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Friday, 1 December 2017

Sharks in the goldfish bowl: Anatomy of the Golriz Ghahraman “Scandal”

Have a listen and lend and ear
Here’s a song now if you care
We can all just hum along
Words don’t matter anymore

Adhesive by Stone Temple Pilots

In the wake of the recent election I had been enjoying my sabbatical out of the piss filled paddling pool that is NZ politics until I was rudely disturbed by the growing cacophony that we can now title the Golriz Ghahraman “Scandal”.

And it’s important that readers note the quotation marks around the word scandal lest they think that this is actually a scandal and not just another hype fuelled week of media manipulation because the facts of this attention grabbing distraction are rather simple and can be summed up as follows.

Yes, Golriz did serve on the defense team for a Rwandan genocide criminal BUT the cornerstone of any rule-of-law based legal system is the right to a fair trial which includes defense counsel.

On the flipside however Ghahraman was definitely not clear in her previous statements about what she was doing in Rawanda and posing for smiling photos with a genocide war criminal is not a good look for any peace-loving Green MP (perhaps a National MP but not a Green one).

Also not good looking for a Green MP, is her involvement in defending another Rwandan war criminal, currently hiding in NZ (along with two other Rwandans, wanted for war crimes, in which has now become the worst kept secret in Wellington) and her actions in this area would be much more newsworthy that what she did at the Hague.

So there you have it, lawyer acts in the defense of war criminal at their trail BUT fails to clearly establish her exact role in that trial AND continues to have links with the war criminal community in NZ (of which there is more than you would suspect). 

So while it’s not a good look for her, it’s not exactly scandal material is it, and in fact, such hypocritical behavior is par for the course for politicians/lawyers/car-salespeople of any stripe (her and the Greens now included since their +5 magical cloak of morality has been removed thanks to the Greens pre-election failures and screw ups).

What might be more newsworthy, in this instance, is how and why former Labour staffer Phil Quinn decided here and now to fire off the fatal tweets that started this clickbait time waster as none of the information about Ghahraman was particular new so why did Quinn choose this time to take her to task for her pervious behaviour?

And while we are asking questions how exactly did his tweet come to the attention of the media (is his twitter feed the only one in Wellington worth reading?) and why did they run with this story, at this angle rather than any other (like the questions I have just asked) before deciding to make this a front page item and start the inevitable swarm that followed.

No it’s really the media, and their predictable seven day media scrummage around these things, which is what this post is about because in a week where the Police decided not to prosecute anyone for the 123 people dead in the CTV building collapse and things like the TPPA (and its noxious provisions) are still lurking around (followed by a cross party spat in select committee) what one Green MP did in the past pales by degree.

But, once the NZ political media engages its gears and focuses in on an issue the whole kit and caboodle starts churning and starts a cascading media avalanche which cannot be stopped and has predictable consequences and outcomes for those caught up in it.

Note: the following four paragraphs are best read while listing to or imaging the musical theme from Jaws playing (link provided for your entertainment).

First it’s the initial round of mainstream headlines that "frame" the scandal and put the scent of blood in the water. Then the issue is picked up and sent round the local internet via a torrent of quick links in emails and texts before the local blogs sink their teeth in and start laying out the range of acceptable opinions and positions for people to take and late spout to their friends and co-workers.

Next the media seize their prey and drag them down for interviews and opinion pieces (think the well paid talking heads that pollute your screens in the morning or near the letters page in the paper) while other lesser predators (think some of the more vitriolic and partisan blogs and talk back radio) move in to snatch at any scraps that remain.

Then the whole thing starts to get torn apart in a frenzy of media blurts, via Twitter and Facebook, as other parties are caught up in the feeding and dragged, kicking and screaming, into now swirling mass of thrashing, bubbling red water (think James Shaw deciding to take the blame for Golriz’s bio on the Green website and Quinn’s denial over his “genocide denier” claim).

Then the whole things catharticly peaks before people lose interest and begin to prepare for their weekends (as these stories have a habit of always kicking off at the start of the week and playing themselves out by the Friday) leaving behind nothing but a fading red stain in the water, some bits of flesh which rapidly sink out of sight and the fading strains of John Williams score.

Therefore the questions remain: why did an ex Labour staffer decide to take a Green MP to task over her previous career (and lets not get hung up on the "Phil Quinn was in Rwanda narrative" too much) and why did the NZ political media decide that this would be the “Big” story of the week and not focus on the larger issues (like the CTV building, TPPA or actual Rwandan war criminals hiding out in NZ)?

The answer to these questions can be found in the simple facts that, like any good tabloid, sensational headlines sell better than more mundane ones and that the 24/7 cycle of news demands an ongoing stream of push button journalism to keep the punters attention from flagging and Phil Quinn’s inflammatory comment that Ghahraman was a "genocide denier" was more than enough to set this thing off and push any other story back off center stage.

