Monday, June 27, 2005

In camera...

There have been a couple of debates to which I have stuck my nose into in recent times on the matter of “public privacy”.

The most extensive was a discussion – political in nature – which started with the reported arrest of a number of people who were taking pictures in a public place. Like so many of these debates everyone except me knew exactly what was going on. But let that go by...

Out of that debate there came to me a number of issues that, quite by chance, were echoed in twin articles by Joanne Black in the NZ Listener. I can not link to that article, it is not available online, nor do I have the time and inclination to sit and retype the 100 odd column inches of close Times font that make up the full discussion, quite apart from any copyright considerations.

The most recent NZ case is known as “The Hosking Case”. This is the case that I have referred to in various comments in the past few weeks. Mike Hosking is a tv news commentator and “personality”. He has always been very careful to protect his private life, and since his marriage even more protective of his wife and their relationship. A series of images taken of Hosking’s wife and twins in a shopping centre were offered to the magazine for publication. The only means of preventing publication was to obtain an injunction. There is an excellent summary of the circumstances at the Herald.

In a similar vein, a “police reality show” television programme was present and filming at an accident involving a teenager who was seriously injured in a skateboarding accident. The tv crew filmed extensively for some 15 minutes. At that point they approached a woman (who lived close by and had been responsible for alerting emergency services and then gave first aid) for her consent to using her image in the film for the tv programme. The film and audio taken included her being interviewed by police, which included her giving name and address details. She refused the right to publish. The same camera team were present when the boy’s parents were told about the accident, and when they arrived at the hospital to see him (he was given a 1 in 10 chance of survival, the doctor recorded and shown giving the prognosis, odds that the boy beat).

In both of these instances, the “right to publish” won out. In both cases the “public interest” was deemed to be paramount. The tv example did not go to Court – that is becoming the priviledge of the rich and famous. But we will let that go by for the moment as well...

There is mention of a third instance which “is unlikely to be heard this year”. The producers of the tv programme involved apparently have said that “there can be no expectation of privacy in a car accident on Auckland’s southern motorway”.

So, what is the current law? Briefly –
The media has the right to film, photograph, or report and to publish anything that can be seen from a public place.

The media is excluded specifically from the constraints of the Privacy Act.

The Bill of Rights codifies freedom of expression but not privacy.

Free speech is seen as a “fundamental tenet of democracy”.

There are two instances given of overseas examples.

The first involving Naomi Campbell leaving a Narcotics Anonymous centre went as far as Britain’s House of Lords. In a three - two split, the Lords found “that Campbell had a reasonable expectation of privacy” and that Britain’s “Law of Confidence” (relating to information held) should be extended to protect against such “misuse of private information”.

The second is the report of a case taken by Princess Caroline von Hannover (formerly of Monaco) where it was ruled by the European Court of Human Rights that publication of papparazzi photos of her shopping or playing tennis was a breach of her privacy under Article 8 (protection of personal and family rights, compared with Article 10 which covers freedom of expression). The intrusion was unjustified, as the princess had no official duties and the pictures did not contribute to “any debate of public interest”.

That decision was followed in an action taken by Zeta-Jones and M Douglas against “Hello!” magazine for publishing photos taken of their wedding.
The Court of Appeal (Britain again) held that the Douglas’ claim to privacy was so strong that their initial attempt to prevent publication should have succeeded. Photos were by their nature intrusive, making the viewer a voyeur to an otherwise private scene...By Christine Sheehy as quoted in Listener

So where does this leave the privacy law...

Questions that come to mind for the future include the obvious –

* The present law obviously did not foresee the invention and common use of high-powered lenses. (Personal note – I know what a 900mm lens can do. A good school buddy of mina and I spent a very enjoyable summer taking photos of mates racing sailing dinghies, from the beach. You can get a good ‘head and shoulders’ at 400m, full body shot at 800m. That was 30 years back). Now you can get 2000mm lenses for enough money...

* The present law did not foresee the capability of modern electronics and digital photography. The 10x electronic zoom on a digital camera is potentially the equivalent of the 2000mm lens.

There is also a huge range of circumstances that has not (to my knowledge) been tested in Court at all.

