Gordon Campbell on the Sabin case, the pressures on Greece and coyotes

Brain fades are one thing, but the brain freeze that seems to have beset the Prime Minister over the Mike Sabin affair is an even more worrying affliction. Sabin is a National MP, and the current chairman of Parliament’s law and order committee. Yet reportedly, he is being investigated by the Police over an assault complaint. The media has been reporting on this matter for over a month, including details that the Police officers involved are from Waitemata, and not from the Northland region that Sabin represents, and where he did his policing before becoming an MP.

However, the PM will not comment on any aspect of the story. This leaves the public entirely ill-informed by the PM as to (a) whether a Police investigation is taking place into a sitting MP, and a member of the caucus that Key leads (b) when Key learned of the alleged complaint against Sabin (c) whether Key knew of the complaint before he appointed Sabin to the law and order committee post (d) whether Key thinks it appropriate that Sabin should stand down from the law and order committee post until the complaint is investigated.

As Guyon Espiner pointed out on RNZ this morning, it is very hard to see how a Police inquiry – or any other legal issue – would be compromised by the PM confirming whether a Police investigation is under way. In the circumstances, the cone of silence dropped over the Sabin story looks more like a strategy of political containment than of respect for the legal sensitivities – and it hardly fosters public confidence that Sabin is being treated as any ordinary member of the public would be, if facing a similar complaint.

The Pressure Coming on Greece
Barely 72 hours after the historic victory of the anti-austerity Syriza party in Greece, the screws are already being applied to make it rein in its plans. Here’s a classic call for “moderation” from the West’s business media:

The bargain to be struck here will involve both sides taking steps they have resisted: The EU must agree to further meaningful debt relief and reduce budget-surplus targets enough to spur growth in the Greek economy. In return, the Syriza government must embark on more, not fewer, of the reforms that are needed to re-ignite the economy — and abandon dreams of sparking a leftist revolution across Europe.

Right. “Debt relief…enough to spur growth” on one hand, in return for a virtual capitulation by Syriza, including a commitment to more of the reforms demanded by the unholy trinity of the EU, the European Central Bank and the IMF. That’s the kind of “deal” that Syriza can never countenance, not without betraying its supporters. Where’s the concession and apologies by the IMF/ECB that austerity has done far more harm than good, socially and economically? The IMF, at least, knows it has failed. Some 18 months ago, the IMF conceded that it had screwed up its handling of the bailout in Greece and had under-estimated the damage done by cuts in health and education spending.

So where’s the payback? Clearly, it is now time for the pain to be shared by Greece’s creditors. Is there room for a genuine compromise? The new Finance Minister (and long-time austerity critic) Yanis Varoulakis has always argued that Greece’s payback obligations should be a consequence of economic growth and should not precede it – which seems eminently reasonable. Why should the IMF/ECB demand that painful policies be imposed on the most vulnerable members of Greek society regardless of whether the policies work or not?

If they do prove to work, then the repayment schedule can be met out of the gains – rather than imposing hardships that have torpedoed the chances of recovery. The depressing reality is that the social safety net in Greece has been slashed apart because creditors have demanded that successive Greek governments must cut spending, as a sacrifice to their balance sheets and to the budget-balancing gods.

There is little need for a head-on collision between Greece and Europe as Foreign Policy points out:

Greece’s creditors have already provided the country with some relief in the form of repayment extensions, interest rate reductions, and a decision to return any profits from the loans to Athens. The average maturity of Greek debt — or when the bill comes due — now stands at 16.5 years. That figure compares favorably to other exposed European economies, including Italy, Portugal, and Ireland. Extending maturity would give Greece more time to pay up.

Yet Germany and other creditors – Foreign Policy also argues – could do far more, and this would enable the Syriza leadership to declare a victory of sorts – at least on debt reduction, and the immediate cost of financing the debt. The numbers involved are impressive:

According to calculations carried out by the Bruegel think tank, further reducing interest rates on current loans, a move it says wouldn’t hurt lenders’ bottom lines, would save Greece 6.4 billion euros, or 3.4 percent of its 2015 GDP. Extending when the loans come due by another 10 years would save Greece 4.5 percent of 2015 GDP. Extending the due date for loans provided by the European Financial Stability Facility by 10 years would save 17 percent of 2015 GDP. Implemented together, these options would save Greece 31.7 billion euros, or 17 percent of 2015 GDP.

Two things arise from this analysis. Why didn’t these better debt repayment terms get offered to the far more compliant Greek governments that preceded the Syriza coalition? (It seems that the bankers will only relent if and when they’re threatened.) More to the point though, none of these savings (i.e. in borrowing costs to service Greece’s debt mountain) will allow the Syriza coalition to spend this money on social programmes to address the crisis in homelessness, drug use and unemployment that have come in the wake of the austerity measures imposed on the country. On current signals, all the spending that will be allowed is a small stimulus programme to foster growth in the Greek economy. Clearly, Syriza needs to put the frighteners on the bankers, even more than it has done to date.

Wild thing, think I love you
It isn’t often you get two great bands writing songs about the self same thing. This week, Modest Mouse released a new song called “Coyotes” that was inspired – apparently – by a real life incident in 2002 when a coyote hitched a ride on the transit rail shuttle at Portland’s airport. That year, Sleater-Kinney wrote a song called “Light Rail Coyote” about the same incident.

Both terrific. Yet for an inkling of the otherworldly realm of the coyote, it is hard to beat this clip (taken from the Johnny Cash TV show) of Pete Seeger singing “Coyote, My Little Brother” – an environmental protest song written in the 1950s by the Native American musician Peter La Farge. (In this clip, Cash is clearly finding it hard to concentrate, at least on anything other than himself. Blame those darn pills.) Finally, there’s the more conventional “Coyotes” song by Don Edwards, from the Werner Herzog documentary Grizzly Man.