And the worst offender, in this instance, was Stuff which seemed to have devolved to verbatium “reporting” of the story rather than elevating its focus while the NZ Herald, in this instance, seemed to be able to have some perspective on things while the best of the lot was Duncan Garners interview of Ghahraman which did in fact touch on some of the larger issues here but still found time to sensationalize it for the stay home parent crowd.

However it’s also telling that the original “source” for this story (note those quotation marks again) is an "ex Labour staffer" (because almost every article on this led off with that very important qualifier) who just happened to be taking a shot at a member of the Green party in the wake of the same Green party saying they won’t be supporting the Labour government over the TPPA (and potentially forcing Labour to face up the highly unpalatable option of linking sweaty hands with National to pass any TTPA legislation) and thereby right out of the gate weakening the foundations of what labour had thought was a sown up coalition government.

In fact Quinn seemed to be taking his cues from the Media Whores handbook (ala Trump and much of the US political media) by first firing off inflammatory tweets labeling her a “genocide denier”, then later denying he had said such a thing (incredibly stupid in the age of internet) before later admitting that he had, which then sunk his credibility on the matter to zero.

But the NZ Political media circus is also very complicit (2017 word of the year) in this behavior by deciding that this week’s talking point was going to be a verbatim regurgitation of Quinn’s tweets, knowing full well (and with obviously endorsement from their editors) that this was going to play out as it did and suck up the public's limited attention for the five days while they were distracted from other, more important, matters.

Of course, by the end of the week, Quinn’s retraction of his genocide denier claim or revelations of Rwandan war criminals actually living in NZ has had no effect on the original style and substance of the story (or its smear effect on Ghahraman and the Greens) as it’s too late, the damage has been done. 

And the more I think about it the more this has all the hall marks of a carefully orchestrated political hit on the Greens to remind them of their place in the coalition pecking order (that being the bottom) but also to keep them on the back foot by slinging more post-election mud onto their already fragile political reputation when the Shaw is desperately trying to keep his head down and rebuild the party.

Again, I wish to say that the real story regarding Ghahraman is her defending of a Rwandan war criminal hiding out in NZ (and the how and why said war criminal even got here) and not what she did at the Hague while the larger issues of Rwandan war criminals hiding out in NZ or the Police not prosecuting over the CTV building should have been what stirred the media pot this week.

So in the end the NZ media (and their respective news cycle) are likes sharks packed into a goldfish bowl, a media frenzy over some tiny goldfish while the real catch gets way, again.

Monday, 13 November 2017

Elections 2017: We are all socialists now, Comrade!

Welcome Comrade, to glorious October revolution of Democratic People’s Republic of New Zealand!

Here, we have smashed chains which shackle us to oppressive capitalist system and freed our brothers and sisters from servitude to decadent bankers and corrupt real-estate agents.

Now is time of glorious worker utopia where housing cheap and Kiwi can be free forever.

In Democratic People’s Republic of New Zealand running dog capitalists and their puppet forces have been driven into the sea by power of people, never to return*.

Of course the above four sentences are probably causing confusion among some at this time.

Firstly because I am off my meds (doctors’ orders) and as such I have lapsed back into my political junkie habits, like a National party member at a Chinese buffet stuffed with Renminbi, so what better way to sum up the recent election outcome than with some sort of over the top screed which is clearly not true but fun to write.

Secondly, because more astute readers will have noted that those first four sentences are complete gibberish as they have not happened, yet; and the third group will be confused why I am unable to recognise the danger such a revolution poses and have not joined them mounting a counter revolution.

And depending on which one of those confusions you have will be how you view the outcome of the 2017 election.

This is also the last post in the Elections 2017 series and as such it’s time to turn from the how and why of the election to considering the future of this government, and by proxy New Zealand.

What, you didn’t see this coming?

Last month in October Winston Peters finally got off the pot and decided that he was going to back Labour and announced this by saying that “capitalism needed to regain its human face”.

On the face of things it was an extraordinary statement to make in this day and age, let alone at a press conference announcing a new government, as many people only know capitalism in the same way that a fish knows water and by extension could not even conceive of or criticize the very element in which they swim or even more heretical consider that there might be some sort of alternative (which for a fish would be developing lungs and legs and walking on dry land while for capitalists it would be effective regulation and not prioritizing economics over people).

I was almost expecting him to rip open his trademark double-breasted suit to reveal a Che Guevara T-shirt underneath and then don a red beret, mirrored sunglasses and a bullet belt while strutting about the stage pointing out how the CIA sponsored Bay of Pigs** invasion force had been stopped at the beach head.

Of course he had signaled the same no less than a few months prior by shooting down the “irresponsible capitalism” of other political parties but no one was taking him seriously then, at least not in that context. 