* Photographs taken from aerial devices – over public land but able to “see over the hill”.

* Micro-video and micro-audio surveillance equipment.

* “Camera phones” and “video phones” (is a changing room in a public swimming pool still a “public place”?)

* Reality tv programmes. Interesting one this – we regularly and often see the tragedy and torment of people affected by war on the news – that is acceptable. Apparently showing the arrival of US servicemen’s coffins in the US is not. Is it “right” that a tv programme can use film of a person injured (say in a car accident) being treated for head injuries? Or the family being told by police that their husband/wife/son/daughter had been killed in an accident?

There is also the matter of whose privacy lies within the “public domain”. The Douglas and “Princess” cases referred to give a lead here perhaps. There is one thing – that it would probably be easier for a plebian such as myself to plead an invasion of privacy than it would be for the Mayor of our fair city, or a politician.

Then if we start “binary chopping” on that thread, we get questions such as “What import should be given to distinguishing between public duties and private acts?” In my mind one heck of a lot.

At what point does a private act change from private to “public right to know”. In my opinion when the private act directly impinges upon public position.

I have a feeling too that the “style of presentation” might impinge very strongly upon future law and Court decisions. Sheehy notes briefly that one of the photos of Zeta Jones published in the Hello! magazine ( of the newly wed Mrs Douglas eating a piece of cake) was captioned “Catherine Eater Jones”. I wonder how heavily did that weigh in the Court decision against the magazine.

For myself, images of people that I have taken in public (oppograbs and candids) have interest in portraying or prompting a personal memory.

Would I use such an image in a photographic competition? Oh, wow! I would have to wrestle with my conscience on that. It would depend upon the nature of the image. A person incidental to the main subject of the image – the shopkeeper that my wife is buying from, no problem.

Where the person is the primary image? Publish (as in calender or similar)? Not without written consent that I had the image and that I intended to publish it, and that I would provide a copy of the image prior to publication.

Any objection? No publication.


Going back to the beginning...

If I were standing in Pennsylvania Avenue Washington DC, taking detailed photographs of the security points around a large white residence, I think that I should not be too surprised if I were spoken to in none too polite terms by large angry men carrying a diverse range of weaponry.

As I said, it is great when someone lets you in on the secret...

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

You have to be (quite literally) joking!!

Tip to for her link to The Independant and its campaign for proportional representation (which wasn't very interesting really - subscribe first) but from whence I found this little piece -

Atkinson makes final bid to stop religious hate Bill
By Nigel Morris, Home Affairs Correspondent
21 June 2005

The comedian Rowan Atkinson is leading a final attempt to scupper the Government's "creepy and disturbing" plans to bring in legislation banning the incitement of religious hatred.
The Blackadder star was joined by the author Ian McEwan, the director of the National Theatre, Nicholas Hytner, civil liberties groups and MPs of all parties yesterday to warn that the proposed law would strangle freedom of expression.

Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary, has championed the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill, which will receive its second reading today. This is the third attempt to get the provisions on the statute book. With an increase in Islamophobic attacks since 11 September 2001, Mr Clarke insists the provision is essential to close a loophole that protects Jews and Sikhs, but not Muslims.

Opponents argued that the legislation was so ambiguous it could have a wide-ranging, and unintended, effect on producers, writers and comics. They said Friedrich Schiller's Don Carlos, staged in the West End this year, could have been vulnerable to prosecution.
McEwan said anxiety over prosecution would make it much more difficult to raise funding for productions such as Jerry Springer: The Opera.

Atkinson, who famously lampooned a bungling vicar in Four Weddings and a Funeral, said he had told jokes during his career that could have landed him in court. He added that comedians might also steer clear of sensitive religious subjects for fear of prosecution.
He said: "The Government has prepared a weapon of disproportionate power which can be deployed on their behalf at any time, or at least act as a very forbidding deterrent."

Atkinson said the "most creepy and disturbing" aspect of the Bill was the power it gave Government over whether to launch prosecutions. The Bill's opponents are backing an amendment to the race-hate laws to make clear that they cover attacks on religious beliefs if they are a "proxy" for racial attacks.

