World news

NZ folds to Israel

Back in September of last year, a diplomatic stoush broke out between New Zealand and Israel. Our nominated ambassador to Israel, Jonathan Curr, was rejected by Israel, as he was also our representative in Palestine.

Despite New Zelaand’s ambassador having performed both roles since 2008 (as well as being our representative in Turkey), Israel declared:

“It is a protocol principle which has been in practice for many years and is applicable to all the ambassadors who are accredited to Israel.”

Given that it quite patently wasn’t a protocol principle that had been applied to New Zealand, I wrote at the time:

Frankly, there’s an obvious solution here. Leave Mr Curr in place as our ambassador to Palestine and Turkey, and appoint no replacement to Israel. If the Israeli relationship with NZ is as good as Israel says it is, our Government will undoubtedly receive a call from Israel saying that Mr Curr has been approved. Protocols can be relaxed… After all, Israel may well feel a little awkward that NZ has better diplomatic relations with Palestine than with Israel…

And if Israel doesn’t make the call, well, we can always transmit any diplomatic messages to Israel via their ambassador to NZ.

Unfortunately, New Zealand has now folded to Israel. Jonathan Curr remains ambassador to Israel, while former National Party leader and deputy Prime Minister Jim McClay will be our representative in Palestine.

Except that he won’t actually be based in Palestine, or indeed anywhere near Palestine. He’ll be based in Wellington.

The NZ Herald states in an editorial today:

Israel’s motive was clear enough. It had been irked by this country’s increasingly critical statements about its activities, such as appropriation of privately owned Palestinian land for Israeli settlements and the shelling of Gaza. The level of condemnation harked back to that of Helen Clark’s Government during a period when relations sank to an especially low point.

The editorial goes on to note that Israel should hardly have been surprised by New Zealand’s level of criticism. We were pursuing a seat on the UN Security Council, and with one of our rivals for the seat being Turkey, we needed to court the Islamic nations.

To obtain the Security Council seat, we successfully marketed ourselves as being able to provide “a fresh, independent perspective”. To my mind, we’ve somewhat undermined ourselves in that regard by simply giving in to Israel’s unprincipled demands.

As quote the conclusion of the Herald’s editorial:

[Israel] offered no real justification for its demand. It has merely waved a stick and won. The loser is this country’s international standing.

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Abbott survives. For now…

Tony Abbott has survived the spill motion, with 61 votes supporting his continued leadership to 39 against.

Neither of the two likely leadership contestants – Malcolm Turnbull or Julie Bishop – had announced that they would challenge. In fact, both had publicly opposed the spill motion, not wanting to look disloyal. Without a candidate opposing Abbott, the spill was always more likely than not to fail. Better the devil you know than a leadership void.

And of course Abbott made a “Captain’s Call” to move the vote ahead by a day, wrong-footing those who might have been rushing to lock in the anti-Abbott numbers.

Nonetheless, it’s surely still the beginning of the end for him. Both Turnbull and Bishop know that there’s plenty of time to axe Abbott before the next election. They’ll have been watching to see just how big the ABA (Anyone But Abbott) camp is. Now they know it’s sizeable – 39% of MPs wanted Abbott gone without a challenger even putting up their hand.

From here, the question becomes whether a head-to-head Turnbull v Abbott, or Bishop v Abbott, contest can convert an extra 12 votes away from the Prime Minister.

Given that the latest Newspoll published this morning in The Australian shows the Coalition is a massive 14 points behind the Labor party (the Coalition’s worst result since November 2009), one would have to assume that it won’t take a great deal of persuading for a number of senior MPs to fall in behind either Turnbull or Bishop. Loyalty means little in politics when one’s seat is at stake.

The Coalition’s poll numbers may be looking abysmal, but Abbott’s personal numbers are even worse. The latest Newspoll also shows his preferred Prime Minister rating at just 30% – the worst for a Prime Minister since 1994.

Abbott may have survived for today, but the number-crunching will now begin in earnest. The knives will be well and truly out.

