Opinion: US ratcheting up the pressure on N Korea - and China - with good reason

The mechanical, electrical or computer systems fault which caused a North Korean ballistic missile to explode soon after take-off last Sunday is a king-sized embarrassment for the emperor-sized ego of Kim Jong-un, North Korea's loathsome despot.

The failure of the missile test has altered the dynamics of the high-stakes contest in nuclear brinkmanship. It has deflated the hollow boasting of Kim's regime and its ridiculous claim that its armed forces have the capacity to "destroy" the military might of the United States.

It buys more time to explore the, so far, slim chances of finding some way of initiating much-needed negotiations between the protagonists.

Source: 1 NEWS

The missile launch was provocatively timed to coincide with the visit to  South Korea of American vice-president Mike Pence.

It was intended to display the rapid progress that North Korea claims it is making in developing a reliable long-range ballistic missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead.

The missile's failure to make it much further than its launch pad suggested otherwise.

That perception was heightened by suspicion that supposedly new missiles unveiled with great pageantry in a Pyongyang street parade the day before were simply mock-ups, produced for the cameras of the large contingent of foreign media flown in to observe the show of force.

It is highly conceivable, however, that the explosion was the result of a successful cyber-attack conducted by the Pentagon.

A recent investigation conducted by the New York Times found that back in 2014, then president Barack Obama ordered defence officials to step up their cyber and electronic strikes against Kim's missile programme and sabotage test launches in their opening seconds.

His successor has given no hint that cyber warfare is still being mounted on North Korea. If the sabotage was continuing when he took office, it would be most surprising if Donald Trump has halted it.

The new incumbent in the White House has not been so reticent when it comes to verbal assaults on Kim's regime.

Trump's language may seem reckless. The risk of war would seem to have ratcheted upwards accordingly.

It would seem to be a time for cool heads and calm statements.

Instead Trump and senior figures in his administration have been engaged in a game of "anything you can say, I can say tougher" with Kim.

The stances taken by Trump and Obama are not that different, however. That is because a fundamental bottom-line applies regardless of who holds the keys to the Oval Office.

That bottom-line decrees that no foreign regime as rogue as Kim's can be allowed to possess a nuclear weapon capable of reaching the continental United States.

Kim may still be some way from fulfilling that objective. But any American president who allows him to do so will be dead meat as far as voters will be concerned.

It has fallen on Trump's watch to deal with the problem - and for keeps.

In Pence's unambiguous summation,  "the era of strategic patience is over".

Trump, Pence and other senior administration figures are taking a punt on Kim not mounting an attack on South Korea.

It is a pretty safe punt. The assumption is that Kim is consumed by survival - and the fastest means of jeopardising that is to get into shoot-out where the bullets are real, not verbal.

That still leaves the question at the very heart of the showdown unanswered: how do you get Kim to drop his nuclear ambitions?

If there is no other option and it comes down to a military strike on Kim's nuclear facilities, then that option has to remain on the table.

But the priority is to open negotiations.

Pence's statement that the patience of the United States and its regional allies had run out was directed as much in China's direction as Kim's.

As evident during Trump's recent summit with President Xi Jinping, Washington has to be very careful not to be seen to be pressuring China to start exerting the undoubted leverage it enjoys in its dealings with North Korea.

The delivery of the message may thus be necessarily subtle, but its content is blunt: if Beijing refuses to do anything to curt Kim's nuclear ambitions, then Washington will.

If China abdicates its regional responsibilities, its inaction would risk the very things it wishes to avoid coming to fruition.

Namely, war on its doorstep, the collapse of North Korea's already miserably-performing economy and the likelihood of a major disruption of trade, plus the downstream recessionary consequences flowing from that. And that's just for starters.

Winston Churchill famously proclaimed that "to jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war".

Trump's handling of the crisis on the Korean peninsular is a variant on that theme. That talking war-war is sometimes the only means of getting those scrapping with each other to jaw-jaw.

There are fears a misstep by the North or US President Donald Trump could causes disaster. Source: 1 NEWS

The person is fighting for their life after a major smash on SH6 near Inangahua.
Source: 1 NEWS

Fonterra faces major overhaul after posting historic deficit

New Zealand's biggest company, dairy giant Fonterra, has posted a loss of $196 million - the first annual loss in its 17-year history.

