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Gareth Vaughan on oil worth less than nothing, the failed state of America, buying NZ made, the economy of life, the first crisis in a Group of Zero world & EBITDAC

Gareth Vaughan on oil worth less than nothing, the failed state of America, buying NZ made, the economy of life, the first crisis in a Group of Zero world & EBITDAC

This COVID-19 Top 5 lockdown special comes from's Gareth Vaughan.

As always, we welcome your additions in the comments below or via email to And if you're interested in contributing the occasional Top 5 yourself, contact

See all previous Top 5s here.

Even in the context of this unfolding crisis, in which something momentous seems to happen almost daily, today seems significant. For one thing there's the news featured on the front page of the Financial Times, featured in the picture below. And there's the Reserve Bank throwing its mortgage loan-to-value ratio restrictions out the window. Who knows what tomorrow might bring?

1) Too much oil: How a barrel came to be worth less than nothing.

Here's an explainer from The New York Times on why prices fell so much that some traders paid buyers to take oil off their hands.

Demand for oil is collapsing, and despite a deal by Saudi Arabia, Russia and other nations to cut production, the world is running out of places to put all the oil the industry keeps pumping out — about 100 million barrels a day. At the start of the year, oil sold for over $60 a barrel but by Friday it hit about $20.

Prices went negative — meaning that anyone trying to sell a barrel would have to pay a buyer $30 — in part because of the way oil is traded. Futures contracts that require buyers to take possession of oil in May are expiring on Tuesday, and nobody wanted the oil because there was no place to store it. Contracts for June delivery were still trading for about $22 a barrel, down 16 percent for the day.

The article suggests the world has an estimated storage capacity for 6.8 billion barrels, and nearly 60% of this capacity is full. 

Refineries are unwilling to turn oil into gasoline, diesel and other products because so few people are commuting or taking airplane flights, and international trade has slowed sharply. Oil is already being stored on barges and in any nook and cranny companies can find. One of the better parts of the oil business these days is owning storage tankers.


2) America, a failed state.

Overnight I was in contact with a friend in New Jersey. There's plenty of nervousness about the actual virus there, and he's recently lost his job. We're certainly facing our challenges in New Zealand, and they're only going to get tougher. But I can't help but feel lucky to be in NZ at a time like this.

In the United States it feels to me that, in some areas at least, something of a perfect storm has hit. Here The Atlantic's George Packer dives into the impact COVID-19's having on the US. And it's no holds barred right from the off.

When the virus came here, it found a country with serious underlying conditions, and it exploited them ruthlessly. Chronic ills—a corrupt political class, a sclerotic bureaucracy, a heartless economy, a divided and distracted public—had gone untreated for years. We had learned to live, uncomfortably, with the symptoms. It took the scale and intimacy of a pandemic to expose their severity—to shock Americans with the recognition that we are in the high-risk category.

The crisis demanded a response that was swift, rational, and collective. The United States reacted instead like Pakistan or Belarus—like a country with shoddy infrastructure and a dysfunctional government whose leaders were too corrupt or stupid to head off mass suffering. The administration squandered two irretrievable months to prepare. From the president came willful blindness, scapegoating, boasts, and lies. From his mouthpieces, conspiracy theories and miracle cures. A few senators and corporate executives acted quickly—not to prevent the coming disaster, but to profit from it. When a government doctor tried to warn the public of the danger, the White House took the mic and politicized the message.

Donald Trump's claim of being a wartime president sees him compared to France's Marshal Philippe Pétain, the general who formed the pro-Nazi Vichy regime during World War 2. And Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner also cops a major serve.

And this is how Packer wraps the article up.

The fight to overcome the pandemic must also be a fight to recover the health of our country, and build it anew, or the hardship and grief we’re now enduring will never be redeemed. Under our current leadership, nothing will change. If 9/11 and 2008 wore out trust in the old political establishment, 2020 should kill off the idea that anti-politics is our salvation. But putting an end to this regime, so necessary and deserved, is only the beginning.

