invasion of Iraq.

By remaining outside the formal 'tent' of AUKUS (a name which, I noted earlier, is apparently phonetically equivalent to 'Orcus' - perhaps ominously for a figure of Oaths, Pacts, and the Nether Regions) we do not lose the ability to co-operate and engage productively with those who are inside said tent where it would clearly be both principled and of use to do so.

We don't stop being friends (and/or family) with various of these polities simply because we've not chosen to join the group-marriage.

It simply means - we don't give up our freedom to do the right thing as we perceive it, when we perceive it to be so.

A situation and scenario wherein, both in our own terms and in broader terms than ours, I do suspect that New Zealand's critical judgement has proven rather more reliable than certain other powers of far greater heft from time to time.

Sunday, September 12, 2021

The Re-Start Of History: 9/11 20 Years On

Something that comes up on the anniversary of 9/11 is that question: "where were you when...".

I find that slightly remarkable because the previous "Where were you when..." question for a previous generation - that of our parents - was "Where were you when the Moon Landing ..."

Now, think about that for a minute. Each of these were, in essence, epochal-transition points. Critical, symbolic junctures wherein something which had been bubbling beneath the surface of the preceding few years, burst with irrepressible force into the mainstream and left our realities forever fundamentally changed as a result.

Except wherein one ushered in the 'Space Age' in full force - a seeming surmounting of mankind's potential to really 'rise above and beyond' in the most literal possible sense through the transformative energies of human scientific aspiration and human indomitable will ...

Well, 9/11 was, of course, a far darker mirror image. There, as somebody put it, it was willpower married with low-tech and on the part of - ostensibly - a small-ish group of non-state actors against a superpower.

Quite the opposite to the Moon Landing - which was, after all, a superpower acting somewhere between 'against another superpower' in the context of the space-race .. but also, in its better moments and in its better rhetoric, acting not 'against' anybody. "We came in peace for all mankind", indeed.

9/11 meanwhile - it was a "low-budget, high-concept attack."

It precipitated a "high-budget, low-concept response."

(and that duality observation is also not mine but rather lifted from somebody's friend via twitter)

If the Moon Landing precipitated a resurrection of that feeling of surety in the West ... 9/11 precipitated a serious helter-skelter away from anything like the same in the West in fairly direct reflection.

I recall where I was that Wednesday morning. Mum was driving me to school (I was 11), we had the radio on in the car as we usually would, and there was a New Zealander at the UN being interviewed just ... describing events as he saw them and as they were happening. We pulled up at my intermediate, and whereas usually I'd have gotten out with my violin to head across for orchestra practice at the neighbouring Auckland College of Education, as it was then, and Mum would have driven off to continue on her way to work ... that morning, we just sat there, listening. It was all you could do.

The picture which emerged was unclear. Hardly even really a picture. Just some clearly worried guy on the other side of the globe talking about what little he knew through his own eyes to his countrymen down here on the bottom of the world. Some shapes emerged through this mist, sure - but it was clear far bigger forces were at play than could be congealed through a single interview, a single sitting, especially as they were still then 'in motion'.

In the hours and days to come, some harder perceptions - I hesitate to state 'facts' at that early juncture - began to emerge. I recall discussion in class about some guy named Osama bin Laden. I recall pretty immediate - like, same day - realization that War Was Coming.

I also recall, somewhat to my amusement now, a student teacher then working  with our class printing out some prophecy purportedly by Nostradamus talking about ... well, the events of 9/11 and spooking us a bit about that. I say "spooking", but when you're 11 it's not quite the right emotion - it's a sparking of curiosity in different direction. I managed to track down a book of Nostradamus' prophecies in our home library after school and was rather ... disappointed at the dysjunction.

The Ending of Eras rarely coincides precisely with some human-imposed calendrical dating system. And those who live through them are rarely possessed of the clarity that that is what is occurring - at least, not until the rear-view mirror is far enough away from the events in question to invoke some measure of clarity through retrospectives en-aided and availed through temporal distance.

