Ardern “May Be the Most Effective Leader on the Planet”

Politicians can never please all of the people all of the time, and some people will displeased about some politicians all of the time, but Jacinda Ardern is probably getting more praise abroad than any New Zealand Prime Minister.

The Atlantic:  New Zealand’s Prime Minister May Be the Most Effective Leader on the Planet

Jacinda Ardern’s leadership style, focused on empathy, isn’t just resonating with her people; it’s putting the country on track for success against the coronavirus.

I think it’s too soon to call our approach as success against Covid-19, but Ardern’s approach is widely popular with whining confined mainly to the perpetually displeased.

Jacinda Ardern, the 39-year-old prime minister of New Zealand, is forging a path of her own. Her leadership style is one of empathy in a crisis that tempts people to fend for themselves. Her messages are clear, consistent, and somehow simultaneously sobering and soothing. And her approach isn’t just resonating with her people on an emotional level. It is also working remarkably well.

People feel that Ardern “doesn’t preach at them; she’s standing with them,” Helen Clark, New Zealand’s prime minister from 1999 to 2008, told me. (Ardern, a fellow member of the Labour Party, got her start in politics working for Clark during her premiership.) “They may even think, Well, I don’t quite understand why [the government] did that, but I know she’s got our back. There’s a high level of trust and confidence in her because of that empathy.”

Clark isn’t a very unbiased judge of another Labour Prime Minister.

While Ardern conducts more formal and conventional daily briefings with other top officials and journalists, she puts her personal touch on these as well. “Trump does his briefings, but that’s a different kind of show,” Clark said. “On no occasion has Jacinda ever spun out and attacked a journalist who’s asked a question,” she noted, in reference to the American president’s repeated tirades against journalists. (When a reporter forgot his question upon being called on during a recent briefing, Ardern jokingly told him that she was concerned he wasn’t getting enough sleep.)

“She doesn’t peddle in misinformation; she doesn’t blame-shift; she tries to manage everyone’s expectations at the same time [as] she offers reassuring notes,” Van Jackson, an international-relations scholar at Victoria University of Wellington and a former Defense Department official during the Obama administration, wrote to me in an email. “She uses the bully pulpit to cue society toward our better angels—‘Be kind to each other’ and that kind of thing. I think that’s more important than people realize and does trickle down into local attitudes.”

Not sure the Kiwiblog crowd would agree with this, but they’re a small mob who would never be happy with a Labour Prime Minister.

Ardern is similar to Barack Obama in that she’s “polarizing at home [while] popular abroad,” Jackson said. “But her favorables are never higher than when she’s pulling the country through a crisis.”

She has certainly done well fronting a number of crises.

Jackson cautioned that while Ardern and many young European leaders have expertly navigated the coronavirus crisis, he still worries about how this new generation of leaders will handle what comes after it.

“Strategic decision making and crisis decision making are very different,” he noted. “The world is going to be changed, largely for the worse, in the coming years. A great depression seems all but inevitable. China’s strategic opportunism knows no bounds. Dictators everywhere are using the pandemic to solidify control of societies. Multilateral institutions aren’t delivering as promised. Getting through this crisis intact is just one step in a longer process toward a brave new world.”

Of course for any leader success to date doesn’t guarantee ongoing success, and dealing with Covid and the associated social and economic disruptions will be an ongoing challenge for Ardern and her Government.

Ardern has been effective enough over the last month, but the next 6 months will be just as important.

Obama and legacy of journalism

From Twitter:@jswatz: Obama said this tonight about journalism.

If anyone remembers smart investigative journalism then.

People are also not likely to remember who was number 1, or 2, or 3 on the Open Parachute blog pecking order either. But they are more likely to remember significant turning points like Dirty Politics.

In response to the above tweet:

Heidi N Moore@moorehn Related: ‘The Greatest Enemy of Press Freedom in a Generation’ (David A. Graham at The Atlantic):

A New York Times reporter’s accusation that the Obama administration engages in censorship raises questions about when journalism slides into advocacy.

Many reporters have contentious relationships with sources and with the government, but James Risen is in a class of his own. The veteran New York Times national-security reporter has scored some notable scoops the authorities didn’t want him to—most notably about a failed CIA sabotage operation on Iran’s nuclear program. When Risen got the story the first time, the government convinced TheTimes to quash it for national-security reasons. (He eventually published it in a book).

