US Democratic presidential candidacy – popularity versus electability

There is no indication yet whether there will be any serious Republican contender for the presidential nomination prepared to stand against Donald Trump. That’s if Trump stands again for a job it is claimed he never really wanted in the first place – I think it quite likely Trump will stand again, as an excuse to keep having campaign rallies where he is cheered for his crass attacks and incitement, and to try to prove he can win the popular vote in an election without the help of the Russians.

All the action is in with Democrat candidates, where there are now eleven at least semi-serious contenders with ex-vice president Joe Biden now officially in the contest – Former VP Biden’s 2020 bid reshapes White House race

Former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden entered the 2020 Democratic presidential field on Thursday as an instant front-runner, drawing momentum away from other leading candidates and putting new pressure on underperformers to find ways to stay relevant.

Biden, 76, a longtime U.S. senator who served two terms as former President Barack Obama’s No.2, announced his bid in a video describing the high stakes of the race to take on President Donald Trump in next year’s election.

“We are in the battle for the soul of this nation,” Biden said. “I believe history will look back on four years of this president and all he embraces as an aberrant moment in time. But if we give Donald Trump eight years in the White House, he will forever and fundamentally alter the character of this nation, who we are, and I cannot stand by and let that happen.”

Trump responded with typical name calling and irony:

Trump responded in a post on Twitter, saying “welcome to the race Sleepy Joe” and slamming Biden’s intelligence.

Someone of Biden’s political stature was bound to impact on the field of candidates.

Kyle Kondik, a political analyst at the University of Virginia, says it remains unclear if Biden can build on his loyal base of support. If that happens, it could come at Sanders’ expense.

Given his longstanding support from African-Americans and his partnership with Obama, Biden could also affect the candidacy of U.S. Senator Kamala Harris, who is widely regarded as a serious contender for the nomination.

Polls have already installed Biden as favourite. He is reasonably popular, but does that men he is electable?

Five Thirty Eight: Democrats Think Biden Is Electable, But He’s Not Everyone’s First Choice

Beating President Trump in November 2020 is really important to Democrats. Sizable shares of Democrats tell pollsters that a candidate’s “electability” will be a very important factor in their primary vote — even more than the candidate’s policy positions. The problem is that we don’t know for sure what makes a candidate electable.

But we can get an idea of what Democratic voters think an electable candidate looks like by finding polls that ask voters which 2020 presidential hopeful they think has the best chance of winning the general election, in addition to asking who they would support independent of electability concerns.

At least two recent polls have asked both questions: a Quinnipiac poll of registered Democratic and Democratic-leaning voters in California and a Granite State Poll of likely New Hampshire primary voters (conducted by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center). Perhaps unsurprisingly, in both cases, the percentage of voters who say each candidate is the most electable is very similar to the percentage of voters who support each candidate.

But there are some telling divergences: Some candidates widely seen as electable don’t have as much support from voters, while others who have generated a lot of voter enthusiasm aren’t seen as particularly strong general-election candidates.

The table below looks at the difference in each poll between the share of voters who support each candidate and the share who think he or she is the strongest general-election candidate, then averages those differences.

There is quite a difference between those two polls so I don’t think too much can be taken from it, but it shows that Biden and Bernie Sanders are the obvious front runners.

By election time next November Sanders will be 79 years old, while Biden will be nearly 78. If either won they would be presidents while in their eighties.

Trump is just a little younger – he will be 74 next election. I don’t think there’s much chance of him growing up by then.

If those three turn out to remain the leading contenders then health will be a wild card – health of the old men candidates.

There is a lot of campaigning to go just to get nominated, and there could be other candidates yet to declare their intentions, so it’s difficult to judge how it could go for the  Democrats.

Meanwhile if Trump puts himself forward again and doesn’t get beaten for the candidacy – it’s difficult to know what the Republicans would prefer, to stick with a badly flawed incumbent president, or to try someone else if anyone is prepared to stand against Trump – much will probably depend on what happens over the next 18 months with the economy, with trade deficits, with the huge and growing deficit, with international relations, and with sideshows like the US-Mexico wall.

And whether Trump can pull back support, especially in crucial states, or whether he keeps disappointing and pissing off more and more people.  His core support is at least 10% too light – but any Democratic opponent would also have to appeal to the moveable vote in the middle, and it’s far too soon to know if any of them look capable of that.