I don't know that Hunter S. Thompson actually said that the Sixties came to an end with the riots in 1968 at that year's Democratic National Convention in Chicago (certainly, he explicitly posited the Ali vs Frazier fight in 1971 in such terms), but between that and how he described the Rolling Stones concert at Altamont in December of 1969 - "where the sharks finally came home to roost" - we have just such an epochal-transiting event.

A place where, to quote Thompson again, we can perceive a "high-water mark - that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.”

Such it was, I suspect, for The Nineties - and the vibe of penchant promise for what the New Millennium and Y2K excitement-as-an-ethos was meant to mean.

Francis Fukuyama's "End of History" concept is often mis-invoked by those looking for an easy point-score. He didn't mean that 'history' in the sense of noteworthy events was at a permanent ending following the cessation of overt hostilities in the Cold War and the seeming triumph of the West over its major 'competitor.

However, his central thesis that the Hegelian procession of history was at an end, and Liberal Democracy had 'won' ... well, those planes going into those towers most certainly marked the 'Wave of History' breaking most messily upon New York, upon America and in a way the Liberal West itself.

And what rolled out with the tide was a faux-'Innocence' (much talked about, very rarely actually demonstrated prior to this point), various commitments to Liberty in any but the rhetorical sense, as well as the comfortable satiation of having been "the only game in town" and untouchable as the summation of a Whiggian conception of history.

In its place?

Not just the specter of Terrorism (which was, after all, not at all a new phenomenon) - but of Terror Laws. Not just armed Interventions - humanitarian or otherwise in other countries (again, not at all a new phenomenon ... the USSR had been intervened in Afghanistan only twelve years before) - but a seeming restoration of the kinds of ...  blatantly self-interested neo-colonial conquests as applies the War in Iraq which seemed more a relic of the 1800s than the 1980s.

Speaking of the 1980s - if that was 'Morning In America' (and, via extension, for the West overarching), per Ronald Reagan's campaign rhetoric upon the subject as of 1979 ... then the 1990s were its noon-day Zenith and the early 00s , the so-called "Noughties" (an interesting pun in light of the flagrant disregard for international law which eventuated at this point - the flagrancy rather than the disregard being the truly novel feature) a sort of premature Twilight.

Yet what blotted things out was not, I do not think, clouds of ash and debris from a financial center burning one mid-week morning in New York. But rather, the human actions, the state-level actions, undertaken in - not always unnecessary - trenchant response.

Just prior to the outbreak of the First World War, then-British Foreign Secretary, Sir Edward Grey, uttered the immortal words in succinct summation of the situation:

"The lamps are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them lit again in our life-time."

That chilly morning in mid-September, 2001, which everybody seemingly recalls where they were upon ... we witnessed something similar, I think.

And as the ensuing events over the next twenty years have demonstrated - in that dark, it's back to Business as Usual and History 'Pon The March.

Messy, Bloody, Confused, Telos-Less History.

Which had never truly gone away. Even despite our comforting pretentious delusions to the contrary.  

Thursday, September 9, 2021

Why Israel Demonstrates That Fortress New Zealand Must Stand Strong


[image/information source: Reuters Covid-19 tracker]

Over the past few months, I've heard multiple people pushing Israel as a model for where they want New Zealand to go - big vaccination campaign, followed by prominent rollback for lockdown and other restrictions, getting back toward Old Normal relatively swiftly.

There's no denying that Israel was pretty impressive in its efforts to get vaccines, and get vaccines into its citizenry - that's partially how it secured the access it did, by agreeing to be a 'human trial' of sorts.

However, with nearly 70% of their population vaccinated ... this is what their situation looks like at present. Daily new infections are significantly *up*. Now, you'll be told "oh yeah, that's now what we expect .. so stop focusing on the daily new infections - hospitalizations and deaths will tell a different story!"

So handily ... daily deaths are on the right. They're down, sure. But still *well* into the double-digits (55 yesterday, for instance). And both infections and deaths have taken a slight dip in response to Israel *rolling back out* various restrictions.

Personally, I'm looking forward to the end of Lockdown here - however, that's something made possible by an Elimination strategy which has proven its effectiveness time and time again.

