USA: the “flood the zone with shit” media strategy

Vox): “Flood the zone with shit”: How misinformation overwhelmed our democracy

No matter how President Trump’s impeachment trial plays out in the Senate, one thing is certain: Despite the incontrovertible facts at the center of the story, the process will change very few minds.

Regardless of how clear a case Democrats make, it seems likely thata majority of voters will remain confused and unsure about the details of Trump’s transgressions. No single version of the truth will be accepted.

This is a serious problem for our democratic culture. No amount of evidence, on virtually any topic, is likely to move public opinion one way or the other. We can attribute some of this to rank partisanship — some people simply refuse to acknowledge inconvenient facts about their own side.

But there’s another, equally vexing problem. We live in a media ecosystem that overwhelms people with information. Some of that information is accurate, some of it is bogus, and much of it is intentionally misleading. The result is a polity that has increasingly given up on finding out the truth. As Sabrina Tavernise and Aidan Gardiner put it in a New York Times piece, “people are numb and disoriented, struggling to discern what is real in a sea of slant, fake, and fact.” This is partly why an earth-shattering historical event like a president’s impeachment has done very little to move public opinion.

The core challenge we’re facing today is information saturation and a hackable media system. If you follow politics at all, you know how exhausting the environment is. The sheer volume of content, the dizzying number of narratives and counternarratives, and the pace of the news cycle are too much for anyone to process.

One response to this situation is to walk away and tune everything out. After all, it takes real effort to comb through the bullshit, and most people have busy lives and limited bandwidth. Another reaction is to retreat into tribal allegiances.There’s Team Liberal and Team Conservative, and pretty much everyone knows which side they’re on. So you stick to the places that feed you the information you most want to hear.

The issue for many people isn’t exactly a denial of truth as such. It’s more a growing weariness over the process of finding the truth at all. And that weariness leads more and more people to abandon the idea that the truth is knowable.

I call this “manufactured” because it’s the consequence of a deliberate strategy. It was distilled almost perfectly by Steve Bannon, the former head of Breitbart News and chief strategist for Donald Trump. “The Democrats don’t matter,” Bannon reportedly said in 2018. “The real opposition is the media. And the way to deal with them is to flood the zone with shit.”

What we’re facing is a new form of propaganda that wasn’t really possible until the digital age. And it works not by creating a consensus around any particular narrative but by muddying the waters so that consensus isn’t achievable.

Copying a Putin example, the  Muddier in Chief:

Trump can dictate an entire news cycle with a few unhinged tweets or an absurd press conference. The media cycle is easily commandeered by misinformation, innuendo, and outrageous content. These are problems because of the norms that govern journalism and because the political economy of media makes it very hard to ignore or dispel bullshit stories.This is at the root of our nihilism problem, and a solution is nowhere in sight.

The instinct of the mainstream press has always been to conquer lies by exposing them. But it’s just not that simple anymore (if it ever was). There are too many claims to debunk and too many conflicting narratives. And the decision to cover something is a decision to amplify it and, in some cases, normalize it.

Bullshit rules, and there are no obvious solutions.

We probably need a paradigm shift in how the press covers politics. Nearly all of the incentives driving media militate against this kind of rethinking, however. And so we’re likely stuck with this problem for a very long time.

It is not as bad here in New Zealand, but it’s bad enough.

We can join the shit fights, or tune out as many people mostly do (but still get impressions from the mire).

It happens here on small scales in social media, Kiwiblog being a prime example but also here (from cross the political spectrum).

Not usually a “flood the zone with shit”, but diversions from unwelcome news are common in politics here, with Winston Peters a practiced hand, and his apprentice was at it yesterday – Shane Jones diverts to copious meat eating as further questions raised about company links.

A difficult question that I often ponder is whether to challenge the shit (with a risk of amplifying it), or ignoring it and letting the shit flooders to muddy the zone unabated. There’s no obvious or easy answers.

In some ways Jacinda Ardern introduced a fresh breath of political air, but even that has been muddied somewhat with her and her Government too often failing to come close to one of their promises of more openness and transparency. Trying to sweep shit under the carpet is a related problem.

We could all do better – but is there a will, or does trying to win and trying to make losers out of opponents and people with different opinions rule?

Shane Jones diverts to copious meat eating as further questions raised about company links

This story seems to keep coming up, with more suggestions that Shane Jones must have known more than he has admitted about a NZ First linked company’s application for Provincial Growth Fund money.

I wonder if this is and attempt at diversion: NZ First MP and Minister Shane Jones takes aim at ‘eco-bible-bashing’ climate-change activists

Outspoken NZ First MP and Minister Shane Jones has launched a scathing attack on climate-change activists who want Kiwis to eat less meat, blasting their form of “eco bible bashing”.

