Lawyer lied to Congress to protect Trump and political message

Former White House lawyer Michael Cohen has pleaded guilty to charges of lying to the US Congress to protect Donald Trump and his political message.

Fox News: Ex-Trump attorney Michael Cohen pleads guilty to lying to Congress in Russia probe

Michael Cohen, President Trump’s former personal attorney who once famously claimed he would “take a bullet” for his boss, pleaded guilty Thursday to lying to Congress about a Trump real estate project in Russia in the latest development in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.

He pleaded guilty to making false statements to the Senate Intelligence Committee in 2017 about a plan to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. Cohen’s attorney, Lanny Davis, was not present in court on Thursday. Instead, he was represented by attorneys Guy Petrillo and Amy Lusker.

Thursday marked the first time Mueller’s team charged Cohen as part of its investigation into Russian meddling and potential collusion with Trump campaign associates during the 2016 presidential election.

“Cohen made the false statements to minimize links between the Moscow Project and Individual 1 [Trump] and give the false impression that the Moscow Project ended before ‘the Iowa caucus … the very first primary,’ in hopes of limiting the ongoing Russia investigations,” Mueller wrote Thursday.

“Cohen did recall that in or around January 2016, Cohen received a response from the office of Russian Official 1, the Press Secretary for the President of Russia, and spoke to a member of that office about the Moscow Project,” Mueller added.

After entering his plea, Cohen addressed the court for several minutes.

“Prior to the 2016 elections, I was a counsel and advisor to Donald Trump Organization. By 2016, I no longer did that work, but I continued to work for Donald Trump who became President of the United States, referenced as Individual 1 in the agreement,” Cohen said in court Thursday. “I continued to follow the political messaging of Individual 1 and his advisors. I was aware that Individual 1 said he was not tied to Russia, attacks were politically motivated, and all interactions were terminated by the time of the Iowa Caucuses.”

Cohen added that in 2017 when he appeared before the Senate Intelligence Committee, he gave a “false” description of the Moscow Project.

“I asserted all efforts ceased in January 2016 when they kept going until June 2016,” he said. “There were more extensive communications. I said I never contemplated travel or spoke to Individual 1 regarding travel, but I did.”

He added: “I would like to add that I never did travel to Russia and I have never been to Moscow. I made the statement to keep up with political messaging and out of loyalty.”

So he has admitted lying to Congress to protect trump and his political messaging.

Fox (opinion) – Dershowitz: New Cohen Guilty Plea Another Example of Mueller Probe ‘Creating’ Crimes

Harvard Law Professor Emeritus Alan Dershowitz said Thursday that Michael Cohen’s new guilty plea is another example of crimes being created as a result of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.

That’s bullshit. Congressional investigations are an essential part of the US democratic system. Lying to Congress is a very serious issue. Cohen created the crime by lying.

Fox (opinion) – Judge Nap: Cohen Plea Is ‘Tip of the Iceberg,’ and Rest of Iceberg Is at Mueller’s Office

Trump’s rapid response in attacking Cohen suggests he is concerned about this development. And it is not the only thing piling pressure on Trump.

CNBC: Trump suggests he has inside information on the Russia probe, hours after Mueller said former campaign chief Manafort violated plea deal

Hours after former campaign chairman Paul Manafort was accused of lying to federal investigators in violation of his plea deal, President Donald Trump fumed against special counsel Robert Mueller, claiming his probe is “ruining lives” and suggesting that he had inside information about the investigation.

As he pilloried the special counsel, Trump echoed the salvos against the investigation recently launched by right-wing conspiracy monger Jerome Corsi, who claimed Monday that he rejected a plea dealoffered by Mueller. Corsi had said that he would “rather sit in prison and rot” than say he lied to Mueller.

“Wait until it comes out how horribly & viciously they are treating people, ruining lives for them refusing to lie,” Trump tweeted Tuesday. “The Fake News Media builds Bob Mueller up as a Saint, when in actuality he is the exact opposite. He is doing TREMENDOUS damage to our Criminal Justice System, where he is only looking at one side and not the other.”

This all looks to be far from over.

 

Zuckerberg apologises ahead of hearings, NZ data breaches

Mark Zuckerberg has apologised ahead of hearings in Congress over Facebook data breaches and possible effects on the 2016 US election. In the meantime it has been revealed that about 64,000 New Zealanders may have been involved in the data breaches.

More talk from Zuckerberg over ongoing Facebook data revelations, but  Congress will be looking for more than apologies in two days of hearings.

Reuters: CEO Zuckerberg says Facebook could have done more to prevent misuse

Facebook Inc Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg told Congress on Monday that the social media network should have done more to prevent itself and its members’ data being misused and offered a broad apology to lawmakers.

“We didn’t take a broad enough view of our responsibility, and that was a big mistake,” he said in remarks released by the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee on Monday. “It was my mistake, and I’m sorry. I started Facebook, I run it, and I’m responsible for what happens here.”

“It’s clear now that we didn’t do enough to prevent these tools from being used for harm. That goes for fake news, foreign interference in elections, and hate speech, as well as developers and data privacy.”

