Politics Update

John Key has given Andrew Little a brilliant start as Leader of the Opposition, being his usual snarky self under attack over the inquiry into Judith Collins’ resignation, then forced to return to the house later to correct false statements.

Now before anyone starts shrieking that he should resign for lying, this is John Key — he’s always lying. Moreover, if you mislead parliament but correct your misstatements voluntarily like Key did, it is not a contempt of parliament.

What Key has really done is furnish a hefty cosh to Little, with which the new leader can beat the hell out of the Government’s best asset. Since this happened on a Wednesday means that question time today will be very unpleasant for the National party.

The mistake Key made was the occupational hazard of the pathological lier. He tripped up on his own lie, when it would have cost him nothing to tell the truth. He said he had had no contact with Cameron Slater between November 22-25 about the inquiry. He had to recant and acknowledge a text from Slater. The slovenly blogger referred to it online.

So Whale Oil still has a direct line to the Prime Minister. And the Prime Minister pays enough attention to feel uncomfortable about it. No doubt he’ll feel more uncomfortable about Cameron Slater in the near future.

What a bonus for Little. He’s currently introducing himself to the New Zealand people,  and this week he gets to show himself as strong. David Shearer failed at that, and David Cunliffe coloured his strength with a toxic dose of pride. If strength is what he walks away having shown this week, he’s doing very well.

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New Labour line up

So Andrew Little has unveiled his new caucus line up. No surprises, he’s promoted Nanaia Mahuta and Grant Robertson, while sending Cunliffe down the list and preparing David Parker for pasture.

Annette King remains acting deputy Leader, keeping the seat toasty warm for Jacinda Adern, who inherits the Justice portfolio. A savy move, it keeps the leadership fighting fit while Andrew finds his feet.

I’d hope that Cunliffe takes the hint and retires at the next election, but I don’t advise anyone to hold their breath. Annette King may choose to see herself out once the deputy chair goes to Adern, but in the current caucus she is the best person to hold the Health portfolio.

Iain Lees-Galloway has been bumped up again, characteristic of a parliamentary career that has been terribly sporadic. He’s at number 12 with the Labour portfolio. That is an area which should keep him busy, with plenty in the government’s program to criticize and oppose.

David Shearer remains doing the only job he can do, be spokesman for Foreign Affairs.

All in all, it’s a big tick for Andrew Little’s first reshuffle.

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All Blacks invisible in Australia

From Melbourne today I couldn’t watch the final All Blacks game of the year as there wasn’t a whisper of it on Australian television.

Instead they showed the Wallabies being narrowly trampled by Ireland — small comfort to me.

Perhaps it’s just a contractual issue between Sky and Fox, but I can’t escape the feeling that New Zealand is being marginalized by small minded TV producers.

With several hundred thousand expat kiwis in the land down under, I’d have thought there would be sound reasons for broadcasting All Blacks matches. But apparently the Aussies would prefer to pretend we don’t exist than witness our pre-eminence on the field.

http://www.stuff.co.nz/sport/rugby/all-blacks/63455051/All-Blacks-tour-finishes-with-win-over-Wales

Mockingjay Part I (review)

The Hunger Games series keeps improving with the third installment going much darker to effectively convey a rebellion blossoming into a civil war. Seeing the film made me want to reread the books, and though I can’t depend on my rusty knowledge of them, this was an extremely faithful adaptation.

Splitting the last book into two films sent a sigh all through fandom as many of us lamented the now well established practice which seems largely a money decision. Harry Potter, Twilight, The Hobbit,  there’s no end to Hollywood’s exploitation of literature to make another buck in an endless stream of movie sequels. However, for Mockingjay this really works.

It was my least favorite book of the trilogy and the splitting of the films leaves room to sort out the final chapters in a more satisfying way. The last section of the book was terribly cluttered. Perhaps that’s more true to the story though, civil wars are many things — tidy is not one of them.

In Part I we are finally introduced to the Avoxes, the people silenced by the Capitol by the removal of their tongues. This was notably missing from the first film and slots in well for the third.