No, the only thing which mattered then was which way would Winston jump come the election and nobody (myself included) was thinking that we were going to have to factor some ideological component into what has always been the highly capricious decision making of Winston Peters.

Yet there he was, making it clear that he had been a socialist all along and as such would be siding with his brothers and sisters in Labour (and the Greens) in forming the new government.

I suppose that after letting his populist mojo run itself out in the last 15 years, Winston has found it again, with a vengeance.

Ve came second!

It was of course at that moment that some reported the faint but audible sound of screaming coming from the offices of Bill English as the political rug was pulled out from under his feet and he fell (still screaming) into the political abyss, because up to that moment Peters had been playing his cards very very close to his chest, leaving both public and the media guessing, in all but the most obtuse and opaque ways.

So National was pipped at the post and for a few days there were some rather pissy comments from them; rumblings of a stolen election and how “they had won the most votes” along with some moaning from the public about MMP before the shock wore off and the next stage in the grieving process began.

And to be fair National had a point to complain…oh now wait a minute NO they didn’t!

National (or anyone else) moaning about the election outcome based on them getting the most single vote share would be perfectly acceptable in a FPP system. However we are not in a FPP system and have not been for 21 years so Bill and the B Team griping about their 44% not being enough sounds like Germany refusing to accept losing in WW2 by saying “Ve came second.”

But more seriously, what really killed Nationals chances were far more personal than Winston turning out to be a card carrying member of the Fourth International, as his recent serving of legal papers on the party and others shows.

Nationals following the advice of right wing political consultants Crosby Textor to hurl as many dead cats on the table as possible in the final weeks of the election turned out to be the kind of low rent brainless stunt that loses you the election because it did not thing but piss him off, get his blood up and drive him straight into the arms of Labour.

It might have worked in a highly partisan political climate and a FPP system but in NZ the targeting of Winston, via his superannuation underpayments (as well as idiotic moves like Steven Joyce claiming he had all the economic facts when every other economist in NZ was saying he did not know what orifice he was speaking out of) were clearly the kind of motivation Peters needed to make up his mind and showed that National had no idea of what the inevitable logic of targeting the king maker with muck was.

As Omar Little from The Wire says, “You come at the King, you best not miss”.

National and English have made a brave front of things by saying they will hold the new government to account and that English will lead the party into the 2020 election but not even the most hard core party member would be hard pressed to believe that English will be fronting the party in 2020***.

Radical or Sensible Left?
The late Rodney Bickerstaffe was once asked what kind of Leftist he was (with the assumption being that he was a radical leftist because he was a Prominent Union Leader who had fought for fairer wages and denounced inequality). His reply was that he was “Sensible Left” which summed up his (and his unions) position perfectly.

Sensible Left could also be used to apply to apply to the current Labour/Greens/NZ First government as its clear that despite the potential for personality clashes there has been a rather pragmatic understanding all round of the reality facing them, not just politically but socially and economically.

And the core of this understanding is that it’s not just enough to form a government and rest on ones laurels but rather there was more ideological common ground than there was not and that if egos could be put aside (or at least toned down) then this troika of political parties not only had more in common than not but that they were all closer to each other than to National.

But in an election process where the loyalty and scruples of James Shaw and the Greens to the leftist cause was brought into question while Winston and NZ First has walked out of the teargas like a Greek riot-dog nothing could be taken for granted so it was an unexpected surprise that not only did Winston go with Jacinda but that the Greens were not cut out of government (like had been feared); proof if ever there can be that miracles can occur.

However it’s the next three years that will reveal the real flavor of this rather unusual political Ice-Kachang and I don’t expect that time to pass without incident or issue but as long as the core ideals behind the union of those three parties remains then this government can work.

Thus despite reported strains of freak-out, both before and after the election, that Jacinda was a “communist” or that “a Labour/NZ First government will be bad for business” because of their “smash the market” ideals the reality is that there is a strong narrative behind what they are doing as Winstons re-introduction of “capitalism” back into the NZ political lexicon shows.

So for the immediate future The Road to Serfdom is off the political book shelf and replaced with a new copy of The Great Transformation which for those who are CBB:DNR means that the narrative of an unfettered market and deregulated government is over while market regulation and interventionist government are back on the agenda.

And as V from Vendetta so eloquently explains there is more beneath the mask than just flesh, there is an idea and “ideas are bulletproof”; so for members of the John Key fan club (previously known as the ANZ Board) the biggest threat to them is not an angry mob breaking into the winter palace and dragging them out to the street (although it would be nice to see for once) but the ideas that provide the words which are the fire of revolution and resistance and with Winston declaring that capitalism needs a face-lift the revolution in little old NZ has begun.

The Empire strikes back!

Yet for every successful revolution there is always a potential counter-revolution in the works. We have not woken up from Smiths Dream just yet and I expect both National and members of the business community to keep on hurling deceased felines onto the table in an effort to shock the public into a backlash that can be milked for a political comeback in 2020.