The CIA thought it knew who leaked the info, and it subpoenaed Risen to reveal his source. Demanding this of a journalist is technically legal, but is highly unusual and often frowned-upon. Risen refused to divulge the source and said he’d go to jail instead, setting up a long showdown with the Justice Department. Ultimately, Risen won. Under pressure, Attorney General Eric Holder vowed, ambiguously, “As long as I’m attorney general, no reporter who is doing his job is going to go to jail.” Risen testified, refusing to name his source, and the Justice Department still managed to convict Jeffrey Sterling for leaking. Everyone else lived happily ever after.

A number of tweets from Risen:

Given Holder’s speech today, I repeat: The Obama Administration is the greatest enemy of press freedom in a generation.

Eric Holder has been the nation’s top censorship officer, not the top law enforcement officer.

Eric Holder has sent a message to dictators around the world that it is okay to crack down on the press and jail journalists.

Eric Holder leaves behind a wrecked First Amendment.

I plan to spend the rest of my life fighting to undo damage done to press freedom in the United States by Barack Obama and Eric Holder.


Whether or not Risen is substantively correct about the Obama administration being the worst on press freedom in a generation is a different question, and the answer is likely to vary based on who you ask. Besides political activism, reporters tend to stay away from stories in which they’re directly implicated, since it tends to shape their perception.

But Times Public Editor Margaret Sullivan took the somewhat counterintuitive stand that this makes it more important for him to lead: “Because of his personal experiences, someone like James Risen has an obligation to speak out strongly on press rights.”

There are of course good reasons why the government would wish to reduce leaking, but it’s also an essential outlet for whistleblowers. Leaks lubricate the machinery of free press.

Meanwhile, the White House has been working on a whole slate of methods for bypassing reporters—or at least national political reporters. That means disseminating information directly to the public through videos, White House blogs, and Medium, and granting interviews to late-night shows, local journalists, and YouTube celebrities rather than to folks like, well, The New York Times’ James Risen. President Obama has given notably few press conferences.

How does this compare to New Zealand?

Prime Minister John Key seems fairly accessible to media and to the public – but is this just when it suits him?

How much does he and his comms team play the media and suppress information they don’t want aired in public?

How closely  was Key to Jason Eade and Cameron Slater and their Dirty Politics?

How much is the Official Information Act abused by Government ministers?

There is always going to be reason to query what is happening and there is always going to be room for improvement with Government transparency, with eternal vigilance required to hold our politicians to account.

Are Republicans revolting?

It appears that the popularity of Donlad Trump in the US is a sign of Republicans revolting against the Grand Old Party stuck in the past, and against big Government and Washington, and against ‘political correctness’, and probably against many other things, a pent up rage against the machine finding a way out.

From The Atlantic:

The Great Republican Revolt

The GOP planned a dynastic restoration in 2016. Instead, it triggered an internal class war. Can the party reconcile the demands of its donors with the interests of its rank and file?

The angriest and most pessimistic people in America aren’t the hipster protesters who flitted in and out of Occupy Wall Street. They aren’t the hashtavists of #BlackLivesMatter. They aren’t the remnants of the American labor movement or the savvy young dreamers who confront politicians with their American accents and un-American legal status.

The angriest and most pessimistic people in America are the people we used to call Middle Americans. Middle-class and middle-aged; not rich and not poor; people who are irked when asked to press 1 for English, and who wonder how white male became an accusation rather than a description.

We get some of that here in New Zealand – both accusations and reactions.

White Middle Americans express heavy mistrust of every institution in American society: not only government, but corporations, unions, even the political party they typically vote for—the Republican Party of Romney, Ryan, and McConnell, which they despise as a sad crew of weaklings and sellouts. They are pissed off. And when Donald Trump came along, they were the people who told the pollsters, “That’s my guy.”

They aren’t necessarily superconservative. They often don’t think in ideological terms at all. But they do strongly feel that life in this country used to be better for people like them—and they want that older country back.

Funnily here in New Zealand anyway it’s also the far left that want their older country back too, the pre-neoliberal one.

You hear from people like them in many other democratic countries too. Across Europe, populist parties are delivering a message that combines defense of the welfare state with skepticism about immigration; that denounces the corruption of parliamentary democracy and also the risks of global capitalism. Some of these parties have a leftish flavor, like Italy’s Five Star Movement. Some are rooted to the right of center, like the U.K. Independence Party. Some descend from neofascists, like France’s National Front. Others trace their DNA to Communist parties, like Slovakia’s governing Direction–Social Democracy.

But we keep chugging away herewith one of the most popular Prime Ministers ever. John Key seems to be keeping his National fans happy-ish.

Except that the hate against Key also seems to be mounting.