His conciliatory tone precedes two days of Congressional hearings where Zuckerberg is set to answer questions about Facebook user data being improperly appropriated by a political consultancy and the role the network played in the U.S. 2016 election.

Top of the agenda in the forthcoming hearings will be Facebook’s admission that the personal information of up to 87 million users, mostly in the United States, may have been improperly shared with political consultancy Cambridge Analytica.

But lawmakers are also expected to press him on a range of issues, including the 2016 election.

Meanwhile:

Facebook, which has 2.1 billion monthly active users worldwide, said on Sunday it plans to begin on Monday telling users whose data may have been shared with Cambridge Analytica.

This potentially includes thousands of New Zealanders. RNZ:

Facebook today revealed it estimated nearly 64,000 New Zealanders were estimated to have had their data collected and used by Cambridge Analytica. The company is accused of using private data to personally target voters to manipulate elections.

A spokesperson for the social media giant said 87 million people were estimated to have been affected by the “Cambridge Analytica data misuse” worldwide, with more than 80 percent of those based in the US.

The data was apparently obtained via the “thisismydigitallife” personality test on Facebook and pulled in information about users’ friends liked without their explicit permission.

“For New Zealand, we estimate a total of 63,724 people may have been impacted – 10 are estimated to have downloaded the quiz app with 63,714 friends possibly impacted,” the company said.

The spokesperson said that from Tuesday the company would begin showing users which apps they connected to at the top of their Facebook feed, and an easy way to delete them.

“As part of this, we will let people know if their data might have been accessed by Cambridge Analytica,” the spokesperson said.

“We’re dramatically reducing the information people can share with apps. We’re shutting down other ways data was being shared through Groups, Events, Pages and Search.”

NetSafe chief executive Martin Cocker…

…said he did not think Facebook users needed to shut down their accounts following the revelation.

Mr Cocker said the breach was a reminder for Facebook users to take their privacy settings seriously, but not necessarily to quit the social media platform.

“Facebook has responded to this breach by setting up a series of tools and improving their management of apps and if anything the breach has lead to a safer Facebook in the future.”

There is nothing obviously different on my Facebook this morning.

 

Pushback against Trump’s tariff proposals

Widespread concerns over Donald Trump’s steel and aluminium tariff proposals, and the threat of a trade war, are so far being dismissed by the White House.

Politico: Frustrated White House free traders mount campaign to weaken Trump tariffs

Since President Donald Trump announced plans last week to hit steel and aluminum imports with new tariffs, his trade adviser Peter Navarro and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross have been all over television celebrating their victory and rebutting suggestions that the move would incite a damaging trade war.

But economic adviser Gary Cohn and other free-trade advocates inside the White House and the Treasury Department are mounting a last-ditch effort to blunt the impact of Trump’s head-turning decision, even as the president insisted Monday that he wasn’t going to be convinced out of it.

Cohn and like-minded officials in the administration are hoping the parade of senior GOP lawmakers, donors, lobbyists and business groups loudly opposing the pending decision will convince Trump that his proposed tariffs will damage the U.S. economy. There was a growing sense among some administration officials that the best way to talk Trump out of the tariffs was to make sure he hears from people outside of the White House, since he’s ignoring advisers inside the building.

RNZ:  Republicans ‘extremely worried’ by Trump’s metal tariffs plan

US President Donald Trump said on Saturday that steel imports would face a 25 percent tariff and aluminium 10 percent.

US Speaker of the House Paul Ryan said he was “extremely worried” about the impact of a trade war, adding that it could undermine economic gains.

But Mr Trump pushed back during a White House meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“We’re not backing down,” he told reporters on Monday. “I don’t think you’re going to have a trade war.”

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said on Monday that Mr Trump was “very confident” the US would win any trade war.

Mr Trump’s Monday comments came an hour after Mr Ryan released a statement urging the White House to reconsider its plan.

“We are extremely worried about the consequences of a trade war and are urging the White House to not advance with this plan,” Mr Ryan’s spokeswoman AshLee Strong said.

“The new tax reform law has boosted the economy and we certainly don’t want to jeopardise those gains.”

Many countries and trade groups have expressed concern, including the UK, EU, Canada, Australia (and New Zealand). And also the World Trade Organisation:

The World Trade Organization (WTO) on Monday also called on member states to “stop the fall of the first dominoes” of a trade war.

“Once we start down this path it will be very difficult to reverse direction,” WTO Director General Roberto Azevedo told negotiators in Geneva on Monday. “An eye for an eye will leave us all blind and the world in a deep recession.”

There is also pushback from within the US:  Companies, industry groups target Congress to derail Trump tariffs

Automakers, business groups and farmers took their fight against U.S. President Donald Trump’s proposed tariffs on steel and aluminum to Capitol Hill on Monday, betting that Republican lawmakers would stand up to the White House on their behalf.

By turning to Congress, lobbyists for industries that could lose in a trade war are making a bet that Republican lawmakers would stick to their traditional support for open trade, and potentially use legislative power to derail tariffs.

Trump and administration trade officials over the weekend said they are determined to go ahead with protective tariffs for steel and aluminum, despite the potential for retaliation by trading partners.

