Best Tweets (as well as mine) from the Third Presidential Debate

Trolling might be fun. But it isn't campaigning.

This is the president of Young Labour.   

This is the president of Young Labour.   

The Wellington Mayoral election was a week ago today. Having spent the past few months volunteering for my friend of two decades, Nick Leggett, it was a blow that he lost — but hardly a surprise.

Ours was an audacious effort. Nick was an outsider — a mayor from another city against an incumbent deputy with the backing of not one, but two, political parties in Labour and the Greens, both powerful forces in the capital. The council-wide results made clear Wellington voters wanted continuity over change. We were on the wrong side of that equation, something we knew from the outset was the most likely of all possible outcomes.

There are zero grounds for bitterness. We did our best. Nick campaigned with dignity and purpose, and everybody involved with the campaign can hold their heads up high. It is impossible to replicate in a few short months the advantages of a ready-made political machine, but Nick nonetheless attracted many hard-working volunteers who impressed with their passion and work ethic. And they were gracious to a fault when the results came in.

To his credit Justin Lester, who won comfortably in the end, ran a good campaign. His team skillfully managed to create the impression of distance between him and the deeply unpopular Celia Wade-Brown — not an easy task. Kudos to them.

But there is one aspect of the campaign that left me worried.

In the months leading up to the election, a number of Young Labor activists organised themselves into a troll army. Seemingly without relent, they inundated Twitter, Facebook and Reddit with vile, invariably baseless, personal attacks on Nick. Far worse, they aimed their vitriol at Porirua, where Nick had been serving as Mayor.  Porirua, they claimed days before the city received a AA rating from Standard & Poors, was broke (false). Rates had skyrocketed under Nick's leadership (false). Services had been slashed (false). Nick closed Cannons Creek pool (go there for yourself; he didn't). Most revealing was their constant, condescending refrain that Nick was somehow selfishly "abandoning" the city, as if Porirua residents are incapable of taking care of themselves. A heady blend of dogwhistling and white man's burden bollocks.

Now, please don't get me wrong. These thousands of nasty tweets and posts and comments did not shift a single vote. The vast majority of voters wouldn't have had a clue what was being said in social media swamps, and are smart enough to ignore it if they had.

But what concerns me is not only that young political activists seem to think trolling of this kind is acceptable; it's that it seems to be the only mode of political engagement they know.

Certianly, my early years in political campaigns weren't all sweetness and light. I tore down signs, wrote hyperbolic, dishonest direct mail letters, made countless bogus talkback calls. Youthful exuberance is not always easy to contain, much less channel productively.

But at least our manic energy was directed outwards — towards voters.

The trolls who made a sport of vilifying Nick (who, by the way, ignored all of it) confuse shouting invective in an echo chamber with campaigning. Not only is it bad for our political discourse to have young people so eager to propagate lies and insults; it augurs badly  for Labour's electoral prospects to have a coming generation of activists and MPs who think abusing is campaigning. If they had knocked on one door for every nasty tweet, Lester would have won by more.

The trolls themselves can't be blamed entirely. Andrew Little himself personally attacked Nick, calling him a right-winger, falsely claiming his campaign manager was a high-profile ACT Party member. Another senior frontbencher breathlessly lied to the gallery behind the scenes about the state of Porirua's finances. When Young Labour activists witness this from senior leadership, it's not altogether surprising they come to think replicating that modus operandi online is a good use of their time.

When I chatted after the election with one of Lester's campaign team about the troll problem, he said he "couldn't control it"; but, then, miraculously, when I pointed out the tweet pictured above, it was deleted within minutes. Certainly we had no trouble maintaining such discipline in the Leggett camp, despite all the provocation.

I hope this isn't an irreversible trend in New Zealand politics. If it is, you ain't seen nothing yet when it comes to turnout. Voters don't want a bar of this stuff, and don't confuse their disengagement with apathy. It's disgust.

Social media can be great fun, and I rarely go ten minutes without checking my often feisty Twitter feed. But let's not kid ourselves. Accosting adversaries from the safety of our iPhones, however viscerally satisfying, achieves nothing beyond reassuring us and those around us of our superior virtue

Proud of my mate

In a lifetime of poor decisions, opting to stay on in NZ to help out on Nick Leggett's mayoral campaign is a startling aberration. 

I knew Nick from when he volunteered on my doomed 1995 campaign for the Porirua City Council. He was 16. I was 25. To say he went ahead in leaps and bounds would be a gargantuan understatement. 

Even during my worst years of drinking and depression, Nick was a constant in my life. The best kind of friend. Loyal, emphathic, miraculously patient. 

Through it all, we never stopped talking politics, our common obsession. U.S., U.K., Uganda, you name it. I hope the conversation never stops. Nick is smart, intuitive, principled. A natural retail politician who has, over the years, mastered his brief like a true policy wonk. I saw him during the campaign at a consulting firm, and I could hardly believe how complete a politician he has become. He was always a charming, likable guy with a superhuman knack for remembering names and faces. He was always capable of giving a great speech. But what I hadn't noticed until that moment was the extent to which he had added an astute policy brain to the arsenal. I told him, and he brushed it off, saying I must have low standards. 