But if the anti-ists find something that strikes a chord here amongst the masses, something far more meaningful to the non-political than trumped up and overblown asset sales or TPPA campaigns, could revolution also blow into the land of the long white cloud?

This year, they are counting for more. Their rebellion against the power of organized money has upended American politics in ways that may reverberate for a long time. To understand what may come next, we must first review the recent past.

Not so long ago, many observers worried that Americans had lost interest in politics. In his famous book Bowling Alone, published in 2000, the social scientist Robert Putnam bemoaned the collapse in American political participation during the second half of the 20th century. Putnam suggested that this trend would continue as the World War II generation gave way to disengaged Gen Xers.

Sounds similar to here, apart from some who are desperately willing the missing million to stand up at the polls and be counted.

Putnam was right that Americans were turning away from traditional sources of information. But that was because they were turning to new ones: first cable news channels and partisan political documentaries; then blogs and news aggregators like the Drudge Report and The Huffington Post; after that, and most decisively, social media.

Here in New Zealand at the moment Facebook is the hidden power. Can any party or political movement work out how to tap that potential?

Or is it a matter of chance, like Nek Minit?

I think there are significant differences between the US and us right now. Their right wing party is in turmoil while our right-ish wing party is enjoying ongoing strong support at up to double that of it’s main opposition.

But at some time a revolution may emerge out of social media, as The People get fed up and want something different.

It could happen gradually, or something could tip us over the edge and ‘easy does it’ suddenly becomes to hard too sustain.

Despite the frantic fulminating for revolution of a few hard core activists it doesn’t seem to be anywhere near imminent here.

But there could be a social media fuse waiting for a real reason to be lit.

ISIS – apostles of the Apocalypse

A caliphate established by radical Muslims that supports genocide and appears intent on precipitating World War 3 with an aim of engineering the Apocalypse – “that it considers itself a harbinger of—and headline player in—the imminent end of the world.”

A chilling explanation of what is driving the Islamic State, by Graeme Wood at The Atlantic, and the deadly destination they are intent of reaching.

What ISIS Really Wants

The Islamic State is no mere collection of psychopaths. It is a religious group with carefully considered beliefs, among them that it is a key agent of the coming apocalypse. Here’s what that means for its strategy—and for how to stop it.

Short version – they want to revert to practising Islam word for word as written 1500 years ago. This means reliigious law, genocide and precipitating the end of the world.

In conversation, they insist that they will not—cannot—waver from governing precepts that were embedded in Islam by the Prophet Muhammad and his earliest followers.

The reality is that the Islamic State is Islamic. Very Islamic. Yes, it has attracted psychopaths and adventure seekers, drawn largely from the disaffected populations of the Middle East and Europe. But the religion preached by its most ardent followers derives from coherent and even learned interpretations of Islam.

Virtually every major decision and law promulgated by the Islamic State adheres to what it calls, in its press and pronouncements, and on its billboards, license plates, stationery, and coins, “the Prophetic methodology,” which means following the prophecy and example of Muhammad, in punctilious detail.

And being fanalical religion based they are not the sort of people to be persuaded that they might be wrong.

Our ignorance of the Islamic State is in some ways understandable: It is a hermit kingdom; few have gone there and returned. Baghdadi has spoken on camera only once. But his address, and the Islamic State’s countless other propaganda videos and encyclicals, are online, and the caliphate’s supporters have toiled mightily to make their project knowable.

We can gather that their state rejects peace as a matter of principle; that it hungers for genocide; that its religious views make it constitutionally incapable of certain types of change, even if that change might ensure its survival; and that it considers itself a harbinger of—and headline player in—the imminent end of the world.

The Islamic State, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), follows a distinctive variety of Islam whose beliefs about the path to the Day of Judgment matter to its strategy, and can help the West know its enemy and predict its behavior.

Its rise to power is less like the triumph of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt (a group whose leaders the Islamic State considers apostates) than like the realization of a dystopian alternate reality in which David Koresh or Jim Jones survived to wield absolute power over not just a few hundred people, but some 8 million.

And holding territory is an important part of their plans – an essential part.

Control of territory is an essential precondition for the Islamic State’s authority in the eyes of its supporters. This map, adapted from the work of the Institute for the Study of War, shows the territory under the caliphate’s control as of January 15, along with areas it has attacked. Where it holds power, the state collects taxes, regulates prices, operates courts, and administers services ranging from health care and education to telecommunications.

So doing nothing and allowing them to capture and control more territory doesn’t seem a wise option.

But combatting their influence and their spread won’t be easy and it won’t be without paying potentially a heavy price.

They are provoking more and more countries. That must be deliberate.

