US ship visits are about compliance, not maturity

Via Radio NZ:

On Thursday, United States Vice President Joe Biden confirmed during a meeting with Prime Minister John Key in Auckland that America would send a ship to the New Zealand Navy’s 75th anniversary celebrations.

The US has not sent a naval ship since 1983, as it refuses to say whether its ships are nuclear-armed, as required by New Zealand’s nuclear-free law.

Our law is simple enough. You want to send military vessels into our waters, you tell us whether they’re nuclear-armed. You don’t, you can’t. We’re told officials will “assess” whether this one complies with the law. How? Are they wizards?

I’m not surprised our government is keen to get an American warship here, and act like it’s no big deal. John Key has always been clear that he wants to be Obama’s bestie, that New Zealand is part of “the club” and has to pay its dues and look deferential.

But this is a big deal. So I’m more surprised by David Shearer’s comments:

New Zealand and America could now move beyond that chapter in their relationship, with their heads held high.

It would be easy to work out whether the ship complied with the law, he said.

Apparently David Shearer is also a wizard. But on “moving beyond that chapter”, I have an alternative view.

New Zealand’s rejection of nuclear power, and nuclear ship visits, is one of the proudest points of our history. It’s on the great list of Times We Stood Against The World Because We’re Scrappy Little Fighters Who Do What’s Right along with opposing French nuclear tests in the Pacific, not going into Iraq in 2003, and (although this remains a divisive topic, progressives still take pride in) opposing the Springbok Tour.

The images of mass protests on land and water against US vessels entering our ports are a literally iconic part of our progressive heritage.

nuclear ship visits

I realise that’s uncomfortable for people who have a different stance on our place in the world – that we need to prove we’re mature enough to sit at the grown-up table in our suits and ties, and that our great international achievements should be measured by how many fancy titles our retired politicians can win, rather than how many powerful noses we’ve tweaked.

Or as Kerre McIvor put it:

For the young ones, however, those born around the time the no-nukes legislation was passed, they have far more pressing concerns – like finding a job, paying off a student loan, finding an affordable home. This isn’t their issue. But for those of us who lived through that time, the visit by a US Navy ship is a big deal. And a sign that not only have we grown up. But that the US has too.

I was one year old when our government rejected a visit by the USS Buchanan. Three-and-a-half when the New Zealand Nuclear Free Zone, Disarmament, and Arms Control Act came into effect. And I can chew gum and think about our country’s role in international politics at the same time.

This ship visit is a power move. It’s a way for the United States to call dibs on our loyalty, and reinforce to us plebs that they’re our benevolent boss. It’s a way to impose a new narrative on our country’s relationship to the US – a willing member of whatever the next coalition will be.

The world hasn’t fundamentally changed since the 70s and 80s. The USA still wants to spread and secure its influence over as much of the world as possible, to build alliances against its ideological foes. Its allies risk becoming targets.

If the United States has “grown up” in terms of foreign policy, it is only by doing exactly the same thing it’s always done, just with bigger weapons and more massive civilian casualties.

I’d rather stay at the kids’ table.


By great luck, I hadn’t written this up before I went to the world premier (fancy!) of The 5th Eye, a new Kiwi documentary on … well, everything. Echelon, drone strikes, our military deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, the raid on Kim Dotcom’s house, our nuclear-free policy, the “attack” on the Waihopai spy base in 2008, Edward Snowden, and yes. Ship visits.

All these threads are tied together with brilliant clarity and our governments – several of them – don’t come off particularly well. About the only person who manages to make John Key look good is Jonathan Coleman, whose cringing obsequiousness as our Minister of Defence is just humiliating.

If you have a chance to see The 5th Eye at the NZ International Film Festival this month, go. You certainly won’t think positively about a US warship visiting our harbours after you do.

Now if only we had a major Opposition party willing to stand up and say “there is an alternative”.


Here’s a pair of Kiwi tracks to get you in a good mood for Monday:

Campbell Live on the GCSB

Continuing my commemoration of Campbell Live’s commitment to serious investigative reporting of New Zealand current affairs, instead of watching goddamned Road Cops. Tonight: honouring a current affairs show which bothered to unpack the murky and complex world of government surveillance.

Dissecting the GCSB bill

In short, the GCSB bill allows the organisation to spy on New Zealanders and to pass what they learn on to foreign governments.

“If you don’t do anything wrong, you have nothing to hide” is a common response to criticism of such unprecedented power.

But the SIS can already spy on New Zealanders and so can the police.

The GCSB bill connects domestic spying to global spy networks, which, as we’ve recently learnt, are listening to almost everyone.