Fundamentalist Islam and freedom of speech

Re-posted after accidental deletion…

Those who find the truth of human evolution repugnant (“I’m not descended from a monkey!”) can never be persuaded that evolution is a scientific fact. All the proof in the world will never be enough to convince them. They’ll create their own strange alternative universe in their head: a conspiracy theory in which scientists the world over have fabricated fossil evidence, carbon dating (and other radioactive isotope) data, DNA and RNA trees, …

Personally, I find it incomprehensible that anyone could read Richard Dawkins’ The Greatest Show On Earth : The Evidence for Evolution, and still deny that evolution occurs. But of course, those who deny evolution aren’t going to be reading Dawkins. Or Stephen Jay Gould’s magnum opus, The Structure of Evolutionary Theory. And if they did, they’d simply assert that Dawkins and Gould are (or, in Gould’s case, were) a part of the grand conspiracy. Evidence schmevidence. There is no logic that can be brought to the table.

To be truly religious, one needs a blind, unshakeable faith. I know a fair few truly religious people. For the most part, we coexist pretty happily – I try not to convert them, they try not to convert me, and all is good. We try not to be offensive to each other. (Mind you, I haven’t always been like that, as my wife loves to remind me…)

But here’s the thing. The Quran, the holy book of Islam, contains over a hundred verses that call Muslims to war with nonbelievers. Muslims who don’t join the fight are threatened with Hell. Of course, the majority of Muslims choose to interpret their holy book in a different way, just as most Christians ignore or reinterpret the more insane and/or genocidal parts of the Old Testament. Unfortunately, the fundamentalists who gunned down the staff of Charlie Hebdo don’t believe in watering down the Quran. Non-believers are to be put to the sword, as in fact are moderate Muslims, for they too are sinners.

For Islamic fundamentalists, there can be no such thing as free speech. A cartoon that mocks Islam or its prophet can only be punished with violence. It’s a war with the fundamental ideals of the West.

So what of Charlie Hebdo? The magazine and its editors and contributors have been accused of bigotry and intolerance by many. And at face value, many of their cartoons seem decidedly bigoted and intolerant. Nonetheless, I can’t read or speak French, so I don’t know whether there’s important context or subtext that I’m missing. At any rate, a great deal of their cartoons that I’ve seen online seem decidedly tasteless, at the very least. (For a defence of Charlie Hebdo, follow this link.)

However, it shouldn’t need to be said that no one should ever be executed on the grounds of taste. And even if Charlie Hebdo’s content was bigoted and intolerant, it also shouldn’t need to be said that bigotry and intolerance aren’t grounds for execution either.

Religion is an idea, and any idea should be able to be defended in debate. These fundamentalists are attempting, through violence, murder and intimidation, to suppress a contest of ideas. And for that reason – regardless of whether Charlie Hebdo’s publications were tasteless, bigoted and intolerant – the offending cartoons should be reprinted around the world, to show that those who seek to spread their ideas through violent means will never win.

2006 Charlie Hebdo cartoon: "Muhammad overwhelmed by fundamentalists".

2006 Charlie Hebdo cartoon: “Muhammad overwhelmed by fundamentalists”.

2011 response to the firebombing of the Charlie Hebdo offices.

2011 response to the firebombing of the Charlie Hebdo offices.

"I'm the Prophet, moron!" "Shut up, infidel!"

“I’m the Prophet, moron!”
“Shut up, infidel!”

Israel rejects our ambassador

Israel has refused to accept New Zealand’s nominated ambassador, Jonathan Curr. 3News reports that Curr was rejected by Israel as he also represents us in Palestine.

Here’s the Israeli viewpoint:

“Israel maintains good relations with New Zealand and we shall continue striving to foster them.

“The issue in question is totally unconnected to the good relations between the two countries. It is a protocol principle which has been in practice for many years and is applicable to all the ambassadors who are accredited to Israel.”

Unfortunately, that doesn’t tally with reality. After all, here’s John Key on the issue:

“Historically the case has been that whoever we accredited for Israel, we also accredited for Palestine… [and] for Turkey,”

So it isn’t “a protocol principle which has been in practice for many years”. And if it has been, it hasn’t been applied to New Zealand.

