Traditionally, voters regard National as a more competent manager of the economy. It is the sole upside of crony capitalism: surely these guys must know what their mates in business want and need. These last few months though, have put that faith sorely to the test, as the government seems helpless to stem the flow of bad economic news. In brief (a) prices for our main export commodity are in freefall, down to their lowest point since 2002 (b) the exchange rate is also tumbling, raising the price of imports and the cost of the imported components that go into our export drive. Due to our dollar’s steep decline since June 2014 against the US greenback, New Zealanders have not benefitted from the tumbling global price for oil and (c) while the exchange rate decline is good news for foreign tourists coming here, it is terrible news for any New Zealanders wishing to travel.
Meanwhile (d) economic growth in our biggest export market, China, is slowing significantly amid ongoing carnage on its share-market. Oh, and the construction boom in Christchurch that has been one of the few signs of life in the domestic economy has now peaked. In further bad news for consumers, the government is planning to add GST tax to all online purchases of goods and services. Meanwhile, the Reserve Bank has been frantically cutting interest rates to maintain some signs of life in the economy, and to import a bit of inflation into a situation where in many sectors, deflation is a more real concern.
At some point, the government’s inability to respond to any of the problems evident on its watch – from the economy to climate change to income inequality to affordable housing – is going to have a political cost. Usually, the price of petrol at the pump is a reliable flashpoint. So far though – and as mentioned – the falling global price for oil has managed to insulate the Key government here from the impact of our falling exchange rate. If, as Finance Minister Bill English says, the exchange rate has further to fall, then that cushion may not last for much longer.
Fighting with (and against) the Kurds
One of the least reported (in this country) developments in the fight against ISIL has been the direct advent of Turkey into the conflict – but against the Kurds. Not so much against ISIL. For the US, this is something of a nightmare. Yes, for the first time, the Turks are letting the US use air bases in Turkey to hit Islamic State positions. But in Syria and in northern Iraq, the Kurdish peshmerga have been one of the most reliably effective forces on the ground against the Sunni forces of Islamic State. The trouble is, Turkey has long been paranoid about the revolutionary potential of the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) revolutionary fighters, and the related Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection militia, aka YPG. In recent weeks, Turkey has been carrying our almost daily air strikes against PKK positions in northern Iraq and on its bases within in south eastern Turkey.
This has put the US and its coalition allies in a genuine bind – how to welcome Turkey’s involvement while trying to restrain it from inflicting major damage on the most effective fighting deterrent to ISIL. It comes down to Turkey being willing and able to make a battlefield distinction between PKK fighters ( bad) and YPG fighters (good) in a situation where as far as the Kurds are concerned, the PKK and TPG are allies, and fighting for the same cause of Kurdish independence.
It’s no secret that Turkey has been less interested in fighting ISIL (the Islamic State) than suppressing the Kurds,” said Stephen Tankel, professor at American University. “That’s still true. Bringing Turkey further into the fight against ISIL is a positive thing depending on the cost. Turkey has said it won’t strike the Syrian Kurdish militias ( the YPG) which are one of the most effective U.S. partners on the ground. “
So far, the YPG have respected a de facto frontier line, along the Euphrates River.
Since [Syrian] regime forces withdrew from Kurdish areas, the Syrian Kurds have secured a degree of newfound autonomy that has fueled aspirations for independence across the region. They have set up their own administration and defence forces that have started taking responsibility for security in the three Kurdish cantons. The YPG victory over Islamic State in the town of Tal Abyad this summer established a physical link between two of the three Kurdish cantons for the first time.
The Syrian Kurdish militia has pushed toward the eastern banks of the Euphrates River, the edge of Islamic State-controlled areas on the other side. The border zone the U.S. and Turkey want to set up is on the western side of the river.
That’s where the problem arise. Once the YPG’s ambitions extend to the western side of the Euphrates, Turkey will find that to be too much of a good thing.
“The initial plan is to move to liberate the western side of the Euphrates once the areas to the east have been cleared of ISIS,” said Idres Nassan, a senior Kurdish official in Kobani.
Preventing Kurdish forces from taking advantage of U.S. and Turkish airstrikes in the area is a “red line” for Turkey as it steps up to play a greater role in battling Islamic State, a Turkish official said Monday.
That Turkish hostility to Kurdish advances is a barrier to the US and its allies – such as New Zealand – being able to engage properly in the battle to contain Islamic State.
Keeping Kurdish fighters from moving farther west restricts America’s ability to work in northwestern Syria with a Kurdish militia that has proved an effective fighting force. And it puts more pressure on the U.S. and Turkey to find an alternative capable of filling the void.
So far, the alternative to the Kurds hasn’t materialised. The US has trained barely 50 fighters inside Syria, and most of these were captured or killed last week by the fundamentalist forces of Jabhat al Nusra.
Tia Blake, RIP.
A couple of months ago, Tia Blake – real name Christiana Wallman – died, aged 63. What’s left is the haunting album she made as a teenager in Paris, at the age of 19. As the folks at Aquarium Drunkard point out, her renditions of these old American folk ballads owed as much to Francoise Hardy as to Joan Baez, and they prefigure the kind of thing Cat Power would be doing 40 years later. No big deal – just the sound of an American ingenue in Paris, at a certain time.