He has compared them to “medieval torture chamber workers” and has vowed to rally against this sort of “absolutism” as Election 2020 draws closer.

His comments come after the Government, of which he is a Minister, announced school children would be taught about climate change in class.

Suggesting people eat less meat (which for most is good for your health) is nothing like ‘absolutism’, whatever that’s supposed to mean.

“I won’t be desisting from eating copious qualities of kaimoana [seafood] or meat – that’s how I grew up”…

…is a surprising stance (if he’s actually serious) from someone who looks to have an obesity problem.

A heart attack from clogged up arteries would be a sort of absolutism if fatal.

Back to more questions about his absolutism denials unravelling some more: NZ First-linked company in government loan bid says it met with Shane Jones

A forestry company with close links to New Zealand First says it gave a presentation to Shane Jones about a project it was seeking a $15 million government loan for – months before Jones says he first heard of it.

When NZ Future Forest Products (NZFFP) applied for Provincial Growth Fund money on 8 April, 2019, the company was asked whether the project had been “previously discussed” with the government.

The application form shows NZFFP ticked the ‘yes’ box and said it had made a “presentation to the Minister” about its forestry and wood processing plans “including descriptions of the applicant”.

Jones, a New Zealand First MP who is forestry minister and the minister responsible for the $3 billion Provincial Growth Fund, has consistently claimed he first heard about the NZFFP bid on 14 October last year.

NZFFP’s directors include Brian Henry, lawyer to New Zealand First Party leader Winston Peters, judicial officer of the party and one of two trustees of the New Zealand First Foundation, and NZ First leader Winston Peters’ partner Jan Trotman, who joined the company in August 2019.

Jones refused to be interviewed over the latest revelation but in a statement said the presentation never happened. “There was no presentation as described by the applicants,” he said.

The statement said Jones “did not have any Ministerial meetings to discuss the application”.

After being asked if he had any meetings at all with any NZFFP representatives in 2019, he responded in a statement “no”. He went on to say he was “not involved in PGF-related conversations with the Henrys under the guise of NZFFP”.

But in an interview with RNZ, David Henry, who is Brian Henry’s son and the NZFFP director who signed the application form, said the presentation was a 15-minute meeting he and Jones had in Wellington.

“We had a discussion with Shane. I think it was about a 15-minute chat. Whether you want to call it a briefing or a presentation – it was a short discussion generally about the New Zealand wood supply chain and what we personally believed.”

Take from that what you like.

I think that Jones has become as political slippery as Winston Peters.

 

Communists and socialists in New Zealand

In the 1970s and 1980s socialism in New Zealand was much more prominent than it is now, especially through links to unions and unionists.

Have socialist ideals fizzled out? Not entirely, some activists promote something similar – somehow getting rid of capitalism and replacing our financial and political systems with something like socialism. But with previously communist countries USSR and China now embracing a lot of capitalism the socialist ideals are more low key and fringe.

Someone at Reddit was Wanting to know about communism in NZ

Does anyone have any links or info for any current communist or socialist parties in NZ ? I’ve done a bit of a search online but keep just finding info about defunct parties and terrible NZ herald articles. Anything specific to the Otago area would be amazing.

One unappreciated response:

I’ll tell you for $15

Another probably wasn’t very helpful:

Both of our major parties have been infiltrated by the Communist Party of China and we are in the process of becoming their puppet state.

Why not start by joining one of those parties?

It was pointed out that the Communist Party of China (if there is such a thing) mustn’t be very socialist these days.

There were some more helpful suggestions:

The International Socialists in Dunedin are pretty active right? Give them a yell. They like protesting.

Also:

Organise Aotearoa aren’t a parliamentary party but are probably one of the more active groups having only just kicked off last year. They do have a Dunedin branch too. Active on social media with their links at the bottom of the page, their twitter follows a lot of their members who are mostly very chatty.

The New Communist Party of Aotearoa is also a thing that exists as of last year but I’m not so familiar with them.

Organise Aotearoa (modern socialist groups seem to avoid using socialist names) explains their aims:

Organise Aotearoa is a new movement for liberation and socialism. We believe that the current political and economic system is rotten to the core. This system is killing our planet, creating massive inequalities, and undermining the tino rangatiratanga of Māori.

I don’t think the tino rangatiratanga of Māori is particularly socialist. Rangatira relates to chieftainship.

If we want to live in a truly just, fair, and democratic world, we need to do things differently. We need a system that puts people and the environment before corporations and their profits. We are fighting for socialism because we need a system that shares wealth and prosperity among all people.