I am so proud of how Nick has conducted himself during this campaign. And Emily, his wife, as they both juggled the demands of a gorgeous newborn son, Tāne. I've never known a candidate in such a Zen-like state; so utterly unruffled. 

After Andrew Little publicly attacked him for being a "right-winger", Nick was taken aback for a second but soon laughed it off. As Young Labour trolls launched one nasty, baseless attack after another on Twitter or Reddit or wherever basement-dwelling fanatics like to spend their time,  Nick either didn't notice or simply shrugged. If I ever prepared to respond, he would gently tell me not to bother and go deliver some leaflets. (The dog-whistle attacks on Porirua by so-called lefties, including senior Wellington-based MPs, took even more discipline to ignore, but Nick somehow managed).

They never once got into his head, or caused him to deviate from the campaign he wanted to run. One about making Wellington City Council as good as the community it represents. 

Whatever happens tonight, my mate Nick Leggett and all of those who support him can hold our heads high in the knowledge that we ran a good and decent campaign.

I've always been proud to know Nick, from the time he lobbed up to my house in Camborne to help me out in 1995. But I've never been prouder to count him a friend than I am today. 

Are you one of Justin Lester's "Little People"?

What Justin Lester's "Little People" Tells us About Modern Labour

No secret I'm supporting Nick Leggett, so I was listening to the Newstalk ZB mayoral candidates debate this morning, and one exchange stood out. When asked about the Living Wage, Labour's candidate Justin Lester said he supported it because he wants to support "the little people".

Excuse me?

Who on earth does he have in mind?

Moderator Tim Fookes asked him to clarify.

Cleaners and security staff, Lester explained.

So, cleaners and security guards, as long as you know you are the little people and people like Justin Lester are here to save you, you have nothing to worry about. What condescending, messianic bullshit. 

I could write 100,000 words on why Labour is failing -- in fact, I probably have –– without getting close to encapsulating Labour's problem as well as this off-the-cuff truth bomb from Justin Lester.

Here's the clip. The other voices you hear are Nicola Young and Nick Leggett.  


Excerpt from Newstalk ZB's Mayoral Debate, 22/09/16  

The Wellington council elections in a nutshell

Nick and Harry at Newtown Market on Saturday  

Nick and Harry at Newtown Market on Saturday  

I'm in New Zealand for the next couple of months to help out an old mate, Nick Leggett, who is running for the Mayoralty of Wellington.  He's a great friend, so I'm biased; that said, I have no doubt Nick will be less a breath than a brisk northerly of fresh air for the capital.  I've worked with more politicians and candidates than I care to remember, but few can rival Nick's blend of policy smarts, natural gifts as a retail campaigner, compassion and common sense.  

Anyway, on Saturday, I joined Nick Leggett as he went about the city meeting voters and enjoying beautiful weather in the nerve-wracking few hours before the Bledisloe Cup.

At the Newtown market, Nick and I stopped to chat with Harry (pictured above).  Harry, a highly engaged and astute observer of the local political scene, has been homeless for the past four years. "I'm over it," he told us, without a trace of bitterness. Nick and he shared notes about the various iwi and community-based agencies Harry interacts with on a weekly basis, before the time came to set off the next stop.

As we left, Nick asked Harry what really fired him up this partciular election season.  In an answer that seemed to encapsulate this campaign in a nutshell, he didn't bat an eyelid: "the Island Bay cycleway." 

Celia Wade-Brown and Justin Lester's costly, disruptive and disastrous cycleway, a case study in top-down heavy-handedness and ideological belligerence, is the beetroot in the sandwich of this election. It stains everything. 

Twitter Reacts to Trump's Acceptance Speech



Herald Column on Why Hillary Should Choose Liz Warren as Running Mate

NZ Herald, 19/05/14

NZ Herald, 19/05/14


Since the NZ Herald didn't put my column from yesterday on their website, here it is for my records.  




The success and durability of Bernie Sanders' presidential run is often put down to his unexpected gifts as a campaigner, but the truth is far scarier for establishment Democrats. The 74 year old Independent Senator from Vermont, who has raised close to $200 million and defeated frontrunner Hillary Clinton in nineteen states, is actually a deeply flawed candidate. Had another populist insurgent been in the running –– someone with a surer grasp of policy detail, a defter and less bellicose style, and broader demographic appeal –– such a candidate could clearly have defeated Clinton.

As it happens, precisely such a prospect existed in Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren. A former Harvard Professor who oversaw the formation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau under Obama, Warren has since usurped Bill Clinton as the most compelling Democratic voice on middle-class economics. In recent days, Warren has also emerged as a ferocious Twitter combatant, taking aim at Donald Trump and firing up the Democratic base in ways Hillary seems entirely incapable of doing.

No surprise, then, to see reports that top Clinton aides are urging her to select Warren as her Vice-Presidential running mate, and that Joe Biden would have done so had he contested and won the nomination. It would be a wise choice for Clinton, but not because she needs Warren to win in November –– nothing will persuade me Donald Trump is electable. The best reason for Clinton to ally with Warren is to keep from losing her own party to a populist uprising in the months and years that follow.

Consider the alternatives. If Hillary follows the Clintonian playbook and goes for a centrist like Tim Kaine, former Governor and now Senator from Virginia, she risks factional disharmony that could end in a primary fight from the left that would complicate her reelection in 2020 (Ted Kennedy's debilitating challenge to Jimmy Carter in 1980 springs to mind).