The Labour MP and QC Bob Marshall-Andrews said that there was growing pressure among his backbench colleagues for Tony Blair to grant a free vote on the Bill. Some 25 Labour MPs rebelled against a three-line whip to back the amendment in the last parliament.

Graham Allen, a Labour MP and former whip, said he would oppose the measure. He said: "Bringing the law into play in areas of religion will turn our courts into the playground of religious extremists." The Government argues that the legislation would be tightly drawn and not outlaw comedians' jokes, criticism of religion or provocative commentary on religion. Paul Goggins, a Home Office minister, has said: "This will be a line in the sand which indicates to people a line beyond which they cannot go. People of all backgrounds and faiths have a right to live free from hatred, racism and extremism.

There wouldn’t be a joke left in the world without religion…

Worst of all, the Great Goon Milligan would not be allowed to laugh at his own, nor Dave Allen (there is at least an example of his in the side article).

“Priest – ‘Milligan, this is an unexpected surprise. When did we last see you at Mass?”
Milligan – “Well I can not be too sure, Father, but I got it written on me baptismal certificate”.

But truly, when a gubbermint does something like this travesty, one has to wonder what lies behind it.

Concern that anti-Islam jokes have got out of hand and might cause terrorist attacks? Well that is a possibility, if you have no sense of humour and a profound fear of terrists. The Home Secretary certainly could fit that bill.

How is about the possibility of a “Wag the Dog”?

Ah, now I begin to smell the fear coming from the khazi…

"Tony!!!??!! You still in there? Hurry UP!! man! Be quick!"

Oh, oooppss!! Political jokes are off the agenda as well?

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Just for a change -

My favourite tv programme of the moment.

Name - "Piha Rescue"

Type of programme - reality doco

My description -

Think of "Bay Watch", for about 50 millisecs. Remove Hasselhof and all the birds with tits.

Add -

* Sun (sometimes),
* Sand,
* Real people,
* surf
* rip and hole hazards (currents and the holes in the seabed)
* Amateur lifesaving crews - it is a sport for most of them
* and 2 foot of surf on a very calm day. Average is 4 foot. Prime surf is 6 to 7 foot. Extreme is over 8 foot.

The programme is "one day" set into a half hour format. Usually a weekend, and the action is tense. An average day is 10 to 12 rescues. A good day is anything less than that.


I used to hold the minimum qualification (shit, that was 35 years ago) and I have never been involved in a rescue. But I have an understanding of what these guys and girls do.

I sit in mute admiration for 30 minutes every week...

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Open Letter to Benedictine XVI

From Vatican City -

Speech of Pope Benedictine XVI on accepting the credentials of the NZ Ambassador...

“The disquieting process of secularization is occurring in many parts of the world. Where the Christian foundations of society risk being forgotten, the task of preserving the transcendent dimension present in every culture and of strengthening the authentic exercise of individual freedom against relativism becomes increasingly difficult. Such a predicament calls for both Church and civil leaders to ensure that the question of morality is given ample discussion in the public forum. In this regard, there is a great need today to recover a vision of the mutual relationship between civil law and moral law which, as well as being proposed by the Christian tradition, is also part of the patrimony of the great juridical traditions of humanity (cf. Encyclical Letter "Evangelium Vitae," 71). Only in this way can the multiple claims to "rights" be linked to truth and the nature of authentic freedom be correctly understood in relation to that truth which sets its limits and reveals its goals. “

Well, Mr Benedictine XVI, I accept that in Vatican City you have the full right to direct both political and moral direcion as you see fit.

As well, Mr Benedictine XVI, I accept that you have many people who will follow your dictates whereever they may live.

But I regret, Mr Benedictine XVI, that in this instance you have somewhat overstepped the mark.

You see, it is like this.

There is a majority of people who want a secular government in this country. That is why we have the government in power at present. That is why we will have (if my vote counts for anything) a secular government after the elections in September. I (and I think I can extend that to a NZ-wide WE) believe that is the BESTEST government that we could have in this country.