We cannot simply rely on politicians in Parliament to do what’s best for us. Time after time, politicians have made promises and failed to deliver. Even worse, most politicians don’t even try.

It’s hard to see how any meaningful changes will be made to our political system without doing it through Parliament. This is no sign of any popular inclination for revolution in Aotearoa.

And it would probably have major difficulties dealing with the Treaty of Waitangi.

History has shown us that people in power only make the changes we actually need when everyday people get organised and demand them.

That’s why Organise Aotearoa wants to do politics differently. We’re committed to doing politics in a way that enables all of us to transform our living conditions together. We want to build the power of ordinary working people so that our collective needs, desires, dreams, and aspirations can’t be ignored. Together, we can make Aotearoa a more equal and democratic place, where everyone can thrive.

“Ordinary working people” is far from everyone, and it is claimed that socialism tends to discourage people from being working people.

Also r/kiwisocialists “has a list of groups around the country”:

A place for socialists, communists and anarchists to discuss current events and organise within Aotearoa.

But it’s not exactly reaching the masses:

157 Comrades

Communism hasn’t been able to prove it is a workable alternative – it has largely been a big failure – so socialist activism is a fringe idealist activity.

Socialist groups had some connections with the Mana Party (also called the Mana Movement) but that flopped when joining forces with a big capitalist Kim Dotcom and fizzling.

Billions boost in borrowing to address public housing pressure

Housing has been a growing problem for years, and despite promises by the incoming Government in 2017 the problems have grown, especially for those trying to buy their first homes as house prices keep climbing, and also for the many who have to rent.

The Government has quietly enabled a major increase in borrowing “for the newly formed Kāinga Ora social housing agency by $4.05 billion to $7.1 billion so it can build and refit almost 4,800 more state houses on top of the 6,400 already planned”.

But this is  bit of a bottom of cliff solution as people who face a cliff of property and rental prices seek state help for their housing.

Newhub: Tenants going to extremes to find housing as rental prices surge

Tenants around the country are going to extreme lengths to secure a roof over their heads as rental prices hit record highs.

Last year, the average cost of a rental property in Christchurch went up 1.7 percent to $379, while Dunedin went up 8.4 percent to $464.

Rental properties in Auckland rose 2.2 percent to $563 a week. Hamilton went up 6.1 percent to a December record of $420. Wellington went up 10 percent, topping the country with rents of $604 per week.

It mostly comes down to supply – high house prices mean people stay in rentals longer to save deposits, putting pressure on the market.

In turn, rent prices are going through the roof.

“Essentially, we need more houses,” Olsen said.

Trade Me’s latest figures from December show the number of enquiries on its rental listings has risen 17 percent on the year before.

Demand in Auckland and Wellington has increased by 20 percent and 8 percent respectively. In Christchurch, it was up 22 percent, and in Dunedin, 24 percent.

“With demand already really high, we expect to see record rents and some pretty startling demand figures over the next few months,” Trade Me head of communications Logan Mudge said.

Some landlords warned the Government they would need to pass on the costs of its rental reforms – which include limiting rent rises to once a year and introducing new healthy homes standards.

It’s obvious that increasing costs would be past on to renters.

Stuff: Warning 2020 may be a tough year in rental market

Trade Me Property spokesman Aaron Clancy said demand for rental properties was increasing enormously. “Unfortunately for tenants, this is a trend we expect to continue in 2020,” he said.

“As house prices continue to climb around the country, tenants are staying in rentals longer to gather a deposit, and that’s putting pressure on the market. In areas like Wellington city and Auckland city we reckon we will see record-breaking median weekly rents in the coming months as we head towards what we call March madness – when students return to the area for the university year and look for a new place to rent.”

It’s not surprising that more people are trying to get state houses.

Stuff: Public housing waitlist hits new record of 14,496

Close to 14,500 households were on the waitlist for public housing as of November last year, a record high.

The figures show 14,496 eligible households were on the waitlist for state-assisted housing at the end of November, up from 14,355 the month before and almost three times the 5844 households waiting when the Government was elected two years ago.

The vast majority of the households waiting are “Priority A”  – or the most in need. The median time to get eligible people into a house was 116 days, up from 100 the month prior.

Over November the Government managed to house 567 households, but this gain was wiped out by a growth of 1649 new eligible applicants.

The Government have argued that the waitlist has ballooned thanks to a hidden demand unleashed when they it was elected, as people would then see it as more likely they would get help.

Public housing minister Kris Faafoi said the increase was thanks to this new stance.

Partly perhaps, but it must also be due to rising rents and an ongoing shortage of houses.