Last year the cooperative - best known for its Mainland and Western Star brands - posted a $734 million profit.

But in March it reported its first half-year loss on the back of a major write- down on a Chinese investment and a compensation payment over a 2013 botulism scare.

Fonterra today announced a full-year loss for the 2018 financial year, with underlying earnings before interest and taxes also down 22 per cent (to $902 million on slightly increased revenue ($20.4 billion), but lower margins.

It's left shareholders and farmers "extremely" disappointed.

"There's no two ways about it, these results don't meet the standards we need to live up to," Fonterra interim chief Miles Hurrell said.

"We expected our performance to be weighted to the second half of the year. We needed to deliver an outstanding third and fourth quarter, after an extremely strong second quarter for sales and earnings - but that didn't happen."

The company this year wrote down $439 million off a troubled $750 million investment into Chinese food company Beingmate. It also paid out $232 million to French food giant Danone after arbitration over the recall of products in a botulism scare in 2013.

But Mr Hurrell said even without those one-offs, there were other areas of difficulty, including overly optimistic forecasting, high butter prices, increased farmgate milk prices paid to its farmers and increasing expenses in parts of the businesses.

The company issued a four-point plan to lift its performance along with the results, saying it would start with a review of its Beingmate investment.

"Financial year 2019 is about lifting the performance of our co-operative," Mr Hurrell said.

Fonterra - which accounts for about 30 per cent of the world's dairy exports - has been searching for a replacement for chief executive

Theo Spierings, who announced in May he would be stepping down. Chair John Wilson quit in July following a health scare.

The Federated Farmers lobby group on Thursday said it hoped their replacements would do better job after a "very disappointing" result.

"I hope those two have a new broom for the shop floor," chairman Chris Lewis said.

"That's a big drop and they simply must do better. But I'm confident they'll turn things around."

Fonterra's Shareholders' Council - which represents farmers who hold shares in the co-op - said it was also extremely disappointed.

"The underlying result and its impact on earnings, dividend and carrying value is totally unacceptable and one that our farming families will not want to see repeated," chairman Duncan Coull said.

"Moving forward, it is imperative that our business builds confidence through achievable targets."

The dairy giant today revealed a near-$200 million annual loss, the first in its 17-year history. Source: 1 NEWS


John Armstrong's opinion: 'Labour has been outsmarted and outmanoeuvred' by Winston Peters

Don’t listen to those who dismiss the current muscle-flexing by Winston Peters as nothing more than the standard fare of MMP politics.

It is anything but.

Were there a handbook covering the mechanics of forming and running a coalition government, the New Zealand First leader would currently be writing a new chapter—one which would be without a happy ending for Jacinda Ardern, her coalition managers and the rest of the Labour Party.

The latter should be worried — very worried.

It is the ongoing conundrum of multi-party governments that minor parties which behave themselves and keep their heads down have almost without exception have had their heads lopped off come election-time.

Peters seems to be experimenting with the notion that minor parties which are far less polite get noticed by voters rather than being suffocated.

Source: 1 NEWS

If that is not enough to give Labour grief, Peters appears to be engaged in trying to pull off what would amount to a massive shift in power within the coalition.

Forget cracks about cracks appearing in the coalition’s facade.

Peters, for one, will not be going anywhere.

The perception of him as some kind of human coalition wrecking ball does not quite fit the facts.

While Peters and some of his then MPs stormed out of their formal coalition with National back in 1998, that occurred as the result of severe provocation on the part of Jenny Shipley, the then National prime minister.

Peters now has the dream job of foreign minister. Yet, he also remains an absolutely pivotal figure in domestic politics.

With regard to the latter, it is obvious there been a major shift in New Zealand First strategy.

What began as an isolated case of New Zealand First thwarting Labour’s desire to eradicate a hardline law and order statute — namely the three-strikes law — has become what looks suspiciously like a carefully orchestrated campaign which has the junior partner in the coalition making ever more frequent raids deep into territory where Labour would insist it has the right to call the shots.

Labour can tolerate having to keep living with the three-strikes law. It can tolerate not being able to raise the annual refugee quota.

After all, prior to a National government-instigated rise in the quota which took effect this year, the quota had been held at 750 for the previous 30 years, believe it or not.

What Labour cannot accept is its coalition partner blocking its long-promised legislation rolling back some of National’s so-called “reforms” in the industrial relations arena.