Meanwhile, the case for selecting an Hispanic Veep, such as Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro, has weakened in light of Trump's emergence as the GOP nominee — labelling Mexican immigrants rapists and murderers and proposing mass deportation should be enough on its own to turn out Latino voters in droves.

Co-opting Warren amounts to a stability pact by reassuring the party's activist they will have a powerful voice in the White House, especially on the key question of economic inequality. The current volatile political climate is far less conducive to the crafty, triangulated moderation of the previous Clinton White House.

And then there's gender; as Michelle Goldberg argued in Slate last week, putting a second woman on the ticket "would make it blazingly clear what an epochal moment this is for an American women".

Now to the downsides. Coming from the reliably Democratic Massachusetts, Warren doesn't bring a "swing state" into contention, but it will be a Republican governor who handpicks her temporary replacement in the Senate. This may diminish the Democrat's chances to reclaim a majority in the upper house, at least immediately (Massachusetts law requires a special election between 145-160 days after the vacancy arises –– a contest Democrats should win).

Resistance to Warren will be fiercest from predictable quarters. Old Clinton hands like former Treasury Secretaries Lawrence Summers and Tim Geithner will contend that Warren's hostility to Wall Street, as well as her protectionist instincts on trade, will hurt the Democratic Party's hard-won economic credibility and damage its appeal to moderate voters.

These are all surmountable arguments.

The ability of vice-presidential nominees to win states that the candidate at the top of the ticket otherwise can't is vastly overstated. Romney's running mate, Paul Ryan, failed to move the needle in his home state of Wisconsin; Al Gore couldn't help Bill Clinton, or even himself atop the ballot, in Tennessee. A possible six month delay in claiming a hypothetical Democratic majority in the U.S. Senate doesn't seem enough on its own to preclude nominating somebody otherwise well suited. As for concerns Warren will force Clinton too far to the left, two rejoinders: Vice Presidents rarely play much of a role in shaping domestic economic policy independently of the West Wing; and, by placating the left, Warren's nomination would ironically free up Clinton to make more conventional (and Wall St-friendly) choices for key economic posts.

After Trump has fallen to Hillary in a thumping landslide, the GOP will enter an even more chaotic period of recrimination and disunity. But Bernie Sanders has uncovered a potent strain of disenchantment on the Democratic side as well. With Liz Warren at her side, Clinton can enter the Oval Office confident that Democrats are unlikely to descend into a civil war of its own.

NZ Herald column: Australia's Labour shows the way

The New Zealand Herald ran a contribution from me last week which amounted to a comparison between the state of politics in NZ and Australia, their respective Labo(u)r Parties in particular.  I was grateful for prime placement in the print edition, but it hasn't gone up online for some reason.  As such, I repost here for my own records as much as anything else:


If the normal laws of political gravity applied, Australia's latest PM, Malcolm Turnbull, ought to be coasting to re-election on July 2nd, while the long-serving John Key should be staring defeat in the face next year.

As it is, it is Key's National-led Government that looks unassailable while, despite a 20 point lead to the Liberal-National Coalition in the early months of Turnbull's tenure, a recent flurry of polls have the major parties across the Tasman locked at 50-50. It's uncommon to see a honeymoon as thoroughly wasted as Turnbull's outside Las Vegas.

The Coalition may yet survive the election. As I discovered working for Labor's deputy Gareth Evans in 1998, turfing out first-term governments after just one term is a tough ask in Canberra. That year, John Howard’s landslide of two years prior gave him the buffer he needed to hold off a resurgent Labor, even as the ALP won more votes nationally.

This year, Bill Shorten faces a similar uphill climb. Given the distribution of marginal seats, along with the advantages of incumbency, he will need to do better than 50-50 to win. That said, it's a minor miracle he has guided the party to within striking distance – especially when you recall the Rudd/Gillard fissure, a near-extinction event for the party.

On the surface, similarities between the respective political classes of Australia and New Zealand border on spooky. Turnbull and Key are both men of considerable net-worth, much-vaunted communication skills and an appealingly moderate political disposition. Their opponents, Shorten and Andrew Little, former Union bosses, are pragmatists steeped in labour movement politics. Neither enjoy warm popular support: in a Newspoll published earlier this month, the ALP had a two-point edge over the Coalition, but Turnbull trounces Shorten as preferred Prime Minister by 21 percent; on the equivalent measure, Key leads Little in the latest One News Colmar Brunton poll by thirty-two.

If the similarities are interesting, the differences are striking.

Why is Australian Labor within a whisker of toppling the newly-installed Turnbull, whereas their Kiwi counterparts have slumped back to 28 points, with John Key's National cruising along at fifty? How is it possible for any leader in civilian garb, much less one in a typically competitive liberal democracy like New Zealand, to retain such dominance after so long in office?

The Australian experience suggests the answer for Labour in New Zealand is not "change the leader", the knee-jerk response most often preferred. The ALP is within reach, if not exactly favoured, in the coming election despite having a leader with frankly atrocious numbers. Traumatized by the Rudd-Gillard wars, MPs and activists have by and large rallied behind Shorten (albeit a loveless loyalty in many cases), who has in turn worked hard to restore the party to viability.