By this process of democracy we have a government which (in matters of conscience at least) weighs “multiple claims to rights” and by process of deliberation (some more cogent than others I admit) and consultation arrives at law which does generally reflect the desires, morals and society in which we live.

I make no apology for the fact that you might find some of those morals “objectionable”. There are some in this country who also feel the same way. We have had similar disagreements in the past. Examples such as the formation of the “Film Censors Office”, and the reaction of a retired nun and her predictions that we would all go to hell in a handbasket as a consequence of allowing people to watch films containing nude scenes and stage shows such as “Hair”. Examples such as NZ’s abortion law, again vociferously opposed by the same retired nun, also would be anathema in your moral code.

What you have to remember is that they are OUR laws. They relate to NEW ZEALAND. They are mostly laws of which the majority approve.

I suggest that you do not besmirch the honour of your Church and your religion by interfering in politics, especially in this country. This is NOT the United States. Our nation is NOT founded upon religion. That does not in any way reduce our "morality". In fact, I would suggest that in many ways our country is somewhat more moral than some nations - present and past - those whose Constitutions are based directly upon the expectation of religious direction, those whose governments have kept a strong eye upon religious tenets and belief in their governance, or whose leaders have professed strong religious beliefs.

It is secular.

It is staying that way.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Arguments of times past...

I first heard of this on the radio news this morning.

There are a number of people whom I have met over the years who were convinced that “global warning is a myth”. These claims were strongest when I and others were critical of the US for the refusal to support the Kyoto Protocol.

The basis of their claim was a series of reports “from senior American scientists” that were subsequently “presented and endorsed by the White House”.

Now I don’t know if they were the same reports that relate to this following article, there is no way that I can go back and ask... regrettably the particular forum died a not unexpected death some couple of years back. There is a new incarnation of it but I just don't have the energy.

But I can but wonder just what some members of the Venerable Order of The Trash Can” might be feeling now about these revelations...

WASHINGTON -- A former oil industry lobbyist who changed government reports on global warming has resigned in a long-planned departure, the White House said Saturday.

Philip Cooney, who was chief of staff of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, left Friday, two days after it was revealed that he had edited administration reports on climate change in 2002 and 2003.

His departure was "completely unrelated" to the disclosure, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said.

"Mr. Cooney has long been considering his options following four years of service to the administration," she said. "He'd accumulated many weeks of leave and decided to resign and take the summer off to spend time with his family."

Based on documents provided to the Government Accountability Project, a nonprofit group that helps whistle-blowers, The New York Times first reported Wednesday that Cooney made changes in several federal environmental reports. The changes tended to emphasize the uncertainty of evidence that greenhouse-gas emissions are causing global temperatures to rise. Cooney, a lawyer without a background in science, once headed the oil industry's lobbying on climate change.

The White House defended the changes, saying they were part of the normal, wide-ranging review process and did not violate an administration pledge to rely on sound science.

No, there is no truth in the rumour... none whatsoever. There is no smoke...

Thursday, June 09, 2005

On war crime and the horrors of war...

Over at Macboar under the heading "The Horror of Bosnia" I have gone and upset both MacBoar and Dave Justus with a parallel that I drew between that instance and the "mosque shooting" in Fallujah.

In view of the length of this reply I have posted it here.

From Kevin Sites - "Open letter to the Devil Dogs of the 3.1" You will find it here (and I apologise for my mental tic in calling him "Kevin Stiles".

"These were the same wounded from yesterday," I say to the lieutenant. He takes a look around and goes outside the mosque with his radio operator to call in the situation to Battalion Forward HQ.

I see an old man in a red kaffiyeh lying against the back wall. Another is face down next to him, his hand on the old man's lap -- as if he were trying to take cover. I squat beside them, inches away and begin to videotape them. Then I notice that the blood coming from the old man's nose is bubbling. A sign he is still breathing. So is the man next to him.

While I continue to tape, a Marine walks up to the other two bodies about fifteen feet away, but also lying against the same back wall.

Then I hear him say this about one of the men:

"He's fucking faking he's dead -- he's faking he's fucking dead."

Through my viewfinder I can see him raise the muzzle of his rifle in the direction of the wounded Iraqi. There are no sudden movements, no reaching or lunging.

