World view – Thursday

Wednesday GMT

WorldWatch2

For posting on events, news, opinions and anything of interest from around the world.

Trump approval poll from RCP to 19 June:

This closed up significantly after the Singapore meeting between Trump and Kim. It could easily spread again if the raging over the caging of kids on the US Mexico border continues.

Obesity and poverty

Can poor people only afford fattening foods, or do they make poor nutrition choices?

Are they more easily attracted to junk food by advertising?

More money or more education?

It’s not a simple issue. I don’t know how well researched this is.

Labour pressured by friendly fire strike threats

It seems a bit ironic that wage claims and threats of strikes have ramped up substantially now Labour lead the Government. In opposition Labour seems closely associated with unions, the PSA and worker groups like the teachers and nurses, so why are they getting more militant now Labour hold then purse strings?

Payback for their electoral support – large scale payback, because it works.

Hamish Rutherford: Labour’s sympathetic ear means it is destined to feel far more pressure from unions

The timing of strike threats from a growing number of corners of the public sector, must be galling for the new Government.

After years of small increases under National, Labour arrives in the Beehive, makes an offer – then doubles it – and the nurses announce plans to walk off the job for the first time in a generation.

So why now? Why didn’t the nurses strike at any point during the last nine years?

“All of the concerns that you are hearing here, were raised with the previous government,” New Zealand Nurses Organisation chief executive Memo Musa said as the group formally rejected the Government’s $500 million offer. It was “not about sympathy” he added.

“The issue now, is pretty much an issue of timing.”

In part it will be economic timing – National tool over in 2008 as the Global Financial Crisis struck and care was needed in spending during years of deficits. Inflation has also been very low for a decade now, and wage increases have been meagre for most workers.

So Labour taking over at the same that surpluses have come back – more money available and a friendly Government is an opportune time to push for a big lift in wages. And they are pushing hard.

Timing is everything, and the nurses are not alone in realising this.

Teachers – who admittedly have used industrial action regularly – are calling for “action”, with votes on strikes in August.

Thousands of core public servants are also being balloted on strikes. Although the proposed action by more than 4000 members of the Public Service Association – two two-hour strikes in July – will hardly bring the nation to a halt, the way it is being billed is telling.

The PSA has opted for “co-ordinated” action across Inland Revenue and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE), with national secretary Glenn Barclay saying it was “a big deal because we haven’t had industrial action in the public service for a long time”.

Labour will come under more pressure from the unions for a good reason.

It is not just that expectations are higher, it is that the Government has a sympathetic ear. Unions are likely to protest more under the current administration because it will work.

Labour have already raised minimum wages, and promise more increases. They may get pushed by threats of strikes to give generous increases to nurses, teachers and other public servants.

This will be good for the economy, short term.

But it will put a lot of pressure on companies to pay more too, or public-private wage disparities will increase.

If private sector wages are forced to follow Government wage generosity this will likely lead to price inflation as well.And there will be pressure to increase benefits.

Will we end up any better off?

UK to review medicinal cannabis use

Like here are elsewhere in the world pressure has been growing in the UK to allow the use of cannabis products for medicinal use. Sick children have been used to highlight the issue, and the UK government has now announced a review of drug laws.

BBC: Medicinal cannabis use to be reviewed by government

The use of medicinal cannabis is to be reviewed, which could lead to more prescriptions of drugs made from the plant, the home secretary has said.

Speaking to the House of Commons, Mr Javid said the position “we find ourselves in currently is not satisfactory”.

The decision was prompted by recent high-profile cases of children with severe epilepsy being denied access to cannabis oil to control seizures.

The review would be held in two parts, Mr Javid told MPs. The first will make recommendations on which cannabis-based medicines might offer real medical and therapeutic benefits to patients.

In the second part, the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs will consider whether changes should be made to the classification of these products after assessing “the balance of harms and public health needs”.

He said: “If the review identifies significant medical benefits, then we do intend to reschedule [change the rules].”