Compared to Shorten, Phil Goff had it easy in 2008. Helen Clark and Michael Cullen had left Labour in decent shape. And yet, despairingly, Labour's share of the vote has declined in each subsequent election as the party turned inwards, interpreting each defeat as anything but a repudiation; blaming instead the electorate's inability to "see through" the diabolical Key, the spectre of "dirty politics" (known in Australia and elsewhere as "politics"), one million dogmatically left-wing voters who habitually forget to vote, David Cunliffe, the mythic ‘Anyone But Cunliffes’, or, at barrel's bottom, residual fury at the party's embrace of neoliberalism in the Eighties. That voters might have got it right in their intuition that Labour fails to demonstrate readiness for government is never countenanced.

Labour's refusenik posture was never more graphically on display than in the review of Cunliffe's defeat by former UK Labour MP Bryan Gould: the key to Labour's rejuvenation, Gould insisted, is pretending to get along at all costs – perpetuating the self-serving myth that internal bickering, real and imagined, is all the only thing standing between the party and its destiny. Proponents of this position would point to the Rudd/Gillard experience, but they are confusing an ingredient for the whole recipe: not tearing one another apart is a necessary prerequisite to electoral success, but it is not, on its own, sufficient.

Across the Tasman, rejuvenation has sparked Labor’s revival.

Along with the principals themselves, many veterans of the Rudd-Gillard years have made room for new talent on the frontbench, including, critically, Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen and Shadow Finance Minister Tony Burke who have proven more than a match for Abbott’s, and now Turnbull’s, economic A-Team. Meanwhile, the ALP’s backbench is fizzing: a coterie of up and comers like Andrew Leigh, Tim Watts and Clare O’Neil are busy writing books, floating policy ideas and energising the political left.

In the past few weeks alone, the ALP has rendered dead-on-arrival Turnbull’s tax plans, as well as a proposed rollback of education reforms. Shorten’s calls for a Royal Commission into Australia’s banking and financial services sector has struck a nerve, especially after the leak of the so-called Panama Papers. According to the Australian Financial Review, two-thirds of voters support such an inquiry – and pressure mounts daily on Turnbull to acquiesce.

By contrast, on the same issue, Andrew Little opted to go after Key personally, as well as John Shewan, the expert anointed by the government to review tax haven rules. Such an approach is petty and ineffective. National won’t be worried until Labour shows signs of expanding their appeal beyond those voters who already can’t stand the sight of John Key.

On balance, Malcolm Turnbull is more likely than not to win re-election in July, but the fact Labor is competitive is testament to Shorten’s discipline and focus, as well as a party culture that values professionalism, fostering and rewarding talent. But even if he loses, Shorten will leave the party in better shape than when he took the job. It’s been a while since a Labour leader in New Zealand could plausibly make such a claim.


Tweets of 26 April Primary Night

Bernie Sanders bores me to tears

Bernie Sanders has achieved something I never thought possible: he causes me to experience mild enthusiasm for the presidential candidacy of Hillary Clinton.

Oh, how I tire of the sanctimonious lecturing from the lofty heights of permanent opposition; the wilful neglect of the reliaties and restraints of constitional government; the lack of scrutiny applied to a batshit-crazy platform that would expand the federal government by 50 percent, and has as much chance of passing as a basketball through a hose.

Of course the economy is rigged to benefit the top one percent, Bernie. Of course the campaign finance system is a rort.  Bellowing these truisms from a rooftop of self-styled moral superiority has a political degree of difficulty of less than zero.

The question for somebody in the business of enacting change, as opposed to merely calling for it in front of adoring crowds, is how to confront and overcome such challenges in a political system designed to make doing so as difficult as possible.

Bernie has no interest in this, of course. Apart from his tenure of Mayor of Burlington, Bernie has luxuriated throughout his entire career in the warm bosom of the backbenches.  Actually, scratch that: not the backbenches as much as the cross-benches, because, until Bernie decided he wanted to be the party's presidential standard-bearer, Sanders wasn't even a Democrat.  Being member of a political party was beneath him; would implicate him in too many messy compromises and imperfect policy outcomes.  Much safer to holler from the outer, like a soccer hooligan who lashes both teams with equal ferocity to demonstrate fealty to the purist conceivable manifestation of the sport.

Bernie cannot win more than a handful of minority voters.  He has no plausible excuse for this.  If any other candidate scored so poorly among blacks and Hispanics, the Bernie crowd would –– for good reason –– argue that such a person has no right to occupy the top of the Democratic ticket.  White college towns and ethnically homogenous caucus states shouldn't be enough –– in 2016 for fuck's sake –– to propel any Democratic candidate in the vaguest direction of the White House.

As for head-to-head polls that show him stronger than Clinton in a general election match-up, here's two points:

1.  Try as I might, I can't think of a single thing less meaningful than a general election poll in March;

2.  Bernie has been subjected to next to no scrutiny (in contrast to Hillary, who's been scrutinised without pause for 25 years).  As soon as swing voters get wind of his radically expansionist agenda, they would run a mile.  Not that it will ever come to that.