Industry groups opposed to the tariffs got support on Monday from House Speaker Paul Ryan and other senior Republicans. Some Democratic lawmakers from auto-producing states have praised Trump’s move, joining unions long skeptical of open trade deals such as the North American Free Trade Act (NAFTA).

Automakers are reaching out to senators and governors and asking them to make the case against tariffs to the White House, officials said.

Manufacturers of metal-intensive products such as cars and airplanes already are wrestling with rising prices for steel and aluminum, in part because of tight production capacity.

Administration officials in TV interviews over the weekend downplayed the impact on automakers as adding only up to about $200 to the price of a vehicle — a fraction of the average $35,000 sales price. However, Goldman Sachs said in a research report on Sunday that the tariffs could depress General Motors Co and Ford Motor Co’s adjusted operating incomes by $1 billion each.

Groups representing auto dealers weighed in to support the manufacturers. In a flattening auto market, headlines about trade wars and tariffs could cause Americans to put off buying new vehicles, said Cody Lusk, president and chief executive of the American International Automobile Dealers Association.

“Everybody is reaching out to their allies on Capitol Hill just to make sure they are aware of what’s at stake,” Lusk said.

Farm groups representing producers of wheat, corn and soybeans, the top U.S. crop exports valued at nearly $37 billion last year, joined criticism of the proposed tariffs on Monday. Farm groups had been among Trump’s core support group during the 2016 election.

This may all fall on deaf ears. Trump often seems intent on being a tough decision maker and seems obsessed by ‘winning’, and has said it would be easy to win a trade war with the rest of the world.

But he is losing support.

Trump’s obsession with himself

Another leak, this time of transcripts of President Trumps conversations with Australian and Mexican leaders early this year, have shown again how obsessed with himself and his image that Trump is.

He said “I am the world’s greatest person” to Malcolm Turnbull in January.

And recent reports show how he seems to have trouble understanding the difference between leading a company, where the boss can dictate what he likes, compared to the complexities of the US system of government.

Reuters:  Trump, frustrated by Afghan war, suggests firing U.S. commander: officials

During a July 19 meeting in the White House Situation Room, Trump demanded that his top national security aides provide more information on what one official called “the end-state” in a country where the United States has spent 16 years fighting against the Taliban with no end in sight.

The meeting grew stormy when Trump said Defense Secretary James Mattis and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Joseph Dunford, a Marine general, should consider firing Army General John Nicholson, commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, for not winning the war.

“We aren’t winning,” he told them, according to the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Some officials left the meeting “stunned” by the president’s vehement complaints that the military was allowing the United States to lose the war.

Trump seems to have a habit of firing if he isn’t ‘winning’.

CNN: Trump’s Russia statement proves he doesn’t understand separation of powers

On Wednesday, President Donald Trump signed the Russia sanctions bill that the Republican-led Congress had approved overwhelmingly. But he made sure everyone knew he wasn’t happy about it — and in so doing revealed, again, that he has either little understanding of or little care for the separation of powers built into the US government.

What makes Trump’s derision of the division of power between the executive, legislative and judicial branches different is both how brazen he is about it and how many times he has expressed sentiments in his first six-plus months in office that suggest he simply doesn’t understand the fact that everyone in the government doesn’t work for him.

And the latest leaks from Washington Post: The Post’s latest bombshell 

Produced by White House staff, the documents provide an unfiltered glimpse of Trump’s approach to the diplomatic aspect of his job, subjecting even a close neighbor and long-standing ally to streams of threats and invective as if aimed at U.S. adversaries.

With Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull:

The Jan. 28 call with Turnbull became particularly acrimonious. “I have had it,” Trump erupted after the two argued about an agreement on refugees. “I have been making these calls all day, and this is the most unpleasant call all day.”

Before ending the call, Trump noted that at least one of his conversations that day had gone far more smoothly. “Putin was a pleasant call,” Trump said, referring to Russian President Vladi­mir Putin. “This is ridiculous.” … “This is going to kill me,” he said to Turnbull. “I am the world’s greatest person that does not want to let people into the country. And now I am agreeing to take 2,000 people.”

With Mexican President Peña Nieto:

“On the wall, you and I both have a political problem,” Trump said. “My people stand up and say, ‘Mexico will pay for the wall,’ and your people probably say something in a similar but slightly different language.”

Trump seemed to acknowledge that his threats to make Mexico pay had left him cornered politically. “I have to have Mexico pay for the wall — I have to,” he said. “I have been talking about it for a two-year period.” …

Peña Nieto resisted, saying that Trump’s repeated threats had placed “a very big mark on our back, Mr. President.” He warned that “my position has been and will continue to be very firm, saying that Mexico cannot pay for the wall.”

Trump objected: “But you cannot say that to the press. The press is going to go with that, and I cannot live with that.”

Jennifer Rubin at WaPo: Why the leaked presidential transcripts are so frightening

It is shocking to see presidential conversations released in this way. Some in the executive branch, as Anthony Scaramucci aptly put it, are intent on protecting the country from Trump. This is a good thing, by the way. White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly has obviously failed to plug the flood leaks.

These transcripts may have been leaked before Kelly took over.

Trump is frighteningly obsessed with himself and his image to such an extent that he cannot fulfill the role of commander in chief. He cannot frame logical arguments based on public policy, and therefore comes across as, well, a fool to foreign leaders.

