Gordon Campbell on what Trump may mean for us

The chaotic presidency of Donald Trump has been a weird form of spectator sport for the past three weeks. Horrible, but you can’t stop watching it. So far though, not much effort has been put into tracing the possible implications for New Zealand of the stream of executive orders and tweets that have been pouring from the Oval Office. Unfortunately, we may not simply be drive-by rubberneckers at this car wreck for much longer.

Start with trade for instance. As he promised on the campaign trail, President Trump has torn up the Trans Pacific Partnership trade pact, and now seems more interested in bullying Japan into a bilateral deal on US terms. Our reaction? Its as if nothing has happened. Australia and New Zealand are continuing to act as though a headless TPP without either Japan or the US is still worth talking about.

It wasn’t good for us before, and seeking a truncated version is a sheer waste of time. For now, PM Bill English mainly seems relieved to have survived a 15 minute phone call from the new President without any visible or audible damage to US/NZ relations. That honeymoon will probably last only until the White House finds out we’re trying to expand our trade with Iran, Trump’s arch-nemesis in the Middle East. How does our government propose to respond diplomatically to the new US belligerence towards Iran, and towards China’s actions in the South China Sea?

What I’m getting at is that New Zealand’s interests will not remain immune for much longer to the consequences of Trump’s ascent to power. Take one obvious example. The White House intends to scrap the safeguards on net neutrality, via its FCC appointee and industry flunkey, Ajit Pal. This development should be of concern to anyone in New Zealand who believes the Internet is an essential social utility that should be kept affordable and accessible to as many people as possible, and not turned into a profit centre for mega-corporations.

The Trump administration’s plans to capitulate to Big Pharma by reducing the regulatory role of the Food and Drug Administration is also of direct concern to us. Fter all, the FDA is the organisation that many organisations worldwide – including Pharmac – rely on as the prime frontline assessor of the safety of our medicines.

Some Trumpisms have been a little harder to detect. On January 25, Trump signed a rambling executive order called “Enhancing Public Safety In the Interior of the United States.” Down at section 14 was this paragraph: “Agencies shall, to the extent consistent with applicable law, ensure that their privacy policies exclude persons who are not United States citizens or lawful permanent residents from the protections of the Privacy Act regarding personally identifiable information.”

Meaning: in future, US privacy law protections will explicitly not apply to non-US citizens and their “personally identifiable information” The phone calls and emails of you, me, Australians, Brits, Canadians Chinese, or any other friend or enemy du jour of the United States – will formally become fair game to US intelligence agencies, and this activity will be completely exempt from any form of privacy review by the US courts. There are no exceptions. In effect, this section 14 provision appears to scrap the gentlemen’s agreement that members of the Five Eyes intelligence network should not spy on one another.

To be fair, the surveillance infrastructure that Trump has inherited was created by George Bush, and strengthened under Barack Obama. However some progress was being made in extending US privacy law protections to non-citizens – notably, under the recently passed US Judicial Redress Act. Also there was this regulation signed into law by Obama’s outgoing US attorney-general, and it extended US privacy protections to a list of 26 countries. However, that list doesn’t include New Zealand, or Australia, or Canada.

To repeat: the Trump executive order strips away the privacy protections for every foreigner who doesn’t strictly qualify for them under US law, and this may or may not include the fledgling process contained in the Judicial Redress Act. The European Commission has already begun to fight back.

Elsewhere, as the Canadian e-commerce and copyright expert Michael Geist has indicated in his discussion of section 14, Canadians or EU citizens could begin to mount legal challenges to try to ensure that their personal data is not voluntarily trafficked back and forth by their own governments still acting as if nothing has changed within this new, more hostile environment.

Thus far though, there hasn’t been a public peep from our government about the potential implications of the Trump decree for our policing and security intelligence information sharing agreements with the US.

Don’t Cry For Me, Cassandra

Julie Byrne. Cassandra Jenkins. Is there a mini-Cat Power revival going on, or did that cool ethereal closely miked femme mysterioso style never really go out of fashion ? Cassandra Jenkins used to play bass for Eleanor Friedberger, an altogether rowdier sort who you may recall as being one half of the experimental art band The Fiery Furnaces. Jenkins’ solo work by contrast, has sometimes verged on New Age faerie folk, and she has some dubious taste via Tori Amos ) in cover versions….but IMO, there will never be a good reason to revive Cat Stevens “ Wild World.”

So why bother? Well, her excellent new single “Candy Crane” is good reason to persevere , and raises expectations for her debut album Play Till You Win. I can’t link to the song directly – its on Soundcloud, not Youtube. BTW, candy cranes are those glass box arcade games where you impress friends and loved ones by spending your change trying to maneouvre a claw hand in order to seize and win a soft toy or a candy treat or some such. Hours of fun. This is the link.

But for reference…. from a couple of years ago, here’s a live, folkish track that’s also worth your while. Nice interplay too, between Jenkins and the violinist.