We’re faced with a choice that the crisis makes inescapably clear. We can stay hunkered down in self-isolation, fearing and shunning one another, letting our common bond wear away to nothing. Or we can use this pause in our normal lives to pay attention to the hospital workers holding up cellphones so their patients can say goodbye to loved ones; the planeload of medical workers flying from Atlanta to help in New York; the aerospace workers in Massachusetts demanding that their factory be converted to ventilator production; the Floridians standing in long lines because they couldn’t get through by phone to the skeletal unemployment office; the residents of Milwaukee braving endless waits, hail, and contagion to vote in an election forced on them by partisan justices. We can learn from these dreadful days that stupidity and injustice are lethal; that, in a democracy, being a citizen is essential work; that the alternative to solidarity is death. After we’ve come out of hiding and taken off our masks, we should not forget what it was like to be alone.

Cartoon by Bill Bramhall, editorial cartoonist at the New York Daily News.

3) Buy New Zealand made.

As of April 17 the Ministry of Social Development had paid out $9.9 billion in wage subsidies, in a scheme that launched just last month, to support 1.6 million people. Some of the recipients' jobs won't return when lockdown ends. These extraordinary lockdown days are, I think and hope, at least helping bolster community spirit. To this end, when and where I can, I plan to support local small businesses.

Today BusinessNZ has announced the launch of the #shopkiwi campaign for NZ Made licence holders.

Businesses that join the campaign will be added to Buy NZ Made’s ShopKiwi list so Kiwis can easily find and shop at their online store. These businesses have stock ready to leave once New Zealand moves to Alert Level 3 next Tuesday.

Executive Director Ryan Jennings says it’s important Kiwi’s support New Zealand businesses as they start to reopen.

"New Zealand businesses have been waiting with bated breath to find out when they can reopen, and they need all the help they can get. These businesses can now focus on turning their inventory into cash."

Mr Jennings says a recent survey of more than 1300 Kiwis indicated they are more likely to shop locally once the lockdown is lifted.

However, Mr Jennings says many manufacturers are not geared up to sell directly to consumers, so Buy NZ Made is supporting them through the introduction of new direct to consumer sales packages.

The list will be launched today with 200 businesses already signed on to sell online.

4) Moving from the survival mode economy to the economy of life.

French economist Jacques Attali argues economic recovery efforts should be focused on certain sectors he calls “the economy of life.”

It brings together every sector, which in one way or another, from near or afar, has given itself the mission of defending life; and we continue to see, in a very pragmatic sense, the vital importance of these sectors: health, prevention, hygiene, waste management, water distribution, sports, food, agriculture, land protection, distribution, trade, education, research, innovation, clean energy, digital technology, housing, goods transport, public transport, urban infrastructure, information, culture, the functioning of democracy, security, insurance, savings and credit.

These sectors are obviously interdependent: health is dependent on hygiene and also uses digital technology, which is also useful for education; and nothing will be accomplished in any of these areas without research, on which the discovery of a vaccine and medicines needed to control this pandemic depend. Therefore, the economy of life includes every activity that makes it possible both to live during the pandemic and to emerge from the related crises (economic, financial, social and ecological) that it sustains.

Attali says these sectors represent between 40% and 70% of GDP and between 40% and 70% of employment, but this needs to move to 80%. Therefore households must spend more money on healthcare, food and learning. Employers have to increase the pay and social status of people who work in these sectors. And the State has to support companies that work in these sectors.

His outlook is quite different for other sectors, however.

Companies that are operating in other sectors must redirect their businesses toward the economy of life. In my opinion, these companies are currently waiting in vain for the return of their previous markets: companies in the following sectors—automobile, aeronautics, textile, fashion, chemical, machine-tool, carbon energy, luxury goods, tourism, live entertainment and defence industries—will not see their previous markets return, even if a vaccine and medicines were to be found now, it would take at least two years for everything to return to equilibrium; by then, many of these companies will have failed. Therefore, it is not be acceptable to finance, without a defined timeline, companies with no future.

Attali, a former special adviser to French President François Mitterrand, is adamant.

We will prevent the worst recession of all time and rescue the world from the nightmare that it is sinking into if we put all of our resources into the economy of life.

... Though nothing massive or systematic has been done; no country has yet declared that it is going to focus on these sectors, giving them priority for loans, public contracts, or innovation funding. And yet, everything depends on it: it is high time to move from the survival mode economy to the economy of life.

5) Pandemic.

A friend in Sydney sent me the link to this Japanese video last night. It features interviews, about the world's current predicament, with Attali, Ian Bremmer who is the president and founder of political risk research and consulting firm Eurasia Group, and Israeli historian, philosopher, and author Yuval Noah Harari , who is a lecturer at the Department of History at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. 