However, the Marine could legitimately believe the man poses some kind of danger. Maybe he's going to cover him while another Marine searches for weapons.

Instead, he pulls the trigger. There is a small splatter against the back wall and the man's leg slumps down.

"Well he's dead now," says another Marine in the background.

I am still rolling. I feel the deep pit of my stomach. The Marine then abruptly turns away and strides away, right past the fifth wounded insurgent lying next to a column. He is very much alive and peering from his blanket. He is moving, even trying to talk. But for some reason, it seems he did not pose the same apparent "danger" as the other man -- though he may have been more capable of hiding a weapon or explosive beneath his blanket.

But then two other marines in the room raise their weapons as the man tries to talk.

For a moment, I'm paralyzed still taping with the old man in the foreground. I get up after a beat and tell the Marines again, what I had told the lieutenant -- that this man -- all of these wounded men -- were the same ones from yesterday. That they had been disarmed treated and left here.

At that point the Marine who fired the shot became aware that I was in the room. He came up to me and said, "I didn't know sir-I didn't know." The anger that seemed present just moments before turned to fear and dread.
It's reasonable to presume they may not have known that these insurgents had already been engaged and subdued a day earlier.
Yet when this new squad engaged the wounded insurgents on Saturday, perhaps really believing they had been fighting or somehow posed a threat -- those Marines inside knew from their training to check the insurgents for weapons and explosives after disabling them, instead of leaving them where they were and waiting outside the mosque for the squad I was following to arrive.

During the course of these events, there was plenty of mitigating circumstances like the ones just mentioned and which I reported in my story. The Marine who fired the shot had reportedly been shot in the face himself the day before.

I'm also well aware from many years as a war reporter that there have been times, especially in this conflict, when dead and wounded insurgents have been booby-trapped, even supposedly including an incident that happened just a block away from the mosque in which one Marine was killed and five others wounded. Again, a detail that was clearly stated in my television report.

No one, especially someone like me who has lived in a war zone with you, would deny that a solider or Marine could legitimately err on the side of caution under those circumstances. War is about killing your enemy before he kills you.

In the particular circumstance I was reporting, it bothered me that the Marine didn't seem to consider the other insurgents a threat -- the one very obviously moving under the blanket, or even the two next to me that were still breathing.

I can't know what was in the mind of that Marine. He is the only one who does.

But observing all of this as an experienced war reporter who always bore in mind the dark perils of this conflict, even knowing the possibilities of mitigating circumstances -- it appeared to me very plainly that something was not right. According to Lt. Col Bob Miller, the rules of engagement in Falluja required soldiers or Marines to determine hostile intent before using deadly force. I was not watching from a hundred feet away. I was in the same room. Aside from breathing, I did not observe any movement at all.
I interviewed your Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Willy Buhl, before the battle for Falluja began. He said something very powerful at the time-something that now seems prophetic. It was this:

"We're the good guys. We are Americans. We are fighting a gentleman's war here -- because we don't behead people, we don't come down to the same level of the people we're combating. That's a very difficult thing for a young 18-year-old Marine who's been trained to locate, close with and destroy the enemy with fire and close combat. That's a very difficult thing for a 42-year-old lieutenant colonel with 23 years experience in the service who was trained to do the same thing once upon a time, and who now has a thousand-plus men to lead, guide, coach, mentor -- and ensure we remain the good guys and keep the moral high ground."

I listened carefully when he said those words. I believed them.

So here, ultimately, is how it all plays out: when the Iraqi man in the mosque posed a threat, he was your enemy; when he was subdued he was your responsibility; when he was killed in front of my eyes and my camera -- the story of his death became my responsibility.

The burdens of war, as you so well know, are unforgiving for all of us.

And I asked the question by way of comparison...

"Remember the "execution" of two Iraqis in a mosque - recorded on video by Kevin Stiles? What difference? Oh, and I believe that Marine has subsequently been acquitted of all charges?"

I accept that he has been found not guilty of charges.

But what of the relatives of the men he shot? Would they accept in the same way?

MacBoar, Dave, Kevin Sites saw this from more than just one perspective. You apparently can not.