But for that game to work the current government arrangement has to not only fail but also not be seen to try and deliver on its promises and so far (granted it is early days) Jacinda, Winston and James seem to want to continue as they have started with a raft of new policy ideas which are all clearly aimed at rectifying the previous imbalances in NZ society brought about by National and Neo-Liberalism, at as soon as possible and not by 2040.

If there was some sort of ideological schism that National could exploit then it would be even odds of National in 2020**** but so far there is no schism and the language and syntax of the three parties are mostly in alignment (if having their own distinct core issues and overlapping side interests) due to their harmonious articulation of Nationalist vs Internationalist sentiments.

I am sure that Bill English, when not prying the made in China knives out of his back, will be doing his best to attack this new government but all this beautiful three headed creature has to do (and as Jacinda has already done) is point out that the problems that they are solving were created by National and their nine years of mismanagement and Bills words will turn to ashes in his mouth.

So Sensible Left it is and the only radicals in sight are National and ACT still trying to pretend like its 1993.

Back to life, back to reality, back to the future!

However you want it or need it the mood of the nation is not one of Trump like dissent or Brexit discord in the wake of the 2017 election, nor is it like the Arab Spring with the heady rush of democratic blood to a post authoritarian head followed by reactionary spasms of the body politic (such as in Egypt or Syria).

Instead what has happened is the pendulum has finally swung back from its rather violent shift in 1984. NZ is not going to return to the past of being a highly socialist democracy but rather steer into the future of a democratic sovereign state which is willing to address its own issues and illness by reducing inequality and market dominance and ironically protecting the very people and things (the market and New Zealand’s elites) that would be most affected should revolution actually occur.

Populism did rear its head in NZ but as we have sufficient democratic buffering (via MMP) to prevent the results triggering partisan feuding or violence in the streets we got political pragmatism and the courage to do what is needed instead.

So the revolution did occur and it was televised and Elections 2017 has been a long strange trip to write with all the drama one could ask for (not that I did). I had my ups and downs and very nearly lost my marbles as I delved as deep into politics as I did with the US election in 2000 and the coronation of King George Bush the Younger but I made it through and am genuinely happy with the outcome despite still not trusting politicians or noting that incoming PM Jacinda Ardern gets paid more than any other leader in the free world (at $500,000 plus a year).

NZ politics gets a break for the next few posts while I honour my promises to write what I was requested to write and get back to some of my other ideas for things to blog about.

Until then I leave you with little song to remind you it’s good morning for Aotearoa and springtime for Democracy.


*-For full effect watch this video, keep the accent in mind and then reread those four sentences again.
**-Or should that be the Bay of Plenty
***-As the NZ Herald notes (see ****)
****-If it can sort out its leadership issue/crisis

NOTE: title for this post stolen/plagiarized/copyright infringed from a 2008 article in the Telegraph

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Jian Yang: A spy in the Beehive?

Oblique strategy tip of the week: Try reading the sections of this post from back to front.

So the Jian Yang as a Chinese spy story keeps on getting more interesting the further we dig and kudos to Matt Nippert and the New Zealand Herald for continuing to run the story while the only other mainstream media outlet (Stuff) remains conspicuously silent* on what should be a red hot story.

And Nippert’s most recent update makes it clear why it’s not a red hot story: “closer engagement with China”.

However just because we do a lot of business with China does not mean that we should ignore what is clearly a potentially serious security risk or believe the ridiculous claim made by Yang that this is racially motivated just because he is Chinese as there are a few extra threads to this story which need to be pulled before we might actually get an answer to our question: Is Yang a spy?

What is a spy?

Thanks to James Bond films and TV shows like Homeland many people have the picture of spys to be tuxedo wearing, martini swigging (shaken not stirred!), STD infected men, engaging in an ongoing series of high adrenaline stunts in an attempt to stave of midlife crisis or blonde haired, neurotic and mentally unstable women who get to wear hijabs and constantly worry if their co-worker is secretly working for Al-Qaeda**.

However the reality is a lot more prosaic as most spies could be simply defined as “government workers with high security clearances”*** who sit at their desks, work through files and cases, work on policy and spend more time sitting in meetings than is good for them. In short the same kind of work that most people in government do, albeit under the shroud of secrecy.

A spy can also be someone who is in a position to pass on information and documents to another party in a clandestine manner, usually to a foreign power (although industrial spies do exist) which is far closer to what Yang might be than having to drive an Aston Martin backwards down a snow covered slope while fending off masked attackers on skis with your bullet firing umbrella.

What is spying?

Again as with Bond and Homeland the idea of what spies actually do is usually very far from the truth. Spies collect information, do research/analysis and deal with issues of security risk, which usually comes in the form of a security vet or assessment (of a person, group or situation), which will be familiar to anyone who has ever had to get a security clearance.