All three have something interesting to say. Bremmer talks about supply chains moving from a just-in-time model to a just-in-case model. He also highlights the lack of international co-operation to tackle COVID-19 and its economic impact with this being the first crisis in a G-0, as opposed to a G-7 or G-20 world. Harari talks about the dangers of governments permanently grabbing more power during the crisis, and how technology used by governments to monitor citizens and the spread of the virus can also be used by citizens to monitor their governments.

Don't be put off by the Japanese introduction. The interviews are all conducted in English.

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This is a must watch


The US a failed state - hahahahahaha

I need a good laugh thanks Gareth. Where do people come up with this nonsense?!?

I posted before.

States are currently rioting to have their god given right to catch the virus.

Darwin award entrant 2020.

Did you see people are rioting - actual rioting -in France? What's your thoughts on that?

@ Step Up Thank you , the US is without doubt the single most successful country on the planet , its a functioning democracy, ( with strange idiosyncracies ) , with a free market , and an excellent Constitution , the rule of law , and lots of checks and balances .

The US not a failed state, or even close , in my personal view

I know , I have lived and worked in failed states in Africa during my working career , and travelled to others outside Africa . I traveled behind the Iron curtain in the 1990's , and they were all a mess .

I was in the US last year , and for all its ills and problems , its still the greatest show on earth .

The only place better is New Zealand

....and theres the me,me travel story again. Boring

The left, politics of envy.

Lived and worked in at least 15 countries but I know every American I've worked with had a disregard for others lives that was breathtaking.


The US, if you remove your ideological glasses, was a serious social mess well before this,

I suggest you read a little Jared Diamond, follow it up with The Long Emergency. The latter scarily accurately describes what the failed States will look like.

I know you think the time has arrived for your pet-ideology to take over and that is why I don't have any respect for you. You see the world suffering and you are happy.

You constantly accuse others of been blinded by their worldview but never apply the same challenge to yourself. And don't tell we your worldview isn't a worldview!

Nope. It wasn't an ideology. It was the result of dispassionate research as a very young man (20, in 1975), having read the Limits to Growth.

I gives me no pleasure to be where we are now, I wish to h-ll we'd taken a different course, and I promised my kids (limited to 2) a long time ago I'd do what I could to make the world they and their cohort inherit, a better place. That's why I comment here, and why I sometimes sound forthright.

There IS a better way; my circles have been demonstrating how to live it for years. We were largely ignored, but it was there to copy. I've moved on to addressing what 'local' will look like. Different, one suspects.

Go well

I am a terrible cynic, with a jaundiced world view. Whatever, I would just note that if you criticised Putin, Xi and many, many more world leaders, like the US media criticises Trump, you would be in for some serious re-education. And I must have missed the story about the queues of Americans trying to migrate to Mexico. Possibly 80% of the worlds population would like to live in this ‘failed state’, which has twice saved the free world. Lest we forget.

Most obese nation, most imprisoned nation. Life length actually getting shorter. The bottom 100 million or so are flat broke - even before Covid.

Led by a narcissistic liar. Elections determined by money. Both parties held to ransom by: Defense, Pharmaceuticals, Food and Banking industries.
Most corrupt banks on the planet - who do the most money laundering of any nation.

Biggest terrorist nation by far. Have more weapons than anyone else. Make more than anyone else too. Invaded, bombed and changed the regimes of countless nations.

Spy on all their citizens, and every one else in world. Every text, email, phone call - all recorded away. Intelligence organisations that routinely break the law and are out of control. What about free speech? Ask Chelsea Manning or Julian Assange.

Yep, they're real winners.

@Davo I have never understood this America-bashing attitude so widespread among Kiwi's. I just dont get it

The " bottom " ( your term ) third of New Zealanders are likely also flat broke , just as the Americans
We have a massive problem with obesity and related illnesses such as diabetes
Led by a liar .............just like the artist Helen Clark or the pregnant Jacinda Ardern
No evidence that lifespan is shortening
Was instrumental in ending 2 World Wars
Has identified sectors where it has competitive advantage in sectors in which it excels , such as milk production or playing rugby

New Zealand has another layer of social problems with substance abuse , family violence , Gender based violence , suicide , just as America has .

