Gordon Campbell on our IS counter measures, Forbes’ hostility to the TPP, and CNBC’s idiocy

There are two dimensions to the security measures announced yesterday: (a) the deployment of New Zealand forces in ‘training” roles inside Iraq, and (b) the expansion of SIS powers to monitor and intercept any budding jihadis here at home. It seems unlikely that any Islamic State fighters will be quaking in their boots at the added threat New Zealand will now pose to their actions on the battlefront, or to their recruitment activities on the Internet. Given that the overall aim of these measures is the one announced weeks ago by President Barack Obama – to contain and eventually destroy the Islamic State – it’s doubtful that a handful of Kiwi trainers will make any noticeable difference to the outcome in Iraq, even while it creates a more tangible risk to New Zealand, now that we’ve signed up to the coalition of the willing.

That’s only one part of the trade-off. On the detail released so far, the measures seem likely to be less effective at checking the advance of Islamic State than they will be at infringing the civil rights of New Zealanders to travel, and to live without warrantless surveillance by security agencies. As Mary Wilson pointed out in this excellent Checkpoint interview with PM John Key, even the more draconian passport seizure measures imposed by the Australians have not stemmed the flow of Australian recruits keen to join IS. Allegedly, there are 30-40 New Zealanders who are either (a) prospective jihadi fighters for IS or who are (b) directly engaged in the recruitment and support work to abet that exodus. Another 30-40 New Zealanders have been deemed worthy of further investigation, to see if they do indeed pose a threat. Additional funding will now enable the SIS to hire and to deploy extra staff to widen this surveillance net.

As for the 48 hour warrantless surveillance, the claim is that this will not be mis-used by the SIS as a licence for fishing expeditions against activists of any stripe ; the rationale is that this measure will enable the SIS to quickly monitor previously unknown figures detected via ordinary, warranted surveillance – and if the monitoring is to extend past 48 hours and any subsequent prosecution occurs, the evidence so gained will be inadmissible unless a warrant has been retrospectively gained. Presumably, this measure will attract a lot of attention at select committee. The SIS really needs to show why – if it uncovers someone it needs to monitor – why it can’t then get a fresh warrant. It may be administratively annoying to have to do so – but there’s a good reason for that barrier existing. On how many occasions in the past has this administrative burden actually torpedoed an investigation? Very rarely, I’d bet. Perhaps the select committee needs to be told how often operations have been compromised on these bureaucratic grounds, by sheer tardiness over warrants.

Overall, there should be an onus on the government to demonstrate why the SIS cannot – under the existing Terrorism Suppression Act , 2002 – do all that it needs to do to combat any threat posed by IS to this nation’s interests. A few weeks ago, Graeme Edgeler wrote a terrific column on this subject – in which he points out that New Zealanders can already be prosecuted if they want to fight for IS, or help others to do so:

A New Zealander who fights for ISIS commits a serious crime against New Zealand law. They can already be arrested, they can be charged, and depending on exactly what they did while a member of ISIS, can potentially be imprisoned for life….in short, you illegally participate in a terrorist group if you act in a way that enhances its ability to commit or participate in terrorist acts. While there isn’t any New Zealand case law that addresses what this means, it seems to me to be a very low bar. Even if all you’re doing is making the sandwiches, you’re probably still guilty of this offence….Participating in a terrorist group carries a maximum penalty of 14 years imprisonment.

As Edgeler also points out, this law has extra-territorial effect on those who commit such offences overseas, on behalf of organisations designated as terrorist entities by the United Nations – which IS has been. Moreover, it seems clear from what Key said yesterday, the system is working: nine New Zealand wannabe jihadis have already had their passports seized for one year under the existing Act. Even so, the government now wants that power of passport seizure extended to three years. Why? Because, as Key told Checkpoint, it’s administratively difficult for the state to keep on renewing the seizure, every year. Surely, civil freedoms need a more substantial reason than this, before they’re revoked. One year is a drag to extend, all the time? Tough.