There are some in the trade who do engage in things more traditionally seen as spying such as surveillance (both physical and signals), black bag (B&Es and various other genuinely covert activities like wet work) however these are a small minority compared to most who work from desks in offices like other government employees.

And like the wider definition of a spy noted above, spies can also be people in far more prosaic roles such as a student or a business person who just happens to have access to the source of information that an intelligence agency wants.

This often plays out as an intelligence service going to see a particular person who is going to travel to the country of interest and either asking that person to gather some information for them; for example if the person was a student going to study at a particular overseas university they might be asked to gather information on a particular topic taught by a particular professor, enrol in that course or simply attend a lecture by that person.

Then when said person gets back to NZ they might be asked to come in for an interview or simply write a report on what they saw and learnt which means that the person who gathered the information is never in the employ of any intelligence agency (and may never fully know the extent of what they have done) and the level of plausible deniability can be maintained.

And while some staff in foreign embassies (such as a military attaché) may be spies (or at least reporting to a second agency other than their own) spies can also (as seen above) exist well outside of any official channel and are simply doing their job of gathering information quietly and surreptitiously without attracting attention.

This makes Yang’s claim that the people he taught were not spies but “simply collecting information” seem unknowingly self-incriminating and duplicitous as Yang appears to be deliberately trying to paint a “spy” as the Hollywood trope rather than the reality he would know by having taught them.

So Yang in his role as both student in Australia and MP in NZ could quite easily be a spy without having to be a card carrying member of some secretive organisation as both his positions both here and in Oz would have given him access to a high level of information which would be exactly the stuff that a foreign intelligence agency would seek to obtain.

Just looking through the list of things the select committee he sat on saw is enough to raise a few eyebrows let alone consider that if Yang had been under orders to influence a certain bill or piece of legislation to favor Chinese interests.

None of this actually means that Yang is a spy but it does dispel the image that Yang is trying to paint with his denials that he is not a spy because he only taught people who “collect information” because that is exactly what spies do.

So why Yang?

In short the following facts apply to Jian Yang as has been listed in the media:

·         Was a member of the Chinese communist party
·         Attended and taught at a school for spies in China
·         Was told not to reveal his true educational/employment background when leaving China
·         Would not say who told him not to reveal this
·         Failed to fully declare this background when coming to NZ (and possibly in Oz)
·         Has never been given a security vet by the NZSIS or any other NZ agency
·         Was directly courted by National to join the party
·         Sat on the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade select committee for three years
·         Was removed from the above committee once his background was known

Yang is probably now under severe scrutiny by the NZSIS and other members of the Five Eyes, as international media interest in this story has been high (with the Financial Times in Hong Kong work with Newsroom NZ to first break the story, which is definitely worth the read), and while both National and Labour would probably hope this would go away its likely to not go away as there are far too many questions in this story and Yang’s background to just sweep it under the rug.

What questions?

In my previous work at Immigration NZ, dealing with things high risk, the main tool when deciding how to deal with any potential risk was to look over the individuals background and history, check their motivations for coming to NZ (and to go back to their home country) as well as any other clear links or issues which might arise before making a decision.

And in Yang’s case, doing things like failing to fully disclose his work and study history and the nature of his background are automatic concerns right off the bat. The fact that he appears to have knowingly withheld this information (because he was told by unknown persons not to) makes this omission even worse and makes his claim of being loyal to NZ a lot less credible.

It also raises the exact type of questions that have been raised; of exactly what he did hide; why did he hide it; who told him to hide it; how strong his links to those organisations still are, what, if any, information did he have access to which if passed to China would be of concern (possibly most if not all) and how much National knew when seeking him out to join the party.

Did anyone check Yang’s background prior to joining the National Party?

Both Immigration NZ and Citizenship would have checked Yang when he applied for a visa and to be a NZ citizen but unless there is something obvious (like a warning from a third party about the candidate) both agencies rely on the applicant to be honest in the information they provide and for that information to be in full and with sufficient detail to do the basic checks needed to process these types of applications.

So when Yang failed to declare his full background there was a big hole in his history and while it would be nice to imagine that an eagle eyed person working on those files might have noticed that and bothered to follow it up, it’s clear that they did not*4 and accepted Yang at his word.

Then there is the issue of the statement made by National Party President Peter Goodfellow (an incredibly rich man with a background worth Googling) that while Yang has not had a security vet he was vetted by the NZ political lobbying firm Saunders Unsworth.

Who is Saunders Unsworth?

On first hearing this, my ears pricked up as the idea of a bunch of lobbyists doing a security vet seemed stupid at best and majorly concerning at worst.

And upon checking out their website stupid went out the window and in waltzed concerning with a big grin on its face.