UK – “Huawei risk can be managed”

Last November the New Zealand GCSB turned down Spark’s proposal to use Huawei equipment in it’s new 5G network. UK security chiefs say thaat the Huawei risk can be managed.

RNZ (30 November 2018) – Huawei 5G decision: Everything you need to know

The GCSB blocked Spark’s bid to use its equipment in the new 5G network and now the Chinese tech company is seeking an urgent meeting with the government.

GCSB Minister Andrew Little said the decision to turn down the overseas network provider was because the technology was too risky – not because the company is Chinese.

Mr Little won’t reveal what significant national security risks Huawei poses saying the information was classified.

But he said the decision had nothing to do with Huawei’s close ties to the Chinese government.

Paul Buchanan (RNZ 29 November) – Huawei vs Five Eyes: NZ diplomatic ties at centre of dilemma

The Government Communications Security Bureau’s (GCSB) decision to recommend against using Huawei equipment for the 5G rollout because of national security concerns underscores the strategic role commercial telecommunications plays in modern society.

It also exposes the disconnect between local telecommunications providers and the Five Eyes signals intelligence network, as well as that between career intelligence professionals and the politicians who oversee them.

Now (BBC): Huawei risk can be managed, say UK cyber-security chiefs

Any risk posed by involving the Chinese technology giant Huawei in UK telecoms projects can be managed, cyber-security chiefs have determined.

The UK’s National Cyber Security Centre’s decision undermines US efforts to persuade its allies to ban the firm from 5G communications networks.

Australia, New Zealand, and the US have already banned Huawei from supplying equipment for their future fifth generation mobile broadband networks, while Canada is reviewing whether the company’s products present a serious security threat.

Most of the UK’s mobile companies – Vodafone, EE and Three – have been working with Huawei on developing their 5G networks.

They are awaiting on a government review, due in March or April, that will decide whether they can use Huawei technology.

As first reported by the Financial Times, the conclusion by the National Cyber Security Centre – part of the intelligence agency GCHQ – will feed into the review.

The decision has not yet been made public, but the security agency said in a statement it had “a unique oversight and understanding of Huawei engineering and cyber security”.

This has been portrayed as a split amongst Five Eyes partners.

Jacinda Ardern says that what the Uk is doing aligns with what NZ is doing –UK finds it can mitigate Huawei risks, NZ follows same processes: PM

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said New Zealand was going through the same process as the UK in considering a bid by Huawei to be involved in the rollout of 5G.

New Zealand’s spy agency recommended rejecting a similar bid here unless Spark proved it could mitigate similar risks.

Ms Ardern said the two countries’ processes were similar in this regard.

“We have a process where an assessment is made by the GCSB, independent of ministers. Any vendor who has made an application is then told of the outcome of that assessment and is given a chance, if there are security concerns to mitigate those concerns,” she said.

“Spark has been given options to around mitigation of potential security concerns and now the ball is in their court.”

An issue lurking in the background of this is the alternative to Huawei equipment – US equipment. There have long been claims that that allows US security back doors access to communications equipment.

 

“A majority of French and Germans now trust Russia and China more than the United States”

Donald Trump is shaking up international relations. Some of this may eventually be for the better. He things he deserves a Nobel Peace prize – see Trump boasted at a news conference on Friday that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had given him a copy of a five-page letter he’d sent to the Norwegian Nobel Committee, which selects the annual Peace Prize laureates – but that is debatable.

But the Trump doctrine (chaos and shoot from the tweet) is also very risky and threatens the established super power balances.

And at increasing risk is relationships between the US and Europe.

Longtime analyst of German-American relations Karl Kaiser: “Two years of Mr. Trump, and a majority of French and Germans now trust Russia and China more than the United States.”

NY Times:  Rift Between Trump and Europe Is Now Open and Angry

European leaders have long been alarmed that President Trump’s words and Twitter messages could undo a trans-Atlantic alliance that had grown stronger over seven decades. They had clung to the hope that those ties would bear up under the strain.

But in the last few days of a prestigious annual security conference in Munich, the rift between Europe and the Trump administration became open, angry and concrete, diplomats and analysts say.