They want to precipitate World War Three and want it to be the war that ends all wars, the end of human civilisation.

They only represent a small minority of Muslims. But they are growing in numbers and influence.

We should be worried.

All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent – Edmund Burke

It’s a long article but worth wading through – What ISIS Really Wants

Caliphate (Wikipedia):

A caliphate (Arabic: خِلافة‎ khilāfa) is a form of Islamic government led by a caliph (Arabic: خَليفة‎khalīfah   pronunciation (help·info))—a person considered a political and religious successor to the prophet Muhammad and a leader of the entire Muslim community.

The Rashidun caliphs, who directly succeeded Muhammad as leaders of the Muslim community, were chosen through shura, a process of community consultation which some consider an early form of Islamic democracy.

During the history of Islam after the Rashidun period, many Muslim states, almost all of them hereditary monarchies, have claimed to be caliphates.

The Sunni branch of Islam stipulates that, as a head of state, a Caliph should be elected by Muslims or their representatives. Followers of Shia Islam, however, believe a Caliph should be an Imam chosen by God from the Ahl al-Bayt (the “Family of the House”, Muhammad’s direct descendants).

In 2014, the extremist group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levantdeclared itself a Caliphate; nonetheless, its authority remains unrecognised by any country.

Dick contradicts himself trying to defend torture programme

Former Vice President Dick Cheney is described by The Atlantic as “the de-facto leader of the national-security team” during the period that the CIA illegally detained people and tortured them.

Cheney had an interview on Fox News trying to defend what happened but Fox News Catches Dick Cheney Lying About Torture.

Early on, interviewer Bret Baier says, “The Feinstein report suggests that President Bush was not fully briefed on the program and deliberately kept in the dark by the CIA.”

Dick Cheney denies this.

“Not true,” he says. “Read his book. He talks about it extensively in his memoirs. He was, in fact, an integral part of he program. He had to approve it before we went forward …. We did discuss the techniques. There was no effort on our part to keep him from that.” Cheney goes on to declare that “the men and women of the CIA did exactly what we wanted to have them do in terms of taking on this program.”

According to Cheney Bush was an integral part of the program, had to approve it, discussed the techniques, and the CIA “did exactly what we wanted them to do”.

Later in the interview, Baier asks:

“At one point, this report describes interrogators pureeing food of one detainee and then serving it in his anus,” he says, “something the agency called ‘rectal rehydration.’ I mean, is that torture?”

Cheney replied.

“I can’t speak to that. I guess the question is, what are you prepared to do to get the truth about future attacks against the United States. Now, that was not one of the authorized or approved techniques. There were 12 of them, as I recall. They were all techniques we used in training on our own people.”

What is Cheney prepared to do to avoid the truth and to make excuses?

He claims they were fully briefed, the CIA did exactly what they wanted them to do. But that technique wasn’t authorized or approved.

Either way, he story doesn’t hold together. He can’t have it both ways. Either the CIA hid depraved, unapproved tactics, or Cheney was perfectly okay with subjecting prisoners to anal rape.

A harsh assessment but makes a valid point.

Bret Baier: Did the ends justify the means?

Dick Cheney: Absolutely.

Cheney is defending it. Still.

Cheney is told about a prisoner, Gul Rahman, who died after unimaginable brutality—beaten, kept awake for 48 hours, kept in total darkness for days, thrown into the Gestapo-pioneered cold bath treatment, and then chained to a wall and left to die of hypothermia. The factors in his death included “dehydration, lack of food, and immobility due to ‘short chaining.”

Defending this sort of treatment.

This is Cheney’s response: “3,000 Americans died on 9/11 because of what these guys did, and I have no sympathy for them. I don’t know the specific details … I haven’t read the report … I keep coming back to the basic, fundamental proposition: how nice do you want to be to the murderers of 3000 Americans?”

A defiant defence of abhorrent treatment. And it gets worse.

But Gul Rahman had nothing whatsoever to do with the 9/11 plot.

He had engaged in no plots to kill Americans. He was a guard to the Afghan warlord, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, part of an organization that began by fighting the Soviets in occupied Afghanistan. It had alliances with al Qaeda at the time, but subsequently engaged in peace negotiations with the Karzai government.

His brother claims Rahman was even involved in rescuing Hamid Kharzai in 1994.

To equate him with individuals who committed mass murder of Americans or who were actively plotting against Americans is preposterous.

He was emphatically not a threat to the US. Yet we tortured him to death. And the man running the torture camp was promoted thereafter.

And the man in charge of the torture programme is unrepentant.

Did the ends justify the means? Absolutely not.