Seems that Saunders Unsworth, apart from shilling for a lot of large NZ business and overseas multinationals (because that’s what a lobbyist is), has a very obvious connections to China as a link (in Chinese on its main page) leads to a page which contains the following information in Mandarin:

The Company may arrange to introduce you to key decision makers within the Government of New Zealand and to assist you in obtaining regulatory approvals. It is also possible to provide your organization with advice on New Zealand government or public relations decision making.

Leaders of our Chinese team are trade experts Charles Finny. Charles has served as a deputy director of the New Zealand Embassy in Beijing for four years, proficient in Mandarin, and has served as director of the New Zealand Business Office for three and a half years in Taipei. Before taking over the post of Chief Executive Officer of the Wellington Regional Chamber of Commerce, Charles has been the chief executive officer of the New Zealand Foreign Affairs Trade Department during the signing of the China and New Zealand Free Trade Agreements.

Apart from the fact that the company seems to be actively courting business in China and China only (as there were no other foreign language links on the site), its staffed and run by Ex national Party members or those favorable to the party as this rather bitchy little snippet from their profile of Steven Joyce shows:

His involvement with the Exclusive Brethren led to him being named as one of the ‘Hollow Men’ in Nicky Hager’s pathetic beat-up publication.

So a National party aligned bunch of lobbyists with clear links to China did the security vet on Jian Yang and declared him safe to bring into the National party and subsequently get access to all sorts of classified information and documents as a MP sitting on a select committee, it’s the kind of suggestion that ranks up there with vampires would be ok to run blood banks.

So is this more a problem with National?

Yes it is, yes indeed as National has been so far in bed with China and Chinese influences that it’s no surprise that someone like Yang has ended up where he is as why not, it’s business as usual for National.

So far the response of Bill English has been to do what he always does and simply say nothing of substance (truly he learnt well from John Key) and stall, delay and obfuscate as much as possible.

His comments directly pertaining to Yang simply sound like Sargent Shultz shouting "I know nothing!"  but whats new in Toy Town?

So what next?

With National out of government and Yang off the select committee for the moment we could all just pretend that the problem is dealt with but as a MP Yang still has potential to get access to documents and information and until properly vetted he remains a risk and as Nippert notes:

The New Zealand SIS are said to be "extraordinarily rigid" in its approach to foreign citizenship, to the extent that marrying a foreign national - or even being born in a friendly country such as Australia - raises significant hurdles for anyone attempting to secure clearance.

I can attest to that “rigidity” as I had to fight tooth and nail to get my clearance when I worked at Immigration simply due to having lived outside of a Five Eyes country for 10 years and that the NZSIS has no direct links to verify any information or documents I provided*5.

And this is not a racial or a “Chinese” thing. While not always happy with some of the behaviours of NZSIS or the GCSB (I remain a believer in intelligence reform) I don’t balk at the idea of national security or the need to ensure the security of New Zealand by doing checks on people in certain places and positions.

So that leaves me in the same position as the Daily Blog where I would not be surprised if Yang was found to be a severe risk or even if he stood up and announced he was passing information back to China as there is far more information to indicate that he is a risk than any possible bona fides he might have.

The problem, as Martyn Bradbury notes, is that National is so infested with this issue that Yang is really just the most obvious indication of how beholden National is to China (Judith Collins and Orivida or Maurice Williamson and Donghua Liu are the next the most obvious examples but as we know the rabbit hole goes a long way down for National and China) and in fact it would not even surprise me at this point that National was fully aware that Yang had intelligence links back to China and deliberately got him into the party and onto that select committee as part of a deal rather than any “accident” or “oversight”.

At a minimum Yang needs to be fully vetted by the SIS and NOT Saunders Unsworth.

What about Labour?

The incoming Labour government gets to make hay of any bad news that Yang generates for National but in the long run they too are keen to play with China but there just might be  more scruples in Labour than National, as well as less  links to China and Chinese businesses, to be able to moderate those influences down to things that are not outright espionage, spying or criminal behavior.

Perhaps not relying on Suanders Unsworth to do their security vetting is probably a good start.

Is this really that much of a risk?

China might be a major trading partner but they are not a democracy or a place which holds any political ideals to which Kiwis might aspire (unless you are a member of National then "all aboard!") and its human rights record and history make it a risk no matter how much milk product we sell there.

Also when you consider the Chinese use of cyber weapons and cyber warfare (defined as Advanced Persistent Threats or APTs) and things like the recent hack of Australian Defence secrets (not proven to be Chinese but it nicely illustrates the risk of how close to home these things can be) and the extent of Chinese influence in NZ (and how frantic National is to deny it) and in the Pacific (defined as soft power) Yang is just one person, but one person in a key position, with the perfect training and background to hoover up information or have a detrimental (or China flavored) effect on NZ laws and legislation, and in an environment of rising Chinese influence then the answer is YES!