He said the cases of Alfie Dingley and Billy Caldwell had made him conclude it was time to review the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes.

He also announced that Alfie, from Kenilworth in Warwickshire, was being issued with a licence to receive cannabis-based drugs. The six-year-old has a very rare form of epilepsy that causes up to 150 seizures per month,

His family had originally applied to the government in April, saying his condition improved after using cannabis oil in the Netherlands.

Sounds similar to what has been happening here.

But Sajid Javid stressed the drug would remain banned for recreational use.

Separating medicinal use from recreational use is tricky – fears of opening the floodgates for recreational use often hold back politicians from acting on medicinal use, but that’s ridiculous given the widespread recreational use now.

It’s bizarre that recreational product is widely available but medicinal product is difficult to obtain.

Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott welcomed Mr Javid’s statement, telling MPs that it was “long overdue”.

Lady Meacher, who chairs the all-party parliamentary group for drug policy reform – which two years ago called for cannabis-based drugs to be legalised – said the move was a “no brainer” which could benefit many people.

She said: “About one million people, probably, could benefit from medical cannabis – people with severe pain, obviously children with terrible epilepsy.

“There are 200,000 people in this country with uncontrolled epileptic seizures; MS sufferers, people with Parkinson’s, people with cancer.

“So there are just so many people who must be celebrating today, and I’m celebrating with them.”

She compared cannabis with morphine, and said it was “much, much safer, less addictive and has much, much less in the way of side effects”.

As we know here, opposition MPs can talk big reforms, but seem to get cold feet when in power.

The incoming Government here introduced the Misuse of Drugs (Medicinal Cannabis) Amendment Bill

This Bill amends the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975. The Bill will introduce an exception and a statutory defence for terminally ill people to possess and use illicit cannabis and to possess a cannabis utensil; provide a regulation-making power to enable the setting of standards that products manufactured, imported, and supplied under licence must meet; and amend Schedule 2 of the Act so that cannabidiol (CBD) and CBD products are no longer classed as controlled drugs.

This is currently at Select Committee stage. The limitation to “terminally ill people” has been strongly criticised. Hopefully sense will prevail after the committee considers public submissions.

 

 

Foreign buyer rules relaxed

Prior to getting into Government Labour talked up the effect of foreign buyers on the New Zealand housing market, and copped a lot of criticism for their ‘Chinese sounding names’ claims. They were also accused of exaggerating the impact of foreign buyers – and this has turned out to be true with foreign buyers being just 3% in recent statistics.

Once in power Labour restricted foreign buyers despite warnings of what that would do to discourage new housing developments. They have now partly backtracked.

RNZ:  Government relaxes rules on foreign buyer ban

The government’s overseas buyers’ ban on New Zealand homes has been softened, with some multi-storey apartment buildings now being exempted.

New Zealand officials and minister have also been negotiating with Singapore as the ban contravenes agreements between the two countries – that has now been resolved with Singapore securing an exemption, along with Australia.

Since the legislation has gone through select committees the government has acknowledged some fish hooks, that may have actually put the brakes on housing supply in Auckland.

Broadly, they apply to developers concerned about not being able to complete big projects if they can’t sell individual apartments to foreign buyers.

Another issue was overseas corporates getting caught up in the ban when they wanted to buy residential land – for example to build cell phone towers.

They were valid concerns, Trade Minister David Parker said.

“The advice we had from officials was that if we didn’t allow investment in apartment buildings then the whole complex was more likely not to proceed so there would be fewer purchase choices for New Zealanders,” Mr Parker said.

Parker has admitted they rushed to implementation of the changes and have had to reconsider when it became apparent it was having an adverse effect on trying to get more houses and apartments built.

Under the new regime, overseas investors would be able to invest in new housing, particularly apartments, new rentals, and homes available to purchase under rent-to-own or shared-equity arrangements.