A senior German official, who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak on such matters, shrugged his shoulders and said: “No one any longer believes that Trump cares about the views or interests of the allies. It’s broken.”

The most immediate danger, diplomats and intelligence officials warned, is that the trans-Atlantic fissures now risk being exploited by Russia and China.

The Europeans no longer believe that Washington will change, not when Mr. Trump sees traditional allies as economic rivals and leadership as diktat. His distaste for multilateralism and international cooperation is a challenge to the very heart of what Europe is and needs to be in order to have an impact in the world.

But beyond the Trump administration, an increasing number of Europeans say they believe that relations with the United States will never be the same again.

International relations never remain the same, they keep evolving, but the Trump thump could end up being a seismic shift in power balances.

If Europe moves closer to Russia and China this will further isolate the US. To an extent this is what Trump wants, he puts nationalism well ahead of international interests, but he may not understand the potential repercussions and unintended consequences.

The most visible pushback against Washington came from Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany — who delivered an unusually passionate speech — and from her defense minister, Ursula von der Leyen. They spoke about the dangers of unilateral actions by major partners without discussing the consequences with allies.

They cited Mr. Trump’s recent announcements that American troops would leave northern Syria and Afghanistan, as well as the administration’s decision to suspend one of the last remaining arms-control agreements: the ban on land-based intermediate range missiles.

That decision affects European security, and there has been no alternative strategy, Ms. Merkel said. Abandoning the treaty, despite Russia’s violations, helps decouple Germany from the American nuclear umbrella.

“We sit there in the middle with the result,” Ms. Merkel said.

The Syria pullout, she continued, could only help Russia and Iran. That view was echoed by the French foreign minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, who called American policy in Syria “a mystery to me.”

Trump’s Syrian policy is contentious within the US. Immediately following his announcement of the US pulling out of Syria, US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis resigned.

Last week: Russia, Iran, Turkey to hold fourth round of Syria talks in Sochi

Thursday’s meeting between Putin, Iran’s Hassan Rouhani and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan will focus on the long-term settlement of the Syrian crisis, the Kremlin said in a statement on Monday.

But the three leaders will also discuss projects and coordination on the international arena.

The Syria talks run in parallel to the Geneva talks organised by the United Nations.

But Russia distrusts the negotiations organised by the West. On Wednesday, Russia stayed away from a Middle East conference organised by the United States in Poland, a NATO member.

Last month (Fox News):  Trump administration riles European Union with diplomatic snub

President Trump has angered European Union officials by downgrading the E.U. delegation to Washington’s diplomatic status — and not telling them.

The move by the State Department, reported by Germany’s Deutsche Welle, downgraded the E.U.’s Washington delegation from member state to international organization.

“We don’t exactly know when they did it, because they conveniently forgot to notify us,” an E.U. official told the outlet, which reported that the move initially happened in October or November.

Two days ago (Fox News): In Munich, Pence doubles down on criticism of Europe over Iran nuclear deal, urges removal of Maduro

Vice President Mike Pence asked European allies to follow Washington’s lead and withdraw from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and urged the European Union to recognize Venezuelan politician Juan Guaido as the country’s president during a speech to world leaders at the Munich Security Conference.

“The time has come for our European partners to stop undermining sanctions” against Iran by offering economic incentives in exchange for limiting its nuclear program, Pence said Saturday, speaking after German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

MSNBC: Pence met with silence; Merkel hammers Trump

While speaking at the 55th Munich Security Conference, VP Mike Pence was met with silence after mentioning President Trump. Meanwhile, German Chancellor Angela Merkel criticized the Trump administration’s foreign policies.

Wall Street Journal:  Munich Conference Highlights a Divided U.S.

A divided America was on display this weekend in Munich where Vice President Mike Pence and Democrats including his predecessor Joe Biden offered competing visions of the trans-Atlantic relationship that could shape the world for years to come.

Both Mr. Pence and the Democrats claimed to stand for U.S. leadership on the world stage and accused each other of wrecking a world order that is under threat by rival powers, namely China and Russia.

Mr. Pence presented a strong defense of the Trump administration’s “America First” policy to world leaders gathered for the annual Munich Security Conference. The theme this year, “Picking Up the Pieces,” reflected a view widely shared among European nations: that the world order is in danger because of a breakdown in the relationship between the U.S. and its European allies.