And if there is a risk and it cant be mitigated then the natural response of the Squirrels (and any sane person) would be to cut Yang from seeing anything which would be of issue. The only other option is to court/allow political interference which given how this is possibly a Five Eyes issue may not be possible. This is not like an electoral secretary for an MP calling up to argue for a visa for the MP's "cousin" this is something which if allowed is a full blown risk with little to mitigate it.

So is Yang a spy?

We will probably never know for sure but you don’t need 100% certainty to have concerns about an area of risk and if the shoe fits then I reiterate my comment that if he was to be found a risk then I would not be surprised one bit.

*-another good example of why having the only two mainstream media outlets in NZ merge might not be a good idea.
**-because haven’t we all.
***-that’s a direct quote from one I know.
*4-Having seen how overstretched and often understaffed both INZ and DIA are in these roles I have some sympathy for the people completing these files
*5- To their satisfaction at least, I could prove my background but just not to their standards without going through a lot of extra hoops before I got my clearance

Friday, 27 October 2017

Elections 2017: The final analysis part II - I voted National and all I got was this coalition government

This post is dedicated to John Key; new chairman of the board of ANZ bank which recently announced record profits due to "efficiencies"

We now get to the nuts and bolts section of our analysis, the “hard” data, so to speak, because elections generate a lot of data in the form of polls, votes and policy analysis/costings.

And the most important data at the end of the day is the following:

Final vote/seat count

National –            44.4% and 56 seats
Labour -              36.9% and 40 seats
NZ First -             7.2% and 9 seats
Greens -              6.3% and 8 seats
ACT Party -         0.5% and 1 seat (good God Epsom!)
TOP Party -         2.4% no seats
Maori Party -       1.2% no seats
Mana -                 0.1% no seats
Other Parties -     0.4% no seats

First and foremost the current Labour/Greens/NZ First arrangement comes to a grand total of 50.4% and even if National got to add in Act and the Maori Party (due to their previous association) they still only get 46.1% of the vote.

So yes National got the most votes but this is not a FFP system we live in, it’s MMP and inter party politics is important here so it’s not your individual total that matters but the grand total of all parties that are forming any coalition and on that front National lost.

Also, and lets not be coy here, National was still getting such a level of votes mostly due to the fact that up to two months before the election Labour was in such a state in the polls that many voters were clearly turned off voting for them. That all changed of course after Jacinda Ardern took over (see below) and had it happened earlier I suspect there would have been a bigger shift.

Now let’s compare those figures with the 2014 election outcome:

National –            47.04 and 60 seats
Labour -              25.03 and 32 seats
NZ First -             8.6 and 14 seats
Greens -              8.6 and 11 seats
ACT Party -         0.69 and 1 seat (again, good God Epsom!)
United Future -    0.22 and 1 seat
Maori Party -       1.3% and 2 seats
Mana -                 1.42% no seats
Other Parties -     0.86% no seats

What stands out when you compare these two sets of figures is that between 2014 and 2017 is that almost every single party in 2017 had a decline in vote share compared to their outcomes in 2014.

The only major party to buck this trend was Labour.

Importantly also is the level of decline and its proportion to the actual vote base of each party. National lost 2.6%; New Zealand First lost 1.4%; the Greens lost 2.3% and Maori lost 0.1%.

While Nationals loss was the biggest in actual terms, when taken in proportion to the sheer numbers the biggest loser was the Greens who lost over a quarter of their vote base in 2017 when compared to 2014.

And this loss is even worse when compared what the Greens got in 2011 (11.6%), which should be ringing alarm bells in Green HQ as the current trend is a party haemorrhaging voters. This may be reversed due the Greens now getting into government (Eugene Sage is Minister for Conservation is a big win) but as noted in previous posts the Greens need to work hard to avoid electoral oblivion by slipping below the 5% threshold.

Also when you place this information on the political spectrum we see that there was a distinct and marked shift of voters to Labour from all other parties (or voters shifting through parties). Which in electoral terms means that Labour acted like a vote sink, sucking in voters from across the political spectrum at the expense of all other parties.

Labours 11.6% jump in vote share is far greater than the 6.4% combined losses from the main parties (and including Maori) is a massive surge which means that those voters did not just come from the current vote spread and in fact also came from those who had previously not voted deciding to vote (up to 79.75% from a nadir of 74% in 2011 and 77.9% in 2014).

Another interesting nugget is that NZ has gone from having seven parties in parliament to five and the majority of votes sit with only four of them, which leave power centralised much more than any previous time since MMP started (previous elections had either six or seven parties make the cut).

Some of this is attributable to United Future vanishing as soon as Peter Dunne cut and run as well as the electoral mauling both Maori and Mana received this time round for behaving like idiots.