Right now, Attorney-General Chris Finlayson is conducting an urgent review to establish whether our existing laws on surveillance and terrorism suppression are sufficient. Allegedly, these measures must be rushed through before the Cricket World Cup begins in February. That’s the great thing about the sporting calendar – there can always be an excuse for urgency. And blessedly for MFAT, there will always be a foreign war to which our token efforts can be offered, in return for some imaginary diplomatic brownie points in Washington, Whitehall or Canberra. In reality, the case has yet to be made why any of these measures such as (a) the Iraq deployment (b) the added SIS surveillance powers and (c) the extension to passport seizures, are necessary, or likely to achieve their avowed goals.

Forbes Against the TPP
One surprising thing about the US business press coverage of the Trans Pacific Partnership is the hostility to the TPP it contains. For good reason, critics of the TPP tend to see the TPP deal as being driven by US corporate interests, and yet much of the coverage in Forbes and Bloomberg News is not singing from that hymn book at all. This recent article in Forbes for instance, would not be out of place in the New Statesman. It starts off by attacking the notion that free trade is good for everybody:

In reality, free trade turns out to be a zero-sum game with definite winners and losers. The winners are the corporations, big banks, and government. The government and politicians from both parties like trade agreements because they can point to increases in overall trade and also say that trade agreements help the state department by using the agreement to win friends and influence countries.

The big banks are also multi-national corporations that have their financial tentacles in countries all over the world. They will always make money on foreign investments no matter how good or bad the trade agreement is.

The losers on free trade agreements are taxpayers, the economy, small and midsize manufacturers and working families. These two free trade agreements [NAFTA and the US Korea FTA] have made our trade deficit worse and we have lost jobs. A February 2014 report from the Economic Policy Institute shows that trade deficits have contributed to the elimination of 5.7 million American jobs over 15 years.

Increasing overall trade figures is not the answer -America does not need a trade agreement that is only measured by overall trade increases. We need a trade agreement that creates jobs and lowers our trade deficit…

And Forbes hates the TPP in particular for these same reasons: that it is likely to be bad for consumers, small business, for the economy, for genuine free trade and the national good:

This agreement will result in winners and losers, and it appears at this point that the large multi-national companies will be winners and working people and the economy will be the losers. The negotiations are secret so nobody really knows what the specific provisions will be. One of the most contentious parts of this agreement is Investor State Dispute Resolution (ISDR)…

What really pisses Forbes off is that people who oppose the TPP are written off as protectionist. They’re not, it argues.

If anyone suggests any provisions to penalize countries who manipulate their currency, steal our technologies, tax our exports, or that give us a chance of reducing our trade deficit; they are immediately branded as protectionist, socialist or anti-free trade. But I am making the argument that trying to balance our trade and address the issues described in this article is not protectionism. They are simply an effort to finally get a fair trade agreement that benefits the country, the suppliers, the taxpayers, and working families – not just the multi-national corporations and Wall Street.

Frankly, if the bible of the US corporate world – which Forbes is – hates the TPP this much, that’s significant. Plainly, there are things about this deal that Trade Minister Tim Groser needs to explain to his business mates in this country – many of whom are still genuflecting at the TPP altar, in the foolish belief that it is a free trade deal. It isn’t. It is managed trade for vested interests.

American idiocy
I don’t know if you have Sky and if you do, whether you ever wander down the end of the line, channel wise, to where CNBC resides. CNBC is one of those business channels where presenters peek out from amid a forest of graphics about share prices, currency fluctuations and DAX this and FTSE that. If CNBC was a doge, it would be wow, such money. Or maybe not, judging by the interview below between a trio of CNBC hotshots and a CEO from Ireland.

I can’t cue you straight in to where things go strange, so you’ll have to skip to about 6.55. At that point, the female presenter asks a perfectly sane question about whether the weaker euro is boosting tourism in Ireland. This sends her two male co-presenters barrelling in over the top….and it seems these two business whizzes don’t have a clue about currencies, geography or the fact that Ireland has been a separate country since about oh, 1923 and that it isn’t joined to Scotland. And as for the euro, phew… The Irish CEO deserves the Nobel Peace Prize for not starting to throw things at them. Go to 6.55, and boggle.

ENDS