OECD figures...obesity..USA 38%...NZ 31%...less in NZ for sure but hardly anything to crow about...almost 1/3 of the population in NZ obese!


Time to come will tell if it is only USA a failed state or many more countries will be joining the list along with agencies like RBNZ (With todays announcement), Banks, WHO......

If oil can fall below zero which was unheard, can other asset class be spared - I doubt.

Another thing that may and should change is accountability and transperency in political system - needs change as voting every few year is not accointability as the choice is always between a devil and the deep blue sea.

Breed of Politcans and Bureaucrats have to change - Entire system is corrupt and is highlighted all thanks to natural calamty like Corona Virus.

Time to Reset.

Their energy-source was either taking too much military energy, or too much extraction energy. The end of an Empire, alle same Rome.

Just doesn't show up in dollars, partly because of debt but partly also because of stock-count-avoidance.


#4 - typical Francophone absolutism. The string of 'non-life businesses' quoted appears to include "textile, ... chemical, machine-tool, ... defence", and yet the 'Life' lot appears to include "health..hygiene, waste management, water distribution, sports, food, agriculture, land protection, distribution, trade, education, research, innovation, clean energy, digital technology, housing, goods transport, public transport, urban infrastructure, information" and so on.

It does not seem to occur to M. Attali that the former (to which we should add an inexplicable omission - mining) are direct and essential inputs to the latter. Try to imagine:

  • Waste management or public transport without vehicles made using machine tools and of metal
  • Housing without cement, logging, and Yet Mo' Machine tools not to say Metal
  • Plastics without Chemicals
  • Hygiene without Chemicals and Textiles
  • Water distribution with Pumps made of Metal using Machine Tools, and pipes made from mined materials
  • Security without Defence

It's just post-modern nonsense.....but thanks for the giggle.

Takes a lot of effort, eh Waymad?

Sort of reminds me of the fellow painting himself into the corner.

Limits to Growth, you know. Finite planet, you know. Thermodynamic limits, you know. Kinda like the fact that when the sun don't shine on your PV panels, nothing comes out the other end. And it ain't just French - there are a growing crowd of us here living in a less impactive way. It's just the future

Notably, in the after market MAY 20 WTI is trading above zero

Excellent Top 5 for L4 !


We ought to go one further than just buying NZ , we need to actively boycott Chinese products , starting with Chinese tinned foods at supermarkets .

China cannot get away with using this awful mess they have created to their advantage would be wrong on every level.

Given news.
Thought experiment.

China ccp has a problem with
Hong Kong
Dalai Lamar

North Korea.

@Henry and to include ............
Donald Trump
Trade wars
Banks that are technically bankrupt
Reliance on brute force to keep its popn. in submission
Fudging statistics ...........
Money laundering by PCP's


" I plan to support local small businesses."

Perhaps you could go a step further and choose to spend all your money on the goods from counties that offer people a democratic way of life. The power to change the world is in your wallet。

I do, or at least I try. It costs but where I can I'll purchase from countries that I feel align with my tenets, which ends up something like
1. Local in NZ, then NZ where possible, else
2. Australia, else
3. Europe & UK, Canada, else
4. US, Taiwan

Anything that looks to be obfuscating country of origin ('Designed in..') gets put back on the shelf.

trump is banning all immigration into the USA, maybe he needs to ban all americans from leaving to protect the rest of us.


People laughed at me years ago when I pointed out the Stone Age did not end because we ran out of stone .

The oil age will not end because we run out of oil , instead we will move on and use new techs to use less and less

I laugh at you because you confuse stones with energy.

And I'm serious.

That a prima facie argumentive flaw of grotesque dimensions.

With oil at such lows can you not see what is happening? Massive closures of fields and the end of exploration...and ultimately a scarcity as the storage bubble evaporates. No ability to restart much as as the cost of getting into what remains uses more energy to extract than is obtained. You only look 5 minuted ahead boatman...raise the eyes a little, this is how the end game plays out.

Look at all the ignorant 'up's.

The first time I heard that stone-age drivel was from Monckton. Cato-Institute-style propaganda, using something that 'sounds like' when it ain't at all, at all.

Yes exactly... deflation now... then soon... massive inflation. Will the people be ready for that?

The hidden issue is how do you pay for the decommissioning of the oil infrastructure if the industry is broke. Unplugged wells, leaking pipelines, seas full of rotting rigs - a very expensive mess.