The new rules allowed foreign buyers to purchase apartments ‘off the plan’ but they had to sell them once built. They can now retain ownership, but can’t live in them themselves.

This seems weird, especially when the government says they want to get more Kiwis into home ownership.

And the changes announced yesterday are still being criticised.

Phil Twyford in Opposition in 2016: Foreign buyers’ data selective and ineffective

The Government’s newly released foreign buyer data doesn’t give an accurate picture because it was collected at a time when offshore speculators had temporarily deserted the market, Labour’s Housing spokesperson Phil Twyford says.

“The Government is out of touch with the 70 per cent of New Zealanders that support Labour’s policy to ban offshore speculators from buying existing homes. National should back my Bill when it comes before Parliament next month, instead of supporting foreign speculators against the interests of Kiwi first homebuyers,” Phil Twyford says.

Twyford as Housing Minister in December 2017: Ban on overseas speculators a step closer

“This Government welcomes foreign investment in houses to add to our housing supply,” Phil Twyford says.

“However, purchases of homes by offshore speculators push first home-buyers and families out of the housing market.”

Phil Twyford says the legislative changes demonstrate the Government’s determination to make it easier for New Zealanders to buy their first home.

“We expect the law to be passed early next year fulfilling a key pledge in our 100 Day Plan. The previous National government said it couldn’t be done without breaching trade agreements. They just didn’t try and in doing so, they put foreign buyers ahead of New Zealanders.

“This Government prioritises home ownership and housing affordability for all New Zealanders. This Bill will ensure that house prices are set by New Zealand-based buyers, not international buyers,” Phil Twyford says.

The National opposition now say: Twyford’s numbers badly wrong on foreign buyers

“When challenged on the AM Show today and faced with official statistics, Phil Twyford failed to defend his previous stance that foreigners – particularly Chinese – dominated New Zealand’s property market,” Mrs Collins says.

“He originally claimed that 30 per cent of homes in New Zealand were being sold to foreigners. In the face of irrefutable evidence – he could not defend those numbers.

“Official statistics released yesterday show foreign house buyers make up just three per cent of New Zealand’s residential property market, exactly what the previous National Government maintained.

“In the lead up to the election Labour and Phil Twyford ran a scare campaign claiming buyers with ‘Chinese sounding names’ were not real New Zealanders deserving of a home and were responsible for ‘pricing first-home buyers out of the market’.

RNZ: Overseas house buyer problem ‘was never real’

Many developers are still opposed to a ban on the sale of existing homes to foreigners despite a slackening of the proposed new rules.

Only a fraction of New Zealand’s housing stock is foreign-owned and there are developers who think banning or restricting that investment discriminates.

In the first draft of the Overseas Investment Amendment bill, overseas buyers could buy apartments off the plans, but would have to sell them once the building was completed.

The new draft has softened that, now allowing developers to sell up to 60 percent of their apartments off-plan, without the requirement for buyers to sell within a year.

Official figures show nationally 3 percent of people who bought residential property in the last quarter didn’t hold New Zealand citizenship or resident visas.

Mr Church and other developers believe these figures prove the whole law should be scrapped.

“It indicates that the hyperbole around this issue being a much larger problem is just that, it was never real.”

Interestingly Twyford didn’t feature in yesterday’s announcement, it came from David Parker as Associate Finance Minister.

Foreign buyer screening law reported back

The Bill putting in place the Government’s policy of banning overseas buyers of existing houses has been reported back to Parliament by the Finance and Expenditure Select Committee.

Under the new regime, overseas investors will be able to invest in new housing, particularly apartments, new rentals, and homes available to purchase under rent-to-own or shared-equity arrangements.

“This will help first home buyers to get their foot on the property ladder,” David Parker said.

All permanent residents and resident visa holders who spend the majority of their time in New Zealand will be able to purchase homes under the regime without obtaining consent.

Australian and Singapore citizens and residents will be treated the same as New Zealand citizens and permanent residents.