It isn't something guaranteed by vaccination - although vaccination is still very useful and to be encouraged as an additional firebreak for if and when something goes awry at the border.

If we HAD adopted "the Israeli model", and were as well vaccinated as they are - we'd not be living as freely as we have been for most of the past year, nor as freely as we're going to be in a few weeks' time.

And the same columnists currently demanding that we imitate New South Wales or wherever, would be baying for the blood of our Government, claiming that they'd personally been responsible for the deaths of several dozen people plus yesterday alone.

Permanent sealing off of New Zealand from the rest of the world isn't what I'm advocating for here - although honestly, the more one sees of how dire things are out there, the less unappealing an option it would appear to be, relatively speaking.

But while we wait for science to come up with better and more enduring solutions than those presently available to us ... I think that Fortress New Zealand must continue to stand.

It is, seemingly, an approach which continues to be vindicated on a day-in day-out basis.

Regardless of what certain talking-heads overseas desperate for us to descend down to their level of failure may so happen to shriek in our general direction. 

Friday, September 3, 2021

NZ Herald Poll On Pursuing 'Elimination Til Vaccination' Is Thin End Of 'Learn To Live With It' Wedge


Yesterday's Herald included the above polling figures, pertaining to what proportion of Kiwis want to do what about the virus from here on out. Forty six percent in favour of ongoing Elimination, 39% in favour of Elimination, until such time as we hit a seventy percent of the population vaccination rate, and thirteen percent wanting to 'learn to live' with Covid-19. Presumably not personally.

Now, this is interesting, because it suggests that the "learn to live with it" vote is a lot smaller than you'd be forgiven for thinking. But also that a huge quotient of effort which had formerly been going into trying to push that benighted position, will now go into attempting to sway as many people as possible from Elimination through to Elimination Til 70%.

Except here's the thing. 70% is a completely arbitrary number. The only relevancy it has to New Zealand is that it's come off Scott Morrison's teleprompter ... and from there somehow downloaded itself into certain right-wing brains as a talking point. I don't even think it's really supported by Australia's modelling - much less our own domestically generated modelling for where Herd Immunity thresholds (or nearabouts, in a Delta environment especially) actually lie (a figure in the high 90% range).

The Australian model being embraced at the Federal level is also often misunderstood. It's not built on 'live with the virus' in a lasseiz-faire sense once the population is 70% or even 80% vaccinated - instead, it's built on using contact tracing and ring-fencing of outbreaks so they can't grow to overwhelming size and break-through infect significant numbers of vaccinated people.

Therefore, as I understand it, the Doherty Institute's model is effectively built around having virus presence in the community already at a functionally near-eliminated level to begin with - so that contact tracing and containment can actually be done within the 'breathing space' thusly provided.

The trouble with this is obvious, and doesn't even require looking at NSW to see. We had one case of Delta ... which then became very swiftly, half way to a thousand cases of Delta. Including via 'breakthrough infections'. All within a matter of days.

It's just simply not viable to contact-trace that scale of spread even with most of the population vaccinated; so effectively you're left hoping that any and all outbreaks become very small ones by the time they're detected and can be fully ringfenced .. without "elimination".

So what are we seeing here instead?

Simple. The beginning maneuvers of an effort to affix an end to Elimination to a pretty swiftly attained goal - 70% vaccination; no doubt to be followed-up with a repeated bombardment of claims that this was 'always' what the plan was 'supposed to be'.

The same interests which were pushing for "learn to live with the virus" and "COME ON, OPEN UP THE TRAVEL BUBBLE! YESTERDAY!" are very concerned about how popular Elimination has proven, and shall continue to prove on into the future.

So they are going to do exactly what they did with both of those (especially the Travel Bubble incessant whining demands) - try and manufacture an entirely artificial groundswell of support for changing course from something which actually works and has a broad consensus of Kiwis behind it ... to something that'll prove a near stick of ACME Dynamite held fizzing in all of our collective hand. 