Politico.eu: Munich Insecurity Conference

The Munich Security Conference — a forum conceived during the Cold War to discuss security threats and challenges — has never been an event for the faint of heart. Even so, the mood at this year’s gathering, the 55th, would best be described as funereal.

It’s no secret Europeans and Americans (i.e. the Trump administration) have been at odds over a laundry list of issues including the Iranian nuclear deal, climate policy, trade and commitment to NATO. Yet the interaction between the two sides in Munich — which bordered on the caustic, both in public and behind the scenes — left some participants warning that the estrangement threatens to hobble the transatlantic security alliance at a time of growing instability.

Instability heightens risks.

James Stavridis, a retired American admiral who served as NATO’s supreme allied commander until 2013, said the alliance’s paralysis was most apparent where it can least afford it: hybrid warfare, an area that all sides agree poses a severe threat to the stability of democratic systems.

The threat to democratic systems is not just in the US and Europe.

ABC (Australia): Scott Morrison reveals foreign government hackers targeted Liberal, Labor and National parties in attack on Parliament’s servers

He confirmed earlier reports, revealed by the ABC, that the nation’s cyber security agencies believed a foreign government was behind the attacks.

“Our cyber experts believe that a sophisticated state actor is responsible for this malicious activity,” Mr Morrison told Parliament.

Investigations into hacking and foreign interference in elections in the US are controversial, but connstitutes a major threat to democratic systems.

Back to Europe: Angela Merkel Ruffled at Prospect of More Trump Hardball Tactics, Sources Say

Merkel’s chancellery team is concerned at the prospect of further hardball tactics from the Trump administration after fending off U.S. efforts to turn her European Union partners against a new gas pipeline between Germany and Russia, the people said, asking not to be named discussing private conversations.

The U.S. effort to drive a wedge between Germany and its EU allies had helped spur Merkel to deliver one of her most impassioned speeches when she addressed the meeting earlier in the day. Her defense of the multilateral order challenged by Trump earned a standing ovation from the audience of presidents, prime ministers and senior defense officials.

She also added a geopolitical dimension to her argument, warning that isolating Russia at a moment of tectonic shifts in global relations was not in Europe’s interests.

“Consciously shutting Russia out politically, I think that’s also wrong,” Merkel said. “Europe can’t have a geopolitical interest in halting all relations to Russia.”

If Trump keeps pissing other countries off he will get what he wants to an extent, a more isolated US. What fills that power vacuum could constitute a major shift in international power balances.

Apple earnings warning a casualty of trade war

The Apple (APPL) share price dropped nearly 9% on the sharemarket after they issued earnings warning that they will earn much less than they have previously advised/expected. The drop in earnings is said to be primarily due to the US trade war with China. The share price has recovered a little on Friday US time, by midway through the day bouncing back 3.4%.

9to5mac: Apple’s shock earnings warning sees AAPL stock plunge 9% in pre-market trading

Apple’s shock earnings warning – the first time it has issued one since 2002 – has sent the stock price crashing in pre-market trading. At the time of writing, AAPL is almost 9% down on yesterday’s close.

It follows a letter from Tim Cook warning investors that Apple expects to miss the low end of its fiscal Q1 guidance by $5B, and the high end by $9B.

Cook said that almost all of the missing revenue was in China, thanks to a combination of low economic growth in the country and tensions created by the Trump administration’s trade war with China.

It wasn’t just AAPL stock hit by the news: Business Insider reports that shares in major Apple suppliers are also taking a hammering. AMS, which makes Face ID sensors for Apple, took the brunt of the impact, losing 17% of its market cap overnight – but it wasn’t the only casualty.

Apple’s last earnings warning was in 2002.

Like any wars there can be casualties on all sides in trade wars.

 

US drone strikes in Somalia

So the US military is active Somalia still. They have been there a while.

From Gezza:

The reality:
https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/trump-decree-killing-innocent-civilians-somalia-180114091717319.html
Trump’s new relaxed rules of engagement are killing civilians and breeding the next generation of anti-US fighters.

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2018/11/hidden-toll-american-drones-yemen-civilian-deaths-181114081521898.html
Investigation by the Associated Press finds that more than 30 killed in drone attacks in 2018 were not al-Qaeda members.