His desire to maintain his own image suggests he’d be more than willing to make the country’s interests subordinate to his own need for personal affirmations.

Trump’s narcissism leaves him open to flattery and threats (to reveal embarrassing material, for example). That’s the worry in the Russia investigation — namely, that Vladimir Putin has “something” on Trump, which compels Trump to act in ways inimical to U.S. interests.

Trump’s interests are paramount, so a cagey adversary can easily manipulate him.

There is no easy solution.

One cannot be impeached and removed for being an embarrassment to the United States or an egomaniac temperamentally unfit for the job (that was the argument for not electing him). Unless he really goes off the deep end, invoking the 25th Amendment is not a realistic option.

That leaves members of Congress and his administration with a few options.

And Trump keeps blaming everyone else. He recently tweeted:

But he can’t fire Congress, nor the Senate. He is stuck with the political and judicial system that the US has got. And the US is probably stuck with him until he throws a major hissy fit for not getting his own way and chucks the job in.

In the meantime it is likely that Russia, China, North Korea, and much of the Middle East will be trying to work out how they can exploit Trump’s ego.

With the amount of fire power available to lash out with this has to be a major concern.

One slightly reassuring thing – Trump seems to be relying more on generals to run his administration. They may be the best chance of keeping his flaws in check.

NZ First congress from the inside

This is one of the best political party insights I have seen – a journalist became a paid up member of NZ First and observed the people and the policies from the inside of their congress in the weekend.

Branko Marcetic at The Spinoff:  I joined NZ First and went to their conference to find out what they’re really up to

To its supporters, NZ First is the only party that truly gives a damn about the average Kiwi, and its policies are born of fairness and common sense. To its detractors, it’s a hotbed of racism and intolerance that threatens to bring Trump-like authoritarianism to New Zealand.

In an attempt to cut through the noise and get a sense of what the party truly is about in 2017, I decided to immerse myself, and look at the party as an insider. I paid the $10 fee to join the party, and signed up to attend the conference — my first for any party — as an observer. The intention was not to indulge in “gotcha journalism” or attempt to lampoon other attendees, but to engage with and better understand the men and women that make up a party so often defined by sensational headlines.

The weekend gave me an insight into a party that is almost universally expected to hold the balance of power come September 24.

Despite the party’s association with anti-foreigner sentiment, immigration was rarely touched on across the weekend. In fact, if there was a prevailing theme weaving through the various speeches, discussions and debates at the 2017 conference, it was a steadfast opposition to neoliberal economics, a belief that New Zealand had gravely erred in the embrace of deregulation and globalised trade since the days of Roger Douglas and Ruth Richardson.

If you want to get an excellent insight into the NZ First party the whole article is worth reading.

Peters aside there are a lot of people who believe in the party and what it stands for.

More US sanctions against Russia

The US Senate has voted in favour of strengthening sanctions against Russia “in response to the violation of the territorial integrity of the Ukraine and Crimea, its brazen cyberattacks and interference in elections, and its continuing aggression in Syria,” said Republicans and Democrats on the committees.

ABC News: Tillerson warns against steps that cut off talks with Russia

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Tuesday the U.S. relationship with Russia is at an all-time low and deteriorating further, yet he cautioned against taking steps that might close off promising avenues of communication between the two former Cold War foes.

Testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Tillerson stopped short of registering his opposition to a new package of Russia sanctions the GOP-led Senate is considering in retaliation for Moscow’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election and its aggression in other parts of the world, including Syria and Ukraine.

Top lawmakers on two Senate committees — Banking and Foreign Relations — announced the sanctions deal amid the firestorm over Russia’s meddling in the presidential election and investigations into Moscow’s possible collusion with members of President Donald Trump’s campaign.

The plan calls for strengthening current sanctions and imposing new ones on corrupt Russian actors, those involved in human rights abuses and those supplying weapons to the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

The package also would require a congressional review if a president attempts to ease or end current penalties.

Penalties also would be slapped on those responsible for malicious cyber activity on behalf of the Russian government.

A procedural vote on the Russia sanctions is expected Wednesday, and the measure is expected to get strong bipartisan support.

House and Senate committees are investigating Russia’s meddling and potential links to the Trump campaign, with testimony scheduled Tuesday from Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Special Counsel Robert Mueller is conducting a separate probe.

So both Congress and the Senate are continuing investigations, strengthening sanctions, and making it harder for President Trump to “ease or end current penalties”.

And today (Tuesday US time) Sessions to face tough questions at public Senate hearing, in next round of Russia probe:

The Senate’s Russia probe will hit a new level of intensity Tuesday when Attorney General Jeff Sessions becomes the highest-ranking official to testify – in what Senate Intelligence Committee leaders confirmed will be an open hearing, in the spirit of last week’s dramatic session with James Comey.

The circumstances are different for Sessions’ appearance. While Comey was a witness scorned by President Trump and ready to dish on the leader who fired him, Sessions remains the top law enforcement official in the country, working for Trump’s administration.

But lawmakers – particularly Democrats – are preparing tough questions for Sessions both about Russia’s contact with Trump campaign associates and the circumstances of Comey’s firing.