A hand which, of course, shall be found to be the Government of the day's, rather than the greasy palm of whichever shrill voices attempted to cajole them into it. Because that's how these sorts of things work, apparently. 

Now, as it happens, we've been both down this road and around this block, before. 

To utilize a case-study in miniature, the Herald about a year ago this week ran a piece declaring that Auckland was "divided" over our then (second) Lockdown to deal with the August cluster. 

It was a curious choice of phrasing and of framing. Why? 

Well, here's what I wrote at the time - 

"So here's something strange.

The Herald reports that Auckland is seriously "divided" over the extension of Level 3 lockdown last week. You might be forgiven for thinking that this meant somewhere around a fifty fifty split of opinion on the matter.

Here's the actual split:

75% of Aucklanders thought that the extension of lockdown was "appropriate". This was made up of 56% who were simply fine with the extension - and a further 19% who wanted the lockdown to go longer.

Meanwhile, that 25% of opponents was made up of 14% for a shorter lockdown, and 9% for the lockdown shouldn't have been initiated at all.

That's three-to-one support for the lockdown. And yet somehow this is a serious degree of "division".

Meanwhile, New Zealanders overall supported the most recent Lockdown by a ratio of more than four to one - 62% in favour of the lockdown we had, 19% in favour of an even further extended lockdown, 10% for a shorter lockdown, and only 6% for no lockdown at all.

Technically a 3-1 majority for Lockdown means "divided" , sure - as does a 4-1 majority.

But it sure does sound rather different when you phrase it like that, frame it like that, rather than OVERWHELMING MAJORITY SUPPORTS THE GOVERNMENT'S COVID-19 MANAGEMENT"

I'm frankly almost surprised, in this light, that they didn't try and present yesterday's polling as showing New Zealand was "divided" over whether to persist with the Elimination strategy. They probably - prudently - sensed that they'd be playing to the 13% with that one if they had. 

However, I suspect that with time - there'll be a steady shifting of emphases. Things shall go from talking about x percentage of New Zealanders supporting Elimination until y percentage of vaccination (or other arbitrary measure - including a date, perhaps), through to simply speaking of x percentage of New Zealanders wanting to 'open up' and abandon Elimination once y percentage of vaccinations is hit. And never mind whether it's an epidemiologically sound number or other such considerations.

A shrill, staccato drum-beat shall crescendo out across the airwaves, the newspaper column-inches, etc. etc. demanding not a debate, but a defeat - and an entirely unnecessary one - for our successful (thus far, and subject to current exigencies) Elimination Strategy.

No doubt considerably emboldened by Victoria seemingly joining New South Wales in edging toward throwing up hands in semi-surrender on that front (and never mind those other Australian states that have declared their resolute intent to do the opposite, having successfully eliminated Delta themselves already - to the point the Australian Federal Government is now threatening to withhold funding from them if they don't get with Morrison's programme of enforced reopening). 

We are going to be escalatingly bombarded with mask-wearing hot-air from self-appointed experts expressing their boredness at having to stay at home vacuuming their Ferrari when they could be sunning it up in the tropics somewhere. 

Will it make any difference? Maybe. After all, 'manufactured consent' is something our media has become quite adroit at over the years - albeit often through simply applying direct pressure on the Government rather than, as has more traditionally been the case, influencing the people at large out there in the polis to do so. 

But I think that it may play out more like the situation perhaps around a year and a half ago - wherein the voices that were so eager to sneer at taking something allegedly no more serious than the flu, quietly shut up as time passed on and more and more reports came in from friends and whanau overseas as to what conditions over there really were like in reality.

If you've noticed, we're also being buttered with a steady diet of material pertaining to "Life Normal Returns" stories from elsewhere in the world - occasionally, to be fair and sure, with small-print rejoinders about how yes, there is a rather notable death-rate 'tax' attached to this eminently faux 'normalcy'. 

We are eminently lucky here in New Zealand - and by 'lucky', I also mean we chose well (broadly speaking). 

Even though we are currently in Lockdown, we have been remarkably successful with our ongoing Covid-19 control measures precisely because we have resolutely committed to Elimination in the past.