Advice for Donald Trump:-

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too; .........

Reference Rudyard Kipling


Variations of this have been doing the rounds. For those who haven't seen it or want to add to it:

Captain Trump of the Titanic:

There isn't any iceberg.
There was an iceberg but it's in a totally different ocean.
This is just like any other iceberg.
The iceberg is in this ocean but it will melt very soon.
There is an iceberg but we didn't hit the iceberg.
We hit the iceberg, but it is only a small iceberg and the damage will be repaired very shortly.
I knew it was an iceberg before anyone else.
The iceberg is a Chinese iceberg.
We are taking on water but every passenger who wants a lifeboat can get a lifeboat, they are beautiful lifeboats.
Look, passengers need to ask nicely for the lifeboats if they want them.
We don't have any lifeboats, we're not lifeboat distributors.
Passengers should have planned for icebergs and brought their own lifeboats.
I really don't think we need that many lifeboats.
We have lifeboats and they're supposed to be our lifeboats, not the passengers' lifeboats.
The lifeboats were left on shore by Obama, the previous captain of this ship.
Nobody could have foreseen the iceberg.
I’m an expert on icebergs, I know all about icebergs.
Some of you have to drown; we have to get the ship underway again.
I’ve got lots of friends who deal with icebergs. Some of the best. Really good people who know their ice and forms of berginess.
If it wasn’t for me, lots and lots of people would have drowned. I have saved heaps and heaps of people.
You crew – despicable crew, you third rate crew -are spreading fake news.
I am the best captain, ask anyone.

My amazing captaincy saved billions of lives?

And made 'Merica great again. Vote Trump 2020.

"As of April 17 the Ministry of Social Development had paid out $9.9 billion in wage subsidies, in a scheme that launched just last month, to support 1.6 million people"

Isn't that $6187 per person?

GR mentioned at committee this morning, they have to date 519,000 applications and made pmt to 410,000. 5,000 applications came in yesterday.

Applications not= people.

Yes, who knows what tomorrow might bring.

What I find fascinating is that for the first time in many people's life times, they are seeing clear blue skies. They are seeing mountain ranges previously shrouded in polluted air. They are seeing nature in abundance returning to their shores to breed. They are hearing birds sounds never heard before. And they are seeing constellations never seen before. And for many millions, they are breathing clean air for the first time in their lives.

#2 Wrong title for the article. Failed democracy is more appropriate for what indicators the article is talking about. And I couldn't agree with him more.

Re Oil, it's only the front month in the futures that went negative as demand is extremely low and storage is already bursting, the June contract is still around $20, to me it's a buying opportunity - 'Oil on sale' it does get any cheaper than someone paying you to take it (negative cost)

Lets call it a market anomaly caused by unprecedented actions taken by governments around the world to effectively shut 75% of their economies down and demand for oil with it

Even in the US since 2010 the average estimated deaths dues to the common flu was around 35,000 per year, and at present they have >42,000 covid 19 deaths which is likely to increase.. the number is staggeringly huge But it's also good having the perspective knowing that approximately ~35,000 (12,000 to 61,000) flu deaths occur in the US every year and are accepted as 'normal' - without any attention at all...

Likewise in NZ, Covid 19 has killed 13 people so far when an average of 400 people die from flu every year in NZ according to the website

It's all about perspective... and how much hype... each fact gets

Buying opportunity not. Look at oil etfs. Chumps thought a bargain at $19, May contract is at negative $40 or these guys are taking a hiding of about $60 if this don't change!

A heretical thought experiment. What if one dug a big tank-sized hole somewhere, contracted for the supply of a Modest Amount of September-delivered WTI, dumped it in the aforesaid hole when it arrives, and let it soak back into the Arms of Gaia, from whence it so recently came. Questions:

  1. Could one actually get paid for doing this?
  2. Could one claim the Carbon Credits for Sequestering the stuff?
  3. Would Gaia notice?

People need to calm down just a little here, WuFlu will leave a dent but it isn't the end of capitalism as we know it.

All RBNZ need to do is start sending cheques to New Zealanders (to reflate our economy), unwind their bond purchases and then normalise interest rates. The root of this problem was trying to use debt issuance as a method to unleash productivity growth and drive inflation which has become ineffective over the last two decades. We need to return spending power in the hands of ordinary consumers to create and sustain inflation.

