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Gordon Campbell on John Banks, and Japanese politicking

Gordon Campbell on John Banks, and Japanese politicking

by Gordon Campbell

Don’t ask, don’t tell. The “gays in the military” strategy that John Key has chosen to adopt with respect to the John Banks Affair is daily calling for more and more implausible declarations of prophylactic ignorance by the Prime Minister. Look, if John Banks said he wasn’t a crook then that’s good enough for the PM now and for always, or at least until John Banks turns up for work in an orange jump suit. End of story.

As Key told yesterday’s post Cabinet press conference, he has not been and will not be reading the relevant Police paperwork on the Banks investigation because to do so would – get this - constitute ‘forensic analysis.’ Which would be inappropriate in the circumstances, the PM indicated, because Banks has not broken the law. That last bit hardly coming as a surprise, given that the law as written allows so much room for shady shenanigans (even so far as to allow negotiations between donor and recipient about how the donations should be recorded) that it would be almost impossible to break it. The Cabinet manual, I reminded Key yesterday, talks about ethical standards and fitness for office – but in reply, Key pointed out once again that these pertain only to behaviours while holding the Ministerial warrant. As for lying while holding a Ministerial warrant…well, as Key explained at another point during yesterday’s proceedings, such matters conceivably come down to misunderstandings, or differing interpretations.

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Overall point being, Banks has assured the PM that he is telling the truth and the PM has no intention of reading anything on a Police file that might conceivably (and inconveniently) give him reason to second guess that assurance. Don’t ask, don’t tell, don’t think. Fergeddaboutit. So…as long as Banks tells Key nothing self-incriminating, and as long as Key restricts his questioning of Banks between now and 2014 to such matters as his Easter egg preferences. They will both survive this grubby little incident with only their credibility – and not their careers - in tatters.

One can only assume the focus groups must be telling National that the public is bored with the Banks affair, and that National can get away with blaming Labour – and the media – for banging on about it for so long. Unfortunately for National though, the only reason that public interest has flat-lined about Banks is that the country has run out of agnostics and swinging voters on this issue. Key must be the last man standing in New Zealand still willing to take John Banks at his word. There is almost something Biblical about Key’s refusal to inform himself of the obvious, lest he would then have to do the obvious. They make quite a pair; Banks not wanting to remember, and Key not wanting to know. And on that supremely dodgy platform, this government is maintaining its majority to pass legislation that affects us all.

Japan, Iran
The hotter the dispute between China and Japan over the disputed Senkaku/Diaouyu islands gets, the better the chances are that Japan will ultimately opt for the Trans Pacific Partnership as its trade pact of choice. One can sympathise with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda. Can he risk trying to join the tripartite trade pact with China and South Korea just after he’s deliberately whipped up nationalist fervour against China, in order to improve his party’s election chances, and his own leadership survival? Dealing amicably with China becomes more and more impossible by the day. The other option? Does he sign Japan up to the TPP and then incur the wrath of his farmers, manufacturers, and the workers who stand to bear the brunt of a more open economy? These are not happy choices.

At yesterday’s press conference, I asked Key whether in his talks with Noda last week, the Japanese Prime Minister had mentioned the tripartite pact with China and signalled his intentions about it. No, Key replied, it hadn’t been mentioned, although the territorial disputes had been. On September 21, Noda is expected to beat back a challenge for the leadership of his Democratic Party of Japan, but the DPJ is currently running well behind the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in polls for parliamentary elections expected in October. The LDP faces its own leadership spill on September 26. As the Daily Yomiuri newspaper noted in its editorial on Sunday, the LDP contenders all oppose a TPP in any form that doesn’t make significant concessions to Japan:

On the issue of joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade framework, all candidates have stated they oppose joining TPP negotiations if the premise is to eliminate tariffs without any "sanctuaries."

Translation: if Japan finally joins the TPP, it will only be on condition that it does not have to abide by the very free trade provisions in say agriculture, that might make the TPP politically sellable to the New Zealand public.

Finally, on another heated front entirely. In the Middle East, Israel is still making belligerent noises about Iran’s nuclear programme. All the more reason to turn back to this brilliant article by Scott Peterson that the Christian Science Monitor published last November, and which simply set down in print the number of occasions since 1992 that Israel has been claiming (watch out everyone!) that Iran is just about to develop a nuclear weapon. Interestingly, as this July report in the British Telegraph newspaper pointedly reveals, while Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been rattling the sabres and talking apocalyptically about Iran and the bomb, his own Defence Force Chief of Staff Benny Gantz has been saying otherwise :

Gen Gantz…described Iran's leaders as "very rational people" and said the ultimate aim of their nuclear programme was still an open question. Iran was "going step by step to the place where it will be able to decide whether to manufacture a nuclear bomb. It hasn't yet decided whether to go the extra mile," he told "Haaretz", an Israeli daily.

Before the vital decision could be taken, Iran's nuclear facilities must be fully protected against attack, added Gen Gantz. "If the supreme religious leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei wants, he will advance it to the acquisition of a nuclear bomb, but the decision must first be taken," he said.

"It will happen if Khamenei judges that he is invulnerable to a response. I believe he would be making an enormous mistake – and I don't think he will want to go the extra mile. I think the Iranian leadership is composed of very rational people."

So we’re not talking against action against an existing Iranian nuclear capacity. We’re talking about pre-emptive war against weapons of mass destruction that Iran might – but probably won’t – procure sometime in the future. Pre-emptive military action worked out so well in Iraq, didn’t it?


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