Frankly, there’s an obvious solution here. Leave Mr Curr in place as our ambassador to Palestine and Turkey, and appoint no replacement to Israel. If the Israeli relationship with NZ is as good as Israel says it is, our Government will undoubtedly receive a call from Israel saying that Mr Curr has been approved. Protocols can be relaxed… After all, Israel may well feel a little awkward that NZ has better diplomatic relations with Palestine than with Israel…

And if Israel doesn’t make the call, well, we can always transmit any diplomatic messages to Israel via their ambassador to NZ.

Russia in the Ukraine

Back in April, in my post entitled “I repeat, Russian isn’t going to take any more of the Ukraine“, I wrote that the Russian forces massing on the Ukrainian border were for nothing more than political leverage:

Putin gets to show off the supposed might of the Russian military, Russia’s neighbours quake in their boots and privately vow to be nicer to the big kid next door in future, and Nato commanders get to pretend they still have some relevance. Then after some extensive negotiation, Russia agrees that in a show of good faith, it will stand down tens of thousands of its troops from border patrol. Presumably, the West will offer Russia something in return – perhaps a relaxing of sanctions and a return to a few diplomatic tables in future. Russia is seen to have given something away, but it’s something it never intended to use. The crisis is seen to have been averted, and life returns to normal.

For a number of months, that seemed correct.  Yes, there were suspicions that some of the pro-Russian separatists were from the Russian side of the border, but to my mind it seemed a case of Russia having lost control of the separatists. Putin could agree all he liked that Russia would broker a truce, but that didn’t necessarily mean the separatists were going to listen to him.

However, in the recent weeks it has been increasingly difficult to argue that Russia is not directly supplying the separatists with weapons, training and leadership. Since the downing of Flight MH17, and the pictures of the sophisticated Russian rocket system used in the attack, the Russian aid and influence has been obvious. However, at that time, Russia was still in complete denial, no doubt in large part due to not wanting to own any involvement in the shooting down of a civilian aircraft.

Recently though, Russia is barely even bothering to discuss the troop movements over the border into Eastern Ukraine. Combined with Putin’s change in language (describing the territory held by the separatists as “New Russia”), it’s somewhat ominous times for the Ukrainian Government.

With the separatists having recently routed the Ukrainian army on a number of different fronts, to the point where the Ukrainian Government has had little choice but to agree to cease-fire, it seems increasingly likely that Russia will now carve off a chunk of Eastern Ukraine and put up with the increased sanctions that will undoubtedly follow.

If that’s what ends up occurring, Putin will be gambling that Nato’s recent tough talk is just that – talk only. And his gamble would more likely than not be correct. Europe does not want to go to war, especially not in support of a non-Nato member which has spent the last few decades as a corrupt, largely failed state.

However, Russia’s economy is crumbling, with a huge flight of capital since sanctions were imposed. If the West holds the line, either continuing indefinitely with the existing sanctions or adding a new round of sanctions, Putin’s populist land grab may well end up crippling Russia’s economy for years to come.

Julian Assange pleads pitifully for clemency

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WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, wants out of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where he’s been holed up for the last two years. Sweden, of course, want him extradited from the UK to face up to allegations of sexual assault, while Assange believes that if he gives himself up to Sweden, he will then be extradited to the United States to be crucified over the WikiLeaks saga.

Frankly, I’m not sure how Assange’s claim that he can’t go to Sweden because they’ll extradite him to the US holds much water. If the US wanted him, they could have applied to the UK while he was going through his appeals against being extradited to Sweden. And, until the Swedish criminal proceedings are complete, Article 28 of the 2002 EU Council Framework Decision requires Sweden to gain Britain’s consent to an extradition to the US. Further, it’s my understanding that neither the UK nor Sweden will extradite anyone to a country where the accused is in peril of the death sentence if convicted, which would surely cover Assange’s situation.

Assange has reportedly said that he will leave the embassy “soon”, but hasn’t given specifics as to why, how or where to. It seems that nothing is in fact arranged, and he’s simply hoping that the British Government takes pity on him, given that living almost 24/7 in an air-conditioned building with no natural lighting is apparently destroying his health. At his most recent press conference inside the embassy, Assange said:

“How can it be in Europe that a person is held, effectively, without charge and kept from their family.”