Faafoi noted the Government had built 3300 public housing places and had another 2500 planned to be finished by the end of the this year.

There are currently 67,253 total subsidised state tenancies, up from 63,300 in 2017.

And it looks like an increase is planned.

Newsroom: Kāinga Ora’s borrowing limit lifted by $4b

The Government has quietly lifted the borrowing limit for the newly formed Kāinga Ora social housing agency by $4.05 billion to $7.1 billion so it can build and refit almost 4,800 more state houses on top of the 6,400 already planned.

The extra borrowing could allow the Government to lift its state house building plan from 6,400 by 2022 to 11,200. The plans come as Labour’s support partner, the Greens, called for more borrowing to fund state housing.

Just quietly, the new Treasury Secretary’s Senior Solicitor Katherine Reinhold announced in the Government Gazette on Monday in a snappily headlined item (Notice of Approval Given Pursuant to Section 160(3) of the Crown Entities Act 2004 that Finance Minister Grant Robertson and Housing Minister Megan Woods decided on December 19 to increase Kāinga Ora’s borrowing limit under its own name to $7.1 billion from January 1 this year.

Kāinga Ora then announced in its investor section (but not its home page) to bond market investors yesterday that its lending limits had been increased and it planned to borrow $2.5 billion through issues of its Wellbeing Bonds in calendar 2020, including a new longer-dated bond “in the next few months.”

So this should help address housing shortages, as long as land can be found and there is enough construction capacity, but it will take time.

Lack of available land remains a major problem, as is the time and cost needed to subdivide new building sections, so this looks a bit like tinkering at the wrong end of the problem.

 

Open Forum – 20 January

This post is open to anyone to comment on any topic that isn’t spam, illegal or offensive. All Your NZ posts are open but this one is for you to raise topics that interest you, or you think may interest others.. 

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  • If possible support arguments, news, points or opinions with links to sources and facts.
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FIRST TIME COMMENTERS: Due to abuse by a few, first comments under any ID will park in moderation until released (as soon as possible but it can sometimes take a while).

Sometimes comments will go into moderation or spam automatically due to mistyped ID, too many links (>4), or trigger text or other at risk criteria. If they pass muster they will be released as soon as possible (it can sometimes take hours).

Will we have an election year ‘culture war’?

Politics in Aotearoa is quite different to Australia, the United Kingdom and the USA, so it is difficult to know how much we will move towards the fractious and divisive politics of those countries in this election year.

Bryce Edwards suggests New Zealand voters must prepare for an ugly culture war this election

Trump, Morrison and Johnson have found fertile political ground in the backlash to being woke. Simon Bridges is likely to ape them

Bridges is already trying a bit of this approach, but he’s not very popular so it’s difficult to judge whether he is shifting support – National has generally maintained good levels of support regardless of their leader’s lack of appeal.

Some say the New Zealand insistence on fairness goes back to our colonial history. Many escapees of industrial Britain embraced a life in a less class-ridden country. Of course the idea that New Zealand is an equal and “classless society” was always a myth, but this egalitarian ethos endures.

It creates a particular problem for politicians of the right. As a former prime minister, John Key, told US diplomats in a private briefing, New Zealand’s “socialist streak” means it can be difficult to push rightwing policies. Key later elaborated: “New Zealand is a very caring country. I think New Zealanders do have a heart.”

In 2017 this helped the election of Jacinda Ardern’s government, made up of parties that channelled concerns about the lack of fairness under the then National-led government. The new government promised to be “transformative”, rolling out a fairness agenda in programs from KiwiBuild to child poverty reduction targets.

This all presents the National party with a dilemma. There are few votes in criticising the government’s fairness agenda – in fact the opposition is reduced to complaining that the government has not delivered on its left-leaning program.

As the election nears, National will try to paint itself as better economic managers and Grant Robertson as an irresponsible and incompetent finance minister, but this is unlikely to cut it with many voters.

I agree. Robertson has largely been successful at avoiding scaring the economic horses.

So where can it differentiate? National increasingly relies on stoking “culture wars” and law and order. It is these fertile new hunting grounds that give Simon Bridges his best chance of painting Ardern and her colleagues as out of touch with mainstream New Zealand.

I doubt that Bridges will get very far there – one of Ardern’s strengths has been her ability to show empathy for how ‘mainstream New Zealand’ feels, especially during high profile times of deaths and emotions.

Culture wars are concerned with debates relating to ethnicity, gender, sexuality, human rights, discrimination, free speech and civil liberties. Elements of the political left – especially in the Labour and Green parties – are increasingly associated with campaigns in these areas, and often their stances are not shared by many mainstream voters.

But I think they are just niche elements of the left.