Australia was always a special case. Singapore was not happy with the initial changes and also pushed for an exemption.

 

 

 

US-China trade war escalates

The on again, off again trade war between the US and China is escalating, with more tariff threats from both countries.

Trump aims to hit China as tit-for-tat tariff war erupts

A top U.S. trade adviser said China has underestimated President Trump’s resolve to press ahead with tariffs, in comments that undercut the chances of settling a looming trade war between the economic superpowers.

The threat of a growing trade conflict with China hit financial markets hard, with Beijing vowing a firm response after Trump on Monday said he would implement tariffs on an additional $200 billion of imports from China if Beijing went ahead with reprisals over an initial set of U.S. tariffs.

White House trade adviser Peter Navarro, a sharp critic of Chinese trade actions, said China has more to lose from any trade war.

“The fundamental reality is that talk is cheap,” Navarro told reporters on a conference call, again accusing China of “predatory” trade policies.

When it comes to stoking a major trade war talk could be quite expensive to both countries, and potentially to others including New Zealand.

The threat of new tariffs against China pits the world’s two largest economies against each other and looks set to disrupt global supply chains for the tech and auto industries, two sectors that rely heavily on outsourced components.

In total, Trump has now threatened up to $450 billion in Chinese imports with tariffs, including another $200 billion in Chinese goods if Beijing retaliates after the step Trump announced on Monday.

Mounting concerns over the U.S.-China dispute sent global stock markets skidding and weakened both the dollar and the Chinese yuan on Tuesday. Shanghai stocks plunged to two-year lows.

The Dow Jones is still trading in the US Tuesday and is currently down 1.18% for the day. That isn’t a drastic drop.

This could all have significant impact in this part of the world – From the Aussie to soybeans and cars: what’s at risk in a trade war?

The Aussie dollar takes a thumping, soybean prices swing and German carmaker shares are stuck in reverse.

Countries with open economies reliant on global trade are most at risk when disputes over international commerce hit.

The Australian dollar ticks those boxes. Australia counts China as its biggest trading partner and its currency is heavily correlated to global growth. Many investors see the currency, known as the Aussie, as a better global trade bellwether than the Canadian dollar, which has been buffeted by negotiations over NAFTA, the North American trade pact.

This week, the Aussie fell to its lowest level in 13 months, and the positioning of options signal more weakness ahead.

If Australia is badly affected that must have an impact here. New Zealand is also at risk directly with US and Chinese trade upheaval.

‘Serious misconduct’ alleged, security firm investigation widens

Concerns over the use of security firm Thompson and Clark by Government departments has escalated into an SIS investigation  after claims of serious misconduct at the at the Ministry for Primary Industries.

RNZ:  Thompson and Clark used SIS contact to seek govt contracts

The Security Intelligence Service has launched an internal investigation into concerns of biased and unprofessional dealings with controversial security firm Thompson and Clark.

The announcement of the investigation comes on the same day the State Services Commissioner widened his inquiry into the use of Thompson and Clark to cover all government agencies, with Commissioner Peter Hughes saying there is evidence of serious staff misconduct at the Ministry for Primary Industries.

Emails from an unnamed SIS staff member to either Gavin Clark or Nick Thompson “raise questions in relation to [unprofessional] conduct and possible bias in favour of Thompson and Clark,” SIS director general Rebecca Kitteridge said in response to an Official Information Act request.

“In light of this correspondence, I have asked for several matters to be looked into… These questions are the subject of an internal investigation,” Ms Kitteridge said.

“I have also asked for our internal processes, policies and guidance to be reviewed to ensure that our engagement with private sector providers is professional, appropriate and even-handed.”

The emails appear to show the SIS staff member helping Thompson and Clark book contracts with government agencies around their Protective Security Requirements – “the policy, protocols and guidelines that help agencies identify what they must do to protect their people, information and assets”.

The emails also show Thompson and Clark secured its contract to develop the Department of Conservation’s Protective Security Requirements after checking in with the SIS staffer.