Well, Assange isn’t exactly being held without charge. He’s sheltered in the Ecuadorian embassy of his own free will precisely because he doesn’t want to be charged. Being on the run from authorities does not equate to being held without charge.

And kept from his family? I’m sure that his family are more than welcome to spend time with him in the embassy, where he resides (I repeat) of his own free will.

Setting aside the arguments as to whether the allegations in Sweden are manufactured, and whether Swedish law interprets rape and sexual assault differently to the UK, the simple fact is that the Swedish Government has a legitimate legal reason to interview Mr Assange, and, if the evidence warrants it, to charge him with rape or other sexual assault. Until the sexual assault allegations are resolved, it is more difficult for Assange to be extradited from Sweden than it is from the UK.

To my mind, this is purely a case of Assange attempting to evade justice in Sweden. If he therefore shelters in a London embassy and won’t come out because he’ll be arrested, he can hardly complain that his human rights are being violated.

So what does Mr Assange want to do, should the UK let him leave on his own steam?

“I would want an understanding – formal or informal – that I would be given time to leave the UK before the US puts in an extradition bid. And then I’d go to my children, like any father.”

Except that, as far as I’m aware, three of Assange’s four children live in Australia. So what would be stopping the US from making an extradition application to Australia, once Assange arrives there?

I suppose that for Assange’s supporters (and possibly Assange himself), his story doesn’t have to make sense – he can do no wrong, because he’s the guy who helped found WikiLeaks. Unfortunately for Assange, neither the British nor Swedish Governments see him as being above rape and sexual assault laws.

Why the Israeli ambassador should go

Following the latest bombing by Israel of another UN school in Gaza, the Green Party has called on the Government to expel the Israeli ambassador to New Zealand. On 3News last night, John Key stated that although he was “appalled” at what’s happening in Gaza, he didn’t want to expel the ambassador, as such a move would prevent New Zealand from applying official pressure on Israel at a later date. It was noted that no other country has expelled an Israeli ambassador over this latest Israel-Gaza conflict.

But here’s the thing – world leaders have condemned Israel’s actions; every nation with an Israeli embassy has undoubtedly pulled the ambassador in for a talking to; and Israel has simply stuck to its guns (and missiles) and continued on in precisely the same manner. Israel knows that once it eventually pulls back its ground troops and stops its missile attacks, having accomplished what it set out to do, its international relationships go back to normal.

New Zealand summoning the Israeli ambassador for a meeting? That’s not big news. However, if New Zealand expels the Israeli ambassador, that is indeed big news. It forces every other Western nation to justify why they won’t do the same. And if a few other countries follow suit, Israel is suddenly on the road to becoming a pariah state.

There need to be international repercussions for Israel. Otherwise, Gaza’s Groundhog Day will simply begin again, and again, and again.

Also, from a more cynical perspective, New Zealand is still hoping for a seat on the UN Security Council. Given we’re already the underdogs, it surely can’t hurt for us to show the world some moral fibre…

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The problem with reporters…

The problem with reporters, as Usain Bolt has discovered, is that they tend to record things when they want a quote. So when Mr Bolt, sprinter extraordinaire, was quoted as saying the Glasgow Commonwealth Games were “a bit shit”, and he replied on Twitter with, “I’m waking up to this nonsense..journalist please don’t create lies to make headlines”, it was perhaps a little predictable that the journalist in question would move to clarify that they were not in fact a liar – by releasing a transcript:

Katie Gibbons (KG, Times reporter): Hi Usain, I’m Katie Gibbons, a reporter from The Times. Nice to meet you.
Usain Bolt (UB): Hi.
KG: How are you?
UB: (Shrugs)
KG: So are you enjoying the games? Are you having fun?
UB: No.
KG: Really, why not?
UB: I’m just not… it’s a bit s***. (Shrugs, looks up to grey sky).
KG: What do you mean?
UB: I’ve only been here two days.
KG: Is it like the Olympics?
UB: Nah. Olympics were better.
KG: Really, how?
UB: (Shrugs).
KG: Where are you off to now?
UB: To do some business.