If Labour is not seething over that, it should be. The dominant partner has to bite its tongue, however.

To react too strongly to New Zealand First’s intention to put up amendments to the Employment Relations Amendment Bill would be to pour petrol on a bonfire called “Coalition Tensions”.

Few things excite the media than the words “splits” and “divisions”.

Peters hardly needs to be told that.

Labour has been outsmarted and outmanoeuvred by him, however.

He has decreed that anything which is not included in the two parties’ coalition agreement, the Speech from the Throne, which sets out a government’s legislative programme, the Budget or Labour’s 100-day Action Plan is not Government policy.

It is —to use Peters’ term — a “work in progress’’.

New Zealand First is using these criteria, either as a means of blocking or amending Labour initiatives or as a bargaining chip at the Cabinet table.

The moot question is how long Labour can afford to put up with a partner causing such high levels of aggravation.

It is bizarre and not a little ridiculous that those who are giving Ardern the most grief are part of the governing arrangement.

Labour will regard Peters' injection of friction into his party’s relations with the former as him testing the limits of Labour’s patience.

National’s leader is having a field day labelling the Prime Minister as weak and indecisive in failing to rein in New Zealand First. - John Armstrong

While it will not please them, Labour’s coalition managers will also likely view New Zealand First’s sudden discovery of reasons to block Labour-initiated policies and legislation as a case of Peters engaging in a complicated coalition choreography.

There are two bottom-lines, however, which Labour cannot accept being breached.

First, Labour’s concern is that the winner in this power tussle will turn out not to be Peters or Arden, but Simon Bridges.

National’s leader is having a field day labelling the Prime Minister as weak and indecisive in failing to rein in New Zealand First.

Any harm done by Peters to Labour’s biggest electoral asset will be deemed as totally unacceptable.

Second, Labour will take a very dim view of New Zealand First if that party’s attack on what Labour calls its socially “progressive” policies sees Labour voters decamping to the Greens.

For those reasons alone, the Doomsday Clock gauging the likely longevity of the current governing arrangement is now ticking much closer to midnight.

The influence of Winston Peters is also believed to be putting the Prime Minister under pressure from rival MPs. Source: 1 NEWS



1080 drop over Northland forest to go ahead in next few days

Conservationists are elated at the prospect of a long-awaited 1080 drop on Northland's imperilled Russell State Forest, but others in the community are feeling nervous.

DOC contractors have been dropping non-toxic bait over the forest this week to get pests used to the cereal pellets.

Forest and Bird's Northland advocate Dean Baigent-Mercer was smiling from ear to ear when RNZ caught up with him, high in the Puhipuhi hills on Wednesday.

It was a sight he'd wondered if he'd ever see: one he said signalled a last-minute reprieve for a condemned forest.

Overhead, two choppers clattered back and forth, swinging green bait buckets beneath them, while ground staff tracked their progress by GPS from a laptop in the back of a ute.

"This is step one: the pre-feed to teach the rats and possums to eat the baits, then in a few days they'll get the poison ones and hopefully we'll knock them down," he said.

Dean Baigent-Mercer's campaign to save the ngahere began in earnest three years ago when he released graphic drone footage of the grey and dying canopy.

The video went viral and the long process of securing funding and community buy-in began.

When a forest this big and rugged was this close to death, a 1080 drop was the only practical way to pull it back from the brink, Mr Baigent-Mercer said.

"We already knew that between 1979 and 1993, 80 percent of the kereru or kukupa as they're called up here, had disappeared from this forest so it's been crying out for help for such a long time."

Nine marae surround the Russell State Forest, and over the past 18 months, the hapu involved have thrashed out a 20 year plan to restore it to health.

When kaumatua Kara George was a boy it teemed with life.

"Our old people knew all the plants and they knew how to use them. There were no possums back then. There were flocks of kukupa... the old people knew all the manu (birds) and they would tell us when it was ok to take from the forest and when not to," he said.

"That matauranga (specialist knowledge) is not used now because we can't use the forest the way we used to and we older ones need to pass it on before we go. "

DOC staff who spent a week in Russell forest monitoring pest numbers in the lead-up to the 1080 drop, heard one tui, and one grey warbler in that time.

