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On bird flu, AUKUS entry fees and Cindy Lee

Uh oh. Bird flu – often deadly to humans - is not only being transmitted from infected birds to dairy cows, but is now travelling between dairy cows. As of last Friday, Bloomberg News reports, there were 32 American dairy herds with H5N1 infections. They’re located in Idaho, New Mexico, Texas, South Dakota, Kansas, Michigan, Ohio and North Carolina. Reportedly, many of the cows are asymptomatic.

Unfortunately, neither the US Department of Agriculture nor the US Center for Disease Control are being very forthcoming with vital information about (a) the transmission process, given that the news of cow-to-cow transmission was buried in a FAQ sub-head to a press release last week, or about (b) publicly sharing the viral sequences. In other words, any lessons from the early, bungled handling of Covid do not appear to have been taken on board. As Bloomberg notes, online conspiracy theorists are filling the information void.

Here’s a useful backgrounder on bird flu – origins, symptoms, treatment options etc – recently published by the Cleveland Clinic. To date, human-to-human transmission hasn’t occurred. Almost certainly though, a lot of development work is being launched into the creating some effective bird flu vaccines.

Entry Fees To The Military Club

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The level of extra spending allocated to Defence in the May Budget is going to be interesting, for two main reasons. Primarily....the NATO countries in Europe and the member countries of several anti-China military/diplomatic pacts in the Indo-Pacific, are all being pressured by the USA to devote at least 2% of their GDP to Defence, in order to still qualify as card-carrying, paid up members of the Western alliance.

For New Zealand, this would mean billions of extra dollars being devoted to Defence spending every year. (On World Bank data, New Zealand spent 1.2% of its GDP on Defence in 2022.) That rise would be our entry fee for joining the second pillar of the AUKUS pact, which is being sold to New Zealanders as our access ticket to all kinds of whizbang digital military know-how like say, quantum weapons. Hate to be a buzzkill, but we won’t be getting free access to any of it, via AUKUS.

What we’re not being told is that we will have to spend billions on US military high-tech, in order to gain a discount on the top shelf stuff, assuming the Pentagon is willing and able to hand over the truly secret squirrel military IP in question. Private sector companies like Raytheon, Lockheed and General Dynamics don’t tend to be run as charities.

That aside, there is a more immediate reason why the coalition government may feel impelled to pour more money into the NZDF. Because of New Zealand’s dogged devotion to running a neo-liberal low wage economy, Australia has been able to poach our trained nurses and cops. Less obviously, the Aussies have also been poaching our soldiers. That’s one reason why at this time last year, then-PM Chris Hipkins announced a major $400 million boost to the salaries of uniformed NZDF staff, to try and slow down the NZDF flight across the Tasman.

That tranche of money hasn’t stopped the bleeding. A couple of weeks ago, Australia - our ANZAC buddy – was happy to have its Defence Minister Richard Marles tell the Australian newspaper that Australia is planning to fill the 4,400 current Australian defence force vacancies by recruiting military personnel from New Zealand, and from Pacific island states. As the ABC reported this aspect of the Marles briefing:

[Marles] also suggested the migration program would be used to recruit "certain non-Australian citizens" with specialised skills to join the ADF.

So....amidst the jobs cuts to crucial public service agencies and the billion dollar handouts to landlords, there are likely to be billions devoted to bigger salaries and expensive new gear for the men and women in uniform. All in order to counter a phantom threat posed by our biggest trading partner, as we sign onto Team USA in the Indo-Pacific. Have a happy ANZAC Day.

Minilateral militarism

The Biden administration has been busily fencing China in behind a latticework of diplomatic pacts and military alliances that the US has been fostering with smaller countries in the Indo-Pacific region. They key deputy sheriffs in this work are Japan, Australia, and the Philippines which is now solidly back in the US orbit again under the Marcos Jnr presidency, and is being aggressively assertive towards China in the disputed regions of the South China Sea.

The AUKUS pact ( UK, US, Australia) is only one such pact in development. There is also the Quad diplomatic/security arrangement (between the US, Australia, Japan, and India), the US, Japan, Philippines trilateral, and the similar trilateral between the US, Japan and South there’s the Five Eyes security alliance between the old Anglo partners the US, Canada, the UK, Australia and New Zealand. Then there’s the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity pact launched by Biden in May 2022, and the 2050 Blue Pacific Strategy.

That’s not counting the CPTPP trade agreement between eleven countries in the Indo-Pacific, a pact has always had a security dimension, and which was taken over and built up by the US to counter China’s growing economic power. China’s own RCEP trade pact was a deliberate rejoinder.

What should be our response to being entangled in these thickets of allegiance, given that almost all of them are (a) being led by the US

and (b) are aimed directly at China? As Helen Clark recently told Jack Tame, on Q&A, we have to pick our way carefully through all of this to achieve what is in our own best interests- which are not synonymous with those of our traditional allies. If we don’t, we risk being typecast as a dutiful member of Team USA, and as an enemy of China.

That delicacy and caution is advisable, given that Team USA in the Indo-Pacific may well become a different beast altogether in nine months time, if and when a belligerently isolationist Donald Trump is back as the West’s team captain in this region.

Unfortunately though, foreign policy subtlety and independence are not skills that one tends to associate with Christopher Luxon, a chap who so very much likes to be liked by the big guys.

Cindy Lee Rules

There’s a lot of love online for the Canadian band Cindy Lee and their Diamond Jubilee album, which is not available on Spotify. You either have to buy it, or watch/listen to it as a cluster of tracks on YouTube. No mean achievement, but this album is its own ultra postmodern genre, consisting of evocations of any number of ancient styles: classic rock, EDM, 50s r&b and early soul, Morricone film music etc if they’re all being filtered through time and physical distance from a bar down the block with a flickering neon sign outside.

There’s no easy way in here. Immersion is the only option, but here’s a couple of random tracks that may give you an idea whether you’re up for the plunge:

And here’s a sort of dance-based track, shot through with ennui and with the occasional burst of sunlight :

BTW, Cindy Lee has been perfecting this style over a very long time. Hopefully, Diamond Jubilee will motivate people to check out the group’s earlier incarnation, as a band called Women. Here’s a good example of what Women sounded like in 2010...

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