Also from Fox News:  Mueller’s lawyer build-up raises flags for Trump allies

Special counsel Robert Mueller is said to be building out his investigative team with some of the country’s best legal minds, in a development that speaks to the seriousness of the Russia probe but also is raising red flags on the pro-Trump side.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, citing the hires, said “they’re setting up to go after Trump.”

“This is going to be a witch hunt,” Gingrich said on “Fox News Sunday.”

Not all Republicans feel that way, and Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., told “Fox & Friends” on Monday that Mueller just “wants to get to the truth.”

But recent hires show Mueller is building a formidable team, poised to either root out wrongdoing or prove the Trump team’s claims that there’s no ‘there there.’

Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney fired by Trump along with dozens of other holdover prosecutors earlier this year, tweeted that Dreeben is “1 of the top legal & appellate minds at DOJ in modern times.”

However, Bharara said Dreeben’s “loyalty is to the Constitution alone” and Mueller is looking to find the truth, apply the law “and yield a just result. Charge or no charge.”

It is important for the integrity of the US political system that as much of the truth is discovered as possible, charge or no charge.

Little speech: on Maori

In his ‘state of the nation’ speech in January Andrew Little didn’t mention Maori at all – see Maori 0f Little importance? – but since then Labour’s Maori MPs, candidates and votes have been talked about a lot.

In his Congress speech yesterday Little had to mention Maori, and he did.

And, get this, after the election, at least 1 in 4 Labour MPs will be Māori.

We are going to have the largest representation of Māori MPs of any party, ever, in New Zealand politics.

It’s common for opposition parties to talk in positives in their speeches, like ‘the next Prime Minister’ and from his speech “to all of our dedicated activists and organisers who are going to sweep Labour to government on September 23rd“, and likewise, claiming “at least 1 in 4 Labour MPs will be Māori” presumes all Labour’s electorate MPs will retain their seats and they will improve their share of the party vote. Neither are guaranteed.

Through all these policies and in every decision, Māori will be at the table.

If they have Maori party members and Maori MPs then yes, they will be at Labour’s policy table, but it doesn’t mean they will be influential. 1 in 4 is 25%, from from a majority vote.

Māori aspiration sits at the core of Labour’s vision for New Zealand.

That’s vague and means little in reality.

And that’s all on Maori in the speech. Nothing specific, no policies addressing Maori issues beyond “the Kiwi dream” generalities.

Two contentious Maori issues flared up last week, partnership schools and prisons. On schools:

Thank you for the policy you launched yesterday of health teams in all our schools, which is just one of the ways we’ll bring a fresh approach to our neglected mental health services.

On prisons – nothing.

On the Treaty of Waitangi – nothing.

If Little wants Maori voters to step up and tick Labour in September’s election then Labour may need to step up with some actual policies that will give them some incentive, and promises of policy rewards.

Andrew Little’s speech to Labour’s Congress

Andrew Little’s speech to Labour’s 2017 election  year Congress (in non-election years they have conferences).

Andrew Little speech to 2017 Congress

Delegates, we have four and a half months ahead of us, and a great opportunity to give this country a fresh approach:

  • to make sure everyone has a decent place to live;
  • for hospitals that can treat everyone who turns up for care;
  • to give hope to young people looking for work;
  • to make our rivers clean again and take real action on climate change and the environment.

Delegates, the next four and a half months are a fight for a better New Zealand, and for everyone in this magnificent country of ours.

Delegates, we can do this.  We must do this.

Thank you for devoting this weekend to the cause of Labour and contributing so much to this year’s election.

I acknowledge our President Nigel Haworth and our General Secretary and campaign manager Andrew Kirton. Thank you for the tremendous work you both do.

And, of course, I acknowledge my Deputy Leader Jacinda Ardern.

Jacinda, thank you for the support you give me. Thank you for your speech yesterday and the passion with which you advocate for our children and young people. Thank you for the policy you launched yesterday of health teams in all our schools, which is just one of the ways we’ll bring a fresh approach to our neglected mental health services.

To all our MPs and candidates for Parliament – thank you; thank you for putting yourselves forward, either again or for the first time.

And – most important of all – to all of our dedicated activists and organisers who are going to sweep Labour to government on September 23rd. Thank you.

I also want to take a moment to thank the Labour MPs who are retiring from Parliament. All have served our party and our country with distinction.

To Phil Goff, David Shearer, David Cunliffe, Clayton Cosgrove, and Sue Moroney, thank you for your service to Labour and to New Zealand. We owe each of you an enormous debt.

I especially want to pay tribute to Annette King.

Thank you Annette, for everything you’ve done for everyone in this room, and for the people of New Zealand.

Annette has been our rock. She helped me lay the foundation for rebuilding the Party after the last election.

Thank you, Annette, for your lifetime of service to Labour. You are a titan of this great Labour movement.

Of course as current MPs retire, Labour has an impressive crop of new candidates ready to come to Parliament after the election. They’ll be fantastic MPs.

I’m especially proud of two things:

We’re going to bring at least nine new, amazingly talented women to Parliament as Labour MPs.

And, get this, after the election, at least 1 in 4 Labour MPs will be Māori.