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2018/03/trump-deadly-drone-policy-ngos-180307204617166.html
US drone attacks in Iraq and Syria shot up 50 percent while civilian deaths rose 215 percent from 2016 to 2017.

https://www.aljazeera.com/mritems/imagecache/mbdxxlarge/mritems/Images/2014/2/12/20142121043484734_20.jpg
https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2014/02/risk-reporting-us-drone-strikes-2014212103345230764.html
Yemen researcher says he received a death threat after investigating deadly wedding-convoy attack.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Civilian_casualties_from_U.S._drone_strikes

Can NZ really be ‘a bridge’ between US and China?

I still don’t know. Jacinda Ardern was asked by RNZ how New Zealand can act as a bridge between China and the US. She doesn’t seem to have really answered.

On The Nation in the weekend: Trade and Export Growth Minister David Parker

Trade and Export Growth Minister David Parker says New Zealand is trying to position itself as the bridge between the United States and China. “We have a bit of a reputation for the honest broker, and it’s times like this that we should draw upon that reputation”.

Points of note from US midterm elections

Now the dust has settled and most of the results have been confirmed it’s worth looking at what the US midterm elections mean 9for the US) in the short term and for the 2020 election.

RealClear Politics:  Six Takeaways From the Midterms

Democrats accomplished something that seemed impossible in early 2017: They took control of the House of Representatives; they picked up multiple governorships.

Overall, Republicans had a tough night Tuesday. When all is said and done, Democrats look to have gained around 35 seats in the House, seven governorships and over 330 state legislators. Yet as rough as it was, it could have been much worse for Republicans.

In the Senate, Republicans actually expanded their majority — as it appears they will pick up 3 seats.

Some factors to consider:

  1. The GOP got killed in the suburbs. This is a significant long-term problem for the party if it continues.
  2. This probably doesn’t count as a wave. Our preliminary results suggest that things have moved about 23 points toward Democrats.  That’s a substantial shift, but it falls short of even “semi-wave elections” such as 2014 (a shift of 26 points toward Republicans) and 2006 (a movement of 30 points toward Democrats).
  3. Money. Democrats had a massive fundraising advantage in the lower chamber. This allowed them to catch a number of incumbent Republicans napping, and to spread the playing field out such that the GOP just had too many brush fires to put out.
    To the extent we wish to deduce anything about 2020 from these midterms, we should bear in mind that the next election will probably be fought on a more even financial playing field.
  4. The maps moved out from under Republicans. Many of these districts that swung against the GOP were suburban districts that included urban areas…when there was a suburban swing, the Republicans were spread too thin to survive.
  5. The red state/blue state divide is getting deeper…generally speaking, Republicans won red states and Democrats won blue states, with proper allowance for incumbency.  This is yet another example of how polarized we are becoming.
  6. This all takes place against the backdrop of a booming economy. Finally, it is important to note that Republicans should not have found themselves in this position amid a vibrant economy.  It is quite unusual to have a result this bad in a time of peace and prosperity. Some of this is the suburban realignment, but some is driven by Donald Trump’s more extreme actions, which alienate suburban moderates.

It’s very difficult to predict two years ahead, especially with the division and upheaval going on in US politics, and the unpredictability of Trump.

…if Trump can smooth out the rougher edges that turn suburbanites off, he could prove to be a formidable candidate in 2020.  Most of his states from 2016 continued to support Republicans this cycle.  But, on the other hand, he hasn’t shown much interest in smoothing out those edges.  And if the economy slides into recession, all bets are off.

The Senate will be a tougher battle for the Republicans next time.The House could swing either way.

As for the presidency, it looks likely that Trump will stand again, and much will depend on how he handles the second half of his term as president. And the economy.

And a big unknown is who the Democrats will put up against Trump. They stuffed up last time with Hillary Clinton. If she gets another shot then I think Trump will be favoured, to have lost once to him was a remarkable defeat, and on top of that she has too many negatives.

Both the Senate and the House could easily go either way, depending on what happens over the next two years.

And I think it is impossible to predict Trump, and also impossible to predict whether he can hold sufficient support to win again. It looks like he has a substantial base of support that will keep ignoring his fallibilities. But he needs more than that. If he keeps attacking different groups and demographics he will make things difficult for himself.