This has afforded us something which other countries most dearly lack - i) perspective, and ii) the ability to choose. 

We've been able to take a more measured approach, seeing what other countries are doing and how things are going for them - the perspective; something which requires time in order to be useful, to see how things properly play out. And then choose what we are going to do, coloured by those experiments undertaken at the cost of other countries and contexts elsewhere on the globe. 

Attempting to mad-dash toward the elimination of Elimination simply because Australia's doing it, or because Boris Johnson's declared his umpteenth "Freedom Day" amidst "bodies pile[d] high" - that is not taking advantage of our prospective situation. And given that various countries like Israel and Iceland with relatively high vaccination rates have then had to move back toward more intrusive and restrictive measures due to unforeseen developments with the virus ... I again state it plainly that there is little to be gained and much to be placed at risk by 'go hard go early' as applies rolling back (rather than rolling out) our protections. 

Going off the past year and a half's dominant experience - we can easily afford to take more time, ensure that what we're doing really is the right course of action ... and right for US rather than certain members of the commentariat or overseas climes that long to see us fail precisely because it'll make them feel more vindicated in never having really tried at all to begin with.

We can't easily afford to do anything else. 

Keep that in mind the next time you see a columnist filling up their inches with shoveyness about how we ought be more like New South Wales or wherever. 

You might live longer. 

Monday, August 30, 2021

What To Make Of National Making A Fool Of Itself Over Demands For "Tactile" Democracy - And Its Subsequent, Spurious Suspension Suggestion

Odd Day: National / Michael Woodhouse demands that Parliament sit in person rather than virtually because, and I quote: "Democracy is a tactile thing, it needs to be a physical presence".

Even Day: National / Michael Woodhouse demands that Parliament be Suspended from sitting in person because, and I quote, "it is not safe" and the Government should therefore "use the tools available to them".

Now, it can be pointed out that Woodhouse is actually saying that it's the Government's perception that having Parliament physically (rather than virtually) sit is "unsafe" - although given that Parliament sitting requires MPs flying in from all over the country, presumably including Auckland, to then sit in an enclosed environment shouting at each other ... I think that that's a pretty fair presumption.

But here's the thing. National demanded that Parliament sit in this manner. Labour - against its better judgement - went along with this.

National is now complaining that Labour compromised and allowed National to have what National claimed it wanted.

National never wanted it at all. What they WANTED was a fight. A grand ole opportunity to make it look like the Government was attempting to shut down democracy, and that National was standing up against this. Get that Winston Churchill painting out of the attic - not for Dunkirk Spirit, but the sort of "silly-buggers" which caused Anthony Eden to have a nervous breakdown in the mid-1950s when the former was well past his prime.

Labour hasn't given them the satisfaction - not only rolling out an eminently reasonable proposition for a virtual Parliament which we know works based on previous experience from last year ... but then going even further and actually just accepting National's demands here.

Are they satisfied? No, of course they're not.

Instead, they're upped the stakes. Basically DARING Labour to actually roll out the virtual option - which Labour (and the Greens) would be entirely within their rights and democratic mandate-(super)majority to do.

If they don't, then pushing the line that things aren't as bad, aren't as dangerous as the Government's claimed.

And even where they haven't, still getting in that magic "UNILATERALLY" word to make it seem like Order Sixty Six is being executed by our beloved PM riding 'cross the Rubicon on an armoured vehicle and/or ute.

This is playing politics, pure and simple. It's gone beyond "Opposition For Opposition's Sake" and into outright opposing what they were up in arms about a mere five minutes ago (literally, last week they were vigorously opposing any suspension of in-person Parliament as an abuse of the Prime Minister's power - now they're demanding she in fact do it).

If they look this inept, and this bad when they're coming down to us through a media headline - how on EARTH do they think they'll look better in front of the collective nation repeatedly embarrassing themselves during Question Time!

Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes For Commentariat Under Covid

Something I recall from last year's Lockdown experience was the press conferences. Not, you understand, because they were pretty decent exemplars in political communication (although they were also that). 

