A celebration that reminds us how fragile we are

Why will 2011 be one of our big years? Because for six weeks we will get to watch big men in one of the world’s big contests right here. But how does that make it a big year?

A sport is some mix of skill and strength, hand/foot/eye coordination and athleticism, individuality and cooperation. Sport is a visible expression of human capacity. Peak sport is a peak human activity.

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Bill, the budget and disruptive thinking

It’s nearly Christmas: time for gloom … oops, cheer. Tomorrow Bill English issues the half-yearly economic and fiscal update. The message will be caution and constraint, though with dashes of positivity.

The short-term basis for positivity is that, while the economy is unbalanced and seriously indebted and the budget is in structural deficit (temporarily accentuated by the looming drought, which might slice 2 per cent off GDP, the Canterbury earthquake, the mine explosion and kiwifruit disease), we are not under the same economic and fiscal pressures which are forcing difficult choices on much of the rich world.

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Little NZ and the next globalisation

It’s a global week: climate change talks in Cancun, Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) talks in Auckland. Tim Groser and New Zealand loom large in both.

Climate change action is the right globalisation for the Greens and Labour but the wrong sort for ACT and large portions of the National party. Free trade in nine or 10 countries bordering the Pacific is the right globalisation for National, most of Labour and ACT but the wrong sort for the Greens and some in the Maori party.

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The risk factor for governments in nature

Every now and then nature reminds us of two things: it is driven by forces we humans cannot yet fully control and of which we have incomplete knowledge; and in this country nature is young and restless.

The Canterbury earthquake was a reminder — an unknown fault, still shaking. The Pike River mine’s big gas explosions are another.

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Quick fixes, investment, votes and John Key

A month back Phil Goff said the Mana by-election result would “be a judgment on John Key and National’s failure to make the future better”. Two reports will soon confront Key and National with the future.

Saturday’s Mana judgment is positive on Key and National: in vote-share terms a 6.6% two-party Labour-to-National swing, which could be read as a green light for National’s policies. But the left-to-right swing was half that: Matt McCarten accounted for half Labour’s fall and ACT plunged.

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Booze: a devilish challenge for the liberal society

Drugs are back in focus in Parliament: tighter rules on tobacco, huge hauls of methamphetamine and its ingredients and a 1.5-centimetre-thick new bill on alcohol which drew a mix of emotion and rationality in the initial debate. Is liberal New Zealand turning wowser?

There are two ways to cut the use of damaging recreational drugs: limit supply and reduce demand. How either is done is a test for the liberal society, especially when the drug is alcohol.

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Is the Tea Party coming to a polling booth near you?

Add them up: in Australia, Britain and now the United States, left gives way to right — or, rather, ins give way to outs. Hillary Clinton last week was the emissary of a de-mandated President. Is there a pointer for our politics?

What do we share with those three “Anglo” countries? A long period of widening inequalities, slowing or stalled growth in real incomes for large numbers and falls for many, offset by bubble economics which allowed an illusion that rising prosperity could be borrowed without repayments — then, since 2008, a hard post-bubble reality. Even in mineral-rich Australia credit and retail statistics are reflecting a squeeze on households in most states.

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The big questions that come with Clinton

Having a trader as Prime Minister can work a treat: snip some workers’ rights here, tax breaks there, a bit of lolly and, hey presto, a film, jobs and tourism ads. Now, will trader John Key do the truly big stuff when Clinton 2 jets in?

The last National Prime Minister who met a Clinton here — Jenny Shipley with hard-dog-to-keep-on-the-porch Bill — went a little kittenish in his aura. Hillary doesn’t do kittenish and Key is a regular bloke. They have a lot to talk about in today’s altered world order.

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