Now, the bill is being passed under urgency.

But why? Shouldn’t we get this right?

Check out Campbell Live’s coverage of the GCSB and Kim Dotcom stories on the TV3 website, while we still can.

Snowden, surveillance, dick pics

I’m late to the party on this most excellent Last Week Tonight segment on surveillance, Edward Snowden, and whether, right now, a US government employee is looking at your dick pics.

The whole segment is well worth watching, but for anyone interested in a really powerful example of effective political communication watch from the point I’ve cued up below.


The difficulty with massive world-shattering revelations about complex technical programmes is that most people, like John Oliver says, simply don’t care. And even I, a politics nerd with serious concerns about government surveillance and privacy in the internet age, didn’t really have much of a grasp on the kinds of specifics Snowden and others are talking about.

Until John Oliver created – or rather, uncovered – the Dick Pic Programme.

People have incredibly busy lives and a huge number of demands on their attention. They need a reason to engage with serious, complex political issues. One of the things the anti-TPPA movement has been really good at is giving those reasons: it’s about Pharmac, and the cost of medicine. It’s about our government being sued for raising the minimum wage.

We on the left have a tendency to get a bit jargon-y. The right understand how this works. That’s why we’ve still got leftwingers talking up the importance of quantitative easing to anyone who’ll listen while John Key sits back and sneers “well you can’t just print money.”

On surveillance, on the economy, on any important issue of our time: we can’t keep repeating our very-clever thoroughly-detailed proposals which put everyone else to sleep.

We have to find the dick pic that makes people pay attention. So to speak.

The definition of irony …

… surely, must be Peter Dunne complaining (a) that the government hasn’t fulfilled its promises to him and (b) about the security of metadata:

“The question that the Law Commission identified about four years ago, the definition of metadata and the use or the way in which metadata can or cannot be utilised.

“And I think a lot of the issue about the interception and use of private communication is also about the interception and use of metadata.”

Mr Dunne said the Government had promised to clarify this.

“I would like to see the work on metadata get underway as soon as possible. I’ve been promised it for nearly two years and I am concerned the chain has been dragged. I think the intention now seems to be to wrap it all up in the review (later this year), which is fine, if in fact it leads to a conclusive outcome.”

Peter Dunne, of course, is the government minister who had to resign after refusing to hand over the content of 86 emails between him and Fairfax journalist Andrea Vance, who broke the story of the report.

Vance was understandably hopping mad about the subsequent releasing of her phone records and tracking of her movements around Parliament – but Dunne himself can’t have been too fussed, given in July 2013 he was still supporting a law change which would allow the GCSB to collect the metadata and private data of New Zealanders.

There are still a number of unanswered questions about the GCSB report leak – namely, who did it, but also, why Peter Dunne “considered” leaking the report despite claiming he had no intention to “hurt” the government and why anyone should just take it on faith that he didn’t follow through.

But you have to have a chuckle at a man who:

  • by his own admission couldn’t continue as a minister in 2013
  • refused to hand over his personal emails to an investigation impacting our national security
  • had his own suspicious-looking activity revealed due to an inappropriate handing over of metada
  • nevertheless supported legislation to allow the GCSB to spy on New Zealanders in the interests of national security
  • became a minister again only seven months post-resignation, after winning a key electorate seat and presumably promising not to make too much fuss

… now complaining that he’s not being taken seriously by his National handlers and that metadata is serious business.

No one really takes you seriously, minister. Your party barely scraped past 5,000 votes in 2014 and you retained your seat only because National ran a candidate who was afraid to say his own name in case people accidentally voted for him.

Perhaps, post-Northland-by-election, Dunne sees an opportunity to flex his muscles and show Key he isn’t to be taken for granted. And sure, Winston’s victory makes Dunne’s single vote (and Seymour’s single vote) more important.

But stamping his feet on an issue which only reminds people that he isn’t trustworthy and that he’ll do anything to get a portfolio probably isn’t going to help.

QOTD: anonymous ex-TSA manager on behavioural profiling

As reported in The Intercept, a refreshingly frank take on a facet of modern “security” measures in airports:

A second former Behavior Detection Officer manager, who also asked not to be identified, told The Intercept that the program suffers from lack of science and simple inconsistency, with every airport training its officers differently. “The SPOT program is bullshit,” the manager told The Intercept. “Complete bullshit.”

The whole article is well worth a read – who knew that blatant misandry had infiltrated the TSA?

… “apparent” married couples, if both people are over 55, have two points deducted off their score. Women over the age of 55 have one pointed deducted; for men, the point deduction doesn’t come until they reach 65.