We are going to have the largest representation of Māori MPs of any party, ever, in New Zealand politics.

You know, it was such a nice feeling to be introduced by Leigh before. She has sustained and supported me in challenging roles over many years, and I am hugely grateful.

I couldn’t do this job without her.

Leigh and I have been together for nineteen wonderful years. She’s my soulmate, and we have a son who is our pride and joy.

We’ve lived the typical Kiwi story in many ways.

Leigh and I met just after I started working. We settled down, bought a house, started a family, and got married – which is a very 21st century order in which to do things.

Many of you will have a similar kind of story to tell.

That first house we bought in 2000 cost us $315,000. That wasn’t a small amount of money for us, but it was manageable.

It got us a nice, three-bedroom starter home, built on a hillside in Wellington.

And, like any good Wellington house, it was up about a thousand steps!

For Leigh and me, being able to buy that first house gave us a measure of financial security and certainty. More importantly, Ii It gave us a sense of our own place.

It was the house we brought our baby boy home to.

I remember that time vividly. Preparing the baby room. And putting this precious bundle of humanity in his cot for the first time. This tiny little thing, in this ocean of sheets.

Of course, Cam’s nearly 6 foot tall now. He doesn’t fit in the cot anymore!

The story of our first home is a story told by thousands of Kiwi families every day.

A place to call home.

A place to raise your children.

The Kiwi dream.

It’s the story Labour wants for every Kiwi family.

But let me tell you something. We bought that house in 2000 for $315,000. Now, it would cost around $830,000. It’s gone up by half a million dollars in 17 years.

Its value has nearly tripled.

But here’s the thing: Families’ incomes haven’t tripled since 2000. Nowhere near.

That’s why housing is getting further and further out of reach.

New Zealand’s housing crisis – yes, crisis – is not just about out of control prices. It’s about the insurmountable barrier that many first home buyers now face. It’s about the rapid increase in rent that tenants are seeing now.

It’s about the disruption it is causing to the education of thousands of children.

It’s about the fact that what is happening with housing is now the main cause of growing inequality and growing poverty in New Zealand today.

You know, I was out door knocking in Mt Roskill last year with Michael Wood. It was a typical Kiwi street, modest family homes – sports gear in the front lawns and washing lines out the back.

I knocked on one door, a typical house, and I realised very quickly there were three families living there. Not one family – three! It wasn’t a big home; it was a modest home. I was gobsmacked by that.

Then, the next door I knocked on, on the same street, had the same thing. Multiple families crammed into a house designed for only one.

And it wasn’t just one or two houses on the street, it was house after house, all with families packed in.

Delegates, that’s not the New Zealand we want.

We can do better.

As Jacinda and I travel the country doing public meetings, housing is the number one issue people raise with us, every single place we go.

You know, last Friday, I was in Hamilton with Nanaia Mahuta, Jamie Strange and Brooke Loader. I met a woman there called Shirley, and her daughter.

She lives on Jebson Place, an area that was once a thriving state house community. But, she told me, the current government has gradually emptied out all the other houses.

Her community is gone. She showed me what is left – a bunch of broken down buildings, a haven for crime.

Shirley couldn’t understand it. Why have they left those houses empty and rotting in the middle of the housing crisis? She told me she just wants her community back. She had tears in her eyes.

So, I told her why I was there that day. I was announcing that Labour will tear down all those abandoned old buildings. And in their place we are going to build a community of 100 affordable KiwiBuild and state houses – a place for families, once again.

Well, you should have seen Shirley’s face. She was beaming from ear to ear.

Security, community, hope. That’s the difference we will make up and down this country by building those homes.

You know, that’s why I do what I do. That’s why I come to work every day. I do it because when I meet people like Shirley, or the people crammed into houses down that street in Mt Roskill, or even look at my own son, Cam and his mates, and wonder what the future holds for them, I know we can and must do better.

And I’m damned well determined to do something about it.

New Zealand urgently needs some fresh thinking on housing.

Every Kiwi family should have a place that they can call home.

And everyone should have a shot at owning their own place.

So here’s what we’re going to do.

The first thing is we will build homes that families can afford to buy.

We will lead the largest house building programme since Michael Joseph Savage carried that dining table into 12 Fife Lane.

We’ll use the money we get from selling the first bunch of houses at cost to build more homes and sell them. And we will keep on doing that – build, sell, build, sell – helping more and more and more families buy a place of their own.

But… building houses is just part of the answer. The other part is dealing with those things that jack up prices and put homes out of reach for so many.

If we want to make sure all Kiwi families get a fair shot – that when it comes to buying a home they have a level playing field – we’ve got to get the speculators out of the way.

We can’t let our homes be gambling chips anymore.

So there are three things we’re going to do to level the playing field:

First, we’ll ban overseas speculators from buying existing houses. Simple as that. We’ll do that in our first hundred days.

Second, we’ll make speculators who flip houses within five years pay tax on their profits.

Third, today I’m announcing Labour will close the tax loophole that allows speculators to claim taxpayer subsidies for their property portfolio.

Right now, speculators can take losses from their rentals and offset that against their personal income. It allows them to avoid paying tax.

This loophole is effectively a hand-out from taxpayers to speculators. It gives them an unfair advantage over Kiwi families.