State Services Minister Chris Hipkins, told Checkpoint Thompson and Clark’s relationships with government agencies “certainly looks like it has been inappropriate”.

“The cosiness of the relationship between Thompson and Clark and some parts of the public service is concerning and that is one of the things that the investigation is going to get to the bottom of,” Mr Hipkins said.

It looks like a thorough investigation may be warranted here.

Border control and caging kids

US border control has been in the spotlight more than ever, as a promised clampdown on illegal immigration from Mexico ramps up, and as threatened, children are being separated from parents and contained in cage-like structures.

Being tough on immigration is popular, but being heartless with kids involved is not going down so well.

As usual Donald Trump’s rhetoric is swinging wildly – From ‘I Alone Can Fix It’ to ‘Change the Laws!’

Nearly two years ago, on July 21, 2016, Donald Trump stood at a lectern in Cleveland and made a solemn vow.

“Nobody knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it,” he said.

To his critics, this line was chilling, even authoritarian, defying the democratic nature of the American system. But to many of Trump’s supporters, it was a heartening moment—a sign that he would not allow himself to be tied up in red tape and mealy-mouthed excuses. There would be none of the vacillating and hand-wringing of the Obama administration. President Trump would not hesitate.

Candidate Trump was clear that he was talking, in large part, about immigration, which had been the central issue of his campaign:

Tonight, I want every American whose demands for immigration security have been denied—and every politician who has denied them—to listen very closely to the words I am about to say. On January 21st of 2017, the day after I take the oath of office, Americans will finally wake up in a country where the laws of the United States are enforced. We are going to be considerate and compassionate to everyone.

So Trump promised to be both tough and compassionate.

But his administration also threatened that their children would be separated if illegal immigrants tried to cross the border.

In fact, as my colleagues and I have reported repeatedly, the policy dates to May, when Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the federal government would prosecute everyone caught crossing the border illegally. Because an existing legal settlement bars children from being imprisoned, that decision means children and parents are separated. The Trump administration knew this would happen from the start.

In May, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly described separations as “a tough deterrent” to those who might try to cross. Sessions said around the same time, “If you don’t want your child separated, then don’t bring them across the border illegally.”

There were clear warnings – those wanting to cross the border may not have heard them, but the intention was clear.

Image result for caging children usa

And now that this is being done and criticism mounts – including from Trump’s wife and all four other living ex- First Ladies – Mr Fixit is now blaming others.

Trump and the Republicans rule in the White House.

Republicans have a majority in both the Senate and Congress.

So it’s rather disingenuous to blame a clearly signalled family separation policy on the Democrats who have no power to change laws.

But that’s how Trump operates – talks a big game, but blames his political opponents or the media if things don’t look good.

The US has had very loose immigration control for a long time and a clampdown is justified. The splitting of children from parents as a threat tactic is more debatable.

But Trump hasn’t got the integrity to own his administration’s actions.

‘Caging’ kids is not even new. June 2014 (pre-Trump): Immigrant children flood detention center

Young boys sleep in a holding cell U.S. Customs and

Holding cell, US Customs and Border Protection Nogales Placement Center, 18 June 2014.
https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/childrens-concentration-camp/

Trump could blame a Democrat administration for doing it too, but instead he tries to blame them now for something his administration is responsible for it.

Media watch – Wednesday

20 June 2018

MediaWatch

Media Watch is a focus on New Zealand media, blogs and social media. You can post any items of interested related to media.

A primary aim here is to hold media to account in the political arena. A credible and questioning media is an essential part of a healthy democracy.

A general guideline – post opinion on or excerpts from and links to blog posts or comments of interest, whether they are praise, criticism, pointing out issues or sharing useful information.

General chat

“Is there any way we could have a thread for the more lightweight stuff like music and general chat?”

Do it here. Please no personal attacks or bickering. Anything abusive, provocative or inflammatory may be deleted.