But rather because they were the first time most of the general public had ever seen a live and uncut press conference first hand. Specifically, the manner and the mechanism via which some journalists would seek to try and 'Gotcha!' our elected leaders and/or their ministerial appointees. To call it a "melee" is an insult to swordsmanship. It's really more of a meatgrinder - and springs instantly to mind Otto von Bismarck's famous remark about how those who enjoy laws (politics) and sausages ought never behold either being made. 

This lead, predictably - to everybody but some of those journalists - to a fair few ordinary New Zealanders expressing their disquiet, their distaste, and their disgust at what they were witnessing. Not so much in the direction of the political figures under the proverbial microscope (or, should that be 'sniper-scope') - but rather, at some of the journalists pushing spurious, curious, and outright obnoxious lines of questioning in pursuit of that evening's fifteen-second soundbite scoop.

It all seemed a distraction and a waste of effort - especially when people who'd tuned in for the 13:00 briefing could see for themselves just how different the presentation of the same event looked, cut down and spliced for (de-)context on the 18:00 televised news or in the next day's papers. 

This lead to demands from some of those journos asking the aforementioned questions ... that the broadcasts of the press conference portion of proceedings be, in effect, censored. That only the address from the Minister and Ministry of Health mouthpiece (usually the Prime Minister and Director-General of Health) be presented where we could see it - and everything else come filtered through the six o'clock news, newspapers, or whatever else. Or, in other words, only the bits we were supposed to see. Those 'Gotcha' moments, and little via way of context or the meandering, maladroit, would-be manipulative maneuverings that preceded them. 

The reasoning for this was simple. Journalists asking 'hard' questions of demonstrably hard-working public servants could look pretty ugly. Especially when those "hard" questions weren't really questions at all, and were instead just obvious fishing for make-you-look-bad soundbites. We couldn't be trusted to tell the difference between useful scrutiny and spurious snarkyness. And the people dispensing the latter felt pretty unfairly victimized when the public they purported to serve started siding with those with power instead of the notional scrutineers. 

Now that's not to say that journalists didn't do some pretty significantly good work during last year - or, for that matter, this year. We've had numerous issues with various organs of government being questionably across everything in their relevant areas of operations pertaining to the pandemic response - and both them and us benefitting capaciously from having exterior scrutiny to help to call them to account. 

However, if history's supposed to repeat and/or rhyme - it's therefore no surprise that we appear to be seeing a re-rub of these last year's developments all over again. 

In her Sunday Star Times column the week before last, Andrea Vance wrote a few rather poorly received lines. Now, to give her her due credit, her column also contained some useful and important points of critique for the Government and some of its ongoing decisions pertaining to the pandemic - things like the low availability of rapid saliva testing, for instance. 

But she phrased and she framed all of this in inopportune fashion - opening with what amounted to a "poor me" paean about how she couldn't fly "home" to Ireland, because our Government hadn't gone as hard (or as prematurely) on a "roadmap" to re-open the country and facilitate two-way border traversing as she'd have liked. 

It wasn't as bad as Mike Hosking's frankly bizarre column some weeks prior again, wherein he'd seemingly sought to blame Jacinda for New South Wales' disastrous overrunning with the virus meaning he couldn't travel there for an extended holiday. But it seemed to sound a bit similar in some parts. (Although, again to be fair to Vance - I don't for a moment think it really came from the same place; with Hosking, the air of self-centeredness and 'Government Can't Do Anything Right' is a 'feature' not a 'bug', and quite deliberate and played up about as far as one can possibly manage without morphing into Judith Collins. With Vance, she just opened her column badly and it coloured everything which then ensued)

She further didn't help herself by doubling-down on the "Roadmap" commentary by favourably invoking Scott Morrison in comparison to our own Government. 

Now, I raise that last point, because she did. Not in her column of the week before last - but rather, in her last week's column (earlier today at time of writing). 

There, she phrased it thus:

"Why shouldn’t we hear from Scott Morrison? He’s dealing with the same pandemic, his experiences, and more importantly his mistakes, make him more than qualified to comment."