So I’ll tell you.

We will close the loophole. It is over.

Families don’t deserve to have the odds stacked against them by their own government. They deserve a fair shot. With Labour that’s what they’ll have.

Now, let me be clear. This isn’t about the mum and dad investor who has bought a rental as a long-term investment. The vast majority of them don’t use this loophole. Those that do will have time to adjust.

This policy is about the big speculators who purchase property after property. It’s about those big time speculators who are taking tens of thousands of dollars a year in taxpayer subsidies as they hoover up house after house.

I say to people who would defend these loopholes – how can we as a society possibly defend handing out subsidies to property speculators when most young couples can’t afford to buy their first home.

You ask me whose side I’m on? It’s families. It’s first home buyers.

Removing the speculators’ tax loophole will save taxpayers $150m a year once fully implemented.

Now, Grant, before you get too excited about Treasury getting that money – I’ve got plans for it!

Today, I’m also announcing Labour will invest those savings into grants for home insulation and heating.

Homeowners and landlords will be able to get up to $2,000 towards the cost of upgrading insulation to modern standards or installing heating.

Over a decade, we’ll help make 600,000 Kiwi homes warmer, drier, and healthier.

This is a perfect complement to my Healthy Homes Guarantee Bill that requires all rentals to be up to a standard where they are fit to live in.

40,000 kids a year go into hospital in New Zealand for illnesses related to living in cold, damp, mouldy homes. We’ve got to change that. We can do better.

And Labour will.

That’s the fresh, new approach we’ll bring to housing.

We will build affordable homes.

We will level the playing field.

We’ll make our homes healthy, warm and dry.

You know, National’s had nine years to tackle the housing crisis. And they have failed at every step.

I’m telling you now, where they’ve failed, we will succeed.

Why have we made getting housing right such a priority?

Because it is absolutely essential to New Zealanders’ sense of security and stability.

Home is about “our place.” It’s a place of celebration; a place of refuge. A launching pad to face the day’s adventures and challenges. It’s our landing spot to rest and get ready for the next day. It’s where life is lived. Where futures are dreamed.

Without a place to call your own, it’s hard to have any of these things. To thrive, to prosper, to stand on our own two feet, every New Zealander needs to have a place they can call theirs.

It is Labour’s mission to restore the foundation stone to strong families and strong communities – decent housing.

I’ve focused on housing so far today, but the same values that make housing such a priority underpin everything else Labour does.

We are putting people first.

That’s why we’ll fund our health system so people get the care they need, and not just the care they can afford.

That’s why Labour is facing up to the crisis of neglect in mental health.

And that’s why we’re going to have an education system that has what it needs, and that prepares our young people for the future of work.

Labour has so many fresh ideas for New Zealand.

We’ll ensure the Government buys Kiwi-made to keep work here and invest in regional infrastructure.

We’ll get young people off the dole and into jobs improving their communities and the environment. I am committed to lifting wages and improving work rights, especially for lower income workers.

We’ll make our rivers cleaner and tackle climate change.

Through all these policies and in every decision, Māori will be at the table. Māori aspiration sits at the core of Labour’s vision for New Zealand.

Because we are a progressive party – we stand for a better future for each generation; we think ahead; we invest in the future.

We are a party of great passion – for our people, for ideas that make this a more perfect country.

You know, the election in September will be about who’ll invest in New Zealand’s future. It’s not about the lolly scramble we’re seeing in this year’s Budget.

This election will be about who has the vision, the guts, and the plan to build a better New Zealand that puts people first.

The answer is: Labour does.

Only Labour will build the houses.

Only Labour will reverse the health cuts and boost funding for GP visits and mental health.

And only Labour will make tertiary education and training fees free for three years.

In Labour, we have the vision, we have the guts, and the plan.

I’m here because I believe that all our people should have a fair shot at the Kiwi Dream.

I believe that, just as Norman Kirk said so memorably, we should all have “Someone to love, somewhere to live, somewhere to work and something to hope for”.

I’m here because I believe that a government that puts people first is at the heart of making that vision a reality.

I’m here to help build a better New Zealand.

But, before we get that opportunity to help build that better New Zealand, we’ve had to build a better Labour Party.

We’ve had to build a party that is ready to win, to govern, to lead.

As I look out at this Congress, today, I know we have achieved that.

We’ve done it by working together.

We have built a dynamic, modern party.

We have packed out halls and pubs around the country with ordinary Kiwis, keen to hear our vision. Keen to support our plan.

We have built a strong relationship with the Green Party to show that there is a stable alternative government, ready to go.

And because of all that, we’ve been winning. In the local elections. In Mount Roskill. In Mount Albert.

You know, by the time of the Mt Albert by-election, National had stopped even bothering to show up!

Our Party is in amazing shape.

We have a fantastic caucus, amazing new candidates, a huge army of volunteers, and hundreds of thousands of Kiwis signed up as supporters.

Labour is ready to win in 2017.

This election is ours to win. All over the country, people are telling me they’re ready for a change.

To make that happen, we need much more than politicians on a stage.

Ours is a community movement. It’s powered by people like you.

Mums and Dads.

Students and teachers.