The Iraqis in the mosque were people, they had families. To those families they may have been war heros, they may have been just good fathers and brothers. Remember “when he was subdued he was your responsibility”. Sites makes the point as I have quoted; who knows what was in the mind of that young man? I can accept that, without question. What is equally as important is the relatives of those he killed. Will they, no CAN they accept

I have a comment here suggesting that the "War on Terror" is no longer (perhaps it is lost?) which I concluded with this remark -

"Yes, there have been successes by the Americans. No question of that.

The problem for the Americans is that bad sh!t sticks to the goodies because they are fighting against it, whereas the same bad sh!t is a legitimate weapon of war for the baddies.

Nowhere near as eloquent as Lieutenant Colonel Willy Buhl, but then I am not commanding a military unit either.

The Serbs in the video might have been heros to their people. They certainly are not heros for me any more than for you. They deserve the charges of "war crimes".

But how fine is that difference...

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

It must be something in the air...

I have spoken on occasion about the "home town" I come from ( it is actually one of four but as the last it holds a special place ) of Kaitaia in the Far North.

It needs to be remembered that the area is (by most NZ standards) isolated. The nearest city is 2 hours hard driving, add half an hour and take it easy to get to Whangarei. Transport of production is entirely by road. The major industries are agriculture, forestry and tourism. Unemployment runs at about 30%, compared with a national average of under 4%. There is a strong "black market" culture in the area, including illegal cash crops.

So, to find something like this in the news brings a real spring to the step and distinct warm feelings in the cockles of the heart, let me tell you...

From the Herald...

08.06.05 1.00pm

An "amazing bunch" of Far North students has won the junior section of the Community Problem Solving Championships in the United States, and another local school has placed second in its section.

Kaitaia Primary School assistant principal Cherie Duncan said the school's team beat 15 teams of from the United States, Canada, Korea and Australia to win the problem-solving crown for students aged 9-11.

"They are an amazing bunch of children. We are all just so stoked for them and so proud of them," Ms Duncan said. It is the first time the 300-pupil school has entered the competition.

Nearby Ahipara Primary School's eight-member team, with mentor-coach Andrea Panther, came second in the intermediate section at the same championship.

The two schools, which had qualified for the competition by winning New Zealand titles, raised nearly $80,000 to send their teams to the United States.

Each team had to present their projects in Lexington, Kentucky, then undergo interviews and questioning by judges (without coaches), before explaining in public the projects at their respective schools.

Kaitaia is a local rural centre, about 3,000 people so it is a bit more than a village.

Ahipara is a small community (population I would guess at about 1,000 on a good day) on the west coast only a few km from Kaitaia.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Ahhh, the sweet smell of elections in the morning...

Over at robertopia there is a nice little discussion under way about the "definition of freedom" including (surprise surprise) the Second Amendment, and the outlook of the electorate and electors - an aspect which I took up -

I listed off three types of "elector" in this fashion;

The apathetic; the people who do not care until it is too late. Write in most Germans during the 1930's.

The followers; the people who "party vote" because they are the party my father supported.

The brain dead; is there any way other than total mental deficiency that people can be barred from voting? Under this group include all of those who vote for the fear-monger, the popularist, and the single issue politicians

If you want a convenient snapshot photo of the politicians who hunt the specific group of "brain dead voters" then go to any of the major NZ news sources ( NZ Herald ; A good slice of the rest..) and search on "winston peters".

Winnie is the archetypal "survive at all costs" politician. He is rightly credited with bringing down NZ's first MPP elected government. He is polling like the kingmaker again, only three and a bit months out from the projected election date. He is already beating (as hard as he can) the immigration drum, the tax cut drum, the pension drum and the "law and order" drum.

Immigration he wants to cut to zero, it has been the source of some 30% of our annual GDP growth these past nine years.

Tax he wants to cut by some 20%. When you look at all of the little "trimmings" he proposes there would be little beard left to pull.

Pensions he wants to increase by about 15%. The reason for this is the support he gets from "The Grey Power" movement. Have to keep onside with them, huh!

