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Gordon Campbell on govt’s impotence towards banks, and Iran

Gordon Campbell on the government’s impotence towards the banks, and Iran

One of the defining features of this government’s political style is how often Prime Minister John Key chooses to sound like a mere observer of political events. The public may think that they elected him to lead, and to be the captain on the field but – time and again – he seems far more comfortable in commenting from the sidelines. The banks’ refusal to pass on the RBNZ’s interest rate cuts? They’re charging 20% interest on credit cards when interest rates are barely flickering above 2%? They’re pillaging New Zealand to the tune of $4.59 billion a year in profits? They’re making New Zealanders pay through the nose for the banks’ own increased costs of international borrowing?

Jeepers, that’s simply how the system works. They charge: you pay. Oh, and Labour wants to do something about it – by engaging critically with the banks and/or passing legislation to ensure they pass on interest rate reductions to their customers? “They just don’t understand how the banks operate,” Key says, while standing on the sidelines with his hands in his pockets.

Not his problem. After all, the predatory nature of the New Zealand banking system is only a problem for families with mortgages, for farmers in trouble and the like. And if they complain… well evidently they too, just don’t know how the banking system operates.

It's not as if there aren’t viable options, either. According to Finance Minister Bill English on Q&A last weekend, “competition” between the banks is the only, best solution for ordinary Kiwis when it comes to dealing with any tendency to price gouging by the Aussie banks. Leave aside the fact that there is little or no competition between those banks on credit card interest rates, a field in which they seem to operate as a virtual cartel. If English is serious about the virtues of competition, then shouldn’t the government be putting more capital into Kiwibank to enable it to compete more successfully with the Aussie banks? But no, the government isn’t doing that, either. Oh, Key can express sympathy and he will remember to furrow his brow in the relevant photo ops, but don’t expect too much. Essentially, he’s the nation’s best mate, its Re-Assurer In Chief. Jeepers, that must hurt. Now, what about this flag idea of mine? Pretty neat, huh?

Mind you, on the few occasions when Key does try to play the leadership card, you almost wish he wouldn’t. In Parliament yesterday, Key seriously offered his solutions to the nation’s problems (a) the reform of the RMA, which has turned out to be token at best (b) the signing of the TPP, which will deliver barely discernible gains over the course of 15 years, and (c) the government’s investment in irrigation schemes, which will raise the cost of a product that the rest of the world is already producing in excess, more cheaply than New Zealand.

Selling Iran

In the wake of the visit of Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammed Zarif this week, New Zealand clearly senses a trade opportunity. Now that sanctions against Iran have been lifted in return for their compliance on nuclear development, the Key government seems keen to resume trade with what was formerly our fifth most important trade partner. Given Iran’s appalling human rights record, some people will still have qualms. At his post Cabinet press conference on Monday, Key did say he’d raised human rights with Zarif. And, Key added, Zarif had told him that those being executed were almost entirely Iranians, and were drug smugglers. And in any case, Key also added, many other countries around the world have the death penalty, including the United States.

All up, it was a good illustration of just how token the ‘raising of human rights questions’ are in these diplomatic settings. No mention by Key about the vast scale of the Iranian executions, in which the male population of entire villages are reportedly being executed or the troubling incidence of the execution of juvenile offenders.

Like the rest of the world, New Zealand is using the figleaf of reform embodied by the so called ‘liberal’ Iranian government of Hassan Rouhani to justify the resumption of trade ties. Clearly, human rights mean very little when weighed in the context of trade opportunities. To the point where one has to ask: is there any country in the world with which New Zealand on principle, would not trade? Short of those countries subject to explicit UN sanctions, the answer is a resounding “No”.

Rihanna

Rihanna’s recent Anti album has been a really admirable use of superstar clout. Formerly a reliable hit machine, Rihanna chose to exclude all her 2015 hits from this collection – “Work” the new single with Drake is the sole concession to chart imperatives – and the three bonus cuts are literally leftovers. The core of the album explores betrayed expectations and obsession… and it's sourced musically via bluesy doowop (“Love On The Brain”) folk (“Never Ending”) metallish guitar ( “Woo”) piano ballads (“Close To You”) indie pop (she does a lovely version of Tame Impala’s “Same Ol’ Mistakes”) while “Higher” is a harsh, desperate piece of late night bar-room emoting and bad-idea phone calling…

Hard to imagine Beyonce coming up with something like this. In the context of an album that demands NOT to be sampled as single tracks, this is a terse, impressive piece of work:

And this defiantly old school styling is pretty good, too…


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