Jennifer Lawrence has not become boring as Katniss Everdeen, and she plays the drama of being a propaganda tool with rebellious spirit, but not angst. Happily it seems teenage moodiness of the Twilight kind will never be a part of the Hunger Games. We see more of Liam Hemsworth as well which is welcome, he plays his militant role with authenticity.

Julianne Moore appears as President Coin, leader of district 13 and the rebellion. She is exactly as I imagined, long greying hair, light brown eyes, and a haughtiness which smacks of jealousy. Her scenes are mostly shared with Philip Seymour Hoffman, for whom the film is dedicated. It is bittersweet to see him as the crafty Plutarch Heavensbee,  and his final complete performance is a testament to his skills. I felt a sharp pang seeing him react with fear and discomfort at the bombing of district 13.

I have to mention Josh Hutcherson as Peeta Malark because I think he gives his best performance in this film. As a prisoner and propaganda tool of the Capitol he physically transforms from the healthy, slightly pathetic Peeta we know, to a thin, brainwashed shadow.  He has little screen time and uses it well.

There’s much more to say but I need to wrap this up. Mockingjay Part I is the best in the series so far and leaves a definite yearning for Part II. As a judgement on a film one can hardly do better.

Only a Pawn

Don’t worry New Zealand, there will ever be a market for your exports in China. More demand than you can possibly supply. That’s the message from Xi Jinping, President of China, as he finishes his first official visit to Aotearoa as President.

That’s in assurance the freshly signed Australia-China free trade agreement will not push New Zealand out of contention with its biggest trading partner. That we ever feared it might is a clue to NZs deep cynicism in world affairs, a product of Britain cutting the antipodes adrift last century. And some still want the union jack, such a symbol of divorce and imperial pigheadedness, to remain the colonizer of the top left corner of our flag.

This kind of stunted conservatism is summed up in the line by George Eliot; “whatever is, is bad, and any change is likely to be worse.” I hope that kind of grumpy non-thinking doesn’t require further refutation.

On the matter of China, relations are now spoken of in terms of a strategic partnership, and involves John Key swallowing his criticisms of China’s human rights record, if indeed he has any. On political reform  Key dodged with the tired old adage “it’s a matter for the Chinese people.” He went on to say that New Zealand will support China in whatever form their government takes. Key has now become both a pimp for, and a prostitute of China. At least they’re paying in full, and it appears Xi Jinping is particularly glad to see New Zealand on the UN Security Council for 2015-16.

New Zealand is looking like a pawn again, albeit one that has more recently been harder to deploy. Let’s see how the game plays out.

What is funny?

This is a question worth a bit of lively contest. And it gets renewed every so often all around the place. When it comes to humour,  just what is truly funny? What can you laugh about?

These questions should share the same answer; everything and nothing. Unfortunately the questions are split and the first is made subject to the tyranny of the second. Taboo subjects are judged by the collective consciousness to be beyond the comedians scope. But that is not to say they aren’t funny.

Irony and the absurd are the twisting of norms to produce such a chaos in the mind of the beholder so as to provoke an unintentional display of mirth. That’s a very roundabout way of  saying that good humor plays on the fringe of what is normally acceptable. Thus the truly funny things are often ones that you shouldn’t laugh about. To drive this point home I appeal to the genius of George Carlin, who in the late 90s explored the comic potential of rape.

Ricky Gervais has said many times that there is in fact nothing you can’t make a joke about,  it depends what the joke is. How you put it together is what’s important, and only that is the measure of what is funny.

Turkish Delight is a bit rich

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the President of Turkey, has apparently made a speech in which he claims that Muslims discovered the American continent three centuries before Christopher Columbus mistakenly landed in the Caribbean in 1492.