Ardern knows very well to keep her government as clear as possible of contentious social issues. Instead, if Labour and its coalition partners can keep public debate around traditional egalitarian concerns about inequality, housing, health and education, the New Zealand notion of fairness will probably also ensure her government will get another chance.

But Ardern probably needs the Greens and possibly NZ First to retain power. Winston Peters tends to appeal to a quite small ‘unfairness’ demographic which is quite different to the type of ‘fairness’ voters Greens will be trying too appeal to.

National’s best bet might be to provoke an ugly culture war. Expect to see Bridges attempt to start debates on these issues and paint Labour and the Greens as “woke” elitists, or just soft on law and order. This might be desperate and opportunistic – National MPs genuinely don’t care that much about many of these issues. But National knows that they are the sort of emotive and divisive concerns that might change votes.

This would be high risk. While it may appeal to some they are likely to already lean towards National. The more moderate voters that are seen as essential to winning elections are less likely to be attracted to divisive politics. They are more likely to be repelled by it.

There’s a cultural backlash ready to be fostered – as Donald Trump, Scott Morrison and Boris Johnson have found to their benefit. Such debates, whether over identity politics, hate speech, minority rights or gender can be explosively divisive. That could end up being the ugly story of the 2020 general election.

The US is a two party democracy that is very polarised – Donald Trump exploited this to win the presidency.

But we have multiple parties and I think far less division. There are noisy minorities on the extremes, but National and Labour are generally seen as more similar than different by most, in part due to the moderating influence of MMP.

National (and NZ First and the Greens) will no doubt try to push ‘culture war’ type issues to an extent, and media will give them more publicity than they deserve, but I am doubtful that many voters will buy into the divide and conquer style of politics that has worked elsewhere in the world.

US-Chinese trade deal (Phase 1)

A three year trade war between the US and China, initiated by Donald Trump, created disruptions and uncertainties around the world, and cost the US billions of dollars, ‘phase 1’ of an agreement has been signed.

It’s hard to know whether the gains have been worth the pains.

Fox News:  US, China sign historic phase one trade deal

President Trump signed a landmark trade agreement with China, heralding a period of detente in a trade war between the world’s two largest economies fueled by decades of complaints that Beijing was manipulating its currency and stealing trade secrets from American firms.

The pact, detailed in a 94-page document, is only the initial phase of a broader deal that Trump has said may come in as many as three sections.

During two years of negotiation, there were occasional setbacks because “on some issues, we don’t see eye to eye,” noted Liu He, the Chinese vice premier who represented President Xi Jinping at the signing, but “our economic teams didn’t give up.”

The document specifies that both China and the U.S. “shall ensure fair and equitable market access” for businesses that depend on the safety of trade secrets. Specific measures that will protect pharmaceutical firms’ intellectual property, govern patents, block counterfeiting on e-commerce platforms and prevent exports of brand-name knockoffs are detailed.

The agreement, which was first reported on Dec. 12, includes commitments from Beijing to halt intellectual property theft, refrain from currency manipulation, cooperate in financial services and purchase an additional $200 billion of U.S. products over the next two years.

The purchases will include up to $50 billion of U.S. agriculture, according to Trump and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, $40 billion of which has been confirmed by Chinese sources. China will also buy $40 billion in services, $50 billion in energy and $75 billion to $80 billion worth of manufacturing, the sources said.

BBC – US-China trade deal: Winners and losers

Winner: Donald Trump

Some critics say there is little substance, but the signing offers an opportunity for US President Donald Trump to put the trade war behind him and claim an achievement heading into the 2020 presidential election.

Winner: President Xi Jinping

China appears set to emerge from the signing having agreed to terms it offered early in the process, including loosening market access to US financial and car firms. In many cases, companies from other countries are already benefiting from the changes.

Winners: Taiwan/Vietnam/Mexico

Globally, economists estimate that the trade war will shave more than 0.5% off of growth. But some countries have benefited from the fight, which redirected an estimated $165bn in trade.

Analysts at Nomura identified Vietnam as the country that would gain the most, while the UN found that Taiwan, Mexico and Vietnam saw US orders ramp up last year.

Loser: American companies and consumers

The new deal halves tariff rates on $120bn worth of goods, but most of the higher duties – which affect another $360bn of Chinese goods and more than $100bn worth of US exports – remain in place. And that’s bad news for the American public.

Economists have found that the costs – more than $40bn so far – are being borne entirely by US companies and consumers. And that figure does not even try to measure lost business due to retaliation.

Loser: Farmers and manufacturers

The new deal commits China to boost purchases in manufacturing, services, agriculture and energy from 2017 levels by $200bn over two years.