Workers and families.

You and me.

Our movement wins when we bring thousands of committed people with us.

I wouldn’t want it any other way.

New Zealanders have a clear choice at this election.

We can choose a tired government that has run its course.

Or we can choose a new, positive vision for a better New Zealand.

This isn’t going to be an easy fight. It’s going to be close. It’s going to be tough.

I’ve faced tough fights before, and this is one fight we simply have to win.

Here’s my message to New Zealanders this year:

It’s time for a fresh team with energy and passion.

It’s time for new ideas on housing.

It’s time to give hope to our young people.

Vote for a better New Zealand.

Vote Labour.

Delegates, let’s do it.

Ardern’s Congress speech

Jacinda Ardern has given the key Saturday speech at Labour’s election year Congress, and has announced new policy on mental health.

Labour on Facebook:

And today, Jacinda Ardern has announced that we’ll deliver comprehensive health services to every state secondary school. These services have been shown to reduce the risk of suicide by two thirds.

We’ll make mental health an absolute priority.

It’s great to put more priority on dealing with mental health issues – in the shorter term this may put more pressure ion the Government to take more action.

But I question this claim: “These services have been shown to reduce the risk of suicide by two thirds”.  There’s no way of knowing in advance what degree of success it might have.

Ardern’s speech:

A curious personal intro to her speech by Ardern, trying to appeal to a social media audience.

Stuff reports: Labour promises a nurse in every secondary school

An emotional Jacinda Ardern has spoken about her grief at losing a childhood friend to suicide.

Speaking to Labour’s election year congress, Ardern put youth mental health on the political agenda, with a promise to place a nurse into every public secondary school.  Schools will also get the support of a GP.

“Evidence around existing services shows where students had more time with on-site professionals there was significantly less depression and suicide risk. Depression and suicide risk were up to two thirds lower in schools with comprehensive health services. Early intervention works.”

Ardern revealed that as a 13-year-old in Morrinsville, her best friend’s brother took his own life.

“I had just started high school and was waiting for class to start when I heard the news, I can remember exactly where I was standing, just outside the science block.

“I went straight to my friend’s home and spent the next few days with her as her and her family went through the unimaginable grief of losing their only boy, grief that was felt by everyone that knew him, and was captured in the handwritten notes and messages from his classmates that hung around the walls at his funeral. Every single thing about it seemed unfair and still does to this day.”

Ardern said school based health services were introduced by Labour in 2008  but were currently only funded directly for nurses in decile 1-3 public secondary schools, teen parent units and alternative education facilities.”

Under Saturday’s announcement, the average secondary school would have a full time nurse and also the support of a GP.

The cost would be around $40 million a year, funded out of Labour’s commitment to reverse National’s $1.7 billion of health cuts.

That doesn’t sound a lot in the whole scheme of things. The question to ask is whether it’s the most effective way to deal with a big problem.

Personal experiences can be a powerful driver of change that matters.

Full text: Jacinda Ardern: Labour Congress Speech

Make or break weekend for Little?

This weekend could be make or break for Andrew Little’s ambitions. Same for Labour as they have their election year Congress (a party conference with PR rather than conferring),

Labour have failed to impress voters since Helen Clark lost the 2008 election. In every election this century Labour has lost support and have trended downwards since 1938.

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Lately Labour has been polling in the high twenties, hardly improved on their a record low election result in 2014 and well short of where it needs to be if they want to be in a strong position to lead a coalition government.

Andrew Little took over the leadership after the 2014 loss but two and a half years later he is struggling to appeal to voters.

Little and Labour are trying hard to address those issues, but while they talk about them they have been slow to come out with clear or decisive policies. Little is reported to be announcing something on housing in his big speech tomorrow.

An issue not on that list but probably critical to Labour’s chances is ‘Maori’ Little didn’t mention that word at all in his January ‘state of the nation’ speech.

He will need to do much better tomorrow, without getting tangled up trying to appease two distinctly different voter groups, the ‘middle New Zealand’ said to be essential to ‘win’ an election, and the Maori vote that Labour are putting so much hope on while giving them little in the way of policies – Little has ruled out two policies promoted by Maori candidates and MPs this week, partnership schools and Maori prisons.

Labour’s Maori electorate MPs (and Labour’s strategists) have created a problem for themselves by not standing on the party list.

While party vote is essential for Labour’s overall success, six Maori MPs have to win their seats again or they are out of Parliament, so they are going to put more effort into their own interests.

The controversies over partnership schools and Maori prisons is indicative of this.

Somehow Little is going to need to overcome this perception…

…without annoying voters who don’t want preferential treatment for Maori.

If he doesn’t deal with that successfully then whatever he says about housing, inequality, poverty immigration and economy may not matter much.

This could be a make or break weekend for Little.

It’s still over four months until the election, but there are signs Little could be losing support from within Labour and signs that confidence in Labour is really struggling, again (or still).

Little’s speech will be important – what he says and how he delivers it, but more important than the PR driven RA RA will be in the next week or two when the contents and ramifications of the speech sink in amongst Labour’s MPs, candidates and rank and file.

If they are not happy and confident amongst themselves – and that is difficult to fake – then voters are going to remain unimpressed.