Too true. Tourism is toast. At least for a while. 5 weeks with no trade for most businesses is a kick in the guts, but hardly terminal.

Yeah the kids and unborn will pay for it. Sweet. With another generation of welfare dependents the votes are locked in.

Thank you for a great list, Gareth.


Point scoring and petty jibes aside, a Bloomberg story Today refers to another random antibody test carried out in California by the LA Public Health Authority and the University of California. It came back with an infection rate something like 50 times higher than previous estimates, and in line with the recent Stanford one. Around 4-5% of the population may well have had Covid without even knowing it. This brings down the death rate dramatically, but of course not the number of deaths.

If a countries death rate is above 1% you know they have no idea how many are infected.

US natural gas plays went negative in 2019 but back then it was just boring supply demand. Now so much more exciting.

Question about the lockdown: what do we like and what don’t we like? The thing I like the most is the local community being created. There are people out walking, toys in all the windows, chatting across the street, almost no cars around, it’s idyllic. The only real negative is the pubs and food joints being closed. We are saving so much money from not buying worthless crap and petrol that we could afford to go to some local pubs and restaurants if they were open!

Enjoying all that, aided mainly by a whole lot less noisy traffic. Absolutely love the peacefulness and quiet. Lots of positives I agree.

Enjoying testing our systems. One shopping trip so far, 2 plus 5 who were visiting when lockdown happened. Own energy, own water, own food. We've started a comp as to who can boil the thermettes fastest (my better half is down to 7minutes) to save using firewood or gas. Foraging mushrooms, blackberries, apples etc, drying and preserving. And I'm building a pond-yacht (vintage plans) using what I have onsite during lockdown; an interesting cranial challenge. Noticing more fantails, and the Harriers seem to be searching more - less roadkill maybe?

Agree the traffic is probably the biggest change. It’s why all the European countries are so nice.

Fortunately I (currently) have a job and can work from home so enjoying the time spent with the family and the informality of being able to just get up from the computer whenever and go play with the kids or go sit in the sun with a coffee and have 5 minutes peace.

Don't like:
It's easy to let yourself slip from a routine, so you can end up spending a lot more time at work that you might had you been going in to the office. Same for the lack of exercise that came with the walk to & from the train & the office.

And the feeling that we have only seen the tip of the economic trouble coming our way.

The Grate US of A. Well, if you're of that opinion, then there's little that will change that. Yet the oil situation is no accident. The USA have been bullying, butchering and blowing up various parts of the world for a long time now, all to protect their petro dollar. They insist on oil producing countries reducing output, to maintain price, all the while increasing their own production, to the point they became the worlds largest exporter. Only to find out that this made their position more precarious. Refused to cut production, even when it was obvious that they were going to have to. Too much debt tied up in fracking. Can't cause war in Syria to continue, can't cause war with Iran, even when they blow up Iranian military leaders on Iraqi public highway. Can't even get a decent rise in price when Saudi Aramco are attacked by Yemeni drones.
Highest costing health care per gdp on the planet, yet general public can't afford. Political system controlled completely by elite, corrupted systems that allow Boeing to own the FAA, and kill heaven knows how many passengers, and in the process of calling bankruptcy, quickly get chance to ask for billions in govt hand out. The list is endless, and yet still some find it hard to see that the USA is a failed state. The word "regime", is generally used by the west to indicate an impending invasion, so am surprised to see the word used in article to describe America. I personally don't care one way or another, yet America is drowning in problems it's own elite caused, and for all the innocent families, old and young, women, children and men that they have quite literally blown apart over decades of aggressive and self centred foreign policy, may they have a regime change that allows it to foster a more understanding, genuinely helpful nation than the one the world has had to endure.
"Failed States", Noam Chomsky, try reading it.

Post of the day. Well penned.

Watch the repercussions of their intrusion in The Two Popes, read about it when Norm Kirk had to meet Nixon knowing damned well what had happened to his friend Allende. The list goes on. Better than China? If you're English-speaking and first-world, probably. Otherwise not much in it.

Thanks for the compliment. Better than China? I couldn't say, it's not like we mere mortals get a say in any of that. My hope is that at least somewhere there remains a vestige of the best things that the west stood for, freedom of speech, freedom of thought in particular. Always thought NZ could play an important role in new world, as the years went by, not so sure anymore.