Gordon Campbell on drone strikes and Judith Collins‘ last stand

Reportedly, US drone operators refer to their kills as “bug splat” – mainly because when the carnage is viewed on their screens thousands of kilometres away at home, it looks like an insect strike on a windscreen. The name has even been bestowed on the software used in the system. Since at least 900 innocent citizens in Pakistan have been killed in drone attacks, one of the local responses has been to create a huge art installation work called “Not a Bug Splat” that – if seen from the air – would require US drone operators to see the face of a Pakistani child killed by their activities.

The news that a New Zealand citizen was killed last November in a US drone attack in Yemen brings the drones controversy closer to home. To the US, drones are a legitimate response to the threat posed by the al Qaeda organisation and its franchisees, which have declared war on the US and its allies and attempted to kill them wherever it can, including Yemen. To the US, the drones carry the added advantage of not putting US troops at risk on the ground, and minimises the need for putting them in large numbers in bases in the countries concerned, always a politically sensitive point. The counter-argument, well articulated by security analyst Paul Buchanan on RNZ this morning, is that this particular drone attack can be said to amount to an extra-judicial execution of a New Zealand citizen by one of our military allies, in circumstances where the person concerned posed no threat to New Zealand’s domestic security.

Reportedly, the person concerned was (a) not the main target of the drone strike and was (b) previously the subject of a surveillance warrant by New Zealand intelligence agencies. Assuming that the US has not been given a blanket authority to kill any New Zealand citizen who ventures into a war zone, that surveillance warrant takes on added weight. Does it constitute a de facto signal from the Minister responsible for authorising such warrants that any subsequent killing of such people overseas will be deemed legitimate by the New Zealand government? If that’s not the case, by what means do our citizens cross the line to where they are considered fair game, and as potential bug splat?

Arguably, US drone attacks are conventional war by other means. Yet if other countries flew weaponry across international borders and eliminated their dissidents and opponents at will, one can imagine the outcry.

Judith Collins At Bay, Baying
The claims by Justice Minister Judith Collins that no preferential treatment has been extended to the Oravida firm (for which her husband is a director and which has been a major National Party donor) are looking less and less credible. Her continued refusal to name the Chinese border official who attended the infamous private dinner with Oravida bosses looks like another example of self interest at work. Clearly if the official was to be publicly named and linked to dodgy activities, the blowback on Oravida by an angry/ humiliated Chinese bureaucracy would more than cancel out any advantages to the company from its close connections to Ms Collins.

As usual, Collins is unrepentant – despite there having been dodgy evasions and half truths ever since her original tale of merely dropping in for a cup of tea on the way to the airport, a visit that required a circa 60 kilometre round trip. Unfortunately, she can hardly be sanctioned now, given that the Prime MInister has turned up in advertisements for the same lucky company.

Prime Minister John Key says Oravida’s scampi is “tasty” but the company’s use of his photo in advertising does not constitute an endorsement of the product and does not breach any rules. Oravida, which is owned by Stone Shi, a substantial National Party donor and close personal friend to Justice Minister Judith Collins, is using a picture of Mr Key in an ad in a Chinese magazine…

However, advice received by [Key’s] office on Oravida’s use of his picture in its advertising was, “it wasn’t promoting or endorsing the product”.

Right. So if you sample a company’s product, declare it to be “tasty” and they run an ad with your picture…that doesn’t constitute promoting or endorsing the company’s products. Same way that when Oravida runs on its website a photo of Key playing golf with the company president…. that also shouldn’t be taken to suggest there is any special relationship between senior National Party politicians and this particular company. No, of course not.

True Detective, Revisited
This is Thursday of Easter Week. So today is – more or less – the anniversary of when the founder of Christianity waited in the garden of Gethsemane for His arrest and crucifixion to commence. Fans of this year’s True Detective television series will no doubt remember that Christ’s willingness to wait and accept one’s fate was a meditation point for detective Rust Cohle, played by Matthew McConaughey. Rust also believed that we’re all trapped in the meaningless prison of our own bodies, imagined that he saw relief in the eyes of murder victims, and figured that collective suicide could be the only hope of escape for humanity – thereby enabling us to check out on what has been a raw deal, all things considered. Rust spells out his bleak view of life in this conversation here.

Cheer up, though. Some Internet genius has managed to combine the nihilistic sayings of Rust Cohle with the kind of bubble headed comic strip panels of yesteryear. The results are amusingly off kilter. You can check them out here.

Rust, one imagines, would probably nod and agree that this is all pretty f***ed up. Have a happy Easter break.