Admittedly these numbers are raw and do not reflect many of the nuances that can (and have been) found coming out of the 2017 election (for example the discrediting of the rural/urban divide theory and the data for Auckland showing a marked shift towards National this election) but the data does clearly show the following things:

1.    All parties except Labour got less votes than the previous election
2.    There was a marked shift to Labour (and by extension the Left)
3.    Fewer parties made it into parliament and any previous MMP election

The first two on this list are directly connected and show a resurgent Labour under Jacinda Ardern (more on that in a moment) while the last indicates that the era of one person/one issue parties under MMP is probably over.

This political culling of the smaller players may show that after the “deregulation” of NZ politics, by the introduction of MMP in the 90s (thereby breaking the two party stranglehold under FPP and allowing many new players to enter the game), the “market” has reached a state of stabilization and cartelization with the smaller and independent operators driven out of the “marketplace” and the remaining actors operating at the level of informal agreement to “regulate prices”.

And with the heady days of early MMP behind us and the public now able to recognise a one man band masquerading as a larger political cause when they see it (are you listening Winston?) the four remaining survivors of this election (because Act does not count in any meaningful way) get to fill seats in the house previously held by now extinct political parties.

But why stop there when there is more data to crunch, so try this one on for size.

For those who bemoaned the lack of policy discussion at the expense of a relentless focus on personality there is data to show why that was.

In looking at both party and preferred leader poll data is was possible to link changes in various party personalities with clear shifts in the polls.

The most obvious example is the sudden and massive shift in polling for Labour after Jacinda Ardern took over, but we can also see noted shifts in party fortunes when Meteria Turei disclosed her benefit fraud; when Shane Jones joined New Zealand First (this was reflected in the tumble in Winston’s personal polling going from 10+ percent to five and six percent) and even in the slower and less drastic shift in National’s fortunes after John Key bailed out (although credit to Bill English for actually increasing his personal polling during the same period) and when the Todd Barclay scandal broke.

Add in the fact that this election we did not have any flashpoint issues to galvanise public opinion as previous elections (think Dirty Politics and media personalities like Kim Dot Com sucking up all the public’s attention and emotion) and it’s clear that any sudden shift in party fortunes was almost always tied directly to some individual’s behaviour or circumstances.

And while the jury remains out on the increasingly tabloid manner of much of the NZ political press as the driver of such a view it is indisputable that media coverage of the election almost always returned (like a gossipy magazine) to the person rather than the policy and usually left those who wanted the debate to be about the issues (ie policy) out in the cold.

Issues like clean water, child poverty, house prices and anything else which could have been the hinge of this election only ever got a secondary part as either some sort of political garnish to the main course of Jacindamania, Winston’s Super payments, Meteria’s benefit fraud, Todd’s criminality, Bill’s memory loss or Andrew’s ineptitude or lost in the static (or should that be statistical) haze of unfocused public discord which could never focus on an issue long enough to deal with it.

Thus in the final few weeks of the election the normal stable political polls started to jump around very wildly with National sub 40% and Labour above 40% and preferred PM polling starting to look like a coin toss as Bill sank to 28% in July and Jacinda peaking at 35% in early September (where she had been at 6% in July). Even Winston during this period skipped around like a drunk fairy (hitting 10% in July and diving to 4% two months later when National tried to take him out with their clumsy reveal of his Super data).

By election day on the 23rd of September the polls were scrambled both for party and leader and what had been a rather staid and predictable (as well as depressing) electoral outcome of National for another three years (and possibly perpetuity) changed to a an exciting 26 day game of “Where’s Winston?”.

So at this point we have the numbers showing a shift to the Left, personality politics dominating, 1/5th of voters not voting, the near extinction of minor parties and it’s no wonder that some people howled when National got the most votes but failed to make a government as while not a traditional FPP environment it was certainly not the MMP environment we were used to either.

Add in the backdrop for all this being 33 years of Neoliberal politics and an electorate constantly saying “F**k it!” (every six or nine years) as it tried to rid itself of the affliction that such an ideology was and what was a guaranteed win when John Key was leader had become something else with distinctly populist overtones, albeit through a Kiwi lens, when Jacinda became leader of Labour.

Finally, with National having nothing left to foil the meteoric rise of Jacinda Ardern but a table full of Dead Cats (via the advice of professional muckrakers like Crosby Textor) and it was clear in the final month, that despite its high polling, National had lost the election as scumbag moves like Steven Joyce’s outright lying about Labours costings and scaremongering about their tax plan had National starting to look like a child molester caught out on To Catch a Predator and showed that they had nothing positive to offer New Zealand and thus Winston decided to go with Labour.

No outcome is ever a given but all of the above adds up to a mood for real change, not just a change of government but one of ideology, a change away from land sales to foreigners, billionaires buying citizenship and pay as you die health care to something more for the People and less for the dangerous class of parasites whose feeding on the flesh of this nation had gone from a simple itch to full blow infestation and possible death (given how corrupt elites usually end up destroying any society they afflict).

And that’s how it happened…

Next week - Part III - We are all socialists now, Comrade