Mr Trump has said that could include as $50bn worth of agricultural goods a year.

But the official figures are lower, analysts are sceptical those are attainable and China has said the purchases will depend on market demand. So far, the primary effect on business has been pain.

Farmers, who have been targeted by China’s tariffs, have seen bankruptcies soar, prompting a $28bn federal bailout.

Among manufacturers, the Federal Reserve has found employment losses, stemming from the higher import costs and China’s retaliation.

BBC – US-China trade deal: Five things that aren’t in it

The US and China have finally – after almost two years of hostilities – signed a “phase one” deal. But it only covers the easier aspects of their difficult relationship, and only removes some of the tariffs.

The biggest hurdles are still to come, and could stand in the way of a second phase agreement – one that would in theory remove all of the tariffs, bringing some much needed relief for the global economy, which is in the interests of all of us.

So what didn’t make it into the agreement?

1. Industrial subsidies and ‘Made in China 2025’

The deal doesn’t address Beijing’s ambitious ‘Made in China 2025’ programme, which is designed to help Chinese companies excel and become world-class leaders in emerging technologies. It also doesn’t address the subsidies that China gives its state-owned enterprises, says Paul Triolo of the Eurasia Group.

2. Huawei

The trade deal won’t reduce US pressure on Huawei, the Chinese telecoms giant that has been caught in the crossfire of the trade war, with the US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin saying the company isn’t a “chess piece” in the negotiations.

3. Access for foreign financial services firms

While the agreement does talk about opening up market access for financial services firms, some analysts have said it doesn’t go far enough to ensure they have equal market access.

4. Enforcement and interpretation

The deal has a dispute resolution mechanism in place, which basically requires China – once a complaint has been made – to begin consultations with the US, with the onus on Beijing to resolve it.

But what the deal leaves out is “how the US is going to monitor enforcement,” says Derek Scissors of the American Enterprise Institute.

5. Further reductions in tariffs

The deal doesn’t include a definitive timeline on when the tariffs that are still in place will go down.

According to research from the Peterson Institute for International Economics, average tariffs on both sides are still up about 20% from pre-trade war levels – six times higher than when the dispute began. That means companies and consumers are still paying more.

So a lot of the pain remains.

Also from BBC:

Bloomberg/Japan Times (opinion): Round one to Trump in U.S.-China trade war

It is too early to give a final assessment of the U.S.-China trade deal, the details of which have just been published, but it’s not too soon for a provisional opinion: China is badly shaken, and American credibility has been greatly enhanced.

In general, I am suspicious of detailed agreements when one of the parties claims the other does not respect the terms of their deals, as the United States does with China. If the U.S. holds up its end of the bargain and China doesn’t, you have to wonder what all the trouble was about.

So what about the potential benefits for the U.S.? Most of them concern credibility.

The U.S. has established its seriousness as a counterweight to China, something lacking since it largely overlooked China’s various territorial encroachments in the 2010s. Whether in economics or foreign policy, China now can expect the U.S. to push back — a very different calculus. At a time when there is tension in North Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan and the South China Sea, that is potentially a significant gain.

Credibility is difficult to measure, as is the political effects of of trade issues.

The U.S. still is keeping $360 billion of tariffs on Chinese goods, hardly a propitious sign that China made a great bargain. There is even speculation that China will not report the full deal to its citizens.

That isn’t a great bargain for American businesses and consumers who have to pay the tariffs.

It is too soon to judge the current trade deal a success from an American point of view. Nevertheless, its potential benefits remain underappreciated, and there is a good chance they will pay off.

Some of the agreement will no doubt be beneficial to the US, but there’s definite downsides as well.

Politico (opinion): The U.S.-China Trade Deal Was Not Even a Modest Win

It’s generous to even call it a deal.

The deal simply restores the U.S.-China relationship to where it was pre-President Donald Trump, declares victory in areas that don’t matter as much as they did and has cost the U.S. billions in the meantime.

The A1 article in the Wall Street Journal was measured but said that the deal “contains wins for the U.S.” The New Yorker dubbed the deal “an uneasy truce.” On CNBC, the garrulous Jim Cramer heralded it as a win for Trump and America, saying “tariffs worked.” In general, while few outside the White House saw the agreement as transformative, the reception to it has been amicably positive, if only because it appears to arrest the destructive slide to more and more confrontation, higher tariffs and greater disruption and uncertainty.

Halting the onward march toward an all-out economic Cold War with China is a good thing. But given that the march began with impulse and barely any strategy on the part of the Trump administration and given as well that an even better pseudo-deal, with more agricultural purchases, could have been struck this spring without more escalation of tariffs, the agreement inked this week should be seen as an almost complete failure.