One presumes that Mr Bolt, having learned his lesson (he’s now doing his best to be extremely supportive of the Games, in word and deed), won’t be accusing The Times of fabricating the transcript. It would be a little embarrassing if, say, the transcript was taken from an audio recording, which was then released…

Not that that’s stopping Mike Hooper, the Commonwealth Games Federation’s chief executive, from accepting Bolt’s version of events:

“We take Mr Bolt at his word. We’re very pleased with how he’s responded and that’s our position.”

Spin, baby, spin…

Dead politician replaced by robot

Image

In bizarre political world news, an aspirant Republican congressman, Timothy Ray Murray, has claimed that his opponent was executed in Southern Ukraine in January 2011, and was replaced by a robot. Mr Murray, pictured above, has written on his website:

I, Timothy Ray Murray, am a human, born in Oklahoma, and obtained and continue to fully meet the requirements to serve as U.S. Representative when honored to so.  I will never use a look alike to replace my (The Office’s) message to you or to anyone else, as both the other Republican Challengers have.

Rep. Frank Lucas, and a few other Oklahoma and other States’ Congressional Members were depicted as being executed by The World Court on or about Jan. 11, 2011 in Southern Ukraine. On television they were depicted as being executed by the hanging about the neck until death on a white stage and in front of witnesses. Other now current Members of Congress have shared those facts on television also. We know that it is possible to use look alike artificial or manmade replacements, however Rep. Lucas was not eligible to serve as a Congressional Member after that time.

Congressman Lucas, the alleged robot, has denied Mr Murray’s claims, stating that he had in fact never even been to Ukraine, let alone been executed there. He noted:

“It does come as kind of a shock to read that you’re not you. Many things have been said about me, said to me during course of my campaigns. This is the first time I’ve ever been accused of being a body double or a robot.”

Obviously, one should never trust the wearer of a moustache as sinister as that sported by Mr Murray. Nonetheless, Congressman Lucas does not appear to have provided any evidence to prove that he is in fact human.

The replacement of serving politicians with robot body-doubles may present a disturbing new tool used by the shapeshifting aliens that walk among us. John Key’s chief of staff has of course previously been unable to present any evidence that Mr Key is not a shapeshifting reptilian alien ushering humanity towards enslavement. Body-double robots may well be the next step in Mr Key’s cunning plan. And it would certainly explain the strangely dead look in Paul Goldsmith’s eyes…

Nederlaaaaands!

Nate Silver’s World Cup Predictions were for the Netherlands to fall to both Spain and Chile, and to fail to advance out of Group B. To which I responded:

Like Martyn Bradbury, with his belief in the “Missing Million”, I shall trust my instincts, safe in the assumed knowledge that the Netherlands will crush both Chile and Australia, and may even pull a draw with Spain (oh, who am I trying to fool – they’ll kick Spain’s ass!).

Well, who knew? I hauled myself out of bed at a far earlier hour than I ordinarily would on a Saturday morning, donned my warm socks, pyjama pants and dressing gown, hunkered down in a comfortable chair, and watched de Nederlands unleash hell upon an unsuspecting Spain to complete a 5-1 demolition.

Sure, for the first forty minutes, the Dutch gave away far too much ball to Spain and seldom looked dangerous. But that second half! What a turn around! Four goals to zip! Being awake on a Saturday morning never felt so good…

Of course, Mr Silver’s odds for Group B have now changed dramatically. The Netherlands had a 42.9% probability of advancing to the quarter finals; they’re now a 90.6% probability to advance, with a 57.4% chance of topping the Group. Spain, meanwhile, have gone from likely topping the Group to having a 65.7% chance of failing to advance at all. (The odds should further change at the end of the American working day, as Mr Silver updates each team’s SPI rating.)

Although Mr Silver is still predicting that the Netherlands will lose to Chile, and Chile to Spain, the Netherlands’ positive goal difference would likely keep them at the top. Not that Chile has a hope of beating the Netherlands in real life…

Go Nederlaaaaands!