As for "law and order" I don't think it would be too far wrong to summarise it as "lock up everyone who did not vote NZ First"

Last time around that he was "kingmaker", Winnie ( as in Winnie the Pooh, NOT Churchill ) kept the whole of government of this country in limbo while he did his best to play right off against left ( the poll between the two major parties was almost a dead-heat). It took six weeks for him to put together a deal with the centre-right National Party that broke one of his fundamental promises to his electorate - that he would not form a right wing government...

And it looks like we are in for a deja vu election.

The last published poll - taken about a week back - had;

Labour (centre left, present government) 37%
National (centre right) 38%
The Winnie Party (otherwise known as NZ First) 13%
The rest ( a range of far right to far left busybodies) 5%
The "don't knows" 7%

I have expressed the opinion on a number of occasions that there are times when a government (in this country anyway) does all it can to lose an election.

It seems (to me at least) that this is one of these occasions. The major problem facing us at present is definitely the economy. The present government has taken a quite conservative (in accounting, not political terms) approach. There have been fiscal surpluses for the past six years. Government debt is comparatively low. The government has "salted away" some three or four billion the income from which is intended to relieve the pressure of our aging population on superannuation benefits in particular.

The right wing, obviously, thinks this is all a very bad idea. The thought that the government should save for future certain events is anathema. The thought that the government should be making a surplus is an even greater anathema. The savings are directly connected to the surpluses. The approach of the right is "cut taxes, then worry about the consequences after".

That is but one of the expected majors -

How about this one. Auckland (current population approaching 1.7 million) is looking at the possibility of power shortages, brown-outs and failures by 2010. The construction of a 600KV supply line is in the "planning and consent" stages at present. Total cost is expected to be over $1.2 billion. There is major opposition to having it built (predominantly by those who will have it pass over their land). Those in opposition to it are predominantly right wing voting farmers and land-bankers and "life-stylers". What better solution (for a left wing government) than to leave the right wing to impose a solution on their own electorate. If the right wing fails to get sufficient electricity into Auckland then they the right wing offside with the Auckland and northward electorate. Catch 22 for the right wing, win-win for the left. Oh, BTW the 600KV line is not being built by the government. All of the energy sector in this country is "privately owned", with the government's role being limited to regulation of the total industry. So the government can not, does not direct. Quite an intractible problem that one...

Auckland again, has major transportation problems. Up until last year the local government was predominantly "right wing". The structure of local government in the region has not helped, I must admit. But the "right wing" solution has been "build more roads, build more motorways". Within the next ten years, one of the major internal links - a 1.4km long bridge over the harbour - is going to need to be duplicated either by tunnel or another bridge. To make matters worse the bridge carries a huge amount of traffic every day - something over 150,000 vehicles rings a bell - and part of it known as the "Nippon clipons" is due for rebuilding in 2010-2015. How long would it take to build a six lane , four km tunnel under a harbour? Just the construction, no design, no planning, none of that liberal sh!t. Just to build it?

Then we get into the realms of "public transport". There are local debates going back 60 years and more about what form Auckland public transport should take. I think Motat has one of the old trams. Our "rail" system uses third hand rolling stock that was bought from Perth at scrap value plus 50%. Otherwise it would have gone to India or Indonesia for scrap metal. This is a fascinating example of the NZ psyche - if a decision is too unpalatable, look for as many alternatives that you can find and appoint a committee.

That way the problem can become some-one elses'... and you can stay in power.

OK, let's make a fourth reason to stay out of power...

Despite their best efforts, the Labour Government has ended up with an economy that has been steaming along just fine thank you. To the amazement of all, and the joy of international hedgefund operators and bankers everywhere, the lil' ol' NZD chugs along on the coat tails of the AUD. Nothing spectacular but offering very reasonable returns - 5.5% no less with the prospect of quite sizeable one off returns when the NZD drops. And it is going to drop.


When? Well it might be next year, it might be 2010. The betting money is on sooner not later. We could be looking at the NZD going from US0.70 where it is at present to the cellar-realms of USD0.38 or below. How does a one-time profit of 50% sound? Non-taxable? Here is your chance.

And who wants the watch when that happens?