Here’s why. When Trump became president, he immediately latched onto the trade deficit in goods, which showed the United States importing hundreds of billions more goods than it exported to China. Many also assailed China for years of intellectual property theft and forced technology transfers and for restricting market access to U.S. financial companies. Those issues were at the heart of the decision to begin using tariffs to coerce China into changing its behavior.

At best, the Phase I agreement modestly revises the status quo before Trump came into office.

At a substantial cost in the meantime.

Politically much will depend on whether Trump can get any voters who aren’t already supporters to buy his “momentous” and “remarkable” and “righting the wrongs of the past” sales pitch.

The reality seems to be that this steadies things back to approximately where they were, with the addition of substantial new tariffs remaining in place. Success or otherwise is likely to be determined in the future, by what both the US and China actually do, and what they agree on in future phases of trade agreements.

 

Police numbers increasing, but Minister is still deceitful

Increases in police numbers was a touchy topic last year, with the Government, after conflicting statements between the Prime Minister and Minister of Police, appearing to shift from a promise of 1800 additional police officers to 1800 new police officers.

Now things are being phrased more carefully – but I think there is deliberate dishonesty by deception.

Minister of Police on Thursday:  Auckland focus for first Police graduation of 2020

The number of Police on the Auckland frontline is increasing with the graduation today of a special locally-trained wing of new constables.

Police Minister Stuart Nash says the graduation of eighteen officers from Recruit Wing 333-5 means that more than 1900 new Police have been deployed since the Coalition Government took office.

They took office in November 2017. This number doesn’t take into account resignations and retirements, so is not an increase in police numbers.

“The last Police graduation in December smashed all sorts of records for Police numbers and underlined the Coalition Government’s commitment to crime prevention and community safety. That is continuing during 2020.

“We are training Police at more than double the rate of previous years. During 2019 we deployed 854 new Police, an all-time record for a calendar year. During the nine calendar years 2009-2017, an average of 363 new Police graduated each year.

“Today’s graduation means the number of fulltime Police has grown by around 1047 officers since the start of the 2017/18 financial year, after turnover. In addition, a further 200 recruits are currently in training at Police College.

The start of the the 2017/18 financial year was July 2017, nearly half a year before the new Government took over – and many new police officers since the current Government took over were planned beforehand.

Coincidentally yesterday David Farrar posted this yesterday at Kiwiblog: For use the next time the Government lies over the extra 1800 Police

The Government promised 1,800 extra police officers over three years. Then after it became clear that would fall short, they lied and claimed their promise was 1,800 new police officers (ie just replacing retiring ones with new ones).

Everyone knows it is a lie. The Minister was explicit that the target was 1,800 additional until the point the PM got it wrong in the House.

And further proof, here is an extract from the November 2019 Police News.

Absolutely clear that it is an 1,800 increase that was promised, despite Government denials.

Strictly speaking Stuart Nash hasn’t lied in his latest announcement, which is carefully (and deceivingly) worded. But he promotes the larger number first, only  later in the release giving more relevant figures (increase in numbers rather than new police) – but by using different time periods it is still quite misleading.

I think this is still dishonesty by deception from the Government

Crown accounts surplus, more pressure on spending booost

From the Beehive (Minister of Finance Grant Robertson): Govt accounts in surplus, debt remains low

The Government’s books are in good shape with the accounts in surplus and expenses close to forecast, Finance Minister Grant Robertson says.

The Treasury today released the Crown accounts for the five months to November.

The operating balance before gains and losses (OBEGAL) was above forecast by $0.7 billion resulting in a surplus of $100 million.

The variance is due to lower than forecast Core Crown expenses and higher than forecast revenue.

“While the month by month results do tend to fluctuate due to tax timing changes, it is pleasing to see this positive result,” Grant Robertson says.

“The surplus and low levels of debt show the fundamentals of the New Zealand economy remain strong.”

Net debt remains low at 20.1% of GDP, while expenses were within 0.6% of forecast.

Net investments gains of $3.6 billion were $1.3 billion above forecast, largely because of favourable changes in market prices.

“Our careful fiscal management has resulted in low government debt, which alongside record low borrowing costs has given us room to invest an extra $12 billion to future-proof New Zealand,” Grant Robertson says.

“This package of infrastructure projects will provide further support to boost the New Zealand economy in the face of slowing international growth and global headwinds.

“It will also give certainty to the construction industry about upcoming infrastructure projects and will create more opportunities for Kiwis.

“We’ll be announcing the specific projects in the near future,” Grant Robertson says.

I think we can expect some election year spending announcements on top of the proposed large spend on more infrastructure.