Why is Vance putting a rhetorical question-and-answer like that in her column the week after the column which took aim at the NZ Government in unfavourable terms relative to Morrison? 

Well, I suspect it's because she's probably had a small avalanche of New Zealanders writing in to angrily riposte at her attempted-invocation. To suggest that her criticism was unnecessary, unwarranted, unpatriotic, whatever. And presumably, that the only reason we'd want to hear what ScoMo was up to pertaining to pandemic response, was so we could then do something approaching the diametric opposite thereto. 

The theme of Vance's last week's column is quite simple - that she feels there is, and I quote, an "‘us vs them’ group think mentality." 

"Us being the ‘team of five million’ and ‘them’ anyone who dares criticise the Government’s approach."

Getting the picture?

She appears to harbour some concern for "freedom of expression" being abrogated - specifically, her own. As she puts it in the next line: 

"Government supporters aggressively insist critics should shut up and trust the experts. That anyone questioning the prevailing approach is recklessly anti-science, undermining the response or indifferent to a higher death toll."

Now for what it's worth, I don't entirely disagree. There's definite scope for a multiplicity of voices involved in all of this. It's certainly possible to point out the flaws and the shortcomings in the Government's ongoing response - and do it in the spirit of what was once termed Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition (which can be sensibly distinguished from the National Party, as viewed last year, going around demonstrating flaws in security etc. by being the security-flaws and disseminating confidential patient-lists, making up homeless men, etc. etc. etc.).

It's just that I really really don't think that Scott Morrison is a good example of somebody we ought be listening to. If you don't believe me on this, take a look at this recent Sydney Morning Herald piece (in fact, even if you DO believe me uncritically - always a risky thing to do - take a read of it anyway, it's excellent to illuminate the true character of the man leading our closest ally) looking at some of Morrison's recent curious Covid-19 conduct. 

Now again, to be fair to Vance, she's not being anywhere near as ... unprintable, as the Westland mayor who recently demanded that we listen to business leaders instead of health experts. And also 'learn to live with it', I kid you not, like "Polio". 

However I nevertheless can't quite shake the feeling that the sort of sentiment Vance speaks to - even if she may not, herself, mean for it to come across in this manner - is a bit hypocritical. 

She's not incorrect when she suggests that, as the headline to her piece puts it: "If the Government is making the right decisions on Covid-19, it will withstand scrutiny."

The issue we have is that the scrutiny which is being applied in various corners of the commentariat (both foreign and domestic) to our Covid-19 response ... is of questionable overall quality. There's a lot of very strange, very spurious stuff out there mixed in with it, from people with their own agendas or barrows to push (and/or fill - and I mean 'barrow', there, not necessarily in the 'wheeled' sense, if you get my drift).

Hence, the scrutiny of the Government's Covid-19 response is also something which can, should, and must merit 'scrutiny' of its own. 'Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?' as the ancient Latin maxim goes. 

This is something which doesn't just apply to political (or, for that matter, any other kind of) journalists, though. It also applies to our own local Opposition. Who, quite frankly, are not nearly so "weakened" by "The 1pm briefings [which] skew the discourse in favour of the Government, at the expense of Opposition voices" as Vance claims - as they are by their own ridiculous internal situation and peculiar over-enthusiasm for pursuing 'Culture War' issues that most New Zealanders have repeatedly indicated that they really do not care very much for at all. 

Indeed, what's "Weakening" Chris Bishop this week, I wonder (this being National's Covid-19 response spokesman). Is it that he's not physically sitting in Parliament (yet - his replacement as shadow Leader of the House has fought to get National bums on seats in the House again for the, and again I am quoting .. apparently vitally necessary "tactile" sensation of democracy) ... or is it that he just had his career cut off at the knees by his own leader for daring to exercise some of that candid "freedom of expression" Vance is understandably keen on prevailing in other areas of our nation's politics. 

In any case, it's not that I disagree - in principle - with what Vance is propounding here. It's of course eminently logical that people seeking to help the government - and, ultimately, all of us - via providing reasoned, measured commentary on what could conceivably done better ... should be given a fair hearing and not shouted down nor crowded out. We're quite fortunate that various luminaries of our local academic sphere are already very much 'part of the furniture' when it comes to both commentary and the official consultative process for that very reason. 