I suspect this was merely a tertiary claim in a speech trying to trumpet Turkish-Latin American relations while opportunistically criticising western imperialism. He was focusing more on the exploitative interest taken by the USA on the middle east, and it’s chief natural resource. But his churlish boast that Muslim’s beat the Europeans to the New World shows a staggering lack of critical thought. His claim is based on a line in Columbus’ diary that he saw a mosque atop a mountain in Cuba. Most historians have interpreted this as a reference to the mountains shape, and not a man-made structure — of which no evidence has been found. Like all theological minded speculators, Erdoğan’s only requirement of proof is what someone scribbled in a book many centuries ago.

For sake of argument I will grant the claim to pass. If Muslim’s did indeed go to the New World in 1178, they did not ‘discover’ the territory, any more than Columbus did in 1492. Estimations put the number of indigenous people living in the Americas at around fifty million. Therefore, it could not have been ‘discovered’ by Columbus or Muslims. Secondly, allowing Erdoğan’s claim to proceed gives rise to another issue of contention. He was criticising European imperialism, but in saying the Muslim’s got their first he is in effect admitting the failure of Muslim imperialism.

The only continent that can be said to have been ‘discovered’ in the sense that a navigator sailed there and was the first human to make contact with it, is Antarctica. That is the only continent to not have seen human inhabitation until the turn of last century.

I have Little to say

Andrew Little has squeezed past Grant Robertson by the tiniest of margins to become the latest leader of the Labour Party. Apart from remarking gloomily on the divisive implications of such a close election, and the reality of the unions being the effective king-makers. If the union movement cannot be reformed and modernised I cannot see how their stoic presence behind Little will do anything more than detract from him.

Andrew is still keen to ditch the capital gains tax, and raising the retirement age, both put him at odds with David Parker, who is giving up the finance portfolio and may not stand in the 2017 election. I think the same could be likely for Grant Robertson. He has pledged his loyalty to Little, and is giving up his leadership ambitions after losing twice in the last year. I would not be surprised if he decides he’s has a guts full eventually.

This could be the start of a long awaited Labour refresh of its brand and caucus. I am certainly not opposed to that, but it will mean a high risk time in the near future, as no-one’s job is safe. Andrew Little, last to scrape through on the Labour list in September, leads the big, old, red machine to a new tomorrow, the fifth Labour leader since 2008. Make your bets now.

The Campaign that Never Ends

For those that follow American politics, you can’t go far without being besieged by articles on the (still unannounced) campaign for president by one Hillary Clinton. She has been actively pursuing the White House since leaving it as first lady, and arguably had ambitions for it since before Bill’s presidency. She sacrificed her dreams for his — something other women had to do as well, the former President’s unusual sexual proclivities having been forced on at least three women before Miss Lewinsky.

Hillary has an active super pac, and at this stage is the best funded democrat in the 2016 race. But can she sustain the interest of the American planet? The former First Lady, former New York Senator, and former Secretary of State, has been in the politics game so long that there is a very present risk that she is boring. Like Ted Kennedy, Hillary is part of a political dynasty. But for the Kennedy’s their political peak in 1960 with the narrow election of John Fitzgerald. Although the Kennedy’s have remained politically active since the slaughter of the President on a Dallas street, they have never been as successful as in 1960.

The Clinton’s obsession with the White House is incurable. Hillary’s contribution to US and world politics is substantial, but I believe the ‘brand’ is barren. The longer she remains unannounced for the 2016 race, the longer the other possible Democrat contenders will stay beneath the parapet. This is good and bad, because for the time being she is drawing all the GOP fire, but it also runs the risk of Hillary being largely unopposed in the primaries, then to lose at the general election. If she were to pull out at this point it would be wasting a tremendous amount of resources and money.

What do I know really? I am no expert on American politics (just an interested kiwi), but I believe very strongly that it matters who leads a country, particularly one as influential and powerful as the USA. You can expect me to write more frequently on American politics as the 2016 election draws nearer, and I do intend to do a detailed breakdown of all the candidates from both parties. Still, Obama remains the top duck, and until the election campaign he won’t be lamed. The future of Iraq and the liberty of millions around the world hangs on the next President and their ability to work constructively with the leaders of China, Russia, and Europe. American exceptionalism has to stay on the shelf.