So, Bernie, get back to the Senate where you belong (well, stay in the primary race if you like; it's only making Hillary stronger).  Rage against the machine.  Fight the good fight.  But stop this charade that you have anything near what it takes to occupy the White House in anything other than an Aaron Sorkin-penned fantasy. 

Twitter Highs and Lows of the Detroit GOP Debate

A Minor Tweetstorm on the Australian Republic and the New Zealand Flag

In two superb columns, mortified conservative intellectuals Brooks and Kagan elucidate Trump's rise

David Brooks, the conservative New York Times columnists, is infuriating because he has a tendency to write almost-brilliant opinion pieces that disintegrate on scrutiny.  He is also prone to infatuation with whomever he happens to be reading at the time.  That said, like a broken clock, he gets it right from time to time.  Never more so than his column today in which he traces the rise of 'anti-politics':

 Over the past generation we have seen the rise of a group of people who are against politics. These groups — best exemplified by the Tea Party but not exclusive to the right — want to elect people who have no political experience. They want “outsiders.” They delegitimize compromise and deal-making. They’re willing to trample the customs and rules that give legitimacy to legislative decision-making if it helps them gain power.

Ultimately, they don’t recognize other people. They suffer from a form of political narcissism, in which they don’t accept the legitimacy of other interests and opinions. They don’t recognize restraints. They want total victories for themselves and their doctrine.

The anti-politics tendency, Brooks correctly says, is self-serving because it's effect is to degrade the political process, a self-fulfilling prophecy: 

 The antipolitics people refuse compromise and so block the legislative process. The absence of accomplishment destroys public trust. The decline in trust makes deal-making harder.

We’re now at a point where the Senate says it won’t even hold hearings on a presidential Supreme Court nominee, in clear defiance of custom and the Constitution. We’re now at a point in which politicians live in fear if they try to compromise and legislate. We’re now at a point in which normal political conversation has broken down. People feel unheard, which makes them shout even louder, which further destroys conversation.

Inevitably, he turns to Donald Trump, who he describes as: 

...the culmination of the trends we have been seeing for the last 30 years: the desire for outsiders; the bashing style of rhetoric that makes conversation impossible; the decline of coherent political parties; the declining importance of policy; the tendency to fight cultural battles and identity wars through political means.


Trump’s supporters aren’t looking for a political process to address their needs. They are looking for a superhero. 

This is insightful stuff, and it helps explain the rise of anti-politics way beyond America's borders. 

Meanwhile, Robert Kagan of the Brookings Institution, a neo-conservative known mainly for his foreign policy views, has taken to the Washington Post's opinion pages to weigh in on Trump's rise, placing the blame squarely at the feet of the GOP establishment:

 Let’s be clear: Trump is no fluke. Nor is he hijacking the Republican Party or the conservative movement, if there is such a thing. He is, rather, the party’s creation, its Frankenstein’s monster, brought to life by the party, fed by the party and now made strong enough to destroy its maker. Was it not the party’s wild obstructionism — the repeated threats to shut down the government over policy and legislative disagreements, the persistent calls for nullification of Supreme Court decisions, the insistence that compromise was betrayal, the internal coups against party leaders who refused to join the general demolition — that taught Republican voters that government, institutions, political traditions, party leadership and even parties themselves were things to be overthrown, evaded, ignored, insulted, laughed at? Was it not Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), among others, who set this tone and thereby cleared the way for someone even more irreverent, so that now, in a most unenjoyable irony, Cruz, along with the rest of the party, must fall to the purer version of himself, a less ideologically encumbered anarcho-revolutionary? This would not be the first revolution that devoured itself.


Robert Kagan of the Brookings Institutions and The New York Times' David Brooks  

Robert Kagan of the Brookings Institutions and The New York Times' David Brooks  

Twitter Highs and Lows From The Texas GOP Debate

Twitter Highs and Lows From The Milwaukee Democratic Debate

Labour joins swoon for random American "expert" on TPPA

As I explained in an earlier post, Jane Kelsey's anti-TPPA roadshow features a minor anti-trade activist called Lori Wallach, described most flatteringly by the NZ Herald as a "leading expert". It's abundantly obvious that Wallach's credentials have been greatly inflated by Kelsey and others; and that, predictably enough, the NZ media have fallen under The Spell of the International Expert, a peculiar form of colonial cringe that involves imbuing anyone with a foreign accent instant gravitas whether they deserve it or not. Wallach is a casebook study. 

I'm late to this, but conservative commentator Matthew Hooton was leaked an email that shows Labour has fallen for the trick too.   

Matt McCarten, Andrew Little's chief of staff, wrote* to all Labour employees: 

Hi All

The leading critic of TPPA, Jane Kelsey has offered to brief Labour Party staff at 4pm today with Lori Wallach (the American trade analyst/commentator) before their Wellington public meeting.  

Grant Robertson who spoke for us at the Auckland public meeting found Lori quite useful and interesting, especially her analysis of the US Congress and political situation.   

I think this is a great opportunity for staff to hear from both experts and encourage you to attend....

* the punctuation's all Matt's.


This is fairly alarming. 