 

Mixed trade deal and financial news

It is difficult to predict what the longer term effects of all this might be.

Whether trade deals or agreements can be reached between the US and Canada and also with China, and also with the EU, will make a difference. In the meantime, the trade wars over tariffs with US subsidies to compensate will continue to disrupt markets.

Michelle Wolf versus US media

A speech by comedian Michelle Wolf at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner has caused a stir.

It’s same old for the White House to complain about being the target of criticism and a lampooning, but what was different about Wolf’s speech was her targeting of the media being too cosy with the White House – media that criticised her for poor taste humour and being too personal.

CNN: Michelle Wolf was the big winner of the WHCD, not Trump

Despite what Donald Trump and some others on the right may think, the big winner from Saturday’s White House Correspondents’ Dinner was comedian Michelle Wolf. Her performance was not just funny — it’s still grabbing headlines and will make this comedian, who is on the verge of stardom, even better known.

True, not every joke she told got big laughs in the room. I was there and some of her material did make people uncomfortable. But political comedy, at its best, shouldn’t always be comfortable. It should make you laugh while also challenging your views. And Wolf did just that in strong moments like this quip: “I’m 32, which is a weird age — 10 years too young to host this event, and 20 years too old for Roy Moore.”

She did it again with this joke: “[Trump] loves white nationalists, which is a weird term for a Nazi. Calling a Nazi a white nationalist is like calling a pedophile a ‘kid friend.’ Or Harvey Weinstein a ‘ladies man.'”

Did you cringe a bit when you read those jokes? Good. That’s what political comedy needs to do, especially in the time of Trump.

…what’s most telling is what Trump left out of his tweet about the WHCD. Since Saturday night, there’s been a backlash against Wolf for her jokes about Trump’s press secretary, Sarah Sanders, who was sitting on the same dais where Wolf was performing. Here’s an example of one of Wolf’s barbs about Sanders: “I actually really like Sarah.

I think she’s very resourceful.” Wolf then joked: “She burns facts and then she uses that ash to create a perfect smoky eye. Maybe she’s born with it, maybe it’s lies. It’s probably lies.” (Keep in mind, Sanders was sent by Trump to represent his administration, which has been plagued by serving up lie after lie to the American people.)

That’s not a joke I would tell, nor do I think any male comedian could get away with it. But Wolf did.

Team Trump was outraged that Wolf dared to mock the person sent to represent the most powerful man in our nation. On Sunday morning, Mercedes Schlapp, a White House senior communications adviser who had stormed out of the WHCD with her husband in protest, commented on “Fox & Friends” that Wolf’s jokes were “so incredibly disrespectful.”

The way I see it, a person in the Trump administration saying something was “disrespectful” while defending a man who bragged on the “Access Hollywood” tape about grabbing women by the pu**y, has demonized Muslims and Mexicans and mocked a disabled reporter is truly hilarious.

Claiming that Wolf’s jokes were disrespectful is more than a little hypocritical when trump has made a political career out of being disrespectful.

Targeting Trump and his lying cronies shouldn’t be a big deal in the current climate.

So why the fuss from the White House media?

@Mikel_Jollett tweeted: Let’s be honest, this is what they’re REALLY mad about. Michelle Wolf called out THE PRESS.

No wonder the media squirmed.

Molly Roberts: Michelle Wolf got it just right

Wolf managed Saturday night to scandalize the majority of Washington’s tuxedo-clad intelligentsia with a barrage of bon mots that, in the eyes of much of the press and political establishment, weren’t really so bon at all. The speech, these pundits have argued, wasn’t amusing; it was lewd, and worse than that, it was mean.

That Wolf’s performance was not “normal” for the correspondents’ dinner is a testament to its timeliness and necessity — nothing is “normal” right now, and pretending otherwise out of a false sense of the fourth estate’s friendship with the executive would have been the real disgrace. Wolf called the Trump administration out for tearing down democracy. Then, the people who are supposed to care most about holding autocrats to account called her out in turn for, essentially, not being chummy enough.

That persistent chumminess is why Wolf’s performance, in the end, wasn’t really for the press. It was about us. “You guys love breaking news, and you did it,” Wolf said to CNN. “You broke it.” To everyone else, she said: “You helped create this monster, and now you’re profiting off of him.” Instead of listening — to that or to Wolf’s final line, “Flint still doesn’t have clean water” — we got grumpy on Twitter. Which means Wolf did a better job of defending the First Amendment than those who say that’s our business.