But they saw lots of pigs, and residual trap catches, used to gauge possum numbers, were at an unheard of 100 percent. For rats, it was 80 percent.

Kara George said anti-1080 sentiment stopped a poison drop on the forest 20 years ago, and even now it had not been easy convincing people that drastic action was needed.

"They feel they need the pigs left in the forest so they can go chase them so I have said 'Are you pig-farming or are we saving a forest?' And then they want the ranger work, which they think could be a drawn-out possum operation so I have said 'Well, are you possum-farming? Because the possums will just catch you up.'"

Some whanau were worried about the risk to dogs from poisoned possum carcasses floating downstream, hapu members said.

'Aunty' Thelma Connor said what worried a lot of people was the prospect of 1080 pellets washing into waterways.

"We had a meeting with DOC, Ngāti Hau did, and we reluctantly had to say yes to them. As long as we didn't have to deliver the 1080; they have to take responsibility if anything happens in the future," she said.

But DOC and NIWA say in years of monitoring, 1080 has never been found in drinking water and scientists have only ever found minute traces, briefly, in a stream.

Mr Baigent-Mercer said despite the recent clamour of protest about 1080 he had no concerns about the toxin, which was bio-degradable

"I've used 1080 myself and I found it really hard to use because as soon as it comes into contact with water it starts to lose toxicity. So you really need three clear days and nights for those animals to eat the baits and get it into them, " he said.

Dr Belinda Cridge who lectures in toxicology at Otago University says the 1080 toxin fluoroacetate was found in nature, in some plants.

In soil or water it broke down into fluoride and glycolic acid, which was not unlike vinegar, she said.

"The 1080 molecule is toxic when the fluoride molecule is attached to what we call the carbon structure. Once you break that apart, it's not got the power to do any damage anymore."

Dr Cridge said she would feel quite comfortable for her family to drink from a stream after a 1080 drop.

"It would take large amounts of bait going into a stream to be even detectable and in four to eight hours it would all be gone anyway," she said.

DOC said operators were maintaining buffer zones around waterways and the coastline.

It expected the 1080 drop over Russell forest to go ahead sometime in the next few days - weather permitting.

The Northland Regional Council said private landowners around the forest had been largely supportive of the drop, and some had asked for tracts of bush on their farms to be treated at the same time.

The surrounding farmlands would be part of the ongoing trapping operations to prevent re-invasion of the forest, a council spokesman said.

- By Lois Williams


Looking towards Russell State Forest from Puhipuhi Hills. Source: rnz.co.nz

New vaccine to protect Kiwis from rheumatic fever could save hundreds of lives

Work towards a new vaccine to protect against rheumatic fever has been given a funding boost by the Heart Foundation.

New Zealand is one of the few developed countries to still struggle with high rates of the debilitating disease and the vaccine could save hundreds of lives.

Several times a week fitness instructor Helene Kay helps people get their hearts pumping, but two years ago her own heart wasn't working so well.

After being diagnosed with rheumatic heart disease, she had major surgery to replace two valves.

"I thought I was quite invincible really, but yes, that diagnosis just threw me," she said.

Ms Kay had no idea she'd had rheumatic fever as a child, which caused the damage.

"Really surprising, I was in shock for ages...and that really impacted on how I felt...I was devastated."

Rheumatic fever is often found in developing countries, but last year there were 160 new cases in New Zealand, affecting mostly children and Māori and pacific communities.

However, now a new vaccine is being developed which mimics the bacterial infection which leads to the disease.

Dr Jacelyn Loh, a researcher at University of Auckland said, "by doing this we can prime the body without making it sick, to be ready for when a real infection comes along."

The vaccine targets a strain of the disease only found in the country, and although it won't be on the market for a few more years, it's already predicted to be life changing for Kiwis.

"We never want to see people affected by rheumatic fever and rheumatic heart disease...the ultimate would be that we would not have that in New Zealand," said Heath Foundation chairman Professor Rob Doughty.

The Heart Foundation is now funding further research to investigate the possibility that the vaccine could be in a liquid form and easily administered.

"Let's get out children vaccinated and get them on a good path so they don't have to end up like me," said Ms Kay.

Hope grows for Kiwis that the debilitating disease can finally be banished.

New Zealand is one of the few developed countries to still struggle with high rates of rheumatic fever, and the vaccine could save hundreds of lives. Source: 1 NEWS