Wallach is a fringe activist from the Nader-left in the US. There are plenty of serious trade critics in Washington, largely from within organised labour and the Democratic Party establishment, but Wallach is not one of them. As I wrote earlier, she may be an unheralded genius -- but, make no mistake, Wallach is decidedly, utterly, unheralded. The idea that Labour would take a steer from Lori Wallach on the TPPA should be troubling to anyone who cares about the state of that party. Wallach is simply not a credible voice outside of alternative media circles and the far-left flank of the US political spectrum.  

A related issue: Kelsey and Wallach oppose every trade deal out of principle. There is no conceivable version of the TPPA that either could support. To that extent, how useful is their counsel to a party that claims to support free trade in principle? The answer, quite clearly, is not at all. When you call in Kelsey and Wallach for advice, you must know what form it will take. Just more evidence, if it were needed, that the protectionist elements of the former Alliance have staged what amounts to a silent coup within Labour on trade policy.  

US Campaign Update, 29/01/16: Top 10 Stories

1. In Bloomberg, Mark Niquette reports that Sanders singles out Goldman Sachs Group Inc. in his latest campaign ad.


While the ad doesn't mention Clinton by name, the Vermont senator has criticized her for the $675,000 she was paid for three speeches she gave to the firm in 2013. It's the latest effort by Sanders to tap voter anger about what he calls a “rigged economy,” with polls showing Sanders and Clinton in a close race in Monday's Iowa caucuses.
As the words “Goldman Sachs” appear on the screen, with the firm's Jersey City office depicted, the ad mentions the firm's agreement announced on Jan. 14 to settle a U.S. investigation into its handling of mortgage-backed securities. It helped trigger “the financial meltdown” and put millions of people out of their jobs and homes, the ad says.
“How does Wall Street get away with it? Millions in campaign contributions and speaking fees,” the ad says. “Our economy works for Wall Street because it's rigged by Wall Street, and that's the problem. As long as Washington is bought and paid for, we can't build an economy that works for people.”



2. In Reuters, Chris Kahn reports that Michael Bloomberg could boost Trump’s bid for White House, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll.

In a matchup between Trump and Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton, adding Bloomberg's name to the ballot would trim Clinton's lead over Trump to six percentage points from 10, according to the poll conducted from Jan. 23 to Jan. 27.
In a Trump versus Democratic hopeful Bernie Sanders matchup, adding Bloomberg would erode Sanders' lead over Trump to seven points from 12, the poll results showed.
In all matchups, Bloomberg himself would land just 10 percent or less of the vote in November.


 3. In CNN, Kevin Bohn writes about a new super PAC that aims to question Donald Trump’s conservative credentials.


In its latest spot, slated to start running Friday in Iowa and New Hampshire, Our Principles PAC asks: "Can conservatives trust Donald Trump?" as it hits Trump on changing his position on whether undocumented immigrants should be allowed to eventually apply for citizenship.
 Trump has repeatedly said during the campaign that all of those in the country illegally should be deported. The ad says: "Trump can't handle tough questions like why he'd let millions of illegal immigrants stay in America and even supports a pathway to citizenship."
The ad then uses comments he made in June at an event in Chicago: "You have to give them a path and you have to make it possible to succeed. You have to do that."


 5. In CNN, Elizabeth Landers writes about Sanders position on climate change.


"I haven't seen any actual scientific evidence that global warming is actually happening," she said. "It's only very recent. So I'd like to know why you think it's happening."
Sanders respond with a polite but firm: "You're wrong." "It is already causing devastating problems in our country and the world. That is what the scientists are saying," he told her.
Sanders often speaks of the need to address greenhouse gas emissions and global warming, and has used his early advocacy on the issue -- including his long-time opposition to the Keystone XL Pipeline -- to appeal to liberals in his bid against Hillary Clinton.


6. In Reuters, Ginger Gibson reports that Trump draws full house at Drake University.

Donald Trump shunned Thursday night's debate of the Republican presidential candidates hosted by Fox News and instead filled an auditorium a few miles down the road, trying to prove his widespread support only days before Iowa kicks off the U.S. nominating voting process.
Trump, with just one day's notice on a weeknight, was able to fill to capacity a hall at Drake University that holds 700.
"I didn’t want to be here, to be honest, I wanted to be about five minutes away" at the debate, Trump told the crowd. "When you’re treated badly, you have to stick up for your rights - whether we like it or not."


 7. In Huffington Post, Ariel Edwards-Levy explains Clinton’s electability argument.

To try to gauge how much Clinton's electability argument is resonating, HuffPost teamed with YouGov to probe the views of Democratic and Democratic-leaning voters. What we found is that only 8 percent say they're backing somebody who isn't their top choice, but whom they see as more electable. Sixty-two percent say they're supporting their favorite candidate regardless of that consideration, while the rest are undecided or don't plan to vote.
"I am absolutely determined that we're going to make sure we have a Democrat to succeed President Obama so we don't let the Republicans rip away the progress we have made together," Clinton told Iowa voters earlier this month. In New Hampshire, she similarly made what Time magazine described as "a pitch for pragmatism, not passion."
The target audience for Clinton's electability argument also seems to be shrinking.


 8. In Bloomberg, Michael C. Bender talks about Jeb Bush’s presidential campaign.


The one-time front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination, Jeb Bush has spent months trying to climb back to the top of crowded race with little success. In an exclusive interview with Bloomberg Politics, the former Florida governor says his campaign will last for the weeks and months to come.
He's hoping to "exceed expectations" in Iowa, have a strong showing in New Hampshire, and have his brother, former President George W. Bush—"the most popular Republican alive"—join him on the campaign trail, probably by South Carolina.
Bush called on everyone of the Republican field to follow his lead—and Mitt Romney's advice—and release their tax returns. He also questioned U.S. Senator Ted Cruz's foreign policy credentials; said his fellow Floridian, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, was "hypocritical" for complaining about political attacks; and said Donald Trump's campaign was about personal ambition.


 9. In Huffington Post, Sam Levine argues why Clinton could not be a crusader for women’s rights, according to Rand Paul.


Rand Paul said it is hypocritical for Hillary Clinton to push for women's rights because of her husband Bill Clinton's past sexual transgressions.
The Kentucky senator said during Thursday's GOP debate that if a CEO had been found guilty of similar inappropriate behavior, he would be fired, shunned and never hired again. While he said he didn't hold the Democratic candidate responsible, Paul said the former president's actions weakened Hillary Clinton's credibility.
"The thing is, she can't be a champion of women's rights at the same time she's got this that is always lurking out there, this type of behavior. So it is difficult," Paul said.


10. In Huffington Post, Jonathan Cohn explains why Cruz dodges the question when pressed on Obamacare replacement.

And it turned out he had no intention of doing so. Cruz proceeded to explain that, with the health care law gone, he’d do three things: allow people to purchase insurance across state lines, decouple employment and insurance, and allow more people to use health savings accounts.
By themselves, these would do very little to help the uninsured get coverage. (Worse still, allowing cross-state purchasing would undermine state regulations on benefits, making it harder for people with serious medical problems to find comprehensive coverage.)
Truth is, Republicans don’t have a better alternative to the health care law. All of their plans result in far fewer people having insurance, or the people with insurance having much weaker coverage -- because making coverage available to all, at affordable prices, requires a combination of spending, taxes and regulation that Republicans can’t abide.












In Reuters, James Oliphant explains why Trump’s debate flap throws Republican party into deeper chaos.


For months, Trump has chosen to operate in his own political universe, violating the conventional wisdom that governs presidential campaigns, thumbing his nose at conservative institutions ranging from the Fox News Channel to the National Review and advocating policies at odds with party orthodoxy.

And whether he wins the Iowa caucuses on Monday, Trump’s candidacy promises to continue to upend the established political order as the presidential race intensifies ahead of the Nov. 8 election. Most national opinion polls have him with more than 30 percent of the Republican primary electorate — and those voters are showing little sign of switching to anyone else.

“I think he will have made a permanent impact on the process,” Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives and a 2012 presidential candidate, told Reuters. Trump’s campaign, he said, “is one of those great disruptions that reshapes everything.”

US Campaign Update, 28/01/16: Top 10 Stories

1. In CNN, Tom LoBianco writes about Trump’s event that will benefit veterans.


Wednesday morning, Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski predicted on "Good Morning America" that "the American people will tune in" for Trump's alternative event "because they want to support that."
But the leader of one veterans group says he doesn't want any donations from Trump's fundraiser.
Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America founder Paul Rieckhoff tweeted Wednesday that he would decline any contributions that came from the event.
"If offered, @IAVA will decline donations from Trump's event. We need strong policies from candidates, not to be used for political stunts," he said.


2. In Bloomberg, Madeline McMahon explains why Carson considers a top-three finish in next week’s Iowa caucuses a success.

Carson suggested he would reassess his campaign if he falls out of the top three in Iowa, as polls in New Hampshire, another early-voting state, also show him trailing.
"I obviously would like to finish in the top three," Carson said said at a Bloomberg Politics breakfast in Des Moines, Iowa. "There’s always a path, but you know, you always have to look at the trends, you have to look at what is happening, what are people saying."
Candidates from both parties are crisscrossing Iowa, an agricultural state of about 3 million people in the U.S. heartland that will hold the first votes of the 2016 election. The Feb. 1 balloting is expected to winnow the Republican field, especially candidates who’ve targeted -- as Carson has -- the religious conservative voters who make up much of the party’s base here.


 3. In Des Moines Register, Linh Ta reports that Sanders has criticized Clinton anew during a rally in Mason City.

At the Music Man Square, Sanders fired against Clinton, saying that her campaign is "in trouble" as his poll numbers rise before the Iowa caucus Monday. The latest Des Moines Register/Bloomberg Politics Iowa Poll shows Clinton and Sanders virtually tied, with Clinton slightly leading. A recent Quinnipiac poll shows Sanders 4 points ahead.
“Needless to say, our opponents are not all that enthusiastic about that reality,” Sanders said, about potentially winning the Iowa caucus. “One of the things they say, 'Bernie Sanders, nice guy, interesting ideas, but he just could not win a general election.'”
He then cited polls from Iowa and New Hampshire that shows him ahead of Clinton in a battle against Donald Trump, saying he would be electable in a general election despite criticisms.