It will be interesting to see if they adjust the personal tax rates – part of the reason for rising revenue is tax bracket creep.

Grant Robertson has been a relatively low profile and uncontroversial finance minister, with most criticism coming from the left who want a lot more Government spending.

Like: Borrow, build, hold says Green co-leader

Government should hold onto the houses it has pledged to put out on the open market, Greens co-leader Marama Davidson says.

The Government taking on more debt for public housing would open up more opportunities than fully funding existing programmes like the Auckland Housing programme.

Davidson said a reluctance to ditch the Budget Responsibility Rules and take on debt is the reason those houses aren’t being provided to low-income tenants as part of a mixed tenure development scheme.

“We’ve got low borrowing rates, we’ve got expensive land, the Crown can borrow money. It can hold onto more of the houses it is building right now.”

Stuff:  Green Party scrap Budget Responsibility Rules

The Green Party is ditching its commitment to the restrictive Budget Responsibility Rules, which set targets for lowering government debt and spending.

The Greens first signed up to the rules ahead of the 2017 election while teaming up with Labour.

Labour retained a commitment to the rules, while signalling it wanted to somewhat loosen them next term.

So they may not move much on this until after this year’s election, if Labour and Greens get back into government, and NZ First don’t demand most of the extra spending.

Nikki Kaye on climate ‘indoctrination’ in schools, Plunket petulant

Sean Plunket is back on talkback, playing to his audience that seems to like grumping about climate change. He asserted that the inclusion of guidelines on teaching about climate change in schools is ‘indoctrination’ as he tries to indoctrinate his listeners with his own views on thee topic.

National spokesperson on education, Nikki Kaye:

National are supportive of climate change being taught in schools. However, the process around developing the curriculum and Ministry led curriculum resources needs to be balanced and communicated well. We have concerns that this decision combined with Ministers press release has caused confusion and angst with some parents because people have thought that this particular resource is now a change to the curriculum.

There has been no change to the curriculum so it is totally up to schools as to whether they use this particular resource or not. We are aware of genuine concerns raised by parents and groups about a lack of balance in this material and also striking the delicate balance of informing children about these issues while not causing unnecessary anxiety. While some material looks fine National has concerns about some of the document.

Seems like a reasonable and considered response, but Plunket isn’t happy (or at least makes out he isn’t happy):

Well this is hardly taking a stand against indoctrination in state schools.

Plunket has also been griping about Jimmy Neesham.

Newshub:  James Shaw thanks Blackcaps star Jimmy Neesham for supporting climate change interview

James Shaw has thanked a Kiwi cricketer for supporting an interview the minister gave about teaching climate change in school – described by an Opposition MP as a “shocker”.

Shaw, co-leader of the Green Party, clashed with Plunket in the interview earlier this week, after being invited to discuss a new teacher resource announced on Sunday for educating year 7-10 students about climate change.

Shaw defended the syllabus in his interview with Plunket, telling the radio host the teaching resource is “based on the science so you can dispute that all you like”.

Plunket shot back: “Well, clearly you can’t dispute that all you like if you’re an intermediate school kid… you’re going to be told you can’t dispute it.”

Shaw replied: “Of course you can, but you’d have to go to town against the entire New Zealand scientific community and suggest that they were wrong.”

Blackcaps star Jimmy Neesham said on Twitter he wanted to take his hat off to Shaw for his “calmness” during the interview with Magic Talk’s Sean Plunket.

The New Zealand cricketer, 29, has been outspoken about his support for climate change activism, recently telling the BBC he feels a responsibility to be a good role model.

“As role models, it is important to keep abreast of what is going on and have at least a passing knowledge of global social issues like politics and climate change.”

So Plunket took a swipe at Neesham: Sean Plunket slams Blackcaps cricketer Jimmy Neesham over climate change comments

But since the interaction, Plunket has hit back at Neesham.

“Well, Jimmy I feel like throwing my bloody phone at the wall often watching the Blackcaps.”

Plunket criticised the cricketer for speaking out about climate change while flying “all over the world”.

“Is that why you catch planes all over the world to play cricket Jimmy?”

He continued to berate the cricketer, seeming to suggest that Neesham’s career is “completely pointless, yet burns up tonnes of carbon”.

The MagicTalk host then commented on the number of Neeshan’s Twitter followers, saying the “number is a lot less than the runs or wickets he’s got”.

This is a pathetic attack in response from Plunket, but I guess Magic and Newshub are trying to start the year with some sort of controversy to get their audience back. They are in fighting for survival as broadcasters, but I doubt this sort of petulance will help, apart from play to a small demographic. It’s unlikely to widen their appeal.