We have a real issue in New Zealand with how close our political media is with our politicians, not as disgraceful as in the US but still a threat to a properly functioning democracy.

On Ardern’s fence sitting on Syrian attacks

Jacinda Ardern stood out from allies by not giving a strong endorsement of the US/UK/French missile attack on Syria. Neither did she take a stand against violence and war.

Her careful positioning on a wobbly fence may have disappointed both sides of a bitter war argument.

Chris Trotter points this out in Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has a bob each way on bombing Syria

The latest strike against Syria marks a further deterioration in the conduct of international affairs. Of more concern, however, is the quality of the response it elicited from Jacinda Ardern. The New Zealand Prime Minister’s remarks were not the sort to inspire either confidence or respect.

In matters of this kind, a prime minister has two viable choices. Either, she can line up behind New Zealand’s traditional allies and deliver a hearty endorsement of their actions. Or, she can take a stand on principle and distance her country from the justifications, decisions and actions of the nation’s involved.

What a leader should not do is attempt to have a bob each way. Why? Because, as the Ancient Greek storyteller, Aesop, pointed out some 2500 years ago: “He who tries to please everybody, ends up pleasing nobody.”

Ardern may not have strongly annoyed anyone by her middling muddy response, but pleasing nobody could be a bigger problem on the left, where her support comes from.

Had Ardern denounced the vetoing, by the United States, of a Russian Federation proposal for an international inquiry into the alleged chemical warfare attack on Eastern Ghouta, as well as the Russians’ tit-for-tat vetoing of a similar proposal put forward by the US, she would have elicited widespread support from UN member states.

That support would have grown if she had further declared her disappointment that military action had been initiated by the US, France and the United Kingdom (all permanent members of the Security Council) before inspectors from the Organisation for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) had been given a chance to examine the scene of the alleged attack, gather samples, and make their report.

Perhaps Ardern had other international considerations (Prime Ministers always do). She may wanted to appear to stay onside with France and the UK ahead of her European trip this week.

She could also have announced that, if the Eastern Ghouta incident was confirmed by the OPCW as a chemical attack, then New Zealand would be seeking a vote explicitly condemning its perpetrators at the UN General Assembly, as well as a re-confirmation of the UN ban against the deployment and use of chemical and biological weapons.

Such a course of action would have identified New Zealand as an outspoken defender of the UN Charter and encouraged other small states to take a stand against the precipitate and unsanctioned military actions of the United States and the two former imperial powers most responsible for the century of instability which has beset the nations of the Middle East –  France and Britain.

At a more pragmatic level, such a response would undoubtedly have strengthened New Zealand’s relationship with that other permanent member of the Security Council, the People’s Republic of China. The Chinese have consistently and vehemently opposed unsanctioned and unprovoked military attacks against the sovereign territory of fellow UN member states.

Such would have been the high road for New Zealand: coherent, consistent and principled.

Alas, it was not the road Ardern chose to take.

Instead, having lamented the Security Council’s veto-induced paralysis, the statement issued by New Zealand’s prime minister went on to say:

“New Zealand therefore accepts why the US, UK and France have today responded to the grave violation of international law, and the abhorrent use of chemical weapons against civilians.”

Using fewer than 30 words, Ardern telegraphed to the world that New Zealand’s fine words about diplomacy and multilateralism should be dismissed as mere rhetoric. In reality, her country is perfectly willing to set aside its commitment to the peaceful resolution of conflicts between nation states, and the rule of international law, if the United States, the United Kingdom and France ask them to.

Rather than take an unequivocal stand for peace, the UN Charter and the rule of international law, New Zealand’s prime minister has chosen to talk out of both sides of her mouth. An opportunity to assume moral leadership and demonstrate political courage has been heedlessly squandered.

That’s fairly harsh criticism from a fairly left leaning commentator – and it’s not the first time Ardern has been accused of talking out of both sides of her mouth.

This may blow over most voters unnoticed, but it also has risks for Ardern.

I wonder what Trotter and the left think of the trade deals Ardern is trying to progress in Europe and the UK.