4. In The Boston Globe, Annie Linskey writes about Sanders idealism and his skills as political tactician.


Sanders may be decrying politics as usual, but he’s also picked up tricks of the trade during his 25 years in Washington. (That’s two years longer than Clinton.) The white-haired 74-year-old comes across more like a philosophy professor than a modern politician. But the last nine months have shown he has the chops to take on the Democrats’ star player, analysts say.
“Bernie Sanders’ political skills were deeply underrated in the beginning of this process,” said Tad Devine, his longtime campaign adviser. “I think people thought of him as somebody who didn’t have the skills to deliver a message on a big stage. ... I think people are just now catching up to the fact that he’s very good at this.”
That includes the Clinton campaign, which has always said the race in early primary states would be close, but didn’t finger Sanders as the likely stalking horse.


 5. In Politico, Katie Glueck reports that Cruz will donate $1.5 million to veterans group if Trump debates.


A cluster of super PACs backing Ted Cruz pledged on Wednesday to donate $1.5 million to veterans groups if Donald Trump agrees to a one-on-one debate with Cruz.
“In response to Senator Ted Cruz’s challenge of a one-on-one debate, the principal donors of the Keep the Promise I and II super PACs are offering presidential candidate Donald Trump a truly fantastic deal, pledging to donate $1.5 million to charities committed to helping veterans if Mr. Trump agrees to debate Senator Cruz in Iowa,” reads a release from Keep the Promise, the group of super PACs backing the Texan. “This money is in addition to the millions of proceeds available to the veterans as a share of the revenues that this debate could secure from a host network.”
Trump will not participate in Fox News’s Thursday night debate, instead hosting an event at Drake University that his campaign says will benefit veterans.


 6. In The New York Times, Alan Rappeport writes about Carson’s presidential campaign in Iowa.


For Mr. Carson, the retired neurosurgeon seeking the Republican nomination, it is a daily struggle to stay upbeat and remain true to himself.
“It is much better to do what’s right and lose an election than to do what’s politically expedient and lose your soul,” Mr. Carson said with a sense of resignation during a Tuesday night event that mixed a campaign pitch with a Christian prayer service.
Focusing his efforts on Iowa before Monday’s caucuses, Mr. Carson has been homing in on the evangelical Christians and social conservatives who propelled Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum to caucus victories in the state in the two previous presidential election cycles. Like many flagging candidates, Mr. Carson has started to discredit the polls as flawed surveys that fail to capture the excitement he sees on the campaign trail. Talk of a “surprise” has picked up considerably.


 7. In The Associated Press,  Julie Pace explains why Trump will grab more attention as GOP rivals debate.


Given Trump's unpredictable nature, some campaigns were preparing for the possibility he could reverse course and take the stage in Des Moines after all. Still, Trump moved forward with plans to host a rally just a few miles away that his campaign said would raise money for wounded warriors.
With Fox carrying the debate, other cable channels were likely to show Trump's event, stealing away at least some viewers who would have otherwise watched the contest.
"I think it's typical Trump," said Don Kass, chairman of Iowa's Plymouth County GOP. "He's betting on him making a bigger splash."
While earlier debates have been instrumental in the rise and fall of several GOP candidates, they have had minimal apparent impact on Trump's standing. He's preferred to make his case to potential voters in national television interviews and on Twitter, and has often faded into the background in the debates


8. In Bloomberg, Mark Niquette reports that Sanders is eyeing the notoriously fickle college-age demographic in the Hawkeye State.

With polls showing Sanders locked in a tight race with Hillary Clinton, the Vermont senator expects he'll win the first-in-the-nation caucuses on Monday if there's a high turnout. If not, "we're going to be struggling,'' he said after a campaign stop Tuesday in Des Moines.
That's why Sanders's campaign has focused so intently on mobilizing students and other young people who overwhelmingly support him in polls over Clinton, the former secretary of state and Democratic front-runner. The Sanders campaign is even arranging to drive students to their home precincts, where their backing of Sanders can be more valuable than at their campuses.
"The youth vote is critical,'' said Tad Devine, a senior advisor for Sanders, the Vermont senator. "Without overwhelming support and strong turnout from young voters, we really don’t have a clear path to victory.''


9. In CNN, Tom LoBianco reports that Sanders  believes generally in God, but not necessarily organized religion.

The man who has the potential to become the nation's first Jewish president has generally shied away from talk of his upbringing and his faith, but in an interview with The Washington Post published Wednesday, Sanders said he was not "actively involved with organized religion."
"I think everyone believes in God in their own ways," he told Post. "To me, it means that all of us are connected, all of life is connected, and that we are all tied together."
Sanders has often limited talk of his upbringing to a single line in his stump speech about his father emigrating from Poland and raising his family in a rent-controlled apartment in Brooklyn.

10. In Reuters, Michelle Conlin writes about Jeb Bush’s presidential campaign.


In the world of Jeb Bush, the campaign for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination has at times been a whirl of private planes and high-end affairs, according to the federal filings of Bush’s campaign and his Super PAC, Right to Rise, which can raise unlimited funds for Bush as long as it does not coordinate directly with him.
It is not unusual for U.S. presidential candidates to fly private or even sometimes stay in luxury hotels. But some disgruntled donors say they are unhappy with Bush's large outlays, which also include big spending on staff and tens of millions of dollars in ad buys.
Eleven of 16 major donors contacted by Reuters questioned whether it was money well spent, especially given how the one-time frontrunner has stumbled badly in the polls and is now facing questions about whether he should withdraw from the race.