But a significant issue we seem to have is that many of the 'alternative voices' which come springing up around the place are ... not so great. The "Plan B" guys spring instantly to mind - and then there's Mike Hosking. 

Some people in the media, for reasons best known to themselves (although easily adequately guessed at), have occasionally chosen to pursue the platforming of these sorts of perspectives precisely because it helps to drive controversy-oriented clicks; or maybe, in some cases, simply because they want to try and make our current response seem unnecessary, in favour of pursuing questionable if not outright illusory 'overseas models'. You know how it goes. 

That absolutely should not be immune from critique, simply because the people who've elected to propel these viewpoints into our collective mindscape and mediasphere are part of the Designated Official Commentariat of the day. 

Nor should, to phrase it admittedly somewhat indelicately, media elements who get observed to be playing silly-buggers , especially during a time of national emergency, be exempt from castigation merely due to their holding swipecards which give them Parliamentary Press Gallery access.

Ultimately, as applies that 'Quis custodiet ipsos custodes' maxim - the answer isn't really 'The Media'. 

It's us. 

And that applies not only to the Government (whom the media would quite like to mediate your watchful relationship with ... no doubt entirely benevolently) , but also to the media.

And not merely because we're "watching" it in the sense of being passive consumers of same. 

It's YOUR headspace they're putting all of this into. Take back control! 

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Afghanistan: Trump's Art Of The Deal Inaction?


I'd say this was a conspiracy theory ... but evidently, it is quite out in the open. What if ... events in Afghanistan over the past few weeks weren't some horrid surprise - but something the Trump Administration was fundamentally OK with.

Think about it. Trump's a business-man. He maybe saw the ongoing investiture of American forces in Afghanistan as a significant cost ... and for what objective? Well, the official purpose of it, was somewhere between "Keep Al Qaeda / ISIS Out Of Afghanistan", and "Nationbuild".

The latter purpose was .. not going that well, and in any case, wasn't something various portions of the US state have been hugely interested in, in comparison to that *other* objective.

Now, if the Taliban have actually been pretty pro-active in fighting ISIS (with, interestingly, American support - it turned out that America was running airstrikes *for* the Taliban in this regard, of late) ... well, a businessman's mind might see it like this:

"We can keep expending money and manpower to fight these guys AND keep a lid on ISIS etc. .. OR, we can subcontract out - get these guys we're fighting to actually do the expenditures FOR us TO fight the guys we both don't like, and all we have to do is stop dying in their land. Win-win!"

And, in a certain way, it is.

It's an acknowledgement that unless the US was prepared to actually restore troop-levels and active-investment in Afghanistan *in the long term*, that the Taliban *were* going to wind up significantly powerful and able to enforce themselves as a government (or, at the very least, as 'part' of a government) - so may as well cut them a deal, right?

And, as icing on the cake .. the CIA gets to continue to do CIA things in Taliban held territory, to make sure that Al Qaeda or Iran don't do whatever it is the CIA wants you to believe Al Qaeda or Iran gonna do. Hell, they might even manage to subcontract out torturing people at black-sites to the Taliban, kinda like the cozy relationship they had with Gaddafi's guys in Libya in the mid-00s.

We might even get a resumption of small Cessna-style aircraft taking off from local airports laden with 'high-value imports' going the other way again ... you know what I mean.

And what did the Taliban have to do in exchange for all of that?

*Not* kill any American servicemen for awhile (and they were *scrupulously* good at that last year), and make some vague declarations about how they were going to respect the rights of women and minorities .. broadly speaking.

What have they emphatically done over the past week?

Made vague declarations that many people understandably don't *at all* believe, about how they're going to respect the rights of women and minorities.

It's Win-Win.

And the best part?

The collapse happened after Trump was no longer President, so the same guy whose administration negotiated to make all of this possible in the first place... gets to point the finger at his successor for